Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise yet again to speak to Bill C-47, a bill that, in an Orwellian turn of phrase, is entitled Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act.
Nothing would make me happier than to report to this House that people in my home town of Hamilton were actually experiencing an economic recovery. Then we, too, could take joy in a bill that claims to be sustaining that recovery. However in my home town, people are far from rejoicing in the lead-up to this holiday season. On the contrary, they are profoundly worried about their future.
The Prime Minister points to soaring bank profits and takes that as proof that the recession is over. For him, if his banking friends are out of trouble, everyone is out of trouble. However, Canadians see it differently.
One and a half million Canadians are still out of work. Six out of every 10 Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. Household debt is at record highs. Life is more expensive than ever.
Unlike the Conservative government, New Democrats will not declare this recession over until middle class families are back on their feet. A true recovery must not leave anyone behind.
That requires a fundamentally different approach to dealing with the economy than what the Conservatives have brought before this House to date. Since the Conservatives first became government, they have been destabilizing what was once a balanced economy in this country. It is an economy that Canadians had painstakingly built together since the second world war, a strong primary sector with timber and mining, a strong secondary transformation manufacturing sector and of course an important service sector.
That formerly balanced economy got skewed because of the government's tax policies. Since coming to office, the Conservatives have handed more than $60 billion in tax cuts to Canada's wealthiest corporations. Now I know that some on the backbenches of the Conservatives Party will suggest that those tax cuts went to all corporations, not just the wealthy ones, and that therefore they have simply been trying to stimulate the business climate in our country.
However that is a false argument. If a company is not making a profit, it cannot pay taxes on that non-existent profit. There is no profit to be taxed. Companies that could use a break the most are not getting any benefit from the much-touted tax reductions.
Who did get the money? It is companies like Encana, those that are piling up seas of unimaginable poisons behind the world's longest dikes near the tar sands. I do not need to remind members in this House about what happened in Hungary last month. Approximately one million cubic metres of red toxic sludge was released when a dike burst at the waste reservoir of an aluminum plant in that country.
Clearly it is not inconceivable that something similar could happen here. The poor track record of managing something as simple as protecting ducks from tailings ponds should set off alarm bells in all of us. Let us just imagine what is going to happen the day the dike breaks and who is going to be on the hook for those costs. Why, it will be taxpayers, of course.
We have never internalized the cost of the tar sands. We are bequeathing the obligation of paying the normal cost of cleaning up the mess from the tar sands to our children and our children's children. That, combined with the $60 billion debt for corporate tax cuts is one of the principle causes of the destabilization of our economy, and it is an unconscionable legacy to leave to future generations.
Now before government members jump all over me, let me be clear. I know that the tar sands are an important source of wealth for our country, but that does not negate the need and indeed the responsibility for that resource to be developed in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible way. That is what sustainable development is all about.
What is happening now is not sustainable, because the true costs of extracting oil have not been internalized. We are selling oil at artificially low prices. That brings in an artificially high number of U.S. dollars. That, in turn, pushes our Canadian dollar higher, which then makes it more difficult to export Canadian goods.
We have set up a vicious cycle of job losses, which are being felt especially in the industrial heartland of Ontario and Quebec. Clearly such policies do not sustain Canada's economic recovery, as the title of this bill would want us to believe. On the contrary, they exacerbate the job losses that were already affecting hardworking Canadians as a result of the 2008 recession.
Even before the current crisis hit in the fall of 2008, Statistics Canada reported that we had bled off 300,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector. It is little wonder that Canadians are worried. They are worried about their jobs. They are worried about their retirement savings. They are worried about their children's futures.
Let me just remind members in this House of a few reports that have been raised in this chamber during various debates:
From RBC Economics, today the typical Canadian family must devote 49% of its income to own a standard two-storey home, while mortgage rates are at their lowest point. That means people on average are spending half of their income to own their home, and they know if interest rates go up the costs will only increase.
From the BMO Financial Group, 64% of parents worry they will not be able to afford the rising costs of post-secondary education. Having recently met with student groups from across the country, I know that CFS, CASA, students in professional programs and graduate students would all echo that.
From the Canadian Medical Association, 80% of Canadians fear that the quality of their health care will decline over the next three years.
From the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian families are concerned about the cost of caring for a terminally ill loved one, which is currently $1,000 a month, excluding the loss of income from taking time off work to provide care. That is one of the reasons I have introduced Bill C-534. It is one small step toward providing financial assistance to spouses providing in-home care.
From the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, 72% of pre-retired Canadians worry about maintaining a reasonable standard of living in retirement and maintaining a reasonable quality of life.
From RBC Economics, 58% of Canadians are concerned with their current level of debt, averaging $41,470 per person, which is the worst among 20 advanced countries in the OECD.
From the Canadian Payments Association, 59% of Canadians believe they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque were delayed one week. Think about that. More than half of all Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque with virtually no savings to fall back on. This is a country with a lot of people who are profoundly worried. For them, the devastating impact of the recession is clearly not a thing of the past. It is still being felt every single day.
To be debating a bill that talks about sustaining Canada's economic recovery will seem a little far-fetched for a lot of Canadians who may be watching our proceedings in the House today. They want to experience the economic recovery first-hand, and so far, they have been left behind. Regrettably, it looks as if things are going to get worse before they get better, at least if the Conservative government has its way.
Last week the finance minister kicked off his pre-budget tour for the 2011 budget, purporting to be listening to Canadians. Yet he began by telling seniors and hard-working families that they should not get their hopes up, that there will not be any new big spending because he has no money left. Both parts of that assertion deserve a closer look.
First, let us look at why he has no money left. The government has created the single biggest deficit in Canadian history at $56 billion. We already know that the $6 billion annually for additional corporate tax cuts had a great deal to do with that, yet the finance minister insists on continuing them despite the fact that our corporate tax rates are already lower than those of our biggest competitor, namely the U.S.
Do Canada's chartered banks really need another tax break? In the first nine months of this fiscal year, they reported $15 billion in profits and they have set aside an astonishing $7.5 billion for executive bonuses this year. I would defy the government to find a single Canadian outside of that exclusive club who thinks that additional tax cuts for the big banks ought to be a priority for the government.
Nor did Canadians think that the government used money wisely when it hosted the G8 and G20 summits last summer. The Conservatives spent $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo op at the G8 and G20 summits. That included $1 million for a fake lake, $300,000 for a gazebo and bathrooms that were 20 kilometres away from the summit site, $400,000 for bug spray and sunscreen, more than $300,000 for luxury furniture and $14,000 for glow sticks.
The Conservatives would want us to believe that such is the price of hosting events on the world stage, but the security cost of the G8 meeting in Italy was $124 million in 2009. The year before, it cost $280 million in Japan. It cost $124 million in Germany. Once again, it is about choices.
For just over half of what it cost to host the G8 and G20 in Canada this summer, we could have improved the guaranteed income supplement so no Canadian senior would have to live in poverty. The remaining $600 million would still have been higher than the expenditures on any other summit. Clearly, the Conservatives' claim of being fiscally responsible is not borne out by reality.
Now to the government, of course, that is all water under the bridge. The government wants us to forget all about how we got to the record deficit and just wants us all to begin focusing on tightening our belts to get it back under control. Well actually, that is not all of us. There is still new money around. It is just not there for the priorities of hard-working Canadians.
Here is some of the new spending that has already been announced and for which money will be found in the upcoming budget. First, of course, is the ongoing commitment to spending $6 billion annually on additional corporate tax cuts. Next, there is the government's decision to continue Canada's military presence in Afghanistan.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Canada's military mission to Afghanistan up until 2011 will cost Canadians $18 billion. The government originally estimated that the military extension from 2011 to 2014 would cost $1.6 billion in military and $300 million in aid over the three years.
However later on, the government announced that the military costs were actually higher and the extension will cost $2.1 billion.
By contrast, according to PCO documents, the strictly civilian role envisioned by Canadian officials for the 2011-2014 period would have focused on diplomacy and development at a total cost of $.5 billion over three years. That would have been less than 25% of the cost of the military extension.
Next, there is the commitment to build U.S.-style mega-prisons in Canada. This is despite the fact that crime rates are actually going down. According to the President of the Treasury Board, we need those prisons to lock up the unreported criminals who have been doing unreported crimes. The cost is a cool $10 billion to $13 billion, and to find the money for those astronomical costs the government has shortchanged municipalities to the tune of $500 million on policing costs and shut down the successful prison farm program.
At least no one can accuse the Conservatives of letting sound public policy stand in the way of their ideological agenda.
Then there is the $16 billion that has been committed for the next budget year to the purchase of F-35 fighter jets. This is the single biggest defence procurement purchase in Canadian history. It raises a number of important questions.
First, why is this huge expenditure so vital to Canada's defence when we cannot even properly patrol our coastline? Why was this an untendered contract? Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability?
We know that technology problems plague the F-35 program, that commitments from some other countries are far from certain and that even the U.S. Pentagon says the program is two years behind schedule. There is a cost overrun of 65% and, worse of all, we have no guarantees on price, jobs, quality or value for money.
The government is flying by the seat of its pants and yet it stands firm in its commitment to purchase 65 new fighter jets. Canadians deserve transparency and accountability, and above all they deserve a say in whether this money is well spent.
Together the above four commitments alone account for $34 billion in new money that is already earmarked for future spending. Apparently there is plenty of money floating around for the government to act on its priorities. However for hard-working Canadians and seniors, there is nothing left but to tighten their belts.
Frankly, that is not good enough. Canadians deserve better and they deserve to be heard.
I would invite the Minister of Finance to come to Hamilton with me and to listen, really listen, to what the priorities are in our community. Jobs, EI and retirement savings are right at the top of the list. The minister will know that our community has been devastated by plant downsizings, restructurings and closings.
I have raised the case of U.S. Steel on numerous occasions in the House. Not only did the government fail to do due diligence when it approved the foreign takeover of Stelco by U.S. Steel but, now that the workers have been locked out, it is failing to provide even the basic support of providing the workers with EI. This is despite the fact that there was a $57 billion surplus in EI, which successive Liberal and Conservative governments stole to pad their general revenues in previous years.
It is simply outrageous, and hard-working members of USW Local 1005 deserve better from this government.
However they are not the only ones who have been devastated in recent years. I could list literally dozens of manufacturing plants that have closed their doors completely and thousands of workers in just about every sector who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut during this last recession.
That is why they have looked with hope to the government's infrastructure program, which promised $3.2 billion for job creation through investments in provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure. Fourteen projects were approved within the city of Hamilton, totalling $184 million of stimulus funding. The 15th project was announced for the city on September 25, 2009. A condition of the funding was that approved projects be substantially completed by a deadline of March 31, 2011. It was understood that the federal and provincial governments were determined to see the projects completed in a timely manner.
However, it is difficult to appreciate the taxpayer benefit of withdrawing funding to the municipal governments for public infrastructure projects that extend beyond the March 31 deadline, particularly where projects may be delayed due to a number of factors that are beyond the municipalities' control.
In Hamilton six projects are at risk for not meeting that deadline, primarily due to factors that are indeed beyond the municipalities' control. First, although the program was intended to run over two years, project announcements were not made until June 2009, thereby effectively leaving only a single construction season for project completion.
Second, one of the projects was further delayed when its funding was not announced until September 2009.
Third, contractors, particularly for specialized construction, were difficult to obtain because of the large influx of stimulus funding, all with the same completion deadline.
Fourth, the approval process by some ministries and regulatory agencies have delayed some of the projects.
Despite these challenges, all 15 of the infrastructure projects are well under way. The delay in completion before the March 31 deadline is a matter of months, not years, and yet now the government is indicating that there will be absolutely no extension given to complete these important community projects. This, despite the fact that the Prime Minister himself stated at the opening of the recent G20 summit, “To sustain the recovery, it is imperative that we follow through on existing stimulus plans”.
In Hamilton, this is particularly germane. While recent employment figures reflect significant year over year job creation across the country, Hamilton is still experiencing increased unemployment. From June 2009 to June 2010, our jobless rate rose half a percentage point, from 7.2% to 7.7%. For our community, the ability to complete all of our infrastructure projects is critical to Hamilton's economic recovery. Conversely, the potential withdrawal of infrastructure funds after March 31 will only compound the pressures on our city and local taxpayers during this economically challenging time.
I have absolutely no doubt that the completion of these projects is much more important to Hamiltonians than the construction of prisons for unreported crimes, and I suspect the same is true in communities from coast to coast to coast.
I implore the government to listen to Canadians and extend the infrastructure deadline.
While I am on the subject of jobs, let me point out as well that we urgently need action on creating green jobs for a sustainable future. My NDP colleagues and I have laid out a comprehensive strategy for protecting jobs and protecting the environment, but urging the government to take action on that file is probably not time well spent. After all, the Prime Minister and his Conservative colleagues just killed a landmark climate change plan after it was passed by elected members of Parliament.
The New Democratic climate change accountability bill was Canada's only federal climate change legislation. Members of Parliament supported it and Canadians supported it but the Prime Minister refused to listen and then he instructed his unelected, undemocratic senators to kill the bill. By obstructing progress, the Prime Minister ignored the will of Canadians and left our country dangerously unprepared for climate change. Regrettably, it is our children and grandchildren who will pay the ultimate price.
I know I am running out of time but there is so much more that needs to be addressed. I have heard from so many constituents about what they believe the government should focus on in the upcoming budget but I will not be able to get it all on the record here today. Perhaps I could point to the excellent report of the HUMA committee as a short form for some of the other issues that must become priorities for government support.
Currently in Hamilton, 18,600 people depend on food banks every month and more than 8,100 are children. The Globe and Mail reported last Friday that there has been a 25% spike in the number of seniors now living in poverty. Poverty is real and it is pervasive but it is not inevitable.
We must ask ourselves a question. The banks and car companies received their bailouts from the government but where is the bailout for the poor? During this recession, we have seen the Conservative government bailing out big businesses. such as the auto and banking industries, but putting few resources into helping to build the social infrastructure necessary to aid the most vulnerable in our society.
Civil society groups are challenging all of us to do better. They are calling on the federal government to be more responsible, more accountable and to prioritize resources to child care, the child tax benefit, EI reform and social housing. These organizations have all been working tirelessly toward the same goal of eliminating poverty in Canada.
In Hamilton, I want to give a particular shout-out to the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, the Social Justice Coalition that campaigned for adequate welfare, Social Planning & Research Council, the Hamilton Community Foundation, Wesley Urban Ministries, the Good Shepherd Centres, Food Share, St. Joseph's Immigrant Women's Centre, Neighbour 2 Neighbour, the Hamilton's Centre for Civic Inclusion, the Housing Help Centre and the United Way. The list does not end there but each and every one of these organizations demonstrate unbelievable resilience through their continued efforts. Their work is inspirational and is a large reason that I remain so hopeful that it is not too late to build a better world.
Here in the House of Commons, New Democrats are taking up their call. Thanks to the incredible work of my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, New Democrats now have a bill on the floor of this House calling for a national poverty strategy and an action plan with clear targets and timelines. The three priority areas that the bill addresses are income security, social inclusion and housing.
Instead of hitting seniors, who are the most vulnerable, with the HST on everything from home heating to haircuts, let us bring the federal government back into the discussion about its role in public life relating to poverty, the economy and taxation. Part of that conversation has to--