Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to speak after the member for Winnipeg--Transcona. He has an eloquence about him that I often admire.
I want to take this opportunity to speak to the budget and to the implications that it has on my community and on the areas for which I advocate.
We have all heard that this was billed as a legacy budget. When we actually saw the document unfold last week, it did not have that kind of quality at all. It appeared more to be a patchwork budget. I was hoping, as were I am sure many of the people in the House, for a legacy budget. We were hoping for some relief from the years of cuts to the very important services and social infrastructures in our communities.
So far the legacy that we have seen from the government has been long waiting lists for surgery, soaring debts for university students, a rise in child poverty and a reduction in the meagre assistance for persons with disabilities. We have seen a deterioration in our housing stock, more homelessness, more kids growing up in shelters, crumbling municipal roads, and a generation growing up in overpriced, underregulated day cares. A legacy was what we needed and what we continue to need.
In my community of Dartmouth, post-secondary students are facing another rise in tuition, where tuitions are already the highest in the country. Nova Scotian students pay over $1,500 above the national average for tuition.
In my community, seniors in nursing homes pay costs that normally would be covered by medicare, and MRIs and bone density scans have been shipped to the for profit sector. These are scandals and they mark serious violations of the Canada Health Act. The Liberal government has done nothing to defend the fundamentals of medicare in Nova Scotia so that private medicine would not continue to gouge the sick.
I will acknowledge that only part of the problem in the health care debate is money, but if we look at the public versus private sector mix of money and medicare, we now see that Nova Scotia's per capita spending on private health care is second only to Ontario, having now surpassed Alberta. That would not be allowed if the Canada Health Act were being defended by the Minister of Health.
On top of all of that, equalization payments are expected to drop by $600 million, which means a cut of tens of millions of dollars in Nova Scotia. This is not the legacy that I want for my community.
When I put on my hat of advocate for persons with disabilities, for culture and communications, and for children and youth at risk, I see how this budget is a PR exercise designed to help the leadership fortunes of the Minister of Finance, not designed to help Canadians.
For example, the budget is nothing less than a slap in the face for culture and for creators in this country. We see no mention in the budget that the CBC funding of $60 million, which has just become a top up fee to the very small parliamentary appropriation that is now in existence for the CBC, will be renewed. The Minister of Canadian Heritage has indicated that the CBC will still be getting some money from a mysterious pot of money called the fiscal framework, but it is safe to say that it will probably be significantly less than $60 million. I know the CBC has no idea what will happen in terms of its funding so it cannot effectively plan its programming for the upcoming year.
I have heard over and over again how important it is to have a distinctive public broadcaster to protect and promote Canadian culture. This new cut will probably mean that our national public broadcaster will have to cut further into English and French TV and radio production. It means that fewer Canadian stories will be told.
However even more sinister is what the Minister of Finance has done in the area of film and television incentives. He has increased the film and video tax credit for foreign production, while reducing the federal contribution to the Canadian television fund by 25%. This means that our largest support for distinctively Canadian programs, with all Canadian scripts, casts and crews, will be cut to make way for more Hollywood productions.
A major Halifax producer, Michael Donovan, has said of this that “either the government is saying that we no longer wish to support Canadian programming or it is a mistake...It's not saving money--it is taking money from Canadian pockets and giving it to Americans”. It is almost like the Minister of Finance is remembering the days when he was industry minister and constantly fought with the heritage department over his view about culture as being simply an industrial product. As Minister of Finance, he is using his position to finish the job, to entrench our culture as a product of Los Angeles policy, open to Los Angeles whims and desires and, eventually, trade deals.
The budget gets worse. The disability tax credit is still not fully refundable, so that the most vulnerable, those with no or low taxable income, the vast majority of those in need, still get nothing. I was proud to lead the fight, with my colleagues from all sides of the House, against the Minister of Finance's proposal to further restrict who would be able to claim this small tax credit. We received thousands of letters from people across Canada, and my friend from the Bloc received over 6,000 names on a petition. Every member of the House, except the Minister of Finance, stood up and asked the minister to withdraw these restrictions.
The budget shows that the minister, his deputy and his department think they are above the will of the House, for in the ways and means motion tabled in the House as an appendix to the budget plan last Tuesday, once again there are increases in restrictions for section 118 of the Income Tax Act, increases in the eligibility restrictions for the disability tax credit in matters of feeding oneself and dressing oneself. What the minister lost on the floor of this place last November he is trying to sneak back in through a technical amendment buried in the budget papers in a vote of confidence. I do not think that on this section of the motion he has the confidence of any MP, including government MPs. He has no confidence but has obvious arrogance. In my opinion, this action shows a contempt of Parliament.
Even more damage can be found throughout the budget. The renewal of the employment assistance for persons with disabilities program, for example, is a meagre measure, which delivers no increases after five years. This program funds a variety of vocational training, mental health services and addictions programs tailored to each province's needs, but to beg the question, why on earth should the provinces continue to work with the federal government for this program under the social union framework if the federal government is not even going to keep the level of financial commitments indexed to inflation? As well, there is no sign in this budget that core funding for disability organizations will be continued, so the people out there on the front lines dealing with clients face great uncertainty.
Much has been said about the infrastructure program. People had very high hopes for urban centres across the country, including Halifax. The municipalities had the hope that there would be $2 billion over five years to help them with their sewage and water and the many infrastructure programs that are waiting. In Halifax, there is a sewage harbour cleanup project bill of $300 million at this point in time. With the federal government's commitment that might be coming our way for this particular infrastructure project, we might be seeing $50,000 in Nova Scotia. Someone has made the point that with that kind of financing it would take 3,000 years to get our sewage treatment plant.
Where does the money come from? With a small tax base like Halifax-Dartmouth's, it will inevitably end up coming from property taxes. It will come from user fees. It will come from increases in rent. It will come, really, from people who can ill afford it. All this just simply so they will be able to have a decent sewage treatment plant.
In terms of housing, again very small amounts actually have been put into housing. We have a deteriorating housing stock, certainly in Dartmouth, and we have determined that in fact we might see perhaps 100 homes started in our community in the course of the next year.
In terms of day care spots, we may see 10 new day care spots.
In closing, the legacy we see here is one of continued disappointment in terms of infrastructure, culture, housing and day care. I guess we again will have to wait for another year and another budget to see a government come through on the promises it made to Canadians.