Mr. Speaker, first of all, I must say that I am very disappointed with budget 2017, which the Liberals recently tabled. It does absolutely nothing to reduce the inequality between the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our society and big business, banks, and multinationals, which continue to rake in bigger and bigger profits. We speak out against that here every day.
The government must choose to make investments in key sectors for many Canadians, particularly youth. For example, as we have been saying for years, the government needs to crack down on tax havens. Billions of dollars are being sent elsewhere and cannot be retrieved, when that money could be invested in various social programs, for example.
Today, I am going to focus on several major issues: youth, the environment, and investments in rural areas. The government loves to talk about youth. It pats itself on the back for how well it listens to and helps young people. Unfortunately, employment and job insecurity remain problematic for them. The government has once again proposed only a few half measures.
Let us look more closely at budget 2017. It indicates that there will be an increase in student grants. This will give more part-time students with families and adult learners who go back to school access to this program. It is a good initiative but it does not do much to help today's students and graduates, particularly with regard to their debt. Canadians have accumulated nearly $28 billion in debt. What is being done to reduce that?
I can already hear my Liberal colleagues giving us some line about how graduates will not have to pay back their debt until they are earning $25,000, but there is a slight problem. That does nothing to help them with their debt. On the contrary, it leads them deeper into debt because one downside of this measure is that interest continues to be charged after the initial six-month grace period. Their debt will therefore continue to grow because of that interest. It is time for the government to get its head out of the sand and stop making money at students' expense.
As far as post-secondary education for indigenous students is concerned, the government's key announcement was a $90-million increase in funding and some help for Indspire. Like the Canadian Federation of Students, we can applaud that increase, but there are two pieces of information missing. First, the federal government was already giving Indspire more than $5 million in 2016. This is not new spending. Second, the 2% increase ceiling for post-secondary education for indigenous students has not been breached. While first nations youth are the fastest growing population in Canada, it seems absurd to me that the government is still limiting their access to post-secondary education. It its totally unfair and immoral.
The government is taking one step forward and two steps back, and not just in education. Take for example investment in artificial intelligence and robotics, an area that offers significant opportunities for businesses and scientific progress. Why is the government not investing in studying the impact of robotics, considering that 40% of industrial jobs will disappear within 10 years?
What job prospects are there for young people of my generation and younger generations? What are the ethical and social repercussions of artificial intelligence? Do we need to change our laws accordingly? There is not a single word on this in the budget.
The government needs to put effective measures and rules in place to address the scourge of job insecurity. Budget 2017 reinforces job insecurity and denies government assistance to those who need it the most.
Also on the subject of youth, I want to talk about youth organizations. The government is again promising a youth service initiative. This time, it has given us a date, the fall of 2017, but no budget. Last year, there was no date, but there was a budget. What does this mean? What is the plan? What will this youth service initiative entail? No details have been provided. Maybe we will get both pieces of the puzzle in 2018.
Lastly, while there is more money for the youth employment strategy, youth organizations are still having a very hard time securing federal funding. Katimavik is a perfect example. Although there is no short-term help in the federal budget for youth organizations, Katimavik was saved at the eleventh hour two days after the budget was tabled, but it is safe only for this year because we do not know anything about the long-term budget.
Katimavik got a lot of media attention, but how many other youth organizations have had to close their doors for lack of federal support? Budget 2017 once again does nothing for society's most vulnerable, for on-the-ground organizations such as youth centres and shelters. There is nothing for young people trying to escape difficult situations at home. There is no extra money in this budget for front-line mental health organizations working to prevent drug addiction and crime. The Conservative government cut that off long ago, and there is nothing for that kind of work in this budget. These organizations are running on empty.
Even so, the federal government decided to give even more money to businesses through measures like investment in infrastructure privatization. The same thing happened with the environment. In early March, the Senate released a report stating that there is no way Canada can comply with the Paris agreement without a massive shift in energy production and consumption.
What is more, last week Environment Canada confirmed that Canada will not meet the minimum target set by the Harper government, which was a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Even worse, emissions are going to increase. The report also indicates that the fossil fuel sector's greenhouse gas emissions are too great to be offset by a simple increase in the production of clean energy.
What did the Liberal government do? It approved three new pipelines and has not yet announced the reform of the National Energy Board or environmental assessments. Even worse, Canada continues to provide more than $4 billion in subsidies to oil and gas companies. The United Kingdom, however, has decreased its emissions dramatically primarily by intervening in its most polluting sector, coal-fired power. Canada still prefers to continue to ignore the sector that is its largest polluter.
I also share the concerns expressed by Équiterre, which questioned the lack of details on and criteria for green investment in budget 2017. Criteria that are too vague will diminish the real capacity to reduce polluting emissions.
Sidney Ribaux, executive director of Équiterre, summed up the need to invest in a real change in lifestyle. He said, “...we must fund mobility solutions that maximize GHG emissions reduction such as preferring electric transportation instead of petroleum based ones.”
I would like to thank my colleague from Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, who is working toward that goal.
Once again, the government had very little to say about agriculture in budget 2017 even though the agri-food business is vital and accounts for one in eight Canadian jobs. Farmers want to find better ways to farm that are environmentally sound, so I am pleased to see some investment in agricultural science and innovation.
Mathieu Rouleau is a young constituent of mine and an agriculture advocate who pointed out that details about the $70-million investment are scarce. Who will get the money? How will it be allocated? How is the government investing in the next generation of farmers? I am waiting for more information about this investment.
Farmers in my region, Salaberry—Suroît, are also concerned about international agreements that could cut into their revenue. The government promised dairy producers a tenth of the compensation the Conservatives were offering, and yet, the budget is silent on the subject of compensation.
Has the government forgotten the promises it made to our farmers? The government needs to confirm their compensation packages, fix the diafiltered milk problem, and confirm that it will maintain supply management. Agriculture is an important sector of the economy, in my riding and across Canada.
Let us talk about high-speed Internet in rural areas. I welcome the federal government's commitment to develop Internet access for Canada's remote and rural areas. The Internet has become essential. It allows us to work, socialize, and access crucial information. Unfortunately, the connecting Canadians program has more to do with developing major networks like Bell, Videotron, and Rogers.
What is the government doing to help Haut-Saint-Laurent, the Soulanges area, or the far north? Those communities cannot benefit from the connecting Canadians program if they are not covered by one of the major networks. Huntingdon is less than two hours from Montreal, and yet it does not have high-speed Internet. I cannot imagine how bad it is in the far north.
I also want to talk about food banks, which is an issue in the regions. Last December, use of food banks in my region increased by 300%. We have asked how the government is supporting food assistance programs. There is nothing in the budget for that, and when we asked about it in question period, we got no response. The community food bank in my region is on the verge of shutting down.
Where are all those families supposed to go for food? Could the government show some compassion and invest where it is needed most? Could it stop lining the pockets of those who are already very wealthy and are not in need of government assistance?