Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Kings—Hants.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak during this prebudget debate. In the coming weeks we are expecting to see a budget from the government, a government that so far has let down Canadians across the country and has particularly let down the people of Manitoba and of Winnipeg.
Two years ago the government inherited a sound fiscal record left by the previous Liberal government, a government that worked for nearly 13 years to bring our country out of deficit, a deficit, I might add, that we inherited from the former Conservative government, a pattern not uncommon to Conservative governments.
It was a Liberal government that produced eight consecutive balanced budgets. Canada had the best fiscal record of all the G-7 economies when the Liberals left office.
Times were good when the government took office and now our fervent wish and top priority is that the Conservative government now stay out of deficit. As hard times are upon us, the fiscal cupboard is almost empty. We have seen a government that cares more about posturing and power, a government that politicizes the affairs of the country, a government that often misspeaks.
The government has introduced two budgets and an economic statement. We saw a spending spree when times were good, and I would say, irresponsible tax cuts aimed to attract the voter rather than sound fiscal management.
It also managed to cut in areas that would make us more productive, such as research and innovation, or in areas that were in desperate need, such as literacy and poverty.
I want to touch on a number of issues that are of concern to the people of Manitoba and those issues that aboriginal Canadians face today that must be addressed by the government in its upcoming budget. We see a trend from the government and its fiscal record, a trend that entails mismanagement, hypocrisy, vindictiveness, and as I said before, much misspeak. There is misspeak on lowering income taxes while in fact increasing them, misspeak on program formats while in fact the government cut funds and narrowed the criteria.
When the government decided to break its promise on income trusts, it destroyed $25 billion of Canadians' hard-earned savings. This was a direct hit to the pockets of every Canadian. The income trusts policy, I would say, was based on a false premise. The Conservatives have not been able to prove the notion that income trusts give rise to substantial tax leakage and tax unfairness. It is completely false. It has been discredited by many experts.
What there has not been enough public discussion on, and my colleague raised it earlier in question period, is how indeed this income trusts debacle is affecting both the CPP and other public and private pension programs. That is something that requires further study.
I also want to note that while holidaying far away, I was stopped on the street by a resident of my constituency, whom I do not know, who complained about income trusts and the horrendous impact it had on his family's finances.
It is also troubling to hear the Prime Minister and his finance minister say that the federal government has no role to play in urban communities. We know that last November the Federation of Canadian Municipalities came out with a report entitled, “Danger Ahead: The Coming Collapse of Canada's Municipal Infrastructure”. The report outlines a, what is said to be underestimated, $123 billion infrastructure deficit that Canadian municipalities now face. The report called for a national plan to eliminate this deficit and prepare the groundwork for effective management of our infrastructure.
The shell game the government is playing with infrastructure money is really an insult to Canadians. The reality is that Liberal programs are the backbone of that funding. The reality is that of the new money the government says it is putting forward, four programs are not accessible to municipalities.
The real Conservative building Canada fund is $8.8 million, and even that is suspect, and now may be as little as $1.3 billion over seven years. That is disgraceful and duplicitous.
In Manitoba we are anxious to know that funding for the floodway will come out of the old Liberal national strategic infrastructure program, not out of provincial allocations. Bridges, roads and water are very important to Manitobans.
The environment is a priority for everyone. We have an obligation to address this issue now and for the future.
Unfortunately, we are seeing no leadership from the members opposite. The Prime Minister was quoted in the Toronto Star in June 2004 as saying, “Carbon dioxide does not cause or contribute to smog, and the Kyoto treaty would do nothing to reduce or prevent smog”. Perhaps that is another misspeak.
The government claims it has taken action on the environment, but again it is empty rhetoric and an empty plan. We have a plan. I am not going to go into any details, but we know that the carbon budget would make a difference.
The government has restricted access to the home energy retrofit program for those who need it most. There is less money in the program, narrower criteria, and those who are poor cannot access it.
We hear it over and over again from every pulpit and every podium that children are our future. Well, the government must show it and invest in children and invest in post-secondary education.
The official opposition is committed to working with the provinces to bring forth an effective, high quality child care early learning program for families, something each and every child has a right to. We have not seen the promised 125,000 spaces. We have not seen the 32,000 spaces the minister says he has created.
In my riding of Winnipeg South Centre day cares have waiting lists of 300 children. Parents are forced to leave their employment. Many are not achieving their goals of further education because they do not have the necessary supports for their children.
On September 27, the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press read, “Tories say they made child care boo-boo”. It was a big boo-boo and Canadians are paying for it.
I recently visited the aboriginal head start program in Winnipeg where the evaluations are showing they are changing the realities and opportunities for academic success for children and their families who participate in the program. I urge the government to look at this seriously.
In terms of post-secondary education, money must be available to students and universities for the direct and indirect costs of research. The government must go further than it did in budget 2007. Yes, there was money for 4,000 graduate students, and I appreciate that, and I am sure they appreciate that as well, but what about the undergraduate students? What about the students struggling to make ends meet? What about those young Canadians who cannot even access post-secondary education?
The millennium scholarship fund must be renewed. Countless Manitoba students have had their debt load reduced through this program and it has enabled them to go on to further education.
I cannot stand here and not talk about aboriginal Canadians. Members opposite treated the Kelowna accord, which dealt with the issues of poverty, education, housing, health, governance on reserve and off, with what I would call disgusting disrespect for this initiative. For 18 months it was a consultative process and all parties came up with a solution. It is a priority if we are going to close the gap.
We have seen how the Conservative government operates: income trusts; investment tax deductibility; squandering of fiscal prudence; raised income taxes for the poorest versus a regressive GST cut that benefits the rich; a relief package for workers that does too little, too late; mounting job losses; a rising dollar; a struggling U.S. economy; and a number of our own key sectors in trouble.
Even the current finance minister has not excused himself with tremendous credibility on the financial management front. I speak not just of squandered fiscal prudence and income trust debacles, but the simple management of his own office and the disregard for his own government's guidelines.