Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this place to discuss the budget that is before the House. I only have a few minutes, so I would like to divide my remarks into, first, some general comments specifically relating to seniors, second, to speak to the health aspects of it, as I am the official opposition health critic, and third, to focus on British Columbia and the city of Victoria, which I represent.
On the general points, we have heard much this morning already about the income-splitting regime in this budget and the TFSA going from $5,500 to $10,000 a year. On top of that, of course, we have $4,400 in new federal debt that every newborn child has and our grandchildren are going to have another $15 billion or $20 billion in debt created by the TFSA. It may be a laudable policy, but doubling contributions, or virtually doubling them, certainly will be helping wealthier Canadians more than others.
That has been the subject of much commentary, and not just by opposition politicians. It is important that Canadians know it is the Parliamentary Budget Officer who, just a day or so ago, drew attention to the disparity. My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley pointed out yesterday that these handouts will cost tens of billions of dollars a year and the doubling of the TFSA itself will give the wealthiest 20% twice as much as all other Canadians combined.
The Globe and Mail, of course, has brought to our attention just what this document is. It is designed, as it says in its editorial of April 21, to win an election. That is really all it is. This is a document designed to give gifts to the Conservatives' wealthiest friends and donors in the hope that the rest of Canadians will not notice what is happening to our country in the meantime.
The Conservatives talked at one point about having a leaner, meaner tax code, cleaner and simpler. Of course, that has not happened. It is rare for me to stand in this place and agree with the Fraser Institute, but in a report that it put out just this week, it pointed out how the tax code has become bigger and bigger and more and more complex. It is great work for accountants and lawyers, I am sure, but it is incomprehensible to many Canadians. That is not the result of these little tax breaks and credits here, there and everywhere, what are called boutique tax credits, which litter this budget.
In addition, members have heard my colleagues talk about the fact that the contingency fund cupboard has been raided and it has gone from $3 billion to $1 billion in order to balance the budget. We have heard about the fire sale of GM shares in order to get more money to balance the budget, the holy grail of re-election.
The Globe and Mail said:
...one category of taxes remain far higher than it should: Employment Insurance premiums. These premiums are, basically, a tax on jobs. For years, Ottawa has quietly been taking in several billion dollars more than it pays out. The budget promises a long-term plan to lower premiums....
Guess what? That, like so much in this budget, does not happen until 2017, 2018, 2019. We will hear about that in the context of transit and so many other issues. It is bad public policy. It is simply a gift for re-election purposes, and I am confident Canadians will see through this.
A day or so ago, the Canadian Alliance of United Seniors, which brings together dozens of seniors groups, talked about this budget in very unfavourable terms. It pointed out that income security, including restoring the old age security and GIS to age 65, should be enhanced. The Prime Minister went to Davos, Switzerland, and announced that the government was going to change the age for OAS to 67, which seems to me a little unfair to people who had the misfortune of being born after 1958, and no change to the Canada pension plan. That is a payroll tax, although it is not a tax at all, and that is why we cannot fix for the next generation the inequities. Nothing in the budget would deal with that. EI, of course, is okay, but CPP improvements are not.
Health care reform is the second thing that the Canadian Alliance of United Seniors has talked about. It asked for increased funding for issues such as home care and a national pharmacare plan. That notorious radical group, the Canadian Medical Association, has called for a seniors strategy on care and health care, something which, of course, the official opposition has been very much in favour of. The government has done nothing whatsoever on that score in this budget.
A national housing strategy is the third thing it asked for, a strategy to allow seniors stay in their homes or move to purpose-built affordable housing. There is very little, as so many critics have pointed out, on the affordable housing front in this budget.
There is very little for fighting inequality to assure all citizens, including seniors, can get out of poverty. That is a bit of a sleeper issue in the budget.
Yesterday, Mr. Ian McGugan wrote in The Globe and Mail that there was a disparity increasingly among seniors, among the wealthy and the less wealthy. There was a lucky elite that could take advantage of TFSAs and the like, but that there was another group, a growing mass of retirees who must patch together their own safety net. Their prosperity or lack of it hinged on how much they could stow away in RRSPs, TFSAs and defined contribution pensions. If they happened to be in the wrong industry and suffered prolonged periods of unemployment, their retirement nest eggs would suffer through no fault of their own.
It is a tale of two cities among seniors in our communities. There is no doubt that the budget works for the wealthy seniors. We just have to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer. However, for the vast majority of seniors who struggle to get by, with the low interest rate environment and so forth, it is a very different part of the world in which they live.
On health care, the College of Family Physicians of Canada talks about the federal budget as “a missed opportunity to advance health care”, and that is what it is. It, like the official opposition, are pleased with government's commitment to a Canadian centre for aging and brain health innovation, but it says what is needed is “higher-level leadership for the entire spectrum of health care”, not a patchwork of single programs, and that is the point about the budget.
There are lots of little goodies here and there, boutique tax credits here, announcements there, innovation centre there, but on the main event it is a notorious and continuing lack of leadership on so many fronts.
Regarding the Canada health transfer, Conservatives keep talking about how much money is being transferred, and there is a lot of money being transferred, but much less than there would have been if they had not killed the Health Council a few years ago. The government sees no benefit in doing anything that involves leadership and working with the provinces to achieve better results for our population.
There is much more about health that needs to be said in this context, and not only the fact Conservatives are sticking to the unilateral formula for the health transfer, axing the Health Council and showing no leadership in public health issues for Canadians. However, the one good thing is that the mandate of the Mental Health Commission of Canada has been renewed. We need to see a lot more leadership in that area. I salute the government for that aspect of the health care issue. However, money is really what has to be important.
I promised to talk about British Columbia. It has been said over and over again that climate change is a foreign concept in the budget, it is a word that dare not be mentioned by Conservatives. I think they do not believe it exists. The word “Victoria” did not get mentioned and for British Columbia, pretty thin gruel. British Columbians will remember a few weeks ago, when the government in its zeal to save $700,000 thought it was sound public policy to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard. That $700,000 should be matched in people's minds with the $7.5 million Conservatives will spend to advertise the budget.
Budgets are about priorities. Governing is about choosing. The government chose to put our coastline at risk for a small savings. We see the results. Thank goodness they were not worse, but $7.5 million for feel good ads is what will happen.
What is not in the budget? Money for transit that comes forward many years later. There is nothing for local roads and bridges, nothing for the Belleville Street terminal in my riding, which everyone agrees is the number one infrastructure, not even a signal that it might occur sometime, no money in gang violence prevention and so forth.
This is a budget that works very well for the wealthy. It does not make the kind of long-term investments in health care that will be necessary going into the future. Seniors groups have understood that it helps only a small segment of their population. For British Columbia, it reflects priorities that British Columbians simply do not have.