House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in debate on this year's budget.

I am afraid it is another budget that fails to offer very much for Nova Scotians or for Atlantic Canadians in general, for my region, and it fails to offer very much to Canadians who might be concerned about the economy.

We are watching what is happening in the U.S. We see the lowest consumer confidence levels in many years. We see financial institutions not matching the lowering of the interest rates by the federal reserve bank in the U.S. Therefore, there is a tightening of credit with banks. Financial institutions are less willing to lend. Consumers are less able to get access to credit to buy homes or to buy cars. We can expect less spending on a variety of things. We should be concerned about that in Canada. The U.S. is our biggest customer, so to speak. It is our biggest market by far and the vast majority of our goods, our exports are sold to the United States.

Canadians are concerned about that, but they see so little in this budget that deals with it, largely because of the situation in which the actions of the past two years have left the government.

There is very little in the budget. It fails to offer very much for Canadians who are concerned about the environment and in so many other areas, as many other members have spoken of today.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald describes the 2008 budget as the most remarkable for the being the least memorable. It is a rather unremarkable budget in that regard. It has very little good news for our region. It is no wonder, given how much the government has squandered in the last two budgets.

At least this year's budget is a little better than the previous two, considering how bad they were. In 2006 the government destroyed the national child care program because it did not fit the right wing ideology of the Conservatives. It was the same thing in relation to the EnerGuide program, which they then resurrected under a new name, but it was a feeble imitation of it.

We see over and over again where the Conservatives do not like a program because it was started by the Liberal government. They may somehow recognize that there was validity to it and that it had benefits because they then come back with something similar, some shadow of that program afterwards, like they did with EnerGuide, as they have done now in relation to the millennium scholarship program. However, they are so ideologically driven that they cannot seem to accept that if it was done by a Liberal government, that it could be any good. That is entirely unreasonable.

In the 2007 budget things got much worse for Nova Scotia. I mentioned the 2006 budget, which was bad. The 2007 budget was considerably worse. In that budget, as Nova Scotians know, the Prime Minister betrayed Nova Scotians and he refused to honour his word to live up to the Atlantic accord, to fulfill the Atlantic accord. He killed it, as members well know.

Let us look at this year's budget, which I can only call lacklustre. Again we the anti-Atlantic bias of the government. Nova Scotia's Finance Minister Michael Baker, who is a Progressive Conservative, told reporters last week that he was relieved the federal budget did not appear to hurt the province the way last year's budget did. Imagine that coming from supposedly a fellow Conservative. Although in this case, as many Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia point out, they are Progressive Conservatives, not the same party as the government across the way.

We have heard from Danny Williams in Newfoundland. He makes the same point very clearly. He talks about the kinds of negative things the government has done for our country, for our social programs, et cetera.

Mr. Baker was relieved that this budget did not hurt the province as much as last year's did. However, he did note that it was not much help either. The budget is not doing very much to assist Nova Scotia, and he is concerned about that. Because of the situation the government has left itself in, he is concerned it is not doing very much to get the economy going at a time when we are likely to have possible slowdowns.

Many commentators pointed out, including the Halifax Chronicle Herald Steve Maher among others, that the regional development agency, ACOA, was not even mentioned in the budget. I suppose that is what we get when we have a part time minister for ACOA. The Prime Minister did not think that ACOA was important enough to have one minister whose attention would be focused on that job. I am sad to say that this says a lot about the Prime Minister and the government.

The news gets worse for ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, because there are also reports that ACOA will get less funding. The reports are based on the government's own spending estimates. The main estimates for 2008-09 show that ACOA's budget will be down 25% compared to the last Liberal budget.

Conservative spin doctors are already trying to explain away these cuts and to shift the blame away from themselves. If the government would invest as much in regional development as it does in its spin doctors and spin control, the region would be a lot better off.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

And polling.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

And polling, as my hon. colleague from Malpeque said.

Many people in Halifax West and other Nova Scotia ridings tell me that they have a deep fear that things are going to get a lot worse because of the ideological bent of the government. That is one of the reasons they are certainly determined that the Conservatives not get a majority. We hear that a lot.

Many Nova Scotians get upset when they read headlines about the Conservatives betraying war widows, for example, or when they read editorials which describe this as a pothole budget. Of course, they are referring to the finance minister's raid on current and future surpluses to cut the GST. People are appalled when they read about the pork-barrel express, this railroad announcement that got thrown in apparently at the last moment. His own department could not even explain it or give details of it, but it benefits his riding. That is disappointing.

Last year we had a similar situation when there was a company next door to his riding that benefited from a particular measure in the budget, I understand. It is disturbing to see that kind of thing two years in a row. It seems to be part of a pattern.

In fact, I believe that media reports this morning noted that after three Conservative government budgets, the Government of Canada has effectively been made much less capable of offering new social programs or meaningful tax cuts for the foreseeable future. Who was saying that? The Prime Minister's pal and mentor, Tom Flanagan. His own Conservative right-wing guru is admitting this. It is remarkable.

The finance minister is already trying to cover himself for the reckless, drunken sailor kinds of spending that they have done over the past few years, and he is already warning Canadians to be prepared for a slowing economy in the next two years and rising unemployment. It reminds me of Kim Campbell in the 1993 election, who was talking about no new jobs until 2000, that for seven years there would be no new jobs. He is already trying to say, “It is not really our fault, but the economy is going to get bad. The fact that we have already reduced our ability to deal with that is too bad”.

It is too bad that he did not consider the possibility of a slowdown, of economic problems in this country, of the effect of the rising dollar on our manufacturing sector, particularly the automobile sector, when he made these decisions to squander the tremendous surpluses that he inherited. The government was left in the best situation of any government coming into office in this country's history. It registered a $13 billion surplus after only a month and a half in office, at the end of March 2006, and here it is two years later on the knife's edge in relation to a possible deficit.

Clearly, if there is a real slowdown in this country, we could be in a situation where we have a deficit again, something that Canadians certainly do not want. Perhaps the Conservatives do not understand what it was like in the mid-1990s, what the process was like and the sacrifices that Canadians made, the tough decisions that the Liberal government of the day made to get our finances back in order, to strengthen our situation fiscally so that our economy could get going and produce the kinds of jobs that it did produce, in fact, two million jobs by the year 2000, contrary completely to what Kim Campbell was talking about.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of my colleague from Nova Scotia, in particular his reference to ACOA's budget. What he stated is, of course, patently false.

He would know as a member of the previous government that it was under his administration in 2005 that 30% of the ACOA budget was actually cut. That has been the only time in recent history when the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has undergone cuts of that nature. In fact, those cuts are still being felt by the department that I now lead.

Our budget has remained constant. The Conservative government has kept ACOA fully funded. What has happened in fact is that some of the responsibilities that were once under the ACOA budget have been transferred to the Department of Transport. That may account for some of the things that he is referring to.

As far as actually removing money from the budget, he would have to admit, and one only has to look at the Treasury Board to know, that what he has said is completely false, untrue and inflammatory. In fact, what he is trying to do is cast aspersions over the strong fiscal record of the Conservative government.

I only have to point to the $38 billion deficit that was inherited by the Conservative government in 1984 upon coming into office, which was ratcheted and racked up under the government of Pierre Trudeau, one of the member's great heroes, I am sure.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

My goodness, we are back in 1984?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, we could go back to John A. Macdonald and talk about the great railroad scandal, or we could talk about the sponsorship scandal, which is a more recent vintage. The sponsorship scandal and the $40 million still unaccounted for in that particular sad epic is something he might want to reference in his response, but we will just leave it at that.

We can talk about ACOA for the time being and the fact that it was his government that took 30% out of that agency during the Liberals' time in office.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see the hon. Minister of National Defence taking part in this debate, but I think he should check his facts.

I think it is reasonable to rely on the estimates. The estimates clearly show a reduction under the Conservatives in the budget of ACOA. I know he is anxious to defend it and does not want to take responsibility for it. Perhaps he was too busy when he was foreign affairs minister travelling the world and visiting Condoleezza Rice.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

I am too busy cleaning up the messes from your party.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I know he does not want to heckle and wants to listen to what I have to say but it is amazing that he wants to talk about the--

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

We are looking for that sponsorship money.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I know he does not like the idea of heckling and I am sure he will settle down.

When he talks about the strong fiscal record of his government, surely he knows what has happened over the past few years. When we look at the fact that the second year from now this budget projects a surplus of only $1.3 billion, he knows full well that in fiscal terms that is running on a knife's edge. That is highly irresponsible and he knows it.

He wants to go back to 1984; he wants to go back to Sir John A.; he wants to talk about ancient history when he knows full well that in 1993 the Conservative government left a $42 billion deficit that had to be cleaned up by the Liberal Party. He knows we did the job and Canadians made sacrifices, but now the Conservatives have squandered the strong fiscal situation that they inherited, and they have put our country in jeopardy. That is the truth.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2008 / 5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, far be it from me to interfere in any way with this spat the Liberal-Conservative alliance is having over the budget numbers, but I have to say that while it was disappointing there was no reference to ACOA in the budget address, it was even more disappointing and far more significant when one saw the estimates that were tabled on Thursday. It was very clear. The member for Halifax West is right in saying that the $38 million has been removed from the budget and there is not a single reference to it being transferred somewhere else. We are talking about the ACOA budget.

I wonder if the member could indicate, please, whether he has been able to get any further information that would explain away the $38 million reduction that is clearly shown in the estimates for ACOA for next year.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Halifax West has the floor for 20 seconds. The rule of thumb for the next 20 seconds will be that he is the only one I want to hear.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

I appreciate that very much, Mr. Speaker, although I am sure members have their thoughts and we will hear them.

Since I now have less than 20 seconds, I can answer very briefly. The answer is no, unfortunately, we have not been able to find any other explanation for this than the fact that the estimates show this reduction.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to participate in the budget debate.

I want to split my time with the hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

I would like to talk about something that is absent in the budget and that is any action on housing and homelessness. I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will not rule me out of order for addressing something that is clearly not in the budget. I plan on speaking on the problems with this budget and I see this as one of the fundamental problems with the budget.

We have a crisis in housing and homelessness in Canada. It is not just me or New Democrats who say that. Last fall the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari, visited Canada and met with people across Canada in many communities. In his preliminary findings he said the following:

Everywhere that I visited in Canada, I met people who are homeless and living in inadequate and insecure housing conditions. On this mission I heard of hundreds of people who have died as a direct result of Canada's nation wide housing crisis.

In its most recent periodic review of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations used strong language to label housing, homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency:

Everything I witnessed on this mission confirms the deep and devastating impact of this national crisis on the lives of women, youth, children and men.

He went on to say:

Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, which makes the prevalence of this crisis all the more striking.

That is not a New Democrat speaking. That is a United Nations representative who was here in Canada doing a report on the housing crisis, and that is his term, “housing crisis”.

That same analysis has been echoed by report after report here at home and by community after community. In fact on my desk in my office I have a stack of reports, which is now at least a foot high, that have been issued in the last five months on housing in Canada. All of them report on the crisis that exists here in Canada.

Those reports are from organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the big city mayors, women's organizations in the three northern territories, the Citywide Housing Coalition in Vancouver, the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, and many other organizations in almost every community across the country. They all recognize that there is a crisis and that it is not being addressed. They all recognize that the federal government has a role to play in finding the solution to that crisis.

The Canadian cooperative housing association said today that four million Canadians live in inadequate, unaffordable, insecure housing, or are without housing. That number is phenomenal, but represents the extent of the crisis we are facing.

Yet we have a budget that does nothing to address this kind of crisis. Absolutely nothing in the budget will alleviate these conditions or ensure that something is done to address the crisis.

I should clarify that there is one measure in the budget and we hear it constantly from the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. He points out that there is $110 million for the Canadian Mental Health Commission to do five pilot projects in Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton to deal with mental health issues.

We know that some of these are likely to deal with mental health and housing issues, but not all of them. There is some money for pilot projects, but we do not need more studies. We do not need more pilot projects. I am not saying that these pilot projects are not important, but when it comes to housing, what we need is a program that actually builds homes for people in need in Canada, not another study and not another pilot project.

In this budget what do we get? We get this pilot project money, but we do not get a national housing program. There is nothing here to establish ongoing funding that would address this crisis in Canada.

We do not even get a commitment to renew some of the current programs that exist for housing in Canada. There is no commitment to renew the residential rehabilitation assistance program, RRAP.

There is nothing to indicate a renewal of the homelessness partnership strategy which is a key program we had to fight tooth and nail for earlier in Parliament. The member for London—Fanshawe led organizations all across Canada to push the Conservatives to finally commit to do something for homelessness, when they were not about to renew the former SCPI program and they finally relented and renewed this program.

There is nothing in this budget that would renew the affordable housing program. Those three programs all expire in fiscal year 2008. When doing a budget that looks forward, one would think that if it were intended to renew these programs, it would have appeared in this budget, to ensure that the organizations that depend on this and the people who depend on these programs could do some planning around what was available in the future.

We are going to be back in the same position of having to fight tooth and nail to see these programs restored or to see the commitment continued, like we had to last time. Organizations are not going to be able to do the kind of planning they need to do. People working in this area are going to be in danger of losing their jobs and people who are homeless will not know if there is something coming down the pike to ensure they have a place to live.

There is that commitment. It should have been there. There is no program in this budget that actually will build homes for Canadians. That is a huge failing of the budget. Earlier, a Liberal member said there was nothing offensive about this budget. The fact that this national housing crisis is ignored in the budget is absolutely offensive. That Liberals can vote for or ignore a budget like this when it contains an offensive provision like this is outrageous.

Why is it outrageous? Why is it so offensive? Because we have so-called surpluses. I think it is a bit of a misnomer to talk about a surplus when we have the kind of housing deficit we have in Canada, when we have thousands and thousands of Canadians who are without homes to live in. How can we talk about a government surplus of money over programming when that kind of deficit exists?

How can we even consider giving further corporate tax cuts of $14.6 billion in the last little while from the government alone? There are commitments for corporate tax cuts that extend years into the future. It would be so nice if we could commit to a national housing program that extends years in the future, but we cannot even make a commitment beyond this fiscal year. That is absolutely outrageous.

Why we can do it for corporate tax cuts and not for a national housing program is absolutely beyond me. I think it basically comes down to a lack of political will. We can do it. We can say that the military gets increased funding and has long term funding for years, for the same reason, which is so military planning can happen. If we can do it for military planning and military spending, we should be able to do it for our housing spending to address this housing and homelessness crisis in Canada.

It is unbelievable that the government could brag about reducing the fiscal capacity of government by $200 billion over the next five years when the kinds of needs represented by homelessness exist in Canada. We know that the health and security of Canadians are at risk when they are homeless. There is absolutely no excuse for gutting the fiscal capacity of government when that kind of need exists in this country.

How the Liberals can support this is absolutely beyond me, but it is no wonder since back in the 1990s they were the people who cut the last national housing program that existed in Canada, a program that came about in the 1970s when the NDP was in a balance of power situation with a Liberal minority. We managed to impose that national program on unwilling Liberals at that time. I guess it is no wonder that the Liberals can deal away a national housing program or any concern about the homeless in Canada in this budget.

The Liberals also gutted CMHC. It was one of the most creative housing agencies in the world years ago. It has been absolutely gutted. The Liberals commercialized its mandate, saying that CMHC should worry more about mortgage insurance than it should about housing development. It has done that and it has done it in spades. It makes billions of dollars every year, but none of it goes back into housing development.

The NDP has a plan. We believe that a national housing program has to be long term. We have called for a 10 year national housing program that would actually build homes in Canada. We have talked about 200,000 new and affordable social housing units. We have talked about renovating another 100,000 existing affordable units and also 40,000 rent subsidies.

We have put forward a national housing bill of rights that would establish the right to housing for all Canadians. To ensure that right is put forward and enacted, we have put in a mechanism for coming up with that kind of national program. We believe that is fundamental. It is one reason why we are voting against this budget.

We also believe that we have the capacity in Canada to address the homelessness crisis. We will not let Conservatives or Liberals tell us that it cannot be done.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Burnaby--Douglas for sharing his time. I am most eager to participate in this budget debate on behalf of my constituents in London--Fanshawe.

I thought I would take a slightly different approach. Instead of just listing the sins and misguided budget decisions of the present and previous governments, and there are many, I want to offer some solutions, because these misguided decisions are hurting our communities.

I am speaking of decisions like no funding for affordable housing despite the homelessness crisis, a sham of a child care policy, and the absence of adequate funding for students and families caught in the trap of unmanageable student debt. There are no programs to end violence against women and children, and no concern for the struggles facing first nations, just a re-announcement of previous funding promises.

There is no long term support for cities and infrastructure in this budget despite our $153 billion infrastructure deficit. This budget offers a one-time $500 million, enough for one bridge somewhere, and a privatization scheme that will take infrastructure out of the control of the public.

There is nothing in this budget that effectively addresses the needs of farmers and farm families. I was speaking to farm activists just this past month at the Covent Garden Market. They are the people who feed our communities with safe, quality products. They are losing their farms. They are angry with the Conservative government and tired of the empty excuses they have heard year after year. They requested that I pass that message along.

There has also been a failure to put forward an anti-poverty strategy and no real even remotely adequate plan to address the manufacturing crisis and job losses. In London alone, 5,000 families have been affected by job loss. What will the government and the finance minister say to these families? Tepid recycled ideas and pocket change offer no hope.

There is nothing for veterans or seniors in this budget, just a contemptuous announcement on the veterans independence program that disqualifies 70% of veterans' widows. To add to the offensiveness of this treatment is the job opportunity the Minister of Finance has provided to seniors. They can forget about retirement. They can keep on working in those years when they have earned their rest, working because they cannot afford to retire.

I must also mention a glaring omission in budget 2008. Women are relegated to a very brief paragraph. We did not even make the index. As members know, women have been losing ground in their fight for equality. Programs have been cut and funding denied. The Conservative government continues to ignore the importance of funding women's equality. Status of Women, which is seriously underfunded, was not given any additional money, and funding to most equality-seeking groups is still prohibited.

In budget after budget, women have been waiting for measures to advance their equality. Women in Canada are still not safe in their homes or in public places. One in four Canadian women is a victim of sexual violence. Women still only earn 70% of what men make. Poverty is the reality for single, widowed or divorced women over 65 and more than 40% of unattached women under 65. This budget does not address their needs.

In short, all we have seen is a number of misguided budget policies that desperately need remedy. However, instead of just focusing exclusively on what has been done to Canadians, I would like to suggest a number of strategies the government could employ that would actually make a positive difference in the life of every person in this country, every man, woman and child who has the right to expect good leadership, economic fairness and security from government.

The unvarnished truth is that only a small and select group benefits from the policies we see entrenched in the budgets of former and current governments that are presented in the House. That select group is, of course, the banking and oil producing sector of the economy, the big banks and the big polluters.

I have a remedy for the government's unbalanced approach to the economy, because balance is what is needed if we are ever to address the needs of our communities and do the work that will secure the jobs, which in turn will secure the future of our families.

We know that the tax policies of the Conservatives are essentially the same as those of the Liberals, but I believe they can change. It is, after all, a new year, a time of hope and resolve to do better. New beginnings are possible. Surely it must be possible for the Conservatives to experience an epiphany, a conversion, and abandon this horrific budget and start afresh with a document that would truly serve Canadians.

One thing I would like to suggest is genuine investment in our cities, the engines of our economy. As we know, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has issued a warning to the government. It is essentially the same warning issued to the previous Liberal government: there is a serious infrastructure deficit in Canada that will precipitate the collapse of Canada's municipal infrastructure.

It is a crisis, but there are remedies and the FCM has done the hard work to investigate and bring forward remedies. It presented a workable plan to the government to address the $123 billion infrastructure deficit. Of course, it is essential to use some of the federal surplus to reinvest in our cities instead of in corporate tax cuts to big banks and big polluters.

As members may recall, in my city of London there was a serious water main break in November of last year, which caused businesses to suffer a power outage, lost wages and a huge million-dollar cleanup, all financed by municipal taxpayers. Since the November break, there have been four more serious water main breaches. This is unacceptable, particularly when the FCM has shared practical solutions with government.

What the FCM does not need are one-time, inadequate offerings like what has been proposed for Vancouver, Montreal and Peterborough. Measures such as sharing an additional one cent of the gas tax would certainly facilitate a real solution.

Also missing from this budget and previous budgets is help for women and their families. We have heard in the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that the tax measures of the government do not help lower- and middle-income families. Non-refundable tax credits are of absolutely no value to families without a taxable income.

Single parents, both male and female, have disproportionately low incomes and are left out of the so-called tax largesse of this government. People with disabilities, older Canadians and impoverished veterans are all overlooked by inaccessible tax credits. In fact, the only groups to truly benefit from budget 2008 are profitable corporations and the top one-fifth of high income earners.

If this government truly wished to make a difference for Canadians, it would address the job crisis. In Ontario, working families are struggling in the grip of a manufacturing jobs crisis. Between November 2002 and now, Canada lost more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs. In London, we lost good jobs at Siemens, Beta Brands, Vytek and in the auto sector. The pitiful efforts in this budget will not help them.

Manufacturing jobs pay 28% higher wages than the average and come with decent pension and benefit packages. Working families are losing livelihoods and the government has no real long term strategies for the automotive or manufacturing sector, no long term R and D or skills training strategy, and no blueprint to seize the massive opportunities of the 21st century green economy.

Laid-off workers lucky enough to find another job suffer an average decline of 25% in annual earnings. That is $10,000 each year and it is devastating. All the tax cuts to big oil and big banks will not help the workers at Siemens, Vytek or Beta Brands or their families.

New Democrats know it is essential to take a different approach and build on the initiatives we have put forward in this House, such as: eliminating ATM fees; extending veterans' benefits through our veterans first motion; adopting the NDP seniors charter; bringing forward a national prescription drug benefit program; reinstating the federal minimum wage at $10 an hour; reducing credit card interest rates; adopting the solutions in our fairness for women action plan; passing the NDP leader's environmental bill; passing our post-secondary education act to reduce tuition fees and provide new and stable federal funding for needs based grants for college and university students; and passing our child care act.

Farm families, first nations, seniors, cities, the environment, veterans, students, young families, workers, the disabled and victims of violence all should have been included in this budget. Sadly, they have been abandoned.

The FCM, civil society, community organizations, my NDP colleagues and I have offered some workable solutions. The NDP has many more real solutions to move this country ahead. It is time for these solutions. It is time.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be quick because I want to make a point of clarification. Obviously the member is ignoring the fact that, under the building Canada fund program, this Conservative government has put about $33 billion into fixing the infrastructure of this country. I am not going to apologize for the previous Liberal government's 13 years of doing nothing, but the member who just spoke should know that this is the largest infrastructure investment in the history of this country. As well, the gas tax now has been extended forever to the municipalities.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how many times 33 divides into 153, but I would say that it is very clear, by the government's own admission, that it is simply not enough. Falling back on the excuse that previous governments neglected infrastructure is not cutting it either.

Municipalities all across this nation have made it very clear. We are facing the collapse of our infrastructure. They need $153 billion now. If it is not invested now, this is going to escalate in the future. The government has done very little to help. It is abandoning its obligations to towns, cities and communities across Canada.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for London—Fanshawe for her comments, especially on the issue of women's equality. I would like her to elaborate on what she sees as the shortfalls on these issues of research and advocacy for women's equality.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, what the government has done for women across the country is absolutely despicable and unacceptable. Status of Women Canada used to fund research advocacy and lobbying on behalf of women across the nation. Those groups could bring forward the information that government needed in order to have policy. They could advocate on behalf of those who could not advocate for themselves, such as disabled women, low income women and aboriginal women. All of that has been cut. Where on earth will the get the information they need for decent policy decisions?

Very clearly, there is no decent policy from the government.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke of municipalities. I would like to point out that the budget specifically makes the gas tax transfer for cities permanent. That was a great measure that was in the budget.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

It was a great Liberal measure.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Yes, the members opposite are clapping for the government, Mr. Speaker.

The member opposite was a member of the Ontario government that suffered from the downloading cuts of the previous federal Liberal government and she knows that the municipal deficit was created by federal Liberal cuts right here in Ottawa.

I want to make one thing clear for the member. The budget has a very clear benefit for her riding. Electro-Motive is a manufacturer of locomotives and it builds new, green technology locomotives. There is a new capital cost allowance that will specifically benefit Electro-Motive in her riding.

I would like her to stand up and say that she will vote against a budget that specifically benefits unionized workers in her riding. I think that is shameful.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to answer the question because I was, indeed, a member in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. The cuts that crippled Ontario began with the Conservative government of Mr. Mulroney and they continued under the Liberal government.

Those cuts to transfers caused an horrific kind of downloading that the people of Ontario simply could not tolerate. In one short period the cost of just the EI cuts caused the welfare budget to go from $1 billion a year to $6 billion a year.

We are talking about a number of issues. The member for Peterborough has forgotten that the infrastructure money that has been promised is not adequate. The number we are working with here is $153 billion.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Medicine Hat.

It is great that in this 39th Parliament we have brought forward our third budget, led by a minister who is doing a great job in finance. It was a privilege for me to serve as the chair of the finance committee and deal very closely with the budget. The committee had an opportunity to impact the budget in a significant way. I would now like to discuss that.

I want to say how pleased I am to see so many of the opposition members who have indicated that they will support this budget. That shows the confidence that they have, not only in the minister but in our Prime Minister and this government.

I want to talk about the prebudget consultations which originated under Standing Order 83.1. This allows the finance committee to go across Canada to talk with ordinary Canadians and ask them for their input on what they see as proper things to put in a budget. We listened closely to over 400 different organizations and individuals. At least 200 organizations and individuals gave presentations directly to the committee as it travelled from coast to coast to coast and we listened to their concerns.

We were pressured this year because of the prorogation of the House and therefore we had to accelerate the timelines somewhat. The timetable was intense but we were able to hear the 200 witnesses. Some people have said that we simply went through the motions and that the finance minister was not listening. They know that recommendations were made but they wonder whether the finance minister heard them.

I would like the House to understand exactly what the minister did hear and what he recommended. The committee members were not always unanimous in our recommendations but we did try to lower the political temperature in the committee so that the committee could come forward with issues that were important to Canadians.

Of the 37 recommendations that the committee put forward to the House, we see 22 of them in the budget that were actually fulfilled. That is a very good count. It shows the importance that the minister places in the work that is being done at the committee stage on behalf of all Canadians.

I want to talk about some of the specific recommendations, such as the accelerated capital cost allowance for manufacturers, understanding the pressures they are under and the opportunity they now have to compete in our increasingly competitive global atmosphere. This is a recommendation that the committee unanimously recommended wholeheartedly and it is great to see it in the budget.

We heard a lot of talk about the millennium scholarship fund coming to an end and many people have asked the government what it would do with it. I have had students in my office telling me that they had some serious problems with the millennium scholarship fund because it was not actually delivering where it should.

The committee recommended that fund be changed and increased by $350 million, which is exactly what happened in the budget. The new program will increase the amount of money that 245,000 students will receive and that amount will escalate to $430 million by 2012.

The committee studied recommendations for seniors and their opportunities in this budget. Most people understand that some of our seniors are having a difficult time with inflation. We believe that seniors should have the opportunity to stay in their own homes. Seniors are asking what the government is doing to assist them.

Seniors from across Canada made presentations to the committee and said that they wanted to be able to participate in the workplace but that they did not want their GIS to be clawed back. They said that there should be no negative incentive. The budget addresses that issue by increasing the amount earned from $500 to $3,500 before there is any clawback in GIS.

Those are good news stories from the lower end, the beginning of the workplace, from students right to our seniors.

What is the government doing with the people in-between? The budget contains some significant things concerning our loan programs and giving our citizens the opportunity to look after themselves and save for future years.

I also want to impress upon this House how pleased I am with one of the committee's unanimous recommendations, which is on the road to excellence of the Canadian Olympic committee. We wanted to ensure that was in the budget so we, as Canadians, would have the opportunity to show ourselves as the best in the world. Our Olympics do a tremendous job for this country. The Olympic committee presented, very forcefully and very effectively at the committee, and hats off to it.

I want to quote what one past Olympian had to say about our budget. He said, “Our Canadian athletes are striving to be among the world's best, and these funds will definitely bolster their quest for excellence.

It is great to see that happening.

When we have heard so much about this budget being so partisan, so idealistic and so very right wing in its focus, it is amazing to hear the Premier of the Province of Manitoba, Mr. Gary Doer, a New Democrat, which I see as an extreme left position, saying how impressed he is. In fact, he said, “We're pleased that the capital depreciation for manufacturing equipment has been extended a year. That's an advantage that our manufacturers will have in the future”.

It is really good news when we see those kinds of things come forward.

When I go home to my riding and speak to individuals, one of the things they are most proud of in this budget, and which I am most proud of, is the tax-free savings account which gives a couple the opportunity to put up to $10,000 into a savings account that can grow tax free. Over a period of years, that will be significant.

I do not think many Canadians realize this but, according to the OECD countries, Canadians' household savings rate has dropped from 13% in 1992 to 2.5% just 15 years later, as of 2007 statistics. We have had a significant decrease in the amount of savings that each household has, which puts us in a position where, if there were a downturn in the economy, our ordinary citizens could potentially get themselves into some serious trouble. We are seeing enough trouble with our largest trading partner, the United States, and what is happening south of the border. This savings account will certainly give an opportunity for the people of Canada to do a much better job saving money.

I have many forestry and manufacturing communities in my riding. In fact, I do not think there is a community in my riding that is not impacted by the forest sector. Those communities are going through a terribly difficult time. It is sort of the perfect storm in forestry and manufacturing but it is great to see what we have done in this budget with regard to that. The perfect storm is the slow down in the demand for their products south of the border and also the rise of our Canadian dollar against the American dollar which puts them at a real disadvantage because it has moved so fast in such a short period of time.

We also know that the mountain pine beetle has a significant impact on the forest sector, particularly in my riding.

The perfect storm has come and it has rested on this industry. It is great to see that we put, in this budget and prior to this budget, $1 billion in a community trust fund to help those communities. The Alberta portion of that will be over $100 million in that trust. It is great to see not only that fund there to support the industry, but also the accelerated capital cost allowance.