Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill, but it is sad that we are having to debate this bill. I do not think the bill should have been brought forward in the manner it was. I say that because one of the things that we on our side of the House have been very clear on is that Canadians need to have a fulsome debate as to how the surplus of the nation is spent.
I want to begin my comments on that note because of something I call truth in advertising. When the government was in opposition, it was very clear in its position as to how we should be dealing with the finances of the nation. In fact, I recall in 2005 the then leader of the opposition party, now Prime Minister, went as far as saying to have these kinds of surpluses was akin to fiscal mismanagement. He was saying that because of what had been happening with the previous Liberal government's pattern of underestimating the surpluses.
Of course, we agreed with him on that note, the fact that there should be more accuracy and truth in advertising in understanding exactly how much money is projected to be in the surplus. We know over the years the private sector forecasters, the not for profit forecasters, were all accurate in their projections of what the federal surplus would be and the government would always underestimate it.
The surpluses would come forward and the government would say, “oh, look what we have here, a terrific surplus” which was no news to those who had been paying attention and keeping an eye on these things, but apparently it was to the then government.
What happened of course is that the surplus would be spirited away to pay down the debt, which is noble and might be the best thing to do, but in the way it was done there was no debate. There was absolutely no indication to Canadians that the surplus was something that we could actually talk about, that we should decide where the money should be spent and invested in our communities.
It is rather sad now that the Conservatives are in power they have decided to replicate the same behaviour as the previous government when it comes to surpluses. Further to that, which is more egregious, in Bill C-2, the accountability act, there was a provision for a budgetary officer of Parliament. It is in the act. Anyone can go and look at it. That bill was passed.
What has not been acted on, brought into force, is that budgetary officer of Parliament along with the idea that we can actually have people who are appointed to agencies, boards and commissions to have to be appointed according to merit. Those two key foundations that the NDP supported, and in the case of the public appointments commission amended, have not brought into force.
We now have a government that in opposition said that we need to debate the surplus, we need to have accurate forecasting, and we need to make sure that Canadians are aware of the finances of the nation.
However, not only do the Conservatives continue the past poor practice of the previous government of not being upfront about the surpluses, but they do not bring into force and appoint a budgetary officer of Parliament whose job it would be to give unblemished, objective forecasting, so that all members of Parliament, and by extension Canadians, will understand the fiscal framework of this nation.
Add onto that this method of using a fiscal update to bring forward a very substantial change in the fiscal framework. We just have to look at what is being proposed in this: major tax giveaways to corporations and effects that will continue on for many years. This is not a fiscal update.
A colleague said the Conservatives make it sound like it was a mini-bar in a hotel and they were just doing little fiscal updates in those little bottles. He said in his own way that this was more like a 40 pounder. This is a big giveaway. This is a substantial tax giveaway to corporations with no debate that is substantive. We are debating this now, but normally this would come forward in a budget. Instead, we have it as a “fiscal update”.
I just want to begin my comments on process, on accountability and on what the government said it would do in opposition vis-à-vis surpluses as well as what it said it would do around the accountability act with a budgetary officer of Parliament to provide objective, unblemished fiscal updates.
It is important that parliamentarians and Canadians in general know exactly how much the surpluses will be so we can have a fulsome debate. The money should not automatically go toward paying off the debt, holus bolus. There should not be these fiscal updates without Parliament being provided the information ahead of time.
That said, the fiscal update bill is before us. Essentially it says that the government's role is to shrink the pie on what we invest within our respective communities.
When we look at the amount of tax giveaways to corporations, there will be less in the federal government's revenue stream, at a time when there is up to $123 billion in infrastructure debt across this land, when we have needs in terms of housing, affordable education, affordable drugs. There is a widening prosperity gap, and the Conservative government has actually shrunk the pie so that in future, there is less ability for the federal government to make a difference in the everyday lives of Canadians.
The $123 billion infrastructure deficit that exists was recently brought to the attention of Canadians by an excellent study that was done by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I might add that the government used that group as a validator in previous budgets, but now seems to want to distance itself from that group when the news the FCM provides is not the news the government wants to hear.
The study outlines the infrastructure deficit across the land. People may ask why we should care about that in that we are at the federal level and it is a municipal concern. The Conservative government would tell the municipalities to quit whining, and in fact we have heard the government say that, to make do with what they have and to raise property taxes.
The government has denied the reality of our communities. The FCM study showed that our bridges, sewers, water systems, et cetera are falling apart and need updating. We have heard the horror stories throughout the land of infrastructure falling apart. It is a real cost. It is a real shame that the government did not see the need for investing in our communities.
I implore the government to take a look at the deficit across this land among our partners at the municipal level. The Conservatives should listen to them. The municipalities know what is going on in our communities. The fact that they will be provided with no relief in this fiscal update is not only a shame, it is an abhorrent action by the government. It shows the lack of responsibility of the Conservatives in terms of the infrastructure of this nation.
I implore other parties to join with us and oppose the bill. I ask them not to abstain on the vote. We saw that occur before. It is not a credible position by any member of Parliament to abstain on this issue. It is too important for Canadians. It is too important for the infrastructure of our cities and municipalities.
I look forward to any comments or questions from my colleagues on a debate that is very serious, very important and incredibly sad in terms of the actions of the government vis-à-vis the bill.