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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
Employment Insurance December 6th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance used to call EI a job-killing payroll tax, but according to the PBO, the Conservatives are keeping EI taxes “higher than necessary” in 2015 and 2016.
If the Conservatives kept their promise to set EI taxes at a break-even rate, the EI taxes would fall significantly in 2015. With a sluggish Canadian economy, why are the Conservatives breaking their promise by freezing EI premiums at an artificially high rate until the end of 2016?
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 December 2nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak today to Bill C-4, the government's latest budget implementation bill.
The bill fails to address the very real challenges faced by the middle class in Canada.
This bill does little to help middle-class families in Canada.
First and foremost, this bill does nothing to create good paying jobs for Canadians. Middle-class Canadians are worried about their finances. They ought to be, because they face record levels of personal debt, amounting to $1.66 for every dollar of annual income. They are struggling to make ends meet when interest rates are low. They are petrified to think of what will happen in the future if interest rates start to rise at some point.
One of the driving forces behind this accumulation of household debt is the direct financial subsidization of adult children who cannot yet make it on their own. These are young people between the ages of 25 to 35 who are living at home and unable to pay rent. In fact, 43% of Canadian families have directly financially subsidized young people who have lived for extended periods of time at home with them because they cannot make ends meet. Young Canadians have been left behind during this so-called economic recovery; they have 225,000 fewer jobs than before the downturn.
Bill C-4 does nothing to help young Canadians find jobs, even though the youth unemployment and underemployment rates are higher than they were before the recession.
Instead of supporting job creation for young Canadians, a number of items in Bill C-4 would put existing jobs at risk. This bill phases out the labour-sponsored venture capital corporation tax credit. These venture funds help small business start-ups grow and create good jobs for Canadians. They are particularly important in Quebec.
All of the chambers of commerce in Quebec are against these changes.
However, it is important to realize that the impacts of these labour-sponsored funds and investments, many of which are based in Quebec, benefit small business across the country, in start-ups, technology companies, biotech, cleantech, and certainly the jobs of tomorrow.
The provinces that have labour-sponsored venture capital funds include B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Bill C-4 would cut the tax incentives for those labour-sponsored venture capital funds by half, endangering not only their business model but also the businesses that rely on that venture capital to grow and create jobs.
The government has said that the reason it is doing this is because it is bringing in the VCAP, the venture capital action plan, The problem is that the VCAP is not up and running yet. Therefore, the government is actually destroying one source of venture capital, the labour-sponsored venture capital source, without having a new program that is running. It is creating a vacuum in funding. That funding is extremely important to create innovation, commercialization, and jobs of today and tomorrow for young Canadians, exactly the kind of jobs we ought to be focused on.
Again, this is like the government with its jobs training program that it introduced shortly after the last budget. In fact, it is still not running. It forgot to talk to the provinces. Therefore, there is no jobs training program. It spent millions of dollars on advertising it, but there is no program. This is a government that invests money in self-promotion, but does not get the job done when it comes to putting in place the kinds of measures to create jobs, good training and to close the job skills gap. The government is more interested in promoting activities as opposed to getting the job done.
In terms of the mining sector, Bill C-4 reduces tax incentives for Canadian mining companies, which will severely hurt Canada's competitiveness in an important global industry where Canada is seen as an international leader. Canada's mining sector is an important source of good paying jobs for Canadians. These measures in Bill C-4 would put Canadian jobs, particularly in rural and remote communities, at risk. These are communities that are struggling. Rural Canada is struggling. This is no time to reduce the support for and incentives for investments in mining, particularly at a time when the mining industry faces huge challenges globally.
In terms of employment insurance rates, the Conservatives claim that the proposed changes to EI rates are going to be good for the Canadian economy. Certainly extending the EI hiring credit is an initiative that we do support, but this credit has been in place for three years and young Canadians are still struggling to find good work. Clearly, this measure is not strong enough to kick-start the economy, particularly in terms of opportunities for young Canadians.
However, Bill C-4 also freezes EI rates, which at first glance may seem like a good idea. When EI rates are going up, it may be good for small businesses and good for workers to freeze EI rates. We now know that the EI account will be balanced in 2015 instead of 2016, and ultimately would be able to start falling after that, left to its own devices.
The problem is that the Conservatives had promised to set EI rates at a break-even rate as soon as the EI account is balanced. However, Bill C-4 actually breaks that promise by freezing EI rates until the end of 2016, instead of them being allowed to fall naturally commensurate with the account being in balance.
As a result, Canadians will pay an extra $5.6 billion more than what is required to balance the EI account. That is an extra $5.6 billion over two years that we should be using to keep in the pockets of Canadians and Canadian small businesses in order to create jobs during a time of significant unemployment and underemployment in Canada.
This legislation has a large number of measures that have nothing to do whatsoever with the budget or the fiscal framework. They do not belong in a budget bill. This legislation amends the rules for appointments to the Supreme Court. With Bill C-4, the Conservatives created this farce whereby the finance committee was tasked with making decisions on the selection process for the Supreme Court of Canada. What is next? Are we going to be having members of the justice committee making decisions on government-wide fiscal policy?
Bill C-4 amends the Conflict of Interest Act to allow cabinet to designate one person or class of persons as public office holders or reporting public office officers.
We have even heard from the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, Guy Giorno, who was so concerned about this part of Bill C-4 that he wrote to MPs on the finance committee. This is what Mr. Giorno had to say about the measures in part 3, division 15, of Bill C-4:
Cabinet's power to designate new public office holders and reporting public office holders would be unlimited and far-reaching. The bill would place no restrictions on cabinet's power to designate individuals and classes of individuals as subject to the Act. Virtually anyone could be designated as subject to the Conflict of Interest Act at any point during his or her employment or tenure in office.
The government has not indicated who, if anyone, might be designated if these provisions are passed and come into force. The Budget is silent on this point. In fact, the Budget Plan did not even suggest that the Conflict of Interest Act should be amended.
Mr. Giorno makes some very clear points as to why this may be the wrong direction, but the finance committee is not the best committee to actually deal with this kind of issue or the process around the appointments to the Supreme Court.
The changes to the Labour Code in the bill ought to have been dealt with at another committee. They were broad, sweeping and controversial and ought not be dealt with by the House of Commons finance committee. Again, there are changes to the numbers of members of the veterans review board. The government continues to demonstrate disrespect for Parliament, parliamentarians and the people who elect us. Conservative members and opposition members have a responsibility to defend their right to do their jobs and to study legislation.
Taxation October 25th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, credit unions, like the Victory Credit Union in Kings—Hants, are important economic drivers for rural and small town Canada. It makes no sense for the Conservatives to raise taxes on credit unions by $75 million. In Manitoba alone, this will be a loss of $5 million to credit union owner-members. In Steinbach, it is going to cost citizens there over a million dollars.
Why are the tax and waste Conservatives ripping off the credit union owner-members of Steinbach for over a million dollars? Why the attack on rural and small-town Canadians?
The Economy October 25th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the Bank of Canada has joined with the IMF in downgrading Canada's growth numbers, which are now an anemic 1.6%. This year, in fact, U.K. and U.S. growth numbers are 50% higher than Canada's.
Canadians, especially young Canadians, are being left behind. There are 224,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians today than back in 2008. Why are the Conservatives more interested in helping find the Franklin expedition than in helping find jobs and opportunities for young Canadians? Why are the Conservatives so out of touch with middle-class Canadian families?
Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act October 24th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to speak to Bill C-462. The purpose, obviously, is to restrict the level of fees that can be charged by promoters of the disability tax credit.
Since 2005, disabled Canadians have been able to claim this credit retroactively for up to 10 years, which can result in significant lump sum payments. Reports of consultants exploiting disabled Canadians and charging exorbitant and in some cases extortionate contingency fees in connection with these large, retroactive claims provide some of the reasoning behind the bill. Disabled Canadians ought to be protected from exploitation, clearly. Consultants who abuse the system and commit fraud ought to be punished under the law, so I support the intent of the bill.
I do have some reservations. My biggest concern is that the legislation may have identified the wrong problem, because while the bill establishes the need for introducing penalties against fraudulent consultants and protection for those exploited, a key question ought to be asked. Why do these consultants exist in the first place? It could be argued that the reason they exist is that there is a need created by an application process that is too complex, and that governments have failed to provide disabled Canadians with the resources they need to fill out the forms themselves. This is also in the context of times when we are cutting government and front-line services, which could actually help disabled Canadians complete these forms.
If the government is serious about helping disabled Canadians and stopping the alleged proliferation of these consultants, it ought to simplify the disability tax credit application process, and hire and train government workers in sufficient quantity and with sufficient expertise to help Canadians who have questions and need help with this process. This way more disabled Canadians who are entitled to these benefits would be able to fill out the forms themselves, and that would eradicate the need for these consultants in the first place.
The legislation in its current format does not address this central point, so I emphasize that I support the intent of Bill C-462 and recognize the importance of protecting innocent Canadian citizens from exploitation by consultants who abuse the system and charge usurious fees for their services.
I will outline a few of my reservations. First and foremost, there is a lack of information and detail within Bill C-462, and that is quite often the situation with private members' bills. Private members do not have the same kind of legislative or research capacity in working to develop legislation that, for instance, governments have.
However, the legislation in its current format does not specify what the maximum fees would be or how they would be set. That would be defined, perhaps, in the other place or perhaps in the regulatory process. Surely this ought to be a key element of the legislation as the aim is to restrict fees.
This vacuum of information leaves a number of questions unanswered and potential unintended consequences. For instance, how does the government propose to measure the fees? What services would be covered? What services would fall outside of the maximum fee structure? Would the maximum fee be set as a percentage of the tax credit or as a percentage of the tax refund, or would the maximum be set in absolute terms? Is the maximum to be set as a percentage of the tax benefit? How many years would be factored in or count towards that maximum? Would it be just the year of the application or would the government consider the value of the benefit over a number of years, for instance, the net present value of that future revenue stream? In setting the maximum fee, would the government differentiate between different applications, such as whether they are complicated, time-consuming or taken to appeals? If so, how would the government make that differentiation?
With some applicants claiming retroactively for up to 10 years, there could be complications within their application. The maximum fees set out in the regulations ought to reflect the complexity of the case in hand. The industry may be too complicated for a one-size-fits-all policy and the maximum fee structure ought to be set in an open and transparent process with a broad range of stakeholders.
Second, qualifying for the disability tax credit also qualifies people for other programs such as the registered disability savings program. Once they receive a disability tax credit certificate, they can remain eligible for the tax credit for several years. Therefore, the maximum fee structure that only considers the value of the refund for one year may not reflect the actual value that the applicant places on qualifying for the additional disability tax credit certificate.
For this point, let me illustrate with one potential example. Let us consider the amount of a disability tax credit in 2013 for an adult. That would be 15% of $7,546, which would be $1,131.90. Therefore, if the government is not willing to simplify the complex application process for disabled Canadians, some will continue to depend on the expertise of consultants. If the 5% fee cap is introduced, as has been suggested, the maximum amount a disabled Canadian could pay for expertise in applying for the tax credit could be as little as $56.60. However, the real reason the applicant may want to qualify for the disability tax credit is to be eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in RDSP bonds and matching grants from the government. Regardless of the amount people are likely to receive from just this one disability tax refund, some will take their claim to the appeals process in order to gain access to all these other programs and benefits.
Poor regulations that could flow potentially from Bill C-462, regulations that would have a narrow view of the tax credit, could have some unintended consequences, for instance, of preventing disabled Canadians the help they need to access government programs. We should acknowledge that there are businesses which provide very legitimate and valuable services to help disabled Canadians access these programs. I have heard from some of these types of operators who have certainly convinced me that what they are doing is legitimate and they are concerned that potential unintended consequences could render their businesses unprofitable if we did not consider some of their concerns in the design of this legislation. Again, I believe these are legitimate businesses.
The regulations under Bill C-462 must ensure that these legitimate businesses remain financially viable under this model. We must not punish these legitimate businesses because of the exploitative actions of some of the other operators who are taking advantage of this system.
One of the key reasons for the hiring of consultants, again, is the complex application process, which leads me to a point that right now the process is so complex that some Canadians feel like the only option available to them is to hire a consultant to guide them through. Therefore, we ought to make it easier for legitimate applicants to access the program themselves. After all, it is a program to which they ought to be entitled and, as such, why should they need an outside consultant simply to deal with their own government and access a program for which they qualify? The government should streamline the application process. It should hire and train more government workers who can answer the questions and help disabled Canadians apply for these credits themselves.
This is not just an issue of disabled Canadians and their interface with government. We have gone toward more automation, less personal interaction, less individually tailored services for Canadians dealing with their government and this is something we have to consider for seniors and for disabled Canadians.
In summary, we agree that disabled Canadians need to be protected from exploitation, but we also believe that there are other things the government could do through simplifying the process and ensuring that we have front line public servants who are providing these services and helping disabled Canadians interface with the government and access the programs not only to which they are entitled, but the programs they need.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
I totally agree with my colleague, Mr. Speaker.
The fact that the government would seek to amend the provisions of the Supreme Court Act relating to court appointments in its budget implementation bill is ludicrous. In fact, it makes no sense and it is an insult to Quebeckers.
It is again correcting a mistake that the government made earlier when it followed a process of the appointment for Justice Nadon, ignoring what the requirements actually were. Let us imagine a government that ignores the law in appointing a Supreme Court judge. It makes absolutely no sense.
To double the insult and to actually include that in a budget implementation bill makes a farce of the whole process.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to congratulate the minister on her new role.
I think as minister of state for foreign affairs, it is important for her to have an understanding that strong corporate social responsibility—environmental governance, high labour standards and respect for human rights—is actually something that many Canadian mining companies are providing throughout the world. In fact, we can raise the bar further. We can do more to strengthen the brand of Canada in the world, with strong standards of CSR.
Mining is something that we are exceptionally good at as a country. It is an area where we are creating good jobs in Canada and in other countries. I do not think corporate social responsibility is something that Canadian mining companies are trying to avoid. I think it is something that Canadian mining companies are increasingly embracing.
Through Canadian mining companies acting responsibly as they grow business and develop opportunities around the world, we can build a better, more stable and sustainable world.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak about this latest budget bill.
It is another omnibus budget bill. It is 308 pages in length, and there are 472 separate clauses, including amendments to the Supreme Court Act to ensure that Justice Nadon qualifies for the Supreme Court and to correct a mistake that the Conservatives seem to have made during the nomination process.
There is much in this bill that has absolutely nothing to do with the budget. The government is, in fact, proposing to overhaul labour relations with the public service, which is one of the reasons my friend and colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso, will be speaking to that issue today as the critic in areas of labour for the Liberal Party and its caucus.
Last night I saw a spectacle that I have not seen in almost 17 years in this place, which was that of a government that was incapable of organizing a budget briefing for members of Parliament. The budget briefing had to be called off because the government did not have its act together: it forgot to order translations for the meeting.
Sadly, it is part of a growing pattern of incompetence from the Conservative government and its finance minister. This is the finance minister who has added over $150 billion to our national debt with his reckless spending and his bad fiscal management.
Yesterday the finance minister was asked a very simple question. The throne speech told us recently that there would be balanced budget legislation forthcoming; the question to the minister yesterday was to help clarify what that balanced budget legislation would mean. The throne speech told us that the balanced budget legislation would “require balanced budgets during normal economic times”, and yesterday the minister was asked to define “normal economic times”. He responded that normal economic times are times when the government is not in deficit.
Today the minister seemed to confirm that his balanced budget legislation would only require balanced budgets when the budget is already balanced. It is no wonder that so many Canadians are losing faith both in this minister and in the Conservative government's management of the Canadian economy.
Now we have this budget bill, a bill that utterly fails to address the real concerns facing middle-class Canadian families. Either these failures are part of a systemic problem or else they speak to an effort of the government to distract Canadians from some of its recent scandals.
For instance, the government is picking a fight with the public service, a gratuitous fight at a time when we need to work with the public service to deliver better services for Canadians and better results for taxpayers. The Conservatives are picking this fight, and I believe that it is in fact to distract Canadians. This big fight with the public service is to distract Canadians from the government's growing list of scandals, the most recent of which is the Duffy-Wright-Prime Minister's Office scandal.
We all know that on June 5, the Prime Minister said in the House that Mr. Wright acted alone and that they were not only his decisions but that they were not communicated to the Prime Minister or to any members of his office. It has become very clear in recent days and weeks that this is not true.
On February 13, the Prime Minister defended Senator Pamela Wallin and said that her expenses were fine. He stood by her and her expenses. Now the government realizes it is mired in scandal and is trying to change the channel. That is why it is picking the fight with the public service union at this time.
In this budget bill, over 80 pages of the roughly 300 pages are devoted to overhauling relations with the public service. This is something that ought to have been achieved, if in fact there was a legitimate public policy issue, in a separate piece of legislation dealt with by the government operations committee, rather than by lumping it into a large omnibus budget bill to be dealt with by the finance committee.
The government is having trouble changing the channel away from scandals. It is trying to pick these fights, but the reality is that it cannot change the channel; the Prime Minister cannot even find the remote control. Perhaps Nigel Wright took the remote control with him when he left, along with all those files from the PMO.
Speaking of changing the channel, I have never seen a Speech from the Throne in which one of the principal focuses has been on the unbundling of cable TV channels. I do not think there is any country in the British commonwealth that has devoted so much ink in a throne speech to cable TV regulation. It is not part of any grand vision for the country that addresses the real economic challenges of Canadian families, and the fact is that middle-class families are feeling squeezed. They have record high levels of personal debt, they can barely make ends meet today when we have record low levels of interest rates, and they are petrified as to what will happen in the future as rates inevitably go up.
Middle-class Canadians have seen good-paying jobs replaced by part-time work, and for young Canadians there are still 224,000 fewer jobs today than before the downturn. The gap between Canada's youth unemployment and the so-called adult unemployment rate for people 25 years of age or older hit an all-time high this year. With the economy sputtering forward, our youth are being left behind, and this is not affecting just young Canadians: it is affecting their parents and, in many cases, their grandparents, who are footing the bills. According to TD Bank, more than half of baby-boom parents are providing financial support to adult children who are no longer in school and 43% have allowed their adult children to live at home rent-free for extended periods.
This is also contributing to higher household debt and lower retirement savings for parents.
It is time for the government to get serious about this issue and provide more support for young Canadians in need.
Helping adult children make ends meet is actually leading middle-class Canadian families into taking on a lot of additional debt and dipping into their retirement savings. It is also one of the reasons that Canadian parents 55 years or older are two and a half times more likely to refinance their mortgage if they have children than if they do not, and their average household debt is actually twice that of their childless peers. They are more likely to take on higher non-mortgage debt, such as higher credit card debt and lines of credit, which is one of the reasons non-mortgage debt in Canada continues to climb, with an average Canadian now owing over $27,000 in non-mortgage debt.
The Conservatives refuse to acknowledge these real financial pressures for young Canadians and their families, and instead of helping youth get meaningful work experience, they have actually cut the government's own summer jobs program by half. In their latest throne speech, more time was spent talking about finding the Franklin expedition than in helping Canadian youth find jobs. This is a government that is out of touch. It wants to make cable TV cheaper for Canadian youth, but it is doing nothing to help youth get away from the TV and into meaningful work opportunities.
The throne speech never once acknowledged the record level of high personal debt in Canada, and neither did this budget implementation bill. This bill does nothing to kick-start the Canadian economy for young Canadians and create jobs. It does nothing to help young Canadians and their struggling families and, consistent with the throne speech, it offers no real vision for the future.
Certainly some freezing of EI rates and keeping the small business tax credit in place helps, but it is nothing new and it is not good enough. Right now the economy is not growing. Just this morning the Bank of Canada slashed its growth forecast for the Canadian economy yet again. It says that the Canadian economy will not rebound to capacity until, at the very earliest, the end of 2015. The fact is that Canada has the worst record of economic growth under the current Prime Minister; R.B. Bennett was the second worst.
Right now there are too many young Canadians looking for work and there are too many middle-class Canadians struggling under crushing levels of personal debt, $1.65 for every $1 of annual income being the average. In fact, this bill would actually make things worse, for instance, for the mining sector, and changes to the labour-sponsored venture capital tax credit for investments in innovation in small business will make it harder for small businesses to attract investment and growth.
This budget actually corrects some mistakes made in the last budget implementation act. The last budget implementation act mistakenly doubled taxes on credit unions. Imagine. This budget implementation act corrects mistakes made in the last budget implementation act. One of the laws of unintended consequences of omnibus bills is that we see these mistakes made in the acts in the first place.
This tired, out-of-touch Conservative government, mired in scandal, devoid of vision, is offering nothing to help young Canadians and their struggling middle-class families. Canadians are tired of a government trying to change the channel. What they really want is to change the government. They want hope for a better future, pride in a stronger Canada and some positive vision and ideas for the future. That is what the Liberal Party and a future Liberal government is offering to Canadians.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that there is unanimous consent.