Mr. Speaker, today it is indeed a pleasure to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
Given the events of the last couple of weeks, I must say that those of us on this side watching the actions of the government are deeply disappointed in its failure to truly address unemployment in the country in a meaningful fashion.
If the government was truly interested in a long term, effective plan to deal with the underpinnings of unemployment and underemployment in our country today, it would have had a more thoughtful approach rather than suddenly trying to pull out a mini-budget because the official opposition has decided to put forth a thoughtful way of lowering taxes and improving the economy. Instead the government has chosen, in a haphazard fashion, to merely lift many of the things from our platform and say to the public that after this election it will implement them.
The fact of the matter is, the public is going to see through this. If the government truly wanted to get people off EI rolls, to get people off welfare, to improve the lives of people who are underemployed in our country and to improve the lack of competitiveness in our nation, then it would address such things as how we are going to improve our education system.
The government should pull the first ministers together and ask how we can have national standards for education in this country today, how we can have public and private partnerships on improving the education system so that our young people will be able to learn the skills necessary in the real world, in real time, in order to be able to be employed in the future.
The government should ask how we can start addressing the interprovincial trade barriers which, I might add, are greater east-west than they are north-south. Is it not remarkable that there are more barriers to trade between my province of British Columbia and the province of Ontario than there are between British Columbia and Washington state? That is a shame.
If the government was truly interested in improving the economy of this country, it would have sat down with the first ministers and said “We are going to lock ourselves in this room. We are will sit in front of this table and come to an agreement that is going to remove the egregious rules and regulations that have been choking off the private sector in this country for far too long”. That is what the government should be doing.
Not only should the government have been looking at lowering the tax rates and taking a leaf out of our book, a little leaf, it should have taken a large chunk of our book instead of only asking how it could lower personal taxes and business taxes. I compliment the government on the fact that this has been done to some extent in this budget, but it should have been done a few years ago.
The government should also be dealing with ways of equilibrating the tax structure between high tech and manufacturing companies. High tech companies pay a higher taxes than those in manufacturing. Why is that so? There is not even any discussion about it, but there is no lack of ideas, not only within the House but also more importantly outside the House, from people across the country, people in business, in the public and in academia. Many of them have brilliant ideas on what we can do to improve our economy and the health and welfare of Canadians, which they have offered to the government.
There is an illusion going around that has been stuck in the House for far too long, which is that somehow if one is into lowering taxes, improving the economy and being fiscally responsible, one is being socially irresponsible. The illusion is that lowering taxes will somehow harm the poor and the middle class.
The fact of the matter is that whether we are looking at northern Europe, Sweden, Ireland, the British Isles, the U.S. or southeast Asia, those countries that have taken it upon themselves to lower taxes, rules and regulations and make labour laws more flexible have improved dramatically. The health and welfare of the people, particularly of those who were the most impoverished in our society, has improved. Just as important, it has given us the money to pay for the social programs that we have come to rely on so much and that are so important in helping those who cannot help themselves in time of need, be it with health care, education, pensions or otherwise.
That is what the government should be looking at, for to be fiscally responsible is to be socially responsible. They are two halves of the same whole. If one is fiscally irresponsible, as some NDP governments have been in the past, particularly in my province of British Columbia, that fiscal irresponsibility of spending more than is taken in, of spending the taxpayers' money unwisely, crushes our ability to pay for our social programs.
As a physician, I work in a hospital where it takes three and a half years just to see an orthopedic surgeon, where I cannot find a pillow in my emergency department for somebody with congestive heart failure. The reason that is so, the reason we do not have nurses for our emergency departments and hospital beds, is that there is not enough money in the system. There is not enough money in the system because our economy has not expanded so that we can tax that money wisely and fairly and have it available to pay for those programs that we are endeared to.
We are also not taking into consideration a brick wall that we will slam into. A lot of people will be hurt. That brick wall is our demographics. In the next 20 years our population over the age of 65 will double. As our population ages so too do our demands increase on programs such as pensions, health care and other services.
Yet there is no debate. There is only deafening silence on what we should be doing to prepare for the future and to deal with our needs in health care and the demographic changes that are going to be imposed upon our pension system. How will we do this? If we do not, those who are going to be hurt are seniors, fixed income people and those who will live lives of quiet desperation unless we deal with the problems now. We cannot manufacture these solutions overnight.
We have proposed for a long time that the Government of Canada, the Liberal Party in this case, take upon itself to deal with these problems now. We will work with them, as we will with the public, to bring forth effective solutions to deal with that demographic bubble that will hit our social programs with full force, causing them to crumble and causing the most vulnerable in our society to be hurt. This is something the government has failed to do.