Mr. Speaker, today's debate on Bill C-51 gives us the opportunity to look at what happened during the last session regarding the government's budget measures and to understand why, this time, the New Democratic Party can support a motion that relates to the previous budget. As everyone knows, our party voted against that budget.
Let me remind the House that almost exactly one year ago, on November 26, 2008, the Minister of Finance announced that the government would enjoy a budget surplus. That was rather surprising, because the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, had said that it was absurd to anticipate a surplus. Rather, we were headed for a major deficit.
We learned—once again—that when the time comes to look at the government's books, it is better to rely on Kevin Page, our Parliamentary Budget Officer, than on the Minister of Finance, who suffers from the Pinocchio syndrome when he has to face these realities.
So, the minister was off by a mere $60 billion. But since the Conservatives had just been re-elected—and even though they were a minority government—they included in that budget exercise a number of things which they knew would upset the opposition. Of course, what followed is now part of the Canadian parliamentary history.
I should mention, for the purpose of today's review, and because this relates directly to Bill C-51—which is why we can support it—that the Conservatives had proposed a series of measures. Among other things, they had decided to scuttle the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and the Liberals supported them. They also decided to scuttle the right of women to equal pay for equal work, and the Liberals supported them again.
When budget time came, they insisted and persisted again. A series of measures were approved, including some that are on the table today. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities went so far as to say that the Navigable Waters Protection Act was killing jobs. He was absurdly pitting the environment against the economy, as if we could not promote economic development without adversely affecting the environment, as the Conservatives were proposing to do.
We preferred to vote against a budget that was depriving women of their right to equal pay for equal work. We decided to vote against a budget that was going to scuttle the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
What we have before us today reflects the sort of work we proposed to do at the end of August. When the Liberals withdrew from the proposed coalition that would have enabled us to give a voice to the 70% of Canadians who had voted for something other than a right-wing government, we knew what we were doing, but the Liberals decided to pull out.
Hon. members will recall that at the end of August, in a now-famous address in Sudbury, Ontario, the leader of the Liberal Party said that the Prime Minister's time was up. He was prepared to trigger an election. But he had forgotten one thing, and that was that the Liberals held only 25% of the seats in this House, which meant that they could not trigger anything but laughter.
We in the NDP decided to sit down with the Prime Minister. Our leader met with the Prime Minister and told him that if, with a minority government, he was prepared to make the House of Commons work in the interests of Canadians, we would do our part. If they did their part, we would do ours. We indicated some areas of concern, particularly regarding finance, where we thought we could work together.
First and foremost was employment insurance. With the current crisis, many people's benefits were coming to an end, and these people needed more help. We also wanted better protection for pensions.
There have been many cases where employee pensions have not been protected, the classic one being Nortel, where many people retired and thought they were guaranteed a certain amount, but learned that they would not be receiving that amount because of the crisis. Better pension protection for the future was one of our priorities, as was the issue of credit cards.
Since the NDP extended a hand on these issues, we have seen movement on employment insurance, with the announcement of $1 billion to help 190,000 families. I say “families”, because the person who receives EI benefits will of course be able to help the other members of the household.
Is that enough? The answer is no. However, it does help all regions of Canada, including Quebec, where tens of thousands of families will benefit from this significant change.
With respect to credit cards, something is just starting to happen, but because this is a federal government responsibility, the usurious rates imposed by credit card issuers will have to undergo thorough review. These rates are highway robbery and completely unacceptable.
As to retirement pensions, some good work is under way. An important report is going to be delivered in Whitehorse next month during the federal-provincial conference of finance ministers. The Standing Committee on Finance has already decided to build much stronger alliances with respect to this issue once the report is released. I think that this is a great example of an issue that both sides of the House can work on.
We have before us today a new budget measure that the New Democratic Party will vote for. But what is this measure about? What is the difference between this bill and the budget we voted against in the spring? This bill only covers measures that will actually help people. We have no problem with that. For example, the home renovation tax credit is part of Bill C-51. Amendments are being presented to improve retirement pensions.
Let us not forget that the home renovation tax credit for Quebec residents is in addition to a similar program implemented by the province. This credit is having a major impact in the sense that the black market, which tended to keep significant amounts of money out of the legal economy, is being suppressed simply because people cannot claim a tax credit without a receipt and due payment. People who are having home renovations done are insisting on hiring above-board workers. For example, in Quebec, people only want to do business with workers who have paid their dues and comply with the Régie du bâtiment du Québec's codes. All of the rules that are in place to protect the public, to protect consumers, must be followed. This protects people in two ways: it ensures higher standards of work and, fiscally speaking, protects the public. In the past, billions of dollars have flowed outside of the normal channels meant to collect funds to be spent in the public interest. That is becoming less common, which is good news.
There are some provisions that have convinced us to vote in favour of this bill, and there are more to come. As the Conservatives introduce these so-called ways and means resolutions to implement parts of the budget, we will see whether they have listened to the message delivered by the NDP leader in August. We are prepared to make this House work in the best interests of the public, and in doing so, we are preventing a fourth general election in five years. The other side seems to be positively receiving our message. The main thing we are looking at today with Bill C-51 is the implementation of the budget.
Aside from the consideration of this bill, if we look at everything that influences our economic choices, there is a profound difference between the Conservative government and the NDP: we believe that the government has been going in the wrong direction for the past nearly four years. Members will recall that before this crisis hit, before the fall of 2008, the areas of Canada with the largest concentration of companies in the manufacturing sector, Quebec and Ontario in particular, had already lost several hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs.
Furthermore, sustainable development is not just about the environment. Our generation has an obligation to ensure that future generations do not face a disproportionate burden. We are killing not only well-paying jobs, but also jobs that carry pensions. We are replacing well-paying jobs with pensions at General Motors along Highway 15 in Blainville with sales jobs, for example, in the shopping centre that replaced the General Motors. It does not take a genius to know that the people who are now earning $12 an hour selling clothing are having a harder time supporting their families. Plus, these jobs do not have pensions.
Another debt is being passed on to future generations, in addition to the fiscal debt. On top of that, the primary growth strategy proposed by the Conservatives—I say “proposed” because it has never worked—was to introduce massive corporate tax cuts. Doing a critical analysis of this decision does not take long. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Finance announced the largest corporate tax cuts in Canadian history, he was encouraged and applauded by the Liberal Party of Canada. The Minister of Finance came back to the House and said that he never would have thought he would be able to reduce corporate taxes so quickly, but thanks to the fact that the Liberals were asking him to go even further, he proceeded faster than expected.
Canadians will remember this decision and they will tell us what they thought of it in the next election. The basic error was giving $60 billion in tax cuts to the most profitable corporations. Why did I say “the most profitable corporations” and not “all corporations”, as the government prefers to suggest? The reason is very simple. By definition, if a company does not make a profit, it cannot benefit from tax breaks because it does not pay taxes.
How did the Conservatives manage to create tax room to give tax breaks worth $60 billion? It is not complicated. They raided the employment insurance fund. I would remind the House that, once again with the culpable complicity of the Liberals, they took $57 billion from the EI fund and put the money into the government's general revenue fund. Some may argue that this does not change anything, because it was public money and it remained public money. We must be careful. Money from the EI fund was paid by every employer, every corporation and every employee. A business that was losing money or breaking even did not pay taxes and could therefore not benefit from any tax breaks, but it did in fact pay for every employee.
Even if a company is losing money, it is required to contribute to the employment insurance fund for every employee.
The Conservatives have raided the employment insurance fund to the tune of $57 billion. They transferred that money to the government's general revenue fund, which gave them the tax room they needed to provide major corporations with a $60 billion tax cut. Then, all of a sudden, we were in a global crisis. It is no coincidence that we are heading toward a $60 billion deficit this year. This same government has also come to realize that the employment insurance fund will be short $19 billion. Who will pay for this shortfall in the EI fund? It will be all the companies, all the employers and all the employees. A new tax will be imposed on all the companies, even brand new ones and those that are losing money. They will be on the hook again for this new $19 billion tax. The major corporations that benefited from the $60 billion will also have to pay, but the others, who were already struggling, will not get a penny in tax cuts and will be on the hook again. They have to cover an additional $19 billion for all Canadian companies.
That is the lunacy of the Conservatives' doctrine. When one is guided by right-wing ideology instead of facts, with no regard for the fate of the citizens and all human beings, that is when decisions like this are made. Companies like EnCana in Alberta got millions of dollars in windfalls thanks to the tax cuts. The same cannot be said for manufacturing and forestry companies in Quebec and Ontario. There have also been many job losses in the forestry sector in other provinces. Just look at New Brunswick, or British Columbia, which has suffered terribly and not received a single penny.
The Conservatives are ideologically opposed to any intervention by the state in the economy. That is what guides all of their choices.
Since World War II, we have always understood that, being the second largest country in the world, Canada needs a government that makes sure that the imbalances in the economy are corrected and that stability, which would otherwise not exist, is achieved.
Through their ideological choices, the Conservatives are destabilizing the balanced economy that has been built throughout Canada since World War II. They are giving their preference to the oil industry and to banks, to the distress of provinces where part of the economy is based on the manufacturing sector. Yes, the primary sector is important, and natural resources must be exploited, but it must be done in a responsible way.
I spoke earlier about sustainable development, which is the obligation for a government to review the social, economic and environmental impact of each decision. When people refuse to acknowledge the real environmental cost of greenhouse gas emissions caused by oil extraction in the tar sands, the profit in American dollars looks much bigger than it really is. The environmental cost should be paid for according to the principles of sustainable development, but it is not. Thus, the value of the Canadian dollar goes up, making it more difficult to export our manufactured products and aggravating the already serious difficulties in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. This is what happens when we do not have a comprehensive approach.
Between now and the next budget, we will have a chance to see the Liberal Party's true colours, given this Conservative approach. We will likely see that the Conservatives do not enjoy managing public affairs. For them, it is an anathema: they feel the government has no role to play regarding this issue. That is what allowed the Minister of Transport to say that the Navigable Waters Protection Act was killing jobs. The fact that it is utterly false does not change anything to the fact that he can actually make such a claim. That has not prevented the Conservatives, with the culpable complicity of the Liberals, to abolish the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
In the next budget, we should expect even worse, a Conservative chain saw massacre. They do not believe in targeted action by the state, and nor do they believe that the government can make choices to generate wealth. They have this doctrinaire vision to the effect that the free market can deal with all these issues. In the next budget, instead of a surgeon's knife, expect the Conservatives to use a chain saw.
The Liberals will have to face their own contradictions. Those who have the word “liberal” in their political party's name have, time after time, supported the Conservatives on despicable ideological measures such as depriving women of their right to equal pay for equal work, and abolishing an act that had been protecting Canada's navigable waters for a century.
Today, we see the result of the NDP's reaching out approach. There is nothing ideologically despicable in what is being proposed. These are measures that we can support openly and with our heads up high. The NDP has always been consistent. It is out of the question for our party to behave like the Liberals and vote to deprive women of certain rights and to destroy the environment. If such measures were on the table, the Conservatives know what would happen. An election that no one wants would take place in the midst of an economic crisis and during a flu pandemic. The fact is we do not need that this fall.
The NDP will always remain true to itself, its principles and its commitments. We cannot wait to deal with the Conservatives when they deliver their next budget.