Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to take note of the remarks made by the hon. member opposite. Members will wait to see the terms of reference. The devil is always in the details and it appears that the government is at this moment working those out; that is, it appears to be improvising.
The Liberal Party notes with interest and with approval the nomination of a man who commands the respect of every member of the House, Justice Iacobucci. We hope that he will be given the terms of reference necessary to do the job, to re-establish the just authority of the House of Commons, which was referred to by my hon. colleague, and that we will get to the bottom of an affair in which the government's behaviour has displayed no credit at all.
The Prime Minister gave Her Excellency the Governor General some 6,000 words. I assure you that I will be briefer today.
We have seen a throne speech and budget that make up in length what they lack in vision.
There is nothing in this budget or in the throne speech that justifies the Prime Minister's decision to shut down Parliament for six weeks. Nothing.
Canadians are not fools. The Prime Minister bet on Canadians' disillusionment and lost. For Canadians, the reasons for the prorogation were clear from the start. The Prime Minister shut down Parliament so that he would no longer have to listen to questions about the Afghan detainee scandal. The minister just acknowledged that he is in an untenable position.
The Prime Minister shut down Parliament to skirt blame for a year of wilful blindness when the Conservatives had credible reports of torture in Afghan jails but did nothing.
We have called on the government to hold a full, independent, public inquiry into the detainee issue with a mandate to examine the whole length of the mission in Afghanistan. We will examine the terms of this proposed inquiry by Justice Iacobucci with interest to see whether it even begins to approximate what is necessary to get to the bottom of this sorry affair. However, the Conservatives had refused up to this moment, and then they shut down Parliament.
It was more than a cover-up; it was an attack on our democracy.
This Parliament is not the Prime Minister's house. It is the people's house. In shutting down Parliament, the Prime Minister threw Canadians out of their house. Canadians did not like that. They know that any prime minister is accountable to Parliament, and not the reverse.
We have put forward concrete reforms to limit the power to prorogue Parliament.
On Wednesday afternoon we asked for unanimous consent to establish a special committee to reform prorogation and prevent future abuse. That motion, which was a modest first step seeking common ground, was shouted down by Conservative members opposite. Shame on them.
The issue here is credibility. Canadians expect it; the government lacks it. It has no credibility on detainees, no credibility on prorogation, and no credibility on its own agenda. The throne speech and the budget let Canadians down. They expected vision and they got gimmicks. They deserved ambition and they got drift. This is a tired government, falling back on its laissez-faire instincts. It has left Canadians to fend for themselves.
Take pensions, an important issue. This budget has nothing to offer Canadians on the pensions crisis. Canada is already in a pensions crisis and it is not just a matter of catastrophic bankruptcies like Nortel.
One third of Canadians do not have enough retirement savings to maintain their standard of living when they stop working. Another third of Canadians have no retirement savings at all and will be totally dependent on what they receive from the government. Too many Canadians have too little savings to retire with dignity. Too often, the savings of those who have managed to save money are not secure. We saw proof of that last year.
Last year this party put forward specific proposals to improve retirement security for middle class families. We called for a supplementary CPP, for the use of the CPP as a pension fund manager of last resort, and for changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to protect the most vulnerable pensioners. We called for action. Canadians expected action. What did the Conservatives deliver? They delivered us seniors day. Seniors day will not be much fun and will not have much point if seniors cannot afford to take the day off.
It is not this side of the House that mocks seniors; it is the other side of the House that has done nothing for them.
The same gimmickry is in play in their treatment of veterans.
At the end of January, we organized a round table on veterans. We heard disturbing testimony about the difficulty they have in getting care or assistance to overcome a disability.
One in five veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder will attempt suicide. This is a troubling, deeply disturbing statistic and these great Canadians need our help. What do the Conservatives offer? They offer community memorials and Vimy Ridge Day. I am a firm proponent of Vimy Ridge Day but it is no substitute for concrete help for our veterans. Our families, seniors and veterans cannot live on symbols and gimmicks.
Five weeks ago, the Liberal Party put forward three specific proposals to create jobs and promote innovation and entrepreneurship. We urged the government to offer cash advances to make the accelerated capital cost allowance more effective. This would have helped manufacturers modernize, create jobs and improve productivity.
We proposed temporary financial incentives to make it easier to hire young workers. And we called for new tax incentives to better support our entrepreneurs and innovators in emerging sectors such as clean energy and life sciences.
However, instead of measures to create jobs, this budget has only freezes, cuts and gimmicks.
The Conservatives are also cutting $4.5 billion in planned foreign aid right when our focus in Afghanistan is shifting from military to humanitarian engagement. The government is making superficial tax changes to the universal child care benefit but they are changes that will not help low income families or single parents get the child care they need.
The Conservatives are ignoring the major issues that matter to Canadians. There is nothing for pensions or health care.
Climate change, nothing.
The Conservatives also will try to claim that they are not raising taxes but everyone in the House knows that is false. The Conservatives are raising payroll taxes by $13 billion, a tax hike that will kill more than 200,000 jobs and hurt small businesses when they need help the most.
The government talks a fine game about innovation but it is not credible. It was not credible when it cut $148 million from the research councils last year. It was not credible when it let $160 million in approved spending for the Canadian Space Agency lapse, when it shut down the national science advisor and when it walked away from 50 years of Canadian leadership in nuclear medicine.
Investments in research and development as a percentage of GDP have been consistently going down since this government took power.
We have taken a step back in terms of productivity, Internet connectivity and innovation. And a significant number of government members continue to question the scientific evidence of climate change.
How can we believe this government when it talks about creating the jobs of tomorrow? Last fall, it scrapped the ecoENERGY program, the best Canadian program for promoting renewable energies.
The Conservatives are not credible on job creation because they are not credible on clean energies. Investing in clean energy is key to creating a future for our country's youth.
The Conservatives spend, but they do not invest.
The Conservatives have spent more than $56 billion into the hole but what did Canadians get? What is the return on investment?
If we start counting back, in October 2008, back when the Prime Minister was saying that there would not be a recession in Canada, we find that more than 300,000 Canadians have lost their jobs and are still out of work. Job creation is down, productivity is down, youth unemployment is double the national average and even the jobs the Conservatives promised in this budget will not make up for the ones we have lost.
It did not have to be this way. Where are the landmark investments in clean energy? Where are the investments in green infrastructure that would create jobs for our kids? Canada missed those opportunities because the government chose to ignore them.
The Prime Minister's spending came without a vision. It came with a whole lot of zeros and this budget does not make up the difference. The government, above all, is not credible on getting its record deficit under control. Let us roll the tape back and remember the real story.
The Conservatives make a claim to fiscal competence, which is entirely undeserved. They inherited a $13 billion surplus from this side of the House and what did they do with it? They spent it at record levels through 2006, 2007 and 2008 and they were on the edge of deficit before the recession started. Then they said that there would be no recession. Then they said that there would be no deficit. Then, suddenly, presto the deficit was at $32 billion and then at $50 billion and then at $56 billion. They cannot run a country if they cannot count.
The numbers are not the only problem. The government lacks a coherent plan to regain control over government spending.
The government says that it will freeze departmental spending beginning in 2011 but that is it. It will not tell us which programs it will cut, which services Canadians will lose and where it will find the necessary savings. That is not a plan. It is an empty promise.
The Conservatives say that they will freeze our salaries. Fine, they can freeze my salary but it is not a plan for deficit reduction. It is a gimmick. If the Prime Minister were serious about leading by example, he would start by cutting the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that he is wasting on partisan advertising and polling. He would cut management consultants instead of siding through the hard-working public service of the country. He would cut the size of cabinet. He would ban those ten-percenter mailings outside of MPs' own ridings, as we have called for, and he would stop increasing spending in the Prime Minister's own department.
Canadians and Canadian families are saving money wherever they can. The government should be doing the same thing, and that is the real issue, because the government does not listen to Canadian families. Reading a survey is not listening to Canadians. Dividing Canadians to gain a political advantage is not listening to Canadians.
I spent weeks, over the course of a year, on the road, visiting universities and colleges across Canada and speaking with Canadian families. I listened to young people talk about their worries and their hopes. They told me of their concerns about unemployment, and spoke about the need to protect the environment and fight climate change. I listened to a generation of young Canadians who are prepared to step up, but who have not gotten a chance to do so.
Among their various excuses for shutting down Parliament, the Conservatives said that they were consulting with Canadians. Who did the Prime Minister consult? When was the last time he actually took unscripted, uncontrolled questions from any Canadian at all?
That is what listening is. One cannot lead if one will not listen and the Prime Minister does not listen.
When I listen, this is what I hear. Middle class families are worried about looking after their parents when they retire. They are worried about getting their kids through school and about the jobs that will be waiting for them at the other end.
Canadian families want to know that their government is in tune with the challenges of tomorrow and that it has a real plan to make Canada successful. This budget fails the tests of credibility, vision and ambition. We cannot support this budget.
This budget fails the test of Canada's potential and therefore we cannot support it. We will vote against the budget motion now before us but we, unlike other parties in the House, will do so responsibly. We will not cause an election. Canadians do not want an election. What they are looking for is an alternative and we will provide them with that alternative.
The Liberal Party is taking part in the most open, transparent, inclusive and comprehensive process of public policy renewal of any Canadian party in the history of this country and one that will continue through the conference in Montreal later this month. We are engaging Canadians in a national conversation about the Canada we want and they want in 2017, the 150th anniversary of our federation. I invite all members to join us in that dialogue.
The alternatives in the Canadian political system are becoming clearer by the hour. The alternative the Conservatives offer the country is now very clear: year after year of austerity, cuts and freezes. The message they are sending Canadians is equally clear, “You are on your own, Canadians. Your government will not help you”.
Our vision in the Liberal Party is clear: using a positive, fiscally responsible vision of government to make Canada the best educated, the healthiest, the greenest and the most international society on earth. Those are goals worthy of a great people. Those are goals we can achieve.
We have done it before. I stand on a side of the House proud of the traditions that our party has represented since Wilfrid Laurier. We have done it before and we will do it again.