Mr. Speaker, there are only two questions that Parliament must ask when presented with a budget: what does it cost us, and what do we get for it as Canadians?
Let us start with the cost of this budget. Costs are borne out through government in three ways: spending, debt, and taxes. Debt and taxes are the symptoms; spending is the cause. Whatever Parliament agrees to allow the government to spend, it must ultimately tax or borrow from the citizens and from bondholders.
The Liberal government loves to spend. The stats show that it has been increasing spending at an annual rate of roughly 6.5% to 7% per year, which is three times the combined rate of inflation and population growth. In other words, spending is growing three times as fast as the need. That spending, of course, requires a source. The government has been plundering taxpayers and borrowing to pay for that spending ever since it took office.
Let me talk briefly about the government's approach to spending. In an adjoining piece of legislation to this budget bill, the government will attempt to change the way in which Parliament approves the executive branch's expenditure of money. We, as Canadians, live in the British parliamentary system, which for roughly 800 years has meant that the power of the purse rests with the elected officials and that the crown cannot spend what Parliament does not approve. That principle originated in the fields of Great Britain at the time that King John signed the Magna Carta.
Typically governments have come forward before the House of Commons with detailed spending plans, item by item, agency by agency, department by department, and purpose by purpose, saying “Here is what we want to spend. Here is what it is for.” Then, Parliament has scrutinized that spending and passed it, and that government has been restricted by the specificity that it put in that legislation. In other words, it can only spend the money on the things it said it would, and only in the amounts that it said it would spend.
Instead, this year the government wants to do something that has only once been done in Canadian history, and then only during a crisis, and that is for Parliament to approve $7 billion of discretionary spending, which ministers on the government's Treasury Board can spend whatever they want on, as long as it stays under that $7-billion limit.
As I said, normally that $7 billion would be carefully earmarked in the main estimates that come before the House, and we as parliamentarians would approve or reject it. If it were approved, then the government would have to spend each dollar where it said it would. However, not this time.
The government has changed the system in a way that allows the government to have a big bundle of cash for a group of politicians sitting on the Treasury Board to allocate as they wish. As it stands, based on the system of financial reporting, the results of that spending will only come out in subsequent public accounts.
The public accounts for the fiscal year we have just entered will not come out until the fall of 2019. As members all know, we will be in an election at that time, and therefore those accounts cannot be tabled in the House until after the election. What the government is asking us to do is approve $7 billion of discretionary spending, and it will get back to us after the election on how it spent it.
One example of the attitude of the government to spending money was what the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance was saying. He was bragging that the government has spent an extra $1 billion on tax collectors. Normally, most governments blush when they talk about the resources they put into tax collecting departments. The Liberal government openly brags about it.
We all know that tax collection is necessary for any functional country. We also know that given their druthers, the Canadian people would like to see lower taxes and lower costs, and less money spent on bureaucrats hounding our small businesses and workers, as has become the customary practice of the government. We have seen tax collectors go after the tips of waitresses, shoe salesmen's discounts, and the disability tax credit for people suffering with diabetes.
However, the government brags openly about its expenditure on those same tax collectors, which is the Liberal approach to spending: Spend more. Spend now. Spend faster. What does that bring? It brings debt, which is the next pillar of the current Liberal government's plan. It is more debt.
The Liberals ran in the last election on a $10-billion deficit, which meant they would increase the national debt by a mere $10 billion a year. In the first two budgets, that deficit was twice what they promised. This time, it will be three times what they promised. Not only that, they promised that the deficit would be gone by 2019, which is next year. Now they say that will not happen for another quarter century. During that time, Canada's national government will add almost half a trillion dollars in additional debt. That assumes that the government introduces no additional spending in the upcoming pre-election budget next year—an unlikely story. It also assumes that direct program spending will only go up by about 1.5% over the next five years, when the government has been increasing that spending at a rate of about 5.5% since it took office. Therefore, we are expected to believe that the Prime Minister is a new man, that he has changed, and that he will not increase spending at 5.5% but only 1.5%. Who believes that the Prime Minister has even the intention of changing his ways, when his words have not suggested that he believes restraint is necessary?
Originally the government told us that its plan, its anchor, was that the deficit must never be more than $10 billion. Now the Liberals have shattered that promise. The Liberals said their anchor was that they would not add more than $25 billion total. Well, they have already done almost double that in new debt since taking office. They released that anchor as well.
However, the new anchor that the Liberals say will guide them in their spending is that the debt-to-GDP ratio will decline. That is, the debt will never be allowed to grow faster than the economy. Now, there are problems with using that measurement as an anchor, which I will list. One, the debt-to-GDP ratio of the Government of Canada is an incomplete measure of the country's ability to withstand indebtedness.
The Canadian government is supported by taxpayers. Those taxpayers have to support other levels of government which also have debt. Alberta is adding almost $10 billion to its debt this year, which means that one-fifth of every expenditure that the Government of Alberta makes is paid for by borrowing. Ontario has doubled its debt in the last 10 years alone, and it is the most indebted subnational government in North America. Atlantic provinces are similarly indebted. Their aging populations will retire in disproportionately large numbers, meaning fewer taxpayers and more people needing health care at a time when their provinces are already struggling with large debt interest payments to lenders. Therefore, the same taxpayers that the federal government are relying on to support the federal debt also have provincial debts that are growing exponentially. Finally, those taxpayers have personal debts, which happen to be among the largest in the OECD. Right now, the average Canadian household has $1.70 in personal debt for every dollar in disposable income.
If we take the personal debt, the corporate debt, and the government debt of the entire economy, it is three times the size of GDP, which is a larger ratio than Greece, Spain, or other basket cases on debt around the world. This is according to Gluskin Sheff, which is a major financial firm that performed that calculation just a month and a half ago. Therefore, if we take all the debt that the Canadian economy is supporting, we are in a worse financial position today than is Greece.
The government just assumes that all of its good luck will continue. Oil prices have doubled. The American economy is roaring. The world economy has picked up. Interest rates have been at historic lows. The real estate bubble in Toronto and Vancouver has created a short-term and unsustainable employment boom and revenue for the government it cannot count on. All of these events are temporary. They are out of the government's control, and they could be gone just as quickly as they appeared.
If we are running massive, promise-shattering deficits today, while lady luck is smiling, how will we pay the bills when she starts to frown? The government has not prepared for those eventualities. In fact, its arbitrary debt-to-GDP ratio anchor creates a whole series of perverse policy incentives.
The debt is the numerator in that measurement, and the GDP is the denominator. If we were hit with a financial crisis that caused the GDP to shrink, to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio, as the government claims is its promise, it would actually have to cut spending dramatically in the middle of a recession, which is exactly the opposite of what it claims should be done during such economic times. It would have to cut spending to reduce the size of government faster than the economy overall was reducing in size, and it would have to do so in a way that would allow it to run budget surpluses in order to pay down the debt at a faster rate than the economy was shrinking.
Who in the House would really think it was responsible to prepare for a rainy day by suggesting that if a financial crisis were a problem and an external threat were to arise, the solution, according to the government's plan, would be to cut spending and dramatically reduce the government's ability to respond? That is effectively what the government's current anchor would require it to do to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio in the event that a crisis came along and shrunk the GDP. Nevertheless, that is the anchor it chooses to rely upon as it goes forward.
That brings me to taxes, because, as we know, today's deficits are tomorrow's taxes. The government cannot ultimately spend any money that it does not tax, either by taking it out of the pockets of people today or by forcing them to pay interest on debt tomorrow. That interest, by the way, is going to rise by one-third over the next five years under the government's plan, from about $25 billion to $32 billion. That is an increase of $7 billion or $8 billion in the amount Canadian taxpayers will give wealthy bondholders. That is another wealth transfer, by the way, from the working class to the super-rich. That always happens through higher taxes.
What do we know about the government's record already on taxes? According to the Fraser Institute, which conducted an objective and scientific analysis of the taxes paid by middle-class Canadians, 80% are already paying higher taxes under this government, on average $800 more. With other projected tax increases, those the government has already legislated or committed to, it will be about 90% of Canadian taxpayers, and they will pay, on average, over $2,000 more in taxes once the government's full plan is implemented.
Taxpayers are already contributing more to feed the government's insatiable, uncontrollable spending. However, the government is just getting started. It has an additional carbon tax it wants everyone to pay. That tax is laid out in a 206-page section of the budget bill we are now debating. Let us step back a minute and ask ourselves what we were told about this carbon tax.
First, we were told that it would be revenue neutral, that the government would cut taxes as much as it raised them. While people might pay more for gas, groceries, electricity, and other basic essentials, they would get an income tax break or perhaps a consumption tax break. As a result, it would be a strictly neutral transaction shifting taxes from what we earn to what we burn. That was the promise. However, nowhere in these 206 pages of legislation on the federal carbon tax is there any mention of a tax reduction to offset the new burden to be paid by Canadian taxpayers for the carbon tax.
Second, we were told that the carbon tax would be simple. There would be a wholesale levy, and then the marketplace would do its work. The government would put a price on something we do not want, and people would therefore consume less of it, that being carbon-intensive goods, and the problem would solve itself. We would not need all this bureaucracy: regulators, administrators, rules, and accountants to administer the tax on the end of the small business or household. That would all be behind us.
We now have the legislation, and it is 206 pages long. There are permits. There are credits that could be traded between provinces, and there are different rates of taxation for different kinds of carbon products, all of which will have to be sorted out through endless paperwork by high-priced accountants and lawyers who will then administer this scheme.
This carbon tax, as established by this legislation, would benefit some. It would benefit those who are wealthy and well-connected and who have the ability to get their hands on the resulting revenue.
Ontario already has a carbon tax, and while it takes one-third more of the income of a low-income household than that of a rich household, it provides benefits to people who can afford to buy a $150,000 electric Tesla. If someone is a millionaire and can buy a Tesla, that person will get $15,000 as a bonus, but a low-income single mom trying to keep the lights on or pay for gas to get to work will pay more so that the rich guy can have his fancy electric car. It is another wealth transfer to the privileged elite using government as the delivery mechanism to move money from those who earned it to the privileged few who did not.
Herein lies the worst part of the carbon tax, and it is the cover-up, the carbon tax cover-up. For the last two years, I have asked the Liberal government what it would cost the average family to pay the $50-a-tonne carbon tax. The good news is that the government has that information. I know, because I submitted access to information requests for which it released the information. However, it released the information with some black ink over the numbers. We are not allowed to know the numbers. We know there is a cost, and we know that the government knows the cost, but it does not want us to know the cost.
This is the first time in my parliamentary career that a government has imposed a tax without telling people what it will cost them. The basic principle of parliamentary democracy is that the commoners must approve any tax the common people must pay, but we cannot approve what we do not know. If the government is so proud of its carbon tax, why does it not tell people what it will cost them?
Finally, the government will not tell us how much greenhouse gases will be reduced. We do not know the cost and we do not know the benefit, yet we are supposed to judge the cost-to-benefit analysis.
This budget costs too much and will achieve too little, so I am moving a motion to amend the budget bill. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-74, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures, since the Bill: (a) fails to address the cost of the government's carbon tax to the average Canadian Family; (b) neglects to implement, or to even mention, the government's promise of a balanced budget; and (c) will continue on the path of adding debt at twice the rate foreshadowed by the Minister of Finance.