Mr. Speaker, there is a lot to talk about in this budget but I will have to say it all in 10 minutes rather than 20 minutes. My colleague for Ottawa—Vanier suggests this might be bad news for me but good news for him. I always appreciate his thoughtful commentary on such matters.
I want to start by picking up on the point that my hon. colleague was making a moment ago in his response to a question. I have to say that I disagree with him somewhat. He complained that the budget bill is very large, as he was waving a copy of the budget, which is also very large. It is reasonable to expect that a meaty budget would produce a meaty and detailed piece of legislation.
Although I suspect a few of my constituents sit down and read most legislation cover to cover, I think that sometimes there is a tendency to expect that Canadians will not actually read the budget implementation act and that they will take it on faith that a very large bill is somehow inappropriate.
I want to point out that the nature of the many small detailed adjustments that are being made to government spending require a certain amount of space. To make this point, I will turn to Bill C-45 on page 228, which deals with pay for judges under the Judges Act. It deals with the salaries for every federally appointed and paid judge in the country, starting with the Chief Justice of Canada. It includes a series of amendments to the Judges Act because these salaries are legislated. Members would understand why we would not want to have judges salaries be discretionary, which is in order to preserve the independence of the judiciary. I will just read a bit of this to give a sense of why there is so much volume in this act.
210. Sections 9 to 22 of the Judges Act are replaced by the following:
9. The yearly salaries of the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada are as follows:
(a) the Chief Justice of Canada, $370,300; and
(b) the eight puisne judges, $342,800 each.
Puisne judges here are what we call associate justices. By the way, what has changed from the current Judges Act is that the actual numbers are changed because of salary increases from the current level.
It goes on:
10. The yearly salaries of the judges of the Federal Courts are as follows:
(a) the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal, $315,900;
(b) the other judges of the Federal Court of Appeal, $288,100 each;
(c) the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, $315,900; and
(d) the other judges of the Federal Court, $288,100 each.
11. The yearly salaries of the judges of the Tax Court of Canada are as follows:
(a) the Chief Justice, $315,900;
(b) the Associate Chief Justice, $315,900; and
(c) the other judges, $288,100 each.
It then goes on for every single provincial court, starting with Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and finally getting to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, which is the very last one several pages on.
They all have different salary levels currently and we want to have them go up proportionately. There is no other way of doing this than by laying the text out in this manner and it takes a certain amount of space, which is typical of the kind of content we find in this budget implementation act. It is detailed, thoughtful, methodical and, by necessity, takes up space.
This is not, as some members of the opposition have suggested, the budget version of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. This is actually a very reasonable, methodical, practical way of dealing with the very complex business of managing a country's national government's expenditures.
The main theme of the bill is bringing practical restraint after years of expanding government budgets. Of course, these were the expansions in the government's budget that took place in the wake of the financial meltdown of 2008.
At that time, the argument was made very forcefully by the opposition that the government must spend more money on stimulus. Indeed, in early 2009, the government was told that it must spend more money on stimulus and go into deficit, since there was no way of spending more money when revenues were at the levels they were at then.
We were told we must do that as a condition of them not defeating us and replacing us as the government without an intervening election. That was the deal. While the budgets passed by our government in its minority period were not supported by the opposition, the opposition's criticism at the time was based on us not spending enough. We should be clear about that.
Now we are downsizing, or one might say re-sizing, from that expenditure. I am not a Keynesian. I do not think that is the appropriate way of dealing with a financial downturn. However, if one does believe in Keynesianism, as the opposition does and indeed many colleagues on this side do as well, then this is what Keynesians do when an economy is not contracting but expanding. They cut spending, do not increase taxes and try to build up the financial work chest that may be needed for some future financial crisis. It is at times of financial crisis when the economy is contracting that a government engages in stimulus spending. This is part of that cycle.
As I said, I am not a Keynesian, but I do believe in the part about trying to keep government spending reasonable and under control. I also believe in the general approach the government has adopted, which is making small adjustments here and there across that vast scale of government expenditures, rather than simply making radical, dramatic cuts.
That approach has been tried. Indeed, it was tried by the Chrétien government and by Paul Martin when he was finance minister back in the mid 1990s. I remember the budget of 1995 very well. I was a staffer on Parliament Hill at the time. Canada had a very substantial deficit at the time. We were heading into a situation where we could potentially face a lenders' strike. The government's response was to cut spending, which I applaud.
The way it cut spending was not approved of by the former Reform Party and PCs, and that was to cut transfers to provinces radically. It left all federal spending on direct expenditures intact, which was politically sensitive, but it cut radically on the transfers to the provinces. This had the effect of nailing the provinces on their primary expenditures: health care and education. These are the two areas that Canadians consistently indicate are the most important areas of spending to them. That had a very serious negative impact on the provinces.
Our government has tried to avoid harming transfers to the provinces. A very stable foundation of funding, both for equalization and for direct health care transfers has now been secured several years into the future. The adjustments that are being made are to direct federal expenditures. These are, naturally, very many because there are so many different areas in which our government engages in spending. There is everything from soup to nuts, from national defence to protecting the environment. It covers a lot of ground.
Much of that spending is non-discretionary. It is put in place by statute, which means the statutes must be adjusted. The example I just gave of the Judges Act is a typical example of the kinds of adjustments that are made to a statutory expenditure requirement. We have to go through and deal with it in detail. It takes up space and inevitably creates a substantial bill.
Frankly, that is why we needed to have more than one budget implementation bill. We had one in the spring and as promised one in the autumn to deal with that very substantial amount of work and to give the time in the intervening period for the kind of work that requires detailed thought on the part of ministers to achieve the goal of having reasonable expenditure adjustments that do not cause harm to the interests of Canadians.
I have just one last example. It involves my own constituency. As all good MPs do, I want to wrap things up by talking about my own constituency.
One area of cuts that we faced was an adjustment to the canals budget of Parks Canada, which is administered through the ministry of the environment. It had an overall adjustment to its budget downwards of $29 million, of which $2 million would affect the Rideau Canal system. It is Ontario's only world heritage site and an area of considerable cultural and recreational importance.
The initial approach adopted by Parks Canada was to try to achieve at least part of that cut by reducing the season. When that met with concerns, the minister intervened personally. A number of MPs drew this concern to his attention. That included MPs from more than one party because the canal flows through both Conservative and Liberal-held ridings, and I think even an NDP-held riding.
The result was that reasonable changes were made to ensure the season could remain its full length. The part of the budget that was most important to local Canadians was respected. The result is a change that saves money and at the same time allows for a reasonable and intelligent expenditure of those funds.