Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at third reading on the budget implementation bill for the fiscal year that will commence on April 1.
We have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride. I would like to bring us to where we are and where some of the indicators may have been had someone's eyes been open, or at least had someone read the newspapers.
Back in the 39th Parliament, there were a number of things going on in the House. There was certainly some sabre rattling by some political parties that if the government did not get its act in gear, it may face an election. Some parties did not have much confidence in the government. They thought that the government could not be trusted, that its credibility was in question, that they could not believe what the government said. Conservative times were tough times. All these things were going on, which is part of the political process that we experience in Parliament.
During the latter part of the 39th Parliament, there was an investigation going on in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on the in-and-out scandal. The Chief Electoral Officer had ruled that the Conservative Party had broken the elections law of Canada, had overspent its advertising budget and had laundered the money through candidates, et cetera. I do not have to go through all of that other than to say that there are ongoing legal proceedings as a consequence. We did have committee hearings and we were getting evidence and testimony from people who were corroborating what the Chief Electoral Officer had found, that the government was aware that what it was doing was improper under the Canada Elections Act. This is where the term “dysfunction” came out.
In fact, the standing committee, which I chair, held summer hearings on this issue. Things were getting pretty hot and interesting to the point where we had to subpoena members of the Conservative Party of Canada to appear. They refused to honour the subpoenas of the committee. That got a lot of attention. The committee decided it would deal with it when the House resumed because the assistance of the Speaker of the House would be needed to act on the subpoenas and to determine whether contempt of Parliament issues might have to be dealt with.
Before the summer was over and before the House was to return, the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament. He said that Parliament was dysfunctional. We had an election on October 14, 2008.
The first point is there was no defeat of the government on any confidence issue. Opposition members certainly had a lot of concerns about the integrity of the government, but there was no threat to any legislation. Everything the government had wanted to pass had passed.
In fact one of the things that had passed in that Parliament is a law regarding fixed election dates which had specified that the first election was to be October 19, 2009. The Prime Minister himself said that not ever again would a prime minister have the opportunity to call an election when it was politically advantageous. He said that everybody, every party, every member of Parliament, every member of the public would know exactly when the next election would be held.
What did he do? He dissolved Parliament and called an election one year earlier than the law stipulated. I can remember why. By that time, we were already seeing indications that an economic tsunami was forming. We saw indications that the highest record of employment in 30 years was starting to crack. All of a sudden economic indicators pointed to concerns within the financial institutions and some of the major industries. We started to see some indications in the auto sector. We started to see it in some of the other program areas. Little cracks were forming.
We had that election. We came back. I remember I got a letter from my own broker with regard to my RRSPs. We had a long, good and healthy period under the Liberal government. There were balanced budgets for 10 years, tax reductions, highest employment rate, lowest inflation, lowest interest rates. Things were good, but what was going to happen, as we know now, was foreshadowed by a lot of the indicators that were out there.
In fact one of the key indicators happened to be the Parliamentary Budget Officer. That office was created under the Federal Accountability Act to make sure that the information the government had was reliable for parliamentarians and Canadians. That is a story in itself, the way the government has totally ignored the information and the advice of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
The election was on October 14. On November 18 we were back here and there was an economic statement. That economic statement said, “Life is good. We carry on. Everything is going to be fine. We are looking forward to four years of healthy surplus yet again. Do not worry about it, but by the way, as long as we are at this, we are going to destroy pay equity. We are going to cut out the funding to political parties. We are going to deal with the public service and we are going to do a few other things”.
These were all things that had nothing to do with budgetary or economic measures. The government was playing games. It was poking sticks in people's eyes, trying to make them upset. But all of a sudden, the November economic statement did not have the support or the concurrence of anybody anywhere on the planet.
It was ludicrous. It was so ridiculous. As was pretty clear under the Constitution, if the government was defeated either on its throne speech or on some measure out of that economic statement, we would be into another election. However, there was an opportunity under our Constitution that the Governor General, if there had been an election in the last few months, could have approached the official opposition to form a government if it could demonstrate it had the majority support of the House.
We know where we were. There were indicators. The government said that everything was good. The November economic statement said that everything was going to be great, but I am a little concerned that the government again was saying, “We are getting a little worried about the possibility of a coalition government and getting turfed out of office. We better save our backsides”. What did it do? When it saw that there were problems coming down the pike, that the jobs of Canadians were going to be put at risk, it prorogued Parliament. It shut it down totally. No committees existed. No work was getting done. No attention was being given to the emerging issues of the day.
We came back and there was a throne speech on January 26, and the next day the budget was presented. The budget now shows four years of deficits, not four years of surplus. It shows four years of deficits, cumulatively, $84 billion of deficits.
I do not know about other members, but when we go from four years of surpluses and everything being fine in an economic statement on November 8, then on January 26 the government puts out a document, which was already a month old because it had to go through the approval process, which shows fours years of deficits totalling $84 billion, where is this coming from? How is it that the world could change so much?
The Prime Minister explained it quite simply that it has nothing to do with us, that our banks are healthy and we do not have to do anything, but what he did say also is that it is a global economic crisis. Consider what global means. Everybody who is in business, anybody who has any economic activity in the world is part and parcel of the same thing we are experiencing here.
On November 8, when the Conservatives put out an economic statement that they were having nice surpluses and everything was fine, they had no inkling whatsoever. Then all of a sudden there is this global economic crisis that in the next month they recognized and they changed their numbers and their forecasts and came out with the January budget showing four years of cumulative deficits. Can anyone imagine the ludicrousness to suggest that they did not know about a global economic crisis because it really did not happen until after the economic statement? It is nuts. It is absolutely unbelievable.
The Conservatives think that Canadians are stupid but they are not. They continue to persist that it is not their problem and they did not create that. It is pretty clear that the Conservatives inherited a $14 billion annual surplus from the previous Liberal government that had 10 years of surpluses and handed over the reins of a healthy economy. The Conservatives squandered that by their tax cuts and the spending spree that they went on, the highest spending per capita in the history of our country. They squandered the $14 billion annual surplus. They put us in a condition where we had absolutely no wiggle room. There was no cushion to help us get through difficult economic times.
That $14 billion per year would have gone a long way to handling the so-called global economic crisis. It would not have been so painful.
Now we have this wonderful budget that has a stimulus package associated with it and 40% of that infrastructure. We know that infrastructure is an efficient way to save jobs at risk, to create new jobs, generally being supportive, and to provide support to the financial sector. Other countries are doing it and we are doing it as well.
The government continues to say, in its answers to questions, that the opposition needs to put the public interest ahead of partisan interest and pass this budget, but what does it do? It decides in this budget to address the serious needs of Canadians who are faced with job loss and all kinds of other consequential impacts of a major financial crisis by loading the budget up with a bunch of other things. What is it going to do? It will basically decimate pay equity for women, equal pay for work of equal value. That has nothing to do with a budget but if it is thrown in, the Liberals and the others will not be able to defeat the budget because if they do an election will be called.
That may be true but the Conservatives also put in things like the Competition Act, changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and proposals for a national securities regulator that cannot possibly be resolved for years. It will take years to deal with that. They also had changes on equalization, a very sensitive area that affected Quebeckers and Maritimers.
The Conservatives made this an omnibus bill, which means they put in a bunch of things that are not necessarily connected. Why did they do that? Again, this is playing partisan politics, poking a stick and trying to get what they can get because they know that no responsible official opposition party would allow the budget to be defeated because it would probably take until next October before we could get back to the same spot that we are at today. By that time the jobs will be lost, the personal and business bankruptcies will have peaked, the consequences to Canadians will be enormous and the damage will be irreparable.
It would be totally irresponsible for Parliament not to pass the budget. The government knew that. it knew there was an economic crisis and it knew there would be this major downturn. It knew that it could get away with this and it continues to play partisan politics.
Every time the government talks about this, it says that the opposition needs to put the public interest ahead of political interest and yet it is the government's actions, not its words. We need to look at its actions and its actions have been totally contrary to the words that come out of the mouths of government members.
Today a question was asked of the finance minister. He said that the opposition needs to pass this budget quickly so the money can flow and that no money will flow until we pass this budget. That is true, except that this is the budget implementation for the fiscal year that will begin on April 1, 2009. Therefore, even if the bill were to pass at all stages, even in the other place, and receive royal assent, no dollars could legally flow until April 1. We still have a month for the balance of this process to take place.
It is the way the finance minister is trying to insinuate that everyone else is slowing the process down and blocking the money from flowing. What makes it even more ironic is that over the past two years $2 billion of approved, funded and appropriated infrastructure funding was promised but was never sent out. As a matter of fact, we still have another month to go in the current fiscal period. If infrastructure is so important, jobs are so important and stimulating the economy is so important, why are the Conservatives not spending some of that money in this last month? Why are they not getting it out before the books are closed?
I know why. It is because the Conservatives promised they would have a balanced budget in the current fiscal year which ends on March 31, 2009. The current budget implementation bill shows that it will be a small deficit of $1.1 billion. Members should mark my words that we will have a balanced budget reported for the current fiscal year and they will use that to say that they kept their promise. What they have done is taken away the opportunity for Canadians to save themselves, to save those jobs by having $2 billion less for infrastructure funding.
This is not integrity of government. This is not transparency, openness and accountability. The measure of success of a country is not an economic measure. It is a measure of the health and well-being of the people. With the inactions of the government with regard to the infrastructure funding, it is very clear that it does not believe that stimulus funding will do any good. It just wants to paint a picture for partisan reasons that the current fiscal year will look pretty good with a balanced budget and if it delays enough a few other things and the $3 billion slush fund it has set up in this with no accountability strings attached to it, it will be able to manoeuvre.
I wish I could pull out one of the speeches and read it into the record for members, but the Conservatives basically said that we were a trading country and that all of those countries with which we trade, the United States and others, have massive stimulus packages. Those countries have pumped a lot of money into the banks, the auto industry and into infrastructure, et cetera. They said that we would benefit because those countries will begin buying our stuff again and everything will be fine. They said that we really did not need a stimulus package. I honestly think they do not believe that the stimulus is necessary. I think they will ensure that the stimulus package does not get out on a timely basis and maybe never. It will be promised but never delivered and promised at another photo op and promised again and never delivered.
That is what the Conservatives have been doing since they were first elected in 2006. They have not been governing since 2006. They have been campaigning. It is only because of the official opposition saying that we cannot let this happen to the people of Canada, that someone must give hope to the people of Canada, not fear. It is the Conservatives who are delivering the fear to our country.
Today it is reported that the Prime Minister, in an interview with the CNN, said that what is happening right now is just a cyclical downturn but nothing that requires major government intervention. It speaks for itself. The Prime Minister is not on side. He does not believe it. He cannot be trusted. He is not credible in what he says. His caucus is right behind him in lack of credibility, accountability, transparency and openness.
The day will come when we will be able to fix all the damage the Conservatives will do with this budget, but in the meantime, the official opposition will support the budget because the people of Canada need us to be here working for them and ensuring the government is held accountable at a time of Canadians' needs.