Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg North.
I would say that I am pleased to speak to the budget, but I am disappointed at the uselessness of the Minister of Finance's document in dealing with the problems many Canadians face and at the absolute failure of this minister and the government to put Canada on a footing for economic growth.
This book, Creating Jobs and Opportunities, is basically a piece of fiction. Yes, there is a little tinkering and a little programming there, but it does nothing to deal with the big-picture items of creating economic growth, really creating jobs broadly, and unifying the country from coast to coast with a vision for economic development. In fact, in the budget the Conservatives are in many ways splitting the country asunder.
I will quote from an editorial article in today's Guardian. Everybody in this House would know that The Guardian covers the island like the dew.
The article states:
It’s not often that any finance minister will try and camouflage a balanced budget while preferring to take credit for a small deficit. A sheepish Minister of Finance did his best Tuesday to convince Canadians this was the case but really fooled no one. This budget is, for all intents and purposes, balanced.
The federal finance minister prefers to speak those sacred words next year, an election year.
It goes on from there.
That is the context of the budget: setting the stage for partisan purposes to try to regain election next year, and that is irresponsible on the part of a government. A government's responsibility is to govern for all Canadians, and the government has failed in that responsibility. A government's responsibility is to plan and implement policies that benefit all Canadians, and a government's responsibility is clearly to deal with some of the issues out there at the moment, issues that came with the Conservatives' previous budget and that some of their previous policy decisions created. Many Canadians are hurting as a result of those issues.
In my area in particular, and I have spoken about it several times in this House, one of the greatest areas that has caused hurt, split families, and hurt communities is the employment insurance changes. Yes, the government has the authority to make changes, but it should make them in a way that would contribute to the economy, not undermine it.
The employment insurance changes have affected seasonal industries and our seasonal workers very negatively. Because of the clawbacks, they have less income than they had the previous year. Businesses cannot get workers because the timeframe has been set such that people's is being clawed back. As a result, there is a very serious negative impact on three of our major industries in Prince Edward Island: agriculture, fisheries, and tourism. That is a result of the EI changes.
The budget especially failed my province of Prince Edward Island, but it is not only P.E.I. The unilateral decisions taken by the Minister of Finance failed the other provinces as well.
I picked up an article in Inside Policy, a magazine of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The article is by Stanley Hartt, who used to be a well-known deputy minister in Ottawa. The headline reads:
Budget making process requires provinces, feds to understand each others' goals and intentions
It goes on to talk about federal-provincial jurisdiction in this country and the need to work together to build a stronger Canada, that each sector has implications for the other and that they have to work together on the economy especially, building policies that would in fact strengthen the economy from coast to coast to coast. In that area, the current government has failed terribly. The Conservatives do not communicate with the provinces. They do not co-operate with the provinces. They unilaterally make decisions that download costs on the provinces, that change programs in the provinces and, in fact, can negatively affect those provinces' economies.
That is what happened with EI previously. However, in this one it was bad enough that the Government of Canada pushed the Canada job grant, actually spending $2.4 million in false advertising. The minister knew the provinces opposed it and yet he went ahead and put in place the Canada job grant, albeit somewhat changed after discussions with them.
However, for Prince Edward Island, this would replace a $2.1 million labour market agreement that was used for employment assistance for businesses and the unemployed. Folks who worked in that system were just transferred from HRSDC a few years ago, when it was a federal program, and downloaded to the provinces. The money was given to the provinces and they were to be in charge of labour market development. Now they find that the whole program will be changed unilaterally by the federal government against their wishes.
Additionally, in terms of Prince Edward Island, the government unilaterally eliminated the immigrant investor program. I spoke to people at the government level yesterday. There was not a word of discussion. That program is very important to the economy, very important for us to attract people into the province. It was just cancelled like that and a new program came into place. There was absolutely no consultation.
For many retired public servants, veterans, and RCMP in Prince Edward Island, the tax grab of increasing the cost of health benefits would be almost criminal. Retirees paid into those plans in good faith and felt that their retirement was secure, but retroactively changing the rules as the Conservatives plan to do is absolutely wrong. They are trying to balance the books on the backs of public servants, veterans, RCMP, and others who worked their lifetime securing their retirement, and now the Conservatives will increase their health premiums.
Moreover, while the Conservatives are claiming in this document, this so-called budget, that they just deferring their military procurement, it should be seen as nothing other than a cut. For Prince Edward Island, shipbuilding in Georgetown would certainly be affected, undermining our economy and possibly creating a loss of jobs. What will happen to shipbuilding in Halifax, which was a huge program, we do not know.
Furthermore, the government has failed to ensure that major industries like agriculture are on a competitive footing with other countries like the United States. President Obama signed the U.S. farm bill last week, with $1 trillion over 10 years for its industry, enshrining in legislation country-origin labelling that has already cost our beef industry about $5 billion. Yet, this Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will cut programs. So we are not even on a competitive footing any more. The bottom line is that the current government will even create divisions in agriculture as a result of the budget. The Conservatives aim to put in place a price-support insurance program, but only for western farmers, with nothing for the backbenchers here in Ontario or Atlantic Canada. Do they not know that we have a livestock industry right across this country? Our livestock producers deserve that price-insurance program as well.
In conclusion, the budget is an absolute failure in ensuring economic growth and meeting the needs of Canadians.