Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the report stage of the budget bill.
We are looking at the question of the treatment of the tourism industry and our competitiveness in the tourism industry. That is one element.
A very good program was brought in forward by the Liberal government, the GST rebate for tourists from other nations. This program encouraged them to visit Canada. It also helped us compete with other jurisdictions around the world, particularly important for the convention and tour business. However, it was also important to purveyors, to people who would come here to hunt and fish and to people who would come with their families.
We were able to get the Conservatives to move on some elements of that, but they could go forward and reinstate the full program. It was not very expensive, nationally, when we look at the total value of the tourism industry. It was very important to the operators and to our country. I will go back to that later.
If I look at the context of the budget generally, I see two things. One is we evaluate the intention of a government and its competence through a budget. The other thing is we see what opportunity we have and how a government wants to grasp it.
Now we have the most buoyant economy in the history of our country. When the government came into power, it inherited surpluses, the lowest unemployment rate ever, very stable and low interest rates, an economy growing faster than almost every other nation in the world and a very stable one. It has a surplus of $13.2 billion this year from last year's operation.
Let us see what the Conservatives did in their budget.
First, because the economy is so buoyant, this is the highest spending budget in the history of the country. However, when we look at where these investments are made, it leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than building a country, looking at the nation and asking where are its weak elements, where should we be making investments to bring the potential up so we can achieve the national dream and individual can achieve their dreams, the government does not do that.
This is a purely political budget, looking at a very quick election. I think when the budget was drafted, the intention was to go to an election before we would get to this stage, before we would talk about budget implementation.
We see promises to Ontario, Quebec and Alberta of huge transfers of funds. We talk about fiscal imbalance, but we see that these funds were promised before we even voted on them in the House.There were tax cuts within Quebec for political advantage, something we learned had been negotiated, which is distressing when we look at everything else that was left out and not done and everything that was cut.
The same day a $13.5 billion surplus announced, a million dollars was cut in social programs. I have spoken to those at large. We talked about the CAP sites across our nation. We talked about summer employment. For summer employment this year, $11 million have been cut, and we saw the ramifications of that across the nation. We saw students all across the nation, volunteer groups, not for profit sector losing their ability to carry out their work and the students getting revenue and that experience.
Now the Conservatives are backing down part way, another one of those famous flip-flops that we have seen from the finance minister, but again not enough. Imagine if the government had been in a majority situation.
We saw it in the income trust sector, and we raise this often. I think it is symbolic of the problems with the government. It makes a promise and then flat out breaks that promise. By making the promise not to tax income trusts, the Prime Minister encouraged people to put more of their investments in that sector. Then he broke that promise and taxed them heavily.
We had very good committee hearings on this, and we invited him to have a look at it. Admittedly there were problems in the sector. If we can only look at the testimony of one individual, I encourage people to look at the testimony of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, which was quite well balanced. He indicated there were problems within the sector and that action was warranted. He pointed out that there were problems in governance in certain elements within the sector. He also said that it was an excellent vehicle for the capital markets in certain parts of the sector.
The Minister of Finance has a lot of people investing in real estate in his riding and in his communities. He agreed with that. His friends all in real estate trusts, REITs, were not touched. He left it in that sector, but he did not look at other sectors, such as energy where it was an excellent vehicle. Rather than having a surgical strike, repairing the problems within the sector, there was a nuclear blast that destroyed the whole sector. We know the results: $25 billion in capital losses to the people in that sector.
We have the Atlantic accord. If members remember, I was on the government side of the House. The Conservatives were so in favour of the Atlantic accord. When we went through the budget at the end of the last Liberal government, they asked that we divide it. They wanted to vote on the Atlantic accord separate from the budget, because they wanted to vote in favour it only. What did they do in their budget? They reneged on the Atlantic accord.
Now the Conservatives have negotiations on the background. We know Premier MacDonald in Nova Scotia is in trouble. We watched Nova Scotia lose $1 billion, and not a word from this guy in the last little while. He did not come to finance committee last week. I thought that was regrettable. While Nova Scotia's economy is at risk and burning, he fiddles.
Danny Williams is being a little bit more vocal. I am pleased to hear that somebody from the Atlantic is speaking.
However, the promise made through the Atlantic accord was that independent of any other program of government, if there were changes in equalization, changes in transfers, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador would not be affected. The Atlantic accord was above and beyond all the programs.
Then what does the Prime Ministerdo? He said that either they kept the accord or they took the new equalization formula. He has said that it is not capped. We heard that in the House today, but it is capped. On equalization, Nova Scotia is capped as soon as the economy reaches the amount of the least of the non-receiving provinces. We know it is capped. That is the ultimate level at which it can receive money. If it chooses to go to the new equalization, which is better on the short term, it gives us $1 billion in the long term through the Canada-Nova Scotia agreement, which I think is not at all reasonable.
We saw the CAP sites being closed down. Giving Internet access to rural communities, small communities, disadvantaged people in urban areas, we saw that being closed down. The Conservatives refused to make the announcement. We kept the pressure on and now they are talking about making it, another flip-flop that I am very happy to see.
We saw an increase in taxes to the most vulnerable Canadians. The lowest paid Canadians who are paying taxes are seeing their taxes go up from 15% at the start to 15.25% and 15.5% next year.
Reducing consumption taxes by reducing 1¢ on the GST, which the Conservatives did last year, helps those who are at the upper end of a lot of discretionary spending. At the lower end, most people's spending goes on items that do not attract GST, so those people do not benefit.
We heard promises by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans when he was on the fisheries committees. He supported the report on the fisheries committee that we needed more investments in wharves. Not a cent was invested. There was a reduction when we should have been investing more.
We know the problems of the harbour in Digby. One of the members in opposition was always speaking about that harbour. When the Conservatives came into power, they got the report of the arbitrator, the perfect thing they needed to make that investment and take over the wharf. There was complete and utter inaction.
We get signals every now and then that they will be doing it, but they are not doing it. They are probably waiting for an election. It is the responsibility of the government to give service to the people of Canada between elections, not only during elections.
We saw the problems within the lobster industry. To be a hero, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a huge change in the licensing procedures and the way that licences were held. He reduced the value of these licences by half. About $600 million of capital value in these licences, retirement funds of these families, was lost overnight with one announcement.
Again, the Conservatives say that are willing to reconsider. I wrote the minister about six weeks ago, but I have had no answer yet. I have brought it up in the House, but I get no answer. Then they give us the same promises on the bill. The bill has many of those same elements. If the ministerial order can be modified, how can we be confident that they will act accordingly and responsibility if we pass a bill that gives the minister and his appointed tribunal so much power?
There are many things that we would like to see. There were huge announcements made by the government in the area of defence spending. They were huge. Where have we seen them? Where are the contracts? Very few--