Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House deeply disappointed by yet another Conservative budget that disregards the real priorities of Canadians and instead pushes ahead stubbornly with an austerity agenda that will have real consequences for Canadian families.
In budget 2012, the Conservatives chose corporate giveaways and attacked the programs and services that Canadians rely on. While the Conservatives have promised to focus on jobs, budget 2013 instead focuses on job-killing austerity cuts. The Conservatives have not listened to Canadians. They are plowing ahead with cuts to pensions, health care and EI, while ignoring the serious threats facing our economy.
I am deeply disappointed today by yet another Conservative budget that disregards the real priorities of Canadians. Instead, it stubbornly continues with an austerity agenda that will have real consequences for Canadian families.
The Conservatives' 2012 budget provided corporate giveaways while attacking the programs and services that Canadians rely on. The Conservatives promised to focus on jobs, yet budget 2013 focuses on job-killing austerity cuts.
The Conservatives have not listened to Canadians. They are pushing ahead with cuts to pensions, health care and employment insurance, while ignoring the serious threats facing our economy.
This budget has been plagued by Conservative mismanagement. Just six years ago the Minister of Finance handed over skills training responsibility to the provinces. Now he is shutting those programs down and returning that money to the federal government. Following the 2008 economic crisis, the Minister of Finance begrudgingly ramped up infrastructure investment. Now he is cutting billions from infrastructure investments. Overall, these cuts will cost tens of thousands of jobs in cities and communities across the country.
The Conservatives claim to be strong fiscal managers, but the facts point to the contrary. The Minister of Finance missed his economic growth target for 2012 by 35%. He has presided over a $67 billion trade deficit. Private sector economists are now telling us that this year will be even worse.
The Minister of Finance has changed his budget projections so often it is difficult to take them seriously. As this budget is being tabled, Ottawa is running about $2 billion behind where the Minister of Finance wanted to be. Yet the minister's timetable for deficit reduction has little to do with external realities. Instead, a growing number of prominent bank economists, including Craig Alexander and Don Drummond, agree that the government has fixated on eliminating the deficit ahead of the next election.
Following a recent meeting with the Minister of Finance, BMO's chief economist Doug Porter told reporters it would probably be unwise for the federal government to step on the brake even further than it already has. There is also growing consensus, from the IMF to participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, that austerity is not the right way to go. In fact, it is making the problem worse.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, former U.S. treasury secretary Dr. Lawrence Summers agreed that austerity is not an effective solution for today's circumstances. Of his speech at Davos, economic reporter Chrystia Freeland wrote:
His most important point is that economic policy is more like medical treatment than religion. It isn’t a dogma that should be cleaved to under every circumstance....
It is comfortable to take a religious view of economics: Once you’ve chosen your creed, you never have to think again. But when it comes to deficits--and maybe a lot else besides--that may not be how the world works.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives are determined to move forward with their austerity agenda, even as the negative side effects of their policies are being felt here in Canada.
Yesterday, Carol Goar of the Toronto Star wrote this of the austerity agenda of the Minister of Finance. She wrote:
Since he began chopping programs and expenditures, the economy has drooped, the job market has sagged, consumers have pulled back and the corporate sector has hunkered down, sitting on its earnings.
The same formula has delivered worse results in Europe.
In fact, an IMF report released in January estimated that in the European case, every dollar in government spending cuts would cost $1.50 in lost output. The bottom line? We cannot cut our way to prosperity. It just does not work.
The Conservatives like to crow about their abilities as fiscal managers, but it is increasingly clear that they are more interested in ideological dogma than they are in getting our economy back on track. Let us be clear. The Conservative government caused our current deficit, not overspending. In 2008, the Prime Minister proclaimed to Canadians there would be no recession here. The Conservatives refused to take action until their government was nearly defeated in the House of Commons. More and more economists agree that our ability to react to the 2008 financial crisis was severely undercut by the government's reckless insistence on deep corporate tax cuts.
Appealing to their Conservative base helped get the government into this mess, but it will not help get us out. The fact is that in a stalling economy we cannot cut our way to growth. Instead, the best way to balance the budget is to invest in job creation and kickstart economic growth.
The NDP supports investment in skills training and believes that education and training are important factors in creating high-quality, high-paying jobs.
However, right now, for every job available, there are six Canadians looking for work. This week, Statistics Canada confirmed that this number has remained relatively steady since last year, and the Conservatives' plan will not properly address the problem. The Conservatives are simply juggling money and trying to take credit for it.
The biggest economic challenge we are facing today is a weak Conservative economy. Canada fared better than many other countries throughout the last recession, but Canadians and their economy are falling behind.
Unemployment remains high—more than 7% nationally. Some provinces have unemployment rates in the double digits, and more than 1.3 million Canadians are still without work.
In addition, a number of segments of the population, such as youth, aboriginals and new Canadians, are still facing unemployment rates that are far higher than the average.
Household debt continues to reach unprecedented levels. It currently sits at 167% of disposable income.
At a time when families are barely making ends meets, hundreds of thousands of Canadians hold part-time and precarious jobs, when they would prefer permanent, full-time positions.
We just received a United Way Toronto and McMaster University study. This report reveals that 50% of the workers in Hamilton and Toronto are working in precarious jobs. That is no way to sustain an economy.
In the last week, we were disappointed to hear that Canada fell out of the top 10 of the human development index, a ranking we had dominated throughout most of the 1990s. In fact, Canada fell six spots over the last year alone. Conservatives are content to say that other countries have just improved faster than we have. The reality is that Canada's growth on the index has been substantially lower than many of its peers, especially those near the top of the list. Unlike most of the top 10, our growing income inequality has dragged down Canada's ranking on the UN list. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada has given Canada a “C” grade, and ranked us 12 out of 17 peer countries on the issue of income inequality.
It is clear that the government's choices are holding back our social improvements. Yet Conservatives would have us believe, “There's nothing left to see here. Move along”.
They have spent untold tax dollars on advertisements for their budgets, even buying expensive ad time during the Super Bowl and the Oscars. However, budget 2013 shows us once again that this is just a shell game. There is no Oscar for them.
On infrastructure, training and support for manufacturing, the Conservatives are mostly just shifting around money and trying to make it look like they are taking real action. They claim to be dedicated to closing tax loopholes, but their cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency are a serious hindrance to achieving that goal. This budget policy brought to Canadians is more like a Don Draper budget, all spin and no substance. We are not Mad Men here.
Canadians want to do better and they deserve a government that is committed to doing better too. We need a government that is willing to aim higher, not one that is content to simply say that all is well. We know the Conservatives get their policy ideas from just a select few, even though the finance committee undertakes pre-budget consultations every year. I will tell members what we heard from Canadians about their priorities for 2013.
The Assembly of First Nations told us that:
—investments in First Nation education systems become even more crucial to ensuring that First Nation citizens can take advantage of existing and projected opportunities. Canada requires a well-trained workforce, especially in the booming resource extraction industry, and First Nation entrants into the labour market will be crucial in filling current and future labour market requirements in all sectors, skilled trades and professions.
However, budget 2013 not only fails to address the specific challenges faced by aboriginal people, it actually introduces a regressive new workfare program for first nation communities. Conservatives are touting their goal of having an education act in place by 2014 and claim to be committed to consultation with first nations, but the Assembly of First Nations has opted out of this process already due to the Conservatives' stubborn piecemeal approach.
Instead of building a new, more respectful relationship with first nations, the measures in budget 2013 reveal an insulting, in fact, even a paternalistic approach. Despite supporting the NDP motion on Shannen's Dream for equitable funding for first nation students, the Conservatives are failing to provide any additional funding to close the 30% funding gap for students in first nation communities. Shannen's Dream remains just that, a dream. We need action from the Conservative government.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities emphasized the link between productivity and infrastructure investment. It told us:
—during the period when productivity in the United States outpaced Canada’s, infrastructure investment in Canada declined by 3.5 percent while in the United States it grew by 24 percent. The discrepancy between Canada’s infrastructure investments and that of other global competitors, especially China and the European Union, are even greater.
In fact, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates Canada's infrastructure deficit at $123 billion. That was in 2007 and it is even greater today.
The Canadian Construction Association agreed. Its representative told the committee that “there can be no economic growth without state-of-the-art and well-maintained critical public infrastructure”. The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies also confirmed that “A national, long-term infrastructure investment strategy can eliminate the economic costs of infrastructure underinvestment and promote a sustained economic recovery in Canada”.
Yet, in budget 2013, and I know they have announced a lot of big numbers, there will be a decline in infrastructure spending. Of the numbers they have announced, most will kick in in 2020 or even beyond.
The Conservatives can play with the numbers all they want, but the fact remains that the federal government's investment in infrastructure over the next few years will still be less than $5 billion. Money will only be available to cash-strapped provinces if they can afford to match the federal government's contribution. The New Democrats obviously want taxpayers to have value for their money.
We are open to finding creative ways to do this.
We are open to the idea of finding creative ways to get the private sector to participate. The private sector can sometimes offer the best value but, in other cases, it may be more costly to use private sector intermediaries. We should not force communities to choose one option over another.
We have seen the underwhelming take-up of the P3 fund. I think only about 30% of it has been taken up. Municipalities do not want to be forced into costly P3 solutions. That is not the way to treat municipalities. Meanwhile, the necessary plan for long-term, predictable, sustainable infrastructure funding, long requested by municipalities across the country, is still missing from the equation.
The Canadian Labour Congress told us:
Business investments are not where they should be. The across-the-board corporate tax cut didn't deliver the promised investments in real assets....Thus, these cuts failed to boost economic growth and productivity and didn't help create more and better jobs in Canada.
Once again, with budget 2013, the Conservatives have failed to introduce new measures to create jobs. In fact, there are still 300,000 more unemployed people than before the recession. While the budget extends the existing small business job creation tax credit, which we support, it fails to provide any new tax incentives to encourage youth job creation. We are just not doing the job we need to be doing on behalf of our young people. It is not only a personal tragedy for young people that they cannot get a start in the workplace, it is also a drag on our economy. If young people do not get a good start early in their lives, not just in any job but in a decent job, that negativity, lack of income and underperformance tends to extend for a number of years. That is a loss to our economy and to our society, and it is a tragedy in the individual lives of young people across Canada.
Rather than offering a real program for skills training and job creating for aboriginal youth, the budget forces first nations communities to impose a workfare program on youth living on reserve.
Campaign 2000 told the committee:
This period of slow economic growth and high personal debt requires the federal government to prevent and reduce poverty for the health and well-being of all Canadians.
Nothing is being done in budget 2013 to address the record levels of household debt. Instead, the Conservative government has remained focused on an austerity agenda that has made major cuts to the services families rely on. Budget 2013 pushes ahead with $36 billion in reckless cuts to provincial health care transfers. That is still looming on the horizon.
Even in the wake of multiple food safety scares this year, the budget does nothing to reverse the $56.1 million in dangerous cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, putting the security of our food supply at risk. Budget 2013 also continues with changes to EI that will force workers to take a 30% pay cut, despite overwhelming opposition from Canadians. That is simply unacceptable. We do not need a low-wage strategy; we need a good jobs strategy here in Canada.
Meanwhile, the budget reverses the Conservative's 2007 decision to hand over responsibility for skills training to the provinces, but it provides no new money for education and training. That is great public administration: download the programs to the provinces, and then without consultation, upload the programs to the federal government. It is clear to us that the Conservatives have not been listening to Canadians.
However, New Democrats have been listening every step of the way. That is why we are focused on the real things Canadians want, on changes for Canadians—real people in Canada—on the solutions they are looking for and on the real priorities in the lives of Canadians. That is what we are going to deliver when we get the chance.
We need solutions like investing in small businesses to create jobs for young people. We have a tremendous opportunity with the creativity, education, enthusiasm and ingenuity of our young people that, frankly, we are squandering. However, New Democrats are going to do better.
Youth unemployment, which is at a whopping 13.5%, is two and a half times the national rate. There are still 240,000 more young people unemployed than there were before the recession, but all the budget does for youth job creation is re-announce funding for 5,000 internships.
TD Economics has said that the spike in youth unemployment from the recent recession will cost our economy $10.7 billion in the next three years alone. This tragedy for individuals is also a tragedy for our overall economy and our overall society. Clearly, putting people to work is the best way to reduce our deficit.
There is no need to reinvent or privatize public services. There is no need to trample on economic or labour rights. Instead, New Democrats know that supporting small and medium-sized businesses, supporting the manufacturing sector and creating good, value-added, high-quality, high-paying jobs is the real solution to our deficit and to strengthening our economy.
New Democrats are focused on solutions like long-term predictable transit investment that our cities need to shorten commute times. We have to get past this gridlock. It is polluting, stressful and a tremendous drag on our overall economy. We hear that right across the country. Canadians face some of the world's longest daily commutes. Traffic gridlock is costing our economy $10 billion each and every year. In fact, the Toronto Region Board of Trade has said that our infrastructure deficit is a leading drag on our region's economy.
After years of federal downloading, our cities cannot afford to develop modern transit systems, the systems we need and deserve. They cannot do it all on their own. Too much has been downloaded to them without the fiscal tools to be able to pay the bills for that. In fact, Canadian municipalities are now responsible for 53% of infrastructure in the country, but they receive just 8¢ of every tax dollar collected. Meanwhile, Canada remains the only G8 country without a national transit strategy. How does that make any sense in a modern economy?
We need a plan to improve business productivity and keep our communities moving.
The New Democrats are focusing on solutions such as reliable federal investments to renew infrastructure for the next generation. Canada's infrastructure was built after the second world war. It needs to be renewed. Whether Canadians travel by car, motorcycle or bicycle, they have had enough of potholes and congested or closed roads. It is ridiculous for people to be apprehensive about getting behind the wheel for fear that the overpasses might collapse.
For years now, the federal government has been downloading its responsibilities. Our communities cannot afford to renovate all the crumbling infrastructure. The 2013 budget only aggravates the problem by making billions of dollars in cuts to infrastructure investment and by forcing local communities to use costly private sector intermediaries.
New Democrats are focused on real solutions that support Canadian families through strengthening retirement security and health care, such as ensuring decent, long-term health care benefits for all Canadian veterans, including modern-day veterans. The women and men who serve this country deserve our deepest respect, from the moment they sign up through the rest of their lives. Too many Canadian veterans are struggling even to access the health care they need. Those who served after the Korean War are finding themselves unable to access long-term care services offered by Veterans Affairs. Now the Conservatives are moving to cut some $210 million from veterans' health care. How does that make sense?
Canadians deserve better from the budget, and they deserve better from the government. Conservatives have mismanaged file after file. They are poor managers and poor public administrators. Canada's stagnant economic growth has had serious consequences for families. Even as the Parliamentary Budget Officer is in court trying to get information about the cost of the last round of Conservative cuts, this budget provides few details on how the numbers will all shake out. I guess we will have to wait and see what they bring in for a budget implementation act.
Now the finance minister has gone to Asia, rather than staying to answer questions about his budget. In contrast, New Democrats are here, and we are standing up for Canadian families. New Democrats are here and are focused on the real priorities of Canadians. We have practical, sustainable plans to build a fairer, greener, more prosperous Canada for all. Remember that according to finance department numbers, when we look at all federal, provincial and territorial budgets, it is New Democrats who balance the books more often than any other party, so that is more good news for Canadians. That is a record we are proud of. It is a record Canadians deserve, and it is one they are going to get in 2015.
In 2011, a study by the International Monetary Fund found:
[W]hen growth is looked at over the long term, the trade-off between efficiency and equality may not exist. In fact equality appears to be an important ingredient in promoting and sustaining growth.
We could not agree more. Canadians are counting on us for leadership and to bring forward ideas and proposals that will put the public interest first.
We will not accept a budget that pushes aside the concerns of first nations groups and pushes stubbornly ahead without true consultation. We will not accept a budget that fails to move Canada forward in the 21st century economy and that leaves a huge environmental debt for future generations. We will not accept a budget that continues to put all our eggs in the resource basket instead of investing in the balanced economy that has driven growth and prosperity since the second world war. We will not accept a budget that attempts to balance the books by downloading the costs to struggling provinces and municipalities, and we will not accept a budget that not only ignores the concerns of Canadians but that will actually make it harder for families to make ends meet.
New Democrats will continue to work every day in the interests of all Canadians. That is why we will not support Conservative budget 2013. That is also why I would like to introduce the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“this House not approve the budgetary policy of the government as it:
a) cuts billions of dollars in infrastructure funding that will cost tens of thousands of jobs in communities across the country;
b) continues with devastating cuts to health care, pensions and Employment Insurance;
c) provides no new funding for skills training, dictating a federal takeover of responsibility for skills training programs;
d) pushes forward with cuts to vital environmental programs such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy;
e) fails to address record levels of household debt;
f) provides no new tax credit for youth job creation;
g) does nothing to encourage private business to invest the nearly $600 billion in so-called “dead money” currently on their books;
h) fails to close the 30% funding gap for students in First Nations communities;
i) forces First Nations communities to impose workfare programs for youth living on reserves;
j) takes over $2.3 billion out of the pockets of small businesses through changes to the dividend tax credit, without offsetting measures to mitigate this significant tax increase;
k) cuts support for innovation by eliminating support for labour sponsored venture capital funds;
l) hobbles the competitiveness of credit unions and thus reduces competition for big banks; and
m) looks to empty the pockets of Canadians by applying GST/HST to hospital parking.