Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the budget, a budget that a lot of Canadians look to as an indication of the type of government that we will receive from the Conservative Party.
Unfortunately, it confirms the concern and worry that many people have about the direction in which our country is heading under the government and, I would say, especially in Atlantic Canada. I say this because Canadians believe we have a responsibility to each other. These cannot just be words. We must demonstrate in real ways our commitment to actions, especially to Canadians who are most in need of a break.
It is a fact that some of our citizens have not reaped the benefits of our collective success as a nation in the past decade or so. That should challenge us to do better. Under previous governments, both Liberal and Progressive Conservative, we have made inroads in social equality and justice.
Today, Canada is a world leader. In fact, the day after the budget the front section of the Globe and Mail had a big banner in the middle which said, “Canada is a World Leader”.
This was not the case some 13 years ago when the consensus was that Canada was an economic basket case. It was clear as a country we could not continue down that path of financial ruin. In the early days of our Liberal mandate in 1993, the new government was confronted with the crippling reality of $40 billion-plus annual deficits and growing debts. It was so dire that one influential American newspaper suggested that Canada was on the brink of financial collapse, in fact, third world status.
Tough decisions had to be made. Those decisions were borne collectively and at times painfully by all Canadians. In retrospect, though, most of those tough policy decisions were right. Today, we have witnessed a tremendous financial dividend off those decisions.
The fiscal decisions of the mid-nineties were made in the national interest. They were decisions that put policy ahead of politics; not easy, but right for the country.
We can compare that to the situation today where politics trumps good public policy. Unlike the Liberals in 1993, the Conservative government took office with the best economy in Canadian history, a vibrant economy with annual surpluses that provide an opportunity to plan for our future prosperity by investing in people and by investing in our social infrastructure.
That is not what government members chose to do, though, with the opportunity presented to them. It could have invested in students, in social programs like child care, in our aboriginal communities or in the environment but it chose not to.
To me, the budget represents a lost opportunity with worse to come. It is a budget that gives too much to the rich at the expense of those who have less. Low and middle income Canadians, as well as students and aboriginals, all of whom were shut out in this era of unprecedented prosperity.
I cannot support a budget that does not invest in real child care and instead, offers a taxable individual benefit that really has not even been targeted to those most in need. The previous government had a plan that would have made a difference in the lives of families across the country and was widely supported by governments of all stripes in Canada. It was a plan that recognized that government has a responsibility to help to provide every child with the opportunity to learn and, for parents who work, we provided an early learning and child care program based on the quad principles which have become so well known in the child care community. A real child care plan involves investing our financial capital in order to enhance our human capital.
The Caledon Institute of social policy indicates, as an example of how wrong this new policy is, that a two earner couple making $30,000 will end up with a net benefit of $199, while a one earner couple making $200,000 will see a net benefit of $1,076. That is unconscionable. It is not in fact a child care plan. It is an allowance that will be disproportionately allocated.
I cannot support a budget that ignores post-secondary education so much and, in particular, students. The budget offer,s as a crowning achievement, an $80 tax reduction on books.
The previous Liberal government invested close to $13 billion in research and innovation in the last decade. We now lead all G-7 countries in per capita investment in university research and these investments have had a huge benefit to our economy, a huge benefit to the development of new technologies and to retaining and attracting top researchers. We have in fact reversed the brain drain.
The issue now is student accessibility. Last November, our government proposed sweeping investments in students in the form of direct assistance. These billions in investments called for extending the Canada access grants from one year to the entire four years of study, targeted toward low income students, those most in need, aboriginal students and persons with disabilities. That economic statement went miles beyond Bill C-48, providing much more for students than Bill C-48 did.
Again, a real plan for students involves investing in our financial capital in order to enhance our human capital.
I also cannot support a budget that makes little mention of the environment. The abandonment goes far beyond Kyoto. It hurts individual Canadians. For example, the EnerGuide program for low income housing was cancelled. This was a $500 million five year program that provided grants to low income Canadians so they could evaluate their houses and make repairs with the goal of conserving energy and reducing their personal energy costs. I do not believe it is fair and I do not believe it is appropriate to cancel that program. Now all of EnerGuide is gone.
What is more galling is that when the government was in opposition it voted for the very legislation that funded EnerGuide for low income families. I think it shameful and it is counterproductive to cancel that.
Again, the day after the budget was presented in this House, the Globe and Mail had a two page spread that broke down the budget. The article argued that in order for Canada to maintain its strong economy there were two key areas of investments: education and the environment. Can anyone guess what was missed out in the budget?
This budget goes in the opposite direction, paying scant attention to education. Its environmental proposals seek to abandon Kyoto while cutting programs like EnerGuide, which is a made in Canada solution and actually works.
Again, it is politics above policy.
Let us have a look at the celebrated GST cut. Jeffrey Simpson, in the Globe and Mail, referred to the Conservative commitment to cut the GST as a $5 billion political bribe. “As politics,” he said, “it's great; as economics, it stinks”.
It was not just him. Herb Grubel, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, a former member of this chamber and a former Reform Party finance critic, said:
Cutting the GST rather than business or personal income taxes may be good politics but it is definitely very bad economics.
Andrew Coyne, in the National Post, no friend of the Liberal Party, said:
A Conservative party that was prepared to blow $8.5-billion a year...on such a transparent electoral bribe, sacrificing every principle of sound taxation and severely limiting the chances of major improvements in Canada's productivity in the bargain, would have announced in very clear terms that it was no longer interested in being a party of principle.
In other countries there is a move to tax consumption because it is the most fair way of taxing. New Zealand, for example, has moved from 10.2% of taxes on general consumption as a percentage of GDP to 25.3% in the last quarter century.
The government talked about broad based tax relief. We see in the brochure that touts this budget that a family making less than $15,000 gets a $96 saving and a family making $100,000 to $150,000, which includes everybody in this chamber, saves $1,228. I do not think MPs deserve 12 times as much of a break as somebody struggling to raise their family on $15,000.
This budget misses the mark in two key areas.
First, it is dumb. It is a dumb budget economically, according to all the economics, and it ignores productivity, which we need, in favour of a GST cut.
Second, I would suggest that it is just plain mean. For decades our federal governments, and I am talking Progressive Conservative as well as Liberal, introduced measures to make Canada more equal, more fair and more just, a society that recognizes success but also recognizes our responsibility to those who are disadvantaged.
This budget represents a turning away from that ethic in favour of measures to help those disproportionately better off. The more one has, the more one spends, the more one gets. Average Canadian families do not become the major beneficiary as they should.
I do not dismiss the appearance of benefits to some families but when we examine it we find that more than ever before these budget measures will do nothing for the poor and little for the middle class.
This financial plan for Canada takes us backwards. The GST cut is dead wrong, according to leading economists; ignoring the need to invest in students is a critical mistake; turning back on the environment is a colossal blunder; and abandoning children is hugely misguided.
In short, this budget offers some sizzle but no steak. It invests in the wrong areas, cuts the wrong taxes, assists many of the wrong people and turns back the clock on real progress for Canadians.