Mr. Speaker, “You cannot pay a debt with a noble pedigree”; so says a Yiddish proverb. Paying down a debt takes fiscal prudence. A famous name or the performance of past governments is no replacement.
Last month I attended a financial help session aimed at laid-off professionals and skilled trades workers from the energy sector. The highlight was a presentation by the Credit Counselling Society that offered four steps for dealing with reduced incomes, budget drainers, and impulse spending.
After looking at this budget, I see the government needs to sit down and take credit counselling advice from the Calgary Credit Counselling Society. On its behalf, I am going to invite the government caucus to join me as I walk through the four steps to a sunnier tomorrow. The first step is finding sources of income that are available; it is pretty good at that. The second is finding ways to reduce expenses; not so good. Third is managing credit; equally not very good. Fourth is dealing with debts immediately; not very good.
On the first part, namely finding sources of income, the Liberals deserve a gold star. They are masters at squeezing Canadians out of just about $20 billion in tax hikes in this budget and, for business, $2 billion per year in higher taxes by 2019, and reneging on the planned tax cut for the latter and eliminating a series of tax credits for the former.
“Other sources of income” in this case, of course, is new borrowing. The aggregate principal amount of money to be borrowed by the government from financial markets in 2016-17 is projected to be $278 billion, over $100 billion of new debt before the next election.
The result, calculated by Generation Screwed, an advocacy group for Canadian youth, is an annual interest bill of $25.7 billion in this fiscal year alone, or 8.8% of tax dollars spent on interest.
The Credit Counselling Society of Calgary also gave advice on how to temporarily increase income, from temporary work to part-time work to snow removal and bottle collection. I am not recommending that the government put its MPs to work collecting bottles to pay down the national debt, but I am also not saying that it would not help.
On page 211, the government lays out a plan to eliminate poorly targeted and inefficient measures, but if it is anything like what it did to the education and textbook tax credits or income splitting or the small business tax rate reduction or the slashing of the tax free savings account maximum, the Liberals are looking in all the wrong places for this temporary new income.
The second step offered by the Credit Counselling Society toward financial freedom is to find ways to reduce expenses. I am afraid the counselling society would sit the government down and give it heartbreaking news. It is failing and doing it all wrong.
The Liberals have thrown caution to the wind, undoing much of the spending controls put in place by the previous government and ending this past fiscal year $5.4 billion in deficit. The Liberal government has presented us with a proposed $29.4 billion budget deficit for 2016 and $113 billion in new debt over the next four years.
The election pitch put forward by members on that side of the House was to run modest deficits of $10 billion. Now we find out that the numbers are triple that, closer to $30 billion. The money is not going towards infrastructure in the vast quantities it promised. Half of the $120 billion total the government promotes is rehashed spending from the previous government.
A paltry 13.5% of the $29.4 billion in this fiscal year, or less than $4 billion, is actually designated for infrastructure. The Calgary Green Line LRT alone is estimated to cost $1.5 billion, and the construction start date is 2017. The previous Conservative government committed the funding, so will the government commit to it too? We do not know; it does not appear in the budget.
In fact, Calgary gets only one mention, for its ring road project completion. It is nice to see the government living up to the smart spending promises of the previous Conservative government.
Now the Credit Counselling Society says to use accurate numbers to work with, evaluate habits, and identify where changes can be made.
We learned these past few days that the parliamentary budget office had to publicly force the government to release further documents that were standard in past budgets, with information request IR0217.
The PBO also revised downwards the employment impact numbers, for not one but two fiscal years. In 2016-17, it was down to 26,000 jobs from Finance Canada's 43,000 jobs. For 2017-18, it was down to 60,000 from 100,000 jobs.
Many tools exist to make budget tracking easier. I am going to recommend the smart phone apps Mint or TrackIt from the Alberta Treasury Branches. I am happy to sit down with the Minister of Finance, download it to his phone, and get it working so that he can begin tracking his government's spending habits. We could identify some of those budget drainers the credit counsellors keep warning against.
The budget is littered with half measures with expensive price tags. For example, on page 257 of the budget document, under “Other spending measures”, there is a subheading that also reads “Other measures”, and there is a whopping $620 million this fiscal year and $292 million in the next. Out of the 10 line items in there, it happens to be the biggest one, so the other of the other is actually the most expensive thing that the Liberals are spending on.
Just as Canadians track their expenses, the Liberals too should focus on what is straining their budget by asking themselves where the money is going.
Here is a question a credit counsellor might ask: “Are you helping out someone, such as family or friends, when you cannot afford it?”
I have noticed that on almost every single international visit, the Liberals come bearing gifts. For example, in their first 100 days in power, they made $5.3 billion in spending commitments. There was just $997 million for projects inside Canada, and the rest, $4.3 billion, is to be spent outside the country.
Now, the logic and accounting here are pretty darn simple. Do we want to get into financial trouble? If not, then we either have to start making more money, cut back on expenses, or both. It is a simple principle that credit counsellors apply and one that would not hurt the Liberals to adopt.
This budget is especially troubling for families like the McAllisters in my riding: Maja and Darcy, and their kids Liam and Veronica. Darcy makes his living in the oil and gas industry, like thousands of others in my riding, and they are seeing a government completely undermining the source of their prosperity.
The third part of Calgary's Credit Counselling Society's strategy is to deal with one's debt. The government misses the mark here yet again. We see on page 53 a mention that they will repeal the Federal Balanced Budget Act. There will not be amendments, but a complete and entire repeal, a full elimination of the act. Not only do the Liberals have a spending problem, but they will not admit that they need to be put on a debt diet.
To deal with government, we typically see a series of fiscal anchors—legislative and policy measures—that help guide the government's overall efforts to control spending. However, the Liberals do not have these here. In fact, they have dropped the only anchor straight into an abyss of perpetual debt.
As an Albertan, I look to the former example of Premier Ralph Klein and his deficit- and debt-fighting battle. He won because he created strong legislative anchors. He and his ministers fixed strong policy measures as well. Most of all, he provided fixed, strong leadership on what he needed and wanted to achieve. Ralph Klein, Jim Dinning, Steve West, Stockwell Day, and many others provided leadership provincially and knew when to drop anchor and balance Alberta's budget.
However, the current government offers us annex 3 on page 259, the debt management strategy, which is more concerned with where new debt will be acquired rather than with how it will be paid down. Credit counsellors point out that among the top reasons for financial struggle among Canadians is the excessive use of credit for living expenses. What the Liberals are proposing is the same principle.
Let us not forget that there is an interest cost for borrowing such huge amounts of money, so let us look at what happens when government increases debt. The Ontario Liberal government spent $11.4 billion a year just to make interest payments on its debt. If debt were a government department, it would be the third largest in that province. Let us ask ourselves what future generations could do instead of paying interest on that debt.
However, it does not stop there.
We know that key interest rates have already gone up in the United States and that the Bank of Canada will eventually follow suit at some point in the near future. This will affect not only indebted consumers but also the amount of financial resources directed to debt servicing costs.
What will the Liberals do when interest rates rise or double? Are they saying it will not happen over the next decade or so? They have no plan.
Let us talk about impulse spending. Credit counsellors ask people if they have ever bought something and then regretted it. The acronym is TEMPO: time, environment, mood, place, and occasion. Credit counsellors offer some strategies to deal with this impulse spending, and I want to recommend a few things here.
The government should stop international trips, because those seem to be quite expensive. The Liberals should pay attention to details. They call it “stress fog” when someone buys on impulse. It would have helped the Liberals avoid the embarrassment of ending income splitting for couples with children and saying that it would be offset by raising taxes on the 1%, because the parliamentary budget officer said that no, that is actually not the case.
Is it possible that question period is stressing out the ministers responsible for the finances of our country? They would be less stressed if they brought real answers to the questions from this side of the House, and the truth is a great stress reliever.
The government needs to focus on prudence. The 1970s fiscal and economic policy led by another famous prime minister is of no help here. A famous name cannot save them here.
With this budget, the Liberals have thrown caution to the wind, betrayed the middle class, and placed Canada on a path of structural deficit. They have irresponsibly endangered our financial stability, meaning that in the next recession, with record spending and record low interest rates, there will be no space for a future government to respond.
However, I bring good news: it is not too late to stop. I would be happy to share the presentation from the Credit Counselling Society, its contact information, and its flagship website, www.nomoredebts.org. Its advice is confidential. Good news: no-cost credit and budget counselling from the consumer experts is only a call away.