Mr. Chair, I find the motion a bit vague. “Sustainable finance” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
To me, it means balanced budgets, for example. To my friends across the way, it probably means some trendy new idea that's circulating on the Internet. I think we run the risk of opening this motion and having it lead us in all directions and no direction. It reminds me of Stephen Leacock's description of the man who ran out of the bar, jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions. In order to avoid doing that, we need more focus to our motions and our studies, lest we ride off in all directions and end up getting nowhere.
I think there's another issue that needs examination, Mr. Chair, and that is the billions of dollars that governments are wasting on corporate subsidies, giving handouts to companies of all different shapes and sizes, and particularly to big companies. They end up getting them because they have the lobbyists and they have the political connections.
These companies then make a bunch of commitments. They don't fulfill the commitments, but they pocket the cash, to the benefit of the shareholders and the executives. Workers end up losing their jobs anyway, taxpayers don't get a refund for what they're paid, and taxes are then too high for everyone else. I think we need to start to examine what we're getting in exchange for all this money.
I asked the Library of Parliament how much Canada's federal government is spending on corporate welfare, handouts and schemes. It estimated that the number was somewhere around $7 billion a year. That doesn't include tax loopholes and other forms of tax preferences. It just includes cash benefits from the government to these enterprises, and we don't actually see any evidence presented for the benefits. A minister will get up and say, “This handout is going to create 1,600 jobs.” We never actually see any proof that these jobs are created.
Not only that, but we don't ever see any evidence of how many jobs are killed when the money is taken out of the economy in the first place to give it to the recipient company. Minister So-and-so shows up at a favoured company and says, “I'm here today to announce an initiative. We will grant money to this company and it's going to create 100 jobs.” They never actually answer the question of how many jobs they killed, right?
The money that you had to take out of the economy in the first place to give to the favoured recipient would have been used to hire people in other sectors. Think of all the small businesses that could hire people if that money had been left in their coffers, rather than taxed away by government and then given away to a well-lobbied-for corporate entity. As long as I've been here, I've never seen any committee study whether these handouts actually work, what damage they do and what results they produce.
I was on the doorstep of one of my constituents during the election. He said that he had designed an app that was intended to help people understand their carbon footprint. They can monitor their activities in their lives and determine how much greenhouse gases are being emitted into the atmosphere as a result. He said that the bad news is that his competitor, who was slower to invent the same application, got a grant from the government, so now he is being effectively put out of business with his own tax dollars. The guy who came up with the idea first is paying taxes so that a competitor can do the very same thing, but with other people's money.
We see these perverse incentives all the time. Most recently, we see the creation of this entity called the Infrastructure Bank. It's going to offer loan guarantees and “subordinated equity”. What does that mean?
It means that if a project is profitable, then the construction company will keep the cash, but if a project loses money, the taxpayer is on the hook. The private sector gets the profit; the taxpayers get the loss.
Supported equity is a very similar concept through which the government takes the first loss and the private sector takes the first gain. The result is that taxpayers can only lose and these well-connected corporate entities always win.
I'm in favour of the free market. I'm pro-business, but I'm pro-business in the free market, and the free market puts risk and reward, profit and loss together. The investor who wants to build a factory should be the one to profit from it, but if the factory loses money, that same investor should be the one to lose it. The investor should not be able to transfer those losses to taxpayers. That's what this massive corporate welfare bank, the infrastructure bank, is going to do. It's going to allow businesses to put their losses on the government balance sheet rather than on their own.
I think it's high time we did a serious examination of all of these government handouts to find out where they go and whether they create jobs or are simply a tool by which the wealthy and well-connected can enrich themselves at public expense.
That's what I think we should be studying, Mr. Chair.