Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
I do not know how many members of Parliament know how devastating it is to one day find out that they do not have a job, to wonder how to pay the heating bill or buy food for their families, to walk miles on the pavement looking for a job that does not exist, to think about having to move to a smaller home or low-rent apartment or perhaps go to the food bank. If that happened tonight, they should think of how devastating it would be. This was what was unfolding in November. Unfortunately, the government did not act on this crisis for Canadians.
The opposition parties got together and pushed back. In this wealthiest country in the world, we have to at least attempt to take action. Opposition parties should be proud of what they have achieved. The changes in the budget compared to the economic statement were like night and day. There are a lot of new initiatives and programs to assist a number of people in need. The Liberal leader put conditions on the assistance: it had to help the vulnerable, it had to create jobs for today and tomorrow, and it had to provide a plan to get rid of the deficit.
The NDP finance critic incorrectly suggested that there was nothing in those areas and a deeper analysis of the budget shows that not to be the case. For the vulnerable, of course, there was not everything asked for but there are EI changes. There are Canada child credit changes and improvements. There is improvement to the working income tax benefit. There are initiatives for seniors in tax, RRIFs and housing. There is housing for the disabled and money for youth. There are initiatives in forestry, manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries, the automotive sector, culture, infrastructure, home renovation, the community adjustment fund, as well as financing for business and small business tax credits.
One I fought very hard for was tourism. I am delighted there is money for tourism, which for years I have been lobbying for. I have also lobbied for the government to re-establish the GST rebate for individual tourists, which was not done. I know the industry wanted a previous promise kept to reduce the excise tax on aviation fuel by 2¢ and airport rents.
In the area of jobs for tomorrow, there is money under broadband, skills development, IRAP, infrastructure at colleges and universities, CFI and strategic training for people both on and not on EI. Of course, there was a plan to end the deficit by 2013, although there is a problem with some of the numbers.
Everyone can see we in the Liberal Party pushed hard and achieved a number of new initiatives and programs. The problem is that some of these initiatives look pretty good on the surface but are a mile wide and an inch deep. There are a number of areas where the help does not go far enough and could have gone farther.
As for the increase in seniors' exemption of $1,000, for instance, it gives them about 50¢ a day. Not much can be done with that. There is nothing for child care. There were suggestions on improving pay equity and with the record of the government that is a little worrying. There are strings attached to infrastructure. Some communities may not have matching funds, which could slow that going out. Of course, as has been mentioned numerous times, there were other suggestions for EI.
One might ask how we would fund these when we already have a huge $85 billion deficit going toward with the things I just outlined. Some of it could have been funded by the contingency fund at $3 billion and it was embarrassing that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance did not even know it existed. Between that and over $16 billion that the government went into deficit with before this crisis even occurred, there are $20 billion that could have been used for those initiatives had the government managed it well and kept the large surplus it inherited for emergency times.
People know I am normally very positive. I do not like to waste time on the negative items.
Why would the Liberal Party then put the government on probation to deliver these services and programs for the vulnerable and to protect jobs? The reason is because the government has a questionable history on delivering promises. Where are the three icebreakers? That was the government's very first promise to northerners. Where are the ice strengthened supply ships? Where are the planes for Yellowknife? What about the broken promise on income trusts?
Mayors have suggested that a large number of promises have been made with respect to infrastructure but the money has not flowed yet. Members can see why we want to make sure there is reporting on this plan so that these items can actually get delivered.
With respect to the north, I am happy that a number of the items that I lobbied hard for are in the budget. Tourism and mining are big in the north. The auto industry and the forestry sector are important also. I am glad these were added. I have talked about tourism already and the Arctic research centres.
The $90 million economic development fund, as I have stated, was running out and needed to be renewed. The formula kicks in with $185 million for transfer payments. There is $200 million for northern housing, small craft harbours for Pangnirtung and the Clyde River cultural facility, Northwest Territories harbours dredging and the Yellowknife Bypass Road.
To finish my time I want to comment on items that I have received from northerners who are concerned about different issues and have some suggestions to make.
One is from Jean-Paul in Whitehorse who wants a special program for the extra costs of providing wind energy in the north. Instead of that, the energy wind program was cancelled completely. People in that industry across the country are shocked.
Another issue is related to aboriginal housing in the north. If members look at page 105 of the budget there is $400 million for housing on reserves in the south. There is $200 million for northern housing but it is for all northerners; $50 million for my riding.
The minister from Calgary got into a lot of trouble in my riding when the money was not transferred directly to first nations but instead went through other governments. Now they want to know how much of that $50 million is for first nations governments. They are pretty upset again.
Brook and Dustin are worried that we will lose the vital protection of environmental assessments afforded to them under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. We will be watching that carefully for any changes and that should go under full review.
We had another suggestion for more investment in electoral reform.
The NWT Chamber of Commerce was happy with a number of initiatives like the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, the strategic investment fund, mineral exploration and the Arctic research facilities.
I had a letter from David Krutko, the MLA from Mackenzie Delta, who would like $40 million from the building Canada fund for the Peel River bridge. I am not sure how that fits into the total set of NWT priorities yet.
I have a letter from a senior in Teslin which states: “I would like to suggest that Canada might consider the possibility of restoring the seniors capital to pre-crisis level which would allow the senior to transfer his savings into a secure and insured account preventing further financial and lifestyle loss. I'm not sure how this can be accomplished. I'll leave that to the professionals. Hopefully our elected members in Ottawa will consider this suggestion and will be able to agree on a formula to correct this heartbreaking situation”. The letter is signed by B. Cooley.
Another issue which I am sure everyone in the House is onside with is the importance of inter-operability of equipment among our first responders, police and firemen and paramedics, to protect them and their victims. Public safety is doing a good job on this. Barack Obama and U.S. governors have it as a high priority. Mr. Obama spoke about it recently. One thing that would help with the good job that the government is doing is if radio infrastructure was eligible under the building Canada fund.
I had a letter from a gentleman named David but I am not sure if it was aimed specifically at the budget. He is a crane operator who has lost his job and is not eligible for EI because of some of the regulations that are in place. David is only one of thousands of Canadians who are in the heart-wrenching situation of wondering how they can care for their families, how they can live, how they can have shelter and clothing and not have to go to food banks or the Salvation Army, and not have to move.
I hope all of us in the House will work as hard as we can to implement as many things as we can considering we are the wealthiest nation on earth. We need to work together to help those Canadians in desperate need.