Mr. Speaker, as the holiday season draws near, Canadians are examining their household budgets and they are worried. They are worried about how they are going to make ends meet and how they are going to pay their mortgages.
Canadian household debt, which is the amount Canadians owe in mortgages, credit cards and personal lines of credit, has grown to $1.5 trillion. That is $44,000 for each and every Canadian, almost $100,000 for every Canadian family.
These are historic highs, the highest levels of personal debt in Canadian history. Right now Canadians are having trouble making ends meet when interest rates are at historic lows. Canadians are naturally and justifiably worried about how they are going to make payments in the future, as rates will inevitably rise.
More troubling when they look to the future is that too many Canadians do not know how they are going to pay the bills, pay their mortgages and pay for their children's education.
On a number of fronts, the situation for Canadian families has deteriorated under the watch of the Conservative government.
Since the last election, Canadian household debt has grown by $200 billion. To put that in individual terms, the average debt that each and every Canadian carries has grown by $4,000 since the election of the Conservative government.
In terms of Canadian jobs, Canada's unemployment rate has risen from 6.2% in October 2008 to 7.9% as of last month.
The Conservatives have claimed that they have restored Canadian job numbers or job levels to where they were before the economic downturn. That is simply not accurate. That is false.
In fact, fewer Canadians are employed today compared to October 2008, and even that does not tell the full story. In the past two years, Canadians have seen a shift from full-time jobs to part-time work. There are 115,000 fewer full-time jobs today compared with October 2008.
It is true that many of these full-time jobs have been replaced by part-time work. Canadians know that not all jobs and not all work is created equally. Too many Canadian families have been left trying to make ends meet and provide for their families with only their wages from part-time work, in many cases with minimum wage jobs.
To sum up the Canadian jobs front since the last election we have, one, fewer total jobs and, two, a dramatic shift from full-time jobs to part-time work. It is shocking that the Conservatives continue to brag about this sorry record.
It is a reminder that the Conservatives really are out of touch with the challenges being faced by Canadian families. What is also worrisome is not only that the Conservatives are doing very little to deal with the challenges Canadian families face today, but the Conservatives are ignoring completely some of the real challenges that are on the horizon.
Canada, like many industrialized countries, is facing a significant demographic shift. Many families today are trying to take care of aging parents while at the same time they struggle to pay for their children's education. We are hearing the term now, the “sandwich generation”, and we read and learn of families who are taking care of children and parents at the same time.
The Globe and Mail did a very important series of articles on Alzheimer's and dementia a few weeks ago. One of the most striking and poignant profiles in that series was of a family with a 26-year-old daughter who had two little children and was taking care of those two little children and at the same time was taking care of her 52-year-old father who had early-onset Alzheimer's.
Canadian families are looking to their government for leadership. We need pension reform to prepare us for the demographic bubble and the shift that is occurring.
We need fiscal responsibility to try to get spending under control to ensure that we do not, along with the demographic shift and the challenges on social investment and pensions in the future, also have the fiscal incapacity to deal with those realities.
Canadian families want a government that is not just focused on this week's polls but is focused on the challenges and the opportunities 10 or 20 years ahead of us. They want the government to invest in the priorities of Canadian families.
Instead, Canadian families are being lectured by this finance minister who tells them that this is not the time for risky spending schemes. However, at the same time, this is the finance minister who is pouring billions of Canadian tax dollars into untendered fighter jets, U.S.-style mega-prisons, high-priced consultants and corporate tax cuts that we simply cannot afford now on borrowed money.
This is the same finance minister who inherited a $13 billion surplus from the Liberal government and then increased government spending by 18% in the first few years of the Conservative government, putting Canada into a deficit even before the economic downturn began.
This is the finance minister who said there would be no deficit and then missed every deficit target he ever set, finally, recently, giving Canadians a $56 billion deficit, the biggest deficit in Canadian history.
This is the same finance minister who lectures Canadian families about what he calls “risky spending schemes” instead of lecturing his justice minister and his public safety minister on their risky spending schemes.
On the cost of the prison legislation, the justice minister originally told Canadians that his prison bill would only cost Canadian taxpayers $90 million. Then he said that instead it was going to be $2 billion. So he went from $90 million to $2 billion.
Then we have the Parliamentary Budget Officer who has said that this prison legislation of the Conservative government would not cost $90 million and would not cost $2 billion but would in fact cost between $10 billion and $13 billion. Talk about risky spending schemes.
The last thing Canadians need would be a U.S.-style approach to law and order. In fact, if putting more people in prison led to safer communities, U.S. cities would be the safest communities in the world. We all know that is not true.
Instead of investing in the kinds of sensible measures that would reduce crime in Canada and actually protect Canadian citizens in their communities, the government is pursuing a failed Republican-style U.S. approach to law and order, which failed in the U.S. and has no better potential to succeed here in Canada.
I would like to speak a little bit about the government's other risky spending scheme, and I would remind the House that this same finance minister who lectures Canadian families on government spending has failed to lecture his defence minister on the cost of the untendered F-35 fighter jets.
The F-35s are set to cost Canadian taxpayers $16 billion. The Conservatives are prepared to throw taxpayer money away and pay a $3 billion premium for the F-35s, because the Conservatives stubbornly refuse to open up the process to competition.
U.S. Senator John McCain has expressed his frustration with the F-35s, calling the costs outrageous and saying, “I share our allies' and friends' deep disappointment about the cost overruns...”.
That is Senator John McCain, someone who knows a little bit about defence and understands the importance of respecting tax dollars.
Even the Auditor General has pointed out that the F-35s are a risky undertaking, saying, “I would hope that nobody is assessing...[these risks] as low risk”.
Yet this finance minister continues to lecture Canadian families about risky spending schemes. He completely refuses to reign in his own ministers and their risky spending schemes.
This finance minister who talks about risky spending schemes is also the finance minister who allowed his public safety minister to waste $1.3 billion on a 72-hour G20 photo op session in Toronto. That included $1 million for a fake lake, $300,000 for a gazebo, bathrooms that were 20 kilometres away from the summit site, $400,000 for bug spray, I guess the fake lake was attracting a lot of insects, over $300,000 for luxury furniture, $14,000 for glow sticks, millions on high-end hotels and over $75,000 on mini-bar snacks. Who the heck uses mini-bar snacks? It is the excess. I mean people should buy their own snacks. This excessive Conservative waste is insulting to Canadian families today.
Canadian families are having trouble making ends meet, struggling to pay their mortgages and their children's education, struggling to pay for Christmas presents at this time of year and to pay their taxes. They see this Conservative finance minister and his ministers wasting the Canadian taxpayers' hard-earned money on a frivolous Conservative government spending spree.
One of the Conservative members recently said the government was spending like Christmas, boasting about the spending of the Conservative government. When the Conservatives are wasting the tax dollars of Canadians, particularly during this season, it means Canadians have less money to buy presents for their children this Christmas. It means Canadians have it a little tougher to find ways to pay for their children's education. It means this winter, as the temperatures drop, Canadians are finding it tougher to fill their oil tanks and to pay for their home heating costs. At the same time, they watch the government wasting their tax dollars with out-of-control spending. No wonder they are enraged.
This is a finance minister who lectures Canadian families instead of lecturing his own Prime Minister who has increased the budget of the Prime Minister's Office by 30%. This is a finance minister who refuses to look in the mirror and take responsibility for his own risky spending schemes that have caused the tab for high-priced consultants to go over $10 billion a year. That is $10 billion a year for high-priced consultants. The finance minister's spending schemes have also caused government advertising to grow by 300%.
It is no wonder the Parliamentary Budget Officer said just last month that there is an 85% chance that this finance minister will break his promise to balance the books by 2015-16.
Canadian families, who are forced to balance their books every month, do not need to take any lectures from this finance minister who has failed to meet any deficit target he has ever set.
What Canadian families want and deserve is a government that will control government spending and restore fiscal order. Instead, we have the Conservatives who preach fiscal austerity while borrowing and spending more than any other government in Canadian history.
There is a better way. A Liberal government would clean up this fiscal mess created by this borrow-and-spend Conservative government. After all, it was the previous Liberal government under the financial leadership of people like Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and finance minister Paul Martin who eliminated the deficit.
Under the financial leadership of the member for Wascana when he was finance minister and the deputy leader of the Liberal Party in the House, the Paul Martin government was the last government to actually reduce government spending. That was the last government. It was the Liberals, under the financial leadership of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, who implemented the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history. We did this in a responsible manner during an era of hard-earned surplus. We did not do it on borrowed money.
A Liberal government would once again restore order to Canada's financial books. We would invest prudently in the priorities of Canadians, in learning, in family care. We would invest in strengthening pensions. We would invest in the jobs of tomorrow, in science, in research and development, and in the green jobs of the 21st century.
We would do this in a prudent way by reining in the reckless spending that has occurred and continues to flourish under the Conservatives. We would listen to Canadian families and we would ensure that we would invest in their priorities. We would partner with Canadian families and recognize that they face tough times. We would be there with them as a government, helping them get through these tough times, and ensure that in the future, we would emerge from these economic challenges stronger and more united, more competitive and more prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century.
The Mandarin word for “crisis” is the same word as that for “opportunity”. It is telling to look at the way other countries, including China, have invested their stimulus money. China has invested over $400 billion in energy modernization, in a clean energy grid, a smart grid, in clean energy production. In 2008, China became the world's largest producer of solar panels in the world, and in 2009, China became the world's largest producer of wind turbines. China is focusing on green investment with its stimulus package because it recognizes that the future economy and the jobs of tomorrow will be dominated by green economy jobs.
The U.S. has put almost $8 billion into energy modernization, investing in grid technology, investing in an energy grid, clean energy production and research.
In fact, China and the U.S. have invested jointly billions of dollars in a clean energy partnership focused on carbon capture and storage. What is frustrating is that in Canada we have a head start in this area now; in fact, 40% of the sequestered carbon in the world is stored in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. However, we have completely missed the boat on this important investment of two of our trading partners, China and the United States, and this partnership that they have to research and develop clean, conventional energy technology in carbon capture and storage. We have missed that opportunity. We should be working hard to get back to the table so we are part of that.
I mentioned the word for “crisis” and “opportunity” in Mandarin for a reason, and that is that we should never waste a good crisis. If we look through history, during any time of crisis, smart investors, smart governments and smart business people made smart decisions which enabled them to prosper as they came out of the period of crisis.
I fear that the visionless Conservative government has failed Canadians not only by failing to protect the jobs of today, but by not having enough vision and focus on the future to create the jobs of tomorrow.
Today I have spoken about the fiscal deficit the Conservatives have created. I could have spoken of the trade deficit the Conservatives have created and their failure to connect Canadians to the markets of tomorrow, but I have also spoken of perhaps the most troubling deficit, and that is the vision deficit of the Conservative government and its failure to provide a coherent vision for the future of the Canadian economy to enable Canadians to have some sense of hope for a more prosperous tomorrow.