Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to another massive bill. Yet again we are under time allocation, even though there are still so many things to say about this budget.
Today I will focus on one aspect that is important to me, which is that this budget undermines our public finances. I will explain why, but first let me set the stage. The budget announces a surplus of $1.4 billion. This, after seven consecutive years of deficits. Those years were responsible for 25% of the Government of Canada's debt.
There are some measures in the budget that are not bad. In fact, the Conservatives took the NDP's idea to reduce the tax rate for small businesses, and we can only applaud them for borrowing our strategy, since small businesses are job creators.
However, we also have to consider the current financial circumstances. The price of oil has dropped quite a bit. This represents a loss of $5 billion for the federal government. In spite of this, the Conservatives still managed to give gifts to specific groups, for example, by nearly doubling the TFSA limit and bringing in income splitting. The government loves to give us examples of the people who could benefit from these measures, people who are not necessarily well-off. However, we all know that the vast majority of those who will benefit are wealthy.
There are some real consequences associated with TFSAs and income splitting. At a time when public finances are far from healthy, the government is forfeiting billions of dollars in revenue that could have helped it get our fiscal house in order. However, we have to wonder whether this government even wants to get our fiscal house in order. I am not sure.
Let us look at how they managed to achieve a surplus. People need to remember a few things. For instance, 20,000 federal public servants have been laid off in the last few years. Let us not forget that. The result of that, of course, is a reduction in the quality of service. The contingency fund has been slashed from $3 billion to $1 billion. Let us not forget the appropriation of the employment insurance surplus and the sale of the GM shares, on which the government lost $600 million. Obviously, that does not factor into a budget. The Conservatives also want to save $900 million on the sick leave system used by their public servants. I think the current surplus is extremely fragile. It is fragile because, out of everything I just listed, the government used $7 billion in non-recurrent revenues to achieve a surplus of $1.4 billion. This is problematic.
The Conservative government's objective is quite clear. The credit cards are maxed out. It decided to cut its revenues, to offer gifts, not to pay its debts and to leave the problems to the next government or the next generation, depending on how you look at it.
Now I want to talk specifically about one area where the government is counting on saving money. I am talking about the cuts to sick leave. Earning a salary and being compensated is not just about a paycheque. Of course there is the salary, but there is also overtime, group insurance, pension plans and working conditions. However, above all, in addition to vacation time, there is sick leave. When we talk about compensating employees, we are not just talking about salary. It is important to keep that in mind.
I was listening to the parliamentary secretary earlier. His speech was based on an assumption that I do not care for, and that is that unused sick leave will be used for things other than illness. Let us think about that for a moment. I do not wish this on anyone in the House, or on myself, but accidents can happen.
People can be hospitalized. In life, anything can happen to make people temporarily unable to work, and that can last longer than three, four or five days. That is life. Suggesting that people will use banked sick days for purposes other than those for which they were created is an appalling assumption for the government to make. That is a problem.
In most departments, when someone gets sick for a short time with the flu or something else, that position is not backfilled. There are no additional costs to the government in those cases.
There is also something missing from the budget: the cost of the government's proposed new system. That system has not yet been costed, but there will be a cost associated with it. How much will it cost? We do not know. How big a dent will that make in the $900 million? We do not know. I think that when the minister says it will be $900 million, he is getting ahead of himself and making negative assumptions. I would rather see good-faith negotiations between public servants and the government to determine what is fair for both sides.
Once again, this $900 million represents another one-time measure that can be added to the list of other one-time measures. Suppose this happens. I hope it does not because, in my opinion, it constitutes a breach of contract to take back what was already given under a collective agreement. However, if it does, where does that take us?
By the way, public service employees are also taxpayers. Too often people forget that. People believe that public servants are living in a bubble and that they do not pay taxes. Public servants pay taxes like everyone else. They are taxpayers like everyone else and, what is more, they provide services to Canadians. It is because of them that policies become programs, which then become public services. We must not forget that and we need to treat these people with the respect they deserve.
The government is making another cut. This time, it is going after employee compensation directly. Because of the Conservatives, public servants are becoming more discouraged. Do we really need that? Their working conditions are obviously deteriorating, but the members on the other side of the House do not seem to be too bothered by that. They are demoralizing the public service to such an extent that people are going to have to leave, because all of a sudden, their overall working conditions—or what I call their overall compensation—will no longer be competitive compared to other sectors.
What will happen then? Skilled employees will leave and the government will begin to lose its ability to operate effectively. We cannot allow this loss of competitiveness, effectiveness and professionalism to happen. In fact, what I am trying to say is that this measure might only save money on paper.
This surplus is really fragile. The government used a lot of gimmicks to get there. One of those gimmicks is going to have long-term effects on federal public servants. The government is picking on them to try to win votes, and I find that disgraceful. Based on that assumption, I do not believe that we will have a surplus of $1.4 billion as announced by the Minister of Finance.