Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise to speak to budget 2014. Having looked at the budget, unfortunately, I find it a cynical document with nothing in it to address the most urgent needs of Canadians.
I cannot find anything in the budget for child care. I cannot find anything for affordable housing, I cannot find anything for veterans, and I cannot find anything that would help make life more affordable for ordinary families in this country.
Instead, the Conservatives have tabled a political document, one that is much more concerned with setting the stage for an election budget in 2015 than it is in meeting the real needs of Canadians.
The Conservatives are unfortunately continuing down the austerity path, with large, though quiet, cuts in government expenditures. These would result in job losses in communities all across the country and reductions in critical government services.
It seems clear that the Conservatives have held back on announcing a balanced budget, both to justify further cuts in services and then to allow them to present an election year budget with whatever tax cuts or new expenditures the Conservatives would think might convince voters to forget their poor economic performance and re-elect them. No matter how much they try to hide that record, we know there are 300,000 more unemployed in Canada now than before the recession. Moreover, federal debt is at an all-time high, and Canada is running all-time high trade deficits. So much for the Conservatives being better managers of the economy.
Where are the incentives for job creation in the budget? New Democrats have proposed practical measures to help Canadians get back to work, like job creation tax credits for youth and small business. Instead, the budget perpetuates the chaos in job training programs and seems likely to prolong a dispute with the provinces over job training. In the meantime, what will we see? I am expecting more ads for non-existent programs.
We have also heard the Conservatives in the last couple of days repeatedly ridicule the leader of the third party for his statement that budgets can somehow balance themselves. While it is, I admit, a somewhat unusual statement, I think it is actually one that describes well the Conservative approach to employment, where they seem to believe that jobs will create themselves and that the government has no role in trying to help make sure Canadians have those family supporting jobs they are looking for.
At a time when we have seen several economists come forward to point out the obvious, that the historical record of austerity budgets is that they never lead to growth and prosperity, we can only wonder where we would actually be now in this country if the minority government situation in Canada had not forced the Conservatives to adopt a stimulus program in the early days of the recession. However, in this budget, we can see that the Conservatives have reverted to their ideological form and are now back to trying to cut their way to prosperity.
There are also some other ways in which the budget reverts to form for the Conservatives. This is also a budget with no mention of climate change. Instead, there is money to speed up project approvals at the National Energy Board, with some $28 million over two years. This, of course, is a confirmation of the intention of the Conservative government to continue down the wrong path of over-investment in the fossil fuel industries, which are, of course, major contributors to global warming. The budget fails to eliminate the ongoing subsidies to big oil and in fact expands them with the introduction of further tax breaks for offshore oil and gas exploration.
What would New Democrats like to see instead? We would like to see restoration of the eco-energy retrofit program. It would not only put us on a path toward more sustainable energy, but also help homeowners reduce their energy bills, making it easier to make ends meet at the end of the month.
Some of my colleagues on the other side might ask, is there nothing positive I can see in this budget? I will admit there are a few things here that may be positive. I say that with reservation, because I too often have seen references to things the government intends to do that have either failed to materialize or have been so deluded to have little real impact on the economy.
Still, I am glad to see a promise to do something about pay-to-pay billing. I am glad to see money to expand access to high-speed Internet in rural and remote areas, and I am glad to see interest-free loans for those in the red seal apprenticeship programs.
I am also glad to see the government re-investing in food safety, and I am glad to see this promise to re-hire 200 food inspectors. I have to remind the government that this is necessary, because it previously cut more than 300 inspectors in its ill-advised shift to an approach where companies inspect themselves. This is the same approach it tried to apply to rail safety, which has resulted in tragedies like those we saw in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec.
Although I am prepared to recognize a few good things, I have to say that these are far outweighed by some important cuts that will have a heavy impact on constituents in my riding. While this is generally a do-nothing budget, and I agree that is true, there are some things here that will have real impacts.
One of those things is the attack on the supplemental health benefits of retired public servants. I have more than 1,000 retired public servants living in my riding, who have written to me with concerns about the government's treatment of their future. The Conservatives are unfairly doubling the health care costs of a large group of seniors who already live on fixed incomes. They made their plans based on a good faith bargain that was struck with the government. That has been betrayed by the Conservative government, and they have no way to respond because they are already retired. This will cause very serious problems.
I heard a member on the other side, in debate, say that they can choose not to have extended health benefits. Of course, we know what that will lead to, which is probably financial disaster for seniors without extended health care benefits.
Another serious problem in my riding is the two-year freeze on spending in all government departments. We know that annual operating costs will inevitably increase. This freeze will result in across-the-board reductions in important government services and mounting job losses, whether through attrition or lay-offs. We have seen the Department of National Defence put off capital expenditures that it promised, which will lead to the delay of purchase and delivery of important equipment to the Canadian Forces.
Another thing we have seen in this budget is a renewed attack on charities and trade unions. It is clear that the Conservative government is bound and determined to use bureaucratic witch hunts to go after those it perceives to be its enemies.
As I am concerned that I have limited time to talk about this budget, I want to go back to what I think is missing from it. There are many things, easy things, that are not high cost, that the Conservative government could have done to help families make ends meet at the end of the month.
In this budget, we find no cap on ATM fees. In the debate on ATM fees, again and again I heard Conservatives stand up and say they did not understand what the problem was. Why did people not just go to their own bank?
I can tell members that there are parts of my riding where people do not have a bank. They are forced to depend on these cash machines that charge up to $6.00 or $7.00 for withdrawals.
There is nothing in this budget on excessive credit card fees. I am not just talking about consumers here, but both consumers and small business. These excessive credit card fees contribute to the skyrocketing profits of banks and reduced bottom lines for small businesses. When many families run out of money at the end of the month, they do not really have a choice other than to use the credit card to buy necessities, and they end up paying these high fees.
There is nothing in this budget that restores services to veterans. In my riding, which is a very large military riding, I sat down with veterans at the Legion, along with my NDP leader, just after Remembrance Day. We met with injured veterans and heard their very personal stories of how tough it is for them, and how tough it will be when they lose face-to-face services that they need to help them with serious operational health injuries, including mental health injuries.
Instead, in this budget we see that the government intends to press ahead with its closures and reductions of service for veterans. Its line, which I frankly find insulting to veterans, is to say that there are basically 600 phone lines, or offices that veterans can go to, which have no specialization in their needs and, in practice, are unable to help them.
There is nothing in this budget to address skyrocketing household debt, advance public safety, and there is no commitment to expand the renewable energy sector. The renewable energy sector is one that creates far more jobs in communities across the country per dollar of capital expenditure than does investing in big oil and gas. There is nothing for the millions of Canadians who are looking for those good family-supporting jobs, which so often disappear from our local economies.
What we have is a do-nothing budget. It is a political document designed to give room to the Conservatives to try to bribe Canadians with their own money to vote for them again in 2015. I could not be more disappointed in the Conservatives' record and this budget.