Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the budget implementation bill at report stage.
I will try to keep my remarks focused on the first group of amendments proposed here today and yesterday.
As the vice-chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, I have gone through the bill. I have heard testimony from expert witnesses on the bill. I have spoken to Canadians from all walks of life about the implications of the bill, and I have debated the merits of the bill with my colleagues.
One theme keeps surfacing over and over again: the lack of direction of the bill.
It is indicative of the fact that this Conservative government has no vision for Canada going forward.
The bill lacks vision and ambition, and shows a clear distaste for what a government can and must do to help its citizens and the country prepare for an uncertain future.
Also, the bill is so massive that it makes a mockery of the budget process and is a direct attack on our ability as parliamentarians to perform our due diligence.
There are countless items included in the bill that should be tabled in separate legislation so that MPs can properly study them and arrive at informed decisions about them.
The only reason I can think of to explain why the Conservatives have chosen to produce such a bulky and incoherent bill is that the Conservative government does not want us to be able to honestly and effectively debate in the open, because it obviously has something to hide.
This is the reason we are here at report stage having to debate all these extras piece by piece instead of in separate bills. One of those extra pieces that should be separated is the amendment to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, one of our most important pieces of environmental legislation. It is being gutted by the budget bill. It gives the environment minister unilateral power to avoid doing detailed environmental assessments on large projects by breaking the projects up into smaller pieces. The minister can establish the scope of the environmental assessment as broadly or as narrowly as he or she sees fit, whereas current legislation provides for public consultation.
This is a trend that occurs far too often with the government. There is no public input, no parliamentary oversight, and all decisions are made under a shroud of secrecy so it can advance its secret, hidden agenda.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court has already ruled on the matter of the Red Chris project, which involved allegations that the government had broken the law by giving the Minister of the Environment and any other responsible authority the power to change projects as they saw fit, without taking into account developers' proposals.
Furthermore, for the second year in a row, the government is using the budget implementation bill to weaken environmental laws. These amendments have nothing to do with the budget implementation. They constitute a direct attack on Parliament.
Another item in the report stage amendments is the increase in the airport travellers security tax. The problem here is that while this airport tax probably belongs in the budget, the fact the government is not calling it a tax probably means that it should not be included.
We are told that the fee is to cover the costs of purchasing new high-tech scanners. If this is the case, then it would not be asking too much to request that such a tax dedicated for a specific purpose be separated from general revenues. Instead, the moneys collected are going to go directly into the general revenues of the government and are therefore considered a tax increase.
However, when we ask how the amount of the tax to be levied was determined, we get no studies or facts to back up the request. No evidence is provided to prove that the costs will be offset by the additional tax or, vice versa, that the revenues from this new tax will offset the additional costs. This is what we call a hidden tax increase, which is why the Tourism Industry Association of Canada is against this tax.
Tourism is already down in every region of the country, and this tax would further dissuade people from travelling to and from Canada. Canadian airport authorities are already complaining that they are losing passengers, who are choosing to fly out of U.S. destinations. While Canada is struggling with its productivity, airports and travellers will be stuck paying more, while in the U.S. the government pays for airport security directly from its general revenues.
Another aspect of this bill that should be separate is the fact that this bill will close the former employment insurance account and change some of the provisions dealing with the new employment insurance financing board.
In other words, the government appoints a board to establish employment insurance rates, and then in typical Conservative fashion, the board is not consulted and the government does what it wants anyway in setting the EI rate, as we saw in the budget. The finance minister has already booked the revenues from the EI premiums using the maximum rate increases allowable, that is, 15¢ per $100 of wages of the employees and an additional tax of 21¢ per $100 of wages paid by employers.
Those who will be most affected by this tax increase will be small and medium size businesses and any worker out there. Not only is this tax increase permanent, but it will also increase exponentially every single year.
This bill does not address the need to create jobs now. Instead, it basically provides a framework for the Conservatives to raise employment insurance premiums by 35%.
After four years, an extra $6 billion a year in revenues will be collected from a source that cannot afford to be taxed any more: the everyday hard-working Canadian.
Again, here we are. As I have said in the past, everything this government does is based on no public input, no parliamentary oversight, and all decisions are made under a shroud of secrecy to advance the government's secret and hidden agenda. This is unacceptable.
At a time when Canadians are demanding more openness and transparency from elected officials, the government has tabled a budget that is so bloated and incoherent that ordinary Canadians cannot possibly be expected to determine whether this budget actually addresses their needs. In order to meet the needs and expectations of Canadians, it is critical that we take stock of where we stand.
We do not really see how this budget will make Canada more competitive and more prosperous, or better prepare it to create jobs or protect workers' pensions. Budget 2010 is a failure not only because it does not prepare Canada for the challenges that lie ahead in the short and medium term, but also because it ignores their very existence.
When Canadians and parliamentarians are distracted from the real budget numbers, we forget to ask questions about these numbers, but we need to look at them because, after all, this is a budget bill and the numbers put forward by the minister in this budget do not look good. This budget will cost Canadians $238 billion this year alone and add $24 billion to our national debt. These numbers are troubling, but the government will try to argue that short-term pain is necessary to achieve long-term gain. The problem is that its long-term projections are even more troubling. This budget will add over $100 billion to our national debt over the next five years.
I cannot, in good conscience, vote in favour of this budget because it spends too much and achieves too little, and because critical areas of concern have gone completely unaddressed while others have been covertly attacked because they do not fall into line with the government's radical right-wing ideology. I cannot vote in favour of this budget because it does nothing to get Canadians back to work, does nothing to protect the jobs that still exist, and does nothing to position Canada to succeed in the future.
Ultimately, I cannot vote in favour of this budget because I love Canada and this budget is bad for Canada.