Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate on the budget implementation bill, although I must say that 10 minutes to deal with the 425-page bill is absurdly inadequate. It is impossible to offer a comprehensive analysis if the government is intent on giving me less than one second per page of the bill to articulate the concerns of my constituents. What happened to the government's commitment to accountability?
I will, however, try to make the most of what little time I do have. This speech may not end up hanging together very well but, in the interest of hitting on all the key points, I will just jump from one to the next while keeping a close eye on the clock.
I will begin with the environment. The Conservatives have the worst track record of any recent Canadian government when it comes to environmental protection and action on climate change. In fact, the government is engaged in an all out dismantling of Canada's environmental regulation and protection system.
Canada reduced its federal environmental spending by 40% between 1993 and 1997, starting a long and continuing period of environmental backsliding. Our country's environmental ranking is now the worst in the world. The 2011 Climate change performance index ranks Canada 57 out of 60 nations.
Why are the Conservatives doing this? They are gutting Canada's long-standing environmental laws so that their friends in the oil and gas industry get what they have been asking for: fewer environmental safeguards so they can push through resource megaprojects, including pipelines, with little regard to environmental damage.
Fully one-third of the budget implementation bill deals with such environmental deregulation. It is an all out attack on the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities in which we live. It is outrageous. It is our children and grandchildren who will pay the price.
Although there is much more to be said, I must move on and I will move from kids to the other end of the demographic spectrum and talk about seniors.
The Conservative government is using Bill C-38 to balance its budget on the backs of Canadian seniors. The Conservatives gave $16 billion in tax cuts to profitable corporations without receiving a single job guarantee. Now, facing a revenue shortfall, they expect Canadian seniors to pay the price. It is absurd. The Conservatives have no problem spending $30 billion on their F-35 boondoggle and another $19 billion for their unpopular prisons agenda but they cannot spare $540 a month for Canada's poorest seniors. It is about time they got their priorities straight.
In fact, it was not that long ago that the Prime Minister would have agreed with me. In the thick of the 2004 election campaign, his Conservative Party sent out a REALITY CHECK entitled “Paul Martin's hidden seniors agenda”. At that time the Conservatives claimed that the Liberals were hiding a plan to raise the retirement age to 67 for the old age security. They ridiculed the idea of raising the eligibility for OAS because, “Canadians would have to work two years longer only to receive less from their public pension”.
In 2004, the Conservatives were ready to stand up for seniors but that was then and this is now.
Today, the Conservatives have absolutely no qualms about leaving seniors behind. Instead of working to lift every senior out of poverty, the Conservatives are throwing tens of thousands of seniors into poverty. In fact, without OAS-GIS for two years, almost 100,000 recently retired Canadian seniors would be made poor today. For single senior females, the poverty rate would rise from 17% to 48%.
There is absolutely no sound fiscal or policy justification for any of that. In fact, all evidence shows that the OAS is sustainable. Pension and retirement expert professor Tom Klassen of York University noted, “I haven't heard any academic argue that there's a crisis with OAS". In fact, numerous experts, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer, have confirmed that the OAS is sustainable in its existing form. Even the government's own latest actuarial report indicates that the OAS-GIS will account for a smaller percentage of the GDP in 2060 than it does today.
So why punish future generations? By changing the OAS, the Conservatives are pitting one generation against the next. We have all worked hard and played by the rules. There is no reason to bankrupt the next generation of Canadians with the Conservatives' reckless cuts.
In fact, that is exactly the position taken by CARP, one of Canada's leading advocacy organizations for seniors. CARP members have stated that they:
...do not see how cutting OAS spending would help future generations. Instead, they are calling for measures that will create job opportunities for them as a better way to secure their future. Rather than selfishly guarding their own interests...CARP members and other older Canadians are defending an important part of the social safety net and do not want to see it torn up for their children and grandchildren.
If only the government were only listening.
I will keep moving along.
I was encouraged when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance say last week, “the best way to fight poverty and deal with inequality is to ensure that Canadians have jobs”.
I was cautiously optimistic that a government bill that is entitled the “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act” might actually deal with the critical issue of jobs, and it does, but instead of dealing with job creation, it deals with job cuts. That is terrible news for communities like my hometown of Hamilton, which was built upon a thriving manufacturing sector.
Since the Conservatives came to power, Canada has lost 365,000 manufacturing jobs. There are nearly 1.4 million Canadians out of work and the employment rate remains well above the pre-recession level. Youth unemployment remains nearly double the national average at 14%.
What is the government's job strategy? It throws more people out of work.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that, in addition to the 19,200 positions being eliminated in budget 2012, there will be a further 6,300 jobs cut as a result of the government's previous strategic reviews that have yet to be implemented and a further 9,000 jobs cut as a result of the government's budget operating freeze. That would total 34,500 federal public service jobs being cut.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer suggests that the total will be even higher, at 43,000 jobs lost, since, “we're actually talking about cuts on top of cuts”.
Anyone who had hoped that the Conservatives would live up to their rhetoric of investing in jobs to alleviate poverty will be sadly disappointed. However, they will not be surprised because the government's track record on poverty is one of exacerbating the problem rather than working to eradicate it. From cutting the National Council of Welfare to eliminating key public programs and failing to invest in housing supports and child care, the Conservative government has failed to ensure that we build a Canada where no one is left behind.
As the Canadian Labour Congress rightly pointed out, budgets are all about choices. With unemployment and underemployment still at very high levels and a shrinking middle-class, the federal government could and should have laid the basis for sustained and broadly shared economic recovery.
Instead, the government introduced a number of measures that will unfairly target the unemployed, severely reduce avenues for unemployed workers to appeal the denial of benefits and reduce the standard of living for workers everywhere.
Instead of fixing a broken EI system that results in the denial of benefits to the majority of unemployed workers, the Conservatives are making it even tougher for the unemployed to receive the benefits of an insurance policy they have paid into all of their working lives.
First, the government plans to cut unemployed workers off their EI benefits if they decline “suitable employment”. The definition of “suitable employment” will be set by none other than the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. That minister, of course, is the same minister of HRSDC who laid off claims workers at Service Canada at a time when unemployment and, therefore, claims were actually going up. That minister is also the same minister of HRSDC who sat on her hands while hundreds of workers at U.S. Steel in her own riding were unable to access EI during a recent lockout. If she is not willing to stand up for her own constituents, she certainly cannot be counted on to stand up for unemployed workers in other regions of the country. Yet, the minister is assuming even more power for herself under the EI appeal system.
Whereas the almost 26,000 EI appeals used to be dealt with by regional tripartite boards of referees made up of labour, employer and government chosen representatives, the minister alone will now appoint one board of full-time members to deal with all appeals. This is a recipe for unprecedented backlogs and logistical nightmares, and that is before I even begin to comment about the outrageous replacement of fair and balanced boards of appeal with the minister's pet patronage appointments.
When we combine that with last month's announcement that changes to the temporary foreign worker program will now allow employers to pay highly skilled migrant workers 15% less than the average local wage, the government's agenda is thrown into stark relief.
The Conservatives are absolutely determined to interfere in the labour market to the detriment of not only migrant workers, but all Canadian workers by pushing down wages and, in effect, subsidizing big business.
Workers and their communities deserve better. It is time for the Conservative government to stop being preoccupied with issues of power and prestige and get to work on the bread and butter issues that really matter to Canadian families, like creating quality jobs.
Until we see that change, I will proudly vote against the budget at each and every stage.