Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today on behalf of the people of Bourassa, whom I represent, and to present the position of the Liberal Party on omnibus Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures.
This bill says a lot about the Conservative government's current state. It is obvious that we are headed towards an election. This government has always had a single priority: remaining in power. Therefore, it is not surprising that budget 2015 and the bill before us are all about electioneering. Unfortunately for Canadians, when electioneering becomes the sole priority, the government loses all its vision. There is nothing in the budget for economic growth, jobs, the environment or first nations.
The major challenges that we are up against today are completely ignored. Why? There is an election this year, and the sole purpose of the Conservatives' budget is to please its political base. The priorities are now giving gifts to the wealthy and partisan advertising.
The only thing that almost made me smile yesterday after my team, the Canadiens, lost, was the knowledge that we will no longer have to watch the Conservatives' partisan ads at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. The measures in this bill, which we are supposed to be debating today, have already been advertised to all Canadian homes, as though Parliament had nothing to say about the matter. That is essentially how it works under the current government. The Prime Minister governs, and once he has ruled, we, as representatives of Canadians, have nothing left to say. We are familiar with this. Even the members on the other side of the House are muzzled.
I rise today in the House to debate this bill, but I also rise in direct protest of this undemocratic way of running the country's affairs. Fortunately there is an election this fall. It is high time for change. This government is preparing for an election instead of governing, so it is no surprise that its bill is completely out of touch with Canadians' priorities. Although the bill does contain some small measures that we support, its main elements are policies that will simply not benefit Canadian society. That is why we will not support this bill.
I would like to list some of the measures in this bill that are utterly unacceptable. Let us start with income splitting. This is a clear example of how out of touch with reality the Conservatives are because, as we know, only families whose two incomes are in different tax brackets will benefit. That excludes single-parent families. Even a family that the Conservatives would consider typical, a four-person family—according to their 2014 budget—would not get a cent from that. I am talking about people with incomes ranging from $48,000 to $72,000. Such a couple cannot benefit from income splitting at all. We might wonder why the Conservatives are bound and determined to implement this unfair measure that will not do anything for the economy. Put simply, this is an election promise. It was a mistake in 2011, and it is still a mistake now. Still, they insist on bringing in income splitting. Ever since they made that promise, publications and testimonies discrediting the measure have been piling up.
If the government would get its head out of the sand, it would have heard when the C.D. Howe Institute was the first to sound the alarm way back in October 2011. That organization said that 85% of Canadian families would receive nothing, and that among two-parent families, nearly half would receive absolutely nothing or just a few scraps.
In January 2014 the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was the next one to say that 86% of families would not receive anything and that 60% of families with the lowest incomes, that is under $56,000, would receive only $50, on average, based on the Conservatives' proposed income splitting.
In June 2014 the Broadbent Institute said that nine out of ten families would not get anything. This measure, which targets families with children under the age of 18, has completely missed the mark. Most of them will receive absolutely nothing.
This year, on March 17, the Parliamentary Budget Officer was the next in line to say that the Conservatives' plan for income splitting will cost $2.2 billion in 2015. He estimates that the average benefit will go to families with incomes above $180,000, and that this measure will encourage the person with the lower income, the secondary income, to leave the labour market to try to take advantage of it, which could cost up to 7,000 full-time jobs. Once again, the Conservatives' income splitting measure will cost $2.2 billion.
It is no surprise that, even among the Conservative ranks, some members oppose this measure. I hope they will say so publicly, here today in the House. Yes, some will be held to account, but I also want to talk about one Conservative in particular. The former finance minister, the late Jim Flaherty, had been sounding the alarm from the beginning. On February 12, 2014, he said, and I quote:
I think income-splitting needs a long, hard analytical look...to see who it affects and to what degree, because I'm not sure that overall, it benefits our society.
It benefits some parts of the Canadian population a lot and other parts of the Canadian population virtually not at all.
The Conservative government insisted on introducing income splitting anyway.
Income splitting has gotten a lot of coverage in the national media as well. In an article in the Financial Post, on February 14, 2014, entitled “Forget income splitting, Canada needs to cut tax rates”, the Fraser Institute said that Jim Flaherty was right about income splitting and that this measure does almost nothing to stimulate the economy or improve Canada's competitiveness.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said:
[This program has] been denounced by every credible economic think tank, representing every shade of the political spectrum. Even the federal finance department has weighed in—that analysis is so damning that nearly everything but the commas was redacted before it was released to the public.
The only person who believes in and cares about income splitting is the Prime Minister. It should be noted that he stands to get $2,000 from this measure, but single-parent families will not get a penny from it. We know full well that even within the Conservative caucus, not everyone is comfortable with this patently unfair measure.
With a middle class that is having difficulty making ends meet, a collapsing job market and zero economic growth, we could surely find a better way to spend the $2 billion. The Liberal Party is proposing to give back to the middle class and stimulate economic growth.
To conclude with income splitting, I also want to talk about the misinformation being spread by the Conservatives to the effect that the Liberal Party of Canada is against income splitting for seniors. That is false. We are against the $2 billion income splitting measure in this bill.
Another measure in this omnibus bill concerns the TFSA, or the tax-free savings account. We have to talk about this. I will come back to the fact that this is an omnibus bill, which is really ridiculous.
I would like to clearly state that the Liberal Party supports TFSAs. In their current form, they are an excellent savings vehicle. However, the government has decided to double the TFSA limit in this bill, and that is not right.
Some incorrect statistics are being quoted about TFSAs. Let us clarify. According to the Department of Finance, 18% of Canadians contribute to a TFSA and 40% of those people make the maximum contribution of $5,500. That means that only 7% of Canadians make the maximum contribution of $5,500 to a TFSA.
The government likes to bandy those numbers about and often says that families that earn $60,000 will benefit from the TFSA. Let us clarify. Before TFSAs were introduced, families were struggling to save money. When that measure was introduced, they took all of their savings from previous years and contributed the maximum amount to a TFSA.
The Conservative government always likes to boast that families that earn $60,000 or more can contribute the maximum amount to a TFSA. However, let us be clear. How can a family with a gross income of $60,000 a year that files a tax return manage to save $20,000 per family or $10,000 per person? I do not know any Canadian who earns $60,000 and can save $10,000 a year. That is completely unacceptable.
Still on the topic of the TFSA, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's job is to keep us informed, and he thinks that one-third of the cost of the TFSA will be borne by the provinces. We now understand why the provinces hate this proposal.
Since TFSAs are not taken into account in the calculation of income-tested benefits, old age security cheques will start showing up in the mailboxes of seniors who do not need it. What did the Conservatives do? They have no problem taking away these payments from the seniors aged 65 to 67 who need it most. That is the reality.
We now know why the Conservative government chose to push the retirement age to 67. It wanted to save some money at the expense of seniors aged 65 to 67 who are most in need of help. Why? In order to finance gifts for the wealthy or those who are already well off. A society is judged on the basis of how it treats its most vulnerable. That is worth mentioning.
Let us talk about other measures. The universal child care benefit, the UCCB, is a good idea to give back to families and enable them to take care of their children. It is expensive to raise children. Putting money in the pockets of parents helps them make their own choices about how best to raise their kids.
The thing is, not all Canadian families have the same needs. The families of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada do not need this benefit, this enhanced version of the universal child care benefit, the UCCB, that provides $100 here and $60 there. That money should be going to middle-class families and those working hard to join it. Giving money back to those who really need it should be the priority.
That brings us to the plan that the Liberal Party leader announced on Monday. It is clear. The plan says that we will give money back to the middle class and stimulate growth through very simple, generous, ambitious and, above all, tax-free measures. The Conservatives think that Canadian taxpayers are not smart enough to understand some of the measures they have come up with. The UCCB is taxable. The Conservatives dole out $100 here and there, but it is not really $100 because the following year, people have to include that amount in their tax return and pay tax on it. That is unacceptable. Why play with tax measures like that? It is fundamentally a very complex law, and the measures they are proposing add to that complexity.
We say no. We need to simplify it as much as possible. For instance, if a family has a child under the age of six and an income of $30,000, we will give that family the non-taxable amount of $6,400. That amount is net and crystal clear. If, however, that child is between the ages of 6 and 17, we will give that family a Canada child benefit worth $5,400. It is clear. Those amounts are based on income, and there are other benefits that families with higher incomes will receive.
Those are two simple measures. First of all, there is a general 7% tax cut for the middle class. This measure will really benefit all Canadians. The second measure is the Canada child benefit. I do not think that the Prime Minister's family or the Liberal leader's family need to receive the universal child care benefit, as I said. Let us give it to the people who really need it the most. That is what our measure does.
This is a clear and ambitious plan, as I said. All of that is in the bill, and the government introduced an omnibus bill. I should be talking about that in my speech. There are some measures in the bill that we agree with. However, since it is an omnibus bill, we will be voting against it. It contains some important measures, but for us, the most important thing to remember is that everything I talked about is for the rich. The Liberal Party has presented an ambitious and generous plan for all families, because we need to give money back to middle-class families and stimulate economic growth, which will be good for Canada as a whole.