Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for York West.
I would like to begin by thanking the people of Kings—Hants, who have given me the honour and privilege of serving as their member of Parliament in this House six times now. Fourteen years ago, June 2, 1997, was my first election. I want to thank them. They have stood by me and I have stood up for them. It is a wonderful constituency and there are wonderful families and friends in Kings—Hants whom I am very proud to serve.
The Conservatives have always blamed their lack of big ideas and plans and vision on having a minority government and the short-term focus of minority parliaments. Therefore, one would have expected with this budget, in their first majority government, the Conservatives to seize the opportunity to provide Canadians with a long-term vision, with some real plans for the future to build a better Canada and to stop focusing on this week's polls and instead focus on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Those Canadians who were expecting the Conservatives to seize the moment and the opportunity provided to them by a majority parliament to actually offer long-term vision and bold ideas to build a better Canada will be very disappointed by this budget, which lacks long-term ideas, bold vision and clear direction for the Canadian economy.
I would like to speak first about the whole debt and deficit issue. The Conservatives talk a good line on this but they really have not delivered. It is critically important that we remember that they inherited a $13 billion surplus. They spent through that surplus, they wracked up record deficits and in fact put Canada into deficit even before the economic downturn in the fall of 2008. They are on track, they say. Yes, they are on track to add $150 billion to $200 billion to Canada's national debt. They have no credibility when it comes to controlling spending or deficit reduction. They have missed every deficit target they have set. There is no plan.
In fact, if we look at the previous Conservative government's record, it is one of waste and misuse of tax dollars. The Conservatives increased government advertising by 300%, and increased spending on ministers' personal offices by 14% just last year. Now, with a majority government, what was the Conservatives' first attempt at fiscal restraint? It was to expand their cabinet. The Conservatives are not leading by example.
They have now named an expenditure review committee of cabinet. In fact, it is to replace the expenditure review committee of cabinet the Conservatives eliminated when they formed government. The Liberal government of Paul Martin had an expenditure review committee; we respected every hard-earned tax dollar in that expenditure review committee during a time of surplus. The Conservatives got rid of that committee while in deficit and they went on to add hundreds of billions of dollars to Canada's national debt.
The Conservatives talk about how well Canada is doing in terms of our debt as a per cent of GDP compared to other countries. The reality is that most of the time they are comparing Canada to other countries. They are ignoring the fact that in Canada, with our system of government and provincial governments, if we combine federal and provincial debt as a per cent of GDP and if we recognize that there is only one taxpayer who is responsible for all of the debts of the provincial and federal governments, and if we consider gross debt numbers and compare them to other countries' gross debt numbers, we get a very different picture.
Our gross debt in Canada, federal and provincial debt combined, is 81.7% of GDP. That is actually almost as bad as the U.S. gross debt figure at 84% of GDP. It is worse than the U.K.'s gross debt figure at 77% and worse than Germany's gross debt figure at 75%.
Thus, I think that part of our dealing with these issues responsibly is actually telling Canadians the truth and accepting that Canadians, when given the truth, will accept measures to restrain and control government spending.
One of the biggest reasons we have had better recovery numbers than some other economies has been our natural resource wealth, oil and gas and mineral wealth. We are blessed with natural resource wealth in Canada. As countries like China, India and other emerging economies have an insatiable appetite and need for natural resources and energy, Canada is in a great position to provide it, not because the Conservatives put the oil and gas under the ground off the Atlantic coast, everyone knows that was Danny Williams, but because we are fortunate.
The reality is the benefit we have from all of the natural resource wealth is a bit of a double-edged sword because it is creating two economies in Canada: a have economy for the provinces and people in the oil and gas and mineral sectors and a have not for the provinces, families and sectors that are not part of the oil and gas and mineral boom. It is creating a balkanized Canadian economy and further dividing the haves and have nots in Canada.
As gas prices rise, so does our dollar. As commodity prices go up, our dollar goes up and value-added manufacturing jobs vanish. They are crowded out. In my part of Nova Scotia, Hants County, Kings County and Annapolis County, since the fall of 2008, 10,700 full-time jobs have been lost, mainly in manufacturing.
Our unemployment rate has gone from 5% to 12.5%. Companies like Canard Poultry, Eastern Protein and Fundy Gypsum have gone out of business. There have been massive layoffs. At the very time families are faced with the challenge of losing full-time jobs and replacing them with part-time jobs, gas prices are going up and it is harder to fill their car tanks, heating oil prices are going up and it is harder to heat their homes and the cost of living and food costs are going up and it is harder to feed their families.
The reality we face as a country now is that Canada has what some refer to as the Dutch disease, because Holland went through a similar challenge: a rising dollar fuelled by growth in the demand for our natural resources, but crowding out manufacturing jobs and driving up the cost of living. There is nothing in the budget that addresses this massive challenge, this bifurcation of the Canadian economy, this gap between rich and poor, this gap between have and have not regions that is a reality for our country and Canadian families.
Have not provinces are facing rising health care costs, an aging population and a diminished tax base because young people are going to the have provinces as they need to work. At the same time, families and provinces are facing increased levels of debt load. The situation is actually getting worse.
In Nova Scotia, the provincial government is now slashing funding for public education. What does that do? It creates less of an incentive for young families to stay in Nova Scotia and reduces its capacity to grow and ensure that young families and people are given the skills and education they require to compete and succeed globally.
The gap between rich and poor and the economic growth focused only on petroleum and mineral wealth is leading to a greater inequality of opportunity in Canada. There is nothing more fundamental as a Canadian value than equality of opportunity. It is time the Conservative government start to work with the provinces to address some of these issues and challenges.
The premiers know they have a challenge. They know we are coming up to a 2014 deadline for a health care accord. The last time that accord was negotiated was in 2004. I was part of the Martin government then and the country was in surplus. We were able to provide $40 billion to the provinces, the largest single investment in health care from a federal government in Canadian history.
We are not in surplus now and neither are the provinces. We need to be working with the provinces to address aging demographics, the health care costs that are rising and the gap between rich and poor regions in our country. This what the government ought to be doing.