Yes, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre said, there is much here. We could talk for days. All we wanted in this whole parliamentary process was the ability to put on record the concerns of Canadians.
Indeed, there are many concerns across the country about the federal Conservative budget. We are not trying to hold up the process. We are not trying to be difficult. We are not trying to use any of the rules available to us to hurt democracy and to deny the need for the bill to be passed at some point, but we do want the opportunity to speak.
In fact, if we look at this whole process, as has been said many times in the debate, the Conservatives have had days and weeks to advance the bill and get it through the House.
Is it not interesting that today there is this panic? There is this need to create a crisis in order to get Bill C-52 through, but in fact the Conservatives had 11 days between April 17 and May 11 to actually advance the debate. They had 11 chances to bring this bill forward to debate, so that we could proceed and get it through committee, to report stage and back here for third reading.
Obviously, yes, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre said, it was not important enough at the time. They wanted to hide it as I am told by the member for Windsor--Tecumseh. Yes, there is clearly an attempt on the part of the Conservatives to hide, to bury, and to get rid of any avenues for discussing this budget.
First they tried not calling it, now they are hoisted on their own petard, and are forced to actually hear us out as we thoroughly debate Bill C-52 on third reading.
The developments of the last week have certainly given us a focus for debate and discussion. There is the realization on the part of the premiers of Newfoundland and the premier of Nova Scotia as well as the premier of Saskatchewan that the government in fact has no intention of keeping true to its word of keeping the promise that it made to honour the Atlantic accord and the Saskatchewan agreement.
The debate has now become, out of necessity, one that is dealing with the principle of governments keeping their word.
For too long political parties that have formed government break their promises the first chance they get. It is obvious that when a government breaks its word on something as fundamental as resources, an economic lifeline to regions such as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, we cannot sit back and ignore it. We simply cannot let the Conservatives make up some justification for breaking their word and giving them the go ahead.
Obviously, the Conservatives who are waving their hands at me are embarrassed by this situation. They should be embarrassed. They ought to give some thought to the cries from people in the Atlantic region and Saskatchewan who want them to reconsider their position and keep their word with respect to the Atlantic accord and the Saskatchewan deal.
There are eons of writings on this issue and a multitude of quotes from members on the Conservative benches in support of the Atlantic accord and the Saskatchewan agreement. Let me quote the Prime Minister from November 16, 2005. He said:
The Prime Minister is also failing Saskatchewan on equalization. The government promised to reform the equalization program in 2004 for Saskatchewan. The government now says it will not get to that until at least 2006, costing Saskatchewan over $750 million in lost revenue. When will the Prime Minister overrule his finance minister and make the changes necessary, so Saskatchewan does not lose this money?
He went on to say on January 12, 2006:
A Conservative government would also support changes to the equalization program to ensure that all provinces and territories have the opportunity to develop their economies and sustain important core social services.
I could go on at great length making reference to all kinds of previous commitments, words, and promises by Conservative members in the context of the issue of fiscal balance and fairness in terms of distribution of wealth in this country.
However, the point has been made amply by the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. It has certainly been made in the news today by the premier of Nova Scotia, Rodney MacDonald. It has been made very well at the finance committee by the premier of Saskatchewan, Lorne Calvert.
It is time for the Conservative government to begin to listen. We offered a solution. We said from the very beginning that this issue could not be ignored. We said from the beginning that previous promises and commitments could not be ignored. We cannot go back on our word when it comes to economic lifelines.
We asked the Conservatives to honour the agreements and view these accords in terms of ensuring that the provinces have the wherewithal and the means to pursue their provincial economies as they develop their energy resources. It does not mean for all time we must ignore a formula that would look at some variation of what amount of revenue is included from natural resource revenue. It is to say honour the accords and then begin to look at how we move forward in the future.
There is no question that the Conservatives inherited an absolute mess from the Liberal Party. The Liberal government had years to sort out this problem. It refused, as happened with the income trust file. On both counts, they had the evidence and they would not bite the bullet and deal with them.
The Conservatives inherited an absolute mess and that is certainly the case with income trusts. On that issue, the government clearly recognized that it had to act or we would see more tax evasion on the part of corporations and more loss of revenue that would provide important programs for seniors and others.
With respect to fiscal balance and equalization, the case is equally so with the government, and I quote from the Edmonton Sun of a couple of months ago: “Grits Left 'Utter Mess' Books in Disarray After Deals With Provinces, Says Tory Minister”. I agree with that. It was an absolute mess.
There was a chance back in 2004 for the government of the day to build on a consensus achieved by the provinces to put in place a formula that would hold us in good stead for years to come, but the government refused. It refused, out of political expediency and out of a totally messed up sense of priorities in terms of fiscal balance. We have a government that cares more about putting money aside for a rainy day even though it is raining today.
We had a past Liberal government that has a $80 billion of surplus because of unanticipated surpluses caused by lowballing and refusal to forecast accurately. The government accumulated over $80 billion on a most unethical and immoral basis and then decided to put it all against the debt as opposed to deal with the priorities of Canadians.
This is the strange part. The Conservatives are following that pattern, not dealing with this trend line, this pattern of broken promises. Clearly, what is needed is for the Conservatives to have learned from the mistakes of the Liberals and not repeat them.
First, that means not to break its promise when it comes to the Atlantic accord and the Saskatchewan deal. Second, it means to stop the lowballing so we do not have all this unexplained surplus or a surplus that has no demands on it and then allow that to go against the debt without looking at the priorities of the country. Stop playing games with Canadians. That is what we are saying today. Start to put the issues on the table and hear the voices of Canadians.
That would mean, for example, talk about seniors and ensure they are able to live with integrity, decency and security as a reward for having built our country. Do not nickel and dime them. Do not take away the $200 per union it would cost the government to deal with an error by Statistics Canada in the consumer price index.
My colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain has been saying this for days and weeks. She has been tabling hundreds and hundreds of petitions from seniors who are asking why, when they make a mistake and do not pay government what it is owed, it comes after them in a flash expecting them to pay right away? However, when the government owes them money, why do they have to sit back and take excuses? Why do they have to sign petitions? Why do they have to sue the government? Why is there no justice when it comes to government error in calculations that cause people to lose money that is rightfully theirs?
In this case the money owed to seniors, because of that mistake, is about $1 billion. Why did the government not say it was important to pay the people who built our country that money as opposed to putting $22 billion and more against the debt for a rainy day, when it is raining now on the heads of seniors, when the house is leaking, when many seniors are having a heck of a time trying to make ends meet, trying to find decent accommodation, trying to pay for their drugs, trying to provide for themselves, not having to resort to turning down the heat in winter or skipping medication just to save money?
Is it not raining now? What is wrong with the Conservatives? Do they not see that when there is any kind of despair in the country, any kind of destitution because of government inaction and government callousness, is that not enough for them to put some of that money toward the people who built the country? After all, they are not in poverty because of something they did or did not do. They are in poverty because of either deliberate policies to hurt them, like the failure to acknowledge the error in Statistics Canada and the consumer price index, or errors caused by lack of foresight, vision and planning, like we see with respect to the national pharmacare program or national housing.
Is it not time that we started to put money into those areas that will help ensure people have security now and can contribute to this economy and build for a better future?
That is just one example. Here is another one. Why does the budget refuse to collect $300 million from big oil and gas companies that are getting this subsidy from government to develop the oil sands? Why are we giving subsidies to these giant corporations, which are developing and extracting our natural resources from the ground, including the water, and making huge profits?
That $300 million could have gone some distance to deal with some of the issues we see in our own communities, with concerns coming from seniors, from aboriginal people, from parents trying to find child care. That money could have gone into the economy. It could have built the economy and helped bring down the debt in the long run, and at just as fast a rate as will happen from putting it directly against the debt, $80 billion under the Liberals and $22 billion under the Conservatives, with some foolish little catchy program called a tax back guarantee, which does not mean a hill of beans for Canadians.
It will not mean anything to people struggling, but it would have meant a lot if they had taken at least some of those billions of dollars and invested them in programs that would guarantee some reasonable access to job opportunities in the country. It would guarantee some reasonable means of transportation. We might have put some money against the infrastructure deficit and some money into child care and other programs that support parents trying to juggle work and family responsibilities.
The government says that it has to get this budget bill through immediately. Otherwise it cannot spend money on a number of programs. First, that is nonsense. It knows and Canadians know that when money is in the budget and the budget is passed, it does come to fruition and people can count on that money. That is certainly a given. It is also interesting that the government chose to list a number of initiatives that it felt might not get the money on time as an excuse for ramming the bill through and bringing in rare Standing Orders, like the one I talked about, which has not been used more than twice in the last 30 or 40 years.
The government says that it must have the bill through so it can spend the $1.5 billion for the Canada ecotrust for clean air and climate change. Perhaps it is not such a bad idea that we hold off on expenditures in this area when it does so little to help ordinary people refit or restore their housing so they have heating or other services on a more sustainable basis. Perhaps it would give the government a moment to consider the fact that this program now does not provide any means to low income Canadians to retrofit their houses. Perhaps the government might want to take seriously the proposals for redefining this so-called green energy program to allow for low income households to take advantage of it.
Why do we keep getting from the government programs, tax credits and a scattering and smattering of initiatives that always benefit those at the top end and do nothing to help those at the bottom end? Why do we keep allowing the prosperity gap to widen when it is the role of government to close that gap?
Surely the way to do that is through progressive measures, not things like child tax credits, which give rich families more than low income families, not envirofit programs, which exclude low income Canadians, and not credits for manufacturers, which are meaningless when in fact all the jobs are gone and the plants are closed.
It is time for the government to reconsider its direction and realize it is squandering an important moment and a great opportunity that will build a wonderful country. However, it takes leadership and it takes vision. It takes a government that says that it will balance our fiscal priorities to ensure some money goes against the debt, some money for tax relief for Canadians and some money for those important programs that build a country.