Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Mount Royal, that wonderful, diverse and engaged constituency that I am honoured and privileged to represent.
I begin by expressing my appreciation to the electors of Mount Royal who have entrusted me with my sixth mandate in 11 years, as I was first elected in a byelection in 1999, and for their continuing engagement and involvement in the issues of the day.
In particular, I want to commend my constituents for their participation in pre-budgetary public forums. These encounters both inform and inspire my remarks today.
For example, at the invitation of the Minister of Finance, who recommended that such consultations be held, we held a pre-budgetary forum in my riding on February 10 in the presence of a cross-section of some 300 people from the riding. On March 4, I forwarded a summary of the issues discussed, concerns expressed, and recommendations to the minister. On March 17, in the light of emerging concerns, we held yet another public forum.
On March 22, the Minister of Finance tabled the budget in the House and on March 24, I spoke in the House with respect to that budget by way of reply. Indeed, the government's economic action plan and the budget, as an expression of that action plan, formed part of the discussion in my electoral encounters during the election.
Accordingly, and as the minister said in presenting the government's post-election budget and the government's action plan on June 6, all done against the backdrop of the Speech from the Throne, the minister would be continuing where he left off or, more particularly, reaffirming what he said on March 22. As he put it earlier this afternoon, and I quote, “We like this budget so much we introduced it twice”.
Similarly, as my initial critique anchored in the representations of my constituents of the time went seemingly unaddressed and unacknowledged by the minister who invited these pre-budget consultations, I thought it appropriate to reaffirm and refine those responses in my remarks today.
I begin as I did on March 24 by reaffirming that the budget is not just a financial statement or economic action plan, it is a statement of values. Against the backdrop of the Speech from the Throne, it in effect constitutes the government's vision for the future. It is not only a balance sheet, but as the minister himself acknowledged in his initial presentation on March 22, it is a statement of priorities, a balance of needs, indeed, a statement of principles and priorities underpinning such a vision.
Accordingly, I organize my remarks around two things.
First, I will seek to summarize the four major critiques of the government's action plan as conveyed to me by my constituents in the various public forums that we had, including pre-budget consultations.
Second, I will refer to the government's underlying vision, or the absence of an overall strategic vision, as again conveyed to me by my constituents.
In the matter of the critique as conveyed by my constituents, the first concern is the $30 billion for an untendered contract for the purchase of F-35 jets. It is a matter of interest to note that at the pre-budget consultation we held on February 10 I shared with my constituency the proposed or anticipated cost at the time, which was $16 billion. I then said that I thought it was higher, probably $21 billion.
By the time we held the next consultation on March 17, we learned from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that, after conducting an international peer review, the estimated cost was now $30 billion. Indeed, we learned during the election that even the $30 billion may already be outdated.
The cost, as attested to by United States senators and congressmen themselves, was “out of control”. Some countries like Denmark and the Netherlands were rethinking their commitment. There were those in the U.S. who were calling for the scrapping of the F-35 project as a whole.
The issue is not whether we need fighter jets. We have respect for the security needs of this country. The question is whether we should be spending $30 billion, and rising, on an untendered contract. Even the Americans say the costs are out of control and an international peer review suggests that we need an open competitive contract with respect to this particular budgetary item.
Second, there was an extended critique by my constituents of the billions of dollars set aside for a crime agenda and for the building of megaprisons at a time when crime is declining. I have to say, as a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, that the government clearly has a responsibility to address the question of crime. Governments clearly have a responsibility for the safety and security of the streets and neighbourhoods of their inhabitants.
As I learned as a minister of justice, let alone in my previous involvement as a law professor in areas of criminal justice sur le terrain, one of the best ways to combat crime is to prevent it to begin with, to provide jobs for youth at risk rather than jails, to utilize an integrated, preventive and rehabilitative approach rather than one organized around over-criminalization, over-sentencing, megaprisons and extended punishments.
Third, my constituents critiqued the $6 billion of proposed corporate tax cuts for the richest 5% of corporations. I am not opposed to corporate tax cuts as a matter of principle or as a matter of rigid orthodoxy. I can appreciate that corporate tax cuts can relate to economic growth and increased employment. Indeed, I was part of a government and sat in a cabinet that reduced corporate taxes from 29% to 21%.
I am not saying that we should never reduce corporate taxes. I understand, as I said, their validity. However, we did it at a time when we had eight successive budgetary surpluses. We did it at a time when we bequeathed to the Conservatives, when we were defeated, a budgetary surplus of $13.2 billion. We did not do it at a time when there was, as there is now, the highest budgetary deficit of $56 billion and we did not do it with respect to the very richest 5% of corporations while those in need were in fact given paltry handouts. That is the point of principle.
I will borrow from the Minister of Finance's own statement when he said, “What are the relative needs? What is the basis of comparative need?” I put the question to my constituents in our prebudget consultations. Their response in terms of the minister's own principle was that this budget spends 1,000 times more on fighter jets than it does on post-secondary students, 1,000 times more on megaprisons than it does on youth crime prevention, more for a single day of the G20 than in a year for seniors who are being given a paltry sum of $1.20 a day, more in partisan advertising than it did on family care, and so on.
The final critique is that the Conservative government has expressly excluded low income Canadians from qualifying for measures under this budget, such as the family caregiver tax credit, a worthy measure but one that is inappropriately being implemented. In a word, the Conservatives have made the tax credits in this budget non-refundable, which only helps Canadians who earn enough income so that they can pay the income taxes. Indeed, those are non-refundable tax credits and are not even available to low income Canadians. Simply put, under the Conservative government, a taxpayer earning $20,000 with a dependant would not qualify for any help as a caregiver, and this is something that we sorely need.
Finally, on the matter of a vision for the future and of having a strategic plan for the future, my constituents shared with me what they considered to be the absence of such a vision or strategic plan. They spoke of the importance of the need for health care. Indeed, I tabled, at their insistence, a nine point action plan for health care. They spoke of the need for early learning and child care and the need for access to higher education and to justice.
They spoke of the concerns of seniors, a disproportionate number of whom inhabit my riding. They spoke of pensions and poverty and of the fact that 700,000 seniors in this country are living in poverty. They spoke of the need for a clean environment and the need to invest in green technology. They spoke of the need for jobs, social housing, social justice and always that the test of a just society is how it treats its most vulnerable.
What do we find when we look at this budget? We find, regrettably, a budget that is disconnected from the needs that I have just shared with the House as my constituents conveyed them to me. We find a budget without a comprehensive strategy for health care, environmental protection, early learning and child care, jobs and taking care of the poor.
It is a budget, in a word, that is disconnected, not only from the needs of my own constituents as they shared them with me, but from the needs of many Canadians across this country who have conveyed similar views.