Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to these issues and to thank all those Canadians from coast to coast to coast who appeared before our committee. Hundreds of Canadians submitted their views on the government's upcoming budget and I, along with all my colleagues, would like to thank them all, as well as to thank the clerk and the House of Commons staff who made our trip very pleasant and very well organized.
I recall some months ago, when replying to the budget, that I characterized that budget with three words: meanspirited, dishonest and unproductive. The events since the budget and our hearings across the country, as well as the proposals put forward in the fiscal update have simply reinforced those three themes. I would like to make my remarks today under those same three headings.
I will begin with the notion of meanspiritedness. The $1 billion in cuts that the government announced some time ago came up just as we were crossing the country and meeting Canadians. Of all the people who came before our committee, many were there to protest the cuts and to describe to committee members the impact of those cuts, sometimes in graphic detail.
We had people come to our committee and decry and criticize the government for its cuts to literacy programs and to explain to us how crucial those were and how meanspirited it was to cut those programs. We had representatives from museums who described to committee members the great difficulties in their communities, sometimes small communities, caused by these cuts to museums. We had people complaining about the cuts to the court challenges program, to the internship program and to the Law Commission.
I am very pleased that the opposition parties came together on these matters and that we in opposition voted unanimously and with enthusiasm, as one of the recommendations of our committee, to reinstate those meanspirited cuts so that the government would cancel the cuts and restore the funding to Status of Women, to literacy programs, to the museums and so on because that was the clear consensus of Canadians we heard from coast to coast to coast. It also was the clear consensus of all opposition members on the committee.
I would point out one small example of supreme meanspiritedness. This reflects the disability committee that was advisory to the Minister of National Revenue. It was set up as a consequence of a technical report and when I was minister of revenue I remember inaugurating this committee to advise the minister of revenue on measures affecting disabled Canadians. Most members of the committee were disabled in some fashion themselves and so had first-hand experience on the issues. These people put in a great deal of work and just recently one committee member came to see me to report a couple of things.
First, he pointed out that the government had summarily terminated the services of this disability advisory committee to the Minister of National Revenue and of all such committees at a cost saving of 1/100 of 1% of the budget of the Canada Revenue Agency. However, this individual, a member of the committee, and his colleagues were enthusiastic about their work. They thought it was important to disabled Canadians so they were continuing their work on a volunteer basis even though they had been disbanded by the government. He also told me that the chair of the committee had written to the minister to ask for an explanation but has not, some months later, received a reply.
This example, while it is not major in terms of dollars, is a good reflection of the meanspiritedness of the government that it would simply summarily cut the work of a committee to advise the government on how to make the tax system more responsive to people with disabilities and how it would not even respond to the chair of that committee when he wrote to the minister to ask for an explanation.
On the subject of meanspiritedness, the $1 billion in cuts, which Canadians across the country opposed and which the committee voted to reinstate, are only the tip of the iceberg. We have been asking questions for months trying to get the government to tell Canadians what it is cutting that amounts to a total of over $7 billion and the government has not come clean.
We, as an opposition, had to resort to access to information documents and we discovered the detailed cuts for Natural Resources Canada. This government document lists, under the heading “Program Cuts”, NRCan affected programs, six or seven items totalling $585 million. It says that other government programs $6.9 billion. Evidently, the government has at its disposal information on cuts detailed in each and every department and we, in the opposition, despite efforts for months, have failed to convince the government to reveal those cuts to Canadians.
We do know there are major cuts in post-secondary education and in research. However, unlike our government which, when we did our expenditure review, we itemized every cut line by line on the day of the budget, the Conservative government, months later, has yet to come clean and explain to Canadians who the victims are and where the cuts have been made. We believe this is a matter of basic accountability.
My first point, to conclude on the question of meanspiritedness, is that Canadians from coast to coast to coast flooded to our committee to tell us the dire consequences of the cuts to Status of Women, literacy, museums and other cuts that have affected the most vulnerable Canadians. We, as an opposition, united in the committee report to urge the government to reinstate those cuts.
As I said, the $1 billion in cuts are simply the tip of the iceberg. The government has yet to come clean with Canadians. This is a question of a basic lack of accountability. On this day of signing into law the accountability act, the government has yet to tell Canadians who will be affected by the additional $7.4 billion in cuts.