Mr. Speaker, I am almost sad to get up. I was enjoying the Conservatives and the Liberals going at it on the issue of economics when they should be embracing each other because they both practice the same austerity economics.
Before I start on the issue of Bill C-60, I do want to wish Marg Reilly a very happy birthday. Marg is a constituent of mine. It is a milestone birthday for her, and she is a person worthy of great celebration. Happy Birthday, Marg.
Today we are talking about Bill C-60, the budget implementation act. It is the final of five days of debate on the matter, owing to another Conservative time allocation motion, which is a new record for such motions. I dare suggest that there will be more such motions. There seems to be some kind of narcotic effect to these time allocation motions for those guys. It also, perhaps, is just the arrogance of power.
In his defence of the Conservative time allocation motion, the Minister of State for Finance described this legislation as “the blueprint of our government's mandate moving forward”. He “felt” that five days was more than enough time to debate the bill. As it turns out, what we have before us is another omnibus bill. It is certainly shorter than its predecessor, but still it involves amendments to nearly 50 pieces of legislation, and even introduces new legislation. That means that on average we have less than one hour of debate for each legislative change or legislative invention included under the bill.
Who would have imagined that those so-called champions of transparency and accountability, these parliamentary reformers who sit on the government side, would have ever stood in this place to justify such a limited level of scrutiny—on budget implementation, no less—for parliamentarians, much less to justify it on the basis of what they felt was appropriate, that those reformers would privilege their feelings over the traditions, institutions and processes of governing and government in Canada? It is most certainly a form of tyranny.
This is not simply an issue of process or principle, as those members like to portray it. This is about a government that is failing to do its best for this country and its citizens, a government that has deliberately set a target below the potential of Canada and its citizens. Never mind excellence, never mind maximization, never mind over-achieving, the Conservative government aspires to under-achievement, to less than what is possible, to less than our potential.
This is the recurring narrative in the April 29 economic and fiscal outlook produced by the Parliamentary Budget Office. I want to quote a bit at length here:
PBO projects real GDP growth in Canada to slow to 1.5 per cent in 2013 and remain below its potential growth rate until 2015. Combined with the sluggish recovery in the global economy, government spending restraint will act as an additional drag on growth and job creation. The projected weakness in growth keeps the economy well below its potential GDP through 2015 and as a result the unemployment rate remains relatively stable, averaging 7.3 per cent over 2013 to 2015.
It goes on to talk about employment in Canada being below its potential. That is on page 10, if anybody wants to reference that. It say that employment and “average weekly hours” for Canadian workers are below potential. That is on page 11. “Labour productivity” is below, which is, again, on page 11. Gross domestic product is “below potential”, on page 11 again.
How is all of this happening? Quite curiously, it is happening by design. As the economic and fiscal outlook says, “Over the period 2013 to 2017, PBO estimates that the net impact of [economic action plan] 2013 measures and revisions to spending levels on real GDP and employment is contractionary”. It is 67,000 jobs worth of contractionary, according to the report, which is a .57% reduction in GDP.
The PBO explains that does not mean that employment levels will be 67,000 jobs shy of where we are today. That is fair enough. The report explains it in these terms:
Rather, it means that, in the absence of these measures and revisions to spending levels, projected employment would be higher by 67,000 jobs, all else being equal.
The action in the government's economic action plan is:
...pushing the economy further away from its potential GDP and delaying the economic recovery.
This is worthy of the House's time for extensive debate. I want to know, and Canadians will want to know, why the deliberate path of action chosen by of the current government is to push the economy further away from its potential.
What is particularly perplexing is that the budget comes in the context of a Canada that is already so far shy of its potential.
The government has presided over a $67 billion trade deficit that is expected to worsen in the year ahead. That is thousands of jobs and billions of dollars leaving this country and going overseas to enrich others.
There are still almost 1.4 million Canadians out of work. There are 240,000 more young people unemployed today than before the recession.
Closer to my home, in Toronto, in my riding of Beaches—East York, I would note a recent report by the United Way and McMaster University showing that nearly 50% of jobs in southwestern Ontario are precarious jobs. A recent report by the Metcalf Foundation shows that the number of working poor is growing in the greater Toronto area. Reports by the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto show the continuing income polarization in our cities, particularly in Toronto, and extrapolate current trends to show a city with a completely hollowed-out middle class.
To be fair, this trend has carried through successive Liberal and Conservative governments, so we cannot blame it all on the guys on the other side.
The only employment numbers growing by a significant measure are for temporary foreign workers, spurred on by the government's inducement of paying significantly lower wages than for Canadian workers.
It is in this context that the government sees it wise to hit the brakes on the economy to constrain economic growth.
This is a set of circumstances that calls for a different kind of action, action that would put Canadians and Canadian cities, which are after all the engines of economic growth in a modern economy, to work—to begin at long last to undo the constraints on our economy, to realize the potential of our country and to make a more equally shared prosperity a goal for this country.
Let us look for a moment at the issue of infrastructure. Here is an economic opportunity that the government has failed to grasp.
By many accounts, the infrastructure deficit in this country is well north of $150 billion, and it continues to grow. We need to see this problem addressed, and soon. “A penny now or a dollar later”, as the 2012 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card puts it, meaning the cost of delaying needed repairs could cost us vastly larger sums down the road, yet over the next four years, federal infrastructure funding will be $4.7 billion lower than it was last year, despite some creative advertising by the Conservative government.
This so-called new infrastructure funding announced in budget 2013 includes funding from older, delayed projects. There is $6 billion worth announced in this new economic action plan that is masquerading as new money when it is actually existing funds that had been committed back in 2007.
This is a budget that would provide no relief for urban congestion in Canadian cities. Owing to successive uninterested Liberal and Conservative governments, the public transit system in Toronto has not grown in any meaningful way since 1980.
In conclusion, what the government needs to explain to Canadians is how it dares to occupy those benches over there when it puts forward a plan that would shrink this country rather than grow it, when it puts forward a plan that would take jobs from Canadians rather than create jobs for them, when it aspires to less than what we are capable of as a country.
How does the government explain that to the youth of this country who have their futures in front of them? How does it explain it to the seniors of this country, who left what they had built up in our hands not so that we could take it down, but so that we could continue to build upon it?