Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to provide the reply of the official opposition, the Liberal Party, to the Speech from the Throne that opened the 40th Parliament.
Allow me to begin by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on your election to the speakership of the House of Commons. I would also like to congratulate all members on having been elected to this Parliament. Setting aside our partisan differences, we can all agree that it is an honour to represent and serve our fellow citizens in this House. I would like to thank the voters of Hon. Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Lib.) for having placed their trust in me once again.
For the third time in as many elections, Canadians decided to elect a minority government. Once again, therefore, the government must work with the opposition for this Parliament to function.
Canada's Liberal Party is experiencing a period of renewal across the country, and it intends to act responsibly in its role as official opposition in a minority Parliament. Yes, we will be a responsible opposition, and we will devote our efforts to making sure that this Parliament works for the good of all Canadians during this period of economic instability.
I am disappointed to see that the NDP and the Bloc have wasted no time getting involved in one-upmanship and threatening to trigger yet another election mere weeks after Canadians went to the polls. That would be irresponsible. Canadians expect better from us. They want all of us to work together in the House to strengthen our health care system, to better protect Canadians, not just build more jails, to seize the economic potential of the fight against climate change, and to make our environment healthier.
What this Parliament does not need is a government written manual for committee chairs instructing them how to disrupt the work of vital parliamentary committees. What this Parliament does not need is a government that attempts to manufacture confidence votes on bills that simply are not matters of confidence.
What this Parliament does need, though, is a government that would finally offer Canadians a plan to see us through the economic challenges that we face.
Demanding strong action from the government on the economy will be our primary task. While reviewing every government action we will ask three key questions. First, will the government proposals protect and create jobs? Second, is the government doing all that it can to safeguard Canadians' pensions and savings? Third, of course, are the government proposals fiscally responsible? Government proposals for the economy that meet these three tests will be supported by the official opposition.
It is high time the government actually unveiled a plan that would protect jobs, that would safeguard Canadians' pensions and savings. It is high time the government showed an ounce of fiscal responsibility.
While there is no doubt that the global economic downturn has had a significant impact on Canada, that impact has been made worse by the government's previous economic mismanagement.
Our economic downturn did not start last month. It started nearly a year ago. Canada had the worst performing economy of the G-8 for the first half of 2008. In fact, so far this year, our economy has actually shrunk. It has been our worst economic growth since 1991.
Our country's labour productivity is falling further and further behind the United States. Our productivity has fallen for nine months straight, something that Canada has not seen since 1990. With the fundamentals of our economy already weakened, Canada entered the escalating economic crisis with one hand tied behind its back. The government spin does not match its record. It did not anticipate this and did nothing to prevent it. Look at the economic projections last fall when it cut the GST. The projections were rosy, they were optimistic, they were wrong.
Canadian workers are the ones who suffer the consequences of this government's failure to act. Over the course of the government’s time in office, we have seen a continual, steady, stream of jobs losses in many of our highest-paying industrial sectors, including manufacturing and forestry.
The government’s response has been a combination of indifference and ideology. And most importantly, no strategy to strengthen economic development in the various regions of the country.
To take a key example, the government refused to invest in the auto sector, saying it would not pick winners and losers. That was until it knew an election was only a few days away. Then it changed its mind. Now the finance minister is changing his mind again, saying that he is talking to people on the street who are telling him not to invest in the auto sector. As the government wrestles with its indecision, our economy continues to struggle and Canadian workers are losing their jobs.
At present, with no clear proposals, the government is simply unable to answer the question of what it will do to give Canadians confidence in their jobs. It is clear that the government has more work to do to protect Canadian savings and pensions. I can say, though, that I am pleased that the Prime Minister is expressing a new willingness to work with the G-20.
When this organization was proposed by the previous Liberal government, in fact championed by Paul Martin, the current Prime Minister called it a weak nation strategy. He was wrong then and he would still be wrong not to take full advantage of the G-20, this good Canadian idea, this Canadian success story.
I am also pleased to see that the Prime Minister now no longer believes that the Liberal economic plan for the first 30 days is a sign of panic, as he did during the election campaign.
We are happy on this side of the House that the government has adopted our proposal to accelerate already budgeted infrastructure spending, to meet with private sector experts, to bring forth a swift economic update, and to finally, after two years, meet with the premiers of the provinces and territories to coordinate economic strategies for the federation.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister showed up at that first ministers meeting with nothing besides a new cap on equalization payments in a desperate attempt to get his flailing budget under control. By effectively renouncing his equalization formula as unsustainable, he is renouncing the centrepiece of his 2007 budget, a budget that will go down in history as one of Canada's greatest missed opportunities.
I hope that when the Prime Minister looks at the economy today, he demonstrates more sensitivity and vision, and sees more than simply buying opportunities, especially because, looking at the TSX, anyone that took his advice on October 7 would have lost around 10% of the market by now.
The credit crisis is affecting some of the biggest employers in Canada. This crisis comes at the worst possible moment, at a time when the decline of the stock markets has significantly reduced the value of many companies' retirement funds. Fortunately, thanks to good management by previous Liberal governments, our public pension plan is on solid financial footing. Fortunately, Canada did not listen to the current Prime Minister when he was the Reform Party's economic adviser and recommended ending the Canada pension plan.
In fact, the Conservative government inherited from the Liberal government a pension plan, a banking system, sound economic and financial fundamentals unprecedented in the history of Canada. It took three years of Conservative government to squander that legacy. This throne speech, like the two before it, falsely give credit to the Conservative government for Liberal achievements.
If only the government were at least offering new solutions for today's problems. This government has to move beyond generalities and explain precisely how it intends to provide businesses with the flexibility they need to both stay in business and deliver the pensions that they owe to Canadian workers.
The bottom line is that in less than three years the government has destroyed the $13 billion surplus that it inherited from the previous Liberal government. The government is now talking about a deficit. This deficit would not be the result of the global economic crisis. The Liberal government managed a surplus during the Asian financial crisis, after 9/11, and in the face of SARS. This deficit would be the responsibility of the Conservative government, of the finance minister, of the Prime Minister.
Who is responsible for this deficit? This Conservative government, this Minister of Finance, this Prime Minister.
It is the Conservative government that decided not to cut taxes in a way that would stimulate the economy and boost productivity. It is the Conservative government that became the highest spending government in Canadian history. The government earned that title in both 2007 and 2008. By the next fiscal year, the government is on track to have increased government spending by 25% from 2005-06. That is more than $40 billion in new spending every year. The government may be Conservative but it is certainly not fiscally conservative.
This government is ideologically very conservative, but it is certainly not conservative in its management of public finances.
The government has been imprudent to the point of eliminating the contingency reserve that acted as a buffer, thus helping to keep Canada out of deficit during challenging economic times.
The Prime Minister said repeatedly during the election that he anticipated an economic downturn. If he saw it coming, why did he spend the surplus? More important, if he saw it coming, why did he spend the contingency reserve?
The government made the decision to leave no buffer, no room to manoeuvre, to ensure that in an economic downturn the Government of Canada would spend more money than it was bringing in, to ensure that in an economic downturn Canada would be in deficit.
Last month, the Prime Minister said that he would never run a deficit and that talk of a deficit was ridiculous. It is actually the government that looks ridiculous today.
During the election, the government misled Canadians about the possibility of a deficit. Now, with this throne speech, the government is trying to mislead Canadians about the cause of a deficit. It is the government's responsibility. It is the government's record.
The official opposition has a strong caucus and we will continue to question the government about its choices and its record.
We will do everything we can to protect the jobs, the pensions and the savings of Canadians. We will do everything we can to ensure that discipline is once again a fundamental principle in the budget.
That is what we are asking of Canadians in these difficult economic times. And that is what the official opposition intends to offer.
The official opposition does not intend to use this occasion to bring the government down. However, we do want to offer some advice and test the government’s assurances of goodwill. To that end, using some of the Prime Minister’s own words spoken in the House of Commons on October 6, 2004, when he was the leader of the opposition in a minority government, I move:
That the motion now before the House be amended by changing the period to a comma, and adding the following:
and we urge Your Excellency’s advisors
to respect the results of the election in which more than 60 percent of voters supported members of Parliament in the opposition;
to bear in mind that people express their wishes as much through the opposition as through the government;
to recognize that Canadians rightfully expect the House of Commons they just elected to function in a less partisan, more constructive and collaborative manner, with the first responsibility for setting a better tone being that of the government which requires the government to be more forthcoming than it has been up to now;
to that end, given the crucial nature of the upcoming economic and fiscal update, to provide representatives of opposition parties with a detailed briefing by appropriate senior officials at least three hours in advance of the public presentation of the update, so all members of Parliament can be properly equipped to deal with the serious economic difficulties confronting Canadians.