Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important budget bill, Bill C-47. It is another in a continuing series of discussions we are having with the government about what it should be doing to deal with some of our difficult economic realities. Among other things, it should be investing in communities and people, and looking after families that are finding it hard to make ends meet in these difficult times. As jobs continue to be lost or changed in nature, incomes go down, the cost of living continues to increase, and people struggle to keep body and soul together as they attempt to provide their children with support, education, and help with their health care needs.
As we continue this discussion about the budget and the economy, it is important to understand how they connect, and how we as government support communities that are struggling to keep all of their citizens' heads above water. It is important to understand and reflect on what got us where we are today. We need to consider the 2008 collapse of the world's financial sector and understand why it happened.
The government did not recognize the 2008 recession until the opposition on this side of the House made it aware of the problem. Then, all of a sudden, the government began to realize that it needed to respond in a serious way to this economic and financial tsunami that was coming at us.
The cause of this was that we allowed our banking systems, both here and around the world, to continue to be further and further deregulated. Besides the banks, we deregulated a lot of other financial practices. We allowed the ethos of greed and fear to be the driving force behind the decisions made by corporations and governments around the world. Finally, to keep things from getting even worse, governments had to step in and become engaged again.
Deregulation and free trade, which went hand in hand with the deregulation, allowed some corporations to become more powerful and wealthy than many countries. We saw a push towards less government intervention, which is what is now challenging the government of the day. Even though they are great believers in less government intervention, this government was forced to intervene in the economy as never before.
At the same time, we lowered taxes for corporations over and over again, at the provincial and the federal levels. Finally, the government woke up and realized that it had to come to the table with big bags of money to help its friends in the business world to weather these difficult times. But because it had given away so much of the treasury, so much of the capacity of the government to play a role in our economic life, the government had little money left. The result is that we now find ourselves with a huge deficit, and we will be in deficit for a long time to come.
Why are we in the New Democrat caucus speaking so aggressively against this budget today? It is because the government will not be turning these corporate tax breaks around. Instead, the government wants to reduce even further its ability to intervene in the economic affairs of this country.
If we do not stop, take a long look, and do something different, this will be tragic. It will be especially tragic for those who are most at risk and marginalized, and this is the group of people that government has the greatest and most urgent responsibility to help.
For the six years that I have been in this place, and particularly over the last two years since the collapse of the financial world, I have been calling for a national anti-poverty strategy. Six provinces in this country recognize that something significant needs to happen if we are going to deal with the increasing number of people who find themselves unable to make ends meet. Provincial strategies have been put in place. I was in the Northwest Territories a couple of weeks ago, and they are moving on a strategy to deal with poverty.
The provinces are telling us that they will not be able to do all that they have to do. They will not be able to put in place those programs that they know are necessary to lift people up and give them the opportunity to take advantage of the new economy when, a year or two from now, this recession has eased off.
The provinces just do not have the resources, and they are calling on the federal government to be a partner in this effort. They know that we need to move away from this ethos of greed and fear to one of hope and concern for the common good.
Those of us who have been engaged in this exercise over the last three years know that it makes good economic sense to deal with poverty. The choices we make will affect not only our ability to help those who are in difficulty, but also our ability to turn our economy around. Failing to address the problem is costing us in many direct and substantial ways.
We heard from all kinds of people as we travelled the country, getting input on what the federal government should be doing about poverty. They told us the choice is clear: we can pay to address poverty now, or we can wind up paying a lot more for a lot longer.
We pay for poverty through lost productivity, lost opportunity, and increased family violence. We pay for it through the health care system and our criminal justice system. We pay for it through growing demands on an already-frayed social support system. We pay for it through our children's reduced life chances, employment opportunities, and earning capacity.
For the first time in their lives, thousands of families across this country are going into Christmas relying on the good graces of provincial and municipal welfare systems, or what is left of them. People are finding that there is not much to be had.
After the government of the day's 1995 elimination of the Canada assistance plan, the reduction in the transfers to provinces, and the huge rollout of corporate tax breaks, not much was left in the coffers when people came calling in their time of need. People who pay their taxes, work every day, and pay into unemployment insurance are finding as they face this Christmas that the safety net they thought was there has disappeared.
If nothing else, when we consider this budget we should be addressing the difficult reality that is confronting many of our friends and neighbours, our constituents. We need to deal with the question of poverty in this country.