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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
Taxation February 13th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, when I think about balanced budgets, I rarely think of the minister.
Yesterday the minister dismissed the Conservative election promise on income splitting. He said he is not sure that it benefits society. He said that other priorities should be acted on before income splitting, but the employment minister disagreed. He said, “We keep our election promises. We made this commitment to do this policy in the next budget”.
Taxation February 13th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Finance attacked the Conservative policy on income splitting. He said, “I'm not sure that overall it benefits our society” and “I think income splitting needs a long, hard analytical look by our think tanks”.
This analysis has already been done, in fact, by the C.D. Howe Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Now that the analysis by think tanks has actually happened, does the minister agree with these think tanks that income splitting would do nothing for 86% of Canadian families, and that “it’s an expensive tax gift for the rich”?
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, we must absolutely work with provincial governments on important economic and social issues. Of course, we must also respect provincial jurisdictions.
The Conservative government refuses to meet with provincial governments and to work with them on issues that are important to our country. The Conservative government obviously does not respect provincial jurisdictions. It is rather strange to see a Conservative government take this approach.
The Prime Minister gave a speech in Quebec City during the 2006 election campaign. He said that he would work with the provincial governments and would always respect provincial jurisdictions. That is utter nonsense, since the government and the Prime Minister do not respect provincial jurisdictions.
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my leader was very clear in that he believes that economic growth helps governments balance the books. I think he is absolutely right. I think most economists would agree with that. I wish the Conservatives would get that memo: growth is actually good for balancing the books and we need to create growth to help families move forward.
In answer to the question, I do agree with the member that apprenticeship programs and support for apprentices is tremendously important. In Canada, we need to restore the honour paid to skilled trades. We can look at what some other countries are doing. For instance, Germany has done a much better job of maintaining and fostering respect for skilled trades. Of course, support for apprenticeship programs is something we would like to see more of.
However, when the member began to speak about the benefits for middle-class families, I thought he was going to raise the issue of income splitting, because that is where we expected more discussion from the government.
We did hear from the Minister of Finance earlier today that he disagrees with that Conservative platform plank, but we also heard from the Minister of Employment and Social Development that he still agrees with that Conservative platform plank. We heard the Prime Minister earlier today agree with both of the ministers on that. So, we are trying to understand where the Conservatives are going in terms of tax support for middle-class families.
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Beatty also cited in his report the job skills mismatch in Canada. It is the situation where we have people without jobs and jobs without people.
In budget 2013, the centrepiece was the Canada jobs grant, which indicates that the Conservatives recognized there was at least a problem. However, the fact that it is also the centrepiece of budget 2014 and that over the last year there has still not been program, the fact all we have is a multi-million dollar bill for the advertising of a non-existent program, speaks to the economic incompetence of the Conservatives on this very significant file, the job skills mismatch, which is limiting growth, job creation, prosperity, and competitiveness for Canadians.
This is a case where the government's failure to build strong relationships with the provincial governments, to work with them and actually meet with them on an ongoing basis, has a significant economic cost to our country.
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the government does have a real history of attacking any person or organization that has the audacity or honesty to speak truth to power. They have gone from attacking the scientific community, both within government and independent scientific advisory groups within Canada, including the environmental community, which has been demonized, marginalized, and stigmatized by the Conservative government, to people within the public service, long-standing public servants, like Munir Sheikh as an example, or Arthur Carty, people who have a long record of contributing positively to public policy development.
Therefore, this budget continues this attack on independent thinking. We are seeing it now with the Conservatives' latest legislation on Elections Canada. The government has a problem with groups that actually tell it the straight goods and have the audacity to disagree with it.
We in the Liberal Party believe in evidence-based decision-making, not decision-based evidence-making, which is the approach the Conservatives are taking.
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to budget 2014, tabled yesterday at about this time in the House.
Last night on CBC's The National, Peter Mansbridge asked the Minister of Finance, “Are there those who are going to lose as a result of today's budget?” The minister's response was quite telling. The minister said, “That's an interesting question. I hadn't thought about it that way, Peter, and I can't think of any, actually”.
The Minister of Finance cannot think of any Canadians who will be hurt by the budget.
He tried to sell us the idea that it was a boring budget. However, this budget does nothing to help young Canadians who cannot find decent jobs, and it does next to nothing to help middle-class parents.
However, when we read the fine print of the budget, and I must assume that the Minister of Finance is aware of the details of his own budget, we see that this is a budget that actually does hurt many Canadians. In fact, it hurts one of our most vulnerable groups, a group to whom we owe so much, and that is Canada's veterans.
The Conservatives' latest budget actually hits our veterans squarely in the pocketbook. It hits them when they are at the medical clinic or at the drug store. For Canadians who bravely served this country and who are now retired and living on fixed incomes, the budget doubles the amount they must pay each month for their medical plan. Yet these cuts to our veterans did not get any coverage in the news last night. Perhaps it is because some of the language in the budget is so cleverly deceptive.
The change the Conservatives are making to the public service health care plan for retirees is one of the single largest items in the budget. By doubling the amount these retirees must pay for their health plan, the Conservatives hope to save roughly $7.4 billion over six years. That is $7.4 billion that is being taken from retired Canadians living on fixed incomes.That is not pocket change.
For a measure as big and as important as this, Canadians expect that there should be a lot more detail in the budget to explain who will be affected and by how much, but Conservatives left those details out.
For example, there is no information in the budget about who qualifies for the public service health care plan as a retiree. However, if we go to the website of the public service health care plan, it has a list of who qualifies for this plan as a retiree. That list includes retired members of the Canadian Forces, our veterans, and retired members of the RCMP. It includes their dependents and their survivors.
This is what these changes will mean for our veterans. For veterans who receive the most basic health care coverage, their annual contributions will go from $261 to roughly $550. That is double. Veterans with the most basic family coverage will see their annual contributions go from $513 to roughly $1,080. That is an additional $567 per year these pensioners on fixed incomes will have to pay to cover their prescriptions. That is an extra $567 retired veterans will have to find so that they and their spouses will not lose their medical coverage.
Yesterday we saw members of the government rise to give the Minister of Finance a standing ovation, over and over again, for his budget. Those members ought to think back to last Remembrance Day, and they ought to think about those brave veterans of World War II, our veterans who still show up each year on November 11, in smaller numbers, and who are still so valued and so worthy of our nation's undying gratitude. I ask them to think of an 88-year-old veteran of World War II who is struggling with diabetes and a heart condition, a grandfather who still cannot talk about what he witnessed in that war. Do the Conservatives actually think this man is living so high on the hog that he ought to be forced to pay double for his medical benefits?
How about the brave men and women who have come back from Afghanistan, veterans who have been medically discharged against their wishes and now find themselves veterans instead of current members of the Canadian Forces? Should the government be making it harder for them to receive the care they need?
What about the survivors, Canadian widows and widowers who are grieving for soldiers and police offices who are no longer with us? Why are the Conservatives balancing the books on the backs of these widows and survivors?
The Conservatives know the hardship these cuts will cause. In fact, an internal audit by the government in late 2009 showed that some veterans were actually having difficulty paying for their health benefits. That audit said:
[Veterans Affairs Canada] staff interviewed noted the importance of this health care coverage for both clients and their families. However, the cost of monthly premiums and deductibles was stated to be an obstacle for some clients.
Instead of listening to this audit, conducted by the government, of Veterans Affairs Canada, the government actually doubled those costs, and now it wants to make it even tougher and more expensive for veterans to get the medical coverage they need. The way the Conservatives are treating our veterans is beneath contempt. It is reprehensible.
Last night, the finance minister actually went on national television and told Canadians that he could not think of any person or group in Canada that would lose as a result of this budget. Clearly he is not thinking, and the Conservatives are not thinking, about our veterans. He also is not thinking about current members of the Canadian Armed Forces. He is not thinking about the brave men and women who stand on guard for Canada.
The Conservatives are actually slashing the budget for military procurement by $3.1 billion in the next few years. They say that our brave members of the Canadian Forces will have to wait for the equipment they need to do their jobs, as if they have not been waiting long enough. The Conservatives have been bungling military procurements for years, and now they have given up on these major purchases until well after the election; so much for the Conservatives supporting our troops. The government simply will not put its money where its mouth is.
This budget is a no-growth budget at a time when Canadian families need growth, jobs, and opportunity. This budget does nothing to help Canadian middle-class families. Too many Canadians are struggling right now under the crushing weight of personal debt. For some, it is because they have lost their jobs. In other cases, it is that they have lost full-time jobs and are struggling to replace those jobs with part-time work, and they have lost benefits such as supplemental health insurance and pension plans. They might have found new jobs, but they simply do not have the same benefits as the old ones.
However, the bills keep coming in. The mortgage still needs to be paid, and these people have taken on more debt to make ends meet. Some Canadians are approaching retirement with adult children who have not quite left the nest, because they cannot afford to. Their children may have college or university educations, sometimes both, but they cannot catch a break. They cannot get jobs that enable them to sustain themselves economically.
Young Canadians have been excluded from the recent economic recovery. There are 262,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than before the downturn. Many middle-class families have taken on extra debt just to financially support their adult children who are living at home. Some parents take on more debt to help children go back to school. It is also to help them with rent, or in other cases, to renovate the basement or pay for extra groceries until these young people can get a good start.
These Canadians do not know how they are going to pay the bills today. In many cases, middle-class parents, and in some cases grandparents, have delayed their retirement saving and have taken on more debt. They are struggling to get by today, when interest rates are low, and are petrified of what will happen in the future as rates inevitably rise.
These Canadians need a break. They need a government with a vision and a plan to create jobs, growth, and prosperity, but the finance minister was not thinking of them when he wrote this budget. He failed to provide Canadians with the plan they need. Instead of creating jobs, growth, and prosperity, the latest Conservative budget includes no new jobs, low economic growth, and more debt for Canadians than prosperity.
Canada's job market completely stalled in 2013. Only 5,300 net new full-time jobs were created last year for the entire country. A whopping 95% of last year's net new jobs were part-time. As I mentioned before, young Canadians still have 262,000 fewer jobs compared to before the downturn. It is clear that the government needs to change course and provide a credible plan to stimulate job creation. The status quo is not working.
Instead of introducing a new plan to create jobs, the budget would actually cut provincial programs that today are helping Canadians find work. Instead of working together with the provinces, the Conservatives have decided to go full steam ahead, to go it alone, on the Canada job grant, damn the torpedoes. To pay for it, they are actually taking money from the provinces, money that is currently being used to deliver skills training to some of our most vulnerable citizens, some of the Canadians who need the help the most.
This decision, for instance, endangers programs like BladeRunners, a program in B.C. that the OECD has called “one of the most successful programmes in Canada to support transition to employment of disadvantaged youth”. That program was funded through the labour market agreements that would be dismantled under this budget.
In my own riding of Kings—Hants, groups like the Valley Community Learning Association receive critical funding through the labour market agreements. This association has helped 91 Nova Scotians get their GED since it started receiving funding from the labour market agreements in 2010. It is giving those people a chance to get an education and to further themselves and their families. It helps apprentices with their math so they can pass the academic portion of their programs. It helps people prepare for aptitude tests so they can get through the screening processes in the military or for work at the local Michelin plant.
There are many vital groups in my riding that rely on labour market agreement funding to help vulnerable Nova Scotians. I am talking of groups like Community INC, PeopleWorx, Hants County Community Access Network, and the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association.
Vulnerable Canadians who are out of work rely on these programs to find jobs, and these vulnerable Canadians will be hurt by the budget. Once again, last night the Minister of Finance was unaware of who he is hurting with his callous budget that is so out of touch with these Canadians who are struggling.
On the jobs front for young Canadians, the budget announced $70 million for youth internships, but that is the same money that was announced in last year's budget. This is a déjà vu budget. It is a Groundhog Day budget. It does not actually do anything to really address youth unemployment and youth underemployment. The minister has not been thinking of our youth who need a government that does more. Instead, this is just another area of the budget where the Conservatives have been cleverly deceptive. When it comes to growth, the budget actually downgrades the Conservatives' own expectations for the Canadian economy established in the fall economic statement.
In the lead-up to the budget, we knew that the Prime Minister already had the worst record on economic growth of any Canadian prime minister since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the Depression. Canada's economy is actually growing more slowly today than the economies of the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and 11 other industrialized countries. Next year, Canada's growth is projected to fall below the OECD average.
The IMF has said that Canada's growth is at risk due to “high household debt and house prices”. The fact is that the finance minister's reckless introduction of 40-year, zero-down-payment mortgages in 2006 helped fuel a Canadian housing and personal debt problem that continues to endanger our economy.
The only thing that seems to be growing in Canada's economy these days is household debt. In 2013, Canada's household debt hit a record high. The average Canadian household now owes $1.66 for every dollar of disposable income.
In terms of the fiscal debt, the federal debt of the country, the Conservatives will have added $161 billion to the federal debt before the next election. That is according to their own numbers.
Canadians know that debt equals future taxes, because we will have to pay down that debt at some point in the future. An extra $161 billion in debt means that the average Canadian family will have to pay over $18,000 more in future taxes to pay off the debt racked up by the Conservative government, and that is not counting the interest.
With all of this debt, too many Canadians may have to delay their retirement plans. They are putting off saving for tomorrow because they can hardly make ends meet today. However, everyone has to stop working at some point; we cannot put off the cost of retirement indefinitely. The government does not seem to get it.
That is why the premiers are proposing a way to strengthen the CPP, to make sure that Canadians are better prepared for retirement. However, when the provinces proposed increasing the CPP, the Minister of Finance shut them down. He called it a job-killing payroll tax. What hypocrisy because this is the same Minister of Finance who is keeping EI payroll taxes artificially high.
According to this budget, the EI account is set to balance in 2015, yet the minister intends to collect an extra $5.2 billion in surplus EI revenues next year and use that to pad his books to create a surplus before the election. The minister could lower EI premiums. That would give Canadians business and workers a much needed break. Instead, he is keeping these EI rates artificially high. He is charging Canadians billions in extra EI premiums to pad his books.
The logic of the minister goes like this. When the provinces proposed an expanded CPP, it is a job-killing payroll tax. However, when the Conservatives keep EI premiums artificially high in order to create a phony surplus on the eve of an election, it is fair game.
The Conservatives are not just relying on bloated EI taxes to pad their books and create a phony surplus, but are also using one-time asset sales. Ontarians have seen this show before from the minister. During the Harris government, the same Minister of Finance in his previous position orchestrated the failed Highway 407 asset sale to pad his books and cover up his deficit. The minister held a fire sale and sold the highway to Spain at billions of dollars below market value. In Ontario, the same minister left Ontarians with a $6 billion deficit when he had promised a surplus. Today, here in Ottawa, the minister is again creating a phony surplus on the eve of an election for his political gains and misleading Canadians.
This budget would hurt too many Canadians. It punishes veterans, ignores the struggling middle class and struggling Canadian youth. It creates a phony surplus on the eve of an election, built on artificially high EI premiums, defence cuts, and asset sales; and it tries to balance the books on the backs of the most vulnerable Canadians, including aging veterans and marginalized Canadians who rely on provincial training programs to get themselves ready for the job market.
For this reason, the Liberal Party stands opposed to this budget. Therefore, I move the following:
That the amendment be amended by deleting all the words after the word “services”; and substituting the following:
g) Slashes billions of dollars from the health care plans of veterans, RCMP officers and of other Canadian public service retirees.
h) fails to offer a real plan for long term economic growth that would help middle class families;
i) takes money from workers and employers by keeping Employment Insurance premiums artificially high;
j) fails to revoke the Budget 2013 tariff hikes that increased the cost on everything from wigs for cancer patients to tricycles; and
k) fails to fill the $3 billion infrastructure hole that Budget 2013 created in the Building Canada Fund.
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, that is rich from a Prime Minister who has added over $160 billion to the national debt.
When provincial governments propose higher CPP premiums to improve Canadian pension income, the Minister of Finance calls it a job-killing payroll tax, but when the minister uses high EI premiums to pad his books to create a phoney pre-election surplus, it is fair game.
Why does the minister think that higher payroll taxes are okay when they help Conservative politics but not okay when they help Canadian pensioners?
The Budget February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance was part of an Ontario government that created a pre-election, phoney, fiscally unsustainable surplus. Instead, Ontarians were left with a $6 billion deficit and a botched Highway 407 asset sale.
Now the minister is trying to fool Canadians again with another pre-election, fiscally unsustainable surplus, again based on one-time asset sales.
Is the minister hoping Canadians forget his Ontario record of budget deception and asset sale incompetence?
Business of Supply February 3rd, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance is about services to rural and small-town communities, where often access to banking services in general are non-existent. For many citizens of rural and small-town Canada, an ATM in a local convenience store may be their only option.
Does the member have some public policy prescriptives that the government is considering to help address the high cost of bank fees in some of these bank machines in rural and small-town Canada, in convenience stores, as an example? Can it be implemented in such a way that will not actually reduce the number of these machines over time? Is there a way, perhaps through income support, to effect a change that would ensure the continuation of the access to bank machines in some of these communities but at the same time protect some of our most economically vulnerable Canadians from usurious fees?