Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the Conservative government's budget, which is an omnibus bill.
After studying the bill very carefully and consulting with my constituents as I went door to door on the weekend in my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, I can confirm without a doubt that this budget is strictly an election budget. It favours the rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor, and more importantly, it does not meet the pressing needs of the people of my riding.
On top of that, the Conservatives have introduced another omnibus bill, a budget designed to make hundreds of changes with no opportunity for us to examine them. The bill is 150 pages long, has over 270 provisions and amends dozens of laws, including a large part that has nothing to do with the budget.
Once again, this government is showing its utter contempt for democracy. For these reasons, and many others that I will try to list, I am proud to say that as the NDP member for Berthier—Maskinongé, I oppose this budget.
I would like to talk about employment and investments in the regions. First of all, everywhere I go, the issue that my constituents want to talk about the most is employment. My region is no different than the rest of Quebec, but unfortunately, the Conservatives are offering nothing to spur job creation in the regions.
In fact, that is not entirely true. The Conservatives took our proposal to reduce taxes for small businesses to promote development and indirectly create jobs. The NDP truly believes that SMEs stimulate the local economy.
Other than this measure that they borrowed from our party, the Conservatives have made no investment in the regions of Quebec. On the contrary, they are still making major cuts to the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.
More than 420,000 Canadians have lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector. The Conservatives stand idly by. Their budget is not really helping the situation. It only fixes past mistakes.
It is flattering to learn that the government is adopting our idea to extend the accelerated capital cost allowance period in the manufacturing sector. However, it is too bad that this measure comes so late, after the damage has been done.
In my region, the unemployment rate is alarming, and the government is doing nothing about it. Furthermore, the budget reaffirms the government's commitment to reducing EI premium rates and its refusal to make it more accessible for the workers who pay into it, but cannot access it when they need it. The government's reform is still just as detrimental, and to top it all off the government has followed in the Liberals' footsteps and raided the employment insurance fund to balance its books. These funds belong to the workers and employers.
Let us talk about the pyrrhotite situation. In the region, approximately 2,000 families have been affected by pyrrhotite. A number of these property owners are grappling with this problem. When I received the budget, I looked for the money set aside for this and the word “pyrrhotite”.
Since May 2, 2011, I have been working with the member for Trois-Rivières to raise awareness among MPs about the issue of pyrrhotite. We also asked the federal government to help these victims.
Unfortunately, the government's answer every time was that this was a provincial jurisdiction, even though the federal government had previously intervened in the pyrite crisis in Montreal. The pyrrhotite problem is devastating for our region. This is definitely a social crisis that the government should have taken action on.
Fortunately, it is not too late. Thanks to the NDP, the Conservatives and the Liberal Party will be able to redeem themselves by voting for Motion No. 615, moved by the member for Trois-Rivières.
As the official opposition’s deputy agriculture critic, another very important issue for me concerns temporary foreign workers. The problem is not only that the current government fails to take action at the right time during a crisis, but also that it creates even more crises.
For example, because of its reform of the temporary foreign worker program, last fall Quebec’s farmers lost $52 million. The government failed to take any financial action.
In the spring another crisis with this program was looming in the mushroom industry, for example, and once again the government stood idly by and did nothing. The temporary foreign workers program is vitally important to farming. By increasing the maximum number of years from two to four, the government caused a great deal of instability in the vegetable industry, not counting the training costs resulting from these changes.
I am really proud of my fight to make life more affordable for Canadian and Quebec consumers. However, it saddens me that the government is not doing anything to reduce the cost of living, especially when costs continue to rise while good jobs and good wages are not keeping up.
Fortunately, the NDP managed to get the government to support our motion forcing it to take action on pay-to-pay fees. It is important that the government regulate bank fees charged to consumers.
I am also dismayed to not find any measures to improve food security in Canada. In my riding, there are a growing number of people struggling to pay for rent or for groceries, and it is a shame that the Conservatives are not taking action to address this serious problem.
Under their watch, demand for food banks has gone up 25% since 2008. Government assistance and action have been ineffective and have not solved any of the problems. I would have liked to see the gora food strategy such as the one put forward by my colleague from Welland put in place by the government to improve the situation for these people.
I also want to point out that there is nothing in the budget for single-parent families. The government chose instead to proceed with income splitting, a measure that, according to reports by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, will benefit only 15% of families. They also indicated that the benefits will flow mainly to the wealthiest households and that such a policy would encourage women, in disproportionate numbers, to leave the labour market or not to enter it in the first place.
Doubling the tax-free savings account contribution limit is another foolish measure that will only help the wealthiest. In addition to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's assessment that increasing the limit will not benefit the public purse, many studies have shown that a very small percentage of households will benefit from this measure. Once again, this measure will benefit only the wealthiest Canadians.
People in my riding are also concerned about cuts to Radio-Canada, which provides a vital service in the regions. Because of the government's cuts, the Radio-Canada network in Mauricie will have to make do with a 30-minute news broadcast all year long. Radio-Canada needs stable, long-term funding to do its job well.
The government must absolutely restore the health transfers to Quebec and other regions in the country. Its decision to freeze transfer caps is putting a great deal of pressure on the provincial governments. It is the federal government's duty to transfer the money the provinces need to provide people with adequate health care. The population of my riding is aging and health care is an important issue. Again, the government seems to want to balance its budget on the backs of people who truly need help.
In closing, I am extremely disappointed in this election budget. Making a budget is about choices. I would have liked to see more measures to help the middle class and families in my riding.