Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-13. This bill implements certain provisions of the 2011 budget.
I am sad to see that the Conservatives are once again showing their lack of respect for our democratic institutions and for Canadians by imposing strict time limits on the debate. The Conservatives' arrogance is an insult to Canadians, more than 60% of whom did not vote for their narrow ideology that defies reason and facts.
The Liberal Party cannot support this bill because it contains a significant number of inadequacies in its current form. With this bill the Conservatives are deliberately excluding low-income Canadians from measures such as the family caregiver tax credit, the volunteer firefighters tax credit and the children's arts tax credit.
How can low-income families and individuals benefit from a non-refundable tax credit when quite often, they do not have enough income to be taxed? Why are the Conservatives choosing to exclude the most vulnerable among us at a time when the economy is so precarious?
For example, if people quit their jobs to take care of loved ones at home, how will they take advantage of a tax credit when they have no income? There are many more examples of how these proposed measures will not benefit those who need them most.
The main problem with this bill has to do with the fact that to be eligible for most of the measures, there is a minimum income threshold. The Conservatives decided to play petty politics with tax credits instead of making them refundable so that low-income Canadians could also benefit, as we proposed. That shows once again that this Conservative government is ignoring Canadians in need.
The Liberal Party wants to work with the government to improve this bill, but it also understands that the Conservatives never listen to the advice of the House or the Canadian public. This government must start working on the problems facing Canadians instead of creating conflicts. A responsible government would not choose winners and losers. It would not choose to ignore a large segment of the population. It would not choose to ignore facts and reason for ideological purposes.
A number of other measures in this bill do not serve Canadian interests and demonstrate that this government has mishandled many issues. Take, for example, the higher charges being imposed on Ontario and Quebec softwood lumber exporters. A few years ago, the Conservative government tried to buy peace with our American forestry competitors, at a cost of $1 billion. Here we are today, forced to comply with the London Court of International Arbitration ruling of January 21, 2011, and increase taxes on this sector of our economy, which continues to be targeted by U.S. trade claims despite the $1 billion already wasted.
The higher charges that Ontario and Quebec exporters will have to face is another demonstration of poor Conservative management. Why does this government prefer to placate Washington instead of standing up for the Canadian workers it is supposed to represent? More than $1 billion has been wasted already, yet the Conservatives have decided to kowtow to the United States once again.
In addition, certain credits set out in this bill are completely ineffective. For example, the small business hiring credit aims to compensate for an increase in employment insurance premiums for some small and medium-size businesses. The problem is that this credit is taxable and is capped at $1,000. To obtain this credit, the business must have paid higher employment insurance premiums in 2011 than in 2010, as long as the 2010 amount was $10,000 or less. Because of these restrictions, the credit targets very small businesses as opposed to all small and medium-size businesses.
For instance, a small business that employs 11 people, each earning $38,000, would be too large to qualify. Based on our calculations, approximately 600,000 small and medium-sized businesses could not take advantage of the credit, which is just another example of this government's petty politics that do nothing to help Canadians.
On top of all that, let us not forget that the Conservatives also announced they want to increase EI premiums by 5.6% in January 2012. Because of that increase, a business with 10 employees, each earning an annual salary of $40,000, would have to pay $800 more in EI premiums next year. In short, any amount left over from the credit will all be clawed back in taxes and increased EI premiums.
The Conservative government seems to be trying to fool Canadians by offering just a few small and medium-sized businesses a hiring credit, when it knows very well that that amount will be taken back in full. This is so typical of the Conservatives: lots of hoopla, with no real results—except for their friends. Instead of giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations that are eliminating jobs in Canada, why not give real tax credits to our small and medium-sized businesses that are creating jobs in Canada?
Another weak point in this bill relates to the gas tax fund. The provisions of that section place a $2 billion limit on annual transfers to municipalities for infrastructure projects. That very fund was created in 2004 by the previous Liberal government, which had, at the time, made provisions for that $2 billion limit to be increased in order to account for inflation and population growth, things that this Conservative government is choosing to ignore. The amount set out in this bill does not correspond to today's reality and does not provide all the help the municipalities need to address the infrastructure deficit, which the Federation of Canadian Municipalities now estimates at $123 billion.
Municipalities—perhaps with the exception of Muskoka—are suffering, and the government is not taking their needs into account. If we consider the facts that municipalities have been growing since 2004, that costs are increasing as a result of inflation, and that our infrastructure is crumbling, as we have unfortunately seen with the Champlain Bridge in Montreal, setting a $2 billion limit now is illogical.
The transfer to municipalities should have been increased in order to take demographic growth and inflation into account; instead, the government preferred to load an additional burden on the backs of municipalities in a typically Conservative manner, namely, without consultation, without debate and without a logical rationale.
Another problematic section is that pertaining to the Canadian securities regulator. The Canadian Securities Transition Office was supposed to be a temporary body set up to establish the permanent organization; however, under Bill C-13, Parliament will have to allocate additional funds to maintain this transition office. By so doing, the Conservatives are trying to force the provinces to accept what they want rather than working with the provinces to implement a functional regulatory system from coast to coast.
If the government wants to show good faith, it will take into account the proposals of the Liberal Party and Canadians. These simple and realistic proposals could easily be implemented. However, by limiting the debate on this 642-page bill to 15 seconds per page, the government is showing that it does not care about debate or about the reasonable proposals that Canadians and the opposition are making. This is an insult to Canadians who do not support the Conservative agenda. Given the current economic situation, we cannot abandon those in need.
The Liberal Party thus commits to defending those whom this government neglects. We cannot support Bill C-13 until the many deficiencies we have pointed out have been fixed.