Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Malpeque.
I am pleased to take part in this very important budget debate. Over the break I had the opportunity to consult with my constituents of Don Valley East to discuss what they would like to see in the budget. They made it clear that a stimulus package must contain measures to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to secure the jobs that we already have, and to prepare Canadians for the economy of tomorrow. Small and medium size businesses wanted access to credit. Before I go into the details, I would like to review the events that led to this juncture.
Last November the Conservatives provided an economic and fiscal update that nearly led to the collapse of the federal government. By all accounts the speech delivered in the House by the finance minister on November 27 had been penned by partisan zealots in the Prime Minister's office with little or no consultation with officials in the Department of Finance. On hindsight it represented the greatest parliamentary boondoggle by a prime minister in Canadian political history. The government was then forced to withdraw its statement when a proposed coalition by the opposition parties nearly toppled the Conservatives. This process was only stopped by a last ditch effort by the Prime Minister when he shut down Parliament prematurely in order to regroup and buy precious time for the Conservatives.
It took this crisis for the Prime Minister to realize that in the midst of a recession it is highly inappropriate to play partisan games, especially at the expense of Canadians who are losing their jobs. In order to survive, the Conservative government has been forced to listen to the official opposition and produce an action plan for the Canadian economy.
In the economic statement of last November, the finance minister claimed that Canada would not be affected by the global economic downturn. He also claimed that Canada would not only avoid a deficit, but it would even generate a small surplus. Quite incredulous, it is not clear why the finance minister totally ignored the advice of his departmental officials or why he was completely oblivious to the signs that signalled both a recession and a potential for a deficit.
A mere eight weeks later, the Conservative government now admits that it is already $16 billion in the hole, well before any stimulus package is even contemplated. That is why the Liberals are demanding greater accountability and so are my constituents of Don Valley East.
The people in my riding made it clear that the budget must protect the vulnerable in our society. They want their pensions protected. They want seniors to enjoy their retirement without fear of the future. They want retraining for the jobs that they have recently lost and better access to employment insurance benefits. They do not want the federal government to sell off public assets to cover for poor fiscal management. It makes no sense to hold a fire sale of public assets and sell at the lowest possible price during a recession.
I know that it is not in the DNA of the Conservative government to invest in social housing, to expand both the working income tax benefit and child tax credit, or to take climate change seriously. However, I am pleased that after cross-country consultation by the new leader of the Liberal Party the government has finally conceded that a stimulus plan is urgently needed and has taken suggestions from the Liberals. This being said, Canadians are deeply disappointed by the economic performance of the government.
In 2006 the Liberal government handed over to the Conservatives a fiscally sound government and an unprecedented fiscal record: a $13 billion surplus; the lowest inflation rate; the lowest unemployment rate; and the best economic record of the G8. In less than three years and against the advice of nearly every economist in the country, the Conservatives embarked on a reckless and irresponsible spending spree. Now the Conservatives have announced that Canada will run a $64 billion deficit over two years. That is $77 billion in the hole.
What does this mean for ordinary Canadians and my constituents, who want to ensure that the jobs Canadians have are value-added jobs? If we translate $77 billion lost into value-added jobs lost, it is approximately 154,000 good jobs which are lost, jobs that pay well. Had the government been more prudent, it would have saved those 154,000 jobs. What would that have meant for the economy? It would have provided stimulus to the economy because the people in those jobs would be spending, contributing to the government coffers and avoiding bankruptcy.
To make matters worse, the Conservatives boasted that they paid $37 billion off the national debt, which currently stands at approximately $457 billion. Now the 2009 budget will wipe out that achievement. The current situation threatens to wipe out any progress of debt reduction achieved by the Liberals between 1998 and 2006. Servicing the national debt is the single largest federal expenditure. It eats up nearly a quarter of the federal expenditure and passes the burden along to future generations of Canadians.
Canadians demanded fiscal responsibility. That is why the Liberal Party is granting only conditional support for this budget. Some of my constituents are asking why the Liberal Party is choosing this path. The simple answer is that we just had a federal election only three months ago. I would rather that the $360 million it costs to hold a federal election be spent on retraining workers, investing in infrastructure or helping new Canadians gain recognition of their academic credentials. Canadians want to see their country succeed. They want the government to apply the same principles of good government that the Liberals gave Canada from 1993 to 2006.
We all remember it was the Liberal government that ended the Mulroney era of deficit financing which almost drove the country into the ground and led the IMF to call Canada an economic basket case. The Liberals inherited a $42 billion deficit in 1993 and successfully restored the country's finances by 1998.
We can succeed, but only if the Prime Minister can resist partisan impulses and concentrate on the economy, Canadians and jobs.
I would be pleased to answer any questions or comments.