Mr. Speaker, it is a huge honour to rise today to speak to the budget implementation act and certainly to represent the NDP as the critic for veterans affairs and for small business and tourism.
I will talk about the economic vision presented by this budget and how it would do nothing to address the huge gap between Canada's wealthiest and the rest of Canadians, specifically the people back home in my riding on Vancouver Island.
In terms of lifting up the middle class and those working to join the middle class, something the Liberal government talks about all the time, the budget implementation bill offers no real plan to reduce inequality or to build an economy that would benefit all Canadians. This bill would create an uneven playing field, where only the few at the top could benefit at the expense of everyone else.
The people in my riding are not able to recover from the boom-and-bust economy of the past, because the federal government prefers to take money when times are good and ignores needs when times are tough. To know what the Liberals got wrong and are ignoring in this bill, we can look at the facts.
Today two Canadian billionaire businessmen own as much wealth as 11 million Canadians altogether. More than four million Canadians are living with food insecurity, including 1.15 million children. That is unacceptable.
A June 2017 report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer showed that for every $100 of available income, Canadians have $171 in household debt.
In Port Alberni, where I live, more than one-third of children live in poverty. Parksville-Qualicum has the highest median age of all ridings across Canada, and I often hear from seniors who forego buying medicine because they need to pay rent or buy food.
On the west coast, we need to protect our water from plastic, garbage, and marine debris, something that is not even included in the oceans protection plan. It is not mentioned once.
Everywhere in my riding small business owners are being inundated by red tape, soaring merchant fees, and the new confusing tax measures implemented on income sprinkling.
This budget implementation bill contains zero measures to truly address tax evasion. The Liberal government is not taking any action to eliminate the tax loopholes associated with stock options for wealthy CEOs. They cost taxpayers a billion dollars a year, and 92% of the benefit goes to the 1%. That is not helping the middle class. In terms of tax havens, the Conference Board of Canada has said that they are costing taxpayers up to $47 billion.
This bill is 556 pages long and amends 44 pieces of legislation, even though the Liberals promised to abolish the use of undemocratic omnibus bills. This is unacceptable.
We want to present solutions to the government. We have been presenting speakers on many solutions.
Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time with my great colleague from Trois-Rivières, our transport critic. He is also going to present some great ideas and concerns about this budget.
I am going to speak as the critic for small business. One thing we are grateful for is that the government finally reduced the small business tax from 11% to 9%, something the late Jack Layton put forward and that New Democrats have been fighting for. Unfortunately, the Liberals only did this when they were in quicksand when they failed to roll out their small business tax proposals last summer and tried to do it in a very short period of time.
We have been raising concerns about merchant fees. I am going to quote this Globe and Mail article, from March 24, 2017, which states:
Worldwide, the EU, Australia, Switzerland and Israel, among others, have all moved to cap interchange rates. In Canada, the average interchange rate is currently 1.5 per cent, with some card fees running as high as 2.25 per cent. By contrast, in the U.K., the interchange rate is capped at 0.3 per cent, in France at 0.28 per cent, and in Australia at 0.5 per cent. So Canadian merchants pay five times what merchants pay in Europe and three times what merchants pay in Australia, for exactly the same services.
This affects businesses in Courtenay, Cumberland, Parksville, Qualicum, Tofino, and right across this country. This is unacceptable. In fact, it costs Canadian consumers over $5 billion, and merchants as well. We know that Visa and Mastercard, which together account for 92% of the credit card market, have a monopoly in this sector.
There was a bill, Bill C-236, an act to amend the Payment Card Networks Act, put forward by my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles in the fall of 2016. It has been moved 19 times. We have a lot of questions. Who is the government protecting? We know who it is protecting: its friends on Bay Street. Otherwise, it would have brought that bill for debate here to the floor of the House of Commons, where it belongs. It would have done the right thing and represented the people it promised it was going to represent. In fact, the member had support from the Quebec Convenience Stores Association and the Retail Council of Canada. They are waiting. It has been almost two years of waiting for the debate to even begin. Why is the finance minister not bringing forward a proposal to support people in small business?
That is just one of the things we would like to see happen. We would like to see the government come forward with another proposal. My colleague brought forward a bill to make sure that business people are not charged more money when they sell their business to one of their family members. We need to make it easier for intergenerational transfers of businesses, not harder. Right now, those who sell their business to someone at arm's length pay a greater capital gain. That is not acceptable. We are standing up for people in small business because we understand how important small businesses are in building our economy. They are the job creators in our communities.
As the critic for veterans affairs, I would like to turn my attention to our veterans. Our veterans, as well as their dependants and survivors, should be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. That is all we ask, and we think it makes sense. The uniqueness of their profession, the obligations, sacrifices, demands, and experiences of such a profession also impact their family members. It affects all of them. Any decision regarding the care, treatment, re-establishment in civil life, or benefits of the person to be provided should be made in a timely manner. We are not seeing that. It is unacceptable. We see long wait times. Currently, the government has a huge transition gap. Last fall, we heard there were 29,000 veterans disability benefit applications waiting in the queue, and approximately 9,000 applications were well beyond the service standard.
The government has now committed $42.8 million over two years to address the backlog in processing the increased number of claims, but it has not told us what it would cost to get it to zero. It has to get to zero. That is what veterans deserve. We have a lot of questions.
It is our understanding that the department asked for double that amount. That did not happen. The government made a promise in its last budget that it would make sure there were case workers at a ratio of 25:1. It was not mentioned this year, so maybe that platform has been abandoned. On the education benefit, the government promised $80 million. When we look at the budget, now it is $133.9 million over six years. That is $22 million. How did the Liberals come up with a plan that now they are going to follow through with 27.5% of the promise they made to veterans? That is totally unacceptable.
On the pension for life, clearly the Liberals are not delivering on their promise. When two veterans fought in the same war, how can one get less than the other? That is totally unacceptable, and Canadians do not accept it.
In my riding, we put forward great proposals, and they have not been supported by the government. One example is a deep sea port in Port Alberni, where BC Ferries wants to do shipbuilding and infrastructure upgrades, but we have not seen the investment in the port. This could be a great opportunity for a place that has the highest unemployment rate in southwestern British Columbia.
The opportunities are endless, and the government is failing to deliver. There are 1.2 million Canadians living with disabilities, and the government has not enacted a plan to get those people back to work with a return to work strategy that could be brought forward. When it comes to veterans, 30% of case workers in the United States are former veterans. Right now, we are not even close. We do not even have a target and we do not have a plan to get them in place.
In terms of the economy where I live in coastal B.C., ocean protection is of utmost priority, not just for a clean working environment, which we rely on, but also for our salmon. The government promised coastal restoration funds, $75 million over five years, but when we talk to the groups that are protecting our salmon, investing in salmon protection and enhancement and restoration, they are not getting the money. In fact, our hatcheries have not seen an increase in 28 years.
I could bring forward many concerns and proposals, things that are missing in this budget, but I will wait for the questions. I will try to share them through the questions. I will also continue to bring forward our concerns and solutions.