House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to some of the points that my colleague from Outremont raised. I want to thank him for pointing out Statistics Canada's research on the five income quintiles and how they have actually fared, from a chart that I have, from 1989 to 2005.

I think I will ask him to expand on the point that he was making. Our taxation policies are the most effective tools that we have for the redistribution of wealth in the country, so that we can in fact all share in the bounty of this great nation, and as profits grow and productivity grows therefore workers' wages and our standards of living grow.

What other tasks should we have here as members of Parliament, as elected representatives, but to make sure that we elevate the standards of living and working conditions for the people who we represent? Perhaps through a fair taxation policy we can do that.

My colleague raised the issue of the five quintiles. I think people would be shocked to learn that, between 1989 and 2005, by these neo-conservative, right-wing policies implemented by perhaps the most wasteful government in Canadian history that squandered $190 billion worth of fiscal capacity, giving half of it away to their corporate buddies, the lowest quintile of earnings of $12,200 dropped by 11% in that period of time.

Their standard of living in the lowest quintile dropped 11% by virtue of the neo-conservative, right-wing policies of the Liberal government and then by the neo-conservative policies of the Conservative government. They squandered an opportunity to raise all votes. They raised all yachts. They forgot the rest of us.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague raised a very important point with regard to the abject hypocrisy of the Liberal Party of Canada because of course, if it believed for a second any of its stock speeches about helping people it would of course help us to unseat the Conservatives. However, it is incapable of doing that because no one believes it anymore and it knows what is going to happen to it in the next election.

It is scandalous that in a country as prosperous as Canada, that since 1989 the middle class has actually gotten poorer and not only are the neo-conservative policies of the Liberals to blame for a lot of that, what is even more interesting to see is that when the current leader of the Liberals went to Toronto a couple of weeks ago, he called upon the government to reduce corporate taxes even more quickly. Believe me, as we say in French, ce n'est pas tombé dans l'oreille d'un sourd, it did not fall into a deaf man's ear when he said that.

Within hours our national elf was up explaining that he was going to reduce taxes even faster and he went before the cameras and boasted. He said he was able to do it because the Liberals were asking him to and not only that, he never thought he would be able to reduce corporate taxes that fast. He was giving himself a big pat on the back for it.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have a technical question but related to the budget. It is about search and rescue airplanes.

I know the member was not here at the time, but it is more of a philosophical question. Around 2002 and 2003 the government committed and set aside money for 15 new search and rescue planes. Our fleet is well over 30 years old, some over 40 years, and this is to protect Canadians at home.

All of a sudden the money seems to have vanished in these statements. There is no movement on this. We should be replacing the fleet. There are going to be accidents and Canadians are not protected.

Does the member think that military and defence investments should be a priority in order to first, protect Canadians at home, as opposed to buying things under the other numerous contracts they have let?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Yukon must face up to a small problem of logic. He rises in this House to ask the NDP if we think that Bill C-28, which has to do with budgetary issues, is flawed. I have good news for him. The NDP does in fact believe that Bill C-28 is full of flaws.

I have only a brief question for the member in return. Why does he not vote against this bill? Why does he want to keep the Conservatives in power? If he believes at all in what he is telling us, why can he not find an ounce of courage to represent the people who elected him, instead of sitting on his hands like the rest of his colleagues every time one of these important questions is raised here in the House?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order. It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East, Justice.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, when members rise and speak to this bill, the immediate thing that has to come to mind is the missed opportunity, the missed opportunity for us as a country to invest in our country, to make our economy stronger, and to create greater benefits for all citizens of our country. This mini-budget fails on all counts. It lacks vision; it lacks a plan.

It is like listening to the Conservatives over and over again say their mantra that tax breaks are going to solve all the problems of the world. We know that just does not work. We look in particular at what happened with the corporate tax breaks and the vast majority of the dollars which will go to the large corporations.

Let us do a quick history. In February-March of this year the government brought forth the budget. In that budget there were substantial tax cuts for the corporate sector. That would have had the effect over the period of 2007 through to 2011 of reducing the effective corporate tax rate in this country, which is at this point actually lower than the corporate tax rate United States, which is a point the Conservatives constantly forget, but the Conservatives were going to reduce it from 22% down to 18.5% by 2011.

That budget passed with the assistance of the Bloc Québécois at that time. We then come forward through the summer and the Liberal Party is collapsing around itself and its new leader. We see the government, because it really did not have a plan, finally decide to prorogue Parliament and come back with a new throne speech.

In the new throne speech there are a number of provisions of an economic nature, but there is no particular mention of any further substantial reductions in the corporate tax rate.

As we just heard from my colleague from Outremont, lo and behold, shortly after the throne speech, the leader of the official opposition is up proclaiming that not only do the Liberals support the corporate tax breaks that have already been granted but that if they were in power they would give even greater tax breaks.

Within a day, if not the same day, the Minister of Finance is publicly proclaiming that in fact we are going to get greater corporate tax breaks. Within a month an economic statement came down which is encompassed to some significant degree in Bill C-28 in this mini-budget, and now what have the Conservatives done?

They are going to take that 22%, which is dropping already because of the earlier budget of 2007 and they are going to further reduce it. Now by 2012, the corporate tax rate in this country is going to fall to 15%; 22% this year. In five years or less it is going to be 15%, a full third of the corporate tax is no longer going to be required.

Inevitably, what do Canadians say about this? We have two political parties which have no substantial difference in how they deal with the revenue coming into the coffers of the government. We have to say, let us take a look at where these corporate tax breaks are going to go. We have done the analysis and this has not been contested by the government.

A full one-third of those two corporate tax breaks is going to go to the big banks in this country, the same big banks that in 2006 made $19 billion in pre-tax profit and are on line so far in 2007 to at least make that and probably break over the $20 billion mark. These are companies that we can see are poverty stricken, that are in absolute need of assistance from a government that feels compelled out of a sense of deep compassion to give them a tax break.

Where else is the money going? The next big chunk goes to the oil and gas industry. Natural resources is a bit broader, but primarily to the oil and gas industry. It pays because of its huge pre-tax profits due to all the oil and gas Canada is exporting to the world and contributes quite dramatically to environmental consequences in the form of global warming and climate change.

Those companies are making huge amounts of profit. One-sixth, in fact, of all the pre-tax corporate profits will be in the oil and gas sector, as it was in 2006. Chances are that those profits will be somewhat higher in 2007. Those companies will be picking up a huge chunk. In total, between those two sectors of the economy, they will be getting almost half of all these tax breaks, billions and billions of dollars.

If the government had not given this tax break, where could average, hard-working Canadians and their families have benefited? We have heard over and over again about the ongoing problems with waiting lists in our hospitals and in our medical system. More money could have been put there to deal directly with those waiting lists so that people do not have to wait six months, a year or 18 months just to be diagnosed and then many more months, if not years, beyond that to have surgery.

It could have built a national housing program. We heard from our colleague in question period today of some of the deaths that have occurred across the country as a result of homelessness.

We could have begun to create some child care spaces, one of the promises in the last election that the government likes to conveniently forget about. We are still waiting for the 125,000 or 150,000 new spaces. The government has abandoned that completely. Rather than use some of this revenue to assist in creating child care spaces for young families that need that assistance, what do we see? We see corporate tax breaks, revenue not coming in because the big banks and oil and gas companies need assistance.

Given the problems we are confronted with on the environment, we could have dramatically expanded the funds in many retrofit programs, both in the private sector and the government sector. However, we did not do any of that. We have the mantra that corporate tax breaks and tax breaks generally will solve all the problems. It is obvious, because of the problems we are faced with, whether it is waiting lists, lack of a housing program, homelessness or problems with the environment, that tax breaks are not the be all and the end all.

I want to step back, and this is really hard, and pretend for a minute that I am a Conservative. This is probably more creative than I usually am able to be, but let me pretend to do that for a minute and say that I do not really care about housing, the environment, unemployment and health services. All I really care about is helping big corporations, and that is where my--

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

That's why you were put there.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Yes, exactly, that is why I am here and why I was elected. They are my buds. I would say to the Conservatives, even playing that Conservative role for a minute, that I have an alternative for them.

We have a crisis in the manufacturing sector and it has taken the government, which has been the government for almost 20 months, a little better than 18 months to finally come to that realization, and maybe even a little longer. For the first time this past week and on the weekend, we heard from both the Prime Minister and the finance minister that they would finally do something.

However, they have said before that they knew there was a problem with the manufacturing sector but they said that their tax breaks would take care of it. Again, playing Conservative, I am saying that it is not working but that I still need to help my buddies in the big corporations so what am I going to do? At this point they do not know what they are going to do.

I am going to play Conservative again and play their role and I am going to tell them what they can do. However, before I do that, I want to emphasize that the policies they have put in place up to this point have not worked. They have really had two that were supposed to help the manufacturing sector. What will come as no surprise is that one of them was giving corporate tax breaks.

I will stand back now and not be a Conservative anymore. I will be critical of the Conservatives. So much of what they do is so simplistic that I will keep it simple for them because maybe they will then understand it.

The way the corporate world works is a company produces a product or service, it pays all its bills and whatever is left over is profit. The government comes in at that point and tells the company that if it made a certain amount of profit, then it must pay this percentage of it in tax. I think that is pretty simple and even the Conservatives could understand it.

What they do not seem to understand, so I will share this with them, is that the crisis in the manufacturing sector is so bad now that there are no profits. If companies do not make profits, the government does not come in and tell them that they must pay a certain share of it because there is nothing there. That is the situation we are in. Corporate tax breaks are of no use in those circumstances.

What is the second point that the Conservatives always make when we say that they are not doing anything? They say that they have sped up the write-offs for any investments the company makes in its company to produce a product. If a company invests in its corporation and in new equipment, the government will let the company write that expense off more rapidly against the company's income and revenue.

Again I will make this simple. If there is no net revenue coming in, no profit coming in, a company cannot write it off. More important, this is true right across the manufacturing sector which has been going down and has been in crisis for a long time now. This goes back, of course, to when the Liberals were in power, so I am not pointing my finger only at the Conservatives. I am pointing my finger at both of them because they both missed the boat on this one. The manufacturing sector has been going down for so long that any reserves it had have dwindled to the point where it cannot afford to invest in corporate equipment.

In addition to that, in spite of all that money the banks are making, they are not that interested in lending the money. Again, they are not profit-making corporations in a large number of cases. They are not good credit risks as far as the banks are concerned and they turn them down.

Therefore, regarding their two plans, corporate tax breaks do not work because there is no profit to tax, and more rapid write-offs on equipment cannot be used because there is no money to invest in the corporate field. We need another solution.

I will go back to playing Conservative. I am saying, okay, I have all this money coming in from the banks, the financial institutions and from the oil and gas, maybe what I should do is try to help out another one of my buddies in the corporate sector, in the auto manufacturing sector, textiles or any number of industries within the manufacturing sector that need help. That is what I am proposing they do.

That is not a radical thought. It is a very conservative approach, and I mean that in the pure sense of the word conservative. A fiscally conservative approach is that governments involve themselves in the marketplace when they are needed to be involved in the marketplace. Therefore, they are safe in their ideology.

In addition, there is no politically dramatic shift here because both the Governments of Ontario and Quebec have already done this. They have moved directly in and have told the manufacturing sector that they have made pools of funds available for companies to invest in what they need to make themselves more competitive, to expand their industry or to be able to export more. Those are all the good things that the Conservatives love to talk about.

I will go back to being an NDP member now and say that what I am most interested in is that if we do that we create jobs and put people back to work.

Let us talk about the employment situation in the manufacturing sector.

We had a very detailed debate about a year ago in this House on the textile industry and what was going on there. Between two to three years ago, Canada had roughly 100,000 people employed in the textile industry. When we were having that debate about a year ago, those numbers had dwindled to 50,000. What came out in the course of that debate was that by the end of another two to two and a half years, we would be down to 10,000 people in the textile industry. What has happened, both with the Liberal government and the Conservative government, is they have just stood back and let it happen.

What I am worried about is that the same thing will happen to the auto industry. I come from Windsor and Windsor-Essex county has the largest auto sector. In that two and a half year time period, we have lost 17,000 jobs in Windsor-Essex county and that is in a population of less than 400,000. All those jobs, without exception, were well-paying jobs, jobs that people could raise their families on, pay their mortgages and maybe even have a holiday. Across the country in the manufacturing sector, at least 250,000 jobs, if not closer to 300,000 jobs, were lost in the last two and a half to three years.

Much of what happened in the textile industry is happening elsewhere in the manufacturing sector. I see it primarily in the auto sector but it is happening in other areas.

The Province of Ontario and the Province of Quebec have said that it is time for the government to help. They have also told the federal government that it must do its share. The government loves to talk about partnerships and about working cooperatively. It is now time to pony up. It is time for the government to come forward and participate in saving the manufacturing sector in Canada.

I have said this repeatedly and I will now repeat it in this speech. I have done some research and I have not been able to identify, across the whole of the globe, and I have gone back over the last roughly 100 to 150 years, one national economy that functioned in a vibrant way without having a key manufacturing sector as a significant component of that economy. However, the present government and the previous Liberal government have repeatedly taken a hands off and will not help. They told the manufacturing section that it was on its own at the same time as they brought in trade policies and implemented those trade policies that allowed other governments, other economies to sack our manufacturing sector. Because they protected their manufacturing sector, we allowed them to come in, penetrate ours, purloin the best parts of it and we just stood back and let them do that while we were shut out from their economy.

Canada has repeated that over and over again. We saw it with the free trade agreement back in 1988-89. We saw it with the North American Free Trade Agreement. We saw it with policies and in a number of different trading arrangements. We are seeing it right now. The current minister, who is negotiating with South Korea, is willing to give away the fort once again, particularly in the auto sector.

There is a simple solution on an interim basis. We see that from the province of Quebec and the province of Ontario. The government should be joining with them, as a national government, and assisting the manufacturing sector.

The auto parts manufacturers have said that it needs, $400 million in a fund that they can borrow against. Overall within the manufacturing sector, the estimate is that we need a fund at the federal level of $1.5 billion. It is here in the corporate tax breaks. All the government has to do is forget the corporate tax breaks to the banks and the oil and gas companies and put it into this fund.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table a report today to Your Honour to consider Bill C-18, the verification—

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I recognized the hon. member in the context of questions and comments. If the member was rising on a point of order, perhaps he should make that clear.

The hon. member for Cambridge on a point of order.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning verification of residence.

I think if you seek it, you would find unanimous consent to revert to reports from committees for the purpose of tabling the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The House has heard the request of the hon. member for Cambridge. Is there unanimous consent?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I spoke on this topic the other day and I said some similar things. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and did not get to say everything.

My hon. colleague mentioned how we were accelerating development in some parts of our economy, but not in others. I am speaking of the oil sands development in Alberta and what is happening there.

We are in talks about climate change and we are trying to accomplish something. The government says that it is getting things done for the environment. However, I have to wonder what it is doing except creating more carbon emissions. What we will see in the very near future is the acceleration of development in the oil sands with pipelines to the U.S.

Why would the government favour a large corporation that makes billions of dollars in profits at the expense of people who have to live on the streets, or people without child care, or people in the auto sector? There are so many other things where we could have had a better balance in our budget, but we are not seeing that?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not cynical, it is only practical politics that we expect the Conservative government to be favourably disposed, in the extreme, to the oil and gas sector. Because so many of their members come from the province of Alberta, the government is beholding in many respects to the oil and gas industry. We understand that from a purely perhaps cynical political standpoint.

On the other hand, we also understand that the government has come late to the global warming and climate change realities confronting us. The Prime Minister is constantly quoted about saying that the Kyoto agreement was a socialistic money grab and words such as that.

It was not until the Conservatives came to power and the reality of what the world was facing and what we as a country were contributing to what was happening in the world around climate change did the government admit that. However, the Conservatives have not moved beyond that. They clearly feel no compulsion whatsoever to clean up the environment. They still feel very much favourably disposed to the oil and gas industry and quite willing, as we see in these large corporate tax breaks, to give huge amounts of tax breaks to an industry that has absolutely no need for them. In fact, by giving these tax breaks, it encourages the companies to follow practices that are very negative to the environment.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for his fine presentation. He has brought to the attention of the House the truth about tax reductions for big business and this budget, which does nothing for ordinary people. My colleague certainly made his point well.

I would like to hear his opinion on an issue that I believe he touched on. Where was the Liberal government when the companies were grappling with the softwood lumber dispute? Rather than giving tax breaks to big business, we could have dealt with the problem when it arose and helped the companies as well as the workers. Where was the Liberal government? The problem continued after the Conservatives came to power and let the United States take $1 billion from the softwood lumber file.

Instead we should give money to other companies, rather than the profitable ones such as oil companies. I am not jealous of the way the oil companies that are making money. However, we are giving them more money while we allow ordinary people and the poor to suffer, and while we let welfare recipients live on $500 per month. We will be helping only Toronto's Bay Street and the big corporations. That is where the money will go. Does my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, not think that this is truly immoral and unacceptable?

That is what the Conservatives are doing. They are catering to big corporations that make millions and millions of dollars at the expense of ordinary people, workers and people in need, whom they are ignoring in turn.

The UPM Miramichi plant has closed. So have the AbitibiBowater plant in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, and the Smurfit-Stone plant. Textile companies in Pokemouche, Atholville and New Richmond have also closed. Companies are closing their doors and good jobs are being lost. The Conservatives are turning a blind eye to this problem and giving money to the big Alberta oil companies. If the workers in the rest of Canada do not like it, that is too bad; let them move to Alberta. That is the real Conservative message.

There is a lack of respect for the Atlantic region and rural regions throughout Canada. People want to stay in their regions, they want to work and have a good, sound economy. That is where the Conservative Party failed in its mini-budget.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst.

I will deal with this in reverse of the member's questions.

When he talks with great passion, as he always does, over concerns for working families, it makes me think of what has happened to my community, and a good deal of what I know he has gone through in his community, in terms of high unemployment rates. I want to make two points about that.

A study came out last week about the impact of long term and in most cases indefinite layoffs on individual worker's health. It was done in the United States. It was a wide-ranging one, a longitudinal one, which I think went on for 20 years. What it showed consistently throughout that period was when a corporation shut down a plant completely, as they followed those individual workers over the balance of their lives, on average they lost a year and a half of their life expectancy.

The only thing that differentiated them from the rest of the population, and it showed this earlier demise, was the unemployment factor when they were working. It particularly hit men and women who were in their middle forties because it was so difficult for them to find employment. They were in a situation of still supporting families. It was a very stressful incident for them and it ended up costing them a year to a year and a half in what would have been their normal lifespan.

I also thought of the two suicides I had in my community in the springtime. They were two relatively young men, both in their late thirties. They left spouses and young children. Both had lost all hope as a result of indefinite layoffs. I also think of the constant parade of individuals who come into my constituency office and who I see when I am out and about in the riding. They are suffering and are having to deal with that kind of stress.

We have solutions. We could be saving the manufacturing sector, yet we see these kinds of policies that do absolutely nothing for it.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP caucus, I am pleased to join in the debate on the fall 2007 economic statement, or Bill C-28 as it is called.

I know the public and our colleagues in the House have not heard much of the NDPs opinion on the bill. Therefore, I am glad to enlighten them somewhat as to our objections with it and why we do not support the government in its economic statement, especially as it pertains to its ideological zeal or orthodoxy that all of Canada's social, economic and infrastructure ills can be solved by even deeper corporate tax cuts.

We have to challenge that very premise. We have to challenge the very theme or motif that seems to make the government tick. The Conservatives have been raised on the orthodoxy that all the country needs is lower corporate tax cuts. In that ideology, the Conservatives are in competition with the Liberals, who also believe it. They are playing some reckless game of chicken with our budgets and with the tax dollars of Canadians.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Other people will get hurt.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

As my colleague says, other people will get hurt in this game of chicken. It is like two teenagers on a road race down a dark country road, hell-bent and determined to get more reckless and careless than the other. However, there is a lot of collateral damage with that kind of irresponsible behaviour.

Clearly the Conservatives are trying to impress corporate Canada. One thing we should keep in mind is the Conservatives do not have to deliver wheelbarrows of guilt to corporate Canada any more. We have changed the election financing laws. There is no reciprocity any more. Corporate Canada cannot buy the government. It does not have to be bought. The Conservative government can break this pattern. It can cast off the shackles of its obligations to corporate Canada. Corporate Canada can no longer sponsor the Conservative Party, not legally at least.

What is frustrating for me is the irresponsible recklessness that is embodied in Bill C-28. The government has undermined and left behind the fiscal capacity to do anything to build Canada. Cutting, hacking and slashing will not build a great nation. That seemed to be the ideology throughout the 1990s and creeping into this decade as well.

We cannot build a great nation by letting our infrastructure suffer, by letting our social infrastructure deteriorate to the point where education and housing and all those basic fundamentals are falling by the wayside. It is more apparent in areas of low income and poverty. I know members are well aware of the inner city of Winnipeg. In my riding 47% of the families live below the poverty line, 52% of all children.

When economic and social policy ignore these basic needs, it is felt more acutely by those who are already at the margins and, by negligence, if they are already struggling, they are pushed over the edge into abject poverty.

This is not unique to the Conservative budgets that we have seen to date. I have been here since 1997. This pattern developed since 1993 when the Liberals took over. Most of the years I have been here, I have been under the Liberal regime. I really cannot blame the Conservatives for the social conditions in my riding. They have not had time to undermine and destroy anything in my riding yet, although they seem hell-bent and determined to match the Liberals in their record.

When the Liberals took over, they embarked on the most neo-Conservative, right wing agenda that our country had ever seen, possibly in the world. Their fiscal policy was completely in keeping with the Thatcherism, the Reaganism and the neo-Conservatism that the country had just rejected. It was an outdated ideology that bordered on cruelty, when we look at how it manifested itself in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.

I once heard the Reverend Jesse Jackson speak. He told an audience of trade unionists that if there were five children but only three pork chops, the solution would not be to kill two of the children. He went on to say that neither was the solution to carve those three pork chops into five equal pieces because then all the children would go to bed hungry and no one would get everything they needed.

The social democratic or trade union point of view to that scenario is to challenge the whole notion that there are only three pork chops, to challenge the absolute lie that we do not have the wealth in this country to provide the basic needs for a family to survive. Those who are saying that are lying. We live in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world.

He said not to ever let anybody say that we cannot afford to provide the basic needs for a family to survive, and not just survive, but to flourish, to prosper and to develop themselves to their true potential, instead of the terrible loss of human potential we see when 52% of children in my riding live below the poverty line. That is the urgent need that we bring to the House. That is the message that we bring.

My colleague from Sault Ste. Marie has tirelessly tried to remind Canadians that, yes, we are in a bubble of economic prosperity, and yes, it is a boom time for Canada, that regionally we are doing very well and productivity and profits are way up, but we are leaving so many people behind. Among those are kids who are living in poverty and not realizing their true potential. There are so many stories to be told and opportunities that might be told.

The only real measurement of how we are doing as MPs, as elected representatives, is to ask whether we are showing any tangible benefits in terms of elevating the standard of living of the people we represent. Surely that is why people send us here. They say to me, “You are one of us. Go to Ottawa and do your best to make my life better”. That is summing it up in very simple terms. That is our goal and objective.

One of the most effective economic policy instruments we have to redistribute wealth in an equitable way, if that is still one of our goals as a nation, is a fair taxation policy. Fair taxation is a way of levelling the playing field. We encourage good behaviour by the way we tax businesses and we discourage bad behaviour by making sure that individual Canadians are not overtaxed and that taxes are used to provide public services so that everyone has access to them equally. That is one of the basic tenets on which our country was founded and built.

We can measure that by something put out by Statistics Canada from time to time, the income quintile distribution. It divides the economic spectrum into earnings, average family income, the bottom quintile 20% to the top 20%. I argue that this might be the only meaningful statistical measurement that we need to pay any attention to. The results are shocking.

We have lived through 10 or 11 surplus budgets now and we have set records every time. There have been billions and billions of dollars in surplus, which I remind everyone came from our pockets. That is our money. Rather than put it toward the needs that we have identified, in a very reckless and spend free way, first the Liberals and then the Conservatives decided that the best use for that money was not to address the pressing social deficit but to provide more and more tax breaks for their buddies on Bay Street.

The income quintiles that I am talking about are in a chart, which I would be happy to table for the edification of any members who may not be able to see this far away at this end of the House. The bottom quintile, the lowest earning Canadian families, in the period of 1985 to 2005, in constant 2005 dollars actually went down 11%. In a period of unprecedented economic growth and fabulous economic opportunities for the top quintile, the highest earners in the country, it rose 16%. That is a 27% spread between the lowest earners and the highest earners.

Surely it would be our goal through a fair taxation policy to elevate the standards of the lowest to perhaps get into the medium. Their average family earning actually dropped in 2005 constant dollars by 11%.

For the second quintile, usually working families making around $30,000 a year, their actual earnings dropped by 4%. We are not making this stuff up; this is Statistics Canada information. For the third quintile, probably tradespeople, nurses, teachers, bus drivers around the $45,000 a year average family income, their real purchasing power dropped by 2%. Then when we get up to the top quintile, families making $118,000 to $147,000 per year, they rose 16%.

The rich are doing a lot better. The poor will have slipped even further behind. It is a tired cliché that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. People get tired of hearing that, but in Canada it is true.

In spite of having a Liberal government, a government that ran from the left and governed from the right, after 13 years of Liberal government, the Liberals will not even stand and oppose this bill now. They sit on their hands even though they claim they are ideologically opposed to this bill.

Coming from the core area of Winnipeg, some of the social policies that the Liberals made, the cutting and hacking and slashing that they did on every social policy by which we define ourselves as Canadians had a profound impact on the quality of life of the people I represent, in fact a deleterious impact. We went backward in that period of time. There were surplus budgets, but relentless constant cutbacks to social programs. Let me give one example.

The former prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, was very proud that he announced $100 billion in tax cuts. Again the Liberals were in some kind of a competition with the Conservatives as to who could cut and hack and slash taxes more deeply. Where did he get that $100 billion?

Well, $30 billion came from the surplus in the EI fund, of all places, taking it--my colleague used the term “steal”, but I do not know if I can get away with that--but certainly that is like another tax on working people. If we deduct something from people's paycheques and promise them a benefit if they become unemployed and then deny them that benefit, that is not the government's money, it is an insurance fund and it should have gone to benefit the unemployed. That is where $30 billion came from.

Another $30 billion of the $100 billion the Liberals gave away in tax cuts came from the surplus in the public service pension plan. People forget that. Marcel Masse's last move as the president of the Treasury Board before retiring was to change the law so that any surplus in the public service pension plan is not the property of the employees. It is not even to be shared between management and labour. It is the exclusive property of management. They scooped $30 billion out of the benefits from public service pensioners, most of whom are women and whose average pension is $9,000 a year. The Liberals could have doubled the average pension of those seniors living in poverty who had worked their whole career, instead of giving it to their friends.

The third $30 billion out of that $100 billion the Liberals gave away to their corporate buddies was from cuts and hacks and slashing to the Canada health and social transfer, the social programs.

That is where the Liberals scooped up $100 billion to give away. That is their idea of redistributing wealth. They take it from low income seniors through the pension plan, from unemployed people through the EI fund and from cuts and hacks to social spending. That was their idea. They were the most right-wing ideological neo-conservatives this country has ever seen. The current government has a long way to go before it ever gets as right-wing as the Liberals were because we have never seen a finance minister like that and certainly not a prime minister like that.

Let me get to the Conservatives. These guys are about to squander wastefully $190 billion of fiscal capacity. That is a Conservative trait I have come to know on the Prairies because I watched the Saskatchewan government experience. I have seen waste by Conservatives the likes of which no one will ever see again. People would not believe how wasteful and irresponsible they are.

Somehow they try to sell themselves as fiscally responsible, that because they are from the business community they are businesslike and responsible. Since Enron, nobody thinks that being businesslike is being responsible. The two do not go hand in hand.

We watched the Blakeney government with nine or ten years of balanced budgets. Before that, there was the Tommy Douglas government in Saskatchewan with 17 years of balanced budgets and responsible social program development. Then the Grant Devine government came in and eight years in a row--

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, but it is 5:30 p.m. and the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

National Sustainable Development ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

moved that Bill C-474, An Act to require the development and implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy, the reporting of progress against a standard set of environmental indicators and the appointment of an independent Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development accountable to Parliament, and to adopt specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada, and to make consequential amendments to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with pride and pleasure that I rise to introduce and support Bill C-474, An Act to require the development and implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy.

Last October, the federal environment commissioner tabled a report that criticized the government for having no overall sustainable development strategy, no targets, no standard set of indicators and no rigorous reporting schedule, in short, no accountability on the environment.

The government responded by committing to a year long study by the same department, Environment Canada, that failed in the first place. In this timeframe, we could imagine this going beyond a future election. The department that failed to get other departments to fulfill their obligations on sustainable development is now being asked to figure out why.

The government's response is insufficient given the growing concern among Canadians for the environment. We have to do better and we must do it faster. That is the purpose of the bill I am introducing today at second reading, Bill C-474.

Back in 1995, the previous Liberal government responded to the demand for a stronger environment policy by introducing major changes to the Auditor General Act that required all federal departments to produce sustainable development strategies every three years.

By the time the third set of strategies was tabled in 2004, however, it had become clear that they were becoming little more than bureaucratic exercises that were not integrated and that accomplished precious little.

As a result, the then environment minister, now the Leader of the Opposition, was tasked with bringing the strategies together under one coherent umbrella and producing a single national sustainable development strategy by mid-2006, as the commissioner has documented in his latest report.

The hope was that a single overarching strategy would ensure that a clear set of goals and targets, reported regularly, would make government more accountable to Canadians and deliver better results. Unfortunately, the current government allowed the fourth set of departmental strategies to be tabled last year, almost a year after it was elected, with many of the same flaws that existed before.

Even the previous environment minister of the government expressed her concern, noting:

When you look at the sustainability reports that we just released, they clearly do not have rigorous reporting. You'll see, when you read them. The language is vague. We just do not have the level of accountability around any commitment to actual results or benchmarking or targets.

That is what the previous commissioner of the environment is reported as saying in the The Ottawa Citizen of December 15, 2006.

The current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment seconded that, agreeing in The Hill Times, as reported on November 5, 2007, that “it's crucial to have a strategy” and that it is “crucial that the Conservative government now come up with a sustainable development strategy” to ensure departments are held “accountable”.

Therefore, we have agreement on both sides of the House about the unsatisfactory nature of the current sustainable development requirements and their reporting.

Planning for the next set of departmental strategies will begin in approximately one year, but we cannot afford to allow another disjointed bundle of departmental reports to appear in two years. We need to fix the framework now.

There is a better way.

Canada should take its cue from countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden, which by law require the production of a national sustainable development strategy, with clear goals and objective reporting. The results speak for themselves. Both the United Kingdom and Sweden perform much better environmentally than Canada in international comparisons.

Canada could be an international leader by adopting a similar legal framework. That is why I am introducing a national sustainable development act in the House of Commons that would usher in a new era of environmental accountability in Canada.

The act would legally require the government to develop and implement a robust national sustainable development strategy for Canada. This strategy would be monitored using a standard set of accepted environmental indicators by a fully independent commissioner of the environment and sustainable development reporting directly to Canadians. There would be no smoke, no mirrors, just the straight goods.

Before examining the bill in greater detail, I would like to acknowledge as a source of the bill the work of the David Suzuki Foundation. In January 2007 the foundation published a report: “Toward a National Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada: Putting Canada on the Path to Sustainability within a Generation”. We have worked closely with the foundation in drafting the bill. I thank its members for their help.

I would also like to recognize the work of The Natural Step, an organization formed in Sweden, with a significant presence here in Canada, in shaping the sustainable development goals outlined in the bill.

Three of the key principles of The Natural Step underlie our sustainable development goals and we state them in the bill under subclause 5(1):

The Government of Canada accepts the basic principle that, in a sustainable society, nature must not be subject to the systematic increase of:

(a) concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust;

(b) concentrations of substances produced by society; and

(c) its degradation by physical means.

Those are the principles that we have incorporated in the bill which we recognize as coming from The Natural Step.

The goals themselves on which these principles are based are listed in subclause 5(2) in paragraphs (a) to (f).

The Government of Canada therefore adopts the following goals for Canada with respect to sustainable development:

(a) Canada should become a world leader in

(i) living in a sustainable manner and protecting the environment,

(ii) making efficient and effective use of energy and resources,

(iii) modifying production and consumption patterns to mimic nature’s closed-loop cycles, thus dramatically reducing waste and pollution,

(iv) reducing air pollution and achieving air quality standards necessary to eliminate human health impacts, and

(v) exercising good water stewardship, by protecting and restoring the quantity and quality of fresh water in Canadian ecosystems;

Among the goals, the bill goes on to say, are that:

(b) Canada should move to the forefront of the global clean-energy revolution;

(c) Canadian agriculture should provide nutritious and healthy foods, while safeguarding the land, water and biodiversity;

(d) Canada should become globally renowned for its leadership in conserving, protecting and restoring the natural beauty of the nation and the health and diversity of its ecosystems, parks and wilderness areas;

(e) Canadian cities should become vibrant, clean, livable, prosperous, safe and sustainable; and

(f) Canada should promote sustainability in the developing world.

How do we do this? Clause 6 proposes changes to the machinery of government in subclauses 6(1) and 6(2).

Subclause 6(1) states:

The Governor in Council shall appoint a Cabinet Committee on Sustainable Development, chaired by the Minister, to oversee the development and implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy.

The minister referred to is the Minister of the Environment.

Subclause 6(2) states:

The Governor in Council shall establish a Sustainable Development Secretariat within the Privy Council Office to support the activities of the Cabinet Committee on Sustainable Development.

In other words, within the heart of the government at the cabinet level there needs to be a cabinet committee whose constant, unwavering focus is on a sustainable development strategy, and that cabinet committee needs the support of a sustainable development secretariat within the Privy Council Office.

Our previous sustainable development strategy has failed because of a combination of a lack of political will and a lack of bureaucratic support.

Clause 7 of the bill envisages the creation of a sustainable development advisory council and suggests a proposed membership representing a variety of Canadians.

Clause 8 outlines the process for actually creating a national development strategy:

8(1) Within two years after this Act comes into force and within every three-year period thereafter, the Minister shall develop, in accordance with this section, a National Sustainable Development Strategy based on the precautionary principle.

(2) The National Sustainable Development Strategy shall set out

(a) targets for the short term (1 to 3 years), medium term (5 to 10 years) and long term (25 years) to dramatically accelerate the elimination of all environmental problems, including targets with respect to each item listed in column 2 of the schedule;

(b) the implementation strategy for meeting each target, which may include, but is not limited to,

(i) caps on emissions, by sector and region that are consistent with the targets,

(ii) economic instruments, such as emission trading systems with a declining cap,

(iii) penalties for non-compliance,

(iv) ecosystem-based management, and

(v) full cost accounting;

(c) the timeline for meeting each target; and

(d) the person who is responsible for implementing the strategy.

In other words, we are trying to capture all parts of the system.

Finally, subclause 8(3) states:

The Minister shall submit a draft of the National Sustainable Development Strategy to the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, the Commissioner,--

That is the commissioner of the environment.

--the relevant Parliamentary committees,--

It is very important that there be feedback.

--the relevant stakeholders and the public for review and comment, for which the Minister shall allow a period of not less than 120 days.

After a process further outlined in the bill involving the cabinet committee on sustainable development, the national sustainable development strategy will be tabled in the House and the Minister of the Environment will make regulations prescribing caps and targets referred to in the strategy. Subsequently, all government departments will develop plans consistent with the strategy.

Clause 13 stipulates that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development shall monitor the effectiveness of the strategy and issue every year “a sustainability monitoring report”.

These are the broad elements of Bill C-474. I should also mention an important schedule, which is attached to the bill, describing in column one the goal and in column two the items relating to that goal. These goals and items are driven by and derive to some extent from the successful model of Sweden's environmental quality objectives.

Here are some examples of goals outlined in the schedule.

For example, the whole notion of “generating genuine wealth” is the goal. In order to do that, we need a new kind of index, one which will allow us to measure genuine wealth as opposed to that which is based on driving the environment down.

The second goal is “improving environmental efficiency”. How do we do that? Column two suggests that we might focus on energy consumption, materials consumption and water consumption.

Goal three is “shifting to clean energy”, which, by logic, makes us think that we must focus more on non-renewable energy as the item proposed.

Goal four tells us how we must focus on reducing waste and pollution and covers a wide variety of things, including greenhouse gases.

With this outline, the question is whether the Prime Minister and the government, who have criticized our inability to report on sustainability, will stand in the way of Bill C-474 or allow speedy passage of this bill.

Canadians are clearly demanding action on the environment. We have lost almost two years now under the Conservative government. It is now Canada's turn to show the same leadership that the United Kingdom and Sweden have in adopting their own versions of the sustainable development act I have introduced.

Having a new environmental accountability framework in place early in the new year would ensure that government departments would have enough time to adjust to the new regime before planning gets under way again next fall. We owe Canadians nothing less.

National Sustainable Development ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. I notice that the member, in his last few comments, compared our government to the U.K. and Sweden, but he did not compare the current government with the past government and for good reason.

The report that he is referring to on sustainability from the Commissioner of the Environment goes back 10 years. Let us take a look at some of the comments that were made in the last 10 years.

In the 1998 report, it said that almost all departments failed to establish the clear and measurable targets and that the lack of benchmarks needed to be dealt with quickly.

For example, in the 1999 report, it said, “The Commissioner is concerned that federal departments have not laid the groundwork needed to reliably achieve the sustainable development goals they set for themselves in 1997”. The report also pointed to a “lack of coordination among departments”.

In the 2002 report, it said, “The government has yet to provide a clear picture of what a sustainable Canada would look like 20 years from now. The federal government's sustainable development strategy after five years and two generations of strategies still fall short”.

If we look at the 2005 report, it said that the federal government had failed to provide departments with the direction they needed to coordinate their sustainable development strategies.

These are just several examples of reports that were issued by the Commissioner that he is referring to and laying at the feet of this Conservative government when in reality there was no plan that we had. We had to start basically from scratch when it comes to dealing with this.

So, how can the hon. member stand in this place and accuse the minister and accuse the Conservative government of not having a plan when, clearly, in 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2005, it was the Liberal Party that was in charge of the sustainability?

National Sustainable Development ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2007 / 5:45 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for making the case for the need of a new bill. Clearly, we tried, starting in 1995, to do this. We went through several iterations. The then minister of the environment, the now Leader of the Opposition, tried his best to pull this together in one coherent fashion. That is why we need a new bill to get it done.

The previous Conservative minister of the environment endorses the concept of doing something different. The current parliamentary secretary has said the same thing. He recognizes that this is not working. We all recognize this is not working.

And so, when it is not working, what we need is a firmer legislative framework to get the job done. That is why we are introducing the bill. So, every criticism that the member has made, I actually support and that is why we need Bill C-474.

National Sustainable Development ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting to hear from the last speaker, one of the Liberal critics on the environment, saying that the reason why we need this is because we did not get it done. I just want to let him know that there was an election almost two years ago and things have changed in the House. We now have a government that is getting it done.

There is no doubt, in light of the actions already taken by this government, from the management of toxic chemicals to the protection and preservation of sensitive lands, to improving our air quality, to taking action on climate change, that we are committed to delivering a safe and healthy environment for Canadians.

I appreciate therefore having this opportunity to lay out what measures are underway to strengthen the role that sustainable development plays in the work of government organizations.

In December 2006, less than a year after the election of this government, the Environment Minister tabled the fourth round of departmental sustainable development strategies as required by the Auditor General Act.

At the time the minister noted in a press release that, although the latest round of strategies represented a step forward from the previous government's work, the government agreed with the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the previous assessment that more needed to be done to improve sustainable development planning and reporting.

Officials were instructed to begin the work of examining a range of options and to reviewing global best practices as Canada makes further progress toward putting sustainability at the heart of the government's activities.

By October 2007, this work was already well under way when the government was fortunate to receive additional guidance from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

As hon. members may be aware, after 12 years and four rounds of sustainable development strategies, the commissioner conducted a detailed retrospective assessment of the existing legislative obligation that was tabled in the House this past autumn.

Noting the continuous failure of previous Liberal governments, the commissioner recommended that this government undertake a thorough, documented review of its current approach through the preparation and use of sustainable development strategies and that it should act on those results.

The government has accepted that recommendation and in conjunction with the work begun after the tabling of the fourth round of strategies is reviewing specific issues such as: federal goals for sustainable development, including specific performance expectations; indicators and targets, against which process can be measured; how departmental sustainable development strategies should fit into and contribute to the achievement of federal goals; strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints associated with current approach in key areas for improvement; and roles and responsibilities, including what departments and central agencies must do to ensure opportunities for improvement are acted upon, so that they have necessary authorities and can be held accountable.

It is important to reflect upon the history leading up to this recommendation. The shortcomings of the existing sustainable development strategies process are by no means new. For example, in 1997, the commissioner noted weaknesses with the existing approach to sustainable development, planning and reporting. In particular, difficulties with performance measurement, cross-cutting issues, and awareness and understanding of requirement.

In 1999 the commissioner noted that departments had not systematically identified priorities or defined responsibilities for achieving them.

In 2002 the commissioner stated that weaknesses persisted, at which point it was noted that the strategies were not the strategic documents that they were meant to be. All this was under the former Liberal government. Further evidence that they did not get it done.

In 2004 the Commissioner noted that while it was easy to include commitments of strategy, managing and implementing the commitments were another story, and we heard that time and time again about the Liberals not getting it done.

In fact, the Commissioner has repeatedly stated that departments are not following through with the necessary steps to turn their words into action and demonstrating that commitments were being taken seriously.

The commissioner has not taken issue with the legislative instrument, only with its implementation. Notwithstanding consistent identification of systemic weaknesses by the commissioner, little effort to address the situation appears to have been made.

Throughout the 12-year history of this initiative, the commissioner has repeatedly expressed the view that the federal government needs to prepare a compelling, explicit vision of a sustainable Canada and a government-wide strategy to realize that vision.

Specifically, the commissioner noted that trying to gauge progress toward sustainable development by examining a collection of disjointed strategies that listed thousands of activities was like trying to assemble a complicated jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box.

Previous governments have made commitments to preparing such a strategy on more than one occasion, including internationally at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, and in response to recommendations made by the commissioner in 2002 and again in 2005. No federal strategy has ever been prepared. A new legislative instrument requiring one is not likely to improve matters.

Notwithstanding the commissioner's audits and subsequent recommendations, it would seem that there has been little progress. The commissioner has noted that in many instances the recommendations made in the reports, all of which were accepted, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

It is clear, based on 10 years of the commissioner's audits, that the existing legislative requirement as it is currently being applied is not working.

The current review, this review, that we have committed to complete by October of next year will ensure that we learn from past efforts, reflect on the commissioner's recommendations, and implement the existing law in a way that will position the government to deliver real results to Canadians. That is what this government is all about: real results and getting it done.