Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have a chance to speak to the budget again at this stage. I want to reiterate my view, which is similar to the view stated by our leader: we are not so much supporting this budget as we are letting it pass. At a time of difficulty, what Canada needs more than anything else is fiscal stimulus and political stability.
There are some things in here that I think will help. Certainly there is a lot more than there was back in November. However, we think a lot more needs to be done and we are going to be looking for a lot more from the government. For example, with regard to pay equity, if the government wants to show some good faith to the people of Canada, the measures it has proposed regarding pay equity should be withdrawn from the budget. They are gratuitous, not needed and detrimental to Canada.
That is not the only area where we need to see changes. We have serious reservations. The biggest reservations I have with this budget concern the people in Canada who are most in need of help. On the weekend, the Leader of the Opposition was in Halifax for the very successful Nova Scotia Liberal annual general meeting. On Sunday morning, he had the chance to meet with some child care advocates in Nova Scotia. We had representatives from a host of organizations talking about the importance of early learning and child care. We had a representative who works in aboriginal early learning and child care, and people who work with people with disabilities and low-income families.
It is very clear that the government is heading in the wrong direction. I was disappointed that there was not something for early learning and child care in the budget. If we want to stimulate the economy, child care is a very positive way to do it. It does an awful lot of things.
Let me read a few of the things that early learning and child care does for Canadian families. Economically, it makes us more competitive. It yields a high economic and social return. Early learning and child care provided under the QUAD system, as was proposed by the Liberal government in 2005 and actually implemented, keeps families out of poverty. Of particular importance is that it supports the participation of women in the workforce, which $100 a month simply does not do.
In December UNICEF reported on a number of benchmarks for early learning and child care across the OECD countries. It is staggering to believe, but Canada ranked last. I should not say it is staggering, because those who understand what is actually happening in Canada, particularly now, would not be surprised. “Disappointed” is certainly a better word.
We come last in investing there. I do not know that all Canadians understand. Perhaps it is because we are not connected geographically to some of the more progressive nations in the OECD with which we consider ourselves allied. However, as a matter of fact, Canada lags when it comes to early learning and child care.
If we had a case in which a child of six or seven was denied access to primary school, there would be an outcry from everybody, yet every day, in every community in this country, children under six are denied the opportunity for early learning and child care. Child care does not stop at age six. However, education does not start at age six either.
On the social infrastructure side, this budget fails on a number of counts, such as employment insurance and tax policy. On EI, we have five extra weeks provided for those who qualify. Less than half of the people who actually pay EI can actually draw it, but this budget does not address that issue. It adds five weeks for those who already draw, which is helpful, no question, and they need it, but what about eliminating the waiting period, or making EI more generous, or equalizing access across this country, particularly for low-income workers, who often tend to be women? What about improving EI in that way? There is so much more that could have been done.
On tax policy, a report put out by Ken Battle of the Caledon Institute indicates that a family of four making $150,000 will get, and I am going from memory here, close to $500 in tax benefits from this budget, while a family of four making $20,000 will get nothing.
That is not fair. It is unconscionable. It is not right. I do not like that, and I want to make sure the government does something to equalize opportunity in this country.
I will give a couple of suggestions. What about doubling the GST rebate, so that families that actually need help could get more money? Measures like this are not only good for the individual and socially just, but they are also economically wise. They would actually put stimulus into the economy at a very big return rate.
A study Ian Lee has quoted, a senate study in the United States, indicates that investing in EI returns $1.61 into the economy. What about EI?
What about investing in the child tax benefit, particularly the low-income supplement that was sacrificed when the universal child care benefit came in? What about enhancing the child tax benefit as an opportunity to make this economy better for those who need help and also to improve our opportunities as a nation?
On the front page of The Globe and Mail today we saw the story of what is happening in research. Then the government stands up and says it is investing in research. It says it is investing here.
I met with some researchers back home on Friday afternoon with other colleagues from my party and my province. They are very worried. How can the government possibly cut the tri-council funding? Why would it cut funding to NSERC, to SSHRC and to CIHR? At a time when Barack Obama in the United States is investing $10 billion in research, we are cutting it back.
It indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of research. It indicates a fundamental lack of understanding that in research you cannot take your foot off the pedal. Ten years ago we reversed the brain drain in this country, and now we are on the verge of a perfect storm the other way. The Americans are investing and we are starting to pull back. That is not productive, that is not sensible and that is not good policy.
I would be remiss if I did not mention, while I have the chance, the importance of social science and humanities research as well. The government is not only cutting funding, but they are also targeting it away from social science and humanities funding. I think the reason is that social sciences and humanities funding validates arguments that are opposed to where the government likes to go on issues such criminal justice and economic policy. It does not make any sense.
We are going to let this budget pass. It is hard for me to say I support it. I say we will let the budget pass. I will give the government two great suggestions, and they do not have to credit the member for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour when they do it. I will stand up and say, “Well done”.
First, a couple of groups are not getting much attention in this whole slowdown. One is our students and another is the group of great not-for-profit organizations in our community, the people who work with people with disabilities, who work with seniors, who do youth recreation from soccer to swimming, who work with the heart and stroke foundation and all kinds of great organizations.
A perfect way to provide a stimulus is that for $100 million, in this day and age a very small investment, we could double the amount of money in the Canada summer jobs program. We could employ an extra 35,000 or 40,000 students this summer. They are going to be having a hard time. Companies cannot afford to hire like they used to, so students are going to be needing work.
At the same time, the not-for-profit organizations and the community organizations across this country are going to have a hard time hiring students. They are going to have a hard time keeping their own staff, so why not double the amount of the funding in the Canada summer jobs program? For $100 million, we could provide 35,000 or 40,000 jobs and help people who are suffering hardship as well as people who work with people with disabilities, with seniors and with child care. It is a great idea, and I give that to them free of charge.
Another one has to do with HMCS Sackville. Canada's naval memorial is looking for a permanent place. HMCS Sackville is the last surviving corvette from World War II. I think there were 269 corvettes that sailed across the North Atlantic and kept the shipping lines open. Many of the Canadians who served on them did not make it both ways.
Now Canada's naval memorial, HMCS Sackville, is looking for a permanent home in Halifax. If we want to use the infrastructure money effectively, the Government of Canada would do well to support the Queen's Landing project and give Canada's naval memorial a permanent home. I know the Minister of National Defence would share this view as well as my respect for HMCS Sackville.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the budget. It is not what I would like to see. I think at a time when Canada needs some political stability and economic stimulus, we will see how it goes. I cannot say that I am all that hopeful, but I am a patient man.