Mr. Speaker, just as budget 2016 was a budget built of broken promises, so budget 2017 is an insubstantial rehashing and doubling down on last year's bad ideas, replete with the shameless repetition of catchphrases rendered meaningless by the government's actions to date.
It is no secret that this budget was widely panned. I talked to a number of people in Calgary who could not understand how the government could run these large deficits without having anything to show for them and without any economic justification.
One constituent said that the budget presented by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance under the disguise of support for the middle class is a hoax, an insult to the intelligence of Canadians. She went on to say that the Liberals are not building a stronger middle class, so they should stop with this insulting, embarrassing, foolish facade.
Andrew Coyne called it a “nonsense-filled budget”.
Perhaps the quote from last week's National Post sums it up best in describing the budget as “278 pages of flowery verbiage dressed up in the thin veneer of marketing speak. The whole thing will be forgotten by the weekend.”
While it is mostly true that this budget is so thin on substance that the news cycle has already forgotten it, the debt that this budget piles on certainly cannot be forgotten that easily.
I mentioned the government's penchant for meaningless catchphrases, so I will remind members of this House that the government promised unprecedented transparency, sound economic stewardship resulting in greater rates of growth, fairness for the middle class and those working hard to join it, and attentive consultation with all Canadians—all empty platitudes coming from the Liberal government.
In the last election, Liberals also promised maximum deficits of $10 billion and a return to the balanced budget that the parliamentary budget office confirmed that the Liberals inherited when they formed government.
What are these so-called modest deficits that were promised? Hearing any talk of anything modest from the Liberals should have been a red flag, but Canadians elected them anyway on a promise that the maximum $10 billion deficits would be incurred strictly in order to fund infrastructure projects that would immediately facilitate economic activity and real GDP growth.
It did not happen. This budget with its $28 billion now structural deficit and no hint of even a timetable to return to surplus, along with downgraded growth projections, leaves no room for the government to deny that it broke the central promise of the last campaign. Liberals make no apologies for breaking their promise, and they have no intention of even trying to keep it. They are simply hoping nobody noticed.
Canadians have noticed, and while Canadians are forgiving people and will forgive an honest mistake, they will not forgive a broken trust. It is widely known that when the Liberals do get thrown out of office, they are historically brought down by their own arrogance and corruption, yet arrogance and corruption are at the core of the Liberals' big government, government-knows-best political philosophy: arrogance in the technocrats' conceit that a small group of self-styled experts know better than millions of individuals making choices in their own interest; and corruption, which inevitably crops up when a small group of insiders has the power to control economic activity through regulation and to pick corporate winners and losers.
The latter point is evident by the budget 2017 corporate welfare agenda. It boasts almost $1.3 billion over six years of investment in six main economic priorities, like clean energy, advanced manufacturing, and agrifood. To be clear, these may well be important fields of economic development, assuming these fancy-sounding terms can be defined and actually mean something. However, when it comes to business, when a government says invest, it actually means spend, which actually means subsidize.
Likewise, when it says it will spend over $1.7 billion over six years on, among other things, spawning superclusters, offering state-supplied venture capital to favoured firms, and twisting procurement policy to let taxpayers bear the risk of testing out Canadian products, it means that the government will try to steer the economy toward its pet priorities with no regard to the desires of Canadians free to choose their own priorities in a free market.
This opens the door for economic distortion and corruption, since interested firms will inevitably try to curry favour with the government in order to get their share of its subsidies, perhaps doing so at cash for access fundraisers. However, I digress.
Returning to the main point about the budget, it is laced with simplistic, idealistic depictions of a world that the Liberals wish existed, instead of the complex reality at hand. Even the cover art on budget 2017 suggests a possible Freudian slip, showing the Liberals know that their promises are merely illusions.
We have the illusion of useful infrastructure actually being built by a government that is simply making endless project announcements. We have the illusion of timely medical care for the elderly under a government that ignores real threats to the sustainability of the single-payer system and has yet to deliver on its palliative care promises. We have an illusory guitar and a recording system in the hands of a creative young woman, apparently put there by the same government that eliminated the children's arts and fitness tax credits. We have the illusion of solar-powered fishing boats and effective wind power production under a government whose senior PMO advisers were the architects of the Ontario Liberals' disastrous Green Energy Act.
The back cover doodles also depict the Liberals' vision of the world and their idealized economy. There is scientific equipment, wind turbines, bicycles, happy families, and recreational fishing boats, but there are no mines, no oil rigs, no farms, and no cut timber. There is no primary industry and no recognition of the millions of jobs that depend on natural resources.
Speaking of wishful thinking, budget 2017 contains many aspirational phrases that ring hollow when set against the government's record. For example, on page 179 it says that “In Canada, we have made the choice to build an economy that works for everyone” even as the Prime Minister and his party can barely contain their disdain for the resource and agricultural sectors.
Budget 2017 says on page 204 that “The Government remains committed to building a fair tax system that benefits the middle class and those working hard to join it”, yet the government cannot and will not define what that even means because it has no definition of “middle class”.
One of my personal favourites is on page 214 of budget 2017. It claims that “The Government is committed to enhancing the transparency and accountability of federal borrowing activities to Parliament and ultimately Canadians”—this from a government that as we speak is trying to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons without all-party consent.
The ability of the government to speak of transparency with a straight face in the midst of an unprecedented attack on democratic parliamentary privilege would be hilariously ironic if the stakes were not so high. The Liberal government's vision of transparency would centralize even more powers into the hands of a small executive, would diminish Parliament's ability to hold the government to account, and would allow the party in power to unilaterally change parliamentary procedure for its own convenience.
The government sees members of Parliament and their democratic prerogatives as a nuisance, oblivious to the fact that every member of Parliament, regardless of the caucus in which he or she sits, won an election to represent their constituents. The ones on this side of the House were elected by people who do not share the government's views, and those people have the right to have their voices heard in the House through the members of Parliament that they elected.
I still cannot figure out whether the timing of this budget was meant to distract attention from the Liberals' power grab at PROC or the other way around. Both the budget and their actions at PROC are surely embarrassing to the government and would be better covered up by a stronger news story. The question is, which embarrasses the Liberal government more? Again, I digress.
Instead of offering trendy buzzwords that signify nothing, the government should serve Canadians through practical and tangible measures. This budget repeats the word “innovation” some 200 times, but Canadians know that just repeating a word over and over again will not get unemployed Canadians back to work. Saying the words “venture capital”, “catalyst”, “supercluster”, or “infrastructure bank” on the cocktail party circuit might make a Liberal feel clever, but words will not balance a budget, grow the economy, or lift anybody out of poverty. Merely announcing or reannouncing infrastructure projects will not get shovels into the ground.
Instead, the government should rein in its out-of-control spending and the tax increases that it requires. It should reverse course on taxes like the carbon tax and follow the example of Conservatives, who brought federal tax to its lowest point in 50 years while returning to a balanced budget on schedule.
The government should reduce regulation to unleash the creative and innovative energy currently trapped in red tape. It should fulfill its own broken promise and reduce the small business tax rate, and it should reverse its ill-conceived and poorly timed job-killing payroll tax.
Lastly, the Liberals should quit trying to think of new ways to nickel-and-dime money out of Canadians while flailing in a sea of red ink, broken promises, and rhetorical nonsense, all against the backdrop of an ethics investigation and an unprecedented attack on democratic accountability.
This budget may well have been designed to be forgotten quickly. I wish it were so.