Mr. Speaker, I spoke to the Conservative government's budget when it was first tabled in the House. Unfortunately, I will not have the opportunity today to go into detail again about what a profoundly negative impact it will have on seniors and hard-working Canadians. Let me just reiterate some of the key points, though, that I raised last month.
Budgets are always about choices. The Conservative government chose to help its wealthy friends. It chose to continue its multi-billion dollar corporate tax giveaway to big banks and profitable corporations. In doing so, it also chose to abandon hard-working Canadians and seniors.
There is no doubt that the innocent victims of the global recession of 2008-09 were seniors and the middle class. A cyclone ripped through Canada's job market, leaving over 1.5 million officially unemployed. Of those, 810,000 of those are poised to run out of employment insurance benefits in the coming months and thousands already have. Without jobs to greet them, the majority will wind up on welfare rolls, or worse.
What should Canadians have been able to expect from their government? A plan to get Canada working again. Clearly, the status quo is not good enough. Full-time job growth has been sluggish, at best. Canada's unemployed are competing in an ever smaller job market. Over the past year, Canada added only 55,000 new part-time jobs and 119,000 new temporary jobs. Without a good job, well-paying, with benefits and reliable hours, life becomes harder to plan, mortgages harder to pay, loans harder to diminish and savings harder to tuck away.
In short, Canada's job crisis represents a new threat to the sustainability of Canada's middle class. It is the government's job to get serious about job protection and job creation. However, instead, the budget freezes public sector operations, creating new job losses in the federal public sector and thereby compromising the food we eat, the health of our environment, transportation safety and the public services on which Canadians rely.
In one fell swoop, the Conservatives have managed to weaken the economy and hurt Canadians. That is why nothing is more egregious in this budget bill than the government's policy of continuing tax cuts to the big banks and profitable corporations. Canada's corporate tax rates are already well below those of our main competitor, namely, the United States, yet the government will continue to enrich its corporate friends.
The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates a $19 billion structural deficit in three years, $15 billion of that deficit will be the cost of corporate tax cuts. All of that, without a shred of evidence that those tax cuts have led to private sector investments in job creation.
To add insult to injury, since Liberal and Conservative governments started cutting corporate taxes 10 years ago, individuals are carrying 61% of the cost of government programs, while corporations now pay only 15%. It is clearly time to recalibrate.
Instead of spending $6 billion on further corporate tax cuts, the government should have sustained its stimulus spending to create jobs. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have warned governments that withdrawing their stimulus packages too quickly could trigger another global recessionary dip. By cutting the stimulus package off too soon, the Conservatives are letting the jobless fend for themselves and letting the economy simply drift toward recovery. That is not nearly good enough.
On the contrary, the $6 billion that are currently targeted to further corporate tax cuts should have been invested in improving Canada's crumbling physical infrastructure and enhancing its social infrastructure. This could be a win-win. Investments in cities, health care, child care and affordable housing would create jobs and leave our communities more functional and vibrant as a result. Imagine what a boon to the steel and construction industries a serious investment on infrastructure could be. As we replace obsolete infrastructure, we can transform Canada's economic base to a more energy efficient platform because we would not have to choose between what is good for the economy and what is good for the environment.
To a city like my home town of Hamilton, that is absolutely crucial. The recession has hit through our community with the force of a cyclone, leaving a devastating trail of joblessness in its wake. Just in the last two months, Siemens and Lakeport announced their plans to move their operations out of Hamilton, taking hundreds more family-sustaining jobs with them. In a city that was once known as “Steeltown”, only two of the city's ten largest employers are now private sector companies. The impact of those job losses is being felt at every level of our community.
First, is the high rate of unemployment, with workers increasingly running out of EI. This places an additional burden on the city's welfare rolls and the city is already cash-strapped.
The companies that are closing their doors are now no longer paying property taxes to municipalities, a loss that cannot be compensated for by the public sector because employers such as hospitals and post-secondary schools are exempt from paying property taxes to municipalities. This puts the burden for the cost of municipal services squarely on the shoulders of residential property taxpayers, the very people who are losing their jobs. It is a downward spiral with no end in sight.
The only way to reverse the trend is through a positive intervention by senior levels of government. Regrettably, to date, instead of assisting through stimulus spending, they have shown a propensity to download costs instead. This budget bill could have redressed that balance, but shamefully, the Conservatives have failed to do so in any meaningful way.
Job creation is not the only area in which the government has failed to show leadership when it comes to transitioning from one of the worst recessions on record into a more sustainable economy that benefits all Canadians. Just ask the over 1.5 million Canadians who have lost their jobs. The Conservatives' first order of business should have been to stave off the crisis awaiting the 810,000 EI recipients who are poised to run out of benefits in the coming months.
I was proud to table a comprehensive motion on EI reform in the House over a year ago. That motion was passed by a majority vote of MPs and yet benefits still have not been extended or expanded in a comprehensive way to help those Canadians who are struggling in this very tough job market. It is absolutely imperative that we act to protect the jobless. There is no time to waste. The future of entire families literally hangs in the balance.
The future of seniors, the very Canadians who built our country, similarly hangs in the balance. I wish I had time today to speak at length about the government's inaction on lifting seniors out of poverty, improving the CPP and securing workplace pensions. Thankfully, I have had many other opportunities to raise those issues in this House.
Today I have only 10 minutes left to speak, so I am going to address two very specific issues that I have not been able to raise before. It is tough to narrow it down to just two. The budget implementation bill covers everything from a new airline tax to debit and credit cards, to softwood lumber products, to eliminating purely cosmetic procedures from the medical expense tax credit. They all deserve detailed attention, but it is simply impossible to do justice to the entire bill that is before us today.
It is a massive piece of legislation that, under normal circumstances, would have been presented as a number of smaller bills. However, the government knows it would never be able to pass its agenda if it were introduced piecemeal. Since the Liberals have said that they would allow the budget to pass no matter what was in it, the Conservatives have seized the opportunity and left us with a Trojan Horse.
As I said earlier, I will focus on two specific areas that are buried deep within the verbiage of the budget implementation bill that absolutely must be exposed.
The first deals with Canada Post. In essence, this part of the budget implementation bill would remove Canada Post's legal monopoly on outgoing international letters. This was first proposed by the Liberal member for Eglinton—Lawrence when the Liberals were in government. Since then, the Conservative government has twice tried to get these same provisions through the House of Commons, once as Bill C-14 in the second session of the last Parliament, and most recently as Bill C-44 in the last session of this Parliament. On both occasions the entrenched opposition by New Democrats forced the government to back down.
Recognizing that the bill would not get quick passage by Parliament, the government has now snuck it into the budget implementation bill. Surely, it does not belong there.
Right now Canada Post has the “exclusive privilege” to collect, transmit and deliver letters, including international letters, in order to finance the post office's universal service obligation. It is this privilege which guarantees the source of revenue that Canada Post requires to ensure the universality of services that it is mandated to provide.
In granting Canada Post an exclusive privilege, Parliament understood that market forces alone could not guarantee a reasonable level of service at affordable prices to all Canadians, particularly to those living in remote and rural parts of the country. Canada Post needs revenues from commercial bulk mail in order to subsidize other operations, such as rural mail delivery, and to keep postal rates low.
At the moment, Canada has one of the lowest standard letter rates in the industrialized world. Our postal services are universal and affordable, which is no small feat in the second largest country in the world. It will become increasingly difficult, however, for our public postal office to provide affordable service to everyone no matter where one lives if the government erodes the very mechanism that funds universal postal service, the exclusive privilege to deliver letters.
And yes, that issue matters, not just for the benefit of uniform affordable postal rates, but for a broad range of other benefits as well. In fact, rather than reiterate all of them here, I would commend to all members of the House the submission by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to the Canada Post Corporation strategic review. It does a superb job of detailing why exclusive privilege is crucial to ensuring uniform rates across the country, why postage rates for both the public and small businesses will increase as a result of deregulation, why deregulation inevitably leads to service cutbacks, why exclusive privilege promotes efficiency and lower costs, why it promotes security of mail, and why deregulation is not a requirement for success.
With the limited time available to members to participate in today's debate, it is impossible for me to speak to each of these in detail, but there are a couple of concerns that I do want to highlight.
First, as climate change continues to be a key priority for Canadians, even if it is not for the government, it is imperative that we evaluate every decision we make as legislators by analyzing the environmental harm or benefit that will flow from our actions.
Let us look at the deregulation of Canada Post from that perspective for a moment. Greater competition in letter delivery would create more environmental problems, period. There is a direct and inverse relationship between increased delivery density and use of fossil fuels, pollution and traffic congestion. It only makes sense. In a deregulated market, the same number of letters would be delivered to the same points of call but by more vehicles.
Is that really a direction we could support at a time when more and more Canadians believe that climate change is the single most important issue facing our planet? I know that we in the NDP would certainly say that we cannot. We cannot and will not support an initiative that would further erode our international reputation on the environment. We cannot and will not sell out our children's future.
The same is true for the other impact of deregulation that I want to highlight next, which is the impact on decent family-sustaining jobs. In Canada, urban postal workers earn slightly more than the average industrial wage which in turn is more than twice the rate of the minimum wage. The vast majority of hours are worked by regular staff which has benefit costs of approximately 40% of wages.
There is every reason to believe that both the quantity and quality of jobs, as well as the wages and benefits of postal workers would decline should the exclusive privilege be eliminated and low-wage competition introduced.
First, the financial crisis resulting from reduced volumes and revenues would leave fewer funds available for wages and benefits. Second, the workforce of the competitors would receive much less pay and benefits, and would be required to work with inferior conditions. Third, service reductions would reduce career opportunities for employees. Fourth, increased competition coupled with reduced volumes and financial losses would create insecurity and greater resistance to negotiated provisions, such as pensions and retiree benefits that require long-term stability in the sector. Fifth, the experiences of other countries, such as Sweden, New Zealand, the U.K. and Germany, show that deregulation is primarily about putting pressure on the wages, benefits and protections of the postal workers.
As I look across the way in this House I can tell that some members are actually looking forward to and indeed celebrating that decline in wages and benefits. I am really surprised, although I guess I should not be. It is, after all, deeply rooted in their ideological belief that living wages are just another encumbrance on what should be the unfettered ability of businesses to make unlimited profits, and yet that value system lacks all credibility.
Even the Conservatives' own approach to fighting the current economic downturn underscores the shortcomings of their ideology. One of the key elements to surviving this recession is to shore up consumer confidence so that Canadians will once again spend their money and stimulate our economy. That can only happen if workers have sufficient incomes to purchase cars, appliances, and a host of other manufactured goods. It is the production of those goods that protects jobs in the auto sector, the parts industry, the manufacturing sector and in small businesses across our country.
We need decent paying jobs to support Canadian families and to support Canadian jobs. There is absolutely no way that a pay cut for unionized workers would make minimum wage workers better off. It would simply make all of us worse off. In a country that has high unemployment, unacceptable levels of child poverty and a growing number of seniors who can no longer make ends meet, we must do everything we can to turn our economy around. Sustaining decent jobs for decent wages must be valued as a critical part of that solution.
That issue of sustainability leads me to the second hidden assault within the budget implementation bill's Trojan Horse, and that is the impact on environmental assessments. When thinking of tar sands, mining and upgrading pipelines, refineries, copper mines and gold mines, most Canadians would agree that projects of that scale pose potentially significant impacts on the environment. Yet, if the sweeping changes buried in the budget implementation bill that is before us today are passed, these and thousands of other projects could escape meaningful federal environmental assessments. The result would turn a blind eye to federal responsibilities to address transboundary air pollution and to protect transboundary waters, fisheries and aboriginal peoples and their lands.
Buried deep within the budget implementation bill are provisions that grant the federal environment minister unprecedented powers to narrow the scope of any environmental assessment. The majority of projects receiving federal stimulus spending would also be exempted from federal review regardless of their potential impacts on communities, waterways, wildlife or ecosystems, and the public's right to participate effectively in project reviews would be dramatically curtailed.
Worse, these drastic changes to federal assessment law are being made under cover of the budget mere months before a mandatory parliamentary review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is to begin. This removes any opportunity for public engagement. It is the second time the Conservative government has resorted to a backdoor manoeuvre to undermine environmental laws. In the 2009 budget, the Conservatives significantly reduced federal duties to assess project impacts by eviscerating the Navigable Waters Protection Act. That action drew outrage from Canadians right across the country.
The government defends these drastic cuts to federal environmental oversight by arguing that the provinces have demanded them. Yet, claims of duplication and overlap fly in the face of measures taken over three decades by both orders of government to eliminate duplication or delays through administrative agreements and coordinated reviews.
Federal assessments have long been limited to federal areas of responsibility, such as impacts on fisheries, national parks, aboriginal lands or waterways, areas in which only the federal government has the power to regulate. The decision to remove federal assessments defies successive decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada, upholding federal jurisdiction and responsibilities for the environment.
The effect of these legislative reforms is to diminish federal powers without need of constitutional reform, a move some provinces have sought for decades. It serves a dangerously shortsighted agenda, pitting the interests of major industrial projects against the environment and interests of future generations. New Democrats believe that Canada is at a crossroads. We can choose the Conservatives' regressive agenda or we can ensure that environmental and social impacts are addressed in all economic development.
Canadians in communities across the country are choosing a cleaner energy path. Workers are upgrading their training, hoping to pursue emerging job opportunities in the environmental field. Researchers are exploring innovative responses to address pollution and climate change. Entrepreneurs have launched energy retrofit and renewable energy generation enterprises that could make Canada competitive in the new green economy. As the Conference Board of Canada detailed in its March report, the global market for technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions is exploding, but Canada has failed to capitalize on opportunities.
What is missing is the federal government's resolve to provide the necessary regulatory triggers and fiscal incentives. Instead of seizing the moment, the budget implementation bill is replete with missed opportunities: missed opportunities on job protection and creation, missed opportunities on the environment, and missed opportunities to create a sustainable future for our children. If politics were baseball, three strikes would mean the government is out. Where is an umpire when we need one?