Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the third reading debate on the budget implementation bill. I will divide my comments between the budget per se and the immigration provisions.
On the budget per se, our leader said at the time the budget was presented that this was not a very significant budget and it certainly was not worth going to the people in an election on such a minor budget. Most of the money had been spent in previous actions, but there were a number of items in the budget with which we took exception.
First of all, we had recommended that rather than pay down $10 billion in debt, the government pay down $3 billion in debt and devote $7 billion to an infrastructure fund. We were highly conscious of the fact that Canada faces an infrastructure deficit in excess of $100 billion. This would be an investment in the future not only for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren. As an important byproduct, it would have created many jobs across the country. Sadly, the government chose not to take this advice and this opportunity has now disappeared.
I also have some reservations about the EI enterprise. First of all, it is an exercise in bureaucracy. Experts have told me that to set EI premiums according to some formula, we do not need to set up some vast new enterprise which is a waste of taxpayers' money. It can be done in a much simpler and more expeditious way.
I am also concerned about the fact that the surplus in that new enterprise is only $2 billion, which will force the agency to increase EI premiums by a substantial amount just at the moment when the economy may be going into a recession. This is a counter-cyclical bad policy. As actuaries and others have said, there should be a larger surplus so that the EI account is balanced over the cycle rather than year by year.
Coming now to the immigration provisions, we on the Liberal side are strongly opposed to these provisions. First of all, the government is simply saying, “Trust us”. It does not tell us anything about what it is going to do. All of the power rests with the minister to do whatever she wants to do. The mantra of the government is, “Trust us”. Our view is that given the record of the government, there is no reason that any Canadian should trust the Conservative government to do anything, let alone make very important decisions on immigration.
One of the other concerns I have with the immigration provisions is that the government put virtually no more money into the immigration budget. Any serious attempt to deal with backlogs, waiting times and processing times is empty if there is not more money to hire more people to do the interviewing and the processing.
When the government effectively puts no more money in and it says that certain groups will be fast-tracked, that automatically implies, logically speaking, that some other groups will be slow-tracked. The Conservatives do not admit to that. They do not fess up to that point, which is fairly basic. In saying that they will fast-track the economic immigrants, they are implicitly, while not admitting it, saying that they will slow-track the family reunification immigrants.
We on this side acknowledge the importance of the labour shortages and the economic immigrants, but at the same time we believe in balance, which the government does not believe in. We do not think that fast-tracking of economic immigrants should be carried out on the backs of family reunification immigrants. In brief, I think what we are seeing is the commoditization of immigrants, that immigrants are seen not as people but as commodities by the Conservative government.
Therefore, we oppose these provisions. If we oppose them in large numbers, there may be an election. If we oppose them in small numbers, we are sending a message to the people of Canada that when a Liberal government is in power, we will replace these immigration provisions with a better policy which will certainly involve a certain amount of funding and which will certainly involve policies that address both family reunification immigrants and economic immigrants, and do not favour one group at the expense of the other.
The next issue I would like to address is the stewardship of our economy by the government. Not so long ago on May 12, the finance minister said, “The factors behind the current American malaise are not likely to be duplicated here”. Then he went on to describe how Canada was doing so terribly well compared with the United States that was doing so terribly bad. He talked about our financial institutions being strong. He talked about us not having a subprime mortgage crisis. He talked about us not having a housing slump. He probably mentioned the resource-based nature of our economy which is causing a boom in western Canada and other parts of the country.
How is it then that the most fundamental indicator of the health of the economy, the indicator that tells us whether we are in recession or not, that is to say the growth of the gross domestic product, that in the first quarter of this year Canada's GDP went down and the U.S. GDP went up? That shocked everyone because some people believed the finance minister that the Canadian land is strong and the U.S. land is weak. How come it went up and we went down?
Not only that but Canada had the weakest first quarter of this year of any G-7 country. These are facts. These are not government spin. So Canada had the weakest first quarter of 2008 of any G-7 country. We are technically half way into our first recession in some 15 years. Yet, the government blathers on about the land is strong and everything is fine.
We have the weakest first quarter of any G-7 country. Consumer confidence, it was reported yesterday, has plummeted to the lowest level in seven years and business confidence is weak. Only today 1,000 jobs were lost in Oshawa, thanks in terms of the General Motors plant. Maybe that will wake up the Minister of Finance because a lot of those people actually live in his riding.
What is the answer? Yes, the Minister of Finance is right, Canada has these advantages. We do not have a subprime mortgage crisis. We do not have a housing slump. We do have a strong resource sector. Then why is Canada doing so badly relative to the U.S. and other G-7 countries in the first quarter of 2008? I will give the House the answer. It is the bad stewardship of this economy carried out by the Minister of Finance.
First of all, he said that Ontario is the last place to invest. It seems this morning General Motors was listening. General Motors announced today that it will not be investing in Ontario. It is closing that plant. I think it is the height of irresponsibility. Whatever the differences in policy view between the federal government and the provincial government, it is the height of irresponsibility for any finance minister to trash the business climate of any province, let alone his own province, telling people that it is the last place to invest.
People are starting to listen. It is irresponsibility, irresponsible on his part, and he should retract that comment. He should apologize for that. He should say the truth which is that Ontario is a great place to invest, not the last place to invest which is what our Minister of Finance said.
He is ideologically rigid. We have hemorrhaging jobs in manufacturing. He is ideologically opposed to any government investment in or support for the manufacturing sector. We saw the consequences of that this morning. We will see many more consequences of that down the road. He is not in the pothole business, so he is not wanting to put money into infrastructure. We disagree with that.
We have hemorrhaging jobs in manufacturing. His laissez-faire policy, ideologically motivated, is not to provide any direct support for the manufacturing sector and we are seeing the consequences of that today.
Last but not least, the minister inherited a $13 billion surplus, the biggest inheritance in Canadian history and in just over two short years he has taken Canada to the verge of deficit. Some say we are in deficit. He spent like crazy during the two first years when times were good to the point where Andrew Coyne, hardly a Liberal hack, labelled him the biggest spender since Confederation. Having spent like crazy--