This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss Bill C-13 and point out that it clearly illustrates how the government is keeping its promise to Canadians.

As we all know, Canadians have weathered some difficult economic times over the last several years. The government has taken unprecedented action to help them through this challenging world environment. Indeed, we are seeing reassuring signs throughout the economy, though the international economy is still fragile.

The next phase of Canada's economic action plan builds on the government's record by announcing new measures for families and additional support for communities. This includes encouraging hiring by providing a temporary hiring credit for small business of up to $1,000 against a small firm's increase in its 2011 EI premiums, or those paid in 2010. The plan also includes an extension of active or recently terminated work-sharing agreements by up to 16 weeks so companies can avoid layoffs by offering EI benefits to workers willing to work a reduced work week while their company recovers.

Our government is focused on supporting Canadian families with a range of targeted measures that will help Canadians find and hold on to good, high paying jobs, while improving the quality of the lives of Canadians in big and small communities across the country.

Other areas that we are working on include assistance for remote communities that often lack the same level of services as larger centres. Our government is taking measures to address this unfortunate reality. For example, we propose to strengthen the health care in rural communities by supporting family physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses who make the choice to practise in underserved or remote communities. Today's bill proposes to forgive a portion of the federal share of the Canada student loans for new family physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses who practise in underserved rural or remote communities, including communities that provide health services to first nations and Inuit populations.

Starting in 2012-13, practising family physicians will be eligible for federal Canada student loan forgiveness of up to $8,000 per year to a maximum of $40,000. Nurse practitioners and nurses will be eligible for federal Canada student loan forgiveness of up to $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000. By bringing doctors and nurses into our rural communities, we are helping all Canadians access essential health services no matter where they live.

The other part of the action plan deals with firefighters. The next phase of Canada's economic action plan recognizes the invaluable contribution that volunteer firefighters make every day to the safety and security of their communities. Specifically, Bill C-13 proposes a volunteer firefighter tax credit, a non-refundable tax credit on an amount of $3,000, for volunteer firefighters who perform at least 200 hours of service in their communities during the year. This credit will provide up to $450 in tax relief to eligible firefighters who volunteer in this often thankless task. Eligible volunteer firefighters who currently receive honorariums in respect to their duties as a firefighter will be able to choose between the new tax credit or existing tax exemptions of up to $1,000 for the honorarium.

The president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, Martin Bell, called the tax credit “wonderful news” and said that the tax credit would contribute significantly to the capacity of volunteer fire departments to protect lives and property.

Budget 2011 also keeps our commitments for the future of the gas tax fund.

In 2007 we extended the gas tax fund by four years, delivering $11.8 billion in gas tax funding from 2007 to 2014 for infrastructure in cities and communities.

In 2008 we committed to making the gas tax fund permanent.

In 2009 we doubled the gas tax fund to $2 billion a year.

In 2010, despite challenging economic circumstances, we pledged to protect the gas tax fund.

In 2011, this legislation, Bill C-13, contains a permanent annual investment of $2 billion in municipal infrastructure through the gas tax fund.

The gas tax fund provides predictable, long-term infrastructure funding for municipalities, allowing them to better protect their future infrastructure investments.

Given the current environment, the number one issue for this government is to get people back to work which will help grow our economy.

Temporary measures in support of the economic recovery were included in the economic action plan to reinforce the substantial support the government already provides to job creators. The measures in this bill will build on that momentum, laying the foundation for long-term prosperity by encouraging business investments that are necessary to sustain economic growth. This includes extending the accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for investments, manufacturing, and processing machinery and equipment for two years to support the manufacturing and processing sector.

As members are aware, providing support for families and communities helps to ensure Canadians benefit from the opportunities and wealth that long-term growth creates no matter where they live.

The government is showing its commitment to help families and communities. It has stood up for all Canadians to help ensure that their needs are addressed through a wide variety of tax reliefs and targeted investments.

Canadians should be proud of how the government has responded to these challenges today. We are far better off today than we were even a few years ago, and we are well-positioned to deal with the issues that are ahead.

Canadians need the skills to participate fully in society and to secure Canada's position as a leader in the global economy. Further action is required and we are taking that action.

Canada is the best country in the world to live. We are living at the best time in human history. We are doing far better than most in the world. The government will ensure that in the future we remain the best country to live. A strong economy is key to that and to the quality of life for Canadians to ensure that every Canadian can reach their full potential as human beings.

May God keep our land glorious and free.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government member a question.

He keeps telling us that tax credits are important and that there are a number of them. I would like to know what he thinks about the fact that the poorest people in the country will not have access to these tax credits. I would like to know what he would say to them. In fact, they are the ones who need the most help and they are the ones who are unable to take advantage of these tax credits.

What is the government's exact position? Is the government thinking of changing its position? It is quite important to allow these people to have access to tax credits. They would be very useful to these people who really need them.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, this is an area that the NDP has had historic challenges understanding. When we reduce the tax burden on middle-class Canadians, job creators and corporations, that helps grow the economy. It empowers individuals financially and allows them to make the best decisions for themselves.

The less tax that people pay to the government, the more the economy will grow. The faster the economy grows, the strength of that growth helps people in low income situations. It helps the government invest in priority social programs that benefit all Canadians, including those with low incomes. It helps Canadians deal with the socio-economic challenges the member alluded to.

It is important to have a strong economy to protect Canadians and our environment. That is what tax credits do.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue with that question.

The Conservatives have, for a while now, talked about how much they care about firefighters. One of the things they wanted to do was to provide this tax credit.

The problem as we see it with the tax credit is that they are being very selective in terms of the volunteer firefighters they are helping. The equipment and the energies, along with the resources that our volunteer firefighters put in is quite significant.

The question is, why would we not be providing some benefit for low income firefighters? The government is doing it for the higher income, why not the lower income? By having a tax credit, the government is not allowing them to have any benefit.

Why is there different treatment for those who are more well off than others?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my remarks, the tax credit has been described by members of the firefighters association as wonderful. They have been very complimentary. It is what volunteer firefighters have asked for.

The previous Liberal government had that opportunity, to bring forward some sort of financial recognition to firefighters. It chose not to. This Conservative government chose to recognize the contribution volunteer firefighters make in our communities.

I would also point out that if the member was serious about the financial recognition for firefighters, he would support this budget instead of voting against it.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I just want to compliment our minister on his response to that hypocritical question by a member of the Liberal Party.

We met, several times, with volunteer firefighters and with chiefs of fire departments across this country who stated very clearly that they were begging the former Liberal government when it was in power for 13 long years to do something to help them. What did the former Liberal government do? Nothing.

I want to compliment the minister, and I want him to explain how the new family caregiver tax credit will benefit people regardless of whether the Liberal Party or the NDP vote for it.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I accept with humility the comments from the parliamentary secretary.

It is really the parliamentary secretary who should be praised for her excellent work in pre-budget consultations, and her work as a police officer. This parliamentary secretary knows very well the needs of Canadians right across the board, particularly firefighters and police officers, the very people who keep our communities safe.

I appreciate the question regarding the caregiver tax credit. Caregivers help make our society better, and certainly help individuals and their families. Some financial recognition of that will go a long way to helping families.

Again, I just want to say that the parliamentary secretary has done an outstanding job in pre-budget consultations, and that is why—

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Etobicoke North.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-13, particularly because it affects low income Canadians and fails to address health problems, including chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency and rare disorders.

Specifically, Bill C-13 deliberately excludes low income Canadians from programs such as the family caregiver tax credit. If people quit their job to take care of a sick loved one at home, they likely would not qualify for any benefits as the Conservatives have put in place a minimum threshold to qualify. I think it is unconscionable to deliberately exclude the very people who are most in need of help. It important to remember that one of Canadians' most deeply held values is fairness.

How then can Canada be one of the few developed countries without a national student nutrition program? Sadly, one in five Canadian children lives below the poverty line which may lead to poor nutritional status and poor child health outcomes. Canadian children from all income brackets are vulnerable to inadequate nutrition. Many children go to class hungry as 40% of elementary students and 62% of secondary school students do not eat a nutritious breakfast.

Hungry children cannot learn. Their learning capabilities are affected by how recently they have eaten. Malnutrition in early life can limit long-term intellectual development. Moreover, Canadian children and youth experience unprecedented rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity because they do not have the knowledge to make healthy food choices and do not have access to the healthy food they need for health and learning.

The Toronto Foundation for Student Success has more than 600 schools in Toronto, 142,000 children and youth, and 3,000 community volunteers with a total of 20,350,000 meals served annually. Toronto research has found that student nutrition programs reduce absenteeism, suspensions and expulsions by 50%; improve performance on standardized literacy and numeracy tests; dramatically impact credit accumulation in secondary school, which is a key indicator of graduation; create a sense of belonging and improve the morale of schools. Toronto research showed that the health impacts include: increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grain foods, and healthy eating habits which prevents diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Student nutrition programs are needed in aboriginal, remote and rural communities, and the same behavioural learning and health impacts are found in all communities.

Feeding Our Future showed that 78% of grade 10 students, who reported eating morning meals most days, were on track to complete their diploma, meaning they earned 15 or more credits versus 61% who went without food.

The Boston Consulting Group, BCG, has shown that on average each high school graduate contributes an extra $75,000 annually to the economy. If providing food at school increases graduation rates by just 3%, based on the BCG figures, a national school meal program implemented in Canada's high schools at a cost of just $1.25 a day would result in a net payback of more than $500 million annually.

Outside Canada school meals are viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Improving child and youth nutrition, health and social development feeds regional economic development.

For example, in Brazil food is a constitutional right. A massive national program feeds 47 million students at 190,000 schools each day. Access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of every individual. Therefore, I think it is incumbent upon each of us to fight for a national school nutrition program for all of our children.

I would like to address a second item missing from the budget: funding for clinical trials for chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI.

After much resistance, the federal government announced this summer that it would fund clinical trials for CCSVI. This was welcome news for Canadians with MS and for their families. However, this decision took far too long to arrive at, and, since the announcement, no plan has been provided describing how the government plans to establish these trials.

I want to be very clear: right now, all we have is announcements; what we need is action. Canadians with MS cannot afford to wait, as any delay possibly means more damage.

Mr. Speaker, 30%-50% of MS patients who are untreated worsen by one EDSS score in one year, and 50% with relapsing-remitting MS later develop a progressive form of the disease for which there are no drugs. The reality is that one month can mean the difference between walking and not walking, or between living independently and living in care.

CIHR has recommended a phase I/II clinical trial, which is usually undertaken to assess safety. However, angioplasty is an accepted standard of care practice and routinely used for many conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted the basic safety information for angioplasty, since it has already approved three double-blind phase II clinical trials, which are already being conducted in the United States. There is no need for a phase I trial in Canada. It will waste time and money and would provide nothing beyond what is already known worldwide about this procedure.

What is needed is an adaptive phase II/III trial, which would permit a rapid and seamless transition from the phase II trial--subject, of course, to interim assessments of safety and efficacy--to a full phase III trial. This approach would still address all the regulatory requirements and answer all the key safety and efficacy questions, but it would also save time and cost.

Moreover, we need experts who are actively engaged in diagnosis and treatment of CCSVI on the CIHR's expert working group.

I would like to address a third omission from the budget.

Some 2.7 million Canadians are affected by rare disorders such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Most rare disorders are difficult to diagnose and are chronic, degenerative, progressive and life-threatening.

Families who face rare disorders lack access to scientific knowledge of their disease and to quality health care. They face difficulties and inequities in accessing treatment and care.

Canada is one of the only developed countries without a policy for rare disorders. As a result, Canadian patients are frequently excluded from many clinical trials and often have delayed access to treatment. Moreover, Canadian patients cannot always access drugs available to patients elsewhere. Only a fraction of the drugs approved in Europe and the U.S. are brought to Canada. Going forward, let us all commit to working together to develop a national policy for rare disorders.

I wish there were more time. I wish there were time to address the cuts that have decimated Environment Canada, particularly its adaptation group. Eight were fired in June, and twelve of 17 have received workforce adjustment letters. Many of these scientists share part of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for climate change.

Adaptation science is the bridge between climate predictions and practical applications. Why, then, would the minister cut climate impact and adaptation scientists? Does he really think an investment of $149 million will truly counter the problem? When will the Minister of the Environment restore activities in the Environment Canada adaptation group so that the economic well-being, health and safety of Canadians will be protected?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke a lot about medical issues, and I know those are close to her heart.

I met recently with officials of the MS Society in my office here in Ottawa. They thanked the government for the family caregiver tax credit and said it was a step in the right direction.

I want to ask my colleague specifically about the enhanced medical expense tax credit, which would remove the $10,000 limit on the amount of eligible medical expenses that may be claimed on behalf of a financially dependent relative. As a result of her concerns about the medical system, will she vote in favour of the bill, since it would provide an excellent enhanced medical expense tax credit that would benefit thousands of Canadians?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, at first the hon. member mentioned the family caregiver tax credit, and I will pick up on that.

I represent one of the most diverse ridings in the country. We rank about fifth. Many of my families are newcomers. They face many challenges in coming to Canada. They face the challenge of learning a new language, of adapting to a new culture and particularly of finding a job.

My families often work two to three jobs just to put food on the table for their children. If the choice is between buying a $5 litre of orange juice and a $2 double litre of orange pop, the choice is clear to a family trying to stretch each dollar.

The reality is that many of these families will never meet the requirement that the government has put in place to receive that caregiver tax credit.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member for Etobicoke North. She has a fine brain and a warm heart and she is always worth listening to, so I thank her for her excellent speech.

She talked about two things, children and medicine, things she cares about and knows about, and there is a sense of urgency. She mentioned that time is running out; it is not the eleventh hour, it is the hour.

I wonder if the hon. member is aware of the book The Spirit Level, by Wilkinson and Pickett, which uses scientific data to show why the Scandinavian countries and Japan are far ahead of us in health and welfare for children and adults, why the United States is the worst of the developed countries and why we are sliding toward that model. If she has not read it, I recommend it to her, to every Canadian and to every member in the House.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, for whom I also have great respect.

To bring in the international perspective, and I will do it regarding food, in Sweden children between the ages of six and 16 receive a hot meal each day under laws set by the national food administration. Pupils choose from three entrees, a vegetarian dish and a salad bar with at least five fresh choices. Milk and bread are also served.

In Japan children aged six to 15 receive school meals. A government initiative aims to ensure 50% of the meals are made with local ingredients. The UN world food program and school feeding programs encourage hungry children to attend school.

Feeding these children helps them concentrate on their studies. Food attracts hungry children to school, and an education broadens their options, helping lift them out of poverty.

Canada has provided $25 million a year since 2003 in support of the world food program. We need to fight for a national nutrition program here.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her very interesting speech on health, among other things.

Five million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor and 73% of Canadians without a family doctor depend on emergency rooms or walk-in clinics for front-line health care. Canada is ranked 26th out of 30 industrialized countries when it comes to the number of doctors per capita. Could the hon. member tell us about their plan to address this situation?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, health care has to be an absolute priority. Going forward, I would like to see a vision for health care in this country coming from the government. In the last few years, government members have hardly uttered the word “health”.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill:

Bill S-3, A third Act to harmonize federal law with the civil law of Quebec and to amend certain Acts in order to ensure that each language version takes into account the common law and the civil law.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Brandon—Souris.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-13, An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011 and other measures, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and honour for me to stand to speak about the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. When I was preparing my notes for these comments, I could not help but realize that many things have already been done prior to part two of this action plan, and I want to touch on them as I move through my comments.

It is not unknown to anyone in Canada that our government believes in lowering taxes. It believes that leaving more money in the pockets of people who work, raise families, and create and live in and participate in communities is better than having the government take it from them and reinvest it in their communities. Often when governments do that, they tend not to hear or understand the needs of the communities, and therefore, although the investment was well intentioned, the money is quite often misspent.

It is interesting to note that since 2006 our government has cut taxes 120 times. If it is not a record, it is a darn good average. Canadians are recognizing that and are benefiting from the removal of the tax burdens that were in place before. We have removed over one million low-income families, individuals and seniors, from the tax rolls. These are the same low-income people we hear members opposite talking about and being concerned about. By changing thresholds for offering tax benefits, we have removed that many people from the tax rolls. That is something everyone in Canada should be very proud of.

We have cut personal taxes, consumption taxes, business taxes and excise taxes, and the list goes on. We have reduced personal income tax, we have increased the amount Canadians can earn tax free, we have introduced the landmark tax-free savings account--one of the most important personal savings vehicles since the RRSP--and we continue to reduce the small business tax rate from 12% to 11%. Due to our government's low-tax plan, the average typical Canadian family's tax saving is now over $3,000.

Where do we go from here? What is the next step, and what are we presenting to Canadians to provide the security they need to continue to invest in their homes, families and communities? We have introduced a new family caregiver tax credit and a new hiring credit for small businesses.

I want to mention one measure in particular, because it has a huge impact on job creation and on opportunities for the future.

We have extended the accelerated capital cost allowance that allows businesses to invest in new technology and industrial benefits for their businesses and create efficiencies not only in production but on the environmental side. Since they will be able to write that off at a faster pace, they will be more interested in making that investment and writing it down as quickly as possible.

In my previous life, those types of investments would sometimes take 20 years to write off, so businesses were always carrying them. Whether they were using it or whether it was obsolete, they still had to show it. This is one area of support that business communities and manufacturers have told us has been tremendous.

We talk about supporting families. This is probably one of the most important issues we deal with. We have introduced a family caregiver tax credit that caregivers of all types of infirm, dependent relatives--including, for the first time, spouses, common-law partners and minor children--can utilize. We have introduced an enhanced medical expense tax credit, removing the $10,000 limit on the amount of eligible medical expenses that can be claimed on behalf of financially dependent relatives.

We are continuing the eco-energy retrofit program, one of the most successful programs we introduced in previous budgets, and I hope the opposition recognizes it as a milestone. It allows people with lower incomes to find ways to create more efficiencies in their homes by reducing their electricity and heating bills, thus making their homes more efficient and allowing them to have more money in their pockets.

Another part of the budget that is very important to me and to many of the members is the support that we are offering for seniors. Since 2006 when we became government, we have offered $2.3 billion in annual tax relief for seniors and pensioners. That equates to removing over 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls. We have introduced pension income splitting so people can split their incomes and pay lower taxes and have more money in their pockets to do the things they want to do, to do the things they saved for and worked all their lives for.

We have increased the age credit by $2,000. We have doubled the pension income credit to $2,000. We have increased the amount that guaranteed income supplement recipients can earn through employment without a reduction of their GIS benefits. Where does the next step take us? Where does phase two of this action plan go?

We recognize that Canada's seniors not only helped build and make our country great, but they continue to do so. Part of our new plan is going to enhance the GIS for eligible low income seniors who will receive additional benefits up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. That will have an impact for over 680,000 seniors across Canada. These are important numbers because they reflect the number of people who will benefit from this directly. We are doing things to help people move forward.

We have enhanced the new horizons for seniors program. The uptake in this program in my constituency of Brandon—Souris has been phenomenal. Seniors are reaching out to other seniors to create opportunities and learning environments. They are doing things together to create a better and healthier lifestyle. We certainly support that.

I mentioned previously about helping families. Extending the eco-energy retrofit program definitely will help seniors particularly those with a low income. That I have no trouble supporting and I would hope that members opposite would support it too.

One of the great things that has been accomplished by this government is that we established the tax-free savings account. That has been a tremendous benefit to seniors.

We talked about volunteer firefighters. I have heard some of the debate today. Volunteer firefighters play a huge role in our rural communities. They are the people who work in our communities, but at the sound of a bell, they leave their work to go and help a neighbour, friend, relative, anyone in the community. They often put themselves at great risk. They do it for one reason. They do it because of their neighbours and families and the communities in which they live. Nearly 85,000 volunteer firefighters provide their services to protect our lives and property in Canada's urban and rural communities, but rural communities in particular rely on volunteer firefighters and their professionalism.

There are many things I want to touch on, but I will finish by touching on the government's support for farmers. Farmers are the backbone of the country. They have fed the world for many years. In this budget we are introducing a new agricultural innovation initiative of $50 million to keep us on the cutting edge of agricultural innovations. We talk about strengthening the food safety system which is very important. We have invested $100 million for new training and additional science capacity. We are helping producers by extending the accelerated capital cost allowance.

There are many reasons in the budget for everyone to support it. I would ask members to do so. I will be supporting it.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the eco-energy retrofit program for homes which my hon. colleague brought up twice in his remarks. There is a problem with it. Let us look at the program from the point of view of small businesses which are in the business of retrofitting homes. These are businesses that are hiring people and there are many of them in my riding. A one-year program is not something that businesses can use for planning, hiring and training.

We put forward a proposal that this program go for five years so that small businesses could take advantage of the supposed stability of the majority government to actually grow their businesses. At the end of five years we could have a viable industry doing energy retrofits for homes and helping people save energy and money.

Is the hon. member disappointed that in this budget bill no thought has been given to having a longer period, say five years, for the eco-energy retrofit program so that small businesses could count on that kind of stability?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, if I understand it correctly, the program has been around since 2007. It was introduced by the government at that time in a budget. We have seen the benefits of it. It has worked tremendously well in many parts of the country. Therefore, we thought it was desirable to continue with the program.

Many people benefited from this. Not only did people have the work done, but there was training and job creation in the last four years as well. Those people, particularly young people, were able to stay in their communities and continue in the profession they chose. They are now prepared to face the future.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get back to the question my colleague asked. I do not think his question was answered, because I have heard the same concerns about the eco-energy retrofit program. The problem is not who created it, when it was created or whether it will be renewed. The problem is that contractors and voters in general do not know whether the program will survive for a year, two years, three, four or even five years. The program would be much more effective if people could be certain that it will be around for more years. This way, contractors and the public could plan renovations over a longer period of time.

I would like to know whether the government member could tell us whether he is satisfied or dissatisfied with the fact that these measures are decided on year by year and whether he thinks they would be more effective if they were more long-term to allow people to plan over a longer period of time.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure how more clear I can be. This was introduced in 2007. It is now 2011. The program is continuing to operate. The benefits that we have seen in our communities have been tremendous not only for the people who are utilizing the services, but it has helped keep trained people in those new jobs, particularly in the housing industry. It has been a tremendous boon. We now have accredited professionals in our communities carrying on in the jobs of the future and the opportunities that they present.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from Brandon—Souris, which is a rural riding. Obviously, it is one of our fine western ridings.

Would the member comment on how this budget, the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, speaks to the needs of rural Canadians and rural Canada?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, as important as it is when we talk about introducing and implementing programs and policies that would impact Canadians, I think we all would recognize there are differences between the rural and remote parts of Canada and the urban parts of Canada and that we have to always be sensitive to those differences.

Many of the things that we have introduced in the budget have been things which the rural caucus has brought forward to the Minister of Finance and to the government, and they have listened to us. That is the most important part. We get things done by working together, by listening to our constituents and, at the end of the day, producing a product that I hope all members will support.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to stand up for New Democrats’ ideals when it comes to the economy. With Bill C-13, the Conservatives have supported the NDP motion calling for immediate economic action. Unfortunately, however, this bill is very simply not enough.

A lot more has to be done to respond to the legitimate concerns that Canadian families have about the economy. The Canadian public wants to see real action taken to stimulate the economy, create jobs and combat the social inequalities we are facing. And today I would like to stress that last point, because, in my opinion, it is crucial to understand the economic benefits that are produced by a more equal society.

Income inequality is an important indicator of fairness in an economy and has repercussions on other areas, such as crime and social exclusion. A study done by the Conference Board of Canada shows that Canada ranks 12th out of 17 comparable countries when it comes to inequality. In other words, the income gap is wider in Canada than in 11 comparable countries. Although Canada’s wealth is distributed more equitably than in the United States, Canada’s 12th place ranking suggests that it is doing a mediocre job of guaranteeing income equality, according to the Conference Board.

A significant widening of the income gap occurred in Canada between 2000 and 2006. Canada is the only country in the Conference Board study whose relative score fell between the mid-1990s and the middle of the next decade because of its significant increase in income inequality. Statistics Canada recently released some income figures. Incomes from the 2006 census show an increase in inequality. That study was based on full-time workers’ median earnings between 1980 and 2005. The figures show that earnings grew by 16.4% for people with the top incomes, while they stagnated for people in the middle income group and fell by 20.6% for people in the bottom income group.

To summarize, from 1980 to 2005, earnings for the top group rose by 16.4%, while middle-income Canadians saw their incomes stagnate and earnings for the bottom group declined sharply. In the richest group of Canadians, the big winners were the super-rich, the top 1%. That increase is not attributable solely to wise investments; it also stems from the base salaries paid to bank presidents and corporate CEOs, which have exploded in recent years. So we should not be surprised to see that in recent weeks, income inequality has been in the media spotlight.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, for example, and the movements that followed it are a signal that the public is rejecting the income gap between the richest 1% and the other 99%. There is a widespread fear now being felt around the world that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And that fear certainly does not seem to be unfounded. For example, a recent study by a professor at Berkeley found that income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, even exceeding the levels observed during the Great Depression. The example he gives is that the top 10% of earners in 2007 accounted for nearly 50% of total income in the United States.

In contrast, Denmark and Sweden, which have the lowest levels of poverty among children and the working age population, are also undisputed leaders in terms of income equality. The relationship between social spending and poverty rates has become clearer over time. Thus, it is not surprising that these countries have strong traditions of redistributing wealth. They have been able to keep poverty rates down thanks to a universal welfare policy that has been effectively combined with job creation strategies that support gender equality and accessibility. That is the example the NDP would like to follow, because it appears that the model that this government insists on copying is producing extremely disappointing results.

According to the Conference Board, one reason for the growing inequality in Canada is globalization, which rewards highly qualified workers while leaving everyone else behind. This situation is also largely the result of the interaction between family factors and economic factors. The gap is widening considerably between families with two highly educated spouses and those that have only one breadwinner or those with no one who can work.

In addition, government transfer programs meant to address some of these inequalities are not as effective as they were 20 years ago. For instance, fewer workers are receiving employment insurance benefits, and social assistance rates do not always mimic the cost of living. To date, many of the tax breaks granted by this government have disproportionately benefited the wealthy, because they have not been applied based on income. They have instead centred mainly around lowering the GST and around tax credit programs.

Speaking of inequality, we must also address the issue of poverty in Canada. Once again according to the Conference Board of Canada, more than 12% of adult Canadians live in relative poverty. That is twice as high as the rates found in Denmark and Sweden. Canada ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries in terms of the working age poverty rate. Canada's working-age poverty rate increased from 9.4% in the mid-1990s to 12.2% in the mid-2000s.

While the NDP has been asking this government to rethink its plan to promote employment, a recent OECD report states that poverty rates are directly dependent on the ability of household members to be gainfully employed. The OECD concludes that the failure to tackle the poverty and exclusion facing millions of families and their children is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on countries’ capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come.

The relationship between social spending and poverty rates is striking. Among working-age adults, the relative poverty rate is lower in countries with higher social spending.

Why so much talk about income inequality and poverty? Because there are direct links between inequality and a country's economic growth. It is reasonable for there to be a compromise between equality and effectiveness so that wealth redistribution does not impede productivity. A recent OECD study on income inequality notes:

A society in which income was distributed perfectly equally would not be a desirable place either. People who work harder, or are more talented than others, should have more income. What matters, in fact, is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.

However, the idea that income inequality reduces the potential for growth is real. Income inequality undermines social cohesion, leading to social conflicts. A study done by Michael Forster highlights new research showing that a society should be concerned about income inequality. He says that a number of authors have produced evidence that poor income distribution could ultimately have a negative effect on economic growth through education, health and access to the labour market.

In a letter published in Le Devoir, Paul Bernard, a professor at the Université de Montréal, showed that social investment is a key to economic development. To support his position, he cited numerous studies that show that social spending does not operate to slow growth. In fact, it actually operates to provide everyone with the prerequisites that enable them to participate in the labour market in large numbers and on the best terms. This strong participation helps to increase the productivity of the economy and means that the taxes needed for maintaining those services can be raised intelligently.

In other words, economic development can be achieved through social investment, with the bonus of a healthy additional dose of social justice. So we have to look at combating income inequality not just as a matter of principle, but also as a practical contribution, what social development can and must do for economic development. Providing all Canadians with access to adequate health care services, a quality education and social and family services appropriate to their situation is what will ensure the long-term development of our economy. In other words, we have to redistribute wealth in order to create wealth.

So it seems there is an alternative to this government’s economic plan, which is an attempt to stimulate the economy by cutting social programs and the services provided to the public under the false pretext of contributing to economic growth and helping Canadians find jobs.

This plan does not do enough for the Canadian economy. We need a government that demonstrates leadership, today even more than in previous years. Canada is not immune to a new recession. That is why we cannot stop there. We have to be proactive and redistribute wealth in order to create wealth.