House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taxes.


Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a fairly broad accusation from the hon. member to suggest that we are not looking at every opportunity to alleviate the work shortage.

The labour shortage we are facing in my home province of Alberta is very important. We are supporting and encouraging movement of immigration. As I mentioned in my speech, we are bringing in temporary foreign workers. Instead of sending them home, as were the regulations under the former Liberal government, we have taken some of the red tape out of it and are allowing these people to stay in Canada while they apply for their permanent residency. It is a very important factor for all across the country.

We need to recognize that we have had a tremendous inadequacy in our country that has stopped labour mobility from moving province to province. I look at the example of the TILMA agreement between Alberta and—

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I am sorry but the time has expired.

The hon. member for Burlington.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 25th, 2007 / 11 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance for sharing his time with me and congratulate him on his new role. I know he will do a fantastic job in that office.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

At the outset, it is important to acknowledge my colleague's recognition of our government's efforts to lessen the tax burden on Canadian families, individuals and businesses. His motion correctly highlights that we have significantly reduced both personal and corporate taxes, as well as the national debt, in order to increase the competitiveness of Canada's economy.

Clearly, as an economist by training, he has a fine eye for effective economic policy. We appreciate his support and trust that there may well be others across the aisle who share his views but are somewhat resistant to be overly positive.

Accordingly I will take a little time today to reiterate what we have done so far on both tax and on the debt side of the ledger, with the hope that others might find the courage exhibited by my friend opposite to speak positively and publicly about the government's accomplishments.

It would appear, given the second portion of the motion, that the member for Markham—Unionville may be unaware of the positive work we have done with respect to investing in infrastructure, post-secondary education and so on. Therefore, I also will take some time to address what we have done in these areas.

With respect to reducing taxes, our credentials are solid and have been from the moment we assumed office. We have provided more than $41 billion over three years in tax relief for individuals and businesses. As the Minister of Finance has noted often, there is more still to come.

We will build on the efforts and continue to create a tax advantage for Canada, which will fuel economic growth, investment and the creation of wealth. It started less than 18 months ago, in May 2006, with the 2006 federal budget. For those who have not read it, I have it here with me.

The document proposed 29 personal and business tax relief measures that provided more than $20 billion of personal tax relief alone. That sum, which represents more than the four previous federal budgets combined, helps me to better understand the praise of my friend of whom I referred to earlier. Clearly, he probably wishes that the previous government had taken similar action on behalf of Canadian taxpayers.

For example, he no doubt recognizes the wisdom of providing tax relief for each and every working Canadian through the introduction of the Canadian employment credit. I say this with all sincerity, who can argue with providing a tax credit to recognize the cost of work related expenditures such as home computers, uniforms and supplies?

Similarly, who among us would oppose the creation of the children's fitness tax credit as a means to encourage healthy, active kids by helping to cover the eligible fees up to $500 for enrolment in physical activity programs? Who would oppose the new textbook credit for students to help offset the cost of textbooks? Who would oppose increasing the basic personal amount that an individual can earn every year before paying federal income tax? Who would oppose a 1% point reduction in the GST that benefits all Canadians, including those who do not earn enough to pay personal income tax?

Who, one may ask? That would be the members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. That would be the same party that opposed the government's fair tax credit plan, a plan proposed with significant measures to help Canadian seniors. As hard as it is to believe, the Liberals opposed tax fairness. In doing so, that means they are opposing helping Canadian seniors plan for a better retirement through an increase in the age credit amount and the historic action of permitting income splitting for Canadian pensioners. Frankly, it is very hard to fathom.

It should therefore not be so hard to believe that the same group of folks has not supported the long term plan to build a strong economy for Canadians, “Advantage Canada”, by creating key advantages, including a tax advantage that would set Canada apart from our competitors around the world.

Maybe it is a little hard to believe that Liberal members are opposed to creating a tax advantage for Canada to help us attract and maintain the workers and the capital investment that Canada requires to succeed and prosper in the 21st century.

Maybe it is a little hard to believe that Liberal members oppose a tax advantage that is fiscally responsible and that will build a stronger Canada and help to improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

It is also hard to believe, at least for those of us on this side of the House, that responsible people could oppose the creation of other key advantages envisioned under “Advantage Canada”, a fiscal advantage, an entrepreneurial advantage, a knowledge advantage and an infrastructure advantage.

How else are we to explain that at the first opportunity they had to show their support toward creating comprehensive advantages for Canada, the vote on Bill C-52 in the last session, Liberals said nay.

Those members said nay to the creation of the tax back guarantee, through which all interest savings from the reduction of national debt would be returned to taxpayers in the form of income tax redemptions.

Liberals said nay to the working families tax plan and the creation of a $2,000 child tax credit that would provide up to $310 per child of tax relief to more than three million Canadian families starting this year.

Liberals said nay to increasing spousal and other deductions in order to provide up to $209 in tax relief starting this year for a supporting spouse or a single taxpayer who was supporting a child or relative.

Liberals said nay to reducing the general corporate tax rate by 0.5% effective January 1, 2011.

Liberals said nay to establishing a federal foreign convention and tourism incentive program.

Liberals said nay to the introduction of the green levy on inefficient fuel vehicles.

Liberals said nay to predictable long term funding to the Canada social transfer to support post-secondary education, social assistance and social services.

I could go on, but I trust the general idea that I am trying to put forward here is very clear to everybody in the House.

The fact is the opposition tries to make all the right sounds and hit all the right buttons about lowering taxes, increasing productivity, investing in infrastructure and R and D, but when it comes to actually doing something about it and following through and doing the right thing, those members abdicate. It hardly inspires confidence in Canadians that they will actually do the right thing when they next get a chance. Let us hope that is many years away.

However, given the wording of the motion before us today, I am willing to give the opposition the benefit of the doubt. Soon the government will introduce the 2007 budget implementation bill. Members opposite will have the opportunity to walk the walk or talk the talk. They will be able to tangibly demonstrate that they mean business by voting yea and not nay to the tax measures that will benefit Canadians and help create the Canadian tax advantage.

For example, among other measures the Liberals can say yea to is the introduction of the working income tax benefit to help people who are out of work get back to work and over the welfare wall.

Liberals could say yea to expanding the scope of the public transit credit to better encourage individuals to make a sustained commitment to public transit use.

Liberals could say yea to increasing the lifetime capital gains exemption to $750,000 to increase the rewards for investing in small business, fishing and farming.

I look forward to the pending debate on these important matters. I hope I am not wrong in giving the benefit of the doubt to my friends across the way.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a debate about priorities and it is quite a remarkable coincidence that there is almost virtual unanimity among some of the major and leading economists.

The Conservative position is that it lowers the GST and ups personal income taxes. Today's Globe and Mail reads:

All 20 economists said other tax cuts would be better for the country than trimming another percentage point from the goods and services tax, which represents more than $5-billion in revenue.

In a remarkable show of unanimity on public policy, given that the responses were from organizations as diverse as the Fraser Institute, the auto workers, the Canadian Manufacturers Association, the Bank of Montreal and the Halifax based Institute for Market Studies, they all said that the government's priorities were all wrong.

Does the hon. member opposite know how much revenue was raised by moving the base threshold rate from 15% to 15.5%, which more than offset and paid for his GST cut and his boutique cuts?

“Cutting the GST could encourage more consumption at exactly the wrong time,” said Patricia Croft. “Domestic demand is already very strong and encouraging additional consumption could make the Bank of Canada's job tougher at this juncture.”

Why is it that the government persists in flying in the face of virtually unanimous opinion among economists and making the Bank of Canada's job even more difficult by making the exact wrong choices? Could the hon. member answer that question?

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the last session, I sat with the member opposite on the finance committee and always enjoyed his approach to things, although it was not normally correct. He obviously has not been listening very well to the finance minister.

First, we must be clear that this government and this party promised to do something with the GST and we are doing something with the GST. Unlike the Liberals, who, a number of years ago, promised to get rid of it completely but did not, which forced one of their members to resign. We thought we were done with her but she ran again and won back her seat. The Liberals have no moral or ethical grounds to stand on in what we are doing. We promised to do something and we are doing it.

In addition, the finance minister said that it would be a basket of goods approach. There will be a reduction in the consumption tax in the GST, which is welcomed, not by 20 economists, but millions of Canadians who are looking forward to a reduction in the GST so they can buy houses or cars. The poor who do not pay income tax will finally get another tax break, which they will never get from the Liberal Party or the New Democrats.

We are doing the right thing with a balanced approach to tax cuts. We have produced $41 billion in tax cuts over the last almost two years. What more can we do?

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I am watching the Conservatives and the Liberals trying to do their best to make more corporate tax cuts, ordinary Canadian families are going into debt. The average debt load per family is $44,500, which is a huge debt for people to carry on their backs. Students are graduating with huge debts of, on average, $30,000.

In my riding, I hear stories from University of Toronto graduates. One student told me recently that she has to work an extra day per week in order to have enough money to pay just the interest on the debt that she has from studying.

Instead of investing in our future generations, we are allowing these students to graduate with a huge debt. Why are we continuing this insane role of racing to the bottom and making these corporate tax cuts that--

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Burlington.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity—Spadina in the GTA, with which I am familiar being from Burlington.

I very much appreciate that the NDP member wants to talk about debt and debt reduction. It is obvious to her that debt is an issue for individuals and families. It is obvious to us that debt is a problem for Canadians in general and the government is in deep debt and we need to get out of it.

This year we put down $14.2 billion on the debt. In the previous year, we put $13.2 billion on the debt and then, with Advantage Canada, the program that we have been promoting and that we want everybody to support, for every dollar saved by not having to pay interest, that money will go to tax cuts to help working families in Ontario, Toronto and every province in the country. In two years we---

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a rather unique situation. Yesterday, the Liberals did not rise when the time came to vote on the throne speech. No one got up. We did not know whether they supported or opposed the speech. We do not know because no one rose.

Today, we have before us a motion that looks strangely like something the Conservative Party might have moved as the party claiming to be the alternative to the other government, but the two parties are cut from the same cloth. It is sad, but true about this Liberal motion, which is a little light on analysis. Here are some examples.

First, the motion says that the government must reduce taxes, but makes no mention of the fiscal imbalance or possible transfers to the provinces. The Liberals seem totally unaware that there is a will in this country, particularly in Quebec, to make sure money is transferred to the provinces and the fiscal imbalance is corrected once and for all. This financial issue was corrected in part in the most recent budget, but a significant part of the issue has yet to be addressed: the actual transfer of money, which includes ways of raising money and transferring it to Quebec so that it can carry out its responsibilities. The Liberals are silent on this.

They could have criticized the Conservatives, who have failed to finish the job and seem content with the monetary transfer, but do not go so far as to respect the recognition of Quebec as a distinct nation and eliminate the fiscal imbalance completely. On this point, the Liberals take more or less the same position as the Conservatives.

The same is true when it comes to reducing corporate taxes. I am very surprised. The Standing Committee on Industry issued a unanimous report with 22 recommendations that made one thing clear: the government should not make across-the-board corporate tax reductions, but targeted reductions. Why? Because some companies are making good profits from their economic activities, while others are earning much less. The manufacturing and forestry sectors are not turning a profit. If corporate taxes are reduced, the people in these sectors will not benefit.

We need to find ways to make targeted tax reductions, as the Standing Committee on Industry recommended. That means things like refundable research and development tax credits, loan guarantees and a series of measures that will create a favourable tax environment for Canadian companies so that they can compete on global markets.

If we reduce corporate taxes across the board without asking for anything in particular in return, the money will flow into the pockets of shareholders, who will continue to invest in what they believe is best for the company. There is a difference between the goals of corporations and the goals of the state. The Liberals and the Conservatives do not seem to be aware of this reality. However, their own members on the Standing Committee on Industry accepted the proposals and were involved in developing this global action plan to help the manufacturing industry that was applauded by the coalition of manufacturers and unions.

With regard to today's motion pertaining to productivity, we would have expected that this distinction be made, that recommendations different from the Conservative approach be made. But this is not the what we see with the Liberal's position.

The issue of the debt is being handled in a similar manner. We are told that we must quite simply reduce the debt. However, there is significant debate surrounding this issue. This year, I conducted pre-budget consultations in my riding; I had six meetings of at least two hours each with citizens from all over the riding. I took away one thing from those meetings: what discouraged them the most was that $14 billion in surpluses was used to pay down the debt. It is somewhat similar to a home owner obsessed with paying the mortgage. He absolutely wants to pay off the mortgage on his house as soon as possible and in the least number of years possible. In the meantime, the porch is collapsing and he does nothing about it.

That is the kind of problem we have in Canada. It is fine to use the surplus to pay off about half of our debt, but we have to reinvest the other half in infrastructure programs. We also have to ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and implement a program to assist older workers who have been laid off due to globalization. These measures should be part of an overall industrial strategy.

If we want businesses to take advantage of investment tax credits so they can buy the equipment they need to be more competitive, we have to make sure that people who lose their jobs when that happens do not pay the price. We have to provide them with a decent living until they retire.

The Liberal motion does not address that. Now that they are the official opposition, they seem to be ignoring the issue. How disappointing.

Today is the day after the vote on the Speech from the Throne. They abstained from voting. Nobody knows whether they were for it or against it, just that they decided not to vote. I would have preferred to see four or five members rise, symbolically, to say that their party was against it, but none of them rose yesterday. Today, they have introduced a motion in an attempt to condemn the government. Theirs is a motion that sits squarely on the fence. Most of what the motion contains could very well have been supported by the Conservatives, or even proposed by them when they were in opposition. Obviously, the Conservative government will have to vote against it because of some of the things it says, but those are just details, really.

For example, the motion says that the government must avoid making mistakes such as breaking its promise not to tax income trusts. It is true that the Conservative's made the mistake of breaking their promise. They made a promise not to change the income trust tax, but they went ahead and changed it. Of course, when it came right down to it, that they clearly had to do something or income trusts would create very serious problems for the entire economy. We have to put this broken promise into context and in that sense, the motion generalizes.

The same goes for eliminating interest deductibility. The details have not been worked out. It seems to be the finance minister's trademark to present ideas and then, once they are on the table, realize that there are some loose ends to tie up.

This was how he tackled the issue of automatic teller machines. One day, he said he was going to bring the banks back to their senses and the next day he had a meeting with them and said the status quo was not so bad. It was the same with retailers. He said we have to make sure prices come down faster; he has a meeting and says the market will sort this out.

The Minister of Finance is sending out the wrong message. We saw this same lack of real analysis on the issue of interest deductibility. Again, it is clear that the Liberals did not get to the heart of this issue.

This motion is unacceptable to us because it systematically attacks provincial responsibilities in a number of jurisdictions, namely: infrastructure, research and development, post-secondary education, assistance to immigrants, recognition of credentials, and labour force training. For the Liberals, this is business as usual.

A majority of those activities are under provincial jurisdiction. They want to continue interfering in these areas when we know that action could be taken. For example, the federal government has maintained a reserve in the employment insurance fund for labour force training. There has been some devolution to the provinces, but part of it has been retained for a number of administrative programs, and there is a reserve. This money could be made available to Quebec and the provinces so they could use it to address labour force training needs. We do not want to find ourselves in the somewhat absurd situation that is happening in Lebel-sur-Quévillon. They are looking for mine employees there. Right next door, there are dozens and dozens of forestry workers. The Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec had asked that they be giving the appropriate training so they could become mine workers. No way of accomplishing this could be found, and we are going to bring in immigrants to do the work, while the forestry workers continue to be unemployed. There again, there is action that could be taken that was not taken and that should be taken.

So we are dealing with a motion that involves the level at which corporations are taxed and the size of the debt. It talks about driving greater productivity in Canada by making investments, but it gives no details about them, nor does it say what kind of action or what kind of policies should be put forward. This very general language makes no constructive contribution as compared to the position we would have expected from the Liberal Party.

When we talk about better access to post-secondary education, we have known the recipe for a long time. We have to be sure that the money is in the provinces’ hands and that the federal government stops interfering, as it did under the Liberals’ reign with the millennium scholarships. Quebec has to be able to manage its own money for education and decide where it is going to spend it.

That is the best way to improve access to post-secondary education. In fact, because of the loans and grants program we have developed in Quebec, which has unfortunately not been spared from the federal government’s budget cuts in this area, we still have an excellent system of access to training, and that must continue to be the case.

As well, the Liberal Party should have shown a little compassion in the way it worded this motion. It has nothing to say about older workers or workers on employment insurance, as if the question of productivity did not call for a little compassion; some is certainly required.

Earlier, I gave the example of older workers laid off by a company that is modernizing its plant. Often, those people have worked for 20 or 25 or 30 years for the same company. Until 1984, there was a program to help these people bridge the gap until retirement. Over and over, we have called for this kind of program to be put in place again. We succeeded in having an amendment to the Conservatives’ first throne speech passed, nearly two years ago now. We thought they would keep their word. They agreed to the amendment and they incorporated it, so that there would be a genuine assistance program for older workers.

In last year’s budget, rather than announcing the creation of the program, they decided to form a committee chaired by a former senator that was supposed to submit a draft report in September. When the end of summer arrived, we found out that the report had been postponed until January and still there is no program for older workers.

I asked the Prime Minister about this following his address during consideration of the Speech from the Throne. There is a reality here that people are facing and they deserve a solution. I was a bit disappointed, though, because the Prime Minister did not seem to know what I was talking about, even though the manufacturing and forestry sectors in Quebec and Canada are currently experiencing major difficulties.

Western Canada may well be riding an economic boom, but the Prime Minister should also be aware of what is happening throughout the manufacturing sector, which accounts for between 15% and 20% of the economic activity in Canada. Some of our citizens are badly affected by these layoffs. Yet the Conservative government shows no compassion, nor do the Liberals for that matter, because the very next day after the vote on the throne speech, they have introduced a motion in which they decide to say nothing.

It is the same with employment insurance. We have certainly put up a fight. I have been a member of Parliament for 14 years. Today is actually the anniversary of my election in 1993, and so it was exactly 14 years ago that I was elected to the House for the first time. We have been fighting hard for all that time. In truth, we would have preferred not to have to be here so long. I can humbly say that on the night of the referendum in 1995, I would have gone home, if we had only won. Today I would be living in a sovereign Quebec and would be very happy about it. In any case, we continued to fight and obtained some employment insurance pilot projects. These were not real changes to the act but five pilot projects that at least improved the situation of seasonal workers.

By the way, one of these pilot projects will expire on December 9, 2007. It enables all seasonal workers in 21 regions of Canada to receive benefits for five additional weeks over and above what is usually provided in the tables. However, if the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development fails to extend the current pilot project, the regular tables will come back into force on December 10. It is terrible for people in the seasonal industries to have a sword of Damocles like that hanging over their heads.

In the past, we forced the Liberal government to take action on this issue. Who could forget that Mr. Chrétien called seasonal workers beer-drinkers? In the end, we got a special program for seasonal workers. Nevertheless, it is sad that this has not yet become entrenched in law and that we still do not have an independent employment insurance fund to stop the government from dipping into it. The government must take action to extend the pilot project beyond December 9.

We are worried about the coming year. There has been a significant slowdown in manufacturing and seasonal industries. Furthermore, the rising Canadian dollar is having an adverse effect on tourism. In seasonal industries, people tend to work the minimum number of weeks to qualify for employment insurance.

People were going through an awful period of time known as the “spring gap”, when, for 4 to 10 weeks, they had no income left. After working 12, 15 or 16 weeks, they were entitled to the maximum number of weeks of benefits, but there was still a period of time during which they had no income. They had to resort to social assistance or cash in their retirement savings to support their families.

The pilot project gave people five additional weeks of benefits. It is due to end on December 9, and we are waiting for the federal government to take action on this issue. I was hoping the Liberals would take the lead by including this in their motion. After all, a society is not judged solely on the money it makes, but on how its wealth is distributed.

This week, Canada learned that only too well. A UN representative told us that when it comes to social housing, Canada is a little like a banana republic. We in Canada are not doing a very good job of fighting poverty. We are not using the tools we should be using, such as the employment insurance system.

During the previous session, this Parliament was considering Bill C-269, a bill sponsored by a member of the Bloc Québécois. The bill remains before this Parliament still today, as a private members' bill. The three opposition parties are prepared to pass it. The government's decision to give royal recommendation is the only thing missing.

Passing the bill would mean profoundly changing the employment insurance system. It would correct the situation and provide justice to those who fought hardest against the deficit, through the 1990s and until today, namely, unemployed workers in Quebec and Canada. For they are the ones who paid Canada's deficit and, to date, the only ones who have not seen any return on their investment.

We, on the other hand, have benefited from a few tax cuts and an improved economy. Unemployed workers are the ones who paid. The screws were tightened for 10 years. They were forced into a very precarious financial situation and nothing has been done to correct or improve that situation.

If the Conservative government wanted to really do something to better fight poverty, it would give this bill royal recommendation. A precedent has already been set in this area, on a bill dealing with employment insurance. If it would only do so, people around the world would say that the Government of Canada took significant action to fight poverty and ensure a better distribution of wealth.

I would have liked to see the Liberals refer to this bill in their motion. Nevertheless, they supported it, as did the NDP. The Conservatives are the only ones at this time who refuse to breathe new life into this bill. This is not a question of encouraging people to become or to remain unemployed. That phase has been resolved.

Given the current employment rate, we have a problem of a different kind. What about the manufacturing jobs that were well paid? In my riding we see it every day. The $15, $16, $18 and $20 an hour jobs have become $8, $9 and $10 an hour jobs. Fortunately, inflation is not very high. However, in real life, this reduces economic activity in several regions. There is another way of dealing with this situation: we have to have a good employment insurance program enabling individuals, including older workers, to live decently until their retirement and allowing them to have a minimum to keep the economy rolling.

These programs were created for a reason. After the Great Depression—the economic crisis of the 1930s—we realized that we had to maintain the buying power of those who no longer had an income. The unemployment insurance program and the social assistance program were established to ensure that people would have a minimum to continue to live. Today, even though our overall economy is doing well because of the energy sector, those who struggle every day, who provide their labour in order to have an income and support their family, are waiting for a return on the investment.

This is not reflected in the Liberal's motion, and even less so by the Conservative government, which is determined to continue claiming that no efforts are needed in this regard. The Conservatives have already said that they supported the independent employment insurance fund. Let them show it, let them agree to adopt Bill C-269 and to give a royal recommendation. Then we will have a tangible measure to judge. Until then, Quebec wants nothing to with what the Liberals are doing today or what the Conservatives presented in the Speech from the Throne.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Macleod Alberta


Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on his 14 years of service in the House. The only disclaimer I would put on that is it is unfortunate his role is to try to separate this wonderful country instead of bringing it closer together. However, I do respect my hon. colleague for his passion and his representation of his constituents. We only wish that he would represent Canada as a whole and as strongly as we on this side of the House wish to do.

The hon. member has spoken many times in the House about jobs, and I do recognize his passion about this. However, I will quote from a Globe and Mail article, which seems to be the paper of the day according to the Liberal opposition. This is from a July 2007 Globe and Mail article:

Employers are on a hiring spree and not just in the West—Quebec's job creation is soaring. The Canadian economy added 34,800 jobs last month, double what was forecast...

The province of Quebec added 70,000 jobs this year.

That is good news and it is an indication of the strength of the Canadian economy. The strength of all provinces, including Quebec, is based on the strong leadership from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.

We hear comments about the lack of investment in housing. Let me quote another figure if I could. In budget 2007, $3.3 billion went to support youth, housing and programs for legal aid and refugee settlement. Those are a number of the issues about which the hon. member spoke.

I am pleased to hear the hon. member is not supporting—

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. It will allow me to shed light on the situation.

It is true that many jobs have been created in Canada, Quebec and Ontario. Nonetheless, one of the major problems is the disparity between the need for workers and the workers available.

The government would like workers who are 57, 58, or 60, who were laid off after working in a plant for 25 years, to start working as computer technicians overnight. A few of them may manage that transition, but most will never be able to.

In a society where a federal government posts a $14 billion surplus at the end of the year, it is unacceptable to put all that money toward the debt. Some of that surplus should have been used to share the wealth with these workers.

There is also the matter of the right number of available jobs. As far as immigration is concerned, we have to make sure there is a significant enough supply of workers moving here to meet the needs. I think a greater effort needs to be made in that area. There has to be a balance between the number of people we welcome and the needs that have to be met. More effort needs to be made on that.

Another very difficult aspect of employment is that an employee might come from a job where he was earning $15, $16, $18, or $20 an hour only to start a new job where he is earning $8.50 or $9 an hour. To lose an $18-an-hour job to start another one at $9 an hour is not good for the employee or the economy of Quebec. Furthermore, this was criticized yesterday not by the Bloc Québécois, the Parti Québécois or the sovereignists in Quebec, but by Quebec's chambers of commerce. According to them, this is having a devastating impact.

We expect the Conservative government to introduce programs to give our businesses the tax framework they need to compete globally.

Finally, the hon. member said he thinks it is unfortunate that I am a separatist. Indeed, I wish there were two countries next to one another that could continue to live together. That would solve a whole host of problems and we could focus in the future on really allowing our society to create wealth and share it in a much better way than the federal Canadian system allows.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my hon. colleague on his 14th anniversary as a member of Parliament. I hope that he will continue to sit in this House for another 14 years.

These days, there is a lot of talk about reducing taxes. Certain realities have to be taken into account, however: the widening gap between rich and poor Canadians; layoffs in the manufacturing sector; higher tuition fees, which leave students $20,000 to $40,000 in debt on graduation; the lack of a real national daycare system; increased poverty and waiting lists in our hospitals.

Can we really justify reducing taxes under these circumstances? How can we improve the lives of Canadians without bearing in mind the realities I have just mentioned?

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his wishes for the next 14 years but I would have preferred that he wished that Ms. Marois would become Premier of Quebec within the next year and that within a few years Quebec would become a sovereign country, while continuing to be good neighbours with Canada. Nevertheless, I thank him for his good wishes.

To deal with his question, there are important choices to be made in Canada. If we decide only to reduce income taxes significantly, we run the risk of increasing consumption of goods from China or other emerging countries. I am not against that. However, if the direct effect of that is to transfer the Canadian surplus to China, perhaps we would be better to develop a more flexible structure, to help our companies to obtain tax credits through investments and other types of services of that kind.

As far as child care is concerned, my colleague himself gave an example. In Quebec, we have developed a quality child care service that is the envy of all the provinces in Canada. We, and our colleagues from all other parties, would like to see this kind of child care in the rest of Canada. Nevertheless, if that were to happen, Quebec must be able to receive its share of the funding, full compensation, with no accountability.

However, what we find in the Speech from the Throne is the opposite. According to that document, in terms of shared cost programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction, the federal government is entitled to give direction and Quebec must re-invest in the same sector.

In the area of children’s services, we already have a program that is well funded, and if we received funding from the federal government that would enable the program to work even better.

Unfortunately, neither the Liberal motion tabled today, nor the attitude of the Conservatives, nor, indeed that of the NDP—who continue to believe that the federal government has the cure for all ills—will enable us to reach an agreement. On that score, there is work to be done. If Canada's federalists are people of good faith, they must understand that the best solution is to put the money in the right place and that Quebec must have the funds necessary for meeting its responsibilities. We want the sovereignty of Quebec to come quickly, but while we are waiting, since it remains part of Canada, it must receive its fair share.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was dismayed to see that the Speech from the Throne in no way addressed the terrible crisis affecting the manufacturing sector, and that today, the first Liberal opposition day, there was no mention of the crisis either. Since my colleague was the longtime Bloc industry critic and is now finance critic, these issues are major concerns of his.

Our regions are also very concerned about what is going on, for example, with Commonwealth Plywood in Princeville, which is shutting down. Located in the Conservative riding of Mégantic—L'Érable, this company works with wood veneer. In Victoriaville, in my riding, Flexart, which also works with wood veneer, decided to cut 26 jobs to concentrate its activities in a single factory.

What is currently going on is a major problem. It seems as though neither the government nor the official opposition realizes that.

I would like the member to talk about the solutions. Does he have constructive solutions to propose, as the Bloc Québécois does regularly, to help resolve the crisis in the manufacturing industry?

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for his question.

In fact, the spokesperson for Commonwealth Plywood, Joël Quévillon, explained that the current economic conditions, the market and the rising Canadian dollar are the main reasons they have suspended operations.

We believe the federal government should have been proactive and implemented the action plan unanimously proposed by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to help the manufacturing industry. It can still do so, using the action plan for the forestry industry that was put forward by the Bloc Québécois. The plan contains concrete measures which would give our companies the necessary fiscal tools to be competitive. Then our companies could compete on the world stage.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time today with my colleague from London—Fanshawe.

It is unfortunate that the motion before us today misses the mark at a time when our manufacturing sector is in such a crisis. My colleagues from the Bloc have been describing the impact of this crisis in Quebec. It is at a time when our Canadian dollar has appreciated by 60% over the last five years in addition to high energy costs and fierce global competition. Frankly, I have trouble distinguishing between the approach of the government that got us into this crisis and the approach of the opposition with the motion.

Corporate across the board tax cuts, such as are being proposed or affirmed with the motion, simply are not needed and they rob the public purse of much needed revenue. Today the banking industry, for example, is making record profits. The last I read it was something like $16 billion. This is at a time when the average person still gets dinged every time he or she goes to the bank with high ATM fees, about which the government has done nothing.

It makes no sense to give tax cuts to oil and gas companies, banks and insurance companies with no strings attached. Surely we should not be subsidizing highly profitable industries that are largely insulated from international competition.

The corporate tax cuts of recent years have not led to increased corporate investment, in spite of many arguments to the contrary. Therefore, why should the average taxpayer be subsidizing tax cuts to highly profitable industries that are insulated from competition and thereby forgo billions and billions of dollars of federal tax revenue? This revenue is so desperately needed and should be invested in our communities for services and infrastructure across our country.

There already have been significant corporate tax cuts over the last several years. In 2000 there was a corporate income tax rate cut from 28% to 21% to be achieved by 2004. This was a huge tax cut, but it provided no savings for manufacturing because it had already reached that level. This is the one sector that continues to need protection from international competition. Thousands of manufacturing jobs continue to leave Canada and all the Conservative government and the absent opposition propose is another series of tax cuts that simply have not worked.

Those members pay no attention to the crisis in manufacturing. There is no strategy for the manufacturing sector, or the auto sector, or shipbuilding, or the many other Canadian industries, which are thrown into unfair competition because of the factors I earlier described. Yet these tax cuts cost Canadians billions and billions of dollars in lost revenue, from about $5.4 billion in 2004, now up to over $7 billion a year. Our corporate tax levels are not particularly high. One study I saw put them at the third lowest in the G-8.

The other problem is those members are affirming the GST cut in the throne speech, and the government will go ahead with it. The last thing we need to be doing right now is stimulating consumer spending when consumer spending is already quite high. The fear is this kind of increase will drive up interest rates and therefore be counterproductive.

I do not support the GST cut. What it will mean is that if a millionaire wants to buy a $100,000 Porsche, he or she would get a nice $1,000 tax break. However, a family that puts some money together and spends $500 on a new dining room set saves a measly $5. Those families would need to spend $10,000 in order to save a measly $100. The GST cut is not a solution. With that cut, which all economists agree is not the way to go, we will lose $5 billion in revenue, basically subsidizing the Porsches and the Ferraris. It could have been spent differently.

One of the many letters I have received from constituents talks about the desperate need for investment in our cities and in the services Canadians need. I get many letters calling for a national housing strategy and for investments in infrastructure, especially in transit and in water infrastructure, and also in our social infrastructure to ensure that our kids get the best start possible, that working people have the best chance to adjust to a changing economy, and that seniors and people with disabilities get the best care possible.

I believe the motion is contradictory. It calls for reinvestment in physical infrastructure, new technology, R and D, better access to post-secondary education, et cetera. Where is the money going to come from? From giving tax cuts to companies that do not need it? It makes no sense.

The Conservatives are taking Canada in the wrong direction. We saw in the throne speech that their direction will increase inequality and the prosperity gap. Middle class families will see their debt rise and their children's future narrow. We are already finding the quality of life in our largest cities diminished. They ought to be engines of the economy and hubs for cultural, economic and environmental excellence and yet we find our cities boxed in at every turn, neglected and underfunded.

It is sad, then, that the Liberals have abandoned their role of opposition. Last night on the vote on the throne speech, they sat in their seats motionless, mute and, frankly, muddled. At a time when we see the need so high among citizens across our country, I would like the opposition to tell the 70,000 families on the waiting list for subsidized housing in the city of Toronto, or the students who are seeing tens of thousands of dollars in debt pile up on their backs before they even get a start in life, or the people in our city who are stuck in gridlock with air that is increasingly polluted from the lack of transit, that the Liberals could not be bothered to stand in their places and vote in the interests of all Canadians.

I believe Canadians are looking for real leadership. They want a government that speaks to their interests. They are tired of political self-interest trumping the interests of Canadians. Corporate tax cuts and cuts to the GST limit our ability to make progress as a country. They take us in the wrong direction. I am very proud that our caucus stood opposed to that direction. We will continue to stand up for the principles and represent the interests that are to the benefit of the vast majority of Canadians.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course the member will know that I disagree with her on virtually every point she has made. In fact, she refers to Canada going in the wrong direction under our Conservative government, but Canada has never had economic fundamentals as strong as they are today. We have record low unemployment rates, the lowest unemployment rates in the last 33 years. We have the strongest economic fundamentals of the G-8 nations. We have an incredibly robust economy. As well, we are repaying Canada's debt, which is long overdue.

However, there is one thing the member and I do have in common: we agree on the shameful performance of the Liberal Party in this House last night.

Liberal members of the House were elected to represent their constituents and to vote, to make decisions, to say yes or no to the various policies we bring forward. Last night we were voting on the throne speech and the direction our government wants to take. What did the Liberals do? They simply sat on their duffs. That is irresponsible. It was a shameful performance. I would ask the member who just spoke to comment on whether she approves of that performance or whether she expects members of the House to stand up, vote and have the courage of their convictions.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe I did just comment on that in my remarks. I made the point that we are elected to stand here and vote in our places and act in the best interests of Canadians, but I do want to challenge the member on his rose-coloured glasses approach to Canada's economy. The numbers simply do not tell the full story. How can we say our economy is in great shape when the people in it, in many cases, are not doing very well at all?

In my city of Toronto we have more than one million working people who make less than $10 an hour and therefore are below the poverty level. Tell me that is economic success.

Yes, our national debt is being reduced but quite frankly that debt is being transferred on the backs of average hard-working Canadians. Families have a higher level of debt than ever before. In the long term, it is not sustainable.

What is most shameful is to see young people starting out at the very beginning of their adult lives saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt in post-secondary education costs at a time when they should be free of that kind of fear, worry and insecurity. They are starting out in their lives unable to have the confidence to embark on their careers, to establish a family and to look forward to many working years.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the very good intervention by the member for Parkdale—High Park, she talked specifically about housing.

In Duncan, in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the emergency shelter recently was not able to open because it did not fit the very narrow criteria available in terms of providing support to people who were cold and wet in an unseasonably cool fall.

In a recent report by the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, he talked about the national emergency in housing in this country and in fact specifically cited the tax system in Canada, which has actually contributed to eroding support for social and rental housing.

There is an argument being put forward here that the tax system will somehow or other solve all our problems. I wonder if the member could elaborate on the pressing and urgent need for a national housing strategy in this country to deal with the inadequately housed and the homeless in this country.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said, in the city I come from we have a waiting list for subsidized housing of 70,000 families. I see that all that time. I see families with two and three kids who are in one bedroom apartments.

We talk about kids needing the best start in life, but how can children come home from school and try to get their homework done and have some space to be creative and develop and live a normal life when they are living in substandard housing? I see private apartments in the Parkdale area with mould growing up the walls. I see infestations of rodents and cockroaches. I see absolutely terrible conditions. It is a national shame that the government should correct.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Parkdale--High Park for splitting her time with me.

The Liberal motion pretends to be a proposal to drive greater productivity in the Canadian economy, but it does not go anywhere near far enough. Like the Conservatives' recent throne speech, the motion actually misses the mark entirely. There are far too many Canadians being left behind. Nothing in the motion is going to address the seriousness of the prosperity gap, the deep divide between those who have and those who have not.

The reality is that if the poorest and the most disadvantaged are supported, the whole community benefits. Everyone thrives. So does the economy. We need to close the prosperity gap. Only then will we be able to grow as a country and a community, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

I would like to point out that the first step to increasing productivity would be to raise the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage was eliminated in 1996 under the Liberal government. This created real affordability problems for Canadians. Research conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress has revealed that a single person working full time in Canada needs an hourly rate of at least $10 an hour to reach the poverty line.

Initially, a minimum wage was introduced to ensure that anyone working would not be subjected to a life of poverty. Sadly and unacceptably, in most provinces the minimum wage is so low that even someone working full time for the entire year falls far short of this poverty line--far short.

The low level of the minimum wage is a key factor in the high rates of poverty in Canada and the persistently high levels of economic inequality. According to the latest data from the National Council of Welfare, almost 5 million Canadians, including 1.2 million children, were living in poverty in 2003.

The NDP has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour to help alleviate some of the stress on today's working families. Let us imagine the inequity of a $13.5 billion surplus and 1.2 million children living in poverty.

I would like to focus on those children. Greater prosperity for our nation should include greater prosperity for our children. It is well known that good health and a good education when children are young give them an advantage in life when they are older. The research clearly shows that they will more likely be productive members of the community.

Today's motion does not include helping children who are living in poverty now. We need to invest in our children. We need access to quality, affordable child care. We need to invest in our schools. If the Liberals are serious about improving productivity, I hope they will vote in favour of the NDP child care bill when it comes up for a vote in the next few weeks.

While the motion does mention post-secondary education, and I agree that increased access to post-secondary education is key to increasing productivity, I am astounded to see that the Liberals are proposing this. It was while they had successive majority governments and successive surpluses that the cost of post-secondary education increased substantially. They had 13 years to keep the costs to students under control and to increase access to education. Instead, they let the costs skyrocket and left many young people unable to afford schooling that would give them the advantage in our highly competitive economy and allow them to make the contribution to our communities that they wish to make.

This Liberal motion to improve productivity, as with the Conservative throne speech, also leaves out any mention of affordable housing. If one does not have a home it is almost impossible to find a job, organize one's life or receive social assistance. An address is absolutely essential to survival in this country. More than 1.7 million households live on less than $20,000 a year and most of these Canadians are precariously housed. They do not own their homes and spend far more than 30% of their income on rent. This is money that is unavailable for food, prescriptions, school supplies, kids' clothes, transportation and senior care.

Guaranteed access to safe and affordable housing will go a long way to making many Canadians more productive. Affordable housing will also help families with children who struggle just to make ends meet, who struggle every day with the choice between rent or food. If we dedicate just 1% of Canada's gross domestic product to eradicating homelessness in this country, we will be able to provide the homes Canadians deserve.

I also need to point out that missing from this motion, and I might add glaringly missing from the throne speech, is 51% of the Canadian population. The poverty rate of single women is a staggering 42% and it is worse for single mothers at 48%. The average yearly wage for a full time worker living in poverty is $9,522. One person cannot live on $9,522 a year. That is less than $800 a month. That will barely cover rent in most cities never mind food. How can anyone raise a family on that? Many single mothers are forced to make ends meet with a shoestring budget such as this. They are told that this kind of desperation is as good as it gets, as good as it gets in a country with a $13.5 billion surplus.

In 2004, 394,800 women were working for minimum wage. That is 64% of minimum wage earners. The tragic thing is that women who are first nations or visible minorities have it even worse.

From the Statistics Canada report “Women in Canada” published in 2005, the poverty rates are staggering. Of visible minority women under the age of 15, 33% of them live in poverty and it is even higher for aboriginal women compared to women in general at 15.9%. That is unconscionable. If we look at the age group 25 to 44, the number of visible minority women living in poverty is at 29% compared to the general population at 14%. That is double the general rate. In total, 28.8% of visible minority women are living in poverty in this country. That is unbelievable.

This motion to increase productivity will do nothing to help our women. It is short-sighted and it is unacceptable. This motion, and again the throne speech, fall far short. They fail to address the needs of everyone, and that includes seniors.

One-third of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 59 feel that they are not prepared financially for retirement. These concerns are most prevalent among women, those widowed, separated or divorced, recent immigrants, tenants, those without private pension coverage, and not surprisingly, those with low wages.

Of particular note are senior women who often end their lives living in poverty for many reasons. Women's unpaid work makes their risk of poverty higher and results in less access to private pensions. Older women tend to have lower incomes because they live longer, which leaves them at greater risk of using up their savings as time goes by. Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable. Many over the age of 65 who lived in Canada for less than 10 years are without any income at all.

Senior women receive smaller pension incomes because of the wage difference between men and women. Most divorced women do not claim a portion of their former spouse's pension even though they are entitled to it. Many retirement plans do not compensate for absences to raise children or look after sick relatives, absences which are generally taken by women.

It is very important to emphasize here that senior women living in poverty did not end up there the day they retired. It is the poverty in their youth or the near poverty that prevented them from setting aside money for retirement. That is the real source of the problem. This motion will not come anywhere near addressing this problem. In fact, it ignores it outright, leaving the poverty cycle to continue for another generation.

If we continue to ignore the growing prosperity gap, we will never increase our national productivity. As long as people are left behind in poverty or near poverty, our whole country will suffer. By making sure that we look after those who are most in need, we can ensure that they will be productive and active members of our society. We can ensure a stronger community, stronger children and better conditions. We must allow people to live in the dignity they deserve.

This is truly what we want for Canada. It is what people deserve. It is what the people of London--Fanshawe deserve. We will all benefit. Our country and our communities will all benefit.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.


Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I want to raise a point or two about her comments on the minimum wage. I see her point.

She will know of course that most employment sectors in Canada are under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments and those that are federally regulated, such as the banks and the trucking industry and so on, almost everyone in those industries makes well above the minimum wage that she is proposing.

I am seeing that most of them are under provincial jurisdiction. I wonder if she is aware that the provinces under NDP governments, such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, are considerably below the wage that she is proposing, in fact below $8? I am wondering if she has any comment on that or whether her party is making any effort to see at least that those provinces make an attempt to raise it to $10 or why those governments have chosen not to go in that direction.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I am talking about is national leadership. I am talking about the federal government's ability to set the benchmark, to make it very clear that $10 is an absolute minimum. We can do that.

We can say that and that will then compel the provinces to come in line. The excuse seems to be that the federal government does not seem to see it as important, despite the fact that we have an incredible amount of money and we are awash with money in this country.

The federal government is not taking a leadership role and not showing that this is important. The government pays a lot of lip service to what it is doing for those who are disadvantaged, but nothing is concrete. A $10 federal minimum wage would be something concrete, something that we could all hold on to, that we could look to as leadership.