Mr. Speaker, this is the budget implementation bill. I emphasize the point that this is the implementation of the budget.
As members know, the Liberal Party has given the government a conditional pass on its budget. Part of our concern has to do with the government's competence to implement what it proposes in the budget.
The budget calls for substantial amounts of money to be spent on a stimulus package. In this bill, literally, there is a call for billions of dollars to be spent on stimuli. To be precise, it is $5.973 billion, as indicated in part 6. This is a considerable sum of money by anybody's standards.
Many of these initiatives are quite supportable and have the appearance of being good ideas. However, I would remind members that this is an implementation bill. This is a bill that would enable the government to actually spend the money.
There is a substantial consensus among economists and other Canadians that we need an economic stimulus from the federal government and that it would be welcomed in the Canadian economy. Therefore, $6 billion into the economy should put Canadians to work and should stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, the government has a very poor record of delivery.
The budget is the promise. The budget implementation bill is the delivery. The government is very good on the promise side of the equation, but it is much poorer on the delivery side of the equation.
I direct the attention of members to page 10 of the Parliamentary Budget Officer's budget 2009 economic and fiscal outlook briefing note of February 5, wherein he states:
Historically, however, the Government has experienced significant delays in delivering funds related to planned infrastructure investments.
For example, in 2007-08, the last year for which data is available, Infrastructure Canada lapsed 50% ($1.1 billion of $2.3 billion) of its non-gas-tax related funding.
“Lapsed” is government jargon. “Lapsed” in the real world means “promised but didn't spend”.
In the last fiscal year, the government promised to spend $2.3 billion, yet was only able to write cheques for $1.2 billion. If we want a stimulus in the economy, it does no good in the government's bank account. Money in the government's bank account does nothing for the economy.
If we applied the same track record to the promises contained in the budget implementation bill, we would have $6 billion promised, but only $3 billion delivered. I suppose it is not news that the government is long on promises but very short on delivery.
It gets worse. Some parts of Canada appear to be more favoured than others.
Out of the 50% delivery rate, apparently it is virtually only Conservative ridings that are in need of a fiscal stimulus. Notwithstanding that the Conservatives are a minority party in Parliament, representing about 40% of the ridings, it appears that they would receive in excess of 75% of the funding.
We are in an economic crisis. President Obama has been pouring trillions of dollars into stimulus, yet our government can only get 50% of its money out the door. Of that 50%, 75% goes to its cronies and friends. Members can see why we put the government on probation.
The idea of a stimulus is pretty simple. If we put $100 of taxpayer money into the economy, it is supposed to act as a multiplier in the economy and create at least $100 worth of economic activity and, hopefully, more than $100 worth of economic activity.
Therefore, the government is right to emphasize infrastructure stimulus, which is temporary, which is timely and which is targeted. That is the right thing to do, but its track record is one of incompetence and parochialism. There is no sabotage like self-sabotage.
For years the Liberal Party has argued that the transit pass is a complete waste of taxpayer money. We argued it when we were in government and we have argued it when we have been in opposition. It is a public policy disaster.
When I was parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, I argued that it was a stupid waste of taxpayer money. I had Department of Finance briefing notes to back up that argument. To no one's great surprise, the Auditor General confirmed our arguments last week. In the report it said:
In its 2007 Climate Change Plan under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, Environment Canada stated that the Tax Credit is expected to result in emission reductions of 220,000 tonnes each year from 2008 through 2012.
The 220,000 tonnes sounds pretty good. It was unfortunately approximately double Finance Canada's estimate of the resulting emission reductions in its strategic environmental assessment. In its 2008 plan Environment Canada amended the figure for the expected reductions to an average of 35,000 tonnes per year, about 16% of the original estimate of 220,000 tonnes when that budget implementation bill was going through.
The 35,000 tonnes is quite a reduction from 220,000 tonnes. Given the lower figure the tax credit will have a negligible impact on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Many factors influence public transit ridership, including the price of gasoline. The result is that it is almost impossible to measure actual greenhouse gas emission reductions attributable to a tax credit.
With regard to other emissions, Environment Canada could not provide any analysis to support the assertion that the tax credit would result in measurable impacts.
Therefore, what do we have? We have a claim of a 220,000 tonne reduction amended down to 35,000 tonnes of reduction. The report further states:
A consultant’s report commissioned by Finance Canada prior to the Tax Credit’s approval dismissed an alternative proposal because the cost to government would be excessive ($800 per tonne of greenhouse gases reduced) and the reduced fares would have little impact on transit usage. For the Public Transit Tax Credit as announced, Finance Canada estimated that the cost through tax revenue loss would be much higher, ranging from around $2,000 to $3,000 per tonne of greenhouse gases reduced between 2006 and 2010.
If we take the 220,000 tonnes, the government says that it will cost $800 per tonne. We are down to 35,000 tonnes now and it will cost $2,000 to $3,000 per tonne.
Based on this estimated cost and the lower expectations for the greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the 2008 plan, the cost per tonne will be even higher. It is not $800 per tonne, it is not 2,000 per tonne, it is not $3,000 per tonne and it may actually be much more per tonne and we cannot measure it in the first place. It is a public policy disaster and a total waste of taxpayer money, which was the argument that the Liberal government put forward when we were in government and we put forward when we had been in opposition.
Our hesitation to endorse the government's budget is well founded. The public transit pass fiasco was just one of many budgetary initiatives that used the tax system for political purposes.
Jeff Simpson in this weekend's Globe and Mail said:
It was a farcical policy, not to put too fine a point on the matter.
It was estimated that about 95 to 97 per cent of those receiving the new subsidy were riding public transit anyway. There would be no major shift from cars to buses. The money would, quite literally, go down the policy drain, which is of course exactly what happened.
As a climate-change policy, it was among the least effective policies imaginable.
It goes on to echo the devastating critique of the commissioner of the environment and it concludes:
Policies like those devastatingly dismissed by the sustainable development commissioner are a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money.
I have spent many years in this chamber. I do not know how many times I have heard Conservative members, both in opposition and in government, say that they are the protectors of taxpayer money. I would urge all Canadians to read the commissioner's report before they buy that argument from any Conservative member. This is a scandalous waste of taxpayer money with little or no environmental impact.
We have a government that has a lamentable record of getting infrastructure projects out the door. When it does, surprise, surprise, it seems to end up in Conservative ridings. The government ignores good public policy in favour of dubious electoral politics.
I know this will come as a bit of a surprise, but I do want to say something good about the government. It will not take too much time, in fact, we could probably just cut this part right out. In my view, the purchase of asset-backed commercial paper, be it mortgages, or motor vehicles leases or sales contracts on equipment, is a good idea. It must have been a good idea because the Conservatives probably did not think of it.
The overall problem with the economy is that the consumer, particularly the American consumer, has simply stopped buying. If the consumer stops buying, the entire manufacturing chain backs up and layoffs ensue worldwide as manufacturers find themselves with excess inventory and no one to buy it.
Consumers are also employers and employees. When layoffs occur, not only does the person cease to be an employee, he or she also ceases to be a consumer and the whole system loops back on itself.
It may be awhile before consumers get enough confidence to get back into the marketplace. The government can do little or nothing about confidence, but it can do something about credit. Picking up frozen credit instruments is a good thing, and putting cash in the hands of manufacturers and others at a time when cash is needed is the right thing to do.
The other attractive feature from a government standpoint is that it provides stimulus in the economy without actually ratcheting up the debt or the deficit. The assets are purchased at market value and commercial prices, so the government has an offsetting asset to go with its expenditure. In some respects it is the best of both worlds, stimulus without deficit.
I encourage the government to use its considerable leverage to purchase this frozen paper, not only to get cash into the hands of manufacturers but also to allow retailers to sell product more easily when a customer does not have the full purchase price of the product.
Just last Friday we learned that Canada had lost 129,000 jobs in the month of January alone. To give a comparator, as one of my colleagues said, that would be as if America had lost 1.3 million jobs in a month. By anyone's standard, that is a huge job loss and it is the largest number of job losses we have had in recorded history, which goes back quite a number of years. There were 129,000 jobs lost, and nearly a quarter of a million since November.
Canadians who are suffering in this recession are looking to their members of Parliament for help. We cannot let them down. The leader of the official opposition says that these staggering numbers are precisely why he has put the government on probation with his Liberal budget amendment.
During the election last fall, the Prime Minister said that it was a good time to buy stocks. He said that there was no need to run a deficit. In fact, I remember the Minister of Finance saying that he would not be the first finance minister in the last half dozen finance ministers to run a deficit and yet here we are. He also said that if we were to have a recession, it would have happened by now. We know that as he was saying that the market fell further, the Conservatives were in the red and over 234,000 jobs were lost, almost a quarter of a million jobs.
The Leader of the Oppostion said:
This government has failed to plan and failed to protect Canadian jobs. It didn’t see the seriousness of the downturn and failed to bring in an immediate stimulus package when the urgency was clear.
This budget is far from perfect. Had we drafted it, it would have been a different budget from the one we are debating today. However, Canadians cannot afford to wait any longer for the government to act. While this budget fails in some areas, some of which I have outlined, it also manages to provide some assistance that is needed. For this reason, the budget should proceed to committee without undue delay or partisan games.
The NDP decided to oppose this budget before it was even written. Canadians deserve more. Now it is time to put away partisan games and recognize that we are here to serve Canadians.
Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 61(1), I move:
That the question be now put.