Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this important bill, which illustrates the profound differences between the parties in this House. This brings to light all the challenges we have with a third minority government in a row. This is the first time in Canadian political history that there have been three minority governments in a row: the Liberal minority government of Paul Martin, followed by two Conservative minority governments led by the current Prime Minister.
I say this by way of introduction to explain that, clearly, the government has had to become accustomed to this situation and find various ways to deal with the presence of other political forces in this House. Let us look at the differences in approach.
When Paul Martin came to power with a minority government in the spring of 2005, he was faced with an opposition majority. There were enough Conservative, Bloc and NDP members to defeat the Liberal minority government, so it had to find an ally.
Mr. Martin's budget had provided that taxes on major corporations would be reduced by $4.8 billion. This money was removed from Crown assets. The NDP supported the budget on the condition that the government make a drastic change, allocating the $4.8 billion to social housing, public transit and post-secondary education. This shows that the parties can work together in a minority situation, provided that the government is willing to accept its minority status and work with the other parties in the House.
What changes have we seen with the Conservatives? During their first government, which lasted from January 2006 to October 2008—there was another election last October 14—the House of Commons was the scene of daily bickering, spite, invective and constant attacks from a minority government. The leader of the Liberal Party was weak and voted 43 times for the Conservatives. As a result, it was very difficult for the Liberals to face the voters and say how bad the Conservatives were, since they had given the government a vote of confidence 43 times.
The Prime Minister had the temerity to call an election. It should first be said that this election was called contrary to the provisions of legislation that had been introduced and voted on by the Conservatives as part of what they called their ethics package. That may seem somewhat pompous, but it was as hollow as it was pompous. They said with their hand on their heart that it was not right for the government itself to decide on the date of the elections and that they were going to set the date for the next election, which would be held on October 19, 2010. That was when the next election was to be called.
They did as all the other governments have done before them, but more hypocritically, since they had a vote on legislation here in the House of Commons saying it was not right to leave it to the government to choose the date of the election and that elections had to be called on a set date. That really betrays the Conservatives' modus operandi and shows how it is they cannot work with anyone. In the 2008 election campaign, they swore to the public that they had understood the importance of working with all forces in the House of Commons. They said that this time things would be different, even if they were in a minority position. It is true that things were different. They were worse.
On November 27, right in the middle, not of what we feared might be, but what has already proven itself to be one of the worst economic crises since the 1920s, the Conservatives made a budget statement, one that required the confidence of the House. In the statement, they attacked three things. First, they attacked the right of women to equal pay for work of equal value. Second, they attacked union and social rights. Third, they attacked the very system of funding political parties. This system, it will be remembered, had been put in place in the wake of the worst political scandal in Canada's history. It was the sponsorship scandal, in which the Liberal Party of Canada stole millions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers for its own use. It has yet to pay it all back.
That is what the Conservatives decided to do, instead of proposing budgetary measures to increase economic activity, save jobs and create new ones. It was so serious that the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party of Canada announced their plans to defeat the government. That is when we saw a man who usually struts about like some tough guy run and hide behind the Governor General's skirts, asking that Parliament be prorogued, instead of facing the music on December 8. He went and saw the Governor General, imploring her to grant a prorogation unlike any other in the history of Canadian politics. That prorogation was granted only a few weeks after the federal election. He was about to be defeated. Showing a lack of respect for our institutions, he hid out at Rideau Hall and succeeded in getting his prorogation, and a reprieve. The House resumed exactly two months from November 27. On January 27, the government presented its budget.
What did the budget do? The budget attacked women's right to equal pay for work of equal value. The budget attacked union and social rights. But this time, as though there always have to be three things, instead of attacking political party financing, it attacked the environment, taking away the protection granted by legislation that even has that word in its title: the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
I will list all the things that were in the budget and ought not to have been, and the others that ought to have been in there and were not. The only thing that was taken out between November 27 and January 27, and which was of sufficient interest to the Liberals to get them to vote in favour of the budget this time, while they were prepared to vote against it in November, is abolition of the clean funding system for political parties. In so doing they managed to get their money back. We got it clearly: the only principle of interest to the Liberals is their own money. Let us keep in mind that the Liberal Party of Canada is the party that depends the most on public assets for its funding. It is, in fact, incapable of finding funding. We saw that with the sponsorship scandal: the only way it could get any money was to steal the public's money. So, there were a whole series of elements that should never have been in a budget bill.
We understand where they got the model from, however. In another Bill C-10 in another time, the Conservatives felt the desire to start imposing film censorship. This was a step back to the 1950s. The good Conservatives made the decision for the public on what films could or could not be made in Canada with funding from various tax credit programs. That had nothing to do with the budget except the fact that tax credits were mentioned, but it had everything to do with their right-wing ideology.
Then, in another bill they managed to include in a budget bill, we had an all out attack on our immigration system, a system that had been based on rights. A person was entitled to become a citizen if he or she met all the criteria. The Conservatives changed this to “may”. A person may become a citizen if he or she meets all the criteria, but the one who makes the decision is a public servant. It thus becomes totally random and discretionary, and thus at cross-purposes with all our principles of law, but that did not bother them much. For the Conservatives, none of that is of any interest.
Those are the three things they have done.
These measures were included but should not have been there. I have to say that those items that should have been in the budget are nowhere to be found.
I will make a friendly suggestion to my good friend, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance: he should either clean his ears or take a memory test. I was at a meeting attended by my colleague for Winnipeg, the Minister of Finance, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. They explained to him, chapter and verse, what should be in the budget—because our approach was to stimulate the economy with large public expenditures—and, knowing them very well, they did not want them to start down another path. It has been on the website for a long time. My leader met with the Prime Minister and had been discussing with him a number of measures for an hour and a half. Significantly, during the meeting, it was my colleague who, on behalf of the caucus members, pointed out, line by line, item by item, projects that were at the ready and had all been analysed in their respective parts of the country. Apparently, the Minister of Finance, who looked as though he was taking notes, was just pretending to take notes. His parliamentary secretary, who was obviously there in body but not in mind, rose in this House today to contradict one of my colleagues by stating that nothing at all had been submitted. That is false.
My colleague did indeed provide a list of things, but our approach is totally different. As our Bloc colleague has just put it so well, there is a fundamental difference between our two parties. This difference colours all of their thinking. We would have preferred from the outset that they not provide the same tax reductions across the board to all major corporations, because, by definition, a company that makes no profits has no tax to pay and cannot therefore enjoy a tax reduction. This is economics 101.
They should have targeted the sectors of the economy that needed it most, such as the manufacturing and forestry sectors. Unfortunately, these two sectors are in Ontario and Quebec, primarily, where they have no political base. So that was of no interest to them. They gave tens of billions of dollars to the most profitable companies, including the oil and gas sectors in western Canada, their political base. So, companies not needing it were bailed out with public funds, and companies with the greatest need got nothing. The figures are there. Since they came to office—even before the current crisis—over 350,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector and over 100,000 in the forestry sector in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. That is the direct result of the poor budget choices of the Conservatives. But they were not about to change their tack. That was the meeting we had with the finance minister.
His parliamentary secretary said earlier that we were rude. We do not agree with them and do not support the decision taken knowingly by the Conservatives to demolish the manufacturing and forestry sectors. That is what they have done.
At the end of January, on January 27, they presented a budget. The crisis had been full blown since September and continued in October, November, December and January, but at the end of January they still had not done anything.
They have introduced a budget with supposedly 1.9% of the GDP for public spending. Let us look at the facts. The figure advocated by the G7 and the G20 is 2%. Let us look closely at the facts, however. The 1.9% includes $8 billion that was to come from a reduction in public spending, but nothing was identified. One important point to remember is that the Conservatives have been in office for three years and, prior to the current budget, they had increased spending for government programs by nearly 25%, or $40 billion a year, with no results.
They gave $60 billion in tax cuts to the richest large corporations and increased spending by $40 billion, but this has no impact on most people. Did they eliminate the two week waiting period for employment insurance? Not at all. Did they help certain sectors of industry? They do not believe in that; they will not do so.
What is more, the 1.9% of GDP is also entirely unrealistic. They claim they will spend the municipalities' money and the provinces' money. In their little columns of numbers, they are including money from the municipalities and the provinces, which have not said a word about whether that money is available. Yet, that money is part of the Conservatives' calculations. Talk about free-loading. While all other countries are pinching their pennies and doing everything they can to sustain themselves, the Conservatives are sneaking a little here and a little there from everyone else's plate. They are not really spending to stimulate the economy. This aspect, which should have been in the budget, is totally missing.
There is a third factor. We are talking about what was in the budget and should not have been there, like the attack against women's right to equal pay for work of equal value, and what should have been there, like real spending to stimulate the economy, particularly in the area of infrastructure and refurbishing old homes to make them more energy efficient. Are we going to pass such a huge debt down to future generations? Hopefully we can at least pass down green infrastructures at the same time, along with clean, renewable energy and things they can benefit from. Instead, some would rather destroy the environment under the pretext that projects must be approved as soon as possible. Thus, they are using a real economic crisis as an opportunity to attack women's rights, the environment and social rights.
Last week, we got the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. On Thursday, we found out that by fiddling with the vote on the Treasury budgets, they were going to try to get approval for a $3 billion slush fund to be spent however they wish with no strings attached and no defined programs. They tried to absolve themselves by saying that they have to do it because measures take too long. This is like some kind of 1-800-Chuck-Guité. They have to start understanding what they have done. They are asking high-level bureaucrats to do what the Liberals asked them to do during the sponsorship scandal.
We have a parliamentary system based on departmental accountability. Since the sponsorship scandal, the rules have been changed, and what used to be implicit—deputy minister accountability—is now explicit. They are thumbing their noses at all of that even though it was in a bill that they introduced on accountability and the obligation to report to the people's elected representatives. That is what is so dangerous.
The U.S. has a different system of government and a lot has to change to make it work, but the Americans and their new President Obama are setting up an on-line system that will allow citizens to track how every dollar is spent. I made the same suggestion last Thursday. The same parliamentary secretary, the one with the memory problems, was on CTV with Tom Clark, and he said that it was a very good idea. Just two days later, on CTV's Question Period with Craig Oliver, that interest evaporated.
The NDP reproves and condemns the government because it has introduced a budget that does nothing to stimulate the economy, that attacks basic rights, such as women's rights, and that brings in several billions of dollars worth of discretionary spending. The budget is shameful. Unlike the Liberals, who have no principles, the NDP will take a stand against this budget.