Mr. Speaker, on the eve of the budget presentation, I am pleased to speak to an opposition motion that deals with the budget. In a way, we are beginning the budget debate a day early.
We agree with many of the Conservatives' proposals, particularly regarding the problems related to privatizing airports. Of course, we also agree that the Liberals are completely out of touch with today's reality and the inequality that Canadians currently face. They talk about helping the middle class, but on the ground, that is definitely not what is happening.
Nevertheless, we unfortunately cannot support this opposition motion. One reason for that was addressed by my colleague from Vancouver East. This does nothing to tackle tax problems, such as the tax rate for large corporations. These issues are very important to us.
Despite the heckling we heard during the question and despite the tax cut from 22% to 15%, not only did the federal treasury lose money, but the jobs that were promised never materialized. On the contrary, businesses that were supposed to benefit from the tax cut for large corporations left Canada and set up shop elsewhere.
That being said, I heard the hon. Conservative member, in his response to the question, talk about the importance of small and medium-sized businesses and his own experience as an entrepreneur. We agree on this. Although we would like to see corporate tax rates go up, which, by the way, would still keep us competitive with the United States, a neighbouring economy that is our biggest competition, we want to lower the tax rate for small and medium-sized businesses. It is important to mention that in the context of the opposition motion and especially in the context of the budget that will be presented tomorrow.
During the last Parliament, in the last Conservative budget just before the election, the Conservatives promised to lower the tax rate on SMEs over the coming years. That was good, but not quite fast enough for our liking. We wanted it to be done right away. The Liberals remained mum on the issue. During the election campaign, we heard the Prime Minister claim that if this tax cut went through it would lead to tax havens. He did all sorts of intellectual backflips. Now we realize that he does not seem to understand what real tax evasion is, because he is doing nothing about it. That is another topic we will come back to shortly.
During the election campaign we promised to lower the small business tax rate. So did the Conservatives. Then the Liberals finally decided to follow suit and they promised the same thing. They recognized, as all of us do, or at least I hope so, that small businesses are the engine of our economy at the local and national levels. They are also the main creators of jobs and we rely on them for that.
However, we have to look at the current situation. Lowering taxes for small businesses is just another broken promise.
Unfortunately, we are becoming increasingly accustomed to broken promises. We are very optimistic, but for a Liberal government, whether this one or those of the past, reneging on promises is commonplace. What is really mind-boggling is hearing the Minister of Small Business and Tourism say in committee that, in any event, the promise was just meant as a television clip or a good newspaper headline. Not keeping a promise is shameful, but admitting that they never intended to keep it is even worse. The Liberals did not give reasons for not being able to keep their promise, did not say that they had done something else, or that it would wait and they would keep their promise the next year. There was nothing of the kind. There was no honesty, or perhaps they were being too honest. They decided to look us in the eye and tell us that they never intended to do it. That is very unfortunate.
It will soon be six years since I became a member of Parliament. When I look at the chambers of commerce, particularly the Bassin de Chambly chamber of commerce and industry or the Vallée-du-Richelieu chamber of commerce and industry, I see some very dynamic chambers of commerce and a lot of young entrepreneurs renowned worldwide. I am thinking for instance of the Mobux company from Mont-Saint-Hilaire, which will go to Berlin for the G20 meeting as one of the Canadian and Quebec companies representing Canada.
We are very proud to see people and companies from home at the G20. These companies need the federal government's help. They need it to reduce their financial burden so that they can continue to grow, to succeed, and to thrive both at home and abroad. In so doing, they will set an example for other entrepreneurs in Canada. This creates a nice cycle that leads into the next generation of entrepreneurs.
However, this is not just about the tax rate for small and medium-sized businesses. The issue of infrastructure and the privatization of airports is also raised in this motion. One of the biggest problems in this file is that the Prime Minister refuses to answer certain questions that he has been asked for several months, maybe even a year now.
Almost one year ago, we heard something about consultations with Credit Suisse. We did not hear from the parties who really need the federal government’s help, but rather from the Minister of Finance’s economic council and from individuals such as Credit Suisse representatives, who are experts in privatization. This caused a great deal of concern.
We heard rumours that they were going to sell off our airports because they were no longer able to manage the finances and meet their election promises, such as using public funds to finance public infrastructure, which by the way we support. However, this is not what we are seeing here.
As for selling off airports, we asked the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance if that was going to be on the table. This was a concern for the presidents of the country’s airport and port authorities. The Minister of Transport simply replied that consumers would always be their priority, in order to get the best prices and avoid overcharging. One might say that you cannot turn down a good thing, but this is not what we are dealing with.
Experts believe that airport privatization will result in higher prices and fees. We are going to let the private sector take over our public infrastructure and charge more fees to consumers. This will also have a significant impact on airlines.
My riding is on Montreal's south shore. My constituents can go to Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau, or they can go to U.S. airports to avoid paying what they see as sky-high prices. Many people choose the latter. Airport authorities and airlines say that privatization will make things even worse. Instead of departing from Canadian airports, thereby helping to fund Canadian airport infrastructure, travellers will go elsewhere. That is a problem.
The government is doing this to keep a promise that was not even in the Liberals' campaign platform. They never mentioned selling airports. With all due respect, it seems to me we have a serious problem when even the Conservatives think privatization is going too far. The Liberal government needs to reconsider.
Privatization is not just about prices and fees. It is about safety too. Airport safety is extremely important.
Look at rail safety. When the government privatized our railroads, it went on and on about how great privatization was and how much it would benefit consumers. Serious rail safety problems have emerged since then. I may be speculating, but it is an easy conclusion to reach.
Given the threat of airport privatization raised by the government, there is cause for serious concern over airport security, supposedly an issue the government is very concerned with.
I do not want to draw conclusions that are too far-fetched, but Bill C-23, for example, would increase the powers of U.S. pre-clearance officers on Canadian soil, in the interest of safety, of course. At the same time, the Liberals want to privatize airports and potentially risk compromising security. What an odd approach to take. It shows this government's inconsistency and failure to properly manage the affairs of state.
The issue of privatization does not just concern airports. There is also the infamous infrastructure bank, another file that we have been asking the government about for many months. We asked the government about the bank's structure, what terms and conditions it would operate under, and what would be the impact on small rural municipalities that would be adversely impacted by such a bank. Clearly, the private sector will have little or no interest in investing in infrastructure projects that are not very profitable even though they would be of great benefit to our towns and to the rural communities that really need them.
Incidentally, all those questions remain unanswered. The Prime Minister always gives us the same answer with a bit of a smile, and we have heard other Liberal members say the same thing, that is, we should just wait and see what is in the budget, which will be presented tomorrow. However, this has left the municipalities and Canadians feeling very uncertain, which is very problematic.
Although the government is boasting about public investments spread over 12 years, this a bit of a charade. In fact, we now realize that most of that money will not be spent right away, but rather over a much longer period than initially planned. We also note that the government will use some of that money to open the door to the private sector.
This poses a number of problems because I firmly believe that taxpayers feel very strongly that their money should be used to finance public infrastructure that is properly managed. I firmly believe that, and I think my constituents would agree with me.
Certain things do not sit well with taxpayers, and we saw this in the debate on the Champlain Bridge, for example. If we are asking taxpayers to accept a huge deficit run up by the federal government to fund public infrastructure, not only must that infrastructure remain public, but people must not be asked to pay twice for that infrastructure through user fees and tolls. That is very important.
Many of my constituents come to see me and tell me that they are unsure where they stand on tolls and user fees, because they have to do with road conditions and public transit, which is another very important file for a suburban community like mine.
When we look at the proposals, or what we can make of them, we are given none of the details because there is no transparency, as I said. I tell my constituents that when we look at the proposals, it is not so much about whether the federal government is going to provide funding for public transit. I explain that the federal government is spending their money to fund public infrastructure and an infrastructure bank that is looking for private investment. The company investing in infrastructure will then charge tolls and user fees. None of that will fund a public transit system that will help people get to work more easily and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is going to create a profit margin for private companies that invest in these projects.
The private company does not want to be reimbursed just for the capital it spent on the bridge, road, or whichever project is on the table: it wants a return on its investment. It is not enough to be able to tell the people of Beloeil, Carignan, or Chambly, who are stuck in traffic on highway 112, that they can now get to Brossard or downtown Montreal using a light rail system. That is another very important file that we will come back to in the coming months and years.
The private company is not in it to finance a project, but instead to make a profit.
The Liberal Party made these commitments during the last election campaign. We are seeing that it has broken its promise to use public funds to better manage public infrastructure than the previous government.
It turns out that the Liberal government intends to use public funds to privatize our public infrastructure so that private businesses can make a profit and, in effect, subject Canadian citizens to double taxation through tolls and user fees. That is a problem.
Other questions concerning the infrastructure bank remain unanswered. For instance, who will sit on the bank's executive? Where will it be located? How will consultations take place? Someone has already been appointed to help the government create a team to set up the bank. The individual in question comes from Ontario politics and knows the Prime Minister's friends quite well; they work in her office. She was already involved in starting the process of privatizing Hydro One, for which the residents of Ontario are now paying the price.
We have serious questions about the interests that will be represented. Will municipalities have a seat at the table? The municipalities are wondering. How will we make sure that Canadians and those who really need federal infrastructure help will be at the table? We need to ensure that we have public transit, infrastructure, bridges, highways, and wastewater treatment systems that meet the public’s expectations in a country such as Canada in 2017.
Once again, all these questions remain unanswered. Will we have answers tomorrow? In a way, I hope so, because we are finally going to see whether the government is heading toward disaster for our public infrastructure or whether it has finally seen the light and realized that this is the wrong direction. However, perhaps I hope not, because I am quite concerned about finding out what the end result will be. We are not the only ones who are concerned, because as I said, Canadians have been talking about this for quite some time.
Sadly, our position and the Conservatives' are far enough apart that we cannot support the motion, but I want to close by talking about one other point in the opposition motion that we do agree with, a point that merits our attention. That point is youth unemployment, which was of particular interest to me in the previous Parliament as the NDP's youth critic. Of course, young people are not the only ones without jobs.
We also need to talk about precarious work. Many young people with excellent education are underemployed. They have jobs that pay less than they should be earning with their professional qualifications. They are overqualified for their jobs. This is a major issue, and once again, we look forward to seeing what the government has to say about it tomorrow.
The Prime Minister is happy to take pictures with young people. The government is happy to talk about the youth council despite the lack of transparency that my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît has pointed out. What we do know is that the Minister of Finance, and therefore the Prime Minister, somehow thinks it is acceptable to tell young people to be okay with this reality.
Those of us in our twenties know that no matter what decisions the government makes today on our behalf and on behalf of all citizens, we are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of those decisions whether they have to do with our infrastructure, our environment, or our jobs. So far, the government has let us down tremendously.
My optimism allows me to hope that the disappointment will end tomorrow, but so far nothing leads us to believe that that will be the case. I am, however, open to the idea.