Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the next collection of proposed amendments, specifically on the subject of navigable waters. I know that quite a number of my colleagues are concerned, some of them very concerned, so I will illustrate very briefly the nature of those concerns.
First, I might refer to my colleague, the member for Outremont, whose assumption about Liberal voting motives was entirely incorrect. He seemed to believe that our voting the budget bill through was motivated by the removal of the political financing component, which was present in the November economic statement. However, I would point out for my NDP friend that while economics is not the strong point of the NDP, never is, never has been, the motive of my party to support the budget is entirely and 100% economic.
If we go back to the November economic statement, there was what could be called negative fiscal stimulus. There were $2 billion to $4 billion of cuts in that statement and on those grounds alone it was entirely unacceptable.
Let us flash forward to the January budget. Inadequate though it was in many ways, and I will get on to that in a minute, at least it put $18 billion of stimulus into the economy at a moment when the economy was in great need. The NDP might not understand the difference between a stimulus of minus $4 billion and a stimulus of plus $18 billion, but that shift alone was sufficient for members on the Liberal side to support the budget. Right now Canada is in the middle of an economic crisis and we need to get that money out the door.
Returning to the subject of the amendments, my concerns and the concerns of my colleagues, some of whom are more knowledgeable than I, is that under these the minister of transport can declare any waterway in the country unnavigable. In so doing, he or she thereby bypasses a possible trigger for environmental review. Some of my colleagues are concerned that this will water down or weaken environmental protection in general, specifically for navigable waters.
The Liberal Party put limits on this. At hearings, the Liberal Party was successful in getting committee agreement on time limits and sunset clauses so these measures, if adopted, would not be permanent. I might point out that under the suggestion from our party, we devoted an evening of hearings recently in the finance committee to those who were concerned about navigable waters.
If we go to the most fundamental point, the concerns with this amendment is that it potentially interferes with a right going back to Roman times, and that is the right of all Canadians to travel unimpeded on all waterways. For many Canadians, this is a right about which they are passionate. Sometimes it might be a view held by urban types who are avid canoeists, but also many rural people, including the Conservative base, fishers, anglers, rural people who also care deeply about navigable waters.
This is the nature of some of the concerns that my party and my colleagues have expressed in terms of these amendments.
Some members may ask why the Liberal Party is voting against this amendment and voting for the passage of the budget. The reason is very simple. Canada is in the middle, hopefully the middle, possibly the beginning, but we do not know the end, of a major recession. Today statistics showed that our gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of last year fell at a greater rate than at any time in nearly 20 years.
The government has done nothing to support the economy. For months the government was in a state of denial. The Prime Minister back in September said that if we were to have a recession, it would have happened by now. Today, if there is one thing we have learned is that statement was entirely wrong.
The government has delayed and delayed. It delayed through calling an election. It delayed through its disastrous November statement. It delayed through proroguing Parliament. Finally, we have a budget before us. We are saying it is time to get the money out of the door because so many unemployed Canadians and future unemployed Canadians need support. We need those infrastructure programs. We need those other injections of money to support the economy at this very difficult time.
We believe Canadians want politicians, all of us in this chamber, to focus single-mindedly on the economic crisis that, unfortunately, has engulfed the world, and the world includes Canada. That is why, notwithstanding concerns we have in the area of navigable waters and concerns that we have in many other areas of the budget, we have nevertheless decided to support the budget for the one and only one simple reason. The economy needs help. The budget, inadequate, reprehensible though it is in many ways, does move in the direction of providing that help, and that is why we support it.
However, we are not giving the government a blank cheque. Our leader has announced that the government is under probation and that there will be a series of quarterly reports, which will hold the government to account. We, and presumably other opposition parties, will see whether it has done what it said it would do in getting money out the door. We will see how the economy evolves and judge whether the actions the government has proposed have been sufficient or whether more actions are needed. We also will judge it according to the five criteria that our leader has established with regard to the budget and economy.
First, does the budget have adequate measures to support vulnerable Canadians?
Because it is always the most vulnerable who are most likely to feel the negative effects of a recession.
Second, does this budget give us the means to create jobs today? Will the funds promised for infrastructure be spent appropriately? Will this budget create jobs for the future?
In our opinion, this budget is inadequate because it contains almost nothing for science, for education, to help students, or for innovation and research. In fact, there have been cuts to research. So in terms of creating jobs for the future, this budget is inadequate.
Lastly, there are two more criteria. Is the budget regionally balanced? Do we have a guarantee that deficits will not be permanent?
We will judge the budget, the economy and the government according to those five criteria. Over time we will make a judgment as to whether additional measures are required and we will watch like hawks to see the government gets the promised money out the door.
There are many bad parts of the budget. Navigable waters may be one. The government's action on pay equity is another. Many Canadians, not just big business but small business, object to putting through fundamental changes to the Competition Act with essentially no debate. Whatever the merits of the content, the process is egregiously bad.
As I have said at least once, as politicians today in the midst of arguably the worst economic crisis in a generation, our minds must be focused on job number one, which is to support the Canadian economy. That is why, despite all the warts and inadequacies of the budget, the Liberal Party will support the budget.