Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-36. It has been nearly a month since the Minister of Finance marvelled to all who would listen to the upside of his balanced budget.
My message today for those who find their conscience in favour of this bill is to reflect on the tired but relevant cliche, that this budget is only as strong as its weakest link.
Let us not fool ourselves by standing here in the House and declaring this country has a cause to rejoice. Let us examine some of the weakest links of this so-called balanced budget, which even the auditor general cannot endorse.
As of this day, Canadians are still the highest taxed individuals in the G-7. While Canadians' personal disposable income decreased, the incomes of our G-7 neighbour to the south increased. The Canadian standard of living is 25% lower than that of the United States and this gap continues to expand. Youth unemployment figures are staggering yet the government continues to lack a plan to address the issue.
Just last week the CIBC reported that some 200,000 unemployed youth do not appear on the government's books. All the wonderful news of 85,000 new full time jobs being created did nothing to help young Canadians support themselves. Our current statistics show that our youth unemployment rate is twice that of the United States.
These points tell me the minister has become obsessed with this new agenda and sweeps the issues of the individual under the carpet.
What did the budget do for tax relief in this country? We see the 3% deficit surtax being slowly eliminated. Leading Canadian economists agree that tax relief is essential to job creation and prosperity. In fact, the Minister of Finance has said so on different occasions himself.
Catherine Swift from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, who shares a key factor of the Progressive Conservative platform, stated that further tax cuts would help business create jobs, something the government should listen to: “We are still not seeing a major job creation agenda here and from a small business job creator's standpoint, that really should be the prime target”.
This government lacks transparency in the area of employment insurance. The auditor general criticized it for using employment insurance to reduce the deficit when the system was not set up for this purpose.
In the budget the government boasted of reducing all taxes by $7 billion over three years. Yet the same government is taking $6 billion annually out of taxpayer pockets. To my knowledge this is the only government to establish an unemployment plan for Canadians. It creates more unemployment, raises taxes and taxes employment insurance. That is what its policy is doing.
When the Liberals are asked to reduce contributions they say no, that does not work, it will not create real employment. Yet in the budget they are doing just that for people between the ages of 18 and 24 for two years only. When they are asked why, it is to create employment. If it works for young people aged 18 to 24, will it not work for people aged 45 to 55? Unemployment is too high in Canada? No, they believe only in minor measures and always to save face.
The minister had an opportunity to follow his own wisdom and make substantial cuts to the surplus, cuts that would have given every wage earner in the country more disposable income and therefore given businesses the cashflow essential to create jobs.
Even more shocking, if the Minister of Finance had consulted his own cabinet colleagues he would have found the industry minister agrees with the PC Party that tax cuts in Ontario have increased job creation and spurred economic growth. Instead of aiding Canadians directly with significant payroll tax relief, he elects only to respond to their needs by phasing out the 3% deficit surtax.
What Canadians do not know yet is that the Liberal government will soon be introducing the single largest tax hike in Canadian history by increasing Canada pension plan premiums. What has taken place here is that we see the 3% surtax totalling $1.6 billion phased out and replaced with a tax hike that dwarfs all its predecessors, bringing it to $2 billion.
It is as though we are at a carnival. While Canadians guess which cup the peanut is under the minister continues to shuffle and dazzle the crowd. In the last election we saw the carnival booted out of Atlantic and western Canada. Ontario and Quebec are his last stage because sooner or later people will see the costs of the minister's games.
Let us take a look at another weak link in the budget, the great Canadian brain drain. Provincial premiers made it clear they wanted from the budget a return of the billions in cuts from transfer payments that devastated health care, social programs and education programs.
For years now education has been a responsibility of the provinces. At a time when we have another potential national crisis on the horizon, the Liberal government elects to drive a wedge into interprovincial relations by creating the millennium fund. It has set aside for the fortunate class of 2000 and beyond $2.5 billion to assist some 7% of all students to further their education. In my mind it is a modern day Avro Arrow program.
If substantial tax cuts are not made to create jobs, we place graduates on graduation day in Seattle. Someone should point out to the Minister of Finance that “sleepless in Seattle” was just a figure of speech in a movie. At the present time Bill Gates at Microsoft has extended a standing offer to all Waterloo computer science graduates and the result is that over 80% of them are going to the United States.
My home province of New Brunswick, which has invested significant dollars into information technology training schools, cannot retain the graduates it produces because it is not able to compete with the U.S. market. We see the same exodus across the country. It is disturbing to think that a large portion of the $2.5 billion will benefit the U.S. economy.
Why go to the U.S. one may ask. For one the jobs are there. Wages are higher and taxes are lower. Yet other students were forgotten. What about the students of today and next year? They were simply forgotten, not to mention the 97% who will not benefit from the millennium fund in the next century. They will not forget on graduation day as they watch Canada customs in their rear view mirror.
Let us consider the comments of Sherry Cooper, chief economist at Nesbitt Burns, who said broad based tax relief was crucial to our economic future. She said:
We are pouring all this money into education and scholarships, and then the better and brighter will go straight to the United States where taxes are massively lower.
The Liberals have feed the brain drain from this country. Instead of taking measures to be at the forefront of an emerging information technology industry, they have decided to finance another country's efforts. When one steps back and examines the links in this chain, one comes to a quick realization that the government has abandoned our social policies.
Our society expects government to take care of the elderly, young people, workers and other individuals facing personal crises and in need of a helping hand. These values are not to be sacrificed. Canadians will not allow what makes the country so unique to be altered, yet they know these values come at a price.
The goal for any government is to balance values against fiscal responsibility. Some may think this is blatantly obvious, but as I read the budget I realize these fundamental principles or links in the chain were well worth repeating.
The government has ignored these concepts and values. It claims to be sympathetic, yet it threatens seniors with a hidden project it never unveiled as part of its platform.
Canadian seniors rely on three basic sources of income. The government has systematically attacked the retirement savings systems since it has taken office. It has done so in piecemeal fashion with the bottom line as its consideration. It has not addressed the fundamental questions of what kind of retirement assistance Canadians need and want or what are the best ways for government to ensure Canadians are secure in their retirement.
Some would ask why the seniors benefit is an issue. Let us state the obvious. It certainly was not an issue in the budget. In fact, the government has gone back to the drawing board because of the flaws my party exposed in the seniors benefit. The Liberals proposed to eliminate the OAS, the pension income tax credit, the age credit and the GIS. To date they have refused to provide a full and proper analysis of how these measures would affect retired Canadians in the future.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is committed to forcing the government to disclose fully to Canadians the financial impact of the proposed seniors benefit. Canadians of all ages must understand its consequences. The Liberal government must not be allowed to destroy the foundation of our national pension system.
The government claims to be concerned about workers, but the budget has nothing to do with the famous Liberal election battle cry. Not so long ago a chant fell on Canadians' ears shouted by the Prime Minister proclaiming jobs, jobs and more jobs. In the budget it resembles less than a flattering wailing of a trombone.
Middle and lower income Canadians needed to hear from the budget a trumpet of hope, for hope is what keeps the disparaged committed to protecting the values of our society. When hope is lost so are our motivations, our strength and our willingness to endure.
In closing, we share with the Prime Minister of Canada and so too taxpayers that the budget was one trick pony where even the word balanced could not be endorsed by the auditor general. The minister may feel that his spread sheet's bottom line is balanced, but his trust to serve and protect the values of the people have been wrapped in chains with many weak links. Once broken they will break free and bring true balance to our economy.
My party believes that it is time for Canada to have a strong plan for growth in our economy. We need to get our foot off the brake. For us this means lowering taxes by reducing EI premiums by about one-third to create jobs and lowering taxes by increasing the basic exemption for Canadians to $10,000 to allow lower income Canadians to earn more and buy more of the essential goods they need.
This is a government which has a great opportunity to launch us on a new path, to close the chapter of deficits, and to start us on a new path. It should set a target for debt reduction so that we are able to measure our performance and to live in a political environment where we can go to our neighbours and say that together we need to limit spending to keep it under control. If we do, we will meet a specific target. When we get there we will be able to reduce taxes further.
If we create that kind of political environment we will all increase our chances of succeeding. Those should have been lessons learned in the budget. Our party firmly believes that we need a plan for economic growth. The budget is more than just about numbers. It is about values. It is about the choices we make. It is not good enough to shift numbers around.
Some parties would say they would put more money into education but then they would cut equalization. The position we have taken is that there would be more money put into education by building a new deal with provincial governments. Then there would be a health care guarantee for all Canadians and we could leave provincial governments alone.
We believe in a plan for stronger economic growth. We can reallocate priorities. We can put the emphasis on education, health and guaranteed services to Canadians. It requires the political will, the vision and the foresight to make it happen. I am sorry to say this is something that was not part of the budget.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and I cannot and will not support Bill C-36 because it was merely a numbers game that has left our country and our people suffering today with little hope.
One could conclude that the budget should be judged by its weakest link or by the missing links of the Minister of Finance.