Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in the debate on the budget implementation act. It is obviously one of the most important legislation that comes before the House every year.
When I thought what I might talk about today there were a number of things. I have to bypass the easy way, which is to only talk about the Atlantic accord that is resonating throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. I might touch on the subject of the Atlantic accord, but I want to talk more generally about the budget and how I think it has divided Canadians. It is a very cynical budget.
There is a lot about which we can talk. With the amount of money spent on this budget, the richest budget ever, Canadians would be right to have assumed that everybody should have had Christmas Day on budget day. In fact, it was far from festive for most Canadians. The budget could have done a great many things if it had been focused on helping those who needed help the most, or maybe if it had focused on innovation, the productivity gap, aboriginal Canadians, the environment and other things.
I suspect the response to the budget across the country has not been what the government wants or what the Minister of Finance wants. We can go to the minister's website and see the online poll he has done. He asks Canadians if they have benefited from the budget and 93% of the respondents have said no. That is a pretty significant number.
It is not only the minister's website. A number of other people have done some very open-minded and objective evaluations of the budget. One of the institutes that I go to quite frequently is the Caledon Institute. It does great research and work on a number of issues. I notice that its evaluation of the budget was, as usual, very thorough and effective.
I will read a few quotes by the Caledon Institute. It calls it “Mixed Brew for the 'Coffee Shop' Budget”. It says, among other things:
The ‘new’ child tax credit—in reality an obsolete program resurrected from the 1980s—tops this list. The funds for this inequitable scheme could have been far better spent on increasing the existing progressive Canada Child Tax Benefit or creating additional child care spaces. These...investments would have been much more helpful to ordinary Canadian families than a child tax credit that gives $310 to millionaires who do not need it and nothing to the poorest who do.
That is quite indicting.
Another quote says:
Ottawa has chosen instead to introduce a bundle of tax carrots that will serve a variety of particular groups but will provide little or no benefit to the broader population of low- and modest-income Canadians. The Budget could well have been named “Opportunities Lost.” With a $19 billion price tag, never has so much been spent with so little result.
It seems to me that the leader of our party has said very similar things to that. I agree with him and I agree with the Caledon Institute.
The institute also refers to specifically “The “New” Child Tax Credit: a policy zombie resurrected”. It says:
All non-poor families will receive $310, including the very rich; some low-income families with a low tax liability will receive a smaller amount, while the poorest will get nothing at all because they do not owe income tax.
The poorest families will get nothing. This measure will make income inequality among families worse, not better.
It refers to last year's universal child care benefit and says:
—this Budget’s non-refundable child tax credit are inequitable, wasteful programs that deliver benefits to upper-income families for whom the payments are a meaningless drop in their income bucket, while depriving low- and middle-income families...
The institute goes on in a lot of different ways. For example, it talks about aboriginal Canadians who are noticeably absent from the budget. It says:
The Kelowna Accord was a solemn agreement signed by the provinces, territories, First Nations and Aboriginal organizations, and the previous Canadian government.
It talks about the new federal government rejecting the Kelowna accord and says:
Now it becomes apparent that Canada’s New Government has no plan at all, unless doing as little as possible can be characterized as a plan.
That is a reasoned, thought out, analytical view of what the budget has done. It is not only the Caledon Institute that says this. I suspect if Kelowna is a socialist plot, then the government would think that the Caledon Institute is probably a socialist organization to the government side.
It is a long time since I have heard Andrew Coyne called a socialist. The National Post suggests:
—with this budget. [the Minister of Finance] becomes officially the biggest spending Finance Minister in the history of Canada. That's after inflation and population growth is taken into account. They've now increased under this Conservative government...spending by $25 billion in two years. Is this what Conservative voters wanted? No sense of priorities, not a nickel in real, honest to God tax cuts of any kind. There's a lot of spending programs disguised as tax credits for children...which may be fine programs, but they're programs, not tax cuts.
Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Chamber of Commerce, another well known socialist, suggests:
I don't think there's anything new there. [He] actually told us at the time of his income trust announcement in October that he would adjust the tax cuts corporate tax cuts in the future...instead, we saw small little targeted breaks for everybody from lacrosse fans to truckdrivers.
In general, this is an unfocused budget. Most Canadians know that if we really wanted to increase productivity and benefit Canadians, particularly those who might be able to use a bit of a break, we would lower personal income taxes, perhaps to the level the Liberals did in the economic update of November 2005.
What else got mentioned in the budget but got very little action? How about the environment? John Bennett, senior policy analyst for the Sierra Club of Canada, says:
This government has abandoned its obligations to the Kyoto protocol and abandoned its moral responsibility to keep our international commitments...This government has no intention of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It has every intention of trying to sound like it does, but has no intention to actually do it.
That is consistent throughout the budget. The government sounds like it can do something without actually having to do it.
On social programs, Monica Lysack of the Child Care Advocacy Association says:
For a government that identified childcare as one of their priorities, this is an admission of failure.
There was an editorial in the Toronto Star. There are a number of things I could say, but let me quote this. It says:
What is left, then, is not a crafty pre-election budget, but a financial document that is unfocused, that is devoid of a national strategy to tackle any of the major social issues facing this country, and that does little to help the poorest of the poor.
Aboriginal Canadians are perhaps the most targeted group in the budget by their exclusion. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says:
We're extremely disappointed, frustrated because it's obvious that those that did well today are those that are considered important to this government. Those that are viewed as unimportant did badly, and we did badly.
An awful lot of issues in the budget have not been addressed.
There are a couple more issues in the development area, both regional development and international development. For the second budget in a row under the Conservative government there is no mention of regional development programs like ACOA.
Previous governments had a big plan for ACOA, which in the last number of years has done some amazing work in Atlantic Canada and has invested in research and innovation. The Atlantic innovation fund has driven university research and has helped Atlantic Canada's strong but generally smaller universities to compete and provide innovative solutions and also commercialization of products. There is no mention in the budget.
The minister suggests there have been no cuts to ACOA, and we hear that all the time, but consistently the estimates indicate not only cuts to regional development across the board but to ACOA. The money is shifted from here to there, but there is never any evidence of what is actually happening with the spending. Regional development is a big issue.
On international development, I will tell the House a story about a trip I took to Kenya with three other members of the House, three friends, the Conservative member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, the member for Halifax and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, who sponsored the great private member's Bill C-293, the overseas development assistance act, to make poverty the focus of international development.
There is so much that Canada can do in the world. It does not all have to be centred on Afghanistan. In fact, we see everyday in countries like Kenya the needs of the developing world and so many ways that Canada can help. Canada has helped and I hope it will continue to help.
When the four of us went to Kenya, we saw some amazing things and amazing people. We met Beatrice, who lost all seven of her children and their partners in less than two years to HIV related issues. She was a grandmother. She was a street beggar. She had 12 grandchildren. What was she going to do? She thought she would have to poison her grandchildren because she could not take care of them. Instead, she got up one day and decided she would do something about it. She borrowed $15 U.S. from a micro credit in the slums of Nairobi, and today she runs three businesses in the slums.
This is the kind of resilience that exists in third world. These are the kinds of people who can make a huge difference.
Susan is a woman who we met in Eldoret in western Kenya. I remember my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood was particularly touched by her. She worked in a microcredit in a big, open, empty warehouse with some sewing machines and people making bags. We went over to talk to Susan. She looked up at us happy and smiling and said, “Thank you, God” for the blessings he had given her. She is HIV positive and was given up for dead. Now she is living and working because of a microcredit. She makes lovely cloth bags with beads on them. We asked her how many she could make in a day. She said that she could make five bags in a day. How much does she get paid for each bag? Eight Kenyan shillings. She makes forty Kenyan shillings a day, which is the equivalent of 65¢ or 70¢ Canadian in a day.
We all know about the terrible rates of poverty, disease and the lack of sanitation in which people exist throughout the world. Working full time, she makes less than $1 Canadian a day and she considers herself fortunate.
What the people of Kenya can do with little should be such a spur to countries like Canada to invest in making their lives better. We can do so much. We should hit our millennium target of 0.7% of GNI to international aid. I felt that on the government side. We can do this.
In countries like Kenya and other African countries in sub-Saharan Africa there is a resilience, a strength, an entrepreneurial savvy among the people who simply have nothing, but make do. Not only do they make do, but they thank God for what he or she has given them. It is an inspiration.
Canada can do a lot more. I would like to see more mention of international development. I would like to see Canada commit to reaching 0.7%. At the very least I would like to see us ensure that we maintain the work we have done in places like Kenya where CIDA has been active. Its funding may be threatened over the next few years for the work it does on tuberculosis.
Kenya is a country about the size of Canada. Three hundred Kenyans a day die of tuberculosis. How many people in Canada even think tuberculosis is still a disease about which to worry? Five hundred people a day die of HIV. Millions of young African children die of malaria. We can do so much more. The area of international development is lacking in the budget as well.
I want to turn for a second to the issue of the Atlantic accord. This is an issue that has absolutely dominated discussion in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador. We hear about it from Premier Danny Williams and a bit about it from Rodney MacDonald. This is the dominant issue in Atlantic Canada. We can listen to what the premiers have said about it.
We have all heard what Danny Williams has had to say. He has stood up and he has fought for his province. He wants to keep what he fought for. He says:
A promise was made. We expected that promise to be kept by the Prime Minister and, indeed, his government....Even though he is claiming that they are excluding 100% of non-renewable natural resource revenues [they are not]....There is a sense of betrayal, a sense of disappointment.
That just about says it all.
Rodney MacDonald, the Premier of Nova Scotia is not the most fiery of speakers. He is concerned about the accord, though. On March 19, he said:
It's almost as if they want to continue giving handouts to Nova Scotians rather than us keeping our offshore accord and that to me is fundamentally unfair.
A lot of people in Canada do not fully understand this. When we debated it in the House of Commons, people on the other side stood up and asked foolish questions. It does not matter to them. They get briefing notes from some hack in the Department of Finance or a backroom Conservative who hauls it out and says “Go fight the battle”. They have no idea what this actually means.
Let me just educate members a bit on the Atlantic accord. This is the agreement that was reached between the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia on offshore revenues on Valentine's Day 2005. It says:
—the Government of Canada intends to provide additional offset payments to the province in respect of offshore-related Equalization reductions, effectively allowing it to retain the benefit of 100 per cent of its offshore resource revenues.
Then it says:
The amount of additional offset payment for a year shall be calculated as the difference between the Equalization payment that would be received by the province under the Equalization formula as it exists at the time...
Very simply, this means that offshore revenues are excluded from equalization. If equalization goes up, the provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador would get the improved equalization plus they would keep their offshore revenues. A choice has allegedly been offered to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador which would have the old equalization with the old formula or the new equalization that some in the rest of Canada will benefit from. We should have both. It should not be one or the other.
The former Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the member for Halifax West, who was regional minister, and the then minister of finance and now our House leader, did a great job on that for the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
If anybody thinks the offshore is just politics, I would like to read a few headlines. I will not go into details. Marilla Stephenson said in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald dated the week of the budget:
Note to Rodney: Stephen played you big time. The Prime Minister has played you like a fiddle. If any theme rang through the Prime Minister's budget delivered on Monday night, it was that the have-nots are to remain, well, have-nots. The Prime Minister stoops to conquer. Jeering from the sidelines were the budget's unlucky trio of obvious losers: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan. All are now victims of a calculated insult--
David Rodenhiser in the Halifax Daily News said:
Nova Scotians are left asking themselves: Who's standing up for us? Right now, the answer is no one. Certainly not our federal cabinet minister, the member for Central Nova, who's defending Ottawa rather than Nova Scotia on this. And not MacDonald, who's content to pursue process rather than take action. MacDonald repeatedly stated yesterday that provincial finance officials are gathering information and requesting meetings--
Here is a headline entitled: “Atlantic Tories running for cover; Cabinet representatives urged to stand up for region's rights”. Another one says it all. The headline in the Chronicle-Herald reads: “Federal Conservatives shaft province, once again”. There is not much more to be said about that.
Now the topic has even changed a bit because for a while we heard that the provinces did not really get a bad deal because they had a choice of two deals. That lasted about a week.
In the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Saturday it stated, “It appears that Ottawa and Nova Scotia are now working on an accord deal. Plans said to be a compromise on the scrapped 2005 Atlantic accord agreement”.
There is not much question that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador were betrayed by their cabinet representatives and by their Conservative members with the dismantling of the Atlantic accord, a deal which provided such hope for the people of Nova Scotia and for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Apparently, other provinces feel the same way. Having spent two weeks back home, I can tell the House that this is not an issue likely to fade anytime soon.
ACOA, international development, the Atlantic accord, the failure on child care, and leaving the poorest of the poor vulnerable are not acceptable. Some things were not even mentioned in the budget that have come to pass.
Last Friday, members of the Coast Guard in my own community of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour were called to a meeting and were told there were going to be new Coast Guard vessels. They would be made in Canada. They were also told that their jobs would be moved from Dartmouth, where they have been for years, to St. John's, Newfoundland, which happens to be the riding of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the minister responsible for the Coast Guard. There was no explanation, no business plan, or no idea of where this came from. There was no explanation given to the workers about what was going on. We do not even know if there is a dock in St. John's that could handle them. That is an insult to the people of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. They are rightly concerned about this issue.
This budget is designed very clearly for the next election, not the next generation. It is political arithmetic, add a few votes here, appeal to a few votes there, pander, troll for votes in bunches where they can be found. If people do not vote Conservative and likely never will, or they contribute too small of a voting block, too bad. There is nothing for them. Aboriginal Canadians, sorry. Low income families, sorry. Atlantic Canada, sorry.
The budget is a cynical concoction of winners and losers. Guess who the real losers are? The real losers are the people who need help the most.
We have benefited as a nation from governments, mainly Liberal but also PC, that have built the social infrastructure of Canada. We are now witnessing a government that is ignoring the needs of the vulnerable and is spending billions of dollars trying to buy the next election. It is not the way good governance is done. It is not the way to inspire a nation. It is wrong and it needs to be fixed.