Mr. Speaker, it is a distinct pleasure and honour to rise in the House today to speak about the economic statement that was tabled in this House earlier in the fall.
I know that members would agree with me, because we all spend a lot of time in our constituencies, but certainly the constituents of Kitchener Centre and in fact Canadians right across this nation have indicated that they do not want tax cuts at the expense and the compromise of the social fabric of the nation. For the majority of Canadians, spending on medicare and education, the elimination of poverty, the creation of a national child care program, as well as the protection of the environment all come before tax cuts as their priorities.
Today Canada's economy is performing extremely well. In fact, the federal treasury is awash in cash. As the government announced in September, it ran a surplus this year of $14 billion. Certainly a tax break would be in order during times of such prosperity.
However, the government also announced a reduction of the lowest tax bracket to 15% when in reality it was merely reinstating a tax cut that our previous Liberal government had made. The Conservative government in its initial budget had raised the tax rate of the lowest income bracket from 15% to 15.5%. It is hardly a tax cut when it merely returns to the same rate that it was previous to the increase in the budget preceding. Canadians are no further ahead financially than they were before the minority Conservative government took power.
Many in this House will recall the previous Liberal government's $100 billion tax reduction plan. It was passed in the year 2000. It was the largest tax cut in history, and Canadians continue to benefit from that budget today.
What made the tax relief plan and the subsequent Liberal tax relief so effective was how very broad the application was. Millions of people benefited from those reductions.
We are also in favour of reducing the tax burden on corporations because we recognize this is one way to unleash Canada's productive capacity. Our record speaks to this.
The finance minister and the government make much of the reduction of 1% in the GST. It has gone to 5% from 6%.
What is interesting about this is that the vast majority of economists and as a matter of fact those with any kind of economic sense are quick to acknowledge that trimming taxes on consumption offers very little in terms of economic stimulus. Quite frankly, it advantages the rich. We all know that we would get more GST relief when buying a Mercedes-Benz than when buying a bicycle. It is simple arithmetic.
On this side of the House, we are accustomed to governing with vision and with an eye to the long term economic good of our country.
The quick fix, simplistic initiatives put forward by the Conservative government are designed to pay dividends at the ballot box in the next election. There is no commitment to long term economic vitality, no vision and no attention to growth.
The Conservatives fail to deliver on the long term vision of the investments that need to be made in using the record setting fiscal strength that they inherited from our previous Liberal governments.
We need a system of taxation that would provide an economic stimulus to help mitigate the economic slowdown in the United States. No one can dispute that Canada will face consequences of any economic changes that happen in the United States. With our loonie at par and occasionally above par and worth more than the U.S. dollar, Canadian manufacturers need help from the government.
The Conservative government is failing to create or even protect thousands of manufacturing jobs. In 2006, the House of Commons industry committee made 22 unanimous recommendations to help Canada's manufacturing sector. To date, of the 22 unanimous recommendations, one has partially been implemented. That was the creation of a two year window for writing off capital investments at an accelerated rate as opposed to the committee's recommendation of a five year window.
Meanwhile, other sectors, such as the booming oil sands industry, continue to enjoy a much more generous accelerated capital cost allowance. These are industries that have immense returns on their investments, yet we see the manufacturing sector struggling in Canada and hear silence from the government.
Canadian communities are also feeling the pinch of this Conservative mismanagement. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canada's cities and communities now face an infrastructure deficit of over $100 billion, yet only $4 billion of the government's $30 billion building Canada fund has been earmarked for municipal infrastructure. Clearly, this is simply not enough.
Canadian cities and municipalities need long term sustainable funding for infrastructure programs. This requires partnering at all levels of government, but the Conservatives have failed to come to the table. The Conservative finance minister accused mayors, my own mayor from Kitchener, of being whiners. He dismissed them. He said that the government does not deal in potholes and said to go home. Yet everybody lives in a community, whether it is a village or a city, and recognizes that there needs to be attention to infrastructure. How many bridges need to collapse and injure or kill Canadians before we recognize the screaming deficit that we have in investment in infrastructure?
Similarly, the Conservatives' immigration program shows no real desire to respond either to the needs of our economy or to the needs of new Canadians. Their approach has a narrow regional focus. It lacks long term objectives for our immigration system. It ignores the realities of the Canadian labour market, where there are severe shortages. In addition, the Conservatives' plan is targeted almost exclusively at western Canada and shows no real desire to respond to the needs of employers in other provinces.
In budget 2006, the Conservatives provided $18 million over two years to create the Canadian agency for assessment and recognition of credentials. This is for foreign-trained professionals who want to immigrate to Canada. This represented a $145 million reduction--and I underscore that, a $145 million reduction--in spending on foreign credential recognition and cut the shelf life of the programming in half from what was promised in 2005.
What is worse, budget 2007 continued this backward path by breaking this meagre commitment. Instead of creating a foreign credential agency, the government replaced it with a Foreign Credentials Referral Office that is worth $13 million over two years. This merely provides referral services for prospective immigrants to connect with appropriate provincial assessment bodies rather than actually helping the foreign-trained workers find jobs quickly.
Statistics show us that within the next 20 years immigration will account for all of Canada's net labour force and population growth. Passing the buck to provinces and territories hardly seems a responsible reaction in addressing this sector of our society and our economy.
Liberal governments implemented numerous infrastructure programs in the 1990s and the early 2000s to support the municipal infrastructure projects, culminating in $5 billion over five years with the transfer of gas tax funds to municipalities and continuing at $2 billion annually from 2009.
The Liberals also invested $263 million in the foreign-trained workers initiative in 2005 and over $100 million to improve the delivery of immigration services.
As a member of the Liberal Party, I have consistently advocated for the support of Canadian families while promoting fiscal responsibility and building a solid economic foundation for the future.
I find this budget short-sighted and irresponsible. Quite frankly, Canadians deserve better.