Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to rise in the House, but obviously I am very disappointed.
I am very disappointed today to speak on this budget that, unfortunately, keeps going down the wrong path that the Liberal government wanted to take a year ago. The government has completely lost control of public spending. It is living beyond its means, it is leaving spiralling debt for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren who, unfortunately, will have to pay for the current government’s mismanagement.
It was not surprising, three days ago, to see the Minister of Finance all happy and proud, as is the tradition, to be able to launch his budget with a photo session, what in the business is called a photo op, surrounded by a group of children. What is clear is that he was surrounded by those who are going to have to pay later for today’s mistakes. That is the defining mark of the current Minister of Finance's second budget.
The government got elected, we sadly recall, almost two years ago on a formal commitment: to run very small deficits for three years of a maximum of $10 billion and to return to a balanced budget in 2019.
Basically, this was not a good election promise. However, we are democrats. We respect public opinion. The people spoke in October 2015 and elected the Liberal Party, which promised to run very small deficits. Had they run very small deficits, we would not have been happy, but we would have at least respected those who kept their word.
However, that is not the case here. Within months of getting elected, here we have them wallowing in a spending spree, completely breaking their election promise to run very small deficits. In the first year, we saw this government run a deficit that according to the books is $23 billion.
Let us not be fooled: the reality is that this government took the $6 billion financial cushion, which was to provide the necessary flexibility for unforeseen circumstances, not to deal with emerging economic issues, but to deal with its mismanagement. The reality is that the first year of this government resulted in a $29-billion deficit. This is three times worse than expected.
The government's latest budget does not deviate from that path: deficits, deficits, and more deficits. This year, $28.5 billion; next year, $27.4 billion; $23.4 billion in 2019-20; and $21.7 billion and $18.8 billion in the years after that. How very typical of this government: deficits in the tens and tens of billions of dollars.
The Liberal plan was to balance the budget in 2019-20. That is what millions of Canadians voted for. Instead, the Liberal Party will be partying it up with a deficit approaching $24 billion. That is typical Liberal government, and we will not stand for it.
When I say “we”, I do not mean just the Conservative Party, the party that balanced the books and left Canada on sound financial footing, the party that, under the leadership of the Right Honourable Stephen Harper and experienced ministers including John Flaherty and Joe Oliver, made sure that Canada emerged from the worst financial crisis this country has seen since the 1920s faster and in better shape than any other country.
We left the house in order and a $2.9 billion surplus. When I raised this point a few days ago, the Prime Minister refused to answer my question and spouted a bunch of nonsense about how it was not true. It is. If he cannot see that, could he at least believe the parliamentary budget officer who, at the request of Senator Larry Smith, determined that our government left a $2.9 billion surplus? We were careful about that. We were careful with government finances.
Should we be surprised by the Liberal government's lack of vision and finesse with respect to financial responsibility? Mr. Speaker, I do not know where you were and, honestly, I do not remember where I was on October 10. What I do know is that the Minister of Finance was in his office.
What did he have on his desk on October 10, 2016? He had a report signed by his own officials that concluded very clearly on page 14 that if Canada did not change course, the budget would not be balanced until 2055 and we would be $1.5 trillion in debt by 2050—incidentally, $1 trillion is $1,000 billion. In other words, the Liberals missed their mark by 36 years. Even worse, they have absolutely no plan to balance the budget.
Mr. Speaker, in your personal life, if you exceed your budget and go into debt, year after year, do you think that one day someone might knock on your door and tell you to get your act together? I know you are an honourable man, but it could happen to anyone.
How is it that the people who control a budget of $330 billion could lose sight of what all parents and Canadians know? That is what does not make sense. Even worse, the Minister of Finance was so proud to have that report on his desk, a report written by his own officials that said that if nothing changed, we would not return to a balanced budget until 2055, that he kept it all to himself for 10 whole weeks.
If such a damning report were written about me, I too might want to stick it in a desk and pretend that it did not exist. The Minister of Finance's primary responsibility is to face facts and to face the 35 million Canadians who pay his salary. That proves he did not have a clear conscience. It is hard to have a clear conscience after getting elected on a promise to return to a balanced budget by 2019 only to have that turn into 2055.
Worse yet, the government squandered an opportunity to turn things around with this budget. It chose to stay on the same path, the path to deficits, the path to debt, and the path to transferring debt to our children and grandchildren, who are going to pay the price for this mismanagement.
The Conservative Party is not alone in crying foul. Yesterday, on RDI, a Radio-Canada/CBC station, René Vézina, an economist, said, “The fact remains that there is quite a bit of red ink. There is no end in sight.”
It makes no sense, we need to know that much. What if the minister had told us that, well, we are spending quite a bit, but in seven, eight or nine years, we will be back to a balanced budget. That would not have been great, but at least there would have been a game plan, a vision, an action plan. We would know where we were going. This is not the case. There is no vision about the future of public finances, nothing. This is completely unacceptable.
That is what led Mr. Vézina to say that this is nonsense. That is also what led Carl Vallée, spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, to say that it does not make sense and that “the fact there is no sign of returning to a balanced budget soon is very troubling and certainly the most disappointing aspect of this budget”.
This is the reality and that is why we have to be careful.
What about Michel Girard, economist and analyst with Quebecor’s QMI, LCN and TVA? He said that this is a big spending budget, that “the federal debt is out of control” and that we are lucky we currently have low interest rates. However, sooner or later, interest rates are likely to rise and each percentage point increase means an extra $6 billion or $7 billion.
François Pouliot of Les Affaires wrote that “the goal of any government should be to protect its credit rating for the future and to get on a better financial footing for the next generation”.
That is exactly the opposite of what this government is doing. It makes no sense. There is a complete loss of control when it comes to taxpayers’ dollars.
There are other worrisome aspects, such as tax increases that will be borne by taxpayers and the elimination of certain tax credits put in place by our government. First, the government decided to come up with the Friday and Saturday night tax. The government is now charging a new additional tax on alcohol, tobacco, and the like. So when a Canadian worker, who has worked hard all week, seeing half of his paycheque going to taxes, wants to have a cold beer with his friends on Friday night, he will have an extra tax to pay thanks to this good government.
On Saturday evening, hardworking fathers or mothers who want to enjoy a good meal with their spouse and go buy a nice bottle of wine will now have to pay more thanks to this government. That is because of the Friday and Saturday night tax that this government just imposed. I am not the one saying it, it is an economist. I did not come up with that phrase.
It is not a good idea to raise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, this is a major tax increase for consumers. It is a way for the government to take money out of the pockets of those who are going to use these completely legal substances regardless.
The government needs to be very careful about doing that.
What is more, there are dozens of tax credits. If someone had told me two days ago that I was going to say what I am about to say, I would not have believed it possible because we are talking about the Liberals. However, the Liberals are indeed directly attacking people who use public transit. Who would have thought?
This government goes on and on about how much it cares about the environment, unlike the big, bad Conservatives who could not care less. This government says it wants people to use public transit instead of cars. It has even said crazy things about the oil industry, but that is another story. Now it is eliminating the tax credit for transit riders, a tax credit created by the Conservative government.
Who would have thunk it? The Liberals are doing away with a green policy implemented by the Conservatives. That makes no sense.
Who is this move going to hurt? Cash-strapped students who have to scrimp and save. Seniors and people who cannot afford a car. People with modest incomes. People who want to be part of the solution, people with an environmental conscience who care about the planet and want their footprint to be as small as possible, who choose public transit over cars. Those are the people the Liberal government is hurting here. Those are the people the Conservative government protected. It was not a flashy measure, but it was a good one that should not have been axed.
Again, it is not just us big, bad Conservatives saying that. Who else? Our friend Denis Coderre, mayor of Montreal, and former Liberal member and minister is saying the same thing. Denis Coderre is criticizing the Liberal government. I am sensing some scepticism across the way. Allow me to quote an article by Boris Proulx, updated on March 22, 2017, at 6:15 p.m. to be precise: “[Denis Coderre] is disappointed that the budget eliminates the tax credit for transit passes. He sees this as a contradictory measure from the Trudeau government.”
That was Denis Coderre, former minister, former Liberal member in this place, and a good friend of the current Prime Minister, the hon. member for Papineau, as everyone knows. “How can the government fund mega projects in public transit and then stop encouraging Canadians from using it?”, the mayor asks.
I have the same question for the governing party. They do not have to answer me if they do not want to, but let them at least answer their friend Denis Coderre who is questioning their unacceptable contradiction.
The same goes for public transit users, who simply do not understand. On TVA yesterday, people in the street were asked what they thought of that measure. They said it makes no sense. Sure, that tax credit was not going to change the world, but still, it was a little extra incentive. It gave people a bit of breathing room, and they were excited about that. Now the Liberals have decided to punish people who use public transit. It is just ridiculous.
I would point out that there were some other Liberals who were not too happy, either, namely the Quebec provincial government Liberals, under the leadership of the Hon. Philippe Couillard, the Premier of Quebec. We know that there is no link between the provincial Liberal Party and the federal Liberal Party, ever since Jean Lesage in 1965, but they are Liberals nonetheless. Yesterday, the Quebec minister of finance and the president of the Treasury Board were “extremely disappointed”. Here is exactly what senior ministers in the Couillard government said yesterday: “We are extremely disappointed and concerned that there's no clear signal in this budget.” There is nothing in this budget to address Quebec's needs. Pierre Moreau called out his federal counterparts:
I would have liked to hear the Quebec caucus speak up on matters relating to the province's major infrastructure projects.
I am therefore once again asking my government friends from Quebec where they were when it was time to stand up for Quebec at the cabinet table. I have a lot of respect and regard for the member for Louis-Hébert, and he knows that. However, the president of the Quebec treasury board, the hon. Pierre Moreau, believes that the 40 federal MPs from Quebec were mostly silent, restrained, and sidelined during the preparation of the budget. I am therefore calling them to order.
Many people who believed in what this government could do were disappointed by this budget. We, on the other hand, knew full well that the government's approach to managing public funds was wrongheaded.
Now let me talk about innovation.
The current government is very proud of innovation. The Liberals say that this is the budget of innovation, and they talk a lot about innovation. The Globe and Mail reported that the Liberals used the word “innovation” more than 250 times in the budget. This is the key issue of this budget, is it not? The reality is that we are talking about $1 billion for the next five years. It is not bad, and we are not against it, but is it really an innovation budget that they are talking about? Not so much.
More than that, I just want to say something for the members. Yesterday we were around the table with some colleagues working on that, and I had the privilege of sitting with great personalities, great people who served this country well for the past 10 years as ministers. Among them, close to me, was a former minister. She said, “Look at that. They are talking about innovation, but there is nothing new there. We did exactly the same a few years ago, when I was a minister.”
The former Conservative government tabled a plan called “building Canada's innovation economy”. That is exactly what it was. We created that too, and we were not the first government to table that kind of issue, because every government has to address the issue of innovation. Year after year, in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, all governments tabled innovation platforms. This is good. We did it, and the Liberals are doing it; fine, but is that worthy of being called brand new? Not at all.
This is why I just want to say to the cabinet minister that we do agree on some issues, especially about innovation, because it is the reality of Canada and the reality of every country that governments have to address the issue of innovation instead of looking at others and doing what they do.
However, the way to help businesses is to lower taxes. With the current government, there is no indication that it wants to address the reality of the Trump administration, which has said day after day that it is going to lower taxes in America. If we do not do that, our companies and businesses will not be able to respond appropriately to our most important partner and our most important competitor.
However, I still want to be a good sport and recognize the good things that this government has done, particularly in this budget, such as the support for family caregivers. This is a sensitive issue that cuts across party lines, and our government made investments. When my colleague from Richmond Centre was in government, she made some good proposals in the area.
We are pleased that the government has decided to implement these measures and to group them in a single program that will move things along. Well done. It is the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, this government missed an historic opportunity to turn things around. It had a golden opportunity to admit that the plan it implemented one and a half years ago has not yielded the desired results. If it does not turn things around and take control of spending we are going to hit a wall and our children and grandchildren will be footing the bill. Unfortunately, this government failed on that account.
The government had a golden occasion to say it would get back to controlling public spending, but unfortunately it failed. It has only created a budget that is a manufacturer of deficit. This is why we urge all the members here to reject this bad budget.