Mr. Speaker, today I will speak about the Canadian economy and the challenges faced by middle-class Canadian families.
Conservative government mismanagement and also its lack of vision for the Canadian economy and its future has dashed the hopes of middle-class Canadian families. I would like to take a moment to reflect on the reality of Conservative management of the economy.
When it came to power in 2006, the Conservative government inherited a decade's worth of balanced budgets from Liberal governments as well as an annual surplus of $13 billion. It took the Conservatives just two years to turn that surplus into a deficit, and that was before the recession hit.
The Conservatives actually put Canada on the edge of deficit prior to the global financial crisis in 2008. Even in the most recent economic update, the government forecast shows that the economy's rate of growth would slow from one year to the next. That is the latest forecast from the government.
The economy is facing long-term structural challenges. These structural challenges existed before plummeting oil prices. The Bank of Canada has forecast that the economy's growth will decline in 2015 to 2.1% from the previously forecasted 2.6%. The TD's forecast is actually even lower, at 2%.
The Conservatives like to take credit for the country's favourable performance relative to other industrialized economies in weathering the 2008 recession, and it is true that we did get through the 2008 financial crisis better than other countries. However, the Economist magazines tells us that there are three principal reasons for that: first, Canada's banking system and the decision made by Prime Minister Chrétien and Finance Minister Martin not to follow the global trend of deregulation in the 1990s; second, with the fiscal management of the previous government, having taken more than $80 billion off the national debt, the Conservative government inherited the best incoming fiscal situation of any incoming government in the history of Canada; and third, oil, gas and minerals. Those are the three factors that helped Canada get through the 2008 financial crisis, and they have one thing in common: the Conservatives actually are not responsible for any of them.
It is important to realize that the more time has passed since the recession, the less robust Canada's economic recovery has been, especially in comparison with the U.S. In fact, the Economist magazine's article was “Canada's economy, Maple, resting on its laurels. Canada's post-crisis glow is fading”. That article was from last spring, a long time before plummeting oil prices.
Now it is clear, with the recent collapse of oil prices, that we cannot simply rely on fossil fuels, pipelines and minerals to be the sole drivers of the Canadian economy. The Conservatives have had a three-prong strategy. It has been oil, oil and oil. They have actually shortchanged other sectors, totally ignoring the manufacturing sector, where we have lost almost half a million jobs under the government.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Markham—Unionville.
Again, even before plummeting oil prices, Canada faced significant challenges, slow growth and a a soft employment market.
The number of Canadian jobless for over a year or more had actually doubled since 2008, and that was before plummeting oil prices. Even before plummeting oil prices, there were 200,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than in 2008. More young Canadians with good educations were unable to support themselves and were living at home with their parents. More Canadian parents and grandparents were going deeper in debt, in fact record levels of personal debt, because of their direct financial support of children and grandchildren. This was, again, before plummeting oil prices.
The reality is that the Conservative government has also raised taxes. It imposed a $330 million increase in Canadian tariffs in the previous budget implementation act. In fact, that took effect this month.
Now the government's fiscal position is eroding. The TD Bank has forecast a potential $4.7 billion deficit if oil prices do not recover. Similarly, the Conference Board of Canada has issued a report saying that the drop in oil prices will reduce government revenues by $4.3 billion.
These economic circumstances call for vision and leadership from the federal government, and certainty. In fact, we have had anything but certainty from the Minister of Finance or the government. The Minister of Finance postponed the tabling of a budget to April, at the earliest. Even in the best case scenario, where a budget is tabled in April, there will be a lack of parliamentary scrutiny as the House of Commons is due for a two week break in April.
Also troubling is the apparent rift within the government when it comes to how to cope with the budget surplus that is now evaporating.
The Minister of Employment and Social Development said:
We won’t be using a contingency fund. A contingency fund is there for unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters.
On the other hand, the Minister of Finance said:
The contingency fund is there for unexpected and unavoidable shocks to the system [like] the oil price decline--which was a dramatic one--would fall in that category.
The fact that two senior Conservative economic ministers have two totally separate and different positions on something as fundamental as the budget does not inspire confidence among the investment community or among consumers.
The dilemma over how to avoid a fiscal deficit would not have presented itself in the first place if the government had not recklessly painted itself into a corner with pre-election commitments to income splitting and other tax expenditures. This was the opposite of leadership. The government was pandering to its base for political advantage. It was doing everything it could to create a notional surplus on the eve of an election to fund its pre-election spending. It took no account of the potential volatility of commodity prices.
It is plain and simple. The government mismanaged the fiscal situation. It let Conservative ideology and politics take priority over the practical demands of governing and fiscal responsibility.
The government should now prepare and table a budget that acknowledges the uncertainty and provides some level of leadership. It should not wait until April to do this. The government should retreat from its income splitting commitment because it is costly and it would benefit only 15% of Canadians. We heard from the former minister of finance, Jim Flaherty, on this, and he expressed concerns that it was unfair.
Before plummeting oil prices, income splitting was unfair. After plummeting oil prices and its fiscal impact, it is unaffordable. It is important to realize that any tax cut like income splitting, which only benefits 15% of the richest families, and deficit financing will require all Canadians to pay higher taxes in the future.
The Bank of Canada has shown leadership. It recognized the turbulence faced by the Canadian economy and it cut the key interest for the first time in almost five years.
Despite the warning from economists, the TD Bank and others, the Minister of Finance said, “the Canadian economy is in good space”. This is out of touch with the emerging reality, and out of sync with the concerns of middle-class Canadian families. It is also indifferent to the needs of average Canadians.
It is important to realize that the Conservative government has not provided certainty to Canadians, and it has not provided a plan for jobs and growth. A plan for jobs and growth was needed before plummeting oil prices. We need a plan for jobs and growth even more today.
A Liberal government would invest in plans for jobs and growth in three principle ways. It would invest in infrastructure. We have never had a better time to invest in infrastructure than today. We would invest in people and skills. We would invest in innovation.
A Liberal government would invest in jobs and growth. Canadian families are looking for leadership and investment in jobs and growth, a real plan.