Mr. Speaker, as always, I am honoured to speak in the House, but I am not particularly honoured to speak to Bill C-59. This bill is more than 150 pages long and will be devastating not only for the Canadian economy, but also for Canadian workers.
The Conservatives have once again introduced an omnibus bill designed to push through hundreds of changes that are not subject to study or oversight. This bill contains more than 270 clauses amending dozens of laws, most of which have nothing to do with the budget.
The Conservatives' income splitting plan will cost Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars and will benefit only the wealthy. The increase to the TFSA limit will only make things worse.
With more than 150 pages in this massive omnibus bill, yet again we see the Conservatives essentially abusing the parliamentary process. Today The Globe and Mail called it a “contemptuous disregard for Parliament” and “an ugly precedent”.
I remember what the current Prime Minister—and not for long prime minister—said while in opposition about omnibus legislation that he did not like. He said:
Second, in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?
The massive omnibus bill that the Prime Minister was criticizing was 20 pages long. However, Conservatives have brought in three omnibus bills that were over 450 pages long, and another one topped out at over 880 pages.
Therefore, I guess what Conservatives are saying to Parliament and to Canadians is that in such an abusive relationship, this is just a small abuse, so we should accept it and tolerate it. However, in one fell swoop, dozens of laws would be affected, from Parliament Hill security to terrorism to veterans to undermining basic human rights protections for unpaid interns to undermining the charter protection for collective bargaining for public servants in this country. All of that is rammed into this one bill, and Conservatives are going to ram it through Parliament just as surely as day follows night.
Let us first set the context of where this particular budget lands in the Canadian economy.
Members will notice that the Conservatives' talking points about the economic performance of the government are increasingly stale. That is because the only numbers that show any positive light on what is happening in the Canadian context are now three, four, and five years old, and according to the Department of Finance, for the last 15 months growth in Canada's economy has been less than 1%.
To put that in historical context, that is the worst record outside of a recession for any government in more than 40 years. I will repeat that: outside of recession, the last almost year and a half has been the worst growth record of any government in the last four and a half decades. Still Conservatives would have us believe that everything is fine, despite massive job losses in the energy sector, retail sector, and sectors like manufacturing. We have now lost more than 420,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs over the nine long years since the Conservatives took power. That is more than half a million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000.
This is devastating for the Canadian economy. As we have seen and as the Governor of the Bank of the Canada shows us consistently, when oil prices rise, the Canadian dollar rises, which tends to have a somewhat negative effect on manufacturing output, and when it drops, manufacturing typically picks back up in Canada. However, the Canadian dollar now hovers around 80¢. We have not seen that uptick in the manufacturing sector, because things are different now. Under the Conservatives' watch, the downturn in manufacturing has become more permanent.
There are in fact 250,000 fewer jobs in Canada right now than before the recession hit and more than 160,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than before the recession hit. We have not yet recovered from the depths of the recession. We have not yet seen the recovery that Canadians were expecting. Certainly, if one believed all the ads the government has bought with taxpayer money—almost $750 million worth—one would think everything was perfect. However, Canadians know different, because Canadians right now are carrying the highest debt loads in Canadian history. Each individual household is now carrying, on average, more debt than we ever have since our country was founded.
We also see, from a government that claims fiscal austerity and prudence, that the historical record has actually met the current record. The Conservatives have added more than $150 billion to the national debt. That is $4,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country. We know it is more than $4,000 per person because by the time we pay that debt off—if we ever pay it off, and certainly not under our current government's plan—it will be much more than $4,000, because when one borrows money, it always ends up costing more. Every Canadian has had that experience with student loans or car loans or a mortgage. However, that is how much the Conservatives have added to the national debt.
People might ask what we got in return. Did we get a robust economy? Did we get a more diversified and sustainable economy, such as the one the leader in Alberta, Rachel Notley, talks about creating for that fine province? No. We have again seen an overreliance on a soaring commodity price that goes up and goes down. We have seen yet another opportunity squandered by the government.
If the Conservative economic plan was working, then the Conservative economic plan would be working, and it is not. Canadians know it, and no $750 million ad buy is going to convince them otherwise.
We have also seen in the budget document, this omnibus bill, that there are a lot of perks in it for the wealthy and the well connected. They do okay. In fact, they do great.
Bankers do not tend to use very colourful or aggressive language generally, but when asked about the performance of the Canadian economy just a few weeks ago, the Governor of the Bank of Canada called it “atrocious”. He is right.
In an atrocious economic environment, one would think job one from the government of the day would be to create jobs, to get people back to work, to diversify the economy, to invest in the economy in ways that would actually produce the jobs that we have been missing since the last global recession. Instead, we see the true priorities of the Conservatives when it comes to jobs, and that is their own jobs. They are hoping to buy back re-election just one more time.
“Give us one more chance”, say the Conservatives, “We're going to figure this thing out this time.” What they are looking to do is buy some votes and trick folks yet again with something like income splitting, which will cost in the order of $2.2 billion and do nothing for 85% of Canadian families whatsoever. It does something for 15% of families, and those families are particularly in the wealthier brackets. Nearly $2.5 billion will go to help the top 15%, and produce what in the economy? Nothing, except a little help for those who already have had quite a bit of help.
One might say that is enough of a bauble to give to wealthier Canadians, but the Conservatives say, “Wait; there is more. We are going to take a thing called the tax-free savings account, which right now has a limit of $5,500 per year, and nearly double it to $10,000.”
When we look at the actual impact of doing something like this, we see that tax-free savings accounts, despite the claim from the government, have not increased savings for Canadians. There is no evidence whatsoever that since TFSAs were first introduced in 2009, there has been any increase in savings for Canadians, which is the whole reason the government brought in the program in the first place. If the intention of the program was to help people save and people are not saving as a result of the program, we enter the very definition of insanity, which is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. However, that is exactly what we get when we deal with Conservatives.
Let us look instead at what the doubling of the TFSA actually does. There was a moment of truth in this whole debate that came from the Minister of Finance. Occasionally he drops by and says some things or talks to the odd reporter.
He said that this thing gets very expensive later on, which was the question, because it does. The cost to the treasury gets up into the tens of billions of dollars. He said, “Why don't we leave that to the Prime Minister's granddaughter to solve that problem?” Is that not nice? Is it not nice when a generation before us says, “Yes, we're creating a huge hole, but we're going to let the people a generation or two down the line fill it in”.
Those are not the conservatives I know. In the place I represent in northwestern British Columbia, the conservatives I know always look to make things better for their kids and grandkids, and that extends beyond the financial into the environmental. It is the idea that we try to leave the place better than we found it. Both on economics and the environment, Conservatives are at least consistent. They are into the scorched earth policies. They are into the ones that they will pay later. They are like the guy in Vegas with the ATM card who just does not know how to quit.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which the Conservatives routinely quote in this place, an office we helped the Conservatives create, if we all remember, some nine years ago, this doubling of the TFSA would give the top 20% who receive this benefit 180% more than every other group of Canadians below them. Think about that for a moment. Almost double the advantages, almost double the money, almost double the benefits of everyone else combined would go to the people at the very top of the pile.
We also know that the PBO expects the benefit to high-wealth households to increase by 35%, while low- and middle-wealth households are, and this is a quote, “not projected to be materially affected by the proposed changes”. Therefore, middle- and working-class Canadians get bupkes; nothing. It is for the wealthiest group, which does have 10 or 20 grand just burning holes in their pockets at the end of every year.
I do not know what middle-class group of Canadians the Conservatives are talking to, but the ones I deal with are struggling just to make ends meet, with the high cost of child care, electricity, paying for their mortgages, and just keeping their homes good and happy. Most of the families I talk to do not have $10,000 or $20,000. Do members know who does? Do members know who is maxing out on this already and will max out in the future? It is the wealthy households. This is why the Conservatives are able to skew the stats. The children of wealthy families are maxing out their TFSAs and will again. It is a shelter for wealthy Canadians, which is how they are proposing to use it, making the problem even worse.
New Democrats maintain that keeping the TFSA where it is is fine, but doubling it will end up costing tens of billions of dollars, and again we have to ask to what effect.
There is so much in this bill. Let us talk for a moment about a proposal the NDP made as the government was clamouring to get to a balanced budget. We said we have this child poverty situation in this country that years and years ago the House of Commons solemnly committed to eradicate, under the leadership of Ed Broadbent, the former New Democratic leader and a mentor to many of us. All members stood in the House, Conservatives included, and said, “We are going to get to this problem, because it is a problem that affects all of us. It does not know right and left. It is right and wrong, and this is right”. The House of Commons said it was going to do something about it, so New Democrats came up with a solution.
The tax code is thousands of pages long, by the way. It costs billions of dollars for Canadians to file every year. The Conservatives only make that problem worse and more expensive for individuals and small businesses. They do not mind, because it is all about the next election. However, under that massive tax code, there is a little loophole for CEOs, for those who receive their pay in stock options. Again, I am thinking about the middle- and working-class Canadians I know. Not a lot of them get paid in stock options.
People who get paid in stock options pay almost half the tax that everyone else does. Is that not nice? Is it not nice to get paid in stock options and only pay half the tax? For people making north of $250,000, $350,000 a year, times are tough.
There is a $750 million per year loophole in the tax code now that we said should be closed. It is easy, it is understandable, and we know what to do with it: take every single dollar from that loophole and help eradicate child poverty in Canada. Who is going to vote against that? Who is going to stand in this place and say no, no, no, the folks in the corner offices, the CEOs, the guys driving the Maseratis and the Ferraris, they need that money. It is hard to get to St. Barts and St. Kitts these days. Prices are high for that second, third, and fourth vacation home.
Instead, New Democrats said to use it to eradicate child poverty, which would help right across the board, not only the children and families involved who are living below the poverty line but our education system and our health care system, and it would help Canada be a more productive and prosperous nation.
We have also seen in this massive bill the ramming in of an entire veterans bill, which was before the House, Bill C-58, and that the government has been stalling on for years, to help out our veterans. After the Conservatives' shameful treatment, which continues to this day, denying veterans of this country the benefits they are so deserving of, they decided to pick it up holus bolus and drop it into an omnibus bill.
Just before this debate started, we sought the strength of the House of Commons to take that veterans bill and move it right to committee today. What did the Conservatives say? No. They said no. They said they did not want to do that. They would rather have it go through this process that will take weeks and perhaps months and go to the Senate and all the rest of that stuff. That is how much they care about veterans. It is a political football for them to toss around again and again.
The changing of Hill security, the changing of a constitutional decree about how security should be done on the Hill, is also in this.
New Democrats have been fighting, through the good work of a number of our MPs from all across the country, to protect unpaid interns from unreasonable work and sexual harassment at work. We had a bill we have been fighting for through Parliament. The Conservatives denied it. They put something in here, but they forgot to put the part in to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment. They forgot, they said. It did not come up, they said. We had legislation going through the House. These are disproportionately young Canadians and they are vulnerable in the workplace because obviously, if they are seeking an internship, particularly an unpaid one, they are trying to get a resume together, trying to get a foot in the very difficult marketplace and job market. Yet Conservatives found no room in their hearts to actually fix this.
I have to say a couple of things that are positive, because I am an optimistic guy. There are four things out of 157 pages. That is not bad. Unsurprisingly, they were proposals we put forward to the House of Commons.
Before I went into politics, I was a small-business owner. I know intuitively, and the facts back it up, that small businesses are the engine of the Canadian economy. They create eight out of 10 new jobs in Canada in the private sector. They account for almost 45% of our GDP, the strength of this economy. While Conservatives and Liberals alike have been handing out billions upon tens of billions of corporate tax cuts to the largest corporations, we said how about a little break for small businesses. The NDP proposed a 2% drop in the small business tax rate.
We also said that manufacturing has been hammered. More than half a million jobs have been lost in just 15 years, and more than 400,000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing since the government took over. We said let us help out manufacturing.
We also said that we want to see innovation, because Canada's private sector consistently has one of the lowest levels of innovation in research and development of any of the developed nations. We have to change that, so we put a motion to the government and debated all day in the House of Commons. What did the government say? It said that is was bad economics and a bad idea, and the Conservatives voted against the NDP motion.
Lo and behold, surprise of surprises, those very same ideas ended up in the omnibus budget bill. I guess they were such bad economics that the Conservatives found themselves agreeing with the NDP's ideas. Good for them. Imitation is the best form of flattery, but imitation is obviously not as good as the original. The Conservatives decided to lower the small business tax rate twice as slow as what we had proposed. There is urgency in trying to buy some votes from wealthier Canadians, but they will take their time when it comes to helping small businesses.
Conservatives also changed some rules about RRIFs, which the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River had proposed, and they extended the compassionate care benefits in EI to help people who are caring for a loved one at end of life. We think that is good. We think we need to change the rules around EI so that more people, particularly women, who are the ones who do 75% of this palliative care, actually qualify for EI.
In summation, to say this is yet another failed opportunity is far too gracious. This is a government so focused on its own prospects it is unable to see the concern we have, shared by the governor of the bank, by private sector economists, and by developed nations, writ large, that the Canadian economy is sputtering. It is not creating the jobs. It has not recovered those jobs.
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures, because it:
a) fails to support working- and middle-class families through the introduction of affordable childcare and a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage;
b) imposes wasteful and unfair income-splitting measures which primarily benefit the wealthy and offer nothing to 85% of Canadian families;
c) fails to protect interns against workplace sexual harassment or unreasonable hours of work;
d) implements expanded Tax-Free Savings Account measures which benefit the wealthiest households while leaving major fiscal problems to our grandchildren;
e) rolls a separate, stand-alone, and supportable piece of legislation concerning Canada's veterans into an omnibus bill that contains vastly unrelated, unsupportable measures; and
f) attacks the right to free and fair collective bargaining for hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.”