Mr. Speaker, Liberals will vote against this budget for two reasons.
First, the budget does little for average Canadians. It offers much less than claimed and much less than meets the eye. Indeed, never has a finance minister done so little with so much.
Second, the government has no plan to build a better Canada for ourselves and future generations of Canadians. Instead of doing what is best for Canada and Canadians, the government has done exclusively what is best for the Conservative Party in full re-election mode.
This is a shotgun budget. It is as if the finance minister shut his eyes, held a shotgun into the air, pulled the trigger, and hoped that he hit as many targets as possible. It is an unfocused budget. It is a directionless budget.
The only time the Conservative government has engaged in broad based tax changes it moved in the wrong direction.
In budget 2006, the government increased the income tax rate on the first $35,000 of income from 15% to 15.5%. One of the biggest disappointments of the budget is that despite its enormous surpluses, the government saw fit to maintain that higher income tax rate. It offered nothing in the form of broad based tax relief in any other area.
John Williamson, president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and traditionally not a great friend of Liberals, put the point as follows, and I quote: “The fellow working the line or anyone with a salary income and no children will receive no tax relief. That's disappointing. Ottawa's running huge surpluses”.
Or, in the words of Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: “We would have preferred to see some broader tax relief which would have had a real impact on the economy and instead we saw small, little targeted breaks for everybody from lacrosse fans to truck drivers”.
Similarly, Clément Gignac, vice-president of Banque Nationale du Canada said:
These tax cuts are a drop in the bucket compared to the federal government's total revenues.
It is true that the government offered a new child tax credit worth a maximum of $310 per child. It turns out that the cost of this tax credit, at $1.4 billion per year, is almost exactly equal to the cost of the income tax hike that the minister left intact. We can say that these two measures cancel each other out.
The only other major tax measure was the working income tax credit. It is a program to put money into the pockets of the working poor and help them climb the welfare wall. This is an excellent measure that was borrowed from the previous government, albeit in watered down form.
Indeed, we always supported this program. We introduced it, but the government watered it down. Indeed, the government's maximum benefit for a family is $500 a year. I am not sure that is enough to scale the welfare wall, but at least it is in the right direction.
Other than that, the budget contains a hodgepodge of small targeted tax measures amounting to $700 million, or less than $50 per taxpayer per year.
My problem with the tax relief for ordinary Canadians is twofold: it is small potatoes and it continues in this government's tradition of narrowly based, politically motivated tax credits, rather than tax relief for all.
Despite its attempts to appear centrist, even liberal, the government's meanspirited ideology revealed itself in who it decided not to help. There is no direct assistance for undergraduate students. Sure, the budget has some money for Canada's top 4,000 graduate students, but the vast majority get nothing at all.
Perhaps most shameful of all, there is only a pittance for Canada's aboriginal people. As National Chief Phil Fontaine put it: “We're extremely disappointed, frustrated, because it's obvious that those that did well today are those that are considered important to this government. Those that are viewed as unimportant did badly, and we did badly.
There was no mention at all of the homeless or social housing. Critical for working families, in 2006 the Conservatives promised 125,000 new child care spaces over five years. Fourteen months into its mandate, Canadian families are realizing this promise was not worth the paper it was written on. There have been zero spaces created in the past year. Since this 2006 plan was a total flop, why should Canadians believe the government's so-called new strategy will work any better?
Tax relief and other assistance for ordinary Canadians has been minimal in amount and highly selective in its direction. Phil Fontaine put it well: “Those who are potential Conservative voters do well. Others do badly”.
In my opinion, the main difference between the leaders of our two parties is simple. The Liberal leader would govern with an eye to the future by making what he felt to be the best choices for our country and current and future generations.
The Conservative leader, on the other hand, governs according to his sole purpose: winning the next election. The budget makes this difference very clear, and it is because of this difference that the Liberals oppose this budget. When the Liberals came to power in 1993, they had to clean up a $42 billion deficit inherited from the Conservatives. The strategy they were forced to adopt to deal with that mess was not necessarily a vote-getting strategy, but it was in this country's best interest, and Canadians got on board.
The Liberal strategy produced excellent results. Among other things, it paved the way for the budget surpluses the Conservatives inherited when they came to power in 2006. Armed with the biggest budget surpluses a new government had ever had at its disposal in Canada's history, the Conservatives had a golden opportunity to create a new national plan that would open a lot of doors for this country, a plan that would look nothing like the one the Liberals implemented when there were huge deficits, a plan that would give Canada plenty of momentum for the 21st century, a plan focused on creating on a stronger, more competitive economy, a more just society and a healthier planet.
The government wasted its first year in power moving Canada in the wrong direction on all counts. Rather than build a 21st century economy,the Prime Minister raised income taxes, reduced the GST, and cut 70% of funding for research and higher education. In international trade, the government took the wrong approach by giving China the cold shoulder and brushing India aside. They have been in power for 15 months, and not one minister has yet been to India. Is that not remarkable?
In terms of social justice, the Prime Minister's meanspirited cuts affect the least fortunate members of Canadian society: aboriginal people, citizens who rely on literacy programs, children who need affordable care, and women. As for the environment, he began by slashing $5.6 billion from environmental protection programs, before the polls spurred him to bring back weak facsimiles under new names and with much less funding.
Yesterday, the government had a second golden opportunity. With the coffers still overflowing with Canadian taxpayers' hard-earned money, the Prime Minister could have learned from his past mistakes and taken action to move Canada forward. Well, I guess not, since what the Prime Minister offered to Canadians is a real con job, right out of The Sting. He claims that he is moving Canada forward in terms of economics, social justice and environmental protection. In reality, however, the support he is offering is symbolic, at best. He continues to waste budget surpluses by funding a number of measures that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, rather than focussing on a reliable plan that would guarantee Canada's future.
With respect to social justice, the Minister of Finance wants to appear sympathetic by offering a mini-version of the plan developed by the Liberals to encourage Canadians who receive social assistance to regain control of their lives.
If he really wanted to help Canadians who have the greatest needs, he would have restored the funding that aboriginal peoples were supposed to receive under the Kelowna accord. He would have taken effective measures to create child care spaces and he would have put an end to the budget cuts that have afflicted our most vulnerable citizens. He did none of those things.
On the economy, I note that this is a tired 20th century budget when what we needed was a budget allowing Canada to compete and prosper in the highly competitive world of the 21st century.
We needed a budget containing an economic thrust as outlined by the Leader of the Opposition in a recent speech to the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Club. Such an economic thrust must include policies to make Canadian taxes internationally competitive, as well as policies driving research, commercialization, access to higher education, and a push for greater access for Canadian goods in overseas markets.
What did we get? While competitor countries like Australia have forged ahead with broad based reductions in personal and business taxation, yesterday's budget had no broad based tax cuts at all. What it did do was maintain last year's broad based income tax hike.
While countries like the United Kingdom set ambitious targets for research and development backed by powerful tax credits, yesterday's budget provided only token support on this front while slashing support for universities.
While other competitor countries provide generous funding for students and pursue talented immigrants aggressively, what did we see in yesterday's budget? Nothing at all for undergraduate students and nothing significant on immigration.
While Asia-Pacific countries have no fewer than 186 bilateral trade agreements in force or under negotiation, yesterday's budget had nothing significant on this front, and the Harper government shows no sign of emerging from its domestic or, at most, continental cocoon.