Mr. Speaker, I will begin my speech by simply saying thank goodness. This is this government's last budget bill because there are only 158 days before this government is replaced by a government that is competent when it comes to finance and the economy, and particularly when it comes to respecting Parliament and parliamentary institutions.
I was here during the debate on the time allocation motion, which just wrapped up. It was unbelievable. We could feel the contempt rolling in waves off the members, particularly the Minister of Finance. I had the pleasure of working with his predecessor, Mr. Flaherty. Although I respect the current minister as a person, as finance minister, he cannot hold a candle to Mr. Flaherty, who was at least diligent and passionate about what he was doing, even though we may have disagreed with the direction the government was taking. The current finance minister is simply taking orders from the Prime Minister's Office and saying what they tell him to say, while completely disregarding parliamentary tradition.
Once again, we are talking about an omnibus bill. This bill does indeed deal with measures that were debated in the budget, but it also includes all kinds of other measures that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget we were given. These measures should be given serious study by the appropriate committees because of their ramifications and consequences.
Once again, we are in a situation where most members of the House, who represent the 100,000 or so people in their ridings, will be unable to even speak to this bill. Speeding up the passage of bills the way the government does, especially for something as important as a budget bill, is not necessarily a good thing for it to do. In addition to trying to pass bills quickly, they try to prevent people from getting the extra research time they need to uncover flaws in these bills and gaps that undermine the credibility and efficiency of government initiatives. We have seen that in the past, and we will see it again this time with this budget bill.
As I mentioned in the past, when I had the opportunity to debate other budget bills, this government seems to have a certain number of criteria that is uses when drafting and introducing its budget bills. It has eight main criteria. One of them is obviously the size of the bills. In this case, we are dealing with a bill that is over 150 pages long. In fact, the French version is 167 pages.
The government believes that a budget bill must amend a minimum of about 10 laws. When I say amend, I mean create, amend or eliminate about 10 laws. In this case, the budget bill contains 20 divisions that amend about 20 different laws. Why does the government not introduce 20 separate bills to pass new laws or amend existing legislation? It is because the government simply wants to include them all in an omnibus bill to expedite the process. That shows the government's contempt for this Parliament.
Another criterion that the government uses is that the budget bill must address many issues that have nothing to do with tax or fiscal policy. This bill contains amendments to the National Energy Board Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Industrial Design Act. Those laws have nothing to do with the budget that was presented.
Another criterion that the government always seems to use is that the budget bill must create new laws. Once again, this bill creates two new laws: the federal balanced budget act and the prevention of terrorist travel act. These two new pieces of legislation will be created and discussed at the same time as the many other measures set out in this budget bill.
Another criterion that the government always seems to use is that its budget bills must always contain provisions that concentrate power in the hands of various ministers. Again this time, we see that this bill gives discretionary powers to the President of the Treasury Board, among others, despite the Public Service Labour Relations Act.
The final three criteria that the government feels it must meet in this budget bill, as with past bills, relate to the presence of at least one legislative amendment to restrict the rights of workers and immigrants, and finally, one measure that deals with law and order. Those elements can be found once again in this budget bill, so the pattern is repeated here, and we have yet another mammoth omnibus bill.
The government is imposing time allocation. It is imposing conditions on the committee regarding its study of the proposed initiatives and measures. In the House, it is imposing constraints on independent members, who should be given the opportunity to have their say at report stage, especially since they are not members of the committee. With no regard whatsoever for parliamentary traditions or respect for democratic parliamentary practices, this government is quite happy to simply steamroll over everything, as though the House were merely an annoying obstacle to overcome in order to achieve its ends.
I know that the Minister of Finance was uncomfortable talking about time allocation. He kept returning to the subject of the debate, when we were discussing a motion regarding yet another gag order imposed by the Conservative government. He only wanted to talk about the budget. I will now talk about the measures and initiatives in the budget.
Although the government likes to brag about balancing the budget, I would remind the House that it was this very government that put us in a deficit situation in 2007-08, before the recession even began. In fact, if the balanced budget legislation had been passed or even proposed by this Conservative government when it was first elected nearly 10 years ago in 2006, this government would have already been in violation of its own law, even before the recession.
In fact, aside from the time when the government used up the entire existing surplus shortly after coming to power, this is the first time the budget has been balanced since 1912. Obviously, this government is boasting about the fact that, unlike the previous Liberal governments, it did not off-load the deficit to the provinces. The government is not wrong, because that is what the Liberals did to balance the budget in the 1990s. However, what it is not saying is that balancing the budget would have been impossible for this government if it had not dramatically reduced the contingency fund. It would have been impossible if the government had not, yet again, dipped into the EI surplus. It would have been impossible if it had not sold, at a loss, its GM shares. It took these three measures for the government to be able to boast about balancing the budget before the election.
That is not the mark of a competent government. That is not the mark of a government that shows competent economic leadership. That is the mark of an ultra-partisan government that is trying to score points at the expense of good management and sound financial administration.
Let us get back to the balanced budget act, because it is the first division of the part that deals with other measures. If we want to talk about a balanced budget act, I have no trouble doing so, but we should have talked about it separately. The Conservatives are being underhanded and at the end of their mandate are feeling the political heat because they know that their chances of forming the government in October 2015 are very slim. They just want to say that they are being responsible and they are going to limit subsequent governments' room to manoeuvre when it comes to managing the economy and public finances.
The Standing Committee on Finance heard from a number of witnesses who talked about the legislation and how it is applied in the rest of the country and where it has been implemented around the world. This kind of legislation often has perverse and negative effects that will not necessarily be found in this bill because there are so many loopholes that we can just assume that it is a symbolic gesture by a government that wants to look good.
As for the effectiveness of such legislation, the NDP has not yet had the opportunity to govern at the federal level, but we can look at what the provinces have done.
Since the early 1980s, the NDP has had the best record on balanced budgets among all the parties that have governed, at both the federal and provincial levels. In provinces that have had a New Democrat government, balanced budget legislation was not needed for the government to properly manage the provinces' finances. This tradition started with the first New Democrat government, in Saskatchewan, under Tommy Douglas, who managed to balance 17 consecutive budgets. Seventeen. He still found a way to bring in Canada's first public health care system. There is a way to provide quality services that the public can be proud of and still balance the budget.
That is not what we have seen from this government. Far from it. For 10 years now it has been mismanaging this country. Once again, I am mentioning the fact that it ran a deficit when Canada was not even in a recession. Now, 10 years later, the government is trying to make itself out to be a good manager. On the contrary, over the past 10 years this government has undermined Canada's potential to develop its own economy in a way that would benefit the entire population. The government could have supported the manufacturing sector and could have supported our exports, but it did not. The Conservatives can count themselves lucky that we can stack up against other countries whose job creation and economic records were often poorer than ours, as a result of the circumstances. This was not due to the Conservatives' good work, but rather to the situation being worse off in other countries, not necessarily because of their policies, but often because of their geographical context.
Obviously, I object to the government's desire to include measures that do not belong in a budget bill. One can argue that a balanced budget act is part of that. Obviously we are talking about public finances. However, there are other elements. For example, division 2 of part 3 is about other measures and enacts the prevention of terrorist travel act. We just had a long debate in the House and in committee on Bill C-51, which is about combatting terrorism. Putting a division about terrorist travel in a budget bill gives the impression that the government realized it forgot that. It looks like the government wanted to introduce Bill C-51 so quickly and it was so important to do things really fast that it forgot that aspect and had to sneak it in through the budget bill by saying that that aspect was there and could be debated anyway.
Again, contrary to what most Conservative Party backbenchers might think, our role in the House is not simply to approve the government's initiatives. It is our duty to thoroughly study proposed legislation. The role of the official opposition, and the opposition in general, is not just to oppose what the government does. There are some things we can even throw our support behind. Beyond this opposition role, it is also our role to make proposals and conduct reviews. Our fundamental role is to point out any flaws in the government's legislation so that the appropriate corrections can be made. This government is denying the fundamental role of the traditional structure and operation of the House of Commons. The government is so partisan and obtuse in its desire to leave its Conservative mark on this country that it does not seem to care one bit about the effectiveness or constitutionality of its bills.
We have here another example with division 2 of part 3 of the budget bill on the prevention of terrorist travel act. Why make changes to the Industrial Design Act, the Patent Act and the Trade-marks Act under the radar yet again? The last budget bill made the same types of changes to these laws. Is this a patch job? The government finds flaws and gaps and then quickly tries to fix them behind closed doors so that once again it does not appear to be too incompetent. That approach certainly gives that impression.
Another important initiative found in this section is the extension of copyright terms for sound recordings. This significant extension should be debated separately, either in the House or in committee.
Due to the new structure that the Conservative government has imposed, we can no longer even have an adequate debate in committee, because when we send a bill like this one to a committee—I imagine it would be the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in this case—only a two-hour meeting is scheduled. The minister speaks for about half an hour and then answers questions for an hour or an hour and a half.
The minister usually speaks for 15 to 30 minutes and answers questions for 15 to 30 minutes. Then there is time remaining to hear from perhaps four witnesses to talk about a fundamental amendment. Then the bill is usually submitted without amendment.
I had the opportunity to sit on the Standing Committee on Finance for the study of five budget bills. We studied over 2,500 pages and only one amendment was adopted by the government, which had a majority on these committees. Furthermore, it required a Conservative sub-amendment. A careful and rigorous examination of the measures proposed by the government simply does not happen, because this government systematically rejects criticism, even when it is constructive. It refuses to examine opportunities to improve the provisions it puts forward. That concludes my remarks on the proposals of the third division, even though I could have talked about them for a long time. Other members—although sadly not many—will have the opportunity to talk about this some more.
I would like to come back to some of the initiatives that will certainly be of interest to many members here. I am talking about the income splitting initiative proposed by the government. Income splitting will benefit only 15% of the population. By raising the contribution limit for TFSAs, the government is trying to confuse Canadians with all sorts of statistics that have nothing to do with reality. The reality is that raising the contribution limit for TFSAs from $5,500 to $10,000 will help only those who contribute the maximum amount.
Right now, only 17% or 18% of people with a TFSA contribute the maximum amount. They are the ones who will benefit from the increased contribution limit. Basically, raising the contribution limit for TFSAs will merely allow people to move their savings from one place to another, since TFSAs are not currently helping people to save money.
The government claims that the increased contribution limit will help two-thirds of those who contribute the maximum amount and who earn $60,000 or less. That gives the impression that two-thirds of Canadians contribute the maximum amount and that these people are all earning $60,000 or less. That is not true. It is two-thirds of the 17% or 18% of people who contribute the maximum amount who will benefit from this measure. That means that only a very small fraction of Canadians will benefit from this measure, which will be used more and more as a tax shelter when it was supposed to help people save money.
The members on this side of the House proposed several initiatives. The government adopted some of them and now it is boasting about them. Meanwhile, when we moved a motion in the House to lower the corporate or small business tax rate from 11% to 9%, the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against it.
We also moved a motion to extend the accelerated capital cost allowance for investment in machinery. The Conservatives and Liberals voted against that motion, but now that measure is included in the budget.
The government might want to start doing some soul searching, because the election is fast approaching; it is 158 days away. The day after the election, when they find themselves on this side of the House, perhaps the Conservatives will understand the completely disastrous consequences of their actions, their behaviour and their attitude over the past several years, especially the past four years, toward democracy, the parliamentary system and the traditions that have made this House a place to work for the common good and all Canadians.
The Conservatives refuse to hear this message. We will put it into practice after October 2015.