House of Commons Hansard #198 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservatives.


Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

3:25 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise. Our esteemed House leader just made a suggestion as to what I should do with this first response to the budget as the critic of the official opposition and having unlimited time. He suggested I use 14 hours. I do not think we are going to actually spend that much of the House's time on some of the New Democrats' thoughts about the most recent budget. Yet, it is extensive in terms of some of the things we do want to talk about and some of the things that are important to Canadians that are not in the document that was presented, this so-called plan from the government.

First, I have to place myself in the context of the debate and my comments will come as the representative of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the great northwest of British Columbia. The riding represents about a third of the province of British Columbia. It is the northwest coast, the northwest corner of our country. It is a beautiful place.

As is often noted, it is also a place that has met with some of the most pressing and important questions facing our country. We are a resource-based economy, primarily. With 40% to 45% first nations representation and some of the longest and strongest traditions of first nations people anywhere in the world, we have had to meet with some of the sometimes difficult questions about how to make decisions, not only for today but for future generations.

Before politics, I was in small business. Therefore, not only the place I come from and who I am from my experience inform the way that I and many in my party try to approach every debate, which is from a place of understanding of what Canadians need and hope for from their government.

In a time of economic uncertainty, as the Conservatives have admitted to, one would have hoped that we would have seen yesterday a balanced, fair approach with some measure of ambition. However, when we look through the many pages of the budget and listen to the many words coming from the Minister of Finance, a lack of ambition was clear from the very outset.

The Conservatives talked more about the past and some of their record than they did about the future. In fact, when asked later about his budget, the finance minister, when approaching the concern about how expensive some of his more outrageous decisions were, said that was not for us to have to worry about that we can simply let future generations worry about the problems of paying for his electoral promises of today. If that is not the very definition of irresponsibility, I do not know what is.

There is short-term thinking in politics, but the Conservatives have taken this to the ridiculous, fully knowing that some of their measures cost a lot today but will be increasingly expensive over years. When that is pointed out to them, Conservatives say, “Well, we're probably not going to be here”. They are not worried about it. All they are worried about is what happens over the next number of months and saving their own political bacon.

Controversies, like what is going on in the Senate, the lack of economic performance, the outrageous and irresponsible presenting of so-called anti-terror legislation that is basically just anti-charter legislation have all combined to put a certain amount of political headwinds against the government. Therefore, instead of thinking of the broader interests of Canadians, Conservatives have narrowcast, focus-grouped, and brought their messaging to the point where even budgets, and nothing but budgets, are now a political document, an electoral platform, rather than what the economy actually needs.

Let us take a look at the Conservative record first because that is where the budget falls. That is the context in which these measures will be applied. For the last almost decade now, we have had a Conservative ideology that has thought that tax cuts to the largest and wealthiest corporations, even in the midst of a recession, were the most important thing. The darkest days of the recession saw many Canadian companies struggling to make a profit and by not making a profit they did not pay taxes. The Conservatives thought that banks and oil companies, in particular, needed tens of billions of dollars in breaks.

That Conservative agenda has actually significantly shifted the tax burden in Canada. This is according to Finance Canada's own statistics. Since the Conservative's took power, personal income taxes rose to the treasury by $15 billion. Fifteen billion dollars more is collected by the Conservatives for personal income taxes, yet $4.4 billion less has come in from large corporations. That is a clear agenda in choice where Conservatives have said that to pay for roads and hospitals and health care they are happy, in fact enthusiastic, to have taxpayers, Canadians, individuals and families pay more of the burden and lessen the responsibilities of the largest corporations. That is a Conservative tax shift of monumental proportions.

We have also seen, in the last number of years since the Conservatives took over, an economy that went through the global recession, as so many western economies did, but has since yet been able to find its feet again. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, when asked about job growth under these Conservatives, said that job growth in Canada was atrocious.

For those who are not familiar with banker language, especially governors of the various banks, they do not tend to use strong language. They use very calm, quiet, coded words to transit their intentions because every word they utter can be parsed and have big impacts on the market.

When a governor of a bank comes in and says that the job performance of this economy, of the government, is atrocious, one should pay attention. He is right. The job growth in Canada right now is estimated at zero. I do not know if that is a concern or even getting through to some of my Conservative colleagues, but the job growth rate in Canada right now is 0%.

I do not know why Conservatives would think that 2014 was what they called a recovery year, a good year. The Canadian population grew at almost twice the rate as job growth did. Let us pause for a moment. This was a good year. This was before oil started to fall from its height of $100 or more per barrel to where it is settling now, around $50 or $55. This was supposed to be a good year.

The Conservatives can spin, but the notion of spin in politics requires at least a kernel of truth somewhere which all the fancy words and big ad campaigns are wrapped around. However, when there is no kernel of truth, spin is turned into what we call, what it is, a lie, not truth. Canadians can tell the difference when someone is trying to make something appear much better than it is and when someone is telling the simple opposite of facts.

Let us get back to the facts. Since the government took office in Canada we have lost more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs. At one point the industry minister, who one could say is responsible for manufacturing, rose in his place in this House and disputed what the NDP was saying about manufacturing. He said that the NDP was making it up because he had read it in a magazine. I guess that is where he got his information. A day later he had to recant, realizing that he was in fact wrong.

Aside from that, who pays the penalty? The real price is paid by Canadian families who can no longer afford the mortgage, rent or putting food on the table because they have lost their jobs at saw mills, auto plants or aerospace across this country.

Over these numbers of years, we have also seen the Conservatives add almost $160 billion of debt to the national debt in Canada. The Conservatives, who say how great they are at managing, have added almost $160 billion on the debt. If we break that down, for every man, woman and child, that is approximately $4,000 for every single living soul in this country. It is a debt that the Conservatives have placed on their backs.

We could ask, “For what?” If the Conservatives are going to borrow that much money, almost $4,000 per person, we should see some results. However, we have an economy that has flatlined, anemic growth. We have 130,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians today than before the recession. That is 130,000 fewer opportunities for young people to get into the workforce. We have 300,000 fewer jobs across the economy than we did before the recession began.

The Conservatives talk about some sort of mythical recovery and how wonderful things are, but again, spin only works if there is a kernel truth in it. How can we have lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs and be creating no jobs right now while the Conservatives are somehow congratulating themselves and pulling a muscle patting themselves on the back so often. Conservatives are so completely out of touch with the realities facing Canadians, the people out in the real world, the people we allegedly work for and that the Conservatives are meant to work for.

We proposed a very sound and reasonable solution to some of the challenges we faced, particularly when it comes to child poverty. It has been almost 20 years since the House of Commons committed to eliminating child poverty in Canada.

We came forward with a solution weeks ago to close a loophole entirely designed for the wealthiest Canadians imaginable: those who receive their pay in stock options. I do not know what kind of jobs members in the House had, but my family and friends have not had the experience of being paid in stock options. Maybe that is a common experience among the Conservatives because they maintained a loophole that was opened up first by the Liberals and it is not cheap by the way.

This loophole costs the treasury about $720 million a year. What it does, it says to CEOs and folks in the corner offices that when they are paid in stock dividends, they will be taxed at a lower rate than if they were paid the way most working-class, middle-class Canadians get paid, which is in salary. However, the government would tax them less, almost three-quarters of a billion dollars less, which is a grand and massive gift to those who already have so much.

We said that we should close this loophole. These folks do not need another Porsche or Maserati going out the door. Let us close this loophole and actually help those who are most disadvantaged, those children and families who are having trouble putting food on the table and going to school hungry. However, the Conservatives, in their budget, refused that opportunity.

We see 1.3 million Canadians today out of work. Actually, we had a moment here in question period today when we asked the minister to take action to help save some jobs on the east coast. She replied that those people are going to be so happy because of a tax cut that the Conservatives put in, which misses the concept that when people lose their job, a tax cut does not do much because they are not paying taxes.

Under the Conservatives, only 30% or 35% of working people who pay into employment insurance are eligible for employment insurance. Previously, under the Liberals, somewhere around $54 billion was stolen out of the EI fund to pay for all manner of things that the Liberals wanted to do. When the Conservatives came in, they said it was a new day and they were going to change that.

However, one of the cynical tricks the Conservatives did was change the qualification rules. They made the rules tighter and harder for Canadians who work seasonal or temporary jobs, such as in the tourism and agriculture sectors. The Conservatives lump them out of the employment insurance program, but are still happy enough to collect the EI remittances from their paycheques. They get to pay in but never actually get to use the insurance. That sounds like some awful insurance scheme or scam in which they can only pay in but never receive any of the insurance benefits.

That sounds like Veterans Affairs. For those in the military, there is a certain amount of support for soldiers who are struggling and have been injured. They come back from Afghanistan, Iraq and other incredibly dangerous places, and the Conservatives thump themselves on the chest and say, “Stand up for our troops, we do”. The Conservatives are always happy with the photo ops. Yet, when the troops come home and when we need to actually stand up for them in a sincere and honest way, we have seen the Conservatives actually claw back $1 billion from our veterans, meanwhile denying them the access to the care and coverage that they are entitled to, that they so bravely fought for.

They do not ask for much, but we have seen the treatment of our vets by this government. There is no other word for it but “shameful”. It is shameful that a hero today, when they have the uniform on, is forgotten tomorrow under the current Prime Minister.

I have sat with families in my constituency who are asking for some basic treatment of fairness. One family came to me just weeks ago. Their son had killed himself not that long ago after returning from several tours in Afghanistan. His family asked for some help from Veterans Affairs for the funeral. They asked for some help to bring in some of his company who had served with him in Afghanistan. In both cases, the Conservative government decided to claw back money out of Veterans Affairs rather than support this member.

This man had sought help for the PTSD that he was suffering under. He had sought help multiple times from the current Conservative government and had been turned down. At the funeral, several of his friends who had flown up on their own dime spoke to us about how this man had saved their lives, and not just in the field of combat but since they had returned because they had similar suicidal thoughts.

What does it say about a country when we treat our veterans this way and when we simply refuse to acknowledge the price and sacrifice they have made and take such glory, as the Conservatives do, in launching yet another war and saying that this is about the identity of this country and that we will stand up for this and stand up for that? Yet when the bill is to be paid to our brave men and women, Conservatives would rather have their balanced budget on the backs of those veterans than actually do them the service and the justice they are entitled to.

There are other choices made in the budget that are most disconcerting. The Prime Minister himself made a sacred promise to first nations. There is a significant gap in the funding for the education of young kids in this country. There is about a 30% to 32% gap between what first nations kids receive on reserves and what everyone else gets when it comes to education. It is a significant gap, as much as $2.3 billion. The Prime Minister said to start a new relationship, because we all know that he has had his problems with basically understanding first nations' realities. He made a commitment of $1.9 billion to start to close that gap so that first nations kids would have the opportunities that all of our children do. Where was that promise in the budget? Conservatives found their way to $40 million. From $1.9 billion to $40 million is what they said.

It is maintaining the status quo, maintaining the gap, maintaining under Conservatives another generation of first nations kids who do not have the same opportunities as the rest of us. The Conservatives' answer to that is to blame first nations, much as the minister did over missing and murdered aboriginal women. Who did he cite as the main culprit for this? It was not the lack of transportation and support for first nations communities or the lack of jobs in first nations communities. He blamed first nations men. He said it is primarily their responsibility; it is their fault.

When a minister of the crown stands in front of a group of first nations leaders, or stands in front of anyone, and has the audacity to blame some of the very same victims of this crisis, then when we look for support for a national inquiry to find the root causes, not the ones the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs claimed in his blatantly, I want to say derogatory or insulting terms, it angers me. When I hear a minister of the crown perpetuate racist stereotypes, it angers me as a Canadian. When we ask for a national inquiry, the government says, as the Prime Minister said, it is not on their radar.

Conservatives were able to launch a national inquiry called the Cohen Commission when some salmon did not come up the Skeena River, which I think was $30-odd million, because we had a bad salmon run and needed to get to the bottom of what was going on with those fish. That was important, because those fish are important to our economy and our way of life. The Conservatives can find money for missing fish but cannot find money for missing and murdered aboriginal women. Where are the government's priorities?

Let us see where the Conservatives' priorities are at in the context of an economy that has flatlined, anemic job growth, young people having an unemployment rate twice the national average, and a government that put all of its economic eggs in one basket. Was $150 oil not going to stay forever? That was the plan. They were going to build pipelines all over the place, east, west, north, and south. They were going to bulldoze them through. They were going to scrap environmental laws and gut the environmental assessment process. Lo and behold, oil goes up and oil goes down. Imagine. It is kind of like the Conservatives.

It is like the goldfish in the goldfish bowl that swims around and sees a castle and says “Ah, there is a castle in here”. It does another turn, and it has such bad a memory that the goldfish says, “There is a castle in here”. It just does it over and over again. The Conservatives put all their eggs in one basket, and then the commodity prices fall, and they say, “Holy cow, I cannot believe commodity prices have fallen. What a shock. It is time to panic and dip into the rainy day fund, because this is a national disaster”. That is what that fund was allegedly for.

Well, $50 a barrel for oil is the 40-year average. I do not know if $50 a barrel is a national crisis for Conservatives, because they placed the whole economy on one peg in their own planning, but it is the reality today. We actually had to delay the budget a couple of months for this shock, this impossible-to-comprehend shock, that oil went down in price. A lot of provinces were able to figure it out and actually deliver budgets, although Alberta did, and I do not know if that is working out so well for its current premier.

Let us look at the other priorities in this budget. The single largest item in this budget, in terms of agendas, is $2.5 billion for income splitting. I did not hear a lot about income splitting from the finance minister yesterday. He has done a lot of interviews with the media, and he never mentioned it in his number one, two, three, or four favourite items in his own budget. However, one would think he would want to take a little more credit for $2.5 billion, and it makes one wonder why.

From the C.D. Howe Institute to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which I think covers the spectrum fairly well in terms of economic thinking in the country, they have all said that this $2.5 billion for income splitting has to be panned because it ultimately goes to only 15% of Canadian families, and 85% of Canadian families get nothing. That 15% skews toward the wealthier groups in this country.

If the Conservatives think that it was those people who needed the most help, then they brought in a budget that met that thinking, because they are not only blowing $2.5 billion on income splitting, they are also going to add a higher ceiling to the tax free savings account, the TFSA. Many millions have one of these accounts, but only 11% have actually maxed out their contributions right now at $5,500. The Conservatives said, “If only 11% maxed out, let us almost double it to $10,000”.

I do not know about anyone else, but when I think of working-class, middle-class Canadians, some of those at the lower end of the economic scale, most of them do not face the predicament that at the end of the year they have $10,000 extra sitting in their pockets that they simply do not know what to do with. “We've paid our rent, we've paid the mortgage, we got the kids braces, we have everything we need. Honey, what do we do with this extra $10,000 I found? Oh, I know, the Conservatives have a solution for me”. That is where their priorities go.

Maybe all of their friends face this challenge every year of having too much money lying around, not attributed to the cost of living, but the people I work for do not actually face this problem each and every year. However, the Conservatives have decided that they are going to fork some cash into this. The amazing thing about this particular scheme is that the price of it starts at just a few hundred million, for wealthier Canadians, but when we start to walk it out over time, it becomes a gorilla. This thing will cost the treasury somewhere in the order of $20 billion a year. It will cost $20 billion a year, for folks who are in the upper scale, the wealthier Canadians.

When the finance minister was asked if this was responsible, prudent, and conservative, he said it was not their problem. I do not get this phrasing and why he chose it, but regardless, he said that it is for the Prime Minister's “granddaughter to solve”. It is not for him. It is for his grandkids to worry about. Therefore, why are they asking him questions about it? It is not his problem. They are just going to kick this one down the road and let them figure out how to pay for it. If it works over the next five months, says the finance minister, then so be it, because that is his time frame.

My goodness, this type of crass political calculation that will cost future generations so much is reminiscent of one other Conservative policy. It is not just fiscal, it is environmental. The former environment minister will know this. We have seen the Conservatives act like The Monkey Wrench Gang when it comes to environmental commitments on the international stage, which is the only way we are going to deal with climate change. We have to act both locally and internationally.

We have seen other countries take these steps. The Danes, the Finns, the Germans, the Brits, the Americans and the Chinese are all making pledges, commitments and promises. More important than that, we have seen it from the private sector. Globally last year investments in clean energy technology and energy production outpaced those of all carbon investments combined.

In fact, in Canada, despite antagonistic policies from the government, never mind not being helpful, as the Conservatives find a way to try to thwart anyone trying to do the right thing, we have seen the cost of solar go down by 83% since 2008. We have seen wind, solar, run-of-river and biomass energy production almost double since 2009. This is despite a Conservative government.

Imagine what we would do with a New Democratic government when it comes to clean energy. Imagine the opportunities we would have for young Canadians who are looking to work in the clean energy sector in jobs that are higher-value jobs, jobs that are often closer to home. They are jobs like retrofitting our homes so that the energy bill for Canadians will be lower because they will consume less energy. The negawatts people talk about are the best types of investments we can make.

The Conservatives actually had a home retrofit program. Do members remember this? I remember it. They created a home retrofit program, and it helped out small businesses. It helped to lower costs for Canadians. That is not bad. It created a whole bunch of new jobs and lowered our impact on the planet. That great idea became oversubscribed. It was so popular and worked so well that the Conservatives blew their first budget, so they did the natural Conservative thing when something is working well; they cancelled it.

The small businesses, the carpenters and folks who work in retrofitting and solar panels, and all of these companies that were starting to thrive and get their foothold had a backlash against the Conservatives, so the Conservatives brought it back. What happened? It was oversubscribed again. It worked too well, and what did the Conservatives do? They cancelled it again, because when something works that well, it is just so hard to imagine that having a clean energy economy in Canada would be good for Canada and that having a diverse economy might be a good idea.

Ask our friends in Alberta right now. Some of them are finding this new religion and saying that we should diversify. This is a really good idea. We should diversify, because the price of one of our major commodities just fell through the floor. Yet we look for the diversification efforts of the Conservative government, and we see the continuance of a $1-billion subsidy to the oil sands sitting in the budget. We see $1 billion more for Exxon and Shell. It is not just the corporate tax cuts they got, the billions there. This is another $1 billion. When we look around for clean energy, green energy, and clean tech, what do we find? We find nothing.

I have to give the Conservatives some credit here, because after almost 10 years of trying this across the board with no strings attached, with big, wealthy corporation tax cuts and an anemic job growth performance, with the results we see today, the Conservatives actually borrowed, stole, or at least endorsed the NDP plan that had been presented by the leader of the New Democrats in the House for a vote just a couple of months ago. What the leader of the NDP said was that small businesses create eight out of 10 new jobs in Canada, so let us drop their rate by almost 20%, from 11% to 9%. In manufacturing, we have lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs in this country since the Conservatives took over, so let us help the manufacturing sector. We need to innovate. Canada needs to be a better country when it comes to research and development and innovation.

We presented it to the House of Commons for a vote. The Conservatives voted against it and said that it was madness. What we suggested, they said, was economic madness. The Liberals voted against it because they said that lowering the small business tax rate is a tax dodge, a tax loophole, because a right-wing economist suggested such a thing. They voted against it for that reason.

We saw the Liberal leader out yesterday. When asked why he is voting against the budget, he said that it is because the budget lowers the tax rate on small businesses. We all know that according to the Liberal leader and his brain trust there that small businesses are tax evaders and tax cheats, so if we lower their tax rate, a bunch of rich guys are going to get away with something. Never mind that when the Liberals were in power, they handed out tens of billions of dollars of corporate giveaways with no strings attached. They created $650 million of dead money, according to the Bank of Canada and the finance department. Dead money is money that is given away and is not reinvested. They do not reinvest in a plant or hire more people. They just sit on it or give dividends to the shareholders, wherever they happen to live. The Liberal leader's first concern was that a cut to the small business rate was a tax loophole.

We presented those three ideas for manufacturing, helping out small businesses, and an innovation fund to the House of Commons for a vote and debate. The Conservatives called it economic madness because it had the colour orange attached to it. Now they have painted it blue and put it in the budget, but not quite. Mimicry never shows up properly the same way. The original is always a little bit better.

We were more aggressive on our small business tax cuts. We were more ambitious on our manufacturing help. We were more expansive on innovation. However, let us give them credit for this at least: the Conservatives have realized that their economic policy is a failure because the facts are in front of them. When we have been calling for manufacturing help, help for small businesses and all the rest for these long years and the Conservatives have dismissed it, I will take some of yesterday as a little endorsement, because imitation is the best form of flattery. If they are imitating our policies, although they did not get them quite right, at least they put something in there. We will fix them.

Where else did they miss on their priorities? They did not bring back the retirement age from 67 to 65. That is a direct hit to every senior in this country. That is two years for which they cannot receive the pension they paid into. It works out on average to about $28,000 for every senior per year, gone, cut by those guys. They come back and say, “Don't worry about it. We're going to let you contribute more because you have so much money when you are working”. For seniors facing that reality right now, far too many live in poverty in this country, and we plan to lift them out of that poverty.

The Conservatives could have helped by allowing more contributions to the Canada pension plan. Every private sector economist has said that this is one of the most stable and secure pension plans in the world and the investment and contribution toward that is a sound and fiscally prudent thing to do. They missed that.

We have talked about climate change. We have talked about their deplorable record on first nations. The Conservatives have gutted the coastal protection that we have in this country, on all coasts, with the Coast Guard, DFO, the ability to respond to accidents when they happen, and we know they happen because humans are involved. Yet, they did not replace that.

In fact, amazingly in this budget, the Conservatives are going to export the spill response model used in British Columbia to other coasts in Canada, because we saw with the spill last week in Vancouver harbour that a twelve and a half hour response to an oil spill beside one of our largest cities is not only acceptable, it is exceptional, according to the transport minister. Twelve and a half hours to get booms out 400 metres near a population of 3.5 million is great. Yet, when we look at what the Conservatives are going to do about coastal protection, they say they are going to take that awful performance and spread it around like a virus.

We have to take a close look at their balanced books and their balanced legislation, because this is important. The Conservatives are going to try to ride this pony on into the next election. It is important to ask how we got there and what choices were made.

My friend from Parkdale—High Park I think had the best analysis of this. It is like the Conservatives pulled out all the change from in between the cushions of the couch and they threw it in, and then they sold the couch because they have to get to this political agenda, which is what this has become. They have clawed back from Veterans Affairs. They have clawed back money from every type of service and protection we have keeping Canadians safe, such as railway safety, food inspection, environmental protection, all the basic stuff that Canadians look to their governments to do. The Conservatives cut all those programs and did not repair them.

They also had to dip into the contingency fund. This is the prudent approach; we set aside $3 billion because every once in a while there is a natural disaster that we cannot predict. The floods in Calgary come to mind. No one could have predicted that. Wait; climate scientists predict those kinds of things, but generally speaking, we do not know when and where these types of things are going to happen and we need to have a bit of a rainy-day fund set up.

The Conservatives have slashed that rainy-day fund by 66% and said that they need it now. The crisis right now is a political crisis. It is not a natural disaster, unless we call the Conservative Party such a thing, and we may, but it is a political crisis. They need to save their bacon and they need to balance the books, so they are going to take $2 billion out of there. They delayed the budget in order to book the sales of GM shares, until those sales came to maturity in April. They are going to bank those billion dollars, as well as rip off and change the employment insurance fund. All of this is what they did in order to achieve this, because in the fall, when they introduced their $2.5 billion income-splitting scheme, they thought they had a surplus of about $7 billion or $8 billion and they spent it. They spent $4.5 billion on these measures and a bunch of others. They spent the surplus before they had it. Then they panicked. They delayed the budget. They did not know what to do because the economy was not performing the way they had hoped. One would think that planning more than praying would be the edict within the finance department, but not under the Conservatives.

We have seen this legislation to balance the books, that outside of extraordinary years, recessionary years, the Conservatives are going to say that the ministers of the crown should take a pay cut. Wow, that is a pretty heavy stick there.

Wait. What have the last five years been? They have not been recession years, have they? No, they have not. In fact, Canada has not been in a recession for the last five years. The Conservatives thought this balanced budget legislation was a good idea for the next government, not for them. We call this hypocrisy because that is what it is. If the Conservatives believed in this, and they said they did because they promised this bill in the last election, one would wonder what they were doing since. They did not have balanced books. They had massive debt.

We have actually been able to add up what each minister owes. We sent them a letter last week to help them do the math of all of their pay packet they need to send back to Canadians. Certainly, if a principle for the Conservatives is that balanced books are so important that it should cost the cabinet if they do not do it, then it should cost the cabinet if they did not do it, and they did not do it. However, it is what it is. It is a stunt. It is something to throw a little at the base who worry that the Conservative Party of Canada added almost $160 billion to the national debt. I did not know they ran on that the last time in 2011. Coming out of the recession, they said they would nail this debt, crank it up so much that it would cost about $4,000 for every living soul in this country to pay back.

Of course it is more than $4,000 to borrow this kind of money. For people who have ever borrowed money for a car or who have ever had a student loan, what they borrowed was not what they paid back. When the Conservatives ratcheted on this debt, we hoped they would have left us a strong economy, but they were not able to do that.

We look through this budget and we see where the priorities lie for the Conservatives. Single moms are not on the Conservatives' radar. The 1.3 million Canadians out of work are not in their target group that they so often talk about. They are not part of the Conservatives' universe. Folks making the same income who have kids are still not going to get any help from income splitting. The Conservatives simply do not care.

I have a quote which I think is an important one. Paulette Senior, the CEO of the YWCA of Canada said:

This budget fails to balance the lives of women in Canada. Women continue to provide the majority of child care, despite comprising half the workforce and being the majority of university graduates. That trifecta is the 21st century reality for families, and affordable child care is the winning ticket. We are sorry to see the federal government's continued disinterest in leading on this issue.

One wonders when one looks at the fundamentals. As the TD Bank senior economist said, there is a lot of things booked in here that are not based on economic fundamentals. No kidding. I would not necessarily call it the healthiest balance. Is it on the strength of the economy and the strength of the revenues? No, it is not. It is a little bit of pixie dust, as one columnist said, and they sprinkle it around liberally and suddenly they get to a Conservative budget.

New Democrats believe that we need to put forward solutions. We do not need to just oppose, but we need to propose. We have proposed $15 child care. We have proposed a $15 federal minimum wage. We have proposed help for small businesses and manufacturing so we could add value to the natural resources, rather than follow the Conservative ideology which is to ship everything out raw and let some other country add value while we pick up the tab. We have proposed solutions time and time again, and we will continue to do so. In the meantime, this is the agenda put forward by the current government. It is an agenda that is not acceptable to the Canadian people because it does not fit the interests of those looking for child care, those looking for a job, those looking for a job that maybe puts them above the poverty line.

There is a lack of ambition in this budget. There is a missed opportunity. The gap that has been growing steadily over previous governments continues to grow. It is not simply an income gap, but it is an opportunity gap, the opportunity to do what we must all do as legislators, which is to look to the future and hopefully leave the next generation something better than what we found.

We see, through the Minister of Finance's crass comments that reveal perhaps too much of the Conservatives' thinking, that any of the big-ticket promises they have made, any of the big bills that are going to have to be paid for Conservative largesse, opportunism and crass politics they will leave for future generations, say Conservatives. It is not a concern to them.

Their only concern happens in October when Canadians will go to the polls. That is a concern also for Canadians. They are going to have a clear choice between more tax giveaways for the wealthiest few, and the New Democratic Party which believes that all ships should be lifted. We should not leave children behind, whether they are first nations or non-first nations, whether they are born wealthy or middle class or poor.

We believe Canada is a place of opportunity. We cannot squander the efforts of our previous generations by dumping on future generations.

It is enough to say what I have said, but there is an important piece that I would add.

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) Gives billions of dollars in handouts to the wealthy few through income splitting, doubling Tax-Free Savings Accounts, and tax loopholes for CEOs;

b) Fails to help middle class families by creating affordable, quality childcare spaces;

c) Contains no plan to make life more affordable by tackling unfair ATM fees or high credit card rates;

d) Fails to restore the age of retirement to 65 by reversing cuts to Old Age Security;

e) Does nothing to help workers by reinstating the federal minimum wage and raising it to $15 an hour;

f) Fails to fight climate change or grow the economy while protecting the environment; and

g) Relies on one-time asset sales and accounting sleight-of-hand to achieve a balance.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The amendment is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Thornhill.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:10 p.m.


Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear the suggestion from my hon. colleague in the official opposition indicating that he will be supporting our legislation for balanced budgets.

I was also delighted to hear the member fondly remember the home retrofit program that our government so successfully introduced and executed. It was certainly an oversubscribed program. Our government discovered that, in fact, Canadians' intentions had been jump-started by the program, and that they were overwhelmingly, program or not, going to invest in the retrofitting of their homes in the same ways the original program had supported.

My friend seems to have overlooked one of the chapters and provisions in economic action plan 2015, and that is the home accessibility tax credit for seniors and persons with disabilities. It proposes a new permanent home accessibility tax credit, a 15% non-refundable income tax credit applying to up to $10,000 of eligible home renovation expenditures per year, providing $1,500 in tax relief, and which would be associated with the purchase and installation, for example, of wheelchair ramps, walk-in bathtubs, and wheel-in showers. It is a good benefit for the disabled and for seniors, but also for the small businesses and contractors—

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. I would ask that members keep their questions and answers brief.

The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:10 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, a lot of budgets are about choices and proportion. How much are those guys going to focus on giving out to the wealthier Canadians? Well, $2.5 billion, plus a bunch in TFSAs and all the rest that the Conservatives have done. How much are they going to help average Canadians? If my friend is talking about home accessibility, which is a very important issue, one would connect that to a principle of health care. However, what is missing in the budget is the $36 billion health care cut that the Conservatives made to provincial health care budgets. All of those home visits and all the things that are needed to support seniors who want to stay in their homes longer, which New Democrats believe in, need to be supported by a vibrant, public health care system.

To cut $36 billion from the health care fund to the provinces that administer health care, then offer up a tax incentive for home retrofit for Canadians to have accessibility and say that everyone should be happy, is like the Minister of Transport saying that the government will offer a tax cut to people who lost have their jobs. The Conservatives are missing the point.

The point is to have a good, robust health care system for Canadians. Throwing down a few small programs and then expecting people to be satisfied when they do not have the health care attendant, the nurses, doctors and health care they need misses the entire point of what health care is.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:10 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, at a time when Canadians are looking for strong leadership from the Prime Minister's Office, once again we have seen a huge letdown.

We want economic growth. We want to see a middle class that is given attention, as opposed to the neglect that we have seen over the last number of years. The best example of that is in regard to the income splitting. The government is giving hundreds of millions of dollars every year to some of Canada's wealthiest, and at a substantial cost. Who is going to be paying for it? It is going to be Canada's middle class. We wanted and expected a budget that would provide economic activity and have a sense of fairness to it.

Does the finance critic believe in any way that this budget delivers any sense of fairness to Canadians?

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:15 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, no it does not.

What is remarkable about something like income splitting, as an example, is that only 15% receive the benefit, and that is skewed toward wealthy Canadians, but 100% of Canadians pay for it. Therefore, we have this strange reverse Robin Hood scene going on with the Conservatives where they take from the middle class and the poor to ensure that some wealthy folks, who, Lord knows, could always use a little more according to the Conservatives, get a little more.

The Conservatives not only have missed an opportunity around questions of fairness, but they have missed the reality of what Canadians want right now, which is affordable child care. I would encourage my friend from the Liberal Party to develop a program, as we have, because we have found this issue resonating with Canadians across the country. The extra $60 a month does not mean much to parents who pay $1,600 a month in child care costs. What they want is affordability.

Women are participating in our economy right now at the lowest rate since 2002. Every economist will tell us that on affordable child care, for every $1 that is put in, the economy gets back $2 to $3. This is a true investment. What does income splitting, at $2.5 billion a year, do for the Canadian economy? Nothing.

Yesterday was a good day for those who are wealthy, but not such a good day for everybody else.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

April 22nd, 2015 / 4:15 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his amendment, which I am pleased to second on behalf of the people of Beauport—Limoilou.

If I may, I would like to say a quick word about tax avoidance, and the member for Papineau and his gang could accuse my barber of that. I am sure that when I go and have my hair cut, my barber will have some very interesting feedback regarding that accusation from the Liberals.

That said, to come back to our amendment, now the Conservatives are refusing to talk about income splitting. That is very interesting. I wanted to ask my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley what he thinks of the fact that the term “income splitting” was nowhere to be found in the Minister of Finance's speech yesterday.

For the past several weeks, however, Conservative backbenchers have been practically bellowing, wanting to talk about the promises they made to their voters to bring in income splitting. Now it looks somewhat like a pill that is leaving a bad taste in the Conservatives' mouths.

What are my colleague's thoughts on that?

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:15 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is not just what they have said; it is what they have not said. Yesterday, it was very interesting to see that the biggest program in this budget, income splitting, does not really exist for the Minister of Finance. That is unbelievable; this is a new reality.

After months and months of criticism from all over the country and from discussions across Canada, $2.5 billion just does not exist for the Minister of Finance or for the Prime Minister. Obviously that is because the program is not very popular, it will cost a lot, and it is not fair.

We, the New Democrats, believe that all of our discussions should be based on fairness. Fairness will be central to our budget when we become the Government of Canada.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:15 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the riding I represent, Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, very few citizens have the opportunity to reach institutional daycare as the member says. It is a broad riding with rural, suburbs, as well as urban. We have a plan for every family to have an opportunity to get some benefits to pay for whatever child care they have.

What would the member say to the one constituent of mine who has already communicated with me. He has four young children with a stay-at-home mom. He goes to work and has a very modest salary. He said that this would make a serious difference in his household income because it would mean thousands of dollars in these tax breaks?

What does the member say about Canadians with low or modest incomes benefiting in that regard?

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:20 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was quite revealing in the preamble to the member's question that a number of his constituents could not gain access to affordable child care. That is point. The member's leader, the Prime Minister, promised to create child care spaces in 2008, in 2011. He made the promise over and over again as did previous Liberal governments. Without a plan, it did not happen. The Conservatives did not plan to do it and they did not create the child care spaces.

I live in a rural community and there is a lack of child care spaces, especially affordable, quality ones. Canadians are looking for that. I am stunned that the Conservatives do not seem to get this basic reality for Canadians, that when they pay $1,000 or $1,600 a month per child, it is incredibly expensive. Many Canadians are paying more for child care than they are for their mortgage.

We presented a fully costed, affordable, quality child care program. The member calls it institutionalization. Does he refer to public schools this way, that our kids are being institutionalized? When someone goes to public medicine, does he refer to it that way? I hope not. The language is offensive. We need to help out moms, dads, moms and moms, and dads and dads, and also look for a little help for single parents who are trying to make ends meet.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Rail Transportation; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Rail Transportation.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Papineau.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:20 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak the day after the Conservative government tabled its 10th budget. This is a budget that gives the most to Canadians who need it the least. I am not saying that this is not an important document—quite the contrary.

Soon we will have an election. When the time comes for us to campaign, the Prime Minister and his candidates will cite this latest budget when they try to convince voters to keep them in power. Therefore, it is important that Canadians know what this is, what is in it and what is not.

It is not, for instance, a plan for jobs and growth for the middle class and those looking to join it. The budget is a political document produced to that end. It is a vision for a Conservative election campaign; it is not a vision for Canada.

A long time ago, before Canada officially became a country, another campaign was under way, and when Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine talked to his constituents in Terrebonne, he said:

Canada is the land of our ancestors; it is our country as it must be the adopted country of the various populations which come from diverse portions of the globe, to make their way into its vast forests as the future resting place of their families and their hopes. Like us, their paramount desire must be the happiness and prosperity of Canada, as the heritage which they should endeavour to transmit to their descendants in this young and hospitable country. Above all their children must be like ourselves, CANADIANS.

Former governor general of Canada Adrienne Clarkson said: “In that small paragraph are enunciated all the principles by which we as Canadians live in an immigrant society”. I agree, but that is not all.

This paragraph expresses a fundamental idea that Canadians are committed to and have respected for generations: the idea that their children and grandchildren will have an equal chance and a better life than they had.

That is how it was in Canada for a long time. Over the past century, our economy grew, and so did our middle class, becoming the foundation of a prosperous economic future. When the middle class grows and succeeds, so too does the entire country. Nonetheless, something changed in the past decade.

When the Prime Minister first took over in 2006, he inherited a $13 billion surplus. It was at the time of perhaps the strongest fiscal situation in the world. It took him only three years to put Canada back into deficit, and that was ahead of the recession. Since then, nearly 10 years of Conservative fiscal mismanagement have left 139 other countries ahead of Canada for expected growth in 2015, and that was before oil prices took a slide. That was before this delayed budget.

However, Canadians do not have to hear about international finances to know how poorly things are going. Over the past 30 years, median after-tax family incomes in Canada, those of the middle class, have only increased by 15%. Still, Canadians keep working hard, making contributions to our country and its future. Yet what happens when those hard-working Canadians are ready to settle into retirement? Many will not. They will have to keep working just to survive.

Studies now show that a full third of Canadians nearing retirement age have not been able to save for it at all. It used to be that the government would help. Now that is less the case. By pushing up the age to qualify for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, the Prime Minister has made it even harder for Canadians to get the retirement they deserve. He did this so his government could double the tax-free savings limit. Again, that doubling only favours the richest Canadians. That is unfair. Canada deserves a better plan, focused on strengthening the middle class.

The Prime Minister could have implemented a plan for growth; he did not. When we study this budget, we see that he still does not want to. This government has done nothing to promote growth in the last decade and therefore our middle class, the backbone of the economy, has begun to weaken.

Less than half of Canadians consider themselves to be part of the middle class, compared to 67% in 2002. No less than 57% of Canadians believe that the next generation will be worse off.

How can a nation such as ours, which is rich in so many ways, have come to this, and why are so many Canadians having trouble making ends meet every day?

It is because the government has neglected that other key component of Canada's character that LaFontaine hinted at 170 years ago, fairness.

Here is the thing about fairness. It does not mean everyone is equal, but it does mean that everyone is given an equal chance. Canada is about that. No matter who people are or where they are from, they deserve a fair shot. That is how we succeed together. That is how our economy grows.

As we have seen with this new budget, the Conservatives still have no plan for growth. Here is what their plan is instead.

The Prime Minister and his Conservative government want to spend $2 billion on a tax break for the richest Canadians. In order to pay for it, they sold a bunch of assets and cut back on things like critical infrastructure investments, support for the RCMP and our security services, and health care funding for our veterans. All of this so they can give fewer than 15% of Canadians a tax break and have the other 85% pick up the tab. That will not help our economy grow and it will not help our middle class grow.

It is not fair. The Prime Minister and his government like to talk about the number of jobs created since the recession. However, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of Canadians are still unemployed or underemployed. There are some 200,000 more unemployed people than there were before the recession.

In fact, the rate of job growth was less than 1% for 15 consecutive months. This is the longest period with growth below this threshold in almost 40 years, excluding recessionary periods.

The statistics on youth are even more grim. There are now more than 165,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than there were before the recession.

What does a plan for growth actually look like? It could start with infrastructure investments. The Conservatives will tell Canadians that they have poured money into infrastructure, but that is not the entire truth. Their plan for infrastructure is simply too little too late. Last year the government slashed the building Canada infrastructure program by 87% from its previous level. This year there has been no real improvement. What has been committed for infrastructure is back loaded until years from now.

A real plan for growth would put in place today a serious infrastructure plan to create jobs and prepare Canada for the changing global economy as well as a changing climate, although I suppose in the latter case one has to believe it is actually happening before one can do anything to address it.

To get back to infrastructure and investments, every dollar invested in roads, water or public transit generates $1.20 in growth. Every dollar invested in affordable housing generates $1.40 in growth. One billion dollars invested in infrastructure creates 16,000 person-years of good jobs—the kind of jobs Canadians need and are prepared to do. That is an excellent rate of return. That is economic growth.

Modernizing infrastructure facilitates and accelerates commerce. It enables Canadians to get to their destination more quickly and more safely. As I said, smart investments in infrastructure will prepare Canada for the effects of climate change. I should also point out that climate change is not mentioned once in over 500 pages in this budget—not as a reality we face or as an economic challenge. That exclusion speaks volumes. Honestly, a discussion on climate change is not just about science; it is also about the economy. This is a discussion that we need to have in 2015, and the government's complete disregard of this issue is a special kind of failure.

What is the Prime Minister's priority instead; that is, aside from that $2 billion tax break for the richest Canadians? Advertising. While Canadians have been struggling, the Prime Minister's government has justified spending some $750 million on advertising to promote things that sometimes do not even exist.

Think about it. That is three-quarters of a billion dollars on TV commercials and billboards, on paid persuasion. This is not fiscal prudence; this is waste, pure and simple. More than that, it is insulting. The Prime Minister must not think much of Canadians to suppose they believe that legitimacy to govern is earned by running a bunch of commercials on TV.

Do members know how Canadians know their government is working? I will give them a hint. It is not because they saw a TV ad. They know it when they drive to work on new roads and safer bridges. They know it when a new fleet of buses gets them across town in less time. They know it when we have a plan to address our changing climate. They know it when we have well paying, full-time jobs, and when their kids can go to a good school.

Canadians know that their government is working when they have a real, fair chance to succeed. However, the Prime Minister has no real plan for anything.

Instead, he will spend another $7.5 million to ensure that this budget looks good on TV. That is not a plan for Canada. That is an advertising plan for the Conservative Party. He is using hard-working Canadians' money to pay for that advertising. That is just plain wrong.

Generations of Canadians have shown that in our dealings with our friends and with strangers, we strive to be a fair people. Decades before we were even properly a nation, this was a principle to which we knew we must adhere so we would all prosper, whoever we are, wherever we may be from.

A government's budget should not be a marketing tool. It should be a document that, among other things, lays out a road map for how we want our country to look. It is not a callow piece of advertising. It ought to be a fair and compassionate plan, one that is both fiscally and socially responsible. This budget is none of those things. We cannot support it.

Therefore, I move:

That the amendment be amended by adding the following:

(h) unfairly benefits the rich instead of helping the middle class and those working hard to join it and;

(i) contains no plan for jobs and growth.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The subamendment is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, and Agriculture.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:35 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of State (Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the leader of the Liberal Party.

He gave a nice speech about Canada. I would like to tell him that those are fine words, but that in reality, Canada would not enjoy the same economic prosperity if we were to take his approach because it involves spending money that the government does not have. He wants to spend even more money on infrastructure programs than we are doing now, using borrowed money. Like me, the opposition leader knows that today's debts are tomorrow's taxes. What is certain is that Canadians will pay even more taxes under a Liberal government.

How can he justify raising taxes for Canadians and cancelling tax cuts as a way to create prosperity in Canada?

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:35 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

The reality is that I will not take any lessons on economic growth from the members of this government. Over the past 10 years, under this Prime Minister, Canada has seen the worst rate of economic growth of any Canadian government since the 1930s and the R.B. Bennett years that followed the Great Depression. The Conservatives did not create any economic growth.

Canadians are well aware that Liberal governments are the ones that balance the budget. This Conservative government created seven consecutive deficits. That is not economic growth. That is not what this country needs. Giving tax cuts to the wealthiest members of society is not the way to create prosperity, and I hope that the government will change its mind in that regard.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:35 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, we take no issue with the concern of the Liberals with respect to income splitting. As we have illuminated since it was first proposed by the government, it is a $2.5 billion giveaway to the top 15% of Canadian families, while everyone has to foot the bill for it.

I have two questions.

First, the member mentioned a number of places in which there had been research done with respect to the impact of investments in infrastructure and the like, and that there was a healthier return to government for investing in transit and whatnot. We agree as well with that assessment. However, one of the strongest impacts on investment is in affordable child care, that for $1 put toward affordable child care one receives even more, sometimes as much as $2.00 to $2.50.

We put forward an affordable child care proposal of up to $15 a day. The Conservatives have their strategy, which contrasts dramatically with ours. It offers two different things in different ways. We would say it is not as much. Therefore, I would like a clarification on where the Liberals stand on an affordable child care strategy.

Second, yesterday the Liberal leader stated that the small business tax cut, which we proposed in the House but the Conservatives and Liberals voted against but is now in the budget at a slower pace than what we wanted, needed to be redesigned and that he was opposed to the measure as it was presented yesterday. Could he tell us what it should be redesigned as, or does he want to eliminate that effort to help out small business?

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:40 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley gave an excellent speech earlier in the House opposing the budget.

I will answer both aspects fairly quickly.

First, I am incredibly proud of the Liberal plan on child care that involved 10 deals, one with every province, to create child care spaces in 2005. It was a landmark decision that unfortunately both the Conservatives and the NDP voted against. Therefore, we will take no lessons from the NDP on creating national child care spaces.

Second, in terms of the small business tax credit, we are in favour of helping small business. There is no question about that. We are in favour of reducing taxes for small businesses and would not reverse the proposal that the Conservatives have. What I highlighted yesterday and brought forward concerns on was the fact that many studies had highlighted that most or many of the benefits from such a tax break would go to extremely wealthy individuals rather than to hard-working small business workers and employees. That is the concern for us. I hope care is taken when implementing this proposal.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:40 p.m.


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Liberal leader, the member for Papineau, for offering some hope to Canadian parents who are looking for a real plan for jobs and growth for today's youth. Today's parents are the first generation of Canadian parents who believe their kids will be worse off than them.

The doubling of the tax-free savings account limit will make things worse by gutting the future capacity of governments. Is the leader of the Liberal Party concerned about the intergenerational equity component of the tax-free savings account in terms of giving a tax break to the rich but potentially making middle-class Canadians pay higher taxes in the future and receive fewer services from government?

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:40 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kings—Hants for his question and for his excellent work as the Liberal finance critic.

First, we have been very clear. We are in favour of the tax-free savings account. We think that there is a meaningful use to encourage people to save, to set aside a little money at the end of the year in a tax-free way. We need to encourage middle-class Canadians to save for their retirement, and modestly done, this is a good measure. However, doubling the tax-free savings limit to $10,000 makes it beneficial only to wealthier Canadians.

I have travelled far and wide across this country and had an awful lot of conversations with middle-class Canadians who are struggling with debt at the end of the year every year and certainly do not have $10,000 to put aside every year to benefit from it, whereas wealthy Canadians absolutely will.

This issue will be very expensive in the short and medium term, but even more expensive in the long term. That is the term in which the Conservatives will be raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, hurting the average senior to the tune of about $13,000, the most vulnerable seniors to $28,000 out of their pockets, and those are the wrong priorities.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:45 p.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have had a lot of feedback, as I am sure all of us have in regard to what was just a terrific budget yesterday, and I particularly heard from a lot of small business owners. I just had an email not very long ago from a small-businessman who started up about five years. The business has built up and it now has 18 employees. It is a family business. He and his wife were just thrilled to see the small business income tax rate lowered from 11% to 9%. He said that he was as happy as the devil and now he hears that the leader of the third party wants to reverse that if he wins the election.

I want to ask the member how he would respond to that constituent.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:45 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to tell the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound that he can tell his constituent that I have no intention of reversing that cut.

What I highlighted yesterday was that the help we give to small businesses, which we absolutely should be giving, should be going to his constituent. It should not instead be going to the likes of Mike Duffy Inc., for example.

There is a concern about the fact that this is a tax benefit that many wealthy individuals could incorporate and benefit from when in fact who we want to support is exactly his constituent, hard-working business owners who employ many employees in a small business capacity because those are the drivers of our economy.

The hon. member can reassure his constituent by actually telling the truth about what I said.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:45 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the leader of the Liberal Party if he agrees with the Prime Minister that since 2009, when the Prime Minister made the pledge at the meeting in Pittsburgh of the G20 that this country would stop subsidizing fossil fuels, yet despite his promise, the Prime Minister continues to subsidize fossil fuels in the oil sands, and in this budget, opens up new subsidies for liquified natural gas.

I would like to know if the Liberal leader would commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies in this country.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:45 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her great work as leader of the Green Party and for her efforts to highlight the fact that the government has not addressed responsibly either climate change or investments in renewables.

There is no question that a Liberal government would start off by recognizing that climate change is a reality and that a federal government needs to work with the provinces on the lack of leadership we have seen over the past ten years in making sure that we put a price on carbon and therefore reduce our emissions.

On the other side, making sure that we are investing in renewables, understanding the extraordinary advantages that come with a Canada that has a strong and vibrant renewable resource sector and making sure that the government incentives are directed toward things that would be good, not just for future generations, but for our economic positioning with our trading partners, is exactly in line with the priorities of the Liberal Party.

Financial Statement of the Minister of FinanceThe Budget

4:45 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of State (Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the House and Canadians who are watching.

I want to let all Canadians know that I am very proud of what my government did in the last budget and for future generations. Our government's most spectacular achievement is the reduction of the tax burden on Canadians. The ratio of government revenue to GDP is at its lowest level in more than 50 years. I think that is a great achievement.

The leader of the Liberal Party promises to reverse this trend. He wants to take back the tax cuts that we gave to Canadians. We want to shrink the government, to give Canadians back their freedom, but the Liberals with their leader want to shrink Canadians' paycheques and take away their freedoms. The Liberals are very clear on what their priorities are. It is not cutting taxes for Canadians. They want to spend more money. They want to spend money to stimulate the economy when we are not in a recession. The leader of the Liberal Party and his finance critics have repeatedly refused to rule out running a deficit again for many more years if they are elected.

The leader of the Liberal Party is saying things about the economy that, for an economist, sound a bit bizarre. When he referred to the government budget last year, he said that there is no need to worry about the deficit, we should aim rather at stimulating the economy and the budget would balance itself.

For the leader of the Liberal Party, the more a government spends, the more it stimulates the economy, the more its revenues will grow and the less we need to worry about the deficit. For him, let us spend our way to prosperity. No, seriously, Canadians know that if we all spend more than we have, we will not get richer. It is called living beyond our means.

I think we have to wonder why the deficit and the debt exploded in the 1970s when his father was the leader of the Liberal Party. Perhaps they were not spending enough. They were spending a lot of money, but it did not create any growth. At the last Liberal convention, they had an economic adviser, Larry Summers. He said that it was alright for a government to spend because we need unconventional support policies for the economy. This is economic jargon for spending without restraint. According to him, accumulating more debt is okay when it serves to stimulate the economy, when we do not have a recession.

We all know that more spending and more borrowing will not act as an economic stimulus but rather as an economic sedative. Less money will be available for the private sector, and it is only private sector entrepreneurs who create wealth.

What the leader of the Liberal Party said yesterday was that he wants to reverse and abolish all tax cuts we are giving to Canadian entrepreneurs. He just said that a couple of minutes ago and he also said the same thing in a video released last year.

The leader of the Liberal Party explained that households and provincial governments in Canada are heavily indebted while the federal government has considerably lowered its debt levels since the 1990s. According to the leader of the Liberal Party, Ottawa is the only entity that has room to rack up more debt. It should therefore step up and spend more to stimulate the economy, when we do not need any stimulus.

For me, this is like a couple who has racked up a large amount of consumer debt on credit cards. They check the invoices for their three credit cards and the husband says to his wife, “We have reached our limit on these two cards, but we still have some credit left on this third one, so we can get richer if we max out this one, too. Let's go shopping.” Can anyone imagine a more absurd economic policy?

The leader of the Liberal Party seems to forget that it is the same taxpayers who will have to pay back the debt of all levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal, as well as their own. I am very proud that our government took control of the debt. The debt-to-GDP ratio is at 33% and our goal is to have that ratio at 25% a couple of years from now. At 33%, we have the best performance of all G7 countries.

For Conservatives, debt is not something abstract. Servicing the debt costs taxpayers about $30 billion a year. This is as much money as the GST brings to government coffers. For us, the more we cut down the size of the debt, the fewer resources we will need to pay the interest, and the more we will be able to afford to cut taxes for Canadians.

The leader of the Liberal Party and his American advisers still believe in the old Canadian theory that says that government can create wealth by spending more money. If the government injects money into the economy, where does it come from? It is not falling from the sky. In reality, every time the government takes an additional $1 in taxes out of someone's pockets, it is $1 that person would not be able to spend or invest. When government spending goes up, private spending goes down. There is no wealth creation.

Government borrowing has the same effect. It is like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of the swimming pool and emptying it in the shallow end. Nothing happens. It is this kind of policy that ruined our economy in the 1970s. Prosperity, we all know, does not come from government spending but from entrepreneurial investing. To stimulate the economy, we need to give entrepreneurs the means to create wealth. We need to put in place the best possible conditions to allow the private sector to become more productive by curtailing public spending, cutting taxes, reducing the burden of regulation and signing free trade agreements. Growth and progress depend on economic freedom through less government intervention in our day-to-day lives.

More government spending is not the answer to our social and economic challenges. The task is not to reinvent government; the task is to limit government. Conservatives believe in a smaller government, but the Liberals want a big government because they elevate the government and downgrade the citizens. We want a small government because, ultimately, we support individual freedom and personal responsibility. We have faith in people. We have faith that they have the ability, the dignity and the right to make their own decisions with their money and to determine their own destinies.

Soon it will be a time for choosing. People will have to decide if they want to go back to more spending, more borrowing and more debt, and maybe some constitutional crisis because the leader of the Liberal Party wants to interfere in provincial jurisdiction, in education. He said that education is important. We know that education is important, but education is a provincial jurisdiction. He wants to do like his father did and play in the provincial jurisdiction. Conservatives respect the Constitution and think that education is very important for Canadians. This is why we will not interfere in provincial jurisdiction. The provinces know better how to deal with that.

The time will come for Canadians to choose in a couple of months from now. They will have the choice between stability, a steady economic hand under the leadership of the Prime Minister, or instability and maybe some constitutional crisis with leader of the Liberal Party, instability because they want to spend the money we do not have to stimulate the economy when stimulus is not needed because we are not in a recession.

What are we going to do? In the last budget we tabled the balanced budget act. We want to ensure the next generation that nobody will spend money we do not have to create jobs when we know that it is the private sector that is going to do that. It is not the government, it is the private sector. We believe in entrepreneurs. That is why we want to cut their taxes and we also want to cut taxes for all Canadians.

I was very disappointed by the reaction of the leader of the Liberal Party. I know he is taking his advice from an American economist. If we look at what happened in the U.S. a couple of years ago, I think it had the wrong policy. Right now, we have the right policy for the future.

I am very proud of our budget. It was hard to achieve a balanced budget. It was not easy because budgets do not balance themselves, as the opposition leader likes to claim. It takes hard work. In 2006, as soon as this government took power, we began to manage Canada's budget responsibly, we created surpluses, we took control of expenses, and we allocated money—$33 billion—to the public debt.

We went through a global economic crisis that started in the United States and other countries. That affected Canada because businesses export their products to the United States and around the world. They do that because people like their products, which are made very efficiently, making them competitive in foreign markets.

However, when something happens in another country, these entrepreneurs are affected indirectly. We had to create a stimulus program, because we were in a recession, to stimulate the economy. At the time, we told Canadians that it would be temporary and that it was meant to stimulate the economy, but because future generations would have to pay for these current debts, we wanted to stimulate the economy through infrastructure programs that would benefit future generations. That is what we did. We created an infrastructure program that involved considerable spending to meet the country's needs and ensure that future generations could also benefit, but it was a short-term, very targeted stimulus program.

Now we are returning to a balanced budget. How did we do it? We controlled our spending. We froze operating expenditures across the Government of Canada. We imposed the freeze because we knew it was the right thing to do. For politicians, sometimes it is easier to raise taxes to have money and create programs, but that is not the right solution. The solution is to leave money in people's pockets. They are the ones who create wealth. That is why we froze the government's operating budget.

We also fought against tax evasion because the tax system has to be fair for all Canadians. We fought against tax evasion and created good policies. A number of my cabinet colleagues around the table had to make cuts in their respective portfolios because it was our responsibility. We had to get back to a balanced budget, as we promised Canadians we would.

We did the opposite of the previous Liberal government, which eliminated the deficits created by the Trudeau government in the 1970s and inherited by the Mulroney government. Nonetheless, the Mulroney government set the stage for creating wealth by signing free trade agreements. As hon. members will recall, the Liberals were against free trade with the U.S. That free trade agreement made Canada prosper.

We modernized Canada's tax system. When Jean Chrétien's Liberals came to power, everything was in place for revenues to come in to the federal government, provided that spending was under control. Instead of clearing the deficit by looking to their own backyard, they offloaded their deficit onto the provinces. Quebeckers remember the cuts to health care and social services. Mr. Chrétien's Liberal Party cleared its deficit on the backs of the provinces and Canadians. We dealt with our own deficit by making the courageous decisions that needed to be made. That is why I am proud of my government.

Now that our country is prosperous, we have to make sure that Canadians can keep their money in their pockets. What have we done? Since we believe in families and Canadians, we have lowered taxes for Canadians, Canadian families and seniors. This is a fair budget. We have implemented income splitting. Why allow families to split their income? It is a question of fairness, because couples in similar situations should pay the same amount of tax.

For example, a dual-income family earning $80,000 paid less tax than a single-income family earning the same amount. The single-income family paid more taxes. Couples in families with similar incomes were treated differently. We have solved this problem of discrimination.

We have instituted income splitting for seniors as well. Canadians like and use these measures. We have also made it possible for Canadians to shelter savings from taxes thanks to the tax-free savings account. Of those who have opened a TFSA, 60% earn less than $60,000. That is the middle class. The middle class benefits from these measures. Thanks to economic freedom, the middle class can continue to create wealth.

That is the difference between us, the Liberals and the NDP: we believe in people. If Canada is great and beautiful, it is thanks to Canadians. Canadians make this a great and beautiful country. Canadians work hard and make it possible to have the standard of living that we currently enjoy.

The government makes sure that we have a social network and social programs to meet the needs of Canadians, but prosperity comes from Canadians. That is the difference between us and the opposition parties, which want to tax Canadians. More taxes and more deficits lead to more debt. That debt will have to be repaid in the near future. What is irresponsible is creating debt and deficits in a time of economic prosperity.

That is why we have introduced a bill to mandate balanced budgets in Canada. A balanced budget holds politicians here in the House of Commons accountable. It is easy for a politician to spend money, and as Milton Friedman said, if you are spending somebody else's money you often give bigger gifts.

I want to add that Keynesian measures do not enrich our country. A country gets richer through tax measures that put money back into people's pockets.

Economic prosperity is good for all Canadians, and I would compare it to a rising tide. John F. Kennedy famously likened economic prosperity to a rising tide, saying that when a country becomes prosperous and there is economic growth, it is like a rising tide that lifts all boats.

We need to promote economic prosperity, and that is what this budget does. That is why we are proud of it.

This budget also keeps the government's promises. As the member for Beauce, I personally promised the people of my riding that our government would eliminate the deficit, make sure that we returned to a balanced budget and cut taxes.

Today, I am proud to be able to go back to the people of Beauce and tell them that that mission has been accomplished. We eliminated the deficit, we balanced the budget, we are lowering their taxes and we are going to continue to do so in the future. We say so in our plan.

Next year, we will have a surplus of $1.4 billion. That money will go into the pockets of taxpayers through other tax cuts, but some of it will go to helping future generations. We want to be responsible and so we will use our surpluses to pay part of the debt so that future generations do not have too heavy a burden to bear.

I am very proud to rise in the House today and show Canadians that they have a choice to make in the coming weeks. That choice will be very clear when the next election takes place: prosperity or debt, lower taxes or higher taxes, failure to comply with the Constitution and interference in other jurisdictions by the NDP and the Liberals or compliance with the Constitution, economic prosperity or economic uncertainty.

The choice is clear. The past is an indication of what the future holds. We have managed the government's budget very effectively, and we are going to continue to do so.