Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-28, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006.
When looking at a budget, the challenge of any government is to balance a budget that is going to ensure economic productivity and competitiveness and ensure people have money in their pockets. It should try to find a balance, that yin and yang between being able to have a productive dynamic economy and having the resources to provide the social programs we enjoy. As well, ensuring that individual Canadians have the maximum amount of money in their pockets and that governments do not waste money is the challenge of any budget.
The fundamental question of this budget is whether it meets that test. Does it enable our country to have a productive, dynamic economy and also provide the resources to allow us invest in the infrastructure we require in order to have a productive economy? Does it enable us to have the resources to provide for the social programs that all Canadians enjoy? I would argue that this budget fails on all of those counts. I will go through the reasons.
If we look at the global context, we can see in the future a greater amount of competitiveness in the world from giants such as India and China. They are on an economic juggernaut that will increase as time passes. It is up to us to change, modify, improvise and become more dynamic in order to stay ahead of those countries. If we fail to do so, we will suffer.
Right now Canada stands at eighth or ninth in the world in terms of economic productivity. That is okay, but we can do better. I am going to outline ways in which this budget fails as well as solutions for how our country can improve its productivity, for the reasons I mentioned.
This bill deals with a number of income tax measures. I am going to go through them in a second. I also want to say that the fundamental aspects of a balanced budget that will be useful are that the budget is indeed balanced, that there is responsible spending, there is debt reduction and there are tax reductions so that we will have a competitive international tax rate. I have mentioned the reasons why we ought to do that.
I also want to mention one of the profoundly disappointing aspects of this budget. Canadians would be very interested and very disappointed, I think, to know that this budget by the present government actually increases the taxes on the most vulnerable in society, the poor and the lower middle class.
How does it do that? The government increased the lowest tax rate that exists in our country. It also reduced the basic personal exemption. The government argues that the balance to that is the dropping of the GST, a consumption tax, but does a consumption tax really benefit the middle class and the poor? Dropping a consumption tax like the GST benefits primarily the rich, because in order to benefit from that, one has to spend. The more one spends, the more one benefits.
The people who are struggling to survive do not spend that much; ergo, they do not benefit as much. When government takes money out of the pockets of Canadians, it hurts Canadians selectively. Therefore, the wisest thing the government could have done in terms of productivity and of fairness, I would argue, would have been to drop the lowest income tax rates and increase the basic personal exemption. That puts real money in the hands of Canadians.
There is a reason why this budget is so peculiar and particular in certain areas, why it cherry picks certain benefits and does not deal with global tax reductions for individuals, particularly the poor and middle class. The reason is that this is a cynical budget. It is a budget that is designed to curry favour with the electorate. Naturally all political parties want to do that, but to do that by cynically parking one's brains at the door and not implementing solutions based on fact, reason and science is irresponsible.
Instead, the government and this budget are engaging in irresponsible behaviour because the solutions are based on cynically trying to curry favour with the public and putting forth woolly-headed solutions that sound good on the one hand but are not very effective. I gave the example of the GST cut. On the surface it sounds very exciting and good, but unless one spends a whole lot of money, which means one is rich, it is not really going to benefit the rest of Canadians. The fact is that Canadians with low or modest incomes are struggling hard these days. The increased tax burden on them is irresponsible.
One of the tax benefits the government has introduced in this bill is something called the Canadian employment tax credit. On the surface, that sounds wonderful. It is $1,000, but in reality, if we read carefully, we see that it is a tax credit for those who are working. Those who are unemployed and those who are really struggling, the most vulnerable, cannot access this. In fact, those who are working and making minimum wage or close to it do not pay very much in the way of taxes, so this kind of tax credit is not of as much benefit to the most vulnerable in our society at all. It does not help them at all.
What would be smarter? Earlier this year, I introduced something called the Canadian low income supplement, for which I have a private member's bill that will be introduced in the House in the next little while, a bill saying that a person who makes $20,000 or less will receive a cheque for $2,000, tax free. That number will decline to zero in a linear fashion, down to $40,000.
Why? Because this is real money in the hands of those who need it the most. A tax credit for those who do not make much money is utterly immaterial, because either they do not pay tax or the tax is so small that it does not really amount to much. When we so-called help those who are of modest means, we give them $50 a year.
Also, my bill does not apply only to people who work. It applies to people who do not work and who are on fixed incomes. For example, all of us here know seniors in our ridings who are living on fixed incomes. They have given their lives to our country and are living on a very tiny amount of money. The amount of money in my bill, the $2,000, is real money, tax free, in their hands. It will enable them to live and put food on the table. If people are younger, this will enable their children to have various benefits. If people are older and retired, it will enable them to pay for medications that are not covered, as well as a host of other challenges our seniors face day in and day out.
The Canadian low income tax supplement that I introduced earlier this year is something that the government ought to adopt. I hope Canadians who are listening will put pressure on the government, because this would mean real money in the hands of the most vulnerable in our society. It is fair, equitable and humane. It will help those in our society who are most impoverished.
Let us look at another couple of tax measures that are in this bill. One is the Canadian textbook credit of $500 annually, a credit for textbooks for students. On the surface it sounds good, but how does it actually materialize and get into the hands of a student? The tax credit is multiplied by the lowest income tax bracket. Therefore, this tax benefit is actually worth only $77.50. That is right. This $500 tax credit is worth only $77.50 in the hands of students. That, as we know, will not pay for even one single textbook for most courses in post-secondary education.
The next issue is the transit tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We know that the government's so-called clean air act has been an absolute bust full of hot air. What would be a series of solutions that would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions? I will give members a few.
If we take a look at greenhouse gas emission reduction, we will see that it is tied to our burning of fossil fuels, so the question is, how do we reduce fossil fuel consumption? I have a few suggestions.
Perhaps the simplest way of doing that is tied to how we build our homes. We lose an incredible amount of energy in our homes. We know that the technology exists today to build our homes more efficiently and substantially reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. China is making buildings that produce 70% less greenhouse gas emissions than buildings of a similar size in North America.
What the government can do is go back to adopting the EnerGuide program that it so callously cut because it was so-called Liberal. It may be something that we introduced, but the reality is that the EnerGuide is a good program. It enables people to have the tools, resources and know-how to provide and implement those changes in their homes that will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and, therefore, the production of greenhouse gas emissions.
I have another couple of suggestions. As we know, cars made before 1986 produce 37 times the number of greenhouse gas emissions produced by a car made after 1996. That is absolutely staggering. By removing from the road one car built prior to 1986, we are actually reducing by the equivalent of removing 37 cars made after 1996.
The government should provide a tax break or eliminate the GST for anybody who takes a 1986 car off the road and buys a car made after 1996. It would be simple and easy to do. In effect, this is an example of tax shifting. The Minister of Finance should take a look at it. Frankly, it ought to be in this bill. It would enable us to shift the tax and encourage people to adopt actions that are more energy sensitive and environmentally sensitive.
Another issue is the Canadian children's fitness tax credit. This is a $500 tax credit for a parent, but again, it is only worth $77.50 because it is multiplied by the lowest tax rate. A parent would actually receive $77.50, not $500. The purpose behind this tax credit was noble: helping parents get their kids to become more active. We know that childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions in our country. How do we deal with this issue?
It would be smart to do two things. First, as I have argued repeatedly in the House, and in fact we passed it in this House in 1998, would be a headstart program for children. It could be adopted in the following way. The Minister of Health should call together all the ministers of health and the ministers of education from across Canada and tell them they should be providing this program for all children up to and including grade 3. Parents would be allowed to go into the class once every two weeks for two hours, if they wanted to, and they would deal with issues such as physical education, literacy and nutrition. Parents would be working with their kids on these three important things.
Literacy and physical education would be used, along with proper discipline, proper care and nutrition. This would have a profound impact on the lives of these children. The pillars and benchmarks would be laid for a solid individual in the future. Prior to the age of 8, neurons in a child's brain are actually quite malleable. They change. What a child experiences at that time could have a positive or negative impact on their future. It would be a smart move if the Minister of Health worked with his counterparts across the country to implement a headstart program.
The other thing that could be done is the implementation of a mandatory physical education program in schools, up to and including grade 11. Mandatory physical education would be very helpful in getting kids physically active during the course of the day.
As I said, it is very important that a budget such as this deal with productivity. I am going to outline a few solutions we could implement that would dramatically improve our productivity and enable us to be really competitive with those giants at our heels right now, particularly India and China.
First, we could reduce the basic personal exemption. Second, we could reduce the lowest tax rate. Third, we have to make sure that we reduce the tax rates on businesses so they are competitive across our country. Ensuring that we have a competitive business tax regime is extremely important.
With respect to surpluses, we should implement the one-third, one-third, one-third rule. One-third would be debt reduction; one-third would be spending on critical areas, which I will mention in a second; and one-third would be tax reductions for businesses and individuals.
With respect to investment, it is very disappointing that the government did not continue the research and development investments that my party made over the last five years. Rx and D is an absolutely integral part of our ability to be competitive. Therefore, I have no idea why the Conservative government chose to dramatically decrease research and development investment. This is one of the pillars of a vibrant and productive economy. Some of that money ought to be going to universities and colleges. Some of it should be used to encourage the private sector to reinvest profits into businesses.
The government should work with the provinces to harmonize the PST and GST to ensure that provincial sales taxes are not applied to business inputs but into their businesses.
The PST in some provinces is exempt from business inputs and in others it is not. The federal government could work with the provinces to ensure there is no PST or GST on business inputs, which would enable companies to make the investments they require.
On education, let us enable our students to get the higher education they require. With costs escalating, I find it reprehensible that individuals in our society are barred from accessing higher education because of the amount of money in their pockets. A fundamental tenet of our country is that everyone has the equal opportunity for success, not equal outcomes but an equal opportunity to be the best that they can become.
The fact that tuition fees have escalated so high and, quite frankly, have become a barrier for some people to access the education they require, is something the government should put its full effort into with its provincial counterparts.
In infrastructure, the government should be adopting the cities agenda that we started. The cities agenda is extremely valuable in ensuring that investments and monies that we have at the federal level will be driven at the municipal level for the needs of local communities. We did that. The agreements were hammered out with the provinces and municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was very happy with that. I implore the government to continue with the program.
As the House knows, there are greater barriers to trade east-west than there are north-south. My province of British Columbia has signed a landmark deal with the province of Alberta to dramatically reduce and almost remove the barriers to trade between British Columbia and Alberta. There is no reason that the federal government cannot take a leadership role with the provinces to do this.
How would it work? The Minister of Finance, the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Industry should work with their provincial counterparts to call a trade council together where we put forward the trade barriers, eliminate those that are unnecessary and useless and we move on. It is a major restriction.
I will give one example, which is labour. The fact that somebody who is trained in Ontario cannot work in British Columbia or that somebody trained in B.C. cannot work in Newfoundland is ridiculous. The fact that we are all trained in the same country and yet our skills are provincial specific is an absurd situation. It is a major restriction to labour mobility and a major drain on the ability of our country to be economically competitive. I encourage the government to work with its provincial counterparts to do that.
When we were in government we started the smart regulation initiative, which took a ruthless look at the regulations. We started hacking away at and removing all those regulations that were unnecessary. The groundwork is there. The minister should take a look at this, continue with the smart regulation initiative and reduce those barriers to trade.
My last point is on the issue of immigration. With our changing demographics we know that the ratio between the retired population to worker population is increasing. We can do two things. First, retire the mandatory age of retirement. If the 65 of today is the new 50, why on earth do we not allow people who are 65 and above to work? It is absurd given the demographic changes that we require. These are smart, productive, willing people who want to work. They would be a boon to our economy.
Second, with respect to immigrants, many of the immigrants in our country are working on the margins because they may be here illegally. However, to ensure we honour the law but also enable these people to become integrated into our society and not live at the margins, we should give these people an opportunity to come in from the cold, apply for a worker's permits, give them a two year permit and renew it a couple of times. If they are law-abiding, pay their taxes and are employed, we then give them the chance to become Canadian citizens.
I have provided the government with a series of solutions and opportunities that it can take which would enable our country to be more productive. I am sure the government will find widespread support from across Parliament to give effective solutions to the benefit of our great people.