House of Commons Hansard #27 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:10 a.m.


Garth Turner Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to be able to get up and remind Canadians of the economic performance of the Conservative government, and I am pleased to have a few minutes this morning to do just that.

I hope that Canadians and our media, and everybody who is watching the proceedings in the House today will not be too amazingly distracted by what happens in the ethics committee and Mr. Schreiber's testimony. There are a lot of things that affect individual Canadians in their everyday lives and we tend to lose sight of them sometimes around this place as we go for the headline grabbing sensational.

I am pleased to talk a bit about the economic reality for a lot of Canadian families. There are some issues that I know are very much on the minds of Canadians.

One of them of course is our high Canadian dollar. The Canadian dollar has gained about 28% in value in the course of a single year. That is very substantial. The shock to a lot of Canadian industries has been breathtaking because the acceleration in the value of the dollar has been far faster than those industries have been able to cope.

Why has the dollar gone up so quickly? There are a number of reasons. Obviously our dollar is considered to be a petro currency and because of the rise in oil prices that is one reason. Also, the American dollar has fallen in value against almost every currency in the world and Canada's is no exception. Our dollar has gone up relative to the American dollar going down.

We cannot do a lot about those things, but there are some factors here that are Canadian. The root and cause is found in the actions of the Conservative government. For example, the government has been spending more money than any previous Canadian government. In fact, the rate of increase in government spending is now about twice the rate of inflation.

Inflationary spending by government tends to have an impact on inflation, the CPI, and that tends to have an impact on the currency. It also affects fiscal monetary policy. We end up with a lot of money coming to Canada from around the world for a number of reasons and that has only accelerated our problem. Canada has a high dollar, a high interest rate, and high inflationary policy, and this is hurting Canadians.

What damage is being done? Retailers, the tourist industry, manufacturers, shippers, the resource sector, and automakers are very much on the front line of what is happening today. Plants are closing . Factories are going idle. Equipment has been unbolted from its cement pads in factories, crated up, and sent to China.

I was in an aerospace manufacturing facility in my riding the other day where hundreds of high qualified, high skilled jobs are in peril right now. People are contemplating selling much of the equipment in that plant and shipping it to China. I found out during my tour that there are more of these high quality, very expensive metallic fabricating machines sitting in crates in China ready to be installed in factories than there are existing now in all of Canada. That is a very disturbing situation.

In the past year, 350,000 Canadian workers in the manufacturing sector have lost their jobs. The finance committee has been spending a bit of time looking into this issue. We found out from experts at committee, a lot of them economists from unions and banks and industry, that this is just as they called it, the tip of the iceberg. They are expecting at least another 300,000 jobs to be lost in the next year.

If the Canadian dollar remains at parity or above the American dollar in value over the next two years, probably an equivalent number of jobs will be lost each year. That means two years from now the accumulated loss of manufacturing jobs could be close to one million. That is breathtaking.

This is an issue that goes to the fundamental economic management of the government because it is not managing this problem. The finance minister runs around the country and talks about the strong Canadian dollar. It is not strong. It is toxic. A lot of Canadians are seeing their jobs go as a result.

One example is in the Minister of Finance's own riding. He represents Whitby—Oshawa. One of the premier yacht building companies in Canada is in Whitby. It is called PDQ Yachts. It went bankrupt last month. The reason it went bankrupt is that it could not cope with a 28% rise in the value of the Canadian currency. Why? Because almost all of its sales are to the United States.

What company can take a 28% drop in the price of its product being shipped to its clients? Almost no company can do that. PDQ Yachts, in the Minister of Finance's own riding, went bankrupt. On December 13, the equipment in that plant is going to be sold at public auction. It is not good when we see companies deserting. It is a small company. It has only 100 employees. However, when we go a hundred by a hundred by a hundred in riding by riding by riding and in community after community in this country, suddenly we have a jobs crisis.

What are those workers supposed to do? They are highly skilled. How about their families? How about their mortgages? People who live in the Minister of Finance's riding, where houses are not cheap, spend $300,000 to $500,000 buying a home and have to finance it. They have mortgages to pay and their jobs are now gone. This goes to the very heart of the economic mismanagement by the government.

Second, after the high Canadian dollar and the way that has been mismanaged, we have an income tax situation that is very troublesome indeed. The government, in its first budget, raised income taxes. The basic income tax rate was raised in the first budget and then it was raised in the second budget. This is the same government that campaigned on taxes. I admit it, I was a Conservative candidate in the last election, and I did not go from door to door promising people that their income taxes would be increased. I was rather shocked when it happened, but it did nonetheless.

Canadians had two income tax increases. In its last economic statement in October, the government finally relented and brought taxes back down to where they were two years ago, but not only two years ago, $2 billion later, $2 billion from Canadian families in overtaxation, which we finally see ending. Thus, income tax is the second problem.

Third is family financial stress. Our families are under a lot of stress. In this place, we are insulated. We are surrounded by opulence and gold leaf on the ceiling and stained glass windows. We make $150,000 as members of Parliament. Ministers make another $70,000 more. We have lovely offices. We live in a bubble here in Ottawa.

We do not see the financial stress that is going on across our country, but families are under financial stress. They have seen higher income taxes. They have seen higher mortgage rates because the government has inflationary spending that has forced the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates over the past few months. They are seeing higher energy costs. It costs $1.04 for a litre of regular gasoline. Families have a hard time coping with all of that and now there are reduced employment prospects because of the devastation that has been wrought in the manufacturing sector by the Canadian dollar.

We have a high dollar, loss of jobs, higher taxes and family financial stress. That is four strikes against the government, but it does not end there. There is another thing the government has done that two million Canadians will never, ever forget. They are the two million Canadians who were income trust investors.

I would like to read for a moment from testimony given before the House of Commons finance committee this week. It was delivered by Margaret Lefebvre. She is executive director of the Canadian Association of Income Funds.

Here is what Margaret had to say to our committee: “This committee should be aware that the damaging consequences of the government's actions continue. Since October 31, 2006 there have been more than 42 transactions that involve the selling, merging or acquisition of income trusts with an enterprise value in excess of $31 billion. The majority of these transactions by dollar value involve foreign buyers of Canadian assets. Most have gone into the hands of private equity and pension funds and virtually all of these entities pay little or no tax”.

This is probably the greatest failing and I think the greatest symbol of the government's economic mismanagement: campaign on one thing and deliver another. Campaign and tell Canadians that it will never tax income trusts and turn around 10 months later and impose a 31% tax. The consequences of that, although unintended in large part, have been devastating, and two million investors will never forget.

I could go on for some time, but I see that my time is up. I would simply end by saying it is my conviction that our Minister of Finance is out of his depth. He has done many things on his watch that have hurt this economy. They have wounded it. More importantly, they have hurt Canadian families. For that, so many millions of them will not forget, and when they come to cast their ballots, and soon, I would say, the consequences will be obvious and painful for our friends across the way.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:20 a.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member across the way talked a lot about promises in trying to harangue our members and actually members all around the House on the matter of keeping promises. However, let me ask him a direct question. Does the member intend to keep his promise to resign his seat and step away? Is that a pledge that he feels he should honour and follow through on for the members of his constituency?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:20 a.m.


Garth Turner Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, that of course has nothing to do with the subject of what we are debating, but I am happy to answer. I did stand in this House on the day that I joined the federal Liberal caucus and say to the Prime Minister that I would resign my seat and that all he needed to do was give me a date on which we would have a byelection. The Prime Minister would not do that.

I also said I thought that would be incumbent upon, perhaps, the Minister of International Trade from Vancouver who was elected as a Liberal and ended up as a Conservative, and perhaps the member who is now an independent member from Mississauga—Streetsville but who was elected as a Liberal and sat as a Conservative. If we are going to have members who cross the floor resigning their seats, let us have them all resign their seats and have simultaneous byelections. Why not? That makes sense.

If the Prime Minister and the members opposite have the fortitude to call a byelection and determine a date, then absolutely we are all happy to do that.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:25 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague for his fine speech and ask him a question.

Any government in an era of surplus has the responsibility to plan an economy not for the next 5 years but for the next 50 years. At a time of surplus, we can invest in those strategic assets a country needs in order to ensure it can weather the storms that will inevitably come, including investments in education and access to education and investments in infrastructure and cities, those things that enable our economy to move forward and enable our private sector to be nimble and competitive internationally.

I would like to ask my colleague, because he was on the other side, whether he thinks the absence of this from the Conservative government, and also the fact that the Conservative government has grown the government by 14% in a year and a half, are symptoms of a larger problem and that the Prime Minister is turning our democracy into an autocracy and in fact a dictatorship?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:25 a.m.


Garth Turner Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's observation is well put.

I am very disappointed that this government, although it has been overtaxing Canadians to the tune of some $15 billion a year now, has not invested in any long term projects to date. A great example of that is the infrastructure deficit, which is happening right across our country. The lower or junior level of government now has to deal with the very serious situation of a fraying infrastructure, but what does the Minister of Finance tell the mayors of cities? Basically he tells them to stop whining, to get a life, to go home, to drop dead. That is what the Minister of Finance is saying to our municipalities and I think that is a very disgraceful way to go.

We have many serious structural problems. Physical infrastructure is one. Demographics is another. With a rapidly aging population, there will be real pressures on our social safety net and our health care system down the road. We are doing basically nothing to prepare for that.

While the government swims in a surplus of overtaxation, we have very serious problems yet to be addressed because right now, and we hear this every day from those guys, we have a government that is more interested in campaigning than it is in governing. That is a very serious deficit.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:25 a.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this debate for a few minutes, and it feels as though I am at a Conservative caucus. There is a lot of buck-passing by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

What are the Liberals trying to do today, with their talk of planning five years ahead for investments and the protection of jobs in the manufacturing and forestry sectors? If they had put that theory into practice, we would not be in this situation right now. Conservatives and Liberals are one and the same.

If they had listened to the public in the first place, to their hopes and needs, and to the main voice of the people, the Bloc Québécois, we would be in a different situation. Not to mention that a number of members would be in better shape since they would be wasting less energy debating things of the past.

Could the hon. member explain why, a year and 10 months ago—not that far back—the Liberals did not do what they are asking the Conservatives to do today?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:30 a.m.


Garth Turner Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, a year and 10 months ago, let me tell my friend, the Canadian dollar was not 28% higher, as it is today, and the serious situation that has evolved with manufacturing and forestry did not exist. It is a little disingenuous of the member to ask that question.

What governments need to do is cope with situations and events that happen rapidly. They need to respond rapidly. That is where this government has failed. It can do a number of things in terms of economic and fiscal policy in order to mitigate the effects of the Canadian dollar. It can certainly encourage the Bank of Canada to respond as well.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:30 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us now is very odd. The adoption of a budget is typically accompanied by a budget implementation bill. If the measures in the bill match those announced in the budget, those who voted in favour of the budget generally support the bill. That is the logic that parliamentarians apply—logic that the Bloc Québécois was prepared to apply.

However, the Conservatives made a truly partisan decision to combine completely different elements. On the one hand, we have the 2007 budget, which the Bloc Québécois supported and continues to support. On the other, we have some elements from the economic statement, which we did not support, and the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil agreements, which we also did not support because they are unfair to Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois will therefore vote against this bill because on the whole, it is not in the best interest of Quebeckers. The economic statement is the main reason we have taken this stance. The government made a unilateral decision to use $10 billion to pay off part of the debt. They made that decision without holding any debate on the subject and despite the fact that our people have serious, urgent needs, which I will list briefly.

First, the Bloc Québécois believes that $3 billion of this year's $11 billion surplus should be used to pay down the debt, not the whole $11 billion. The ratio of debt to Canada's gross domestic product has been improving steadily over the past 10 years. We have now reached a point where the government's desire to use the entire surplus to pay down the debt looks a lot like a homeowner's obsession with paying off the mortgage as quickly as possible. That same homeowner is ignoring the fact that the deck needs a coat of paint and is kind of unstable, and he is failing to ensure that his children or parents who live with him have enough income.The Bloc Québécois does not share the government's obsession with paying off the debt at any price and does not want this bill to go through.

The Bloc Québécois feels that, instead of using the full $11 billion to pay down the debt, the government should pay it down by $3 billion. This is a reasonable amount, and it would let Canada meet its goal of reducing the debt to GDP ratio to 25%. The remaining $8 billion could be spent on urgent issues such as the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.

In an affluent society like Canada, it is important to do justice to our seniors. We currently have an old age pension system that includes the basic pension and the guaranteed income supplement. This system is supposed to protect seniors against poverty. However, the total monthly benefit amount is still $100 below the poverty threshold.

Instead of using the full $11 billion surplus to pay down the debt, the federal government could at least start by paying the retroactive benefits it owes people who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement but did not receive it because the system did not provide for automatic registration. When you come right down to it, the federal government took advantage of our seniors' lack of knowledge to pocket as much money as possible.

As a result, today some people are living below the poverty line. Last week, we heard the incredible but sadly true testimony of someone living below the poverty line. With retroactivity, this person, who is over 65, would receive $12,000. Since 2001, this person has been living on very little money. She was entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but the current act does not allow more than 11 months of retroactive benefits.

Each one of us has had to deal at some point with the Canada Revenue Agency. When this agency reassesses tax returns to recover unpaid taxes, it can go back not only up to 11 months, but up to five years. That is why we would like the government to make fully retroactive payments to the people entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. This would cost an estimated $3 billion.

Then, $1.5 billion should be invested in the workers. Of that, $60 million would go towards a support program for older workers. That is not an astronomical sum, but it would allow many workers affected by the forestry and manufacturing crisis to bridge the gap until their retirement and to live with dignity until they receive their old age pension.

In addition to that, a reserve of $1.4 billion must be given to employment insurance.

As we know, for the past 15 years, the federal government has made a cash grab of $54 billion from the EI contributions paid by employers and employees. It has used this money for all kinds of expenditures, including the deficit. There has never been any return on investment for unemployed workers, for people who paid into the system and all those who were affected by the stricter criteria.

One would think that, with this year's $11 billion surplus, the government could make a one-time payment of $1.4 billion to a reserve, in order to improve the conditions of the employment insurance program.

Of that $11 billion surplus, $3 billion should go towards the debt, $3 billion should go to seniors, $1.5 billion should go to workers and $2 billion should be invested in the manufacturing economy. There is unanimous consent on this in Quebec, not only within the Government of Quebec, but also within the manufacturing associations, the Quebec federation of chambers of commerce and the forestry industry, which has been sending us congratulatory letters, telling us not to give up and that policy changes are definitely needed in the manufacturing sector.

The economic statement included some nice tax reductions for companies that are making profits. The problem is that those who are making profits, the oil companies for example, are going to pocket a lot of money. However, all the businesses that are not making as much profit, or almost none at all, will not benefit whatsoever from this uniform tax reduction. They would earn a lot more if refundable tax credits were offered. That would allow companies to draw the maximum benefit from the higher dollar.

If a manufacturing company had the means today to buy machinery to increase productivity, and it bought that machinery, that would be its way of having a competitive product. To do that they need money. Without profits, that is not possible. If it had a refundable tax credit for research and development, that would be possible.

I know that the government, especially the senior public service, is saying that it is too great an expense. But estimates have been made; people have studied this; it is a reasonable amount of money.

This year, thanks to the surplus, the government could allocate $1.5 billion to that end and $500 million to reinstate Technology Partnerships Canada. What is that? It is a program that encourages innovation in aerospace and a number of other sectors. For example, in La Pocatière, Premier Tech used that program to develop new products from sphagnum peat moss. This helped develop an industry that is carving out a place for itself in the Rivière-du-Loup area. It is a major driving force behind the economic development of that region. I want to give credit to the Liberals for creating that program, which I always defended. The Bloc Québécois defended it as well. The Conservatives abolished the program.

In today's economic conditions, with the higher dollar and global competition, this program is an investment for the federal government, not an expense. Reinstating this program for $500 million, out of an $11 billion surplus this year, would be one way of encouraging productivity. This would also allow money to be invested across Canada in companies that develop new products.

We have the means to allocate the reasonable sum of $2 billion to the manufacturing economy, and that money could come from this year's $11 billion surplus. We also have the means to put $3 billion toward the debt.

And what about the regions affected by the forestry crisis? During the election campaign in the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, I had the opportunity to see the serious impact of the forestry crisis on the regions. Last week, at the Standing Committee on Finance, the mayor of Hearst, in northern Ontario, told us the same thing. I also live in a region struggling to cope with the forestry crisis.

If we apply the $11 billion surplus to the debt, that will only decrease Canada's debt. Instead, we could establish a $1 billion fund for regional economic diversification. With that money, this year, right now, in the coming days and months, we could breathe life into our regional economies. We have the means to do it. This would not be borrowed money; it would come from the federal government's current surplus.

Finally, we could allocate $1 billion to the environment for the purchase, for example, energy saving appliances. That would improve our ratio of fuel oil versus electricity consumption, enabling us to move increasingly towards clean energies.

We see that there is a fundamental difference between the bill the government wishes to pass today and the 2007 budget that we supported. The latter resulted in a partial solution to the fiscal imbalance and we supported that bill. I believe that Quebeckers are pleased with that.

But with regard to the other part that has been included in the bill on the economic statement, it clearly is not in the interests of Quebeckers. This is significant enough for us to vote against this bill.

In addition, the bill now includes the agreement with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador concerning offshore oil resources. For the Bloc Québécois, obviously, that aspect is neither relevant nor positive because it creates an unfair advantage in terms of equalization.

Let us briefly review the facts. With respect to the Atlantic accord, Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil resources, and the whole Nova Scotia question, it was rather difficult to follow the Conservative government. It had initially made a commitment that satisfied the Atlantic provinces. Then they refused to consider all of the revenue related to energy in the equalization formula. The bottom line is that there is now an agreement to try to put things back together and correct a blunder.

However, the final version creates more inequities and, for us, that is not appealing. The Bloc Québécois believes that this measure should not have been incorporated into the same bill that implements the 2007 budget because they are different matters.

The government has an opportunity to correct the situation, but the way it is presenting this bill is really unacceptable to Quebec. They cannot, on one hand, seek approval for the 2007 budget and, on the other hand, incorporate measures that are clearly contrary to the interests of the Government of Quebec.

In truth, one can ask the question whether, after Quebec had paid for the development of fossil fuel energy, the province should pay for its exploitation. That is out of the question. These grants and federal investments have cost Quebec dearly. They have, in part, amounted to more than $10 billion over the years. This agreement amounts to giving a bonus to the provinces that produce oil and making the provinces that produce hydroelectricity pay for it. That is turning the world upside down when there is an increasing demand for the development of clean energy. The federal government is doing the opposite with this measure.

There really is an almost unhealthy connection between the petroleum industry and the Conservative government. Most of Canada is paying the price, especially Quebec, which has developed hydroelectricity over the years without any support from the federal government.

Accordingly, the government will have to revise its position before we can vote in favour of this bill.

Why do I think the economic statement is so odd? It is now fall of 2007. Since February 2007, the federal government has been in possession of a unanimous report from the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology entitled “Manufacturing: Moving Forward—Rising to the Challenge”, which clearly stated that we needed a quick action plan to help the manufacturing sector. The committee chair, the member for Edmonton—Leduc, had this to say in the foreword to the report:

While the rest of the Canadian economy is generally very robust, many industries within the manufacturing sector are struggling to remain competitive against the backdrop of a Canadian dollar that has risen in value by more than 40% in just four years in comparison to its American counterpart, rising and unpredictable energy costs, increasing global competition, particularly from China and India, and excessive and inefficiently designed regulations, to name but a few challenges.

Further on he said:

The Committee believes that the Government of Canada should make the preservation of a competitive Canadian manufacturing sector a national goal, and that given the gravity of the challenges facing the sector, the recommendations presented in this report should be implemented in a timely fashion.

If this report had been produced in October or the beginning of November 2007, it could be said that the government had not had enough time to prepare, and that it would do so for the next budget. However, this report was published in February 2007. There was time to prepare for the 2007 budget, and especially to prepare for the economic statement, to propose a real program to help the manufacturing sector. Yet it was not until yesterday at the Standing Committee on Finance that a motion was finally passed, with the support of the Liberals and the NDP, calling on the federal government to implement as soon as possible all the tax measures set out in the report.

What is really significant here is that the Conservative members did not vote. The motion was adopted unanimously because the Conservatives did not oppose it. These were the recommendations in a report that was adopted unanimously in February 2007 by all members of the committee, from all the parties. By their abstention yesterday, the Conservative members acknowledged that they really should have done something. What I want to say to them today is that they need to act now.

Insofar as the economic statement is concerned, it is amazing to see the attitude of the Minister of Finance, who is from Ontario and can see the devastating impact on job creation in his province. I remember the committee going to the Windsor area a year ago. The catastrophe could already be seen looming. We know now that the effects of the rise in the dollar this fall—not the rise three years ago but the one four months ago—will be felt a year from now. If the government does not act, another 150,000 or 200,000 jobs will be lost in addition to the 130,000 already lost since the Conservatives took power. There is a disaster out there, but the government just closes its eyes.

The approach they are taking is an ideological one. They want to reduce taxes across the board and let the market adjust on its own, but we know very well where that leads. It means that more and more industries in the energy sector will reap enormous profits while more and more industries in the manufacturing sector will be unable to keep pace with the competition. The tax recommendations in the report, on the other hand, were to give companies refundable tax credits, create a fund for them like Technology Partnerships Canada, for example, and in this way give them a chance to diversify the economy in our regions. These were very specific, practical recommendations that the government could have included in its economic statement but chose not to.

Our vote today against Bill C-28 is largely due to this inaction on the part of the federal government. I thought that with the change in the industry minister, the department might take a more pragmatic approach, but it is sticking to the same theoretical line.

It is always good for the Minister of Finance to go out and consult people. The newspapers tell us today that he is going to consult with the manufacturing industry in the Quebec City area. I hope that when he returns, he will have changed his tune and will take action as quickly as possible in accordance with the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Finance, which was adopted unanimously not only by the Bloc—it was our proposal—but also by the Liberals, the NDP, and the Conservative members, who told the government through their abstention that it should take action and implement these tax measures.

Decisions need to be made quickly. If we wait for the next budget, we will have lost several months in the fight that is going on at present. The Canadian dollar is at par with the American dollar. The crisis is not over just because the dollar has gone down from $1.05 to $1. The Minister of Finance's arguments on this point are simplistic. The dollar may be at par, but its value has gone up by more than 40% in the past few years. The manufacturing sector has adapted to this reality as best it can. It has adjusted its productivity as much as possible, but now the federal government needs to take action.

When the minister places responsibility in the provincial ministers' hands, he is not doing his job. It is his job to make sure that, in its industrial strategy, the federal government can take real action as quickly as possible to help companies. The Canadian system is a bit complicated; you always have to convince two governments of everything. It would be simpler if we had just one government instead of two. At least, that is what we have to do as long as we are still part of the Canadian system. We know what the Government of Quebec has done. People may criticize its actions, but at least it has an action plan and it has asked that the federal government give this issue priority.

For all these reasons, in order to send a clear message to the Conservative government, the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-28. Obviously, we were in favour of the budget tabled last fall, and we continue to be. We believed that we had to support it, if only because of the issue of the fiscal imbalance. However, it is impossible to include in the same bill both the whole issue of the economic statement and the accord with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador on offshore petroleum resources.

I believe that we represent exactly how Quebeckers are feeling. With our vote, we are sending a clear message to the government that it needs to go back to the drawing board, come up with an action plan for the manufacturing sector as soon as possible and waste no time in using the surplus for something other than just paying down the debt.

The time for putting everything on the debt is over. The federal government must use a portion of the surplus tax it takes each year to pay down the debt, but it must also use a significant portion to correct inequities and lend a hand where needed to go forward.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the contradictory message delivered by the member, with whom I sit on the finance committee. I was very attentive yesterday to his motion and was intrigued that he used the industry report as part of his presentation this morning.

He may have used, I would like to call selective memory, but probably a selective choice of words in the document from which he quoted. If he had read the document carefully, he would have seen that one of the important parts of that document was the foreword inserted by the chair of the industry committee. It states that on behalf of the committee, the recommendations presented in this report should be implemented in a timely fashion. He does not say abruptly, stupidly, without thought, without the necessary work in order to ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely and that all companies in this country that would benefit from further tax reductions or proper investments from government could benefit from them.

While the member was quick to point out the aggressive nature upon which he acted yesterday, which I do not think was in a very thoughtful manner, he should have accepted the amendments moved by the Conservative members of the committee. We are in agreement with the report and take no issue with it, but we certainly will not move forward in a manner that either handcuffs industry and manufacturing in this country or handcuffs the financial aspect of the Minister of Finance's responsibility.

Therefore, I would ask the member to at least acknowledge that the implementation that the finance minister and the government included in the budget, which he supported, the accelerated capital cost allowance for manufacturing that has produced $1.8 billion of investment, of which the majority of the funds are used by manufacturing companies in Quebec, is a benefit to his province and this country.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am going to give my colleague a very simple answer. On the question of accelerated capital cost allowance, if half of a recommendation in the report produced such a result; if half a recommendation had the effect we have seen, imagine what would have happened if the other 21 recommendations had been implemented. We would not be facing a manufacturing crisis today, or, if there were one, our businesses would be solidly equipped to face it.

Yesterday, in debate on this question, when the Conservatives wanted to replace the word “promptly”, I think they were not considering the fact that the industries in my riding, in Quebec and in Canada, and the entire manufacturing sector, have been crying for help for several months. Those industries would not think it was too soon if we adopted measures today, although they might think that we were already too late by a few months.

We received the report in February 2007 and the budget followed a month and a half later. The government implemented half of one measure. We understood at that time that it could not implement all of them. But eight or 10 months later—when the government’s economic statement was presented, or today—there was no longer any reason why the government could not move ahead. The only explanation I have been given by senior officials on the question of refundable tax credits is that they considered the cost to be too high.

We have been given figures by experts in this area, and the cost is not that high. Yesterday, the Bloc Québécois proposal alone, about using the surplus for this year instead of paying $11 billion toward the debt, could have injected $2 billion to help manufacturing firms. We could have implemented those measures quickly and we would not have a larger foreign debt. We would have avoided an even worse financial situation.

In my opinion, the position I stated yesterday was supported not only by the three opposition parties, but also by the Conservatives, because they did not vote. That is a very clear signal that they do not oppose our motion, because they know it would be publicly unacceptable. If the Conservatives had voted against our proposal, which says that it is urgent that tax measures be put in place regarding the entire question of the manufacturing sector, they would have paid the political price. They chose to take the middle of the road.

The Minister of Finance must now act promptly on the proposal by the Standing Committee on Finance, for the benefit of Quebec, Ontario and the entire manufacturing industry in Canada.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have many questions and many of them pertain to manufacturing. The hon. member will know that I am from London—Fanshawe where we have experienced a manufacturing crisis of our own. Three hundred thousand jobs have been lost across Canada and a significant number of them have been in London--Fanshawe.

Just last month Siemens announced that it would be closing. We have lost Beta Brands and Ford Talbotville is now on one shift, which has significantly reduced the economic advantages that we in the London area once rejoiced in.

To add insult to injury, the federal government is currently negotiating a Korean free trade deal. The reality is that while we import $1.7 billion in the automotive sector from Korea, we are only allowed to export $11 million, which adds to the difficulties we are undergoing.

A couple of weeks ago in this House the Bloc put forward a motion that indicated very clearly that the government should do something tangible in support of manufacturing jobs and jobs in the natural resources sector. The Conservatives voted against it and the Liberals sat on their hands.

I wonder if the member could respond to that inaction and that lack of concern from two sides of the House.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question.

In last year's recommendations from the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology, there was also talk of using safeguards, for example, in order to avoid objectionable imports.

Her comments show just how wrong the Conservatives are to think there is no urgency. There is an emergency in the manufacturing sector. This is a very special situation. People have long thought that, since the unemployment rate was very low, the economy was doing well and things were going well everywhere. Things are going very well for the energy sector in the west, especially oil and gas, but things are not going well for the manufacturing sector.

We have the opportunity, all together, to do something to correct the situation, to adopt an aggressive policy for the manufacturing sector that will allow us to really help our businesses. Cutting the GST by one percentage point will indeed increase purchasing power, but this will not necessarily help our manufacturing industry. It could mean a rather direct transfer to Chinese industry, among others. I have nothing against the Chinese, but I would have preferred to see a manufacturing policy that created fiscal tools, in order to be able to produce goods at competitive prices so they can sell. Only then will we have protected our jobs here at home.

The Quebec chamber of commerce said that many jobs were created, but they were primarily jobs at $8, $9, $10 or $12 an hour, while the jobs that are being lost paid $15 or $20 an hour. This creates poverty, which then slows our economy. We therefore believe that it is important to move forward. I hope we will be able to reach unanimous consent, as did the Standing Committee on Finance, which is calling on the government and the Minister of Finance to come up with an action plan as soon as possible to help the manufacturing sector.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have suggested that they have solved the fiscal balance in their budget and that there is peace among all the provinces. Is that true?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I understood the question.

With respect to the fiscal imbalance, the $3 billion in the 2007 budget was money to which Quebec was entitled. We hoped to receive that money and that is why we supported the bill. However, the other side of the coin is that the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved once and for all. That would take an agreement that would actually transfer the money to Quebec.

We must stop tinkering with the Canadian federation, as was just done with the Nova Scotia agreement. That model is not of interest to us. To create a good equalization model, we must include all resources—they contribute to revenue—the revenues from natural resources. We have to come up with a formula that looks at the whole picture and, above all, that does not patch things together, piece by piece, for the purpose of electoral gains.

A much more dynamic approach is required. Specific objectives and criteria are needed. There must be the will to have good productivity and to provide support to those affected by this productivity. We are speaking of an integrated policy of assistance for the manufacturing sector, of incentives for the purchase of equipment and also of support for those who are the victims of globalization.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has taken this position and it is one of the reasons why, today, we will vote against the Conservatives' bill.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of sound and fury in the House this morning signifying not a whole lot. Why? Because ordinary Canadians cannot count on the official opposition, the grand Liberal Party of Canada, to actually do anything about the mini-budget. The Liberals will sit on their hands and not participate at all in the vote that will come after the debate.

The bill before us has 14 parts. None of the 14 parts really contributes much to ordinary Canadians and their communities. It continues the grand Liberal tradition of giving large corporate tax cuts to the most profitable organizations in Canada.

From 2001 to 2007 Canada has lost over $53 billion in revenue that we could have had. Imagine what that money could have done in terms of investing in communities. It does not surprise me that in the upcoming vote in the House, members of the official opposition will sit on their hands and not vote because the mini-budget before us continues the Liberal tradition.

Part 14 of the bill reduces the general corporate income tax rate much further, from the original 2001 tax rate of 28% to 21%. Now it will take it down to 15%, because 18% is not low enough. The government will forgo at least $14 billion per year because of corporate tax cuts.

What does that mean? When the bill passes, all the massive tax cuts in the mini-budget will mean close to $190 billion in lost revenue, a complete gutting. That is really unfortunate, because there will not be much money left to invest in ordinary Canadian communities.

Big urban centres and small communities across Canada are suffering a great deal. Every one of them is struggling to balance the budget, as they have to do. There are massive property tax increases all across Canada because the municipalities cannot handle the kind of debt load they have. They are looking to cut vital services in local communities.

In my area the library just up the street from where I live has always been open seven days a week. However, this coming month the library will not be open on Sundays. Why? Because it has no money to open on Sundays. The city of Toronto does not have the kind of funding to continue to keep that library open on Sundays. That is really unfortunate, because a lot of families and children count on the library to be open on a Sunday so they can do their homework, read, borrow books or videos. It is a place where a lot of the community gathers.

Speaking about gathering places, community centres are the lifeline in local areas, especially for the at risk youth. They have no other place to go other than the local community centre. However, the community centres are also facing trimming because there is just not enough funding.

Because of smog a lot of people suffer asthma attacks. We would think that the budget would have invested in public transit in a massive way. It does not. In municipalities all across Canada there is hardly any funding for public transit. We are seeing fare increases, service cuts or the inability to increase the service. People are standing out in the cold waiting for buses to come. The subways are jam-packed. More people want to leave their cars at home but unfortunately that is not possible because there is not enough investment in public transit across Canada.

We are looking also at a massive deficit in infrastructure funding. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has said that there is a $123 billion deficit in infrastructure. This budget has not increased funding in infrastructure for different cities. Whether it is highways, housing or potholes, none of that work is going to be done because there is no investment for it.

Because there is no investment in communities, cities and municipalities, many municipalities are having difficulty investing in their water treatment plants and sewage plants. In Toronto, for example, the water rate is going up because the capacity is just not there to retrofit the pipes, which needs to be done because the pipes are very old.

There is really nothing to support immigrant families in the mini-budget. We have recently found out that the user fees that are being charged by the immigration department in fact are going into the general revenue stream. The department actually makes $100 million per year from immigrants who apply to bring their families, fathers and mothers into the country. Refugees have to pay hefty fees to bring their families to Canada. None of that money, the $100 million in application fees, is invested in dealing with the backlog which is now at 800,000 people. If one is sponsoring a family, it might take three, five, eight years. In fact we have heard of cases where the parents of immigrants have died waiting to come to Canada to be reunited with their families.

There is no investment, whether it is the $100 million or new investment, in terms of settlement services. We recently heard that a lot of agencies are waiting for immigrant services funding from ISAP, the immigration settlement and adaptation program. They have not received their funding so they are beginning to give out notices to many of their agencies. That means many new immigrants will not get the services that they desperately need.

In Ontario the minister recently sent out a notice saying that Ontario is missing $100 million that was promised by the federal government to the province of Ontario for settlement services. That money has not arrived.

While there is a lot of funding for tax cuts from the surplus, there is nothing for cities, for communities and for ordinary Canadians.

We have noticed that as greenhouse gas emissions rise, the ecoEnergy program is renewed in the mini-budget but there is no expansion of the criteria. Affordable housing is not included. Seniors who barely can afford to pay rent now have to pay hefty hydro bills. Some of them I have heard are not turning up their heat this winter because they cannot afford to pay their hydro bills. We would think that the government would immediately invest in retrofitting affordable housing buildings so that the buildings would be the most efficient and state of the art so that the tenants would use less hydro and therefore pay less on their hydro bills.

Unfortunately, the ecoEnergy program that is mentioned in the bill does not include affordable housing. The $100 million program which the NDP pushed the former Liberal government into establishing is also gone.

On top of that, the ecoEnergy program does not include condominiums. In my riding, there are condominium owners who would love to retrofit their buildings. They would like to find some way to make the buildings green and energy efficient, but they cannot receive $1 from the ecoEnergy program.

This legislation is not fair for people who are earning very low income. Neither is it fair for people who are living in multi-residential buildings such as condominiums.

There is nothing in this bill for unemployed people who are seeking to get some money from employment insurance. A recent United Way report said very clearly that one of the reasons people remain poor is that they cannot access employment insurance. The national average in terms of the number of workers who can access their own employment insurance funding is only 40%. In big urban centres sometimes only 22% or 30% of workers who find themselves unemployed can access their own funding through the employment insurance program. No wonder they are stuck in a cycle of poverty.

A few days ago Campaign 2000 said that we must deal with the tragedy of child poverty. Eighteen years ago, on November 24, 1989 in this House, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent said that we have to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Here it is 18 years later, in 2007, and there has been no improvement in the number of kids who lead a life of poverty.

There is really not a lot of funding in this legislation. There is no increase in the child tax benefit which means that there are children who go to school who cannot afford to pay $1 to buy a hot dog or a slice of pizza. They will be excluded. Because kids' feet grow fast, families do not have the money to buy their kids new running shoes and those kids will be excluded from gym classes. The cycle of poverty will continue. That is a national shame. There is funding for the biggest, most profitable oil companies and the biggest, most profitable banks, and yet there is no funding available to help kids in Canada.

Bill C-28 also breaks the Atlantic accord. It betrays the people who live in the Atlantic provinces. No doubt my colleague, the member of Parliament for Halifax, will address this in detail later on.

The bill in front of us does not do anything for aboriginal people. One-third of aboriginal communities do not have safe drinking water. For the second straight year the Conservatives have announced that they will ensure there is safe drinking water but there is no money included in this budget to accomplish this.

There is hardly any money in this legislation to support the arts. There is no new funding for the CBC, the Canada Council, or to promote our artists. This unfortunately is a missed opportunity.

There is no increased funding in Bill C-28 for foreign aid even though the House has continually said that we have to increase foreign aid to .7% of our GDP. The mini-budget actually decreased our foreign aid as a percentage of our GDP from .34% to .31%. It is hard for Canada to talk about our international relationships and our standing in the world when we do not contribute much to foreign aid.

December 1 is World AIDS Day, and we have seen a 30% cut in funding to community groups that assist groups that deal with the prevention of AIDS. In fact, organizations in my riding have come to me and have said that they are laying off staff. All the good work they do will stop because of cuts in their funding.

There is no funding for a national home care program. Many seniors desperately need a home care program so they can stay at home. It is more economic if there is affordable, high quality home care for our seniors, which allows them to live in dignity. There is nothing in the bill for pharmacare, home care or long term care, nothing new for our seniors.

Again, there is no new funding for housing. We have a national housing crisis. When the cold weather arrives, people will still be on the streets. There are no new co-ops being built. Housing does not seem to be a priority whatsoever.

The bill mentions nothing about student loans or student debt. We know the average price of tuition for Canadian undergraduate students has tripled since 1991. The minister's mini budget does not make post-secondary education any more affordable. The provinces are not accountable for the funds transferred to them. Therefore, we do not know how those transfers will be used.

Sadly, when we talk about seniors, not only do they not get the kind of home care or nursing care hey desperately need, they also do not get an increase in their guaranteed income supplement. This means many seniors will continue to live in poverty. We already know that 25% of seniors live in poverty. For women, that figure climbs to 36%. We know there is $14 billion for the most powerful companies, but nothing for seniors.

There is hardly any mention about the minimum wage. Nor is there any commitment by the government to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

There is also hardly anything for the Status of Women. I know our critic and advocate for women has been saying that we need $100 million a year. The mini budget gives $10 million a year for two years. That is hardly enough funding for the women's organizations that are struggling.

Unfortunately, the budget does not invest in our communities. It does not make our country a better place to live. In fact, if we look at this, there is a photo accompanying the economic statement recently released by the government. In the photo we see a little child looking out into the world. If we look closely at the picture, the child is standing on high ground and it looks as though this child could fall off the cliff. We are doing nothing to invest in our children and our young people. This is truly a missed opportunity for Canada.

We should be following other countries such as Ireland. It has mapped out a plan to invest in children and to reduce child poverty. It is delivering on and meeting its targets. However, Canada does not have a commissioner for children. It has no plan for children and no targets have been set to reduce child poverty. Yet there is money for very big companies. This is a sad statement on how we deal with our communities.

Sadly, the Liberals, when we finish the debate, will abstain from the vote. They will not make a statement. They will do nothing to say no to this terrible plan, and that is a missed opportunity.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Macleod Alberta


Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague from the NDP and her comments about Bill C-28.

It is difficult to understand how the hon. member can say that there is nothing in all of these tax measures. We have reduced personal income taxes. All the supportive measures, in what has been lauded by many Canadians as a very forward thinking and positive move, have been wrapped into one in the second implementation act of our budget.

The economic statement was filed by the finance minister in the House, but because of the NDP members, he was unable to speak to it. They refused to allow the finance minister to make a public statement in the House about the fall economic update. I am still amazed that they refused to allow him to speak in the House of Commons. He could have told Canadians that we were giving back some of their hard-earned tax money.

It is interesting that the hon. member suggests the Liberals may abstain. The NDP will vote against this. This morning the Bloc said that it would vote against it. I have more respect for the Liberals abstaining and not blocking this than I have for some other members of the House, who will deny benefits of $190 billion over 22 months. That is what we have provided in the economic statement, when it all comes together, in reduced taxes for Canadians. The NDP is going to vote against that.

I wish the hon. member luck when she goes back to her riding and says that she opposed $12 billion in cuts to GST. How will she face her constituents when she tells them that she does not think they are worthy of a cut in taxes?

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11:20 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised that the Liberals would not want to comment on this budget. The not so new government, the North Star government, is following the Liberal tradition of not investing in municipalities, cities, communities and ordinary Canadians.

A tax cut does not build affordable housing. A tax cut does not mean that buses come more frequently. A tax cut does nothing to ensure libraries open on Sunday. It does not build community centres or libraries. A tax cut does nothing to help farmers. A tax cut does nothing to help people who are desperately in need of affordable child care, whether it is in rural communities across Canada or in big cities.

In fact, an OECD report came out yesterday. It said that families could not afford child care and that there was not enough decent, high quality child care out there. Therefore, what do families do? They either have to stop working or they stop having babies. No wonder the birth rate in Canada is so low. Only in the province in Quebec has the birth rate stabilized, because it is investing $7 a day child care. Outside of Quebec ordinary families cannot afford to have babies. Why? Because they do not have affordable child care.

How does a tax cut deal with the problems families face? It does not. We have seen report after report which say that among OECD countries, Canada is dead last in its investment in affordable child care.

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11:25 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think we all know the economic plans of NDP can be defined by high spending, high taxes, the hoary, woolly-headed socialist economic plans that were so destructive in northern Europe. We saw what happened there.

The problem with the plans of the NDP is it does not understand that we need to have a competitive private sector to provide the taxes, to support the social programs that we all want. If we are to help those who are the least privileged in our society, we cannot hammer the private sector. It is the one that pays the taxes as do all individual citizens. It is a matter of balance.

The problem is the NDP does not understand that word. Historically it has always stood for spending without any possible rational economic plan that would allow us to have a competitive economy.

Could my colleague from the other side tell us when, if ever, a federal New Democratic Party has ever put forward a rational, cogent economic plan that would produce a surplus or balanced budget?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member were to ask the Library of Parliament which party ran the most fiscally responsible budget in government, he would be surprised. It is in fact the NDP.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11:30 a.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Sure wasn't Bob Rae.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11:30 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Rae turns out to be a Liberal, so I am not surprised he had difficulty.

However, we have seen it over and over. Look at Manitoba and how many balanced budgets it has had. Look at the government of Tommy Douglas. Through the years there were balanced budgets.

In terms of the number of years, the member should look at the facts and the figures. He will find that when the NDP runs a government, by and large it has balanced budgets, unlike some other governments that have had huge debts. Look at the promises federal governments have made to children, that they would invest in them and make poverty history. We have had the Conservative government, the Liberal government and then a Conservative government again. After 18 years of promises, what has happened?

Another promise was made to lower greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2000. I remember that red book promise. Guess what? It has gone up. Why? There was no investment in anything green, not in public transit, green technology or retrofit programs. How does that help the community?

For us to have a prosperous Canada with a high productivity rate, we have to invest in things like child care and post-secondary education. How did Ireland, for example, come from not doing very well to a place where it is now dealing with child poverty? What did it do? It invested in post-secondary education and in people. We do not do that. We give big corporate tax cuts, and guess what? No wonder we lag behind in our productivity. No wonder we have trouble with our place in the world.

I understand the Liberal Party likes to make big promises. I heard a recent promise on dealing with poverty, something about 30:50 or whatever. Yet where is the money to do all that? From 2001 to 2007, we saw $53 billion in corporate tax cuts. That money should have gone to deal with poverty and to investments in communities, cities, people and families. That is what we should have done.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11:30 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for York West.

In a time of surplus, any responsible government has a duty to strike a balance and to plan for a country not for the next five years but for the next 50 years. In a time of surplus, when it does not have to deal with the crushing burden of an economic catastrophe or with deficits because of economic circumstances within or outside its control, government has an opportunity to plan for our nation and our people over that time.

Doing so requires, in my view, a balance between debt reduction, enabling us to have a strong economy that is productive, nimble and competitive, and investing in those things that help the most underprivileged of our citizens.

In these areas, what could the government have done that it failed to do? We know that the government reduced taxes both in the corporate world and for private citizens and we are fully supportive of that. To be fair, the tax reduction, particularly the lowering of the lowest tax rate, came after the government actually increased the lowest tax rate, so really, it is neutral. The government had reversed a change that happened when the previous Liberal government reduced the lowest tax rate.

The GST cut, as we have heard before, is the stupidest tax cut one could possibly make, unlike the Minister of Finance's suggestion that this is sensible. It is not sensible, because primarily it affects those who spend a lot of money, i.e., those who are rich. If we want to help those who are least privileged, we should reduce personal income taxes, because that gives individuals in the low income and middle income brackets the chance to do what they want with the money, such as invest it or spend it on food, education and basic necessities. If the GST is reduced, they do not have that option.

The government in fact is directing what the option is because people receive this only when they spend money on high ticket items. Those who are poorest generally struggle to put food on the table or pay rent for a roof over their heads, and there is no GST on those things, so it does not apply to them.

What could the government have done on the issues of infrastructure and education?

Education is critically important. What the government should do is reduce the economic burden on students by lowering tuition fees. It could lower tuition fees or, for example, turn the millennium scholarship program, which is coming to its end, into a needs based program for students who are of modest means. That would enable students to have access to education, which is a critically important pillar for our economy.

I could not have gone to medical school if the tuition fees were what they are today, because to go to school I had to earn my own money through summer jobs. Today, tuition fees for medical school can be easily in excess of $18,000 a year, which would have been completely impossible for me. I, for one, like many others, would not have been able to go to medical school.

That is the situation today with qualified students who cannot access the facilities they want for the post-secondary education they need. They do not have the money. We should not have an education system that is based on the money in their pockets. It must be based on their ability to access it.

On the issue of infrastructure, we Liberals introduced a plan that would put real money in the hands of the municipalities. It is where the rubber hits the road for the infrastructure that Canadians need. What the government should do is double the gas tax that the municipalities are receiving and give them a three year stable funding base in order for them to plan for the programs they want in the future.

With the price of gas being what it is today compared to what it was when we introduced that program, it makes umpteen amounts of sense for the government to say that since it is getting a lot of money from gas taxes because of the price of gas, it should double the gas tax revenue, give it to the municipalities for infrastructure and do it so that there is a three year stable base funding so they can plan for the future.

On the issue of research and development, we Liberals made the largest increases in research and development for organizations such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Innovation Canada. Innovation is a cornerstone of a competitive economy. We need to continue to make increases in this area. It is smart for Canada and smart for Canadians.

On the issue of the environment, there are many intelligent solutions that we can apply today rather than having this continual quagmire of debate on Kyoto. I think it is important to have that, but the government should also make investments into things such as hydrogen fuel cells and operationalizing hydrogen fuel cells, electric cars, wind power and tidal power, the last which we can use because we have such a large coast. Let us get those projects on the ground and operationalized. We Liberals had a plan when we were in government in excess of $600 million for these kinds of projects. The government does not support this and it should.

For those who are least privileged in our society, I introduced a private member's bill called the Canadian low income supplement bill. That bill would put $2,000 into the hands of every Canadian who makes less than $20,000 a year. The supplement declines to zero at $40,000. It is real money, not $25 or $35 but $2,000 in the hands of the neediest Canadians. It is real money for those in real need. In effect, my Canadian low income supplement bill would obliterate any kind of federal or provincial tax on those who make less than $20,000 a year.

We also need to address the issue of housing. Housing is in crisis. In my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, it is a huge problem. Housing is unaffordable for most Canadians. How do we address that?

The federal government must stop its ideological approach and continually must say to the provinces that provinces will deal with something and it will deal with something else. There is no reason why the federal government cannot exercise leadership in these areas. Yes, they are a provincial responsibility, but the federal government can bring the provincial premiers and the other ministers together and say that this is for Canada, that we are all in the same boat and we all have the same problem, so let us share the practices that we need to implement to address these problems.

One such solution would be to have a tax rollover provision, which the Minister of Finance could introduce and which would enable individuals to sell assets and roll over those profits into purchasing and upgrading other real estate.

On the issue of seniors, many seniors live lives of quiet desperation. They cannot get access to housing. They cannot get access to health care. Again, the federal Minister of Health should work with his counterparts to address this.

I have some solutions. Right up front, there needs to be a strategic investment in assisted housing and extended care in Canada. We have an aging population. The numbers of people who are going to be over the age of 65 and who will be retired are going to increase geometrically over the next 20 years. We are ill able to deal with this. It is the largest unspoken, unheralded and unattended issue and the House is not dealing with it. We have to deal with it and we have to deal with it now while we have a surplus.

On the issue of health care, there is a simple winning solution. The government should work with its provincial counterparts and medical and nursing associations across Canada to have a national medical manpower strategy to know what kinds of doctors, nurses and technicians we need, how many we need, and where we need them.

I cannot emphasize enough how critically important this is. Regardless of how many MRIs, CT scans, hospitals or clinics we have, if we do not have the health care workers to provide care, if we do not have a competent health care person to do the history, the physical, the diagnostics and the treatment plan we require when we fall ill, we have a crisis.

As we get older, so too do our caregivers. This is a problem among nurses and physicians and it is a crisis among those who are specialists. We can go to a general practitioner and get competent diagnostics done in a number of areas, but there is only one type of person who can actually fix a knee, repair a broken leg, operate on a brain or manage a patient's dialysis. Those are specialists' responsibilities. The specialist cadre in Canada is shrinking dramatically. This is a greatly limiting step that cannot be addressed overnight and must be addressed with urgency today.

In closing, on the issue of child care, which has been mentioned, the government promised child care spaces. They are not there. This is a huge issue for Canadians. We say to the government that it does not need to reinvent the wheel. It just needs to adopt what the Liberal Party introduced by negotiating with the provinces for a national child care strategy. It works for the public. It works for the children. It works for families. It reduces crime. It saves the taxpayer money. It is healthy for our lovely country.

Those are some solutions the government can introduce. We implore the government to do so and to do it now in the interests of our country.