Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak on Bill C-47, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures.
For the sake of bringing people up to speed on why we are even discussing such an unusual bill with a strange title, it is simply due to the fact that once the annual budget is presented, parliamentarians debate and then vote on the major overlying principles of the budget that is tabled. However, in order for the items presented in that particular budget to come into force, bills need to be presented so that the necessary provisions of the budget can be written into law.
Therefore, Bill C-47 is simply a technical bill that implements certain provisions of the last budget into law. As usual, a technical bill has turned into a possible reason to call an election. In the time I have been here, I have never seen more suspense surrounding technical bills than during the term of the Conservative government, simply due to the unusual way the government handles its parliamentary affairs when it comes to implementation bills. The budget says one thing and the bills say another.
For example, in a previous implementation bill tabled in the spring, the government included items to amend that had nothing to do with the budget. It requested amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, introduced an airport security tax, proposed changes to the Employment Insurance Act, changes to the Canada Post Corporation Act and changes to allow for the sell-off of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. All this occurs because of the secret nature of the government, which tries to sneak divisive items into legislation through the back door in order to avoid public input or any type of parliamentary oversight. In this way, all decisions made by the government can be made under a shroud of secrecy to advance the Conservatives' secret agenda.
The budget for the year ending March 31, 2011, is expected to cost Canadians over $238 billion this year alone and add almost $25 billion to our national debt. The government likes to misrepresent itself by saying it is fiscally disciplined, but this is simply not true. The Conservative government has been the highest-spending government year after year for the last four years, and every year it has been in office it has broken the previous record for spending. Never in the history of Canada has any government spent as much money as this one has.
The government also likes to misrepresent itself by saying it does not raise taxes, but this is simply not true. To pay for its out-of-control spending spree in the last six months, the Conservatives are finding ways to increase taxes. The new airport security tax proposed by the government is in fact a tax increase. The government can call it anything it wants, but everyone in the chamber knows that it is a tax. Ordinary Canadians will feel that the government is reaching into their pockets whenever they have to travel, and they will know it is a tax.
In addition to the air travellers tax, this January coming, the government will charge Canadian workers, entrepreneurs and companies a payroll tax increase. The economic recovery is weak and fragile, and this latest tax hike will put countless small and medium-sized enterprises out of business. It will put thousands upon thousands of hard-working Canadians out of a job, and it will certainly cause a great amount of suffering in homes across Canada.
The Conservatives like to sprinkle money around on pet projects, they like to have their pictures in local newspapers holding giant novelty cheques and they like to fly the Prime Minister all over the country at the Canadian taxpayers' expense to make spending announcements, but the fact of the matter is that for all the spending the government has done, we have not seen any progress.
The budget 2010 stimulus package just is not working. National groups from different sectors of industry have all said that the stimulus is not doing what it is intended to do. As part of prebudget consultation hearings of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, of which I am vice-chair, groups that have testified as early as this week have time and time again said the stimulus was appreciated but was not working. They say “appreciated” because they get intimidated by the government. However, when they say “not working”, they mean that the program was implemented, but with no consultation and vision for the future, how effective can the program be?
Canada's unemployment rate is 2% higher today than it was 18 months ago. Still, this number does not tell the full story. Too many full-time jobs have been replaced by part-time work. The government likes to claim that the stimulus package has helped to recuperate lost jobs, but replacing a high-paying full-time job with a low-paying part-time job is like a bad trade for a sporting team, and we all know how that works out in the long run.
Canada's economy shrunk in July, and this includes a downturn in the construction industry during what should have been the height of the construction season.
Just this morning, it was confirmed that the Canadian economy lost 6,600 jobs in the month of September, while expectations were for 10,000 additional jobs to be created. This is because the government has been slow to approve projects and has concentrated spending on pet projects in areas where the Conservatives hope to score political points rather than spending fairly and intelligently by listening to local officials who know what their communities need.
Consumer confidence has declined four months in a row. In this period of supposed recovery, Canadians are not feeling the benefits, and that is because the recovery is a lie. When unemployment is high, that is not a recovery. When people cannot get enough hours at work to make ends meet, that is not a recovery. When Canadians have to decide whether to fill up their gas tanks or buy groceries this week, that is not a recovery. When construction equipment idles while Conservative ministers take credit for a spending announcement, that is not a recovery. It is a photo op.
Household debt is at record levels. The average Canadian owes almost $42,000, which is among the highest levels of all the OECD countries. Canadians are trying to keep their heads above water, and all the government has to offer them is tax increases, billions in spending on prisons we do not need, jet fighters that have not gone through the proper bid process, and millions of dollars in advertising for Conservative propaganda. The only people to come out ahead during this recovery are the folks who make the economic action plan billboards.
Canada's monthly trade deficit is at a record high of $2.7 billion, and this is a warning sign for a country that depends upon trade for jobs and prosperity. Not long ago, we used to run a trade surplus in this country. Canada used to take in more money than it spent compared to trading competitors, but since the government has taken power and crippled our economy, we have seen revenues fall relative to expenditures.
When the Conservatives took power, Canada was running trade surpluses, unemployment was low, taxes were low, the government had a $13 billion surplus and the economy was growing steadily. In the last five years, its economic mismanagement has undone all of these accomplishments and Canadians are paying for its failure. The numbers are in and there is no hiding from the facts. The government has lost jobs, depleted our finances, increased our debt burden and raised our taxes.
This year's budget was critical because it needed to be bold enough and effective enough to stop the bleeding brought by three years of Conservative economic mismanagement. Budget 2010 failed to address the real economic challenges facing Canadian families, such as record household debt, the rising costs of education and home care, pension security and the loss of 200,000 full-time jobs in just the last 18 months.
The Conservative record of waste and mismanagement does not reflect the priorities of Canadians. The borrow-and-spend Conservative government has wasted Canadians' money with a record $130 million on shameless, self-promoting advertising; $1.3 billion for a three-day G8-G20 photo op, with spending on everything from a fake lake to glow sticks; $10 billion to $13 billion on American-style megaprisons to lock up unreported criminals, as the crime rate declines; $16 billion on a bad deal for stealth fighters, awarded without competition or guaranteed jobs for Canadians; and $20 billion in corporate tax cuts that we cannot afford.
The deficit has reached a record high of $54 billion and is projected to go even higher. The $156 billion of new debt that the Conservatives plan to borrow between 2009 and 2014 will cost taxpayers $10 billion in interest payments each and every year for decades to come. We have to pay $10 billion every year before we can even put a dent in repaying the debt.
What makes this even worse is that the government chooses to deflect criticism away from its pitiful record by creating divisions in this chamber and throughout the country by trying to stifle meaningful debate and oversight.
During a debate, we share ideas. I know that some issues are complex and can be emotional. But this government has gotten into the habit of constantly introducing bills that create divisions. Because of its rigid right-wing ideology, it does not want to put forward its ideas in separate bills.
Bill C-47 is a wasted opportunity by the Conservative government. Instead of offering meaningful help to Canadians in this time of economic uncertainty, the Conservatives have provided us with a mixture of taxes on ordinary Canadians, crippling deficits and recklessly ineffective spending on non-priority measures.
The Liberal Party of Canada would prefer we spend our time debating and implementing priority measures that benefit all Canadians.
These are difficult economic times, which means that governments must choose. The Conservatives choose tax breaks for corporations. We choose to help Canadian families.
That is why the Liberal Party has announced the Liberal family care plan to help people with the cost of caring for sick or aging loved ones at home.
Here are some statistics. There are approximately 2.7 million family caregivers in Canada. These people are responsible for 80% of home care services in Canada, providing more than $9 billion in unpaid care each year. More than 40% of family caregivers use their personal savings to survive. More than one-quarter of family caregivers miss one or more months of work to provide care, and 65% have household incomes under $45,000. Canada's population is aging; one in five Canadians will be 60 by 2020, and by 2017, Canada's 150th birthday, it is estimated that the number of seniors with chronic conditions requiring home care will increase by one-third.
Canadians want choices when it comes to caring for their families. Providing care at home allows our loved ones to live in dignity as they face their health challenges with their families. Making family care easier will also help to contain health care costs in the long run.
To enhance care for our parents, our grandparents and our sick loved ones, a Liberal government will invest $1 billion annually in a new Liberal family care plan to help reduce the economic pressure on hundreds of thousands of struggling Canadian families.
Our Liberal family care plan reflects the real value of family caregivers in our society—their value to our economy, our health, our families and our communities.
Canadians trust the Liberal Party to safeguard public health care. The fact is, the Canadian population is aging, and most Canadians expect to be responsible for the care of a very sick family member at home in their lifetime. The Conservative government has not shown any leadership on this issue, which is an important priority for Canadian families. One Conservative minister even suggested that family caregivers could use their vacation time to take care of their loved ones.
I would like to take a few moments to explain the Liberal family care plan in detail, in order to avoid any confusion.
The plan includes two measures: a new six-month family care employment insurance benefit and a new family care tax benefit.
The six-month family care employment insurance benefit, similar to the EI parental leave benefit, will allow more Canadians to care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quit their jobs.
For extended benefits, we will replace the six-week compassionate care provision with a new EI benefit lasting up to six months.
To make benefits more accessible and build more flexibility into the program, we are proposing changes to the nature of the required doctor’s certificate. At present, a doctor must sign a form confirming that a family member is “gravely ill with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks”. We will work with the medical community to relax that definition with a form confirming that the family member requires a great deal of care because he or she is gravely ill.
With regard to the flexible sharing of benefits, we will make the program more flexible by allowing the six months to be split up into blocks of time over a one-year period and by allowing eligible family members to share this time in order to provide care.
The new family care employment insurance benefit will cost approximately $250 million per year and will give support to 30,000 caregivers. A Liberal government will not increase employment insurance premiums to fund this measure.
The Liberal plan will also establish a new monthly tax benefit for family care. This new benefit will be applied in the same way as the Canadian child tax credit and it will be offered to all caregivers.
This new benefit will consist of a monthly tax-free payment, for a total of up to $1,350 per year.
The benefit will be gradually reduced based on family income starting at $41,000 and will be available to families with annual income under $106,000.
To qualify, families will have to produce a doctor's certificate confirming that a sick member of their family requires significant care and assistance to carry out daily or critical life tasks.
The new family care tax benefit will give support to approximately 600,000 caregivers at an approximate cost of $750 million per year.
We talked to Canadians. We know that more of us need to provide long-term care for our loved ones. The Liberal Party will do whatever it can to ease this burden. The choice is simple: stand with Canadians or stand with special interests. We will stand with Canadians.
Canadians are feeling the crunch of personal debt and they are worried that they will not be able to save enough for their retirement. Pensions are a priority concern and the Liberal Party has proposed pragmatic solutions to help out ordinary Canadians.
To further promote saving, we, the Liberals, are asking the government to consider our pension reform projects: creating a supplementary Canada pension plan to help Canadians save more and providing employees who lose their pension funds as a result of bankruptcy with an opportunity to increase their pension income through the Canada pension plan.
To allow Canadians to further invest in our national pension plan, on which we can rely, the Liberal plan proposes that the government work with the provinces, retirees, unions and the private sector to develop and implement a supplementary pension plan.
The Liberal Party will do whatever it can to help Canadians help themselves, which is why we have proposed a simple, pragmatic solution that will allow Canadians to save for their retirement.
The choice is simple: stand with Canadians or stand with special interests. We will stand, like I said before, with Canadians.
Budget 2010 fails, not only to address the real challenges facing Canadian families but to recognize that those challenges even exist.
When Canadians need their government to stand with them, the Conservatives have chosen to stand with special interests. Bill C-47 is just the latest example of the Conservative government's failure to stand with Canadians. As a Liberal, I have always stood with Canadians and will continue to do so by voting against Bill C-47.