This bill gave the Minister of Finance a golden opportunity to present new ideas, better management practices and a true vision for Canada's future. Instead, this bill is a simple administrative process that does not offer any hope when so many Canadian families are having a hard time making ends meet.
Canada's economy shrank because this borrow-and-spend government has failed to stimulate substantial economic growth. The Conservatives refuse to attack the real economic challenges Canadian families are facing, including record-high household debt, the exorbitant cost of post-secondary education and home care, and the insecurity of pension plans for those still working, not to mention the loss of 150,000 full-time jobs.
Statistics Canada indicated that our gross domestic product dropped by 0.1% in July, which translates into an overall contraction of the Canadian economy, while the unemployment rate in our country is 1.9% higher today than it was during the last election.
After a decade of surplus budgets under Liberal governments, the Conservatives put Canada into a deficit even before the recession by increasing government spending by 18% in their first three budgets. Their current record deficit of $54 billion is expected to get worse.
The Conservatives' wasteful and rather irresponsible spending is the primary reason this record $54 billion deficit is getting worse.
The Prime Minister's solution seems to be to borrow $20 billion more to offer a tax break to the most profitable businesses—a gift we can hardly afford to give—while ignoring the needs of Canadian families who are in utter distress.
How have things improved for Canadians since 2006? Have these billions of borrowed dollars really helped restore Canadian families' sense of confidence in the future?
During the last election campaign, this government promised Canadians that it would never go into deficit. Since then, its road map has been littered with waste that keeps piling up.
Here are a few figures that provide a snapshot of out-of-control spending: a record $130 million on shameless self-aggrandizing publicity; $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo shoot at the G8 and G20 summits, money that was used to buy anything and everything from a fake lake to light sticks; $10 billion to $13 billion on U.S.-style mega-prisons where all those “unspecified criminals” will be sent—the ones who will never be brought to justice—and this at a time when the crime rate is going down; $16 billion for a botched agreement to purchase stealth fighter jets involving an untendered contract with no guarantee of jobs for the Canadian industry; and $6 billion in yearly tax breaks for the country's most profitable companies, a tax cut well beyond our means.
Can anyone deny that this frenzy of waste demonstrates that this government has absolutely no sense of the very real financial concerns of middle-class families that are having an increasingly tough time making ends meet?
Canadians expect their government to use public funds responsibly to provide the services they need to improve their quality of life. I understand that it is difficult to strike a balance between spending and saving in the midst of the current economic uncertainty, but that is what an effective and compassionate government must do.
Bill C-47 is the latest in a long line of opportunities this government has botched.
A look at part I of the bill—which is at the beginning—and at the Universal Child Care Benefit Act, is enough to convince anyone.
What a flagrant example of a missed opportunity. This is the kind of inaction that shows us the extent to which Conservative values fly in the face of good public policy.
The purpose of the proposed amendment in this clause of the bill is to divide the already meagre $100 benefit given to parents with shared custody, with the result being that each one will receive $50. May I remind the House that this benefit is also taxed at year's end?
The government had an opportunity to raise this amount to a level that would really have helped Canadian families absorb the cost of child care. Instead, it chose to split it further, thereby forcing families into a Solomon-style dilemma.
The fact of the matter is that this $100 child care benefit is just one drop in an ocean of ever-increasing expenses weighing our families down. Depending on where you live, the cost of child care can range from $200 to over $1,000 per month.
On average, one month's child care fees in Ontario's Chatham region total $826, while a similar child care service in Winnipeg, Manitoba, costs $395. I should point out here that the provincial government capped fees in that province.
The cheapest city on the list as far as child care is concerned is Montreal, where average fees total $205, but let us not forget that this amount is based on a law that caps the cost of child care at $7 a day in Quebec. In Quebec’s case, the province had to intervene in order to make the cost of child care affordable for all families.
Here are the average costs in other cities across Canada: Regina, $415; Fredericton, $420; Saint John, $430; Yellowknife, $605; London, $640; Kitchener, $650; Toronto, $800; and here, in Ottawa, $860.
We must not forget that those are averages, and that in many cases, the costs are much higher. Let us not kid ourselves: there are certainly cheaper places, but as with anything else, you get what you pay for.
With this bill, the government had a chance to increase the amount of the child care benefit, but it did not do so. Instead, it spent $130 million on brightly coloured signs and flashy ads. That $130 million could have funded over 21,000 full-time day care spaces for a whole year to help struggling Canadian families, including many single parents who need to provide day care for their children.
The government had a choice: spend money on flashy billboards, or offer real support to families that are struggling with child care issues. We now see this government's fundamentally mean-spirited priorities. It is disappointing to say the least.
Another clearly missed target in the bill is the complete and utter dismissal of the real and urgent problems affecting the Champlain Bridge, the most travelled bridge in the country and an essential link between Montreal, the South Shore, the Eastern Townships and, lest we forget, the United States.
The Conservative government chose a band-aid solution by investing $212 million over 10 years to repair the bridge structure. Unfortunately, when I looked into how that money has been spent up until now, I discovered that, as with most other projects undertaken through the Conservative government's economic action plan, the money does not seem to be there.
The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited had planned on spending nearly $14 million in the first year on “urgent” repairs. But the first year is over, and the corporation does not appear to have spent even $10 million. If the bridge needs urgent repairs, why is the money being sent over in dribs and drabs?
When I wrote to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in April 2009 to ask about the possibility of repairing the bridge in a way that would allow light rail transport or other forms of public transportation, he replied with the following:
First, I would clarify that provincial, territorial and municipal governments are responsible for the planning and operation of Canada's various public transportation networks. The Government of Canada does not intervene in the planning, management and operation of these networks.
That may be so, but when they are on a bridge managed by a federal corporation, the federal government has to take action.
Allocating money is helpful only if that money is actually spent on the projects for which it was allocated. I suppose the Conservatives have become so good at public relations that they think all investments end at their communications unit.
Who is blocking this important funding? It is obvious that the Conservative government is washing its hands of the Champlain bridge and no longer wants to talk about how the work is progressing. I just learned that a vital study on the future of the bridge or a secondary route is still being held up. Consortium BCDE was awarded a $1.397 million contract in late September 2009 to study the feasibility of building a new bridge in the Champlain bridge corridor. The study was supposed to have been completed in 12 months, but now its completion date has been postponed to December 2010.
I was very eager to see the results of this study so that we would finally have a real plan, a real vision for the future of this vital route over the river. Patch jobs are not the answer, as anyone who takes the Champlain bridge regularly knows. The completion of the study has been postponed for three months. Can anyone assure us that there will not be any more delays?
In its annual report for 2008-2009, The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated promised in its objective 8 to “carry out a feasibility study to construct a new bridge along the Champlain Bridge corridor” and said it anticipated awarding the contract for the study in July 2009. The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated awarded the contract two months late, and now it seems we will have to wait three more months for the results. The people on the south shore of Montreal are fed up with the delays with their bridge. I am disappointed to see that it does not seem to be a priority for The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated and even less so for the Conservative government.
A real penchant, though, for finding the silver lining in every cloud led me to examine the bill from stem to stern in the hope of finding a hidden gem. I came across part 4 of the bill, which deals with changes to the Bank Act. When I saw this short section, which is near the end of Bill C-47, I was eager to see whether the Minister of Finance had kept his word and included the changes I had suggested in the House.
On October 7, 2009, I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-457, which made some important changes to the Insurance Business (Banks and Bank Holding Companies) Regulations to ensure that insurance brokers in small and medium-sized firms benefited from a standardization of the rules of the game. Ironically, on the same day I introduced this bill, the Minister of Finance stated that the government intended to prohibit Canadian banks from using the Internet to promote and sell insurance on their websites. This measure was in one of the four parts of my bill. I saw in it a sign that the government had reacted because I introduced my private member’s bill.
I therefore wrote to the Minister of Finance on October 19, 2009, asking him to support my bill so that the regulations could be changed once and for all.
The minister finally replied to my letter on July 29, 2010. I do not wish to dwell on the length of time it took for the minister to reply, but nine months seems excessive, particularly since he stated, on October 7, 2009, that not only would he write to the banks about putting an end to their practice of selling insurance on their websites, but also that his government would adopt a law to that effect.
In his letter of July 29, 2010, the minister advised me that “draft regulations” would soon be pre-published in the Canada Gazette to address the issue of banks using the Internet to promote and sell insurance. We are still waiting for those draft regulations. I had hoped to find these changes in Bill C-47, but, unfortunately, I have been disappointed as they have not been included.
Since the minister did nothing more than offer lip service and make a few verbal threats, the banks have already responded by trying to promote insurance on cell phones and personal digital assistants, or PDAs.
My bill expands the prohibitions against banks selling insurance. It would prohibit banks in Canada from promoting insurance products in their branches and neighbourhoods, or on websites, ATMs, cell phones and PDAs.
Once again, Bill C-47 provided an opportunity to deal with this and other pressing matters. The Conservatives are good at making promises they do not intend to keep, and we are left, once again, trying to squeeze water from a stone.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, this bill is purely administrative. It does not contain a single substantive measure, much less an innovative one.
This was yet another wasted opportunity, another example of the laissez-faire approach adopted by the government which, time and time again, has shown that it is not interested in governing.