Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for sharing her valuable speaking time. I have no doubt that she could have easily used ten more minutes to discuss other aspects of the budget that affect citizens in her beautiful riding.
I will not conceal from you that since this fine document became my bedside reading, that is for the last 48 hours, I have found some aspects rather amusing, and many others have greatly distressed me.
I will focus my remarks on two specific aspects. Before anything else, however, I will give my Conservative colleagues 10 minutes of thinking time so that they can help me with my research. Since our budget document amounts to almost 600 pages in the French version, I will help them by asking them to refer to chapter 4.1. That could facilitate my research. I looked for the words “fractionnement du revenu”, or income splitting, and unfortunately I could not find them anywhere. I am trying to understand what mystery could surround this mysterious disappearance of what some of our backbench colleagues were defending tooth and nail to their fellow citizens.
They were saying in fact that they had made this commitment during the last election campaign, they were sticking to it and they wanted it to be done. I would thank them for being so kind as to help me by indicating, within nine minutes, on which page the words “fractionnement du revenu”, or income splitting, are to be found.
That said, I will begin with the most amusing aspect. I have to confess that I was bowled over when I saw the commitment the Minister of Finance was boasting about, and I imagine it was probably one of the Prime Minister’s ideas, with regard to the balanced budget legislation. I have to confess that in terms of comedy, it is difficult to think of anything worse—or better, depending on whether you relish the absurdity of it.
I will not presume to mock a government measure, whatever the colour of the government, as long as the basis is sound and the intent favours the largest number, or the common interest. Yet that is absolutely not the case with this bill, or at least the bill proposed and described in the budget document.
Let us look at what such legislation could potentially contain. I trust that in the time allowed for my remarks, the Conservatives will be taking a lot of notes, because this bill may well contain things that are totally absurd and unacceptable, unless of course it is included in the budget implementation bill and thus that becomes an omnibus bill. I know that all bets are open as to whether it will have fewer than 400 pages or more than 400 pages, but that is another question. In a few weeks, we will know what we have to deal with.
The Conservatives are defending a number of things in the balanced budget legislation, because they say it does the following:
preserves Canada’s low-tax plan and allows for further tax reductions, fostering growth and the creation of jobs for the benefit of all Canadians;
For the past nine years, the Conservatives have been implementing their low-tax agenda, especially for their wealthiest friends, but also when it comes to creating jobs and activities for Canada's labour force, namely people between 25 and 55. The Bank of Canada, however, has been very harsh, saying that the employment and activity level of that category of worker has remained the same since we came out of the last recession, in 2009. In other words, Canada is stagnating. There is no way an NDP government would comply with that requirement of the future legislation.
The other really amusing aspect—and I have asked many questions about this very subject throughout the four years that I have been here representing the people of Beauport—Limoilou—has to do with the part stating that this legislation:
helps to instill confidence in consumers and investors, whose dollars spur economic growth and job creation;
Canadian—and even foreign—investors are rather cautious. According to another very harsh observation by the Bank of Canada, businesses are unfortunately sitting on huge amounts of money and not investing in improving their productivity.
Moreover, the excess capacity in Canada's businesses was substantial, despite the government's claims that the economy was vibrant and our strengths were being put to good use. After the drop in oil prices and in the Canadian dollar with respect to the American dollar, despite the improved margins that provided, the recovery they were hoping for has clearly not materialized, because businesses are not prepared for it.
Businesses are not prepared to hire people to take advantage of opportunities in the current situation. The oil-dependence trap makes us much more sensitive to the slowdowns and problems that resulted from the drop in international oil prices. That will affect the entire Canadian economy.
Furthermore, they avoid talking about any future tax increases or service reductions. I could completely agree about service reductions, were it not for the fact that, when we call the Canada Revenue Agency during tax season we reach a voice mailbox, and the chances of an official calling us back with answers to our questions are practically nil. My colleague is telling me they are actually nil. He must have learned that from his constituents in the riding of Saint-Jean.
If the Conservatives had brought in this balanced budget law nine years ago, it would have been interesting, because we would have been able to force them to take responsibility for their actions, particularly the draconian cuts in services. That was not the case, however. They are bringing in this bill now, when they know they are going to be tossed out of office and be replaced by a New Democratic government.
One funny thing in this budget document is the list of all the criteria for an acceptable deficit in a recession or under extraordinary circumstances such as a war or natural disaster, and the requirement that the finance minister must appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance within 30 days following presentation of a budget deficit.
I am very happy about that, because the finance committee's invitations to the Minister of Finance often go unanswered. Obviously, he is too busy criss-crossing the country to make announcements about his amazing measures, such as income splitting. No, of course not: he does not use those words. He no longer makes announcements across the country about income splitting. It is a non-existent concept cloaked in the very vague definition of a “family tax cut” in this budget.
Let us take a look at an issue that is even more discouraging. In chapter 3.4, Investing in Infrastructure, there is a new public transit fund. From an objective point of view, it is quite good news that there should be recurring, long-term funding for public transit. Unfortunately, it will come too late. I do not know how to explain the delay. Is it because the Conservatives really do not know what public transit represents? Maybe we have to help them and show them what a city bus or a commuter train looks like.
When we try to understand what the Conservatives are trying to do with their notorious fund for public transit projects, it is really discouraging to note that they want to force municipalities to work in a public-private partnership. It is the same thing with the building Canada plan. However, that is the opposite of what the infrastructure minister claims, namely that the federal government does not want to get involved in provincial or municipal projects. This is interference.
How can the Conservatives justify imposing their will on the management of infrastructure projects, such as road projects, which fall under provincial or municipal jurisdiction?
If a municipality decides to go ahead with a public transit project, for instance, a streetcar or rapid transit system, and it decides to develop the project by keeping total control over it without involving the private sector, why should the federal government reject its application for funding? Clearly, it seems that this condition will enable the Conservatives to refuse any project that fails to comply with its PPP obligation.
Frankly, the Conservatives are going to have to answer serious questions about their interference in other levels of government right across the country.