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House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

My congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker. Your appointment is very well deserved. You will do a great job in the Chair for the House.

I would ask the parliamentary secretary to comment on how much confidence she has in the numbers cited by the leader of the official opposition. He just threw one out here that nearly knocked me out of my chair. He said it cost $750 million to clean up the Sydney tar ponds. The tar ponds had to be cleaned up. The money was allocated under the past Liberal government. The federal government provided $280 million and $120 million came from Premier John Hamm. That is $400 million in total. The leader says it is $750 million. I hope the pilot who will be flying me into Sydney tonight is able to judge a bit better than the Leader of the Opposition. I do not want to hear him say, “We are going to miss the runway. I will be between Sydney harbour and the Mayflower Mall.”

Is this ramped-up rhetoric and bloated fairytales, which are nothing close to reality when it comes to the economy of this country, what we can expect from the leader of the official opposition?

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for that insight because he is actually right. These are fictitious numbers, just as the Leader of the Opposition misled the media and Canadians about not having a carbon tax in his platform, which today he admits and encourages us to highlight in the platform. He is misleading again with these numbers. I recognize and I appreciate that the Liberal member sees that for what it is. It is a fable, a fantasy, and not to be trusted. Canadians know better than that. That is why they have trusted this government to lower taxes.

What we are going to see from the NDP is a higher tax agenda. We are going to see that party impose severe trauma on our families, with its $33 billion corporate tax hike and its $21 billion carbon tax.

As we saw earlier, the Leader of the Opposition also twice failed to address the question about the GST increase advocated by his finance critic. He refused to answer because he knows very well that Canadians are sick of hearing about the higher tax agenda of his party. He knows he is going to raise the GST. We will not let that happen; we believe that Canadians pay too many taxes already. We are going to maintain this low tax plan and move ahead on an economy that is growing.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, like others I would like to join in congratulating you on your new assignment and post.

What we are debating here today is an NDP motion that reminds Canadians about everything that is wrong with the concept of the NDP possibly forming government in this country. The motion is all about process; there are no actual solutions in it. The one action item that is in the motion itself is one that, by the way, this government acts on all the time.

I had two round tables and two meetings with other ministers of culture and language this summer, one in Edmonton and one in Winnipeg. We meet with our counterparts all the time.

The Leader of the Opposition did not take the opportunity to mention that he has only now reformed himself into someone who believes that the federal government should work with the provinces. One has to wonder how it is that he is the same person who castigated all of Canada's western premiers as being just messengers of the Prime Minister. He insulted Brad Wall. He insulted Christy Clark. He insulted Alison Redford. One has to assume he insulted the premier of Manitoba as well. He said they are all messengers of the Prime Minister. He had never met any of them but attacked them personally by saying that they were simply messengers, and now he is suggesting that we need to work together.

That member is the first leader of the opposition that I can remember who actively participates in provincial politics, campaigning in a byelection in the province of Ontario trying to elect a New Democrat and doing the same in British Columbia while at the same time saying Parliament should work with the elected governments that may not be New Democrat. For someone who wants to be the prime minister of this country it is irresponsible to attack other premiers whom he has never met and does not know, castigating them as messengers and then involving himself in provincial politics, picking fights with premiers who have been elected by the people of those provinces.

How is it a proper approach for someone who wants to be the prime minister of this country to attack premiers and then to say that this Prime Minister needs to do a better job of working with them? It is pathetic.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that the minister was able to share that with Canadians.

Let me share something more on this topic because I know it is of great interest. I am holding in my hands a snippet of a Postmedia news article from May 15. I will read it for the House and Canadians. It states:

New Democratic Party leader dismissed on Tuesday criticism of him from the premiers of B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, saying they’re simply acting as [the] Prime Minister[’s] “messengers” in the NDP’s fight with [him] over the impact of the oil sands industry on the Canadian economy.

Here is what the leader of the opposition said, as quoted in the article:

He’s not going to try to contest that. What he’s going to try to do is send in messengers to take that argument to me. I’m not responding to any of them.

Is it not interesting to see the hypocrisy taking place in the House of Commons when someone asks one side to do a certain thing and yet rejects doing that very same thing themself?

It is despicable. Canadians ought to know about it. I am glad we are able to share this information with them today so that they can see the misleading statements and misleading information coming out of the NDP leader's mouth.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate you on your new position. It is great to see you in the chair.

I would like to pick up on the member's comments about Canada's deficit and the importance of the deficit in relation to the economy. The Conservative government has created the largest deficit in Canadian history, at $50 billion. My question for my colleague across the way is this. How does she account for her criticism when the government has accrued the largest deficit in Canadian history and actually outspent every other Canadian government before it? What about her comments on keeping the deficit low? I wonder if she could comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member of the actual facts of the matter. It is a fact that Canada has the lowest net debt-to-GDP ratio in all G7 countries. We have actually survived the global economic recession better than almost any other country in the G7. In fact, we were the best. That is the crux of the matter.

The NDP does not want to admit that we have done such a good job. In essence, its members vote against every measure that we continue to pursue to continue to grow this economy.

I would ask the member to think seriously about how he represents his constituents here in the House when he votes against tax relief for families; reductions in taxes for job creating corporations; and the environmental changes in our budget that will allow major projects to go forward and develop so that people in the north and in different provinces and regions can benefit. He ought to look at what is in his heart and do the right thing and vote in favour of the upcoming budget implementation bill on the government side.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood.

To be clear, Liberals will support the motion before the House today. In the context of an increasingly risky situation globally and growing economic inequality domestically, the premiers believe it would be useful to have a national economic summit. They will hold one in November and they have invited the Prime Minister to attend. Indeed, he should be there.

The government has been far too arbitrary, far too unilateral in dealing with other orders of government within the federation on energy, the environment, employment insurance, immigration, health care, pensions, the criminal law and so forth. The provinces have asked for collaboration and the government has repeatedly turned its back. That is no way to run the federation. It breeds ill will and distrust and that should stop.

Therefore, on the all-consuming topic of the economy, yes, the Prime Minister should show up in Halifax in November. We need a fully coordinated “Team Canada” approach to economic recovery and growth. To get that, it helps if people can sit down at the same table and share their perspectives in a constructive way. On that score, the leader of the NDP could take some lessons on getting along with provincial leaders.

His first foray into federal-provincial relations was widely perceived as an attack on western Canada. He did not express himself in terms of conciliation or co-operation. It was all about confrontation and conflict. He set the resources sector against manufacturing. He set western jobs against eastern jobs. He described a zero-sum game in which, if the west won, then the east must lose, and vice-versa. That is a mug's game. One does not earn friends and build co-operation in western Canada by depicting our economy in that region as a disease.

When the western premiers expressed their dismay, the leader of the NDP went further on the offensive. He dismissed them as mere messengers for the Prime Minister. That truly is insulting. Worse still, he said, “I'm not responding to any of them”. In other words, the premiers are just not worth his time. That is what the leader of the NDP said. It is all on the public record. Now he is promoting meetings with the premiers as a great step forward. This is either a huge example of hypocrisy or a conversion on the road to Damascus of historic proportions. The object here is not the leader of the NDP. The object is the Prime Minister and he should be in Halifax in November.

Apart from our Canadian banking system, which the right-wing Reform-Alliance crowd wanted to compromise and give away to the Americans back in the 1990s, and thank goodness for Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien who said no to that bad advice and preserved for Canada the best banking system in the world, Canada has one other major global advantage in coping with international economic uncertainty. That advantage is our federal debt ratio. It stands at just under 35%, which is low by global standards.

Back in the 1990s, it was a crippling 70%. Let us think about that. Seventy per cent of the gross domestic product was offset by the federal debt. The federal books had not been balanced in more than 25 years. The Canadian economy was a basket case, a candidate for honorary membership in the third world is how it was described by the international financial media. This is the situation that was faced by a Liberal government that was elected in 1993.

We faced it and we fixed it. The books were balanced by 1997. We ushered in a whole decade of surplus budgets. The debt came down. We slashed that federal debt ratio in half. Taxes came down, interest rates remained low and stable and the economy grew. More than 3.5 million net new jobs were created, employment insurance premiums were cut 13 years in a row, transfer payments to the provinces were raised to an all-time record high and major investments were made in infrastructure, innovation, children, families, skills and trade.

In 2006, we left for our successors a strong economy and the best fiscal record in the western world. Sadly, the Conservatives played fast and loose with that situation from the get-go. Long before there was any recession to blame, they increased federal spending by three times the rate of inflation. They eliminated all the contingency reserves, all the prudence factors from the federal budget process and they put the country back into deficit again before, not because of but before, the recession arrived in the fall of 2008. Therefore, once again, Canada is confronting serious economic challenges.

Broadly speaking, these challenges are in two categories: one, is very tepid economic growth overall; and the other is increasing inequality among Canadians. These are the priorities that should command the government's attention. However, all Canadians hear from the government is that one note monotone Conservative mantra about austerity, austerity and yet more austerity, effectively kneecapping the federal government to make it as irrelevant as possible.

What else could the federal government do? As a start, it could help the most vulnerable low-income families. It could do that in part by making its tax credits refundable, to use the technical language of the tax department. In other words, the tax credits for children's sports, children's arts, home caregivers, volunteer firefighters and so forth would become equally available to all Canadians. Right now they are structured in such a way that low-income people are effectively excluded. That should be fixed as a matter of fairness to ease inequality.

Another thing it could do is ease off its payroll tax increases. It seems unreasonable and counterproductive that it keeps hiking EI premiums by about $600 million per year, when job creation needs to be the priority. However, EI payroll taxes keep going up under the government by $600 million per year, and that is a job-killing tax on jobs.

It also needs to back off on its new secret EI benefits clawback, just introduced this past summer. It is a clear disincentive to employment, it unfairly punishes seasonal workers and others and it contributes to inequality among Canadians.

Those are just a few practical, affordable, doable things that the government could and should do right now.

Let me conclude on a matter that could well benefit from some strong federal-provincial discussions. That is the painful set of circumstances facing young Canadians. Unemployment among young people under the age of 25 remains at recession like levels, close to 15%. Two hundred and fifty four thousand fewer young Canadians are employed today than before the recession in 2008. Another 165,000 have just stopped participating in the job market. They have given up.

Among other things, Canada needs a big push in support of learning and skills across the country. From preschool to graduate studies, continuous high calibre learning is vital to the strength of our economy and the well-being of our society. While respecting provincial jurisdiction over education, the Government of Canada needs to be more than an idle spectator when it comes to this key determinant of Canada's ability to succeed economically and Canadians' ability to live fulfilling lives.

So much more should be done by an engaged and energetic federal government to partner with provinces and educational institutions to help make Canadians the best educated people in the world. We will thrive in a difficult global economy by the quality of our brain power. That is the key to productivity.

It is good public policy for the federal government to support early learning and child care, to support the removal of financial barriers to post-secondary studies and skills, the amelioration of student debt and curiosity-based research and innovation.

One final point is the government's obligation for aboriginal education. It should take the cap off first nations' access to post-secondary education and fill in the gap between what the provinces pay on non-aboriginal children and the much lower amount the government pays on aboriginal children.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, much of what my colleague has said about the Conservative government and the work it has done in the past is true.

The hon. member has vast experience in government. He has been in the highest echelons of government and so when he speaks, we should all listen. I have a question for him because he has been there.

Why would a government that came to power in 2006, with a huge surplus, frivolously spend Canadian taxpayers money? An example is the $50 million spent on gazebos and boardwalks in the riding of one of the ministers. Imagine if that $50 million was spent exponentially across the country. Let us imagine how much money the government has wasted.

Because the member is so experienced, what would prompt a government to do that?

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

John MacKay

Politics.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood, who will speak in a moment, just said, I suppose what prompts it is, unfortunately, politics.

What would be interesting would be to hear the conversations that went on in the Conservative caucus after $50 million was taken from the border infrastructure fund and somehow put into Muskoka by various mysterious means. What did the rest of the members of its caucus say about where their $50 million was? One member received such gross advantages and the rest of the caucus was discriminated against. There is a matter of internal unfairness there.

In that period of time, in the first year or two after the government came into office, the spending was profligate. Federal government spending was increased, and this is long before the recession arrived in the last half of 2008. In the period between 2006 and 2008, the increase in the government spending was three times the rate of inflation. That was clearly unsustainable. The government was clearly warned about it by the Department of Finance, but it was done for political reasons nonetheless.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I received an email from one of my constituents, Glen. He talks about meetings with the Prime Minister and the premiers. He says:

—I give our Prime Minister...full credit for providing this necessary leadership.

I have followed politics for many years, and...observed past Federal-Provincial meetings as being a waste of time. (I have to tell you that I even felt sorry for Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien when the 10 Premiers “ganged up” on the Federal Government.) In short, I observed meetings and premiers that were not committed to problem solving. Instead these meetings provided an opportunity for self promotion and the display of ultra egotism. As a taxpayer, I felt these meetings were a waste of time and money.

When meetings are deemed necessary, the Prime Minister should call meetings--not the premiers....

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, the Prime Minister must be vigilant against the “bozo explosion.” The constant whining and bickering of our provincial leaders is getting to be a little tiresome.

Would the member for Wascana like to comment on that?

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is undoubtedly true that political leaders, whether they be prime ministers, premiers, mayors, reeves or heads of municipal governments, all have their partisan axes to grind. That is an inevitable part of the political process.

I do not think the federation is improved by giving partners in the federation the back of a hand. Unfortunately, that is the impression a lot of the premiers have with respect to the current Prime Minister. From time to time he will speak to one or two of them privately, but there is something to be said for the strength of our federation for all the leaders to come around the table every now and then and to be seen to be acting in concert together.

The burden of proper behaviour needs to be on all of them, not just on one side or the other. Canadians are watching and they need to demonstrate to all Canadians that they are actually achieving something constructive and not just trying to pass the buck.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague, the member for Wascana, on what I thought was an absolutely excellent outline of Canada's fiscal history. He was, in many measures, front and centre in some very critical decisions on Canada's fiscal history in the last number of years. We in the Liberal Party recognize his contributions. I do not know if some colleagues across the way quite appreciate him in the way that we do.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

An hon. member

That's a fair comment.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Hon. John McKay My hon. colleague says that's a fair comment.

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by talking about an article I read in The Globe and Mail this week by Brian Lee Crowley and Robert Murphy. Mr. Crowley is a well-known Atlantic Canadian. I would describe him, and I hope he would see the description the same way, as very much a fiscal conservative. In fact, he has been working with the Department of Finance. He wrote a book which talks about what the U.S. could learn from Canada's recent fiscal history, particularly the period of time in which the Liberal government was in power.

The article states:

Canada faced an even larger fiscal crisis in the mid-1990s than America does today, and our achievement dwarfs anything being proposed in Washington. By acting decisively, Canada resolved its crisis quickly and with surprisingly little pain. Since the memory of this momentous achievement is fading, or is unknown to the younger generation--

--and may I say colleagues opposite--

--it is worth recalling how it unfolded.

In the mid-1990s, the Canadian federal government had been in budget deficit for two decades. A third of all federal revenue was being frittered away on interest on the debt. A Wall Street Journal editorial from Jan. 12, 1995, declared that the country “has now become an honorary member of the Third World in the unmanageability of its debt problem … it has lost its triple-A credit rating and can’t assume that lenders will be willing to refinance its growing debt.”

May I add as a parenthetical comment that my predecessor in Scarborough East had a lot to do with trying to keep Canada's AAA credit rating in some of the worst part of the 1995-96 crisis.

Deliverance came the following month when the centre-left Liberal government tabled its historic budget. This document was a defining moment in Canada’s fiscal history.

More astonishing than the bold plans for a massive rollback was the fact that Ottawa actually did what the document said. Total spending fell by more than 7 per cent over two years, while program spending (excluding interest) fell by almost 10 per cent. As a share of the economy, federal spending fell from almost 22 per cent to 19 per cent during the same period. By January, 1998, federal employment was down 51,000 – about 14 per cent. Ottawa ran 11 consecutive budget surpluses beginning in 1997/98. With the federal government paying down its debt and the economy expanding, total public debt plummeted over the following decade.

The article went on in effect to prescribe medicine for the U.S. economy.

I do not pretend to, nor want to, engage in that debate, but it is worth remembering that Canada was there and we are no longer there. I want to point out again that there was an enormous political price to be paid by prime ministers Chrétien and Martin, the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party. I came here in 1997. We came within four or five seats of actually losing a majority. Part of it had to do with the difficulties of the fiscal medicine we had to impose.

No budget is ever presented in a political vacuum and in 1997 it was a very difficult environment for us. The rewriting and reinventing of political history by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance is all part of a misinformation campaign by the Conservatives. The Conservatives inherited a $13 billion surplus and in a few short years turned it into Canada's largest deficit in history, having run deficits ever since. They even brag that this year they will have less of a deficit than they had last year, or they brag about how we compare to other countries. Certainly we are doing terrifically compared to Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy. The Conservatives do not mention that maybe we are not quite so hot when we compare ourselves to Germany, Sweden or Norway, which is of course a better economy.

There is a good reason why this is studied as a political economy, because political decisions can be good and they can also be bad. The political courage shown by former prime ministers Chrétien and Martin and the Liberal caucus has brought Canada into a relative state of fiscal health and the Prime Minister has been dining out on it ever since. Gutless political decisions such as cutting the GST have, for the foreseeable future, killed any chance of ever going into a fiscal balance.

Politically gutless decisions such as ignoring Confederation partners and refusing to meet with them creates Confederation chaos, with premiers fighting with each other and with policy incoherence. Gutless political decisions that cater to the Conservatives' 35% base and ignore the rest are simply that, just creating anger and apathy.

How can a government say it knows how to manage the economy when the number of unemployed Canadians has risen 34% during its mandate? These 1.4 million unemployed Canadians are not impressed by the so-called management of the economy by the Conservatives. How can the Conservatives say that during the last four years there are more unemployed people in agriculture, construction and manufacturing trade and still say they know how to manage the economy?

Of course the answer is tax cuts. If people are unemployed, it is tax cuts. If they have just had their pension lopped off, the answer to that is tax cuts. If they are bankrupt, tax cuts are really going to work for them. If their industry has been devastated, tax cuts are going to be the answer. If they have cancer, that is tax cuts. For unrest in the Middle East, tax cuts. It is simply the Mitt Romney robo-answer to all our ills. Tax cuts will save us from everything. Do they never ask themselves the fundamental question of how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place?

So Crowley and Murphy are right in the sense that the U.S. could look to Chrétien and Martin for inspiration, but I am perfectly prepared to admit that the political and economic contexts are quite different.

This motion should be supported. However, it would be more supportable if its author did not go around creating his own chaos. Calling the premiers the Prime Minister's messengers and remaining mute on various issues that are of great national interest erodes his credibility when presenting a motion such as this. In his own trips, refusing to actually meet premiers again erodes his credibility with respect to the presentation of his motion. As the Conservatives rightly say, the NDP has opposed every free trade agreement. One cannot be a credible economic leader unless one deals with various opportunities to create trade in this country.

The Prime Minister does need to consult with the premiers, and he does need to do it much more quickly. He does need to do it, and therefore we in the Liberal caucus will be supporting this motion.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I like the member for Scarborough—Guildwood very much. I respect his time in this House and his observations on many issues. He used some pretty strong language, though, suggesting that our government was “politically gutless”. “Politically gutless” is perhaps something that would be better attributed to a political party that got elected saying it would scrap, kill and abolish the GST and then did none of those things, versus a political party like ours, which said we would reduce the GST and then actually followed through on our platform commitment.

However, one has to wonder, and I will give him an opportunity to respond, that if our record of economic management is so appalling and so awful and so “politically gutless”, why did the Liberal Party and the member opposite vote for Conservative budget 2009, Conservative budget 2010 and all the Conservative ways and means motions to put those budgets in place? If it is so awful and so terrible, why was he so politically gutless in voting for it?

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, only a Conservative could take what is an awful economic situation and say this is wonderful.

They have taken $90 billion out of the fiscal framework and said, ”Look what good boys we are. Haven't we done a terrific job? We are now running endless deficits and we know how to manage the economy”.

A politically gutsy prime minister would in fact get himself back into fiscal sustainability sooner rather than later. However, at this point, there is no hope that we will in fact achieve balance.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments, and I thank him and the previous speaker from his party for their support for our call for the federal government to meet with the territorial and provincial leaders at the upcoming meeting this fall.

I also want to recognize that during a previous government led by his party, it was a period of very dramatic spending cuts, some of the deepest social spending cuts in the history of the country. A former prime minister bragged they took us back to the spending levels of the 1950s, and pollution increased to unprecedented levels under that government.

However, my question for him is this. Does he support the position of our party and the position of the leader of the official opposition in matters concerning the environment? Does he support the basic principle of polluter pay? Does he support that principle in that motion?

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, members will remember that one of the former leaders of our party actually put this forward in the context of an election. There is absolutely no doubt that we have to price carbon. There is no issue about that. We felt that was a particular approach that could be taken, to price carbon.

We have policy incoherence in this country because there are provinces that actually price carbon.

However, again, on the theme of gutlessness, the party opposite will not approach this and actually spreads misinformation about my colleague's party on this very issue.

We have to price carbon. If we do not price carbon, then we will continue on with the political incoherence that currently exists. That is regrettable. It certainly is something that should be taken up at a leaders' conference.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague would comment on the vacuum of strong national leadership that emanates from the government benches and from the New Democratic Party?

On the government side, they see no value in terms of having first ministers' meetings.

From the New Democratic Party, there seems to be this divisive attitude and dismissive attitude of premiers and the roles they actually play.

Because he has been a part of a majority government, I wonder if he would comment on the value of actually having a first ministers' meeting where we have the federal government sitting down, working with provincial premiers.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to paint a contrast between how prime ministers Chrétien and Martin handled things and how the current Prime Minister handles things and, frankly, how the NDP leader handles things.

I remember very clearly, in the old railway building across the street, the then prime minister sitting down with the premiers and negotiating, over a number of days, the transfers, particularly health care transfers and social transfers, and setting out a 10-year timeframe so that the premiers could understand and would recognize that this is the amount of funding that would get transferred to them.

That settled Confederation issues for many years. That is the way to do things.

It is wrong to dismiss the premiers and it is wrong not to meet with them.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for London—Fanshawe.

I rise today in the House to voice my strong support for the motion at hand. I also want to thank our leader for introducing this motion, which speaks to the top concern of so many Canadians, the future of our economy.

The Canadian economy is indeed facing unprecedented risk and uncertainty. A country as small and economically open as Canada, of course, is not immune to the problems of those around us. The weakness of the American economy and the ongoing crisis in Europe are serious concerns.

Already Canada's export of value-added products is steadily shrinking and our overall trade deficit is growing dramatically. In July, Canada ran the worst merchandise trade deficit in history. In fact, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada's trade balance has gone from a $26 billion surplus to a $50 billion deficit.

We are aware of how weak the American economy is and of the ongoing crisis in Europe. Canada's exports of value-added products are steadily declining, and our trade deficit is skyrocketing. In July, Canada experienced the worst trade deficit in its history. Actually, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada's trade balance has gone from a $26 billion surplus to a $50 billion deficit.

The high value of the Canadian dollar is further hampering demand, rendering many of our exports uncompetitive and making imports more attractive to consumers. New Democrats believe in trade that works for Canadians and Canadian business, and the Conservative trade agenda clearly is not fitting the bill. At the same time, the record high level of household debt is suppressing demand and hurting our economic growth.

Over the summer I took the opportunity to travel the country and met with Canadian businesses, finance ministers and chambers of commerce. I heard from them about the difficulties they face and saw clearly that while the Conservatives use a lot of rhetoric on the economy, the facts tell a very different story.

The Conservative plan to stimulate the economy through corporate tax cuts has failed to stimulate economic growth. Corporations have not reinvested their excess cash into their businesses and instead they are now sitting on more than $500 billion.

Unfortunately, it is Canadians who have to deal with the negative effects of weak Conservative leadership, including the job losses that have already plagued many regions and industries across Canada. Some 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed, and this number has remained virtually unchanged over the last year.

Unemployment and economic growth has been highly divergent across the country. For example, over 43% of Canada's unemployed live in Ontario alone. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, there are 10 unemployed people for every vacant job compared to 2 unemployed people for every vacant job in Saskatchewan.

As Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, recently noted:

These broad shifts in demand for and supply of labour are contributing to rising inequality. Over the past 20-plus years, incomes in Canada have increased nearly twice as fast for earners in the top 10 per cent as for those in the lowest 10 per cent. The share of the top 1 per cent is now the third highest among member-countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development after the United States and the United Kingdom.

That level of inequality is growing. Just to put it in comparison, the last time inequality in the U.S. was as severe was during the 1920s. Moreover, labour's share of the national income is now at its lowest level in half a century across most advanced economies, including Canada.

Peter Jarrett, Head of Division for Canada in the OECD economics department, argues that:

Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources. But it needs to do more to develop other sectors of the economy if it is to maintain a high level of employment and an equitable distribution of the fruits of growth.

The major drivers of GDP are not spending in Canada. Canadian households are facing record high debt levels, significantly hampering consumer spending.

Businesses are not reinvesting their profits in the economy, and government is pursuing austerity, which economists have told us will have contractionary effects on the size of our economy.

What all this means is that more and more Canadians are struggling from paycheque to paycheque while the Conservatives cut services they rely on and corporations sit on half a trillion dollars in cash. Yet rather than taking action to correct these imbalances, the Conservatives are stubbornly pursuing an austerity agenda that has only exacerbated them.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC, recently argued for infrastructure investment, noting that:

...if growth falters, Canada's Plan B can't depend on monetary policy, given how low rates [in Canada] already are. Trying to squeeze more growth out of housing and debt-financed consumer spending might not be the best option given longer term risks associated with excesses on both those fronts. Instead, the push to growth should come on the fiscal side...

Canada's premiers have agreed that maintaining a strong and growing economy is their top priority. They are concerned about weak economic growth among our traditional trading partners and recognize the need to adapt to the growing economic strength of several emerging economies.

However, the premiers understand that intergovernmental cooperation between provincial, territorial, and federal governments is essential to these concerns. They themselves have argued that to fully engage all the economic forces in the country, the two orders of government must be working together. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's approach to federal-provincial relations is marked by disengagement, division, and lack of negotiation.

Jennifer Wallner of the University of Ottawa's school of political studies has noted, “Despite the call for open federalism...the government has developed a policy agenda with considerable implications for the provinces and territories without bringing them to the table”.

In fact, it has now been three years since the last meeting between the Prime Minister and Canada's premiers, and despite his rhetoric about focusing on the economy, the Prime Minister has refused to join our premiers at the Council of the Federation's National Economic Summit in Halifax this November. Especially at a time of economic fragility and unbalance, the Prime Minister should be meeting with our premiers on a regular basis, not refusing to meet with them even once in three years.

Canadians should be wary of a government that prefers unilateral action over intergovernmental cooperation, that prefers ramming legislation through Parliament over proper due diligence, and that prefers stubbornly pushing forward with failed corporate tax giveaways over making strategic investments in programs that will help Canadians and promote growth.

A strong, balanced economy will not be created by a small group of hardline Conservatives in Ottawa. Canada's most prolonged period of sustained growth was marked by investment in innovation and an influx of value-added jobs.

New Democrats believe that the federal government has a commonsense role to play in making strategic investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure to provide an economic climate where business and households can thrive. We believe that the government should ensure that Canada remains a country with a well-balanced economy that does not leave any part of our country behind. That is why we are asking our colleagues here in the House of Commons to support this motion and to get this country moving on the right track.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague a question, but first I will give her some new information that perhaps she was not aware of.

The Prime Minister meets regularly with the premiers. In fact since 2006, he has met or telephoned the premiers nearly 250 times. I wanted to share that, because obviously members opposite have not done their homework.

I want to ask my colleague a question, because I think it is an important question. The Leader of the Opposition did speak to the carbon tax in the platform of 2011 when he mentioned it in his speech. In fact, he tried to hand us the highlighter on this side so that we could highlight in the platform where that carbon tax is. Of course, I did so, and it is a $21 billion tax on families.

I will read a quote from a caucus colleague. I would like my colleague to answer whether or not she feels the same frustration that her colleague, who is the natural resource critic, has in his quote. This is the quote where he expressed his frustration, “...the federal government seems to completely reject the policy...which allows us to put a price on carbon.”

Does my colleague from the NDP share this frustration of her colleagues with regard to this question?

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, I am not interested that the member has perhaps been reading a Day-timer of the Prime Minister.

We are calling for the Prime Minister to assume the responsibility, as leader of the country, to meet with the provincial and territorial leaders across Canada to discuss the pressing, urgent economic needs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That is what we are pushing for.

Rather than campaigning on cooperation, debate, and discussion, and then trying to ram through a hidden agenda in a massive omnibus budget bill that erodes the services that Canadians across the country rely on, we are calling on this Prime Minister to have the confidence, as the Prime Minister, to sit around the table with the leaders across this country and have an open and honest discussion about the well-being of Canadian households and businesses across the country.

Opposition Motion—Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Parkdale—High Park for her comments and for what she has brought to this discussion.

The Conservatives often talk about the net new jobs that have come to light over the years. They even reference that many of them have been full-time jobs. It leads us to think that there are many more people working in the country. I am wondering if the member could comment about the unemployment rate. Has the unemployment rate correspondingly gone down or has it gone up? Could she comment about the unemployment rate that currently exists?