Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here this evening to present our position on this budget. I say “budget”, because, clearly, Canada's extraordinary surplus gives us a golden opportunity. We are living in a country that has been presented with an incredible opportunity. However, the budget and the so-called mini-budget are devoid of any measures that take advantage of the opportunities we have. With such an extraordinary surplus, we could make investments that would meet the goals of average Canadians, our communities and our society, based on our shared values.
We really have two visions in front of us. One is the vision of the Conservatives, supported by the Liberals. It is a vision that would reduce taxes, give much more to the wealthy in our society, give more to the largest companies, especially the ones making big profits, like the banks, the big oil companies, the companies that are the biggest polluters. They will benefit the most from this approach chosen by the Conservatives and their friends of the moment, the Liberals.
We are here this evening because we witnessed an extraordinary event in the House of Commons a few hours ago. We saw the two whips walk down the aisle together, before the usual time, in order to hold a vote to consummate that union properly in front of everyone. The budget is the product of that union. It is too bad, because the vision behind it runs counter to the hopes of our constituents.
I am proud of our team, the NDP, because it is a party with principles. We are prepared to stand up because we have principles and values to defend. As we have said many times in this House during this debate, this budget is not at all balanced. It is continuing to take Canada in the wrong direction. It is not a balanced approach. There was an unprecedented opportunity to invest, but the government and its friends missed it. It was a perfect opportunity to give tax relief to the people who need it most, but the government missed it. It was an opportunity to reduce the imbalance and the growing prosperity gap in our society, but the government ruled out any possibility of taking action.
For these reasons, we will oppose the bill. It is the wrong direction for Canada.
It was a rather bizarre moment to watch as parliamentary rules were stretched to the limit, and I would say beyond reasonable limit, to the point of actually abusing the privileges of members to be present during a vote, to see the respective whips of the Conservatives and the Liberals walking down the aisle together, not quite hand in hand but metaphorically at least as much. The consequence of course is that democracy in this chamber was pushed aside. Why? In favour of massive corporate tax reductions for those who are already doing incredibly well in our society.
I have canvassed my constituents, as have our members of Parliament. We have yet to find one person, and I would challenge people to be in touch with us if I am wrong, who was calling for reductions in taxes for the big banks shortly after they posted record profits. It may be that there is someone there who was calling for it and could demonstrate that this is somehow for the good of Canada, but I have yet to hear that voice. The fact is that it is the wrong direction for the country. It is absolutely the wrong direction for the country.
I have yet to hear anybody tell me that the largest oil and gas companies in Canada needed a break. What I do hear is that people need a break from the big oil and gas companies in the way people get gouged every time they go to the pump.
When it comes to people trying to get access to their own money at the bank, they need a break from the banks and the bank presidents who stick out their hands metaphorically and grab some of that money back. That is unacceptable.
The fact is that the government took a very narrow-minded view of where we could go at this unprecedented moment in our history. I believe that our party has a very good idea about where we need to go, a sense of the vision shared by a great many Canadians. In fact, this debate has put these two visions before Canadians.
It is unfortunate that the debate is being cut short by those who share one particular point of view, the Liberals and the Conservatives, because frankly, we should have more discussion. We are talking here about billions of dollars that, over subsequent years, are going to be unavailable to invest in what we need. What kind of things do we need in our country today?
We need investments that are right for our families. This budget is wrong for families. We need investments that are right for our communities, our municipalities, our cities. This budget is wrong for all of those people and their communities. We need an approach that represents some sense of balance and common sense. This budget certainly does not do that at all. We do need some targeted tax help for those who are most in need. We do not see that here. In fact, what we see is a budget that would widen the prosperity gap that already is widening rapidly in our society.
That is why, if we talk to the average person today, the middle class, the working families, however we want to describe them, we are going to find people who are finding it harder and harder just to get by. It is not that they are complainers. In fact, Canadians are as far from complainers as we are going to find. The fact is that they are working harder.
Independent studies have shown that the average Canadian family is working 200 hours more every single year. That is the equivalent to five full time working weeks. They were already working hard. How is this happening? They are taking second jobs. They are taking third jobs. They are trying to get by. They are trying to cover the rent. They are trying to pay the mortgage. They are trying to put food on the table. They are trying to educate the young people in their family so that their hopes and their dreams can be accomplished. They are finding that tougher.
The students end up with more debt than they have ever had. Somehow we regard it as sensible as a society to load them up with more. I do not know any other species that would do that to their young. But we seem to think that throwing as many millstones around their necks at the very time they are supposed to take off and succeed and build our future, that dragging them down and pulling on the handbrake is the way we ought to treat young people.
Are we doing any better when it comes to seniors, the people who actually built this country?
It was an opportunity in this budget to correct a wrong with regard to seniors. The government has admitted that in its indexing of the payments to seniors, their pensions, something to keep them out of poverty, something they deserve after building our country and raising their families, it made a mistake in the inflation increase seniors were supposed to be getting. Their food costs are going up. Their rents are going up. Their transit costs are going up. The price of everything they do in their modest way in their lives as seniors in our communities is going up, but the government has failed to keep up with inflation, and the government admits it.
I will bet people have noticed how quickly the government is prepared to come after them, and I will say seniors here too, because I know a lot of seniors are frightened by this, if they have made a little mistake on their taxes. By golly, a $10 mistake, a $50 mistake and the government is writing letters telling people they must do this and they must do that, and the government charges interest, too, at rates that are not far from the usurious rates of the banks, I might say.
The government is very happy to reach out into seniors' lives and pull something back if they have made a little mistake on their taxes, but what happens if the government makes a mistake on seniors' taxes? It simply says that it is too bad and there is nothing it will do about it.
This could involve $1 billion or even more that should be in the hands of seniors. Here we have a surplus. We could have done something about that in this budget bill. It absolutely could have been corrected, and should have been corrected. Our seniors deserve it.
The fact is a lot of Canadians are one or two paycheques away from living in poverty. A great number of other Canadians already live in poverty, many of them seniors, single mothers, first nations, Inuit and Métis people. There are people who are living in abject poverty. Even the world organizations have come forward and pointed out how Canada is mistreating its own in so many ways.
This would have been an opportunity to do something about affordable housing in first nations communities. This would have been an opportunity to do something about affordable housing in cities so that we do not have the growing crisis of homelessness, where more and more people are dying on our streets. This winter could turn out to be the worst ever.
All we get from the government is the recycled announcements of funds that were put aside when we debated a previous budget two years ago. That is when the NDP insisted that corporate taxes should be cancelled and money should be put into affordable housing, including for aboriginal people, post-secondary education for our young people, the environment, public transit, foreign aid, the priorities of Canadians.
Now the government is making these announcements again, but the fact is, it has gone right back to the old practice.
The Conservatives already had a corporate tax cut planned. We know that. They made that clear. However, along came the Liberals and the leader of the Liberal Party who said that there should be an even deeper cut to corporate taxes. This was only a few weeks before he said that his biggest priority was dealing with poverty. Guess whose poverty he was apparently concerned about. It was the poverty of the struggling multinational corporations, the profitable companies. It was their definition of poverty that most concerned him.
That is why we saw the Liberals sit down on the job. When it came time for them to stand up for Canadians, they stood up for the privileged. That is what happened. It cannot be denied, because we all saw it, and we have seen it time and time again.
Now we see the marriage is being brought together in an even more intimate way. There may even be votes of support. We might even see a vote of support this evening. Who knows what will happen with the so-called official opposition, an official opposition that could not even muster the numbers of an official party in the House the other night on a vote, if I may make that comment.
We are here as representatives, 30 members of Parliament across the country raising these issues. We are raising them in the context of a very important moment in the life of any Parliament. That is when we decide how our taxation laws are going to work and how we are going to raise the funds from one another to put them forward in a common project to build the country of our dreams.
What we have chosen here to do, apparently, is to begin to deconstruct, to take apart the country of our dreams. In case there are any doubts, people should talk to municipal mayors about what is happening in their communities. I am here with the member for Outremont, who once represented in another place a community known as Laval, where a bridge collapsed and tragedy happened.
Right across this country there is over $100 billion of infrastructure deficit. Instead of investing in infrastructure the way we should, the government is saying it is not going to respond to the needs of municipalities, except for the occasional megaproject financed by one of its corporate friends, most likely in one of these triple so-called public-private partnerships for some sort of mega-enterprise that it can put its signature on. Clearly, the government has lost track of the need to make sure that communities have fresh drinking water when they need it, or that the infrastructure, the roads and bridges are sound, and the recreation centres for our young people are able to stay open in our communities.
A grave mistake is being made, a very grave mistake. We are not alone in believing this. Many across the country have said that it is time to invest. We have the opportunity in front of us to do that, just as families would do if they suddenly found themselves with the opportunity of having funds to invest. They would not sit around the table and make the kind of decision that has been made here. They would say, “Let us invest in our young people. Let us invest in our homes to make them more sound. Let us invest in our future. Let us make sure that we are leading in the investments that are needed and responding to the needs of Canadians”.
It is a question of being balanced. It is a question of representing working families, seniors, young people, people from coast to coast to coast who are counting on us to respond to their concerns.
I know a lot of members of Parliament will return to their constituencies over the weeks to come and they will talk about, for example, the few pennies that might go back into people's pockets by virtue of some of these tax cuts. What they will not talk about is how we have missed the opportunity to build. I think Canadians are builders. I do not think they represent the kind of self definition that seems to underlie the point of view here. They want to build something in common. They want to build a collective enterprise. They want society to work for every Canadian, not just for a few or just for themselves.
When we boil it down, there are two visions in front of us.
We have a choice to make. We have a golden opportunity, and we in the NDP will be here and will stand up to defend our principles, because they represent the values of the vast majority of Canadians.