Mr. Speaker, once again, I am pleased to speak to the budget bill today.
Since my last intervention on the budget bill in which I only spoke on the first group of amendments, I would like to make a few comments on the second group of amendments that were defeated yesterday in the House that I did not get a chance to comment on.
I, for one, find it completely unacceptable that this bill seeks to give the government unilateral authority to sell off part or all of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to any national, foreign, private or public entity. “Anything goes, no restrictions, let us give it all away and get rid of all traces of government”. That seems to be the philosophy of the government.
The bill would remove parliamentary oversight from any prospective sales of AECL. We have Parliament for a reason: to oversee the government. Canadians elected a minority Parliament for the specific purpose that they do not want the government to be unaccountable on issues like this.
If it makes sense to sell off AECL, let us have it in a separate piece of legislation, not the budget bill, and have the proper committee study the issue. One never knows; one might be surprised. Stakeholders and other individuals who are knowledgeable on this issue may actually provide the government with some positive suggestions.
AECL is currently a government-controlled entity for a precise reason, which is for Canada to maintain its ability to control its domestic atomic energy. As it stands now, Canadians decide what type of atomic research will be done, especially in the area of nuclear medicine.
Canadians determine what to do with discoveries vital to our national interest and the government wants to give up that control to the highest bidder, but in a trend we are seeing all too often, since the government cannot seem to stop spending money we do not have, it is desperately grasping at straws trying to sell everything and anything.
Again, the parts of this bill that relate to AECL would basically give carte blanche to the government to throw away this vital resource. By removing parliamentary oversight, the bill does not guarantee that existing reactors will be refurbished once sold and it does not guarantee that existing or potential new jobs will remain in Canada.
Ten thousand Canadian jobs are currently linked to AECL directly or indirectly. The fate of AECL should not be decided by the government behind closed doors. It is the same trend that is continuously re-occurring with the government, where it is trying to sneak in a divisive piece of legislation through the back door with no public input, no parliamentary oversight, and all decisions being made under a shroud of secrecy to advance, of course, the Conservatives' secret or hidden agenda.
During a debate, we share ideas, and I understand that some issues are complex and can be emotional. But this government is making a habit out of constantly introducing divisive bills.
Because of its inflexible right-wing ideology, it does not want to bring forward its ideas in separate pieces of legislation.
Another divisive item in this bill that should be handled in separate legislation is the formal legalization of the entities known as remailers who handle letters bound for foreign destinations. Several courts have ruled against the practice of remailing, so a change is definitely required.
During finance committee hearings on this bill, we heard compelling arguments for and against private remailers from all three sides, being labour, private business and Canada Post. My issue with this part of the bill is again that it should be in a separate piece of legislation so that the appropriate committee can study the issue. One never knows what good suggestions may come about as a result.
The way this issue is being presented is meant to divide Canadians. In this case, the government is pitting rural Canadians against urban Canadians. During committee hearings, we heard that Canada Post is losing revenues to international companies because international mail that is normally sorted in Canada is now starting to be printed and mailed from international sites.
Canada Post has stated that the revenues lost from remailers are an insignificant portion of their overall business, but what we hear from the government is that 42 rural post offices and 55,000 rural roadside mailboxes have been shut down since 2006 due to these lost revenues. There is a conflict in testimony.
The government has and will continue to cut rural postal services based on its justification that revenues from remailers have been lost. If Canada Post has stated that these lost revenues are insignificant, I would like to know why they would necessitate the closure of rural postal service sites. The only place to get to the bottom of these conflicting assessments is for the proper committee to study the merits of this proposed change.
Sneaking legislation through the back door only serves to make rural Canadians assume that their services have been cut in lieu of urban services. This is just another example of the government trying to ram through legislation without public input, parliamentary oversight, and all decisions being again made under a shroud of secrecy to advance the Conservatives' hidden agenda.
To really know what is going on though we need to look at the numbers. This is after all the budget bill and the thing about numbers is they do not lie. The budget will cost Canadians over $238 billion this year alone and add over $25 billion to our national debt. That is providing this finance minister can add. It is $238 billion and counting. That is a lot of money and Canadians have a right to know how it is being spent.
Based on the government's performance over the past few years I have no confidence that this will be money well spent.
Here are some examples of where money should not have been spent. First, although the government announced a freeze on departmental spending in this year's estimates, the Prime Minister's own department, the Privy Council Office, obtained a $13 million boost in spending for support and advice to the PMO. That 22% increase was in advance of the freeze. The Privy Council Office already saw its budget increase by $31 million in 2005-06 and 2008-09.
Public opinion research spending has gone up by $5 million. The increase in the size of the cabinet has cost taxpayers over $4 million. Spending on advertisements for the economic action plan skyrocketed, surpassing $100 million. An increase in communication consulting services in the Prime Minister's office has cost nearly $2 million. Excessive spending on ten percenters reached well over $10 million.
These six examples show that the Conservatives spend money for themselves and not for the benefit of the community or of Canadians. These costs add up to over $130 million.
The government has become so undisciplined and wasteful that it has become reaching into the pockets of Canadian taxpayers to fund its own agrandissement and propaganda. Is this accountability? Is this prudence? Is this good governance? I think not.
Instead of spending $10 million to send junk mail across the country perhaps that money could have been used for research in multiple sclerosis and its potential causes, as my Liberal colleagues asked the government to do in an open letter on May 6, 2010.
Instead of spending $4 million to compensate Conservative members with useless Cabinet appointments, it could invest this money in increasing Internet access in rural or northern communities.
Instead of spending $5 million on public polling to help the Conservative government's political operations, perhaps the Prime Minister could have saved that money by simply letting Canadians interact with him instead of making them ask him scripted questions.
Instead of spending an extra $31 million so that the Privy Council Office can devote more time and energy to protecting the Prime Minister's image, perhaps that money could have been spent developing green technology that would make Canada's economy cleaner and more competitive today.
Instead of spending almost $2 million on communication support services to help the Prime Minister's Office spin facts to suit its purposes, perhaps that money could have been spent to keep a rural post office open.
Instead of spending over $100 million to post billboards and screen commercials to help the government take credit for economic stimulus spending, which after all is our money, your money, Mr. Speaker, and Canadians' money, perhaps that money could have been used to get more shovels in the ground and more people back to work as it was intended.
Given the amount of waste the government has been guilty of to date, it comes as no surprise that the budget will add approximately over $100 billion to our national debt over the next five years.
We have gone down this road before and Canadians know it is a painful one. Between 1984 and 1993 the Conservative government spent Canada into near bankruptcy. We were being compared to third world nations.
As they say, history has a way of repeating itself and here we are again, with a Conservative government that has put us in a situation that has caused Canadians to lose their jobs, lose their services, and today has caused household debt to rise.
Just recently, it was reported by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada that after four years of the Prime Minister's Conservative government Canadian household debt has skyrocketed to a record $1.41 trillion. That is $41,740 per person. That is $41,740 for you, Mr. Speaker, $41,740 for me. It is two and a half times greater than in 1989.
The government has managed to squander our finances and squeeze Canadians to the point that the former Mulroney government looks prudent by comparison.
The economy is the cornerstone of any country, and that is why, when the Liberal Party of Canada came back into power in 1993, it worked to make the Canadian economy strong and dynamic once it was back on track thanks to years of good management. As well, the Liberal Party made many difficult decisions that allowed it to balance the budget and create surpluses. We cannot forget that the coffers were empty after Brian Mulroney's Conservatives left.
Thanks to consecutive budget surpluses, the Liberal government was able to reduce taxes, finance our social programs such as health care, education, research and development, and pay down the national debt.
In addition, as I mentioned in my earlier speech, during second reading we cannot forget that just before being defeated, Paul Martin's Liberal government had reached an agreement with the provinces to give them child care services similar to the Quebec system, that it had negotiated the Kelowna accord with Canada's first nations, that it had reached an agreement to extend the implementation of the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012, and that it had convinced the UN to adopt the Canadian concept of “responsibility to protect” during international crises.
Those are some of the great things that the current Conservative government has done away with.
Since 2008, 410,000 Canadian jobs have disappeared and few of those jobs have been recovered. Most of the jobs that have been created are temporary, low skilled, low pay, part-time jobs. This is not a foundation on which we can build a prosperous country. In the meantime, the government is bragging about needing fiscal restraint, but it is on record as being the highest spending government in Canadian history.
In fact, since 2006, it took the Conservative government only one year to spend the largest surplus ever accumulated in the history of Canada.
It has created an enormous deficit on top of having the dubious distinction of the being the biggest spending government in the history of Canada year after year.
According to this budget's projections, the Conservatives plan to spend close to $250 billion in 2014-15. That is $20 billion more than what they intend to spend this year. How they plan on paying down the deficit in this budget cycle is beyond me. That is why I find it hypocritical that the government constantly claims that we cannot afford to make investments now in areas that would position Canada to emerge from this recession ready to compete on the world stage.
Investing now in green technologies, our labour force, our companies and our students will pay off down the road and keep Canada strong.
The Conservative government has ignored making investments of this nature and has instead spent and spent because a photo op means more to the government than sound policies. It seems that members on the other side of the aisle are constantly spending Canadians' money and posing with ceremonial cheques but no one is seeing tangible results that will strengthen our economy.
Since there is no national child care system, no agreement with first nations, no money for research, no money for innovation, no money for the environment and no money for education, what happened to that money and what did they spend it on? In hospitals, sick people are still waiting. Seniors are still waiting for their pensions to increase and universities are still waiting for help from the Conservative government.
Meanwhile, veterans are not being helped with post-traumatic stress disorder. Immigrants are not being helped in order to integrate into our society and succeed in their new lives.
There is no plan in this budget to deal with the strain on our health care system. There is no plan to deal with the challenges of having an aging population. Pensions are not being protected.
These are the most vital topics in Canada right now and the government has proposed nothing to deal with these major issues.
In order to promote saving, we in the Liberal Party are asking the Prime Minister's government to consider our three proposals for reforming pensions: establish a supplementary Canada pension plan to help Canadians save more; give employees with stranded pensions following corporate bankruptcies the option of growing their pensions through the assets of the Canada pension plan; and protect vulnerable Canadians on long-term disability by giving them status as preferred creditors in cases of bankruptcy.
In order to allow Canadians to invest more in a national pension system they can count on, the Conservative government should work with the provinces, retired people, unions and the private sector to establish and implement a supplementary Canada pension plan.
To give Canadians an easy way to save even more for their retirement, a supplementary Canada pension plan seems like an easy solution and should be considered a reform of the income security system, and of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement in particular. This reform would guarantee the pension capital and would ensure that retired people are not left out when companies go bankrupt or in certain economic situations, thus protecting them from future recessions.
The government must encourage citizens to save because we know that one-third of Canadians have no retirement savings other than the Quebec pension plan or the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. As for the other two-thirds, they do not have enough savings to maintain their standard of living.
The Canada pension plan covers 93% of workers, but that alone is not enough because more than half of Canadian families do not contribute to an employer-sponsored pension plan. Almost $500 billion in RRSP room remains unused and, according to Statistics Canada, the $32.4 billion in contributions to RRSPs in 2006 represented only 7% of the maximum eligible contribution. The premiers of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan threatened to create their own plan if the federal government did not establish a supplementary Canada pension plan.
Once again, the Liberals are asking the government to work with the provinces, seniors, unions and the private sector to establish a supplementary Canada pension plan, which would be one possible solution to the low rate of retirement savings.
Based on the points I have outlined, it is clear that this budget neglects many areas of importance to Canadians. The sheer number of key issues ignored by the Conservatives in this budget is shocking, considering the size of the bill.
What is even worse is that, while the Conservative government unfairly raises Canadians' taxes, it is also spending hard-earned money on frivolous projects and reducing services that Canadians expect to receive to get by in daily life.
This government is a disgrace. It is irresponsible and unpardonable. For these reasons I must vote against this budget.