Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to raise some of the concerns I have with respect to Bill C-47. It is difficult to follow my hon. colleague because he speaks very well and raises the issue with such compassion and caring, but I will do the best I can.
Let me say at the outset that I do not accept that the government has demonstrated either the will or the skill to manage any economic recovery. While the Conservatives may claim to have a steady hand on the wheel during a raging storm, I suggest that if they looked more closely, they would find that they are standing on the docks as the good ship Canada has left without any predetermined plan.
The only saving fiscal grace that we have seen is the thousands upon thousands of small businesses pressing for success, a banking sector that is stable and secure as a result of the previous Liberal government, and a labour force that is skilled and dedicated. The government has been too busy developing sound bites and using the treasury for self-promoting commercials.
In the election of 2008, the Prime Minister insisted that Canada would never fall into a recession, that we were all dreaming. He suggested that the warnings of a global meltdown were nothing other than alarmists bent on undermining the Canadian economic success story. He dismissed any public discussion of advance preparedness as fearmongering and said that slashing taxes to Canada's largest corporations would prevent any global economic calamity from touching down domestically. How wrong he was and how right we were.
Today looking back, it is very clear that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance were either hiding something for partisan electoral reasons, or they were totally oblivious to the impending economic difficulties. Either way, their approach has been unacceptable, shortsighted and damaging to all Canadians.
Setting all that aside and ignoring the fact that the government has abandoned any semblance of fiscal prudence or long-term planning in favour of a borrow and spend approach to public policy, we now need to focus on the task at hand.
Bill C-47 does have a very few redeeming qualities. For example, in part 1 it seeks to allow for the sharing of the Canada child tax benefit, the universal child care benefit and the HST tax credit for eligible shared custody parents. It also expands the availability of accelerated capital cost allowance for clean energy generation. While, yes, these are good measures when viewed in a singular fashion, when viewed as part of a larger picture, I fail to understand how these items address the impacts of the global economic slowdown in Canada.
While it is true that Bill C-47 makes some technical amendments to the tax free savings accounts and allows registered retirement savings plan proceeds to be transferred to a registered disability savings plan on a tax deferred basis, it fails to address some of the most serious problems faced by individual Canadians and Canadian business leaders.
For starters, Bill C-47 is silent on the fact that Canadians are being forced to carry greater amounts of personal debt just to survive. It is silent on the looming pension crisis that many of us know about. It does nothing to help stabilize the increasing gap between government revenues and government spending.
The Prime Minister inherited a $14 billion annual budgetary surplus from the Liberals. Then, in one of his first fiscal decisions, he moved to slash the federal fiscal capacity. We watched as government revenues plummeted, something that eliminated any ability for the government to make strategic investments or to help business, labour or seniors when times get tough.
The government took Canada from the economic envy of the world to what the finance minister now suggests is no worse than everyone else. Imagine crowing about mediocrity. That might be acceptable to that borrow and spend gang of mismanagers, but it is certainly a far cry from what Canadians had come to expect under the previous Liberal administration.
The government has used the word “stimulus” to justify everything it ever wanted to do. I will give the House a few examples.
The government recently billed Canadian taxpayers, all of us, a substantial sum of money for a so-called town hall meeting in Cambridge, Ontario, to release the second economic action plan report card. The cost was $108,000 just to make an announcement that clearly could have been made here in the House or anywhere here in Ottawa.
Then just three months later the government did it again, to release the third report card in Saint John, New Brunswick, at a cost of $143,000.
That is more than $250,000 for stunts to tell Canadians we are in good financial shape when it is untrue, because we are not.
That is over and above the 332% increase in the amount the PMO is currently spending on communication consultants, or spin doctors, beyond its internal communications staff, which is immense to begin with and has also increased by 30% in two years.
Canadians can only be fooled for so long.
Canada's fiscal capacity was damaged long before the Conservative government ever began spending on stimulus.
In the name of stimulus and promoting Canada, the Conservatives have spent billions on faster jets, bigger prisons and caviar summits. But when it comes to pension reform, or putting money into the pockets of our seniors, our small businesses or our vital social programs, the Conservatives cry poverty at that point.
Canadians are catching on to the kind of games being played.
In part 5 of Bill C-47, there is an amendment to the Canada Disability Savings Act to allow a 10-year carry-forward of Canada disability savings grants and Canada disability savings bond entitlements. I have no problem with that and I do not think most of us do.
Bill C-47 proposes to make changes that would require consent of a member's spouse or common law partner before the transfer of the member's pension benefit credit to a retirement savings plan. Again, I am not complaining about that.
My greatest concern with Bill C-47 is what is missing from these pages: fiscal prudence, long-term planning, compassion, a real plan for economic success. These are the things Canadians want, need and expect from their government.
During the Chrétien and Martin years, Canada went from the massive Mulroney debt to a global position of strength and envy. Liberals worked and Canadians worked to eliminate the deficit, to reduce the national debt, to make the largest series of strategic tax cuts in history and to pump billions into vital programs such as health care.
But in just four short years the government has transformed itself from alleged fiscal conservatives to the largest and most lavish spenders in Canadian history. Our deficit is now larger, if one can imagine that, than it was during the Mulroney years.
I guess we should not be surprised though. After all, when the same finance minister was the minister of finance in Ontario he pulled the same stunt along with premier Mike Harris. He sold provincial assets such as Ontario Hydro in order to pay for his mismanagement, and then he promised that hydro bills would not go up. But they clearly did.
While Paul Martin's legacy as finance minister is one that demonstrated a real ability to manage the finances of a nation, the current finance minister can only crow that Canada is not the worst kid on the block. But I guess we all gauge success differently.
Bill C-47, like budget bills before it, has its strengths but it does nothing to show real leadership. It fails to address real problems and it fails to chart a long-term, sustainable course for Canada's economic success.
I know the minister and the Prime Minister say it cannot be done. They say there was no way to see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, but I wonder why almost everyone else saw it coming.
In the election of 2008, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville devised a detailed plan to help Canada stay off the rocks, but the Conservatives said that our economic fundamentals were wrong. They dismissed it as not being prudent and proactive.
I say to the emperor and the keeper of the purse that perhaps they should contact Paul Martin or the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville or the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, who saw this economic slowdown coming.
Just as we did in 1993, the Liberals stand ready to clean up this mess left by the reckless, short-term habits of the Conservatives.