Mr. Speaker, 10 minutes is really not enough time to respond to the budget. There are so many things to say. However, to ensure that as many members of the House as possible have the opportunity to participate in the debate and discussion, I have agreed to share my time with the member for Vancouver East.
As members know, all budgets are important, but the first budget of a new government should propose practical measures for making that government's election promises a reality.
When reading this budget, here is the image that comes to mind. Imagine that, during the election campaign, students, seniors and members of the middle class, who were the topic of much discussion, were asked to go to the store and buy a 1,000-piece puzzle. Everyone knows that it takes a lot of time to put a puzzle like that together. Now, imagine how disappointed those people would be when they discovered that there were pieces missing and that the picture on the puzzle did not match the picture on the box. That is kind of how I feel about this budget.
I will focus on two aspects of the budget. First, I will speak about issues that affect my riding and then I will talk about those that relate to my portfolio as a critic.
The pyrrhotite problem is definitely a crucial issue for Trois-Rivières and the entire Mauricie region. Throughout the four-year tenure of the previous government, I spoke out many times on this issue in order to have the federal government acknowledge its share of responsibility in this monumental catastrophe. For four and a half years, the Conservatives went out of their way to try to make us believe that they did not shoulder any of the responsibility. The Liberals remained silent the entire time, despite the fact that they had an MP from the area. While passing through Trois-Rivières, the future prime minister was suddenly gripped by compassion, we hoped, and recognized, when asked by a journalist, that there was an important human and economic tragedy in the Mauricie region and in Trois-Rivières in particular, and that his government would tackle it after the election, if indeed Canadians voted him into office.
I must admit that at first we had a glimmer of hope when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance was at the table. There was also $30 million in the budget. The initial reaction in Trois-Rivières was that we were finally headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is not a step in the right direction because we quickly understood that it was the only step.
They are giving us $30 million, $10 million a year for three years, to deal with a situation costing in the hundreds of millions. The government is telling a few hundred people that if they are lucky enough to be among the first to submit their compensation claims, they may get some money. However, if they are among the 2,000 people who have exactly the same problem but who are too slow, they will get nothing because that avenue is closed.
During a recent visit to the region, both the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister said that this was the final offer, which makes no sense. If this human and economic tragedy arouses their sympathy, they should come up with a measure that will help all of the victims, not just some of them.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said that he talks about pyrrhotite every day with his colleagues and is in weekly contact with the pyrrhotite victims' coalition. Unfortunately, this statement by Alain Gélinas, president of the Coalition d'aide aux victimes de la pyrrhotite, belies his assertion:
I leave him [the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance] messages, but he never calls back. He told the media that he talks to people from the coalition every week, but that is not at all true.
This is far from a comprehensive solution, so, unfortunately, the House can be sure that I will continue to talk about pyrrhotite often.
I also want to talk about employment insurance. This is an issue that affects people in my riding and across the country. There are some good measures here, such as reducing the waiting period from two weeks to one.
I am delighted to learn that the 36% of Canadians who have access to the EI system will have one less week to wait before they receive their benefits. How does this solve anything for everyone else, that is, the 60% of Canadians who do not qualify for benefits when they need EI? The universal eligibility threshold of 360 hours should have been the first measure on the list, but we do not see that anywhere in the budget.
These two examples and others that will follow show that this budget throws money around indiscriminately. It announces some interesting measures in certain areas, but nothing that can really solve any problems. It is as though the Liberals want to give a little bit to everyone, but there is not enough to really make a difference anywhere.
We could also talk about our seniors. In Trois-Rivières, seniors make up 20% of the population. Of that 20%, 60% receive the guaranteed income supplement. This gives some idea of the middle class, for example. The average annual income of those seniors is roughly $18,702. What was the first measure the Liberals introduced? It was a tax break for the wealthy. As we all know, anyone who earns $45,000 a year or less will not benefit from that tax cut.
The median salary in Quebec is around $31,500. That is nowhere near the $85,000 needed to get the highest benefit from these measures. Imagine, then, the reality facing seniors whose annual income is $18,000. Seniors are amongst the most needy people in our society, and they are the ones who built it. They are being told that this is all coming in July, but that is a long way away. The Liberals promised to make this an immediate priority during their campaign.
I could also mention SMEs. Back home, and elsewhere in Quebec and Canada, SMEs are key to job creation. In fact, 78% of jobs are created by SMEs. During the last Parliament, in a rare moment of unanimity, all parties in the House agreed to lower the tax rate for SMEs from 11% to 9%.
The Conservatives wanted to make the change in small increments and drag it out over four years. The Liberals said they wanted to move more quickly. We had the best plan. However, now we are left with the status quo. In the new budget, we see that there is no movement on this. Imagine all the small businesses, such as Volflex back home, which I visited and which is in full expansion, that were counting on this tax cut and now have to completely redo their budgets because of a broken promise.
Let us talk about young people, whose unemployment rate is almost twice as high as the national rate. The budget offers them precious little, except for less money than was announced during the election campaign. There is a shortfall of $365 million over the first two years of the budget, compared to the announcements made during the election campaign.
In Trois-Rivières, the forestry and aerospace industries were also seriously affected. There is nothing in the budget to kick-start the forestry industry.
My time is quickly running out and I would be remiss if I did not spend a minute on international development, because I am the critic for that portfolio. Although we can take some comfort in the budget increase, we must still recognize that it is not enough to make up for the $350 million slashed by the previous government. In other words, we are nowhere near the 0.7% of GDP that would allow us to actively contribute to achieving the 2030 sustainable development goals.
We are encouraged by the government's intention to review all Canadian aid programs. However, we hope that this aid will help reduce poverty, the first objective, that it will be aligned with local poverty reduction strategies, that the government will stop tying international aid to commercial objectives, and that we will finally consider international aid not as a donation to charity, but as an international obligation that we must fulfill.