Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this afternoon with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.
Before I came to the House, there was this notion that the Canadian House of Commons was described as Disney on the Rideau. I was never sure what occasioned the first use of that moniker, but I am certainly starting to understand why it has persisted. There is something fantastical about what happens in this place, unfortunately not in the sense that the deliberations here are fantastic but, rather, that often they appear based in fantasy. I feel like I am part of such a debate now.
Since last fall, when our country was first flung into the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, Canadians had been singularly focused on staving off threats to their jobs, pensions and savings. It was the economic crisis and the government's cavalier response to the fears of Canadians in its fall fiscal update that precipitated the political crisis of confidence and ultimately the constitutional crisis that shut down this place for two months.
Just when Canadians needed their government the most, the Prime Minister shut the doors on Parliament and effectively said that his need to protect his job was more important than the need to protect the jobs, pensions and savings of hard-working Canadians. How goofy is that? Disney on the Rideau, indeed.
It would be good to remind ourselves in the House that it is not all about us. On the contrary, it is not about us at all, or at least it should not be. We have the privileged opportunity to come to this chamber not to fight for ourselves but to fight for our constituents. In these uncertain economic times that means acting decisively to protect the vulnerable, to safeguard today's jobs and to create the jobs of tomorrow.
Naively, I thought that after two months of talking to our constituents we would come back here and offer them the hope, stability and real change that they so desperately want and need from us. Despite the rhetoric of having consulted, it is absolutely clear that this budget is still all about saving the Prime Minister's job and not about saving the jobs of hard-working Canadians.
Here is how one critic of the budget put it so eloquently:
Yesterday’s budget is a flawed document.
It doesn’t go far enough to protect Canadians who have lost—or will lose—their jobs.
It extends EI benefits but fails to extend EI eligibility.
It opens the door for attacks on pay equity for women. It does not seize on the wealth of opportunities in the green economy.
It breaks their promise to all provinces from only two years ago on equalization.
It attaches strings to infrastructure dollars that may delay projects and delay jobs.
It promises to sell government assets for cash, without saying which assets and for how much.
And it lacks a credible plan for getting us out of the $85-billion hole the government will dig us into over the next five years.
I could not agree more. The 2009 budget is deeply flawed. My constituents deserve better and I cannot support it. I assume that the MP who offered the scathing critique of the budget would join me in voting it down. But, wait, I almost forgot, this is Disney on the Rideau.
The member of Parliament who I quoted actually concludes by saying that he will support the budget. The member was none other than the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, the new leader of the Liberal Party. Fantastical, indeed.
I know it is foolish to even attempt to find reason in fantasy, but the only plausible reason for this leap in logic is that the Leader of the Opposition, like the Prime Minister, has given in to the temptation of making it all about him. Shamefully, he has made it about his job, about his opportunity to build his profile as the new leader, about his party's need to rebuild its finances instead of accepting what ought to be his sole responsibility, which is to make it all about the jobs and finances of Canadians.
If that is the criterion, this budget fails Canadians. It fails workers, it fails the unemployed, it fails the manufacturing sector, it fails cities, it fails the environment, it fails seniors, it fails women, it fails students and it fails the poor. On all counts, the budget should fail to get the confidence of the House.
Let us look at jobs first. Every senior economist in the country agrees that investments in public infrastructure are key to any strategy that is designed to provide economic stimulus. Don Drummond, senior vice-president and chief economist of the TD Bank Financial Group, was even more categorical. He said that cuts to the GST and income taxes were precisely the wrong way to go.
Instead, the government should have invested in a major stimulus package. That package needed to include accelerated existing infrastructure funding and substantial new investments, including municipal and interprovincial projects, such as transit, clean energy, water, corridors and gateways.
It needed to include housing construction and retrofitting. It needed to include investments in key sector strategies like manufacturing, auto and forestry, designed to create and save jobs, with any aid contingent on a plan to transform these industries and return them to profitability and sustainability. While some of these words are found in the 2009 federal budget, the rhetoric does not match real investments.
Investments in infrastructure are far too modest and have too many strings attached. As a result, the impact on job creation will be minimal. P3s persist. There is no link between public investments and a made in Canada procurement policy. The program expires at the end of 2010, long before the jobs crisis will be over. Almost nothing in the budget addresses our environmental and climate change goals.
In short, the budget fails to safeguard today's jobs and fails to create the jobs of tomorrow.
Let me just give a concrete example of how the structuring of the infrastructure funding impacts my home town of Hamilton.
I had the privilege of attending a meeting with elected officials from all levels of government about the progress being made on the remedial action plan to clean up our bay. Environment Canada has identified it as one of the areas of concern in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.
Our community has made great strides. Fish and wildlife goals are being met, public access has been greatly enhanced, and even the toxic contamination is being addressed through the Randle Reef sediment remediation project.
The last area requiring urgent action is related to water quality. The City of Hamilton urgently needs a new waste water treatment plan. The project is shovel ready. It could create up to 2,200 jobs locally and regionally. It is good for jobs, good for our city, and good for the environment.
But for Hamilton to access the infrastructure money announced in this budget, our city would need to match the federal government's funding. Our mayor has been clear. He said: “We don't have the money...I don't know how we'd find the money other than going back to the taxpayers, which I don't think is affordable either at this economic point in time”. He is absolutely right.
A budget that is purporting to want to help the middle class cannot ask that municipal projects be added to the property taxes of homeowners. The infrastructure funding has to be unconditional so that money can flow now for shovel ready projects. It is good for jobs, good for the local economy, good for our city, and in this case good for the environment. Yet it is not supported in this year's federal budget.
If the budget is not saving or creating jobs, does it at least protect those Canadians who are losing their jobs? In this economic downturn, hard-working Canadians were counting on EI reform to be the centrepiece of the budget. EI directly assists the victims of the recession and it is an effective form of economic stimulus because the unemployed will spend rather than save and support their local economies.
But again, the budget falls short of investing in what should be one of the most effective poverty prevention programs in this country. Yes, it added five weeks of eligibility to all claims but only for the next two years. If one is not eligible for EI in the first place, this change does not help at all.
The budget should have improved eligibility requirements, enhanced weekly benefits, and removed the unconscionable two week waiting period before unemployed workers can receive benefits. Rent and mortgage payments cannot wait two weeks, and those who have lost their jobs should not have to wait either.
Speaking of waiting, seniors by definition do not have a lifetime to wait for help from their government either. Those who had private retirement savings saw their investments hammered in October's stock market collapse. They do not have the opportunity to make up for those losses with future earnings.
The public pension system is not enough to allow any senior to make ends meet, and yet there were no improvements to old age security, no enhanced GIS, no strong action to shore up workplace pension plans. There is nothing to ensure that the very people who built this country would be able to live out their retirement with dignity and respect.
Furthermore, there are no new investments in health care, and in fact, nothing to enhance any public services at this critical time.
What about women? They are not even mentioned in this budget. There is not a single mention of women in the entire document and no funding for issues that directly affect them. There are no new child care spaces, no increased access to EI, and no reversal on the callous attack on pay equity that was included in the fall economic update. The much touted tax cuts in the budget will offer little or no benefit to the poorest 68% of women. This budget has failed women and their families.
I know my time is almost up, so let me just conclude by saying this to the government. As MPs we live financially privileged lives, but it is not about us. We should get rid of the broadbased tax cuts that give each of us $1,000 and give the money to those who have no paycheque at all. We should get rid of the tax credit that allows us to build decks on our cottages, and give the money to those who cannot afford a home at all. For God's sake, we should get rid of our preoccupation with our own jobs and focus on the jobs of Canadians. That is what we were sent here to do. We cannot fail our constituents just when they need us most.