Mr. Speaker, being a very positive person, it is hard to get into my new role of being a critic, but I will make an attempt.
The title of my speech today is “Lament for a Nation” because there is a new government with a new throne speech and a new budget that are so prejudicial to the vulnerable, to the poor, to the students, to the environment, to artists, to aboriginal people. With the duplicity of some opposition parties and in spite of the national media's attempts, members of the public are not yet fully aware of this sad lament.
The first people I want to lament for are the Quebeckers who supported the Bloc.
Quebeckers believe in public transit, affordable housing, training, post-secondary education and foreign aid, yet on June 23, the Bloc betrayed Quebeckers and voted against all these things. We can see the results. There was a dramatic drop in the polls and the unimaginable happened: the Conservatives won Quebec City.
As if the Bloc did not learn a lesson from this, they did it again. Quebeckers did not ask for a budget that was built on the backs of the most vulnerable, the students, that increased income tax for the poor, that abolished Kyoto, abolished Kelowna and abolished national child care that took hundreds of millions of dollars from Quebec and that did nothing for older workers and their perceived fiscal imbalance. Yet the Bloc members betrayed their voters again. They betrayed Quebeckers.
Now I want to talk to my colleagues, the Liberal members from Quebec. They can be proud of always supporting those who are vulnerable, the environment, the poor, students and the native peoples.
Quebeckers believe in these and can be proud that they have had Liberal deputies who have steadfastly fought for these in the wake of a devastating Conservative budget, which did little to strategically support these.
Lament number two is for the NDP. The supporters of NDP members were delighted when the rare circumstances evolved that gave this small party the balance of power. We worked together to make even greater gains than the Liberals had already made in public transit, affordable housing for aboriginal people, training, foreign aid and great social progress. Then they threw it all away and, in partnership with the Conservatives, set the stage for the election of a Conservative government. A number of their supporters were furious. We lament for the true social reformers who the NDP abandoned.
The NDP tried to blame the public. It was not the public who pulled the plug early on Parliament before Kelowna could be implemented and before the national child care agreements were realized.
I will never forget a man who came into my office during the election campaign, a lifelong NDP supporter, who said that he and his wife would be voting for me for the first time.
Most astonishing in our lament of NDP voters is their party's duplicity in not fighting strenuously against a throne speech that had virtually nothing in it for students, for labour unions, for women, for the environment, all areas for which the NDP used to strenuously fight.
I want to turn now to the national media. I do not lament for the national media. I think it is great. It does tremendous research and comes up with very exciting and intelligent articles. I am wondering, as a media that prides itself as being the unofficial opposition, if it is lamenting a bit when we have a budget that offers trinkets which are all overblown in their importance. I think a Bloc member mentioned earlier in debate that some of the offerings were worth about a cup of coffee and so prejudicial to the vulnerable. Yet the Tories are still riding so high in the polls. I will provide examples of these two cases.
The first example of a trinket is the $80 for books. The Liberal Party provided millennium scholarships with thousands and thousands of dollars to thousands of students. This was the biggest scholarship program in history. Just recently, the Liberal government offered $6,000 per student for tuition and $12,000 for poorer students.
A Conservative member was asked by a Liberal member what the budget did to help low income single mothers. The Conservative said that they could go back to school with the $80 for their books. I phoned a college bookstore and asked for the price of three books. It was $110, $134 and $160. A person could not even buy three-quarters of a book.
An example is the most vulnerable is aboriginal people. It says on page 112 of the budget that the budget of Indian Affairs has grown about $350 million a year because there is a growing population and inflation. How much did the government increase the budget? The Conservatives increased it $150 million, which is less than 50% of the average of previous governments. What is $150 million of the $5 billion that the Liberal government offered for Kelowna? It is one thirty-third of that amount. When reporters asked where the $5 billion went, what answer did they get? The previous Liberal government had it all set aside.
Finally, my lament is for the Conservatives. This is a party that was once progressives, but it gives Canadians a budget that preys on the vulnerable. I have to compliment the Conservatives for the item that increases money to charities. That is good. In general, the Conservatives tell students that $80 is a good deal compared to the $6,000 that the Liberal government was offering.
The Conservatives complain about smog and then cut 15 climate change programs that help reduce smog. They cut the $4 billion worth of clean air and climate change programs and replace it with what we call in sports “future considerations”. There is only half the money, $2 billion, for ideas that have never come forward yet and no plan.
The Conservatives broke faith with the aboriginal people of our country when they broke faith with the premiers and the leaders of first nations. The Conservatives do nothing more than Bill C-48 to help the poorest people in the world.
The Conservatives cannot come to agreement on military equipment.
The Conservatives, as per on page 218, will increase income tax for the poorest in society from 15% to 15.5% on July 1 of this year. The Conservatives have reduced the basic personal exemption, again most severely affecting the poor, as per again on page 218. It is amazing that the Department of Finance allowed them put this line in the budget. It says that the government will give the poor a break on the GST and then it takes it back. It says and I quote page 218:
The basic personal amount will be reduced by $400 to...on July 1, 2006 at the same time as the GST rate is reduced.
The Conservatives will once again, like the Sheriff of Nottingham, take away from the poor by eliminating the young child national supplement for low income people.
Conservatives ignore rural people in their budget and almost taunt them. They kept one Liberal rural program, the rural infrastructure program. They give one example in the budget of this rural project. Let us see what they say. Remember that rural Canada is 95% of the land mass, so what project did they pick for their one example?
This will allow this fund to support further improvements to municipal infrastructure, such as the Evergreen Commons at the Don Valley Brick Works in Toronto.
That is a great project and a great symbol of the Conservatives' lack of commitment to rural Canada.
The Prime Minister, during the 2006 election, mocked some agreement as politicians paying politicians. Then the Conservatives do exactly the same thing by taking $1 billion from our students and giving it to provincial politicians. That is politicians paying politicians.
The Conservative government does not support culture. It has cut the increases to artists by two-thirds. The Conservative government, after the Liberal government gave very large support to people staying at home through the national child benefit, gives as little as 55¢ a day or 14 minutes of day care.
The Conservative government sold the future of our children by cutting increases in R and D by as much as 90%.
There may be some low income people who get a slight reduction in taxes, but the fact is they are the only level of people who are also given income tax increases. Last night I bought a quart of milk for $2.29. For 55¢ a day, a low income person could quit his or her job and buy a quarter of a litre of milk for the children. Is that being better off? I agree that the wealthy and businesses should get tax cuts, but they should be fair tax cuts. They will get thousands of dollars back.
We can see why the throne speech and budget are described as a lament for a nation. The nation I was raised in and am proud to represent is one of generosity, where everyone, corporations, small business, the wealthy, the middle class and the poor all benefit from the record benefits of Canadian prosperity. A rising tide raises everyone equally.
It was a nation trying to come to peace with the aboriginal people and reduce their disparities. It was a nation that supported national parks, child care, research and development, clean air programs and the cultural achievements of our artists, whose dreams were to bring to reality what the United Nations said was the best country in the world.
Instead we have a nation whose government has had the richest inheritance in history, yet has given some small general tax breaks and then claws them back with increased taxes to one group of Canadians and one group alone, the poor. This is why indeed today we lament for a nation.