Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate today on Bill C-43, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget which was tabled just a short six weeks ago on February 23.
Unfortunately, this budget implementation bill is reflective of the Liberal government's arrogance that has plagued this Parliament for over a decade, back in 1993 when it was first elected. However, in this minority Parliament, it is time for the Prime Minister to stop behaving as if he had a majority and start governing, and take into account the best interests of Canadians. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be happening.
We in the Conservative Party have made it very clear that we believe the legislation contained in Bill C-43 should be divided into three stand-alone parts: first, legislation enacting Kyoto provisions; second, measures that fulfill commitments made to the provinces including the implementation of the Atlantic accord; and third, clauses traditionally found in budget implementation legislation.
Let me deal with the Kyoto measures first. We have a last minute decision by the government to include changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and enabling legislation for a Canada emissions regulations agency. All it is, in this minority climate, is a crude bait and switch tactic that is not fooling anybody. I notice that the environmental community is not very happy about the government's tactic either, although the environment minister may have thought that he was going to have support there.
The Liberals knew the majority in the House however would not approve the Kyoto measures if they presented them in stand-alone legislation. That is why they attached it in a last minute amendment to Bill C-43. This move, at the very least, has delayed legitimate budget measures from implementation and may have even, depending on what happens in the next couple of months, put their very implementation at risk.
The government's cynical effort to divide and conquer has had the opposite effect. It does not matter what side people are on regarding the Kyoto debate. No one is prepared to swallow hasty, superficial and highly questionable Kyoto measures that are being presented in bad faith.
I would like to take a moment to talk about Kyoto and the whole business that was first developed in Rio back in the late 1980s. This is the government that sleepwalked its way to a very bad Kyoto agreement to begin with. Although it had left it for almost 10 years, it had to develop a position to take to Kyoto, Japan for the international conference that was taking place.
The Liberals hastily put a government position together. They went out and consulted with the provinces in about a week. They came back with a position the provinces could finally agree to, went to Kyoto, and doubled the amount of concessions that Canada was prepared to make, double what the provinces had just agreed to a week earlier. That is the kind of rocky start that they got off to, and quite frankly people are shaking their heads at the way that the government has handled this whole file.
From our point of view, these are not the same set of budget measures which the Conservative Party was presented with in the budget, and so we refused to defeat the government on the budget. Now we find this late amendment that has been brought in as a way to change things. It is a very strange approach.
Let me deal with the Atlantic accord. It is another problem we have with this budget implementation bill. I would say equally contemptuous is the Liberal tactic of holding the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia hostage by linking the Atlantic accord provisions, which most members of the House support, with the obviously problematic Kyoto measures.
Members will remember the Atlantic accord. This was the promise that the Prime Minister made when he was slipping very badly in the last election, less than a year ago in June. He went to Newfoundland and Labrador to shore up his support and agreed that we had to make changes to the measures, especially on the offshore resource revenue. Then when the Premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia asked him to hold up his part of the bargain just a few months later, he was not prepared to do that. We all saw the negotiations that went on, including Danny Williams and his disgust at the way the Prime Minister had backed away from that agreement. Finally, under great pressure, the Prime Minister gave in.
We think the provisions of the Atlantic accord in Bill C-43 could be passed in one day in the House if the Liberals would table stand-alone legislation, but so far they have not agreed to do that very simple matter.
However, on April 6, just a short time ago, the leader of the Conservative Party rose in the House to seek unanimous consent for the following motion: “That, notwithstanding the Standing Orders or usual practices of the House, a minister of the Crown be permitted to table a bill without notice that implements the Atlantic accord; when such a bill is called for debate it be deemed read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, deemed read a third time and passed”.
Therefore, it is clear that the intent was to move this through very quickly. The accord was finally reached between the Premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia and the Liberal government after a great deal of pressure. However, the Liberals have linked it to the Kyoto amendment and this is problematic.
The member for Toronto—Danforth, the leader of the NDP, seconded this motion. We may disagree on many issues, but the Conservatives and the NDP share a sense of fair play and apparently the Liberals do not as they would not give their consent. Nevertheless, we remain united on this point. The Atlantic accord should be passed with no further delay, finally giving the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia what they were duly promised in the last election campaign, which is a fair deal they so justly deserve.
The bottom line is that the Conservative Party does not believe in playing games with the well-being of Canadians and Canadians of that particular region on this issue. It is high time that the Liberals stop trying to score points and follow the lead of the Conservative Party by acting in the best interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. We request that this be split away from this bill and if the government refuses to do so, we will try to accomplish that in committee when it comes to us.
Traditional budget measures are normally contained in these budget implementation bills. In the last election the Liberals campaigned against many of the Conservative initiatives which they seem to very strangely now accept, such as tax reductions. Our last platform, which the Liberals criticized as being fiscally irresponsible just about 10 or 11 months ago, committed to $58 billion in new spending and tax reductions over five years.
In budget 2005, the Liberals made $55 billion in new commitments for the same time period. Eerily and remarkably, almost exactly the same numbers. We could not afford them in June during the election campaign. They were highly irresponsible. Then the budget came down February 23, and strangely, the are exactly the same numbers. So it was just a crass political ploy at election time to discredit the Conservative Party. Now we see that it was affordable all along.
Unfortunately, many of the tax cuts embraced by the Liberals in the budget do not go far enough or occur fast enough to have a substantial impact on the well-being of Canadians. In fact, some people are calling the last budget “budget 2008” because many of the measures do not take effect until late in the five year period.
The personal tax relief measures in the bill are insufficient and back-end loaded. They amount to a reduction of no more than $16 next year. It is called the pizza of tax relief. One family could maybe buy a pizza with the tax relief it is going to get next year. So the Liberals back-end loaded many of these provisions and they are only going to be $192 when fully implemented in 2009. Not nearly enough, but it is the right direction.
The productivity enhancing measures in budget 2005 however are insufficient. They serve only to illustrate that the government is not taking the warning signs that Canada's high priority programs could be in jeopardy if comprehensive steps are not taken to grow the economy before the demographic crunch happens. I have been on the finance committee for some time. We have heard this story about the looming demographic change. We have an aging population in Canada. We will have less people paying the bills down the road. We believe that we have to take measures now to get Canada's economy going. We know that we are trailing our major trading partner, the United States, very badly in terms of productivity.
People may ask what that is, it really means we have a lower standard of living. It is not good enough. We have fallen behind very badly in the last 25 years. It means in real terms that people can understand that the average family of four in Canada has a take home pay of about $24,000 less than the average family in the United States.
What could people do with that? They could put some $2,000 a month on their mortgage payments. That is really what it amounts to in real terms. They could pay down their mortgage considerably faster if we had the same kind of standard of living as they have in the United States.
Why would we think that we should not aspire to have as high a standard of living? We have had it in the past. It is only in the last 25 years that we have drifted very badly. Our productivity has fallen so we are only about 75% as productive as the United States.
I would suggest that it is not the fault of Canadians. It is the fault of policy makers who put us into a whole bunch of areas of government spending in which we do not need to be involved any more.
Let us take some steps now to correct that before the big demographic crunch happens. Canada's productivity slack not only curtails the Canadian standard of living now but it puts the future affordability of our social programs into serious jeopardy. The time to fix a leaky roof is when the sun is shining, not to wait for a downpour to flood the house.
Some of the measures in the bill do not reflect how they were presented in the budget document. While the budget noted that each of the territories would equally share $120 million in trust, part 6 of Bill C-43 leaves the allocation up to the terms of the trust indenture. Maybe that is fine but maybe it is not. It does not spell it out.
Budget 2005 said that $150 million for the green municipal fund would be applied to clean up brownfields. We heard about the need for that many times but no stipulations to that effect were made in part 8 of Bill C-43, which I think is also an oversight or an error.
With regard to the much talked about gas tax transfer to the municipalities that the parliamentary secretary talked about a little earlier, part 11 of Bill C-43 only authorizes payments to the provinces regarding the gas tax until 2005-06 even though the budget stated that the amount of the share of the gas tax would rise to $2 billion annually by 2009-10.
I think some provisions still need to be cleared up.
Provisions to help low income seniors do not come out as beneficial as the Minister of Finance's budget speech would lead us to believe. For example, part 23 of Bill C-43 says that unless the provincial governments raise the comfort allowance amount, the total amount increased to the GIS, the guaranteed income supplement, would not be paid to seniors living in subsidized nursing homes but rather to the nursing home operator or the province.
There may also be provincial programs, such as GAINS in Ontario, which would claw back half of the GIS increase so that it may not be quite as rosy as the finance minister has suggested.
The area on which I am the most critical is the area of surplus projections. We just had the budget six weeks ago. The finance minister told us that the budget surplus for the year that just ended March 31, and he was only a few weeks away from it at the time, would be $3 billion. That has been changed many times this last year but we have heard him say there would be $3 billion.
Unfortunately, I suggest it is somewhat like the fiasco of last year when the finance minister stated that the budget surplus would be $1.9 billion and it magically turned out, after the election I might point out, to be $9.1 billion. A lot of people thought that maybe the finance minister was dyslexic or something when he got the numbers opposite but it turned out to be a huge advantage for the Liberal Party during the campaign. The Liberals said that they could not afford all the promises that were made by the Conservative Party but, alas, they could have afforded it all along because instead of a $1.9 billion surplus it turned out to be a $9.1 billion.
I am suggesting that the finance minister pull up his forecasting socks and stop hiding taxpayer dollars by lowballing surpluses.
Some people might want to know what is wrong with lowballing. What is wrong is that in the last seven years we have had seven consecutive budgets where the finance ministers have lowballed the surpluses and we actually had $80 billion more than the government said we had over the last seven years.
Why is that important? It is important because Canadians are shut out of the debate of how that money should be spent and what their priorities are, or, conversely, maybe too much tax money has been collected from Canadians. Eighty billion dollars would have been a pretty nice hit in terms of having tax relief.
Old habits die hard and the Liberals are at it once again using false numbers and saying that there would be a $3 billion surplus for 2004-05, the year just ending. We find those numbers strange because the fiscal forecasting group that the finance committee hired came up with a surplus of $6.1 billion. In terms of 2005-06, the Minister of Finance was saying that his estimate of the surplus would be $4 billion while the fiscal forecasters are saying $8 billion and that it could be considerably higher.
We know it is not an exact science, a point the parliamentary secretary has made many times, but it seems to me that if the government is going to be out it would be high as often as it would be low. However that does not seem to be happening. It seems to be quite a different process it has and it seems very deliberate.
I want to talk about the minister's fiscal update last November and how inaccurate that also was, which ties into this. What I am saying is that Canadians already have a problem. I remember when the Prime Minister was the finance minister he was in Toronto lecturing the business community about corporate malfeasance, how important it was that Canadians could rely on the numbers of the corporations and that they should be accurate in their projections so that when people wanted to buy stocks and bonds they could feel confident that these companies were providing accurate information.
Would that not also apply here? In fact, should this not be the place that sets the high standard on how projections are done? To that end, the finance committee, on behalf of especially the opposition parties that made amendments to the government's throne speech, asked that we have more accurate fiscal forecasting and asked that we look at an independent budget office.
We are in the process of doing that at committee. We have independent economists looking at the last two quarters of 2004-05. They have been able to give us timely updates, which is very important to parliamentarians in order to tell Canadians that we are reflecting their priorities and giving them the most current information.
The Auditor General has criticized the government in the past. The Conservative Party is working on the finance committee to bring truth and transparency to fiscal forecasting by establishing the independent parliamentary budget forecasting office. We believe it is in the public interest to have a healthy debate on what to do with the surplus, if there is one, and not play a game of hide and seek as to how big the surplus really is.
The Conservative Party will continue to hold the Liberals to account for spending that is unfocused and wasteful. Over a decade of Liberal waste, mismanagement and scandal has shown that billions of dollars sent to Ottawa could have been more effectively managed by Canadians themselves if left in their pockets. Canadians were overly taxed by $80 billion.
The Conservative Party has also said that it will strive to make this minority Parliament work so long as it is in the best interest of Canadians. Currently, the bill is not reflective of that principle. That said, we will try to turn the bill into pieces of legislation that are in the best interest of Canadians.
We can only hope the Liberals will keep those interests in mind and allow themselves to be guided by those same principles.