Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-51, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and to implement other measures.
I took the opportunity to attend the briefing session provided by the finance officials. There were a number of people there. I found it very interesting and found myself put at somewhat of a disadvantage. As we walked in the door we were given a copy of the draft bill, which is the bill now before us, to see it for the first time. There were no other briefing notes. There were no other documents that would explain why changes were being made. It was not about the precise words, but it was to indicate to the members the reason why this is being made.
Very often, the Library of Parliament will prepare briefing notes for members so that they can fully participate in debate from knowledge rather than from ignorance. I think it is very important. When we get important bills and initiatives from any government, accountability requires that it must explain or justify its words, actions or decisions in a manner that is true, full and plain.
That accountability has to not only happen after the government has done something but before it has done it and when it anticipates it should be done. People need to be informed about where a government is going and why. They need to be given an opportunity to prepare themselves. Members need to prepare in a reasonable fashion for debate in order to understand the nuances. Legislation is complex. This is basically an omnibus bill because it touches so many different acts.
With regard to this budget implementation act, in addition to the various credits and amendments in terms of the Income Tax Act, we also have changes to the Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act, the Broadcasting Act, the Canada pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act, the Canada–Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act, the Customs Tariff, the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Superannuation Act, and the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.
If members were expected to somehow comment on this bill, it would be extremely difficult in the little time that is allocated to individual members to make reasonable contributions to the whole act. One will notice that a number of the members take aspects of the act that they are somewhat familiar with and have something specific that they would like to provide input on.
It may be with regard to the home renovation tax credit or the Canada pension plan. I know that hon. members have received a lot of input on that. I think that most people would concede that allowing Canadians the opportunity to invest in their homes is a good thing because it does create jobs. That kind of improvement is a good thing to happen.
However, as I followed the debate, there seemed to be a big question about relevance and whether or not talking about the broader picture was relevant to the debate and in fact in order. I submit that this budget implementation act is pursuant to a budget. The budget is the government's vision, outlook and proposals to address the condition of the country.
We know that we are in a recession. We know that unemployment has risen to record levels. We know that the deficit, being the shortfall of cash inflows versus cash outflows, is growing to the highest level it has ever been in our history. It is around $60 billion and it is expected to go much higher.
When we talk about a budget implementation bill, we are really talking about the budget, which is really talking about the government's plan to address the realities of a country.
It is very relevant for members to say that this bill, which is in part what is included in the budget, is part of something that some members believe is not the right track to deal with the problems facing the nation. It is not the right track with regard to saving current jobs or to promote future jobs in areas where there is the highest probability of creating jobs. It maybe does not hit the mark when it comes to dealing with a plan to get the country out of deficit over the long term.
The previous speaker talked about a prior Liberal government. His description was that it slashed and burned and all other good things. That is good rhetoric, but if the member were accountable to the House, he would have been truthful and plain about the facts. The facts are that in 1993 the then Liberal government inherited a $42 billion deficit and a debt-to-GDP ratio that was terrible compared to what it is today. It meant one's ability to deal with it was terrible.
I can remember asking Paul Martin at the time about our strategy to balance the budget within a reasonable period of time. That first happened in 1997 and for 10 years since then there were balanced budgets, in fact tax cuts and the restoration of other cuts.
The question I asked him was how we explain to Canadians that this is the right approach to deal with the economic reality of the country. He said he had to impose cuts right across the board and the federal government would be the worst hit. The public service really took a big hit, Canadians took a big hit, our health care took a hit, and the provinces took a hit in terms of the transfers for social services and health care costs. He told me that he had to cut 20% to save the 80% left, and once the government could stabilize the situation, just like a doctor dealing with a patient, then it could build back.
There was a lot of pain and nobody is going to doubt that. However, we should understand that the books were balanced and the financial integrity of Canada was restored within three years from a $42 billion deficit inherited from Brian Mulroney. That in fact carried over to the current government, which took over in 2006.
I have forgotten what the deficit was at the time. The election was in January 2006, Parliament did not start until April, the cabinet was not even formed at that time, and I believe the surplus for the year ended March 31, 2006, was some $17 billion. The current government inherited not only balanced books but a surplus, which allowed it latitude and flexibility to be able to continue to offer tax cuts to Canadians and also to restore program funding, where necessary, to meet the urgent needs of Canadians.
I do not apologize for what happened there. When one has a terrible situation, one has to make tough decisions. Paul Martin always said that government is about making tough decisions.
I never judge a government by what it does when times are good; I judge a government by how it responds when things are going bad. That is important for individuals as well. It is really easy to boast when everything is rosy, but what happens when it hits the wall? How do people show composure, professionalism, knowledge and wisdom to address a situation in the most appropriate fashion? Those are the kinds of things we are talking about.
I cannot talk about everything in this bill, but I went to the briefing session. I was sorry we did not get the briefing notes from the officials. They had panels come forward on each and every one of the items that are dealt with in this implementation bill. I wish they had given us their notes. They had notes, because they explained it to us. When I asked if I could have the notes, they said I would have to write my own from whatever they said. That was not very helpful and I did not think it was very accountable, but so be it.
I talked about and asked questions about the home renovation tax credit when it first came out in the budget. I had to read it a couple of times because there was one aspect, and this will show how members of Parliament may have input into important legislation such as this for our country.
I noticed that the home renovation tax credit, as it said in the initial language, was available to the registered homeowner or joint owners of that dwelling. What if we had a situation where there was a couple, the stay-at-home spouse brought the house into the marriage and the other spouse was the working spouse, but when they got married they did not change the registration to both of them? That means that the registered owner has no income and the home renovation tax credit would not be worth anything to them because they have no income taxes payable to which to apply a tax credit.
I immediately sat down with the finance minister and raised it with him. It was kind of interesting. He did not realize it. He said that it was not the intent and there was family law, division of assets and all that other stuff. One of his responses to me, and I do not think he will mind if I share this, was to ask whether I really thought the Canada Revenue Agency would check the registration of households before it gave out the credit. Probably not, but I was kind of hoping that the finance minister would not even make such a flippant remark, because our legislation has to be grounded and rooted in sound decision-making elements and facts.
With regard to the home renovation tax credit, I wanted to inform my constituents, so I did a householder on it, laying out generally how it works. I talked about the dwelling, which could be a house, a cottage or a condominium. Renters would not be able to do anything. It was not clear to me, and I said it would have to be checked out, whether a person operating a business out of a home would qualify or whether there would be a reduction of the credit otherwise available. Then I saw that if two families shared the same dwelling, each would get one credit. These are the kinds of things I was letting them know about. I gave them some examples of eligible expenditures. I wanted to be sure that they knew that furniture and appliances and the purchase of tools, et cetera, would be ineligible expenses and not applicable for the credit.
I also indicated to them that these expenditures had to be made in a period after January 27, 2009, and before February 1, 2010, pursuant to agreements after January 27, 2009.
It is family-based. People should know that. It is important. That means one family gets a chance to do it, and a family includes children who are under age 18 at the end of 2009.
It does raise the question, though, that if a person has a child who is over 18 years of age and living in that dwelling, who has his own room over the garage, whether he can renovate his room and claim his $1,350. He is not under the definition of family, but he certainly is a taxpayer. I am told that children sometimes do come back to the family home. To anybody who is in that situation I would suggest that they might want to consider, if they have a child over 18 years of age who has some designated area of the house that is his or hers, whether maybe he or she could qualify for this credit. It would be an interesting challenge to the Canada Revenue Agency.
I also dealt with the fact that people can do the work themselves or have others do it. This will probably surprise and maybe annoy some people who do not have disposable income to spend on renovations at this time, but the first $1,000 of the eligible expenditures does not qualify for any credit. The first $1,000 is on a person's own ticket. So it is the amount after that. That means that expenditures after that, up to an additional $9,000, qualify for the 15% non-refundable tax credit. The person actually has to spend $10,000, and the last $9,000 is what is eligible for the credit.
Non-refundable means that it will be applied against taxes otherwise payable. If people have no taxes payable, it does not matter how much non-refundable tax credit they have, they do not get any refund.
People should understand that if there is any way to generate income in 2009, knowing that they will have unused credit, that would be a good thing to do. So they may want to crystallize some investments or whatever.
I also gave them some contact information, because I think there will be a few questions and perhaps a few peculiar situations that people were not aware of. I do encourage Canadians, if they do not remember any phone numbers, to just remember 1-800-O-Canada. That is the main number and will get them to whomever they have to speak to in order to get answers to questions.
Also at this briefing session I had a chance to engage the officials with regard to the CBC. When we mention the CBC in this chamber, Canadians get nervous. We know that. The CBC has had a very significant challenge. There are some who do not believe the CBC should be getting any funding from the Government of Canada. They believe it should compete with others on its own merit. I certainly do not hold that view.
We have a national broadcaster that holds this country together. It is probably, other than our health care, the only thing that keeps us all together. Whenever the CBC has gone on strike or had lockouts or that kind of stuff, Canadians en masse have told parliamentarians, “Deal with it; I miss my CBC”.
Well, the CBC is going to be authorized to borrow $220 million, up from $25 million. I asked whether they could give me more details as to why they are doing this and what it relates to. It basically has to do with properties that the CBC owns that it is not using for its own purposes, so it is leasing them out and getting lease revenue.
If people have an annuity, being lease revenue coming in over this period of time, it is worth something and they can present-value it and discount it. They can in fact go to a financial institution and it may buy it from them. It will buy that right to receive those future payments for a lump sum today.
That is exactly what this is about. It is basically monetizing an asset, a stream of income. That means that the CBC is going to have the cash it needs today to address the severe the problems it has and the challenges, because in down times the CBC has trouble raising advertising revenue as well. It also has to make job cuts and has done so.
The concern, though, and I think many Canadians may agree, is that if the CBC is basically selling assets to take care of today's bills, what it is really doing is mortgaging its future.
My immediate reaction was that the fuse has been lit to the future privatization of CBC at fire-sale prices. It concerns me, and we have to watch this.
Finally, I want to talk about what the member for Huron—Bruce was talking about. I think his words were that we want to save jobs, we are saving jobs today, managing the economy for jobs for tomorrow, boosting the recovery and promoting economic stability.
I think those are laudable objectives. However, I can tell members that when we look at the unemployment line hurtling toward 10% and then look at the words the Conservatives said, that they want shovel-ready infrastructure projects to save today's jobs and to provide jobs in those areas that have the highest prospect of growth, “shovel-ready” to everybody in Canada means that as people are losing their jobs or that curve is starting to go up, they need to have those projects going.
What has really happened, and it is a real shame, is that the infrastructure cash, the cheque to the people for these projects, has not happened, has not tracked with the unemployment curve, and therefore, the job need. They have missed the boat.
I think the government has failed miserably on the infrastructure program, and I hope Canadians will understand it appears that it really did not want to inject stimulus at all in the first place.