Mr. Speaker, for those who are listening from across the nation, it is important to emphasize that this debate is about the spending priorities of the government of the day. These estimates before us give a road map of where the government intends to take this country. Normally one would expect to see within all of these numbers a vision, a plan for building a country, a plan for building a country with a vision of prosperity, equality and justice for all people.
That, after all, is the objective of government, is it not? We are here as an institution that stands for upholding the rights of people and ensuring that government works for all the people all of the time. When we see a budget or a set of spending estimates that helps only a tiny portion of the people in this land, we have to stand on behalf of those Canadians and make sure they are counted.
Tonight, many, many thousands of people across this nation are not counted. They are not part of these spending estimates, because the government has decided that its aim and objective is to enhance the lives of those who are already well off, those who are already living in the lap of luxury, and to ignore the vast majority of Canadians who struggle each and every day to make a living to sustain themselves and their families.
Tonight I want to speak for my kids, Mr. Speaker, who I hope are watching tonight. I know you would probably say, “I really wonder about that”, but I am hoping that my son Joe, who is 18, and my son Nick, who is 22, are watching tonight because they know the importance of this place and they know why I am here and what I am trying to do.
Today, Mr. Speaker, like you and others in my caucus, I am trying to stand up for those young people who have so much to give to this country and need to be afforded every opportunity. They do not come with their hands out; they come with the ambition, the vision and the dreams of building a better world.
In the case of my older son Nick, who is 22, he happens to have a disability, but he lives in a group home. Thanks to the government of Manitoba, which has its spending priorities right, he is able to live with dignity and make a difference and contribute to our society. He is not looking for a handout. He is looking to be recognized for his talents and to put them to the use that God has given him.
In fact, he is able to make a difference in the lives of people around him. It is not a wasted dollar. It is a dollar well spent, because for every dollar we invest in children and people with disabilities we get many dollars back. Statistics show that for every dollar we invest in a child with a disability we get $7 back.
Let us start thinking about proper economics in this case and try to get this government onto a sound fiscal footing, which it has not been on up to this point.
Let me give members some lessons from other provinces like Manitoba, which has had an NDP government for three consecutive terms, making history in this country. Let me speak about the unending number of budgets under the Tommy Douglas government in Saskatchewan that have given this nation an example of and a model for what fiscal prudence and fiscal planning are all about. It means ensuring that everyone, the least among us, is able to afford the greatest niceties in life, to enjoy as much as those with money and wealth in their pockets.
It is about ensuring that everyone among us is able to live under his or her own fig tree, as Tommy Douglas always used to say, without fear, without worry and without trepidation, regardless of their circumstances, their abilities, their colour of skin, their sex or their gender or their geography. Here tonight we aim to try to focus the government on that principle about a balanced approach to government to ensure that everyone among us able to achieve his or her fullest potential.
I also speak tonight for some young kids from the Point Douglas area in my constituency, who have just had the great honour of meeting our Governor General. Point Douglas is among the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. It is a place where people struggle day to day and strive to make a difference despite great odds.
The Governor General visited this area and said the following:
Yet despite all the sadness, the fear, and the trepidation, I also met a community that had decided once and for all to break the silence and transform their community into a space where security, solidarity and compassion would prevail.
That is what this community is like. That is what so many communities across this country are like. They want to be a place of security where there is great quality of life. They expect government to work with them as partners to build those communities of safety, security, decency and civility.
That is why this budget is so important. That is why these estimates have to be dissected and debated. The government has its plans and priorities all wrong. It has followed for too long the past governments of this land that have whittled away our huge surpluses and have taken available money and put it against one cause only, and that was the debt, regardless of what difference that made in the lives of this nation.
The estimates tonight are about looking for fiscal wisdom, for balanced fiscal planning, for prudence, and for ensuring that we live up to all of our responsibilities as government. Yet the Conservative government, like the previous ones over the last 10 or 20 years, has chosen instead to invest in those areas that have the least amount of spinoff and benefit for the rest of the country but which enhance the wealth, the status and the power of a very few in our society today.
If there is anything a budget should do, anything these spending estimates should do, it should be to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. It should be to narrow the gap between the most wealthy and the rest of Canadians. It should be to support and help ordinary families, working people like those in Transcona, Winnipeg North, Sherbrooke or Regina. People work hard in this country and they do not want a handout, as I said, but they do want the support of government to make a difference.
This budget does not do one thing to close the prosperity gap. In fact, it makes the problem worse rather than better. Let us look at the spending priorities of the government. Let us look at the fiscal management of the Conservatives. Let me look at the wisdom of a few things.
For example, the Conservatives decided to give a tax break to Canadians and reduced the GST by 1%, which cost about $5 billion. Their own records show, by a freedom of information request exercised by a member of the media, that in fact this $5 billion has not made any difference in the lives of ordinary Canadians.
It has not made life easier. It has not made it possible to buy essential goods. It has not brought down the price of gas. That $5 billion has not made housing more affordable. The government has not done anything except scatter $5 billion across this land without any impact and without any significant or lasting end product.
Let us imagine what we could do with that $5 billion. Let us imagine that we were going to live up to the Atlantic accord and we put $1 billion there. Let us make sure that we at least keep our word, we would say, and then we would work on a formula that made sense.
What if we took $1 billion of that and, instead of giving zero to our first nations communities, actually gave them $1 billion to help them deal with decrepit housing conditions, third world housing conditions that are an embarrassment around the world? Canada has a blemished reputation around the world because of that.
What if we took $1 billion and actually saved the child care program? What if we actually took that $1 billion and provided families with the certainty that their kids were in a safe place when they went off to work to make a living to support themselves and their families?
What if we in fact saw that this money invested in day care multiplied? What if we recognized that this is not just about giving money to families? The Conservatives probably would think it is going to women who should be at home or to families who really do not need it, but in fact it is going to the ordinary families who are trying to work for a living and need care for their children.
What if we looked beyond just that issue about supporting families and looked at the economic dividends? What if we look at it as this article did in the Winnipeg Free Press of May 12, in an article by Laura Rance? A researcher showed, says Rance, the following:
Her research found that 12 licensed child care nurseries providing services for just under 400 households in the Parkland region north of Riding Mountain National Park were worth $1.73 million to the economy of six rural municipalities and five towns and villages.
As that money rippled through the economy, it produced $2.74 million in additional direct and indirect benefits. It employed 76 people full- and part-time in addition to creating an additional 28 jobs. Meanwhile, parents using the child care services generated $12.4 million in income.
The findings were similar in many other places, the research showed.
That is what we mean. We are not talking about frittering away money. We are talking about investing money in areas that produce multiple effects and achieve different objectives.
In this case, we help those families support themselves. We make sure they are not under stress and their kids are not uncared for in poor and unsafe situations. Good enough, because we know the savings from that would be enormous. If we can keep families from becoming dysfunctional, if we can keep kids from falling between the cracks, we will save millions and billions of dollars down the road. What if we understood, though, that every dollar we invest in child care produced another dollar in the economy, just as the writer in the Winnipeg Free Press said?
The member for Selkirk—Interlake should take note of this. He should know that in fact his government has quashed all hopes for rural day care. He should know what a difference it would make to his community and to rural communities everywhere if families had the day care they needed, if workers had the jobs they wanted, and if the communities had the economic spinoffs they needed. That is just one example to think about.
Let us think about the government and its $9.2 billion in unanticipated surplus, which is because of lowballing. That is because the Conservatives are doing what the Liberals did for all those years. They refuse to give us proper economic forecasts. Therefore, if they end up being in the position of having to spend that money on needs of Canadians, they can say, “Well, we did not know and therefore we have to put it all against the debt”. Hogwash. They knew darn well that there was extra money. They knew darn well that it was not $9.2 billion when we got these estimates. It is now at $9.7 billion or $10 billion, all of it gone against the debt.
We do not disagree with some money going against the debt. We know that is important. As homeowners, we know that we have to try to pay off our mortgage as well as look after our family's needs, but we do not put all of our money against the house if our kids need to go to university and we need some of that money, or if the roof is leaking. As I have said so many times in this House, we do not just put it all in one place if there are many needs. We try to ensure that the needs of our family are met, just as a responsible government would try to ensure that the needs of all communities in this country are met.
Let us imagine if we had taken, say, $3 billion off that $10 billion and put it against the debt, which is reasonable. That would bring our debt to GDP ratio down to below that of most industrialized countries. Let us imagine, then, that we still had $6 billion or $7 billion left to help build this country. We could invest in infrastructure, where we have a $60 billion deficit that is getting bigger every day because the bad roads are getting worse, the weak bridges are caving in, and the sewers are getting holes. Who knows? Things go from bad to worse if we do not invest. Obviously I am not a city maintenance person or an engineer, but I do know bad roads when I see them, and I know they get worse over time if we do not repair them.
What if we invested some of that money in our declining infrastructure, which would then build up the attractiveness of cities, make people enjoy their communities more, and let people get to work and home more quickly?
What if we put some of that money into environmental projects which actually would help ensure that we save this planet? What if we took some of that money from those billions and put just a bit of it into saving the oceans?
We just had the David Suzuki Foundation at our committee saying the oceans are just about dead. It asked for some money to protect some marine projects. What did it get from the government? It got $9 million. As I said at committee, never mind a drop in the bucket, it is a teardrop in the ocean.
It makes us want to cry when we see the poor judgment of the government and what it is doing to future generations. It is our environment that is at risk. It is the lives of our kids that are at risk. It is the industries and the economic sectors in this country that are at risk because we are not investing in them.
When it comes to the prosperity gap, we are at an all time high in terms of the width of that gap. In fact, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has said that we are in a situation now that we have not seen in 30 years. We are seeing those at the top end of the income scale making more in one week than a vast majority of Canadians can hope to earn in a year.
When we look at some of the executive benefits for CEO bank heads and we look at the packages they get, like the $6 million that the head of CIBC takes home, and compare that to the fact that this is a bank that would not even pay the $30,000 that is owed to the bank tellers. It would not even pay for the overtime worked by bank tellers. That is symptomatic of this society and this government.
We have policies now that widen the gap. Instead of dealing with the problems left by the Liberals, the Conservatives are making them worse.
For example, here are the biggest concerns that I have had with the Liberal government. It failed to keep its child care promise until 13 years after the first day that it made it. All those kids in those 13 years ended up in difficult situations and their families had to struggle even more.
It killed the national housing program, so that we are the only nation in the industrialized world that does not have a national housing policy.
It refused to address the deplorable living and housing conditions of our first nations on reserves and our aboriginal people everywhere.
It refused in fact to advance seriously on environmental projects and urban transit.
One more thing that really grates me, and I am sure others, is that it cut the core funding out of women's groups.
Today, the Liberals have the gall to stand up and complain about what the Conservatives did to take more money away so that more offices closed and more people are living with poor housing. Goodness gracious, they caused the problem in the first place, so at least stand up and admit it. At least stand up and say, “We made a mistake and we do not want the Conservatives to do the same thing”, because that was the very beginning of deep erosion in this country.
I have seen it in my own constituency. Ten years ago the housing started to deteriorate, exactly at the same time that the Liberals cut away any programs that people could draw on to restore housing, to renew housing, to build new housing, to develop social housing, and to explore and expand co-op housing.
It all came to a dead halt. Except for the bits that the province had been able to pull together, except for the money that the NDP managed to get out of that Liberal minority government, and except for some generous charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity, we would be nowhere.
As it is, we can put a few band-aids on the situation, but that is not going to hold us in good stead for very long. We need the federal government working in partnership with us, with communities like Winnipeg North, with Just Housing, with North End Community Renewal Corporation, with North End Women's Resource Centre, with Nadinawe, and all of the other organizations that are so determined to make a difference.
These are groups and organizations that see the value of helping others to help themselves. They only expect that much of government. I ask members today, is that too much for us to expect of our government?