Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and privilege today to have an opportunity to rise to speak to Bill C-32 on the fall economic statement. We know people are struggling. The cost of goods and inflation are skyrocketing. The rising interest rates are having a huge impact on people's budgets and to families in our communities, especially in my riding of Courtenay—Alberni.
We are pleased to see some of the things that are in this budget, such as the Canada recovery dividend and the elimination of interest on student loans, which is something that we have been fighting to get for a very long time. We believe there is a lot more the fall economic statement should have offered and did not offer. I am going to speak to that as well.
We know that while people are struggling, there are many big corporations that are having record profits. Whether it is oil and gas, the big banks, or Loblaws and the others of three big grocery store chains, they have had record profits.
We would have welcomed a windfall tax, but we did see there was a small 1.5% tax on banks and insurers that have profits over $100 million. We would have liked to see that expanded to include those other sectors that are having windfall profits right now.
The government could have used that money to eliminate the GST on home heating or could have gotten rid of the surcharge on Canada Post being implemented right now. During this holiday season, that is having a huge impact on small businesses. Natalie Weekes, a friend of mine, just wrote me about that. As well, consumers are trying to get presents to their families.
Members have heard me speak about mental health and the disastrous effects of the government not implementing a mental health transfer. It promised $875 million of new money that it has not spent so far to date, and that is creating backlogs in our health care system.
Members have heard me talk about the substance use assistance program, with the Liberals only funding 14% of the applications that are coming in when we know there is a toxic drug crisis happening.
Members have heard me speak many times about the need for co-op housing. As someone who grew up in co-op housing, I know how critically important it is to have safe, secure housing. When the Liberals got out of the national housing strategy in the early nineties, they were developing and building 25,000 units a year. They are now building a measly 6,500 units, and we are in a housing crisis.
We know the free market will not solve the crisis, and 10% of our housing in the seventies and eighties was non-market housing. We are now below 4%. Europe is at 30%. It understands that housing is not just a commodity, which is the way it is being treated here. It is a critical for people to have a safe, secure home.
Members have heard me speak about those many issues. One area and one group that we do not talk enough about are our first responders. We have a crisis there too with our volunteer firefighters, our search and rescue volunteers and the people who are out there day in, day out. They work jobs, and they are doing this as a volunteer job.
They go out in the rural communities where I live and where many of my colleagues live. We all know the value of those first responders and the sacrifices they make to make sure we are safe. This week, we have the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs here, and they are lobbying right now.
I am going to read a quote from an op-ed by Chief Ken McMullen and Chief Tina Saryeddine that was in the Hill Times this morning. They said, “The climate crisis, health-care crisis, and personnel shortages in Canada's fire departments are converging, causing increasing strain on Canada's fire-fighting capacity.”
They continued, “This year, 629 fire departments [are] providing services to 24 million Canadians”. They have seen the number of firefighters drop from what was 156,000 to 126,000. Their crisis is a labour market shortage and attraction. We know the inflation crisis is impacting everybody, but it is impacting volunteer firefighters too.
I tabled a bill, Bill C-201, calling for the federal government to increase the tax credit for those who volunteer over 200 hours from $3,000 to $10,000. They would basically get $450 in their pocket if they did 200 hours today, and that would expand to over $1,200 if we went for the $10,000 amount.
The cost to the coffers right now in Canada is $10 million to support all of these volunteer firefighters right across the country and that includes 8,000 search and rescue volunteers. That are a lot of people who would be impacted. I know it does not sound like a lot, but I will provide an example.
The Qualicum Beach fire chief, Peter Cornell, who is in a recruitment drive right now, just like almost every volunteer fire department in this country, said that it would be a game changer. He said it would be so important and would help keep those firefighters in the community, making sure that they meet their requirements and their hours.
That is not why they do it. We know why they do it. They do it to protect us and because they love their communities. Also, not only do they put their lives on the line, but also they put in time for training. This would also help small communities and take the pressure off them.
We know that volunteerism is decreasing and volunteer fire departments in my riding, from Ucluelet, Tofino, Beaver Creek, Cherry Creek, Sproat Lake, Errington, Coombs, Cumberland, Parksville, Qualicum, Bowser, Denman Island, Hornby Island, Lasqueti Island and Cumberland, just to name a few in my riding, tell us that this is a big deal, and it is important. I wanted to raise that because far too often our heros fall through the cracks.
I hope the government will listen to this pitch today because it is something first responders have said will make a difference. I know it is not in the fall economic statement, but I hope the government will consider it for the upcoming budget. I have many quotes from many of the fire chiefs, but I do not think we have time for me to go into all of them.
Another thing is that the FCM has their reps here from British Columbia with respect to climate adaptation, and we know the government just made an announcement. They welcomed the release of Canada's national adaptation strategy just two weeks ago and the news of a one-time transfer of $530 million to the green municipal fund.
From my riding I have Will Cole-Hamilton, who is a councillor for the City of Courtenay, and Daniel Arbour, who is a local area director from Hornby Islands. They are here calling on the government to increase that. They cite that it is going to be $25 billion in losses relative to a stable climate scenario because of the impact on climate emergencies. They want to be partners but they say that it is going to cost $5.3 billion per year in shared costs to ensure that they can avoid the worst impacts of climate change. I wanted to raise that because they are here and they are calling for that.
Another small thing that just does not get talked about is seaweed. The Speaker is from the coast and knows how important seaweed is. It is a great opportunity for economic development, but the current wait time in B.C. for an aquaculture licence is three to five years.
The government could have helped support fast-tracking that. It is just too long for B.C. businesses and farmers to build a thriving seaweed enterprise and sector that would compete with the global sector, so the renewing of these licences is too slow. They need DFO to ensure that its staff are there to so we can move this forward.
This is not just important to the ecosystems and coastal communities, but to indigenous communities as well, so it is a really incredible opportunity for both the environment and the economy. Many indigenous nations are looking at seaweed as an opportunity for economic development, but they need to make sure this is moving forward. It is a great opportunity, which I wanted to flag here.
In my riding right now we have aging infrastructure. In Port Alberni, our pool is aging. Parksville wants a new pool. Out on the west coast in Tofino, Ucluelet, Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Yuu-cluth-aht, Toquaht and Hesquiaht, they want to build a pool out at the Long Beach Airport. However, the investing in Canada infrastructure program and British Columbia partnership is tapped out right now, so they want to see the government replenish that because we know how important it is to live, work and play in our communities. Also, when we have recreation facilities, that lowers our health care costs. It is good for tourism in a place like the west coast, especially in my riding, which everybody should come to visit because it will change their life. It is a great place. These facilities desperately need funds so they can advance this. It is really good for people who have been injured in the workplace so they can rehabilitate themselves.
Therefore, I urge the government side to look at and consider these things. They were missing in this fall economic statement, and I have not had an opportunity to raise these really important asks from our riding of Courtenay—Alberni.