Mr. Speaker, I see that I may have to do this in two parts.
I came to Ottawa to stand up for the needs and priorities of Victorians. Today I stand against this budget because it fails the people of Victoria in many important ways. I will focus on three of these: post-secondary education and skills training for which I am the critic, housing and the environment.
A budget is a tool used to achieve practical ends. How much is allocated to one line item reveals how much that item is valued. Conservative budgets show what ends Conservatives want to achieve and they are not the ends that even Conservatives acknowledge that Canadians want.
The Minister of Finance states in his own document, and I quote: “There is also a clear consensus among Canadians on the importance of support for health care, post-secondary education and training, and infrastructure”. He also says that Canadians must have access to “affordable, accessible and high-quality post-secondary education and training”.
This budget offers a bloodless version of those fine words, although we do have to acknowledge that this budget is an improvement over the Liberals' do nothing model, because this government has finally taken steps to support education and training.
The tax incentives and grants to promote training and learning are a good start, as is the move to exempt bursaries from federal income tax.
However, in the global race for the knowledge economy, the new economy, the government has stumbled at the starting line.
My party proposes a national, concrete, long term strategy that recognizes that the level of skills required in most sectors will reach new heights and our economic prosperity of the future rests on those skills. Included in the NDP strategy to start would be a recognition that skills training is required throughout one's life by using the employment insurance system, for example, to support retraining and skills upgrading programs including soft skills like language training that many members in the House have benefited from. A lifelong learning strategy would finally reinvest in our college and university students, and improve access to education.
In this budget there is no increased financial support for students. Instead, the government makes it easier for students to start their working lives with larger debt loads than ever before. This is an administrator's budget where $1 billion of the $1.5 billion NDP budget intended to support the reduction of skyrocketing tuition fees was instead channelled toward university infrastructure, and an $83 book allowance. That is maybe one textbook. This budget shows the finance minister is out of touch with the real costs of a college education.
There is a very broad consensus among Canadians across the country that there should be a transfer specifically for post-secondary education. I would even add that this is part of the Conservatives' electoral platform. Where, then, is this transfer?
The Minister of Finance recognizes that keeping funding for post-secondary education in the overall cash transfer envelope poses a problem, but he is doing absolutely nothing to change this deficient process.
How will Canadians be able to clearly see what the provinces are doing with federal funds for education and training? This makes no sense, coming from a government that supposedly promised transparency.
This Conservative budget falls far short of actual student needs and it skirts around another issue critical to my city's future, to Canada's future: affordable housing.