Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay. I look forward to his impressive speech.
Today I rise to speak to Bill C-44, the budget implementation act. The bill is deeply flawed in my opinion. By the end of my speech, it will be very clear why I will not be supporting the bill. In its 290 pages, it amends over 30 separate acts. Despite all of this, it does very little for the middle and working class.
Once again the Liberals have put the interests of their friends ahead of those of the vast majority of Canadians. On the one hand, they are eliminating the public transit tax credit and on the other, they are facilitating the purchase of public infrastructure by private investors.
Last week I had the honour of having a conversation at a small business in my riding called Townsite Brewing. It is a great microbrewery in Powell River. Its innovation, dedication to the community, and obviously the great beer it makes have been a real builder in their local economy. Sadly, the 2017 budget is not working for it. It has asked me to raise this important issue, and I hope the minister will hear its calls. The federal budget would raise the excise tax for beer, wine, and liquor by 2%. Then it would tie it to the consumer price index. This means that the price will rise for the consumer every year after that. That is simply not good for business.
There are a number of really good reasons for the government to stop this.
There are hundreds of small brewing companies in communities across Canada, employing people, using local ingredients, innovating with new styles of beer, and investing in their business to sell great beer and participate in a very competitive market. This is truly amazing when we look at the history of beer monopolies of the past. Consumers now have more choice. This industry creates great local jobs. For Townsite Brewing, it creates 16 meaningful positions in the community.
Across Canada, small communities have worked very hard to diversify their economies, and this hits these communities particularly hard. Brewing is one of the few remaining industries that is domestic. Eighty-five per cent of the beer sold in Canada is made right in Canada. Not too many food industries can make this claim like the beer industry can. Should the government not support the growth of this share to 90% or 100%, rather than discouraging growth by imposing higher and higher taxes on these products? The entire brewing community and its customers are united in wanting to see the government make the decision to repeal this tax before it becomes law by the end of June.
In my riding of North Island—Powell River, this tax would also impact the wine and liquor industries the riding has.
As I mentioned earlier, the bill would amend more than 30 pieces of legislation. I found it very interesting when a member across the ways said “I don't support omnibus bills” while supporting this omnibus bill. Almost one-third of the changes are nowhere to be found in the budget.
During the last election campaign the Liberals promised to abolish the use of omnibus bills because the practice was undemocratic. The omnibus bill should have been split to allow Parliament to conduct in-depth reviews of the changes affecting the parliamentary budget officer and the creation of the Canadian infrastructure bank. The bill clearly shows that the Liberals put the interests of their friends ahead of those of the vast majority of Canadians. They are totally forgetting that people across the country desperately need infrastructure in their communities. Therefore, by creating the infrastructure bank, the government is giving a green light for privatization of our public infrastructure.
As Mark Hancock, the national president of CUPE said, “If you’re an infrastructure bankroller or a billionaire tax dodger, today is a good day. For working Canadians, not so much”.
Bill C-44 is mute with regard to the number of details that would have to be clarified in future legislation. Some provisions suggest that the infrastructure bank will be entitled to use the Access to Information Act to withhold important information from the Attorney General of Canada and the parliamentary budget officer under the guise of sensitive commercial information. Canadians expect accountability. It should therefore be established by the means of a true bill and an exhaustive review by Parliament, not through an omnibus bill.
When it comes to accountability, Canadians can count on the parliamentary budget officer, as he plays a fundamental role in Canadian democracy and his work depends on his neutrality and independence.
However, it appears that the Liberals want to make his job much more difficult. The parliamentary budget officer would be required to produce an annual work plan, which would be approved by the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate, as well as the government member who chairs the finance committee. This is the only officer of Parliament who would be required to seek approval for his work plan.
The PBO analyzed the legislative framework applicable to the parliamentary budget officers in 17 other countries, notably Australia, Great Britain, Austria, Belgium, and so on. According to his research, it is most unusual to require political approval for a work plan. Such a procedure would only benefit the government because the PBO could not undertake a study on his own unless it had been included in his annual work plan.
In addition to submitting an annual work plan, the PBO would have to provide his research results to the Speakers of the Senate and the House one business day before it would be made public. How is that accountability?
Furthermore, from now on, only committees and not individual MPs and senators, as is currently the case, would be able to request the PBO to estimate the financial cost of any proposal that related to a matter of which Parliament had jurisdiction. Any request for research from individual MPs or senators would have to relate to a proposal, bill, motion, or amendment they have made. It is this type of individual request that led the PBO to research the cost of the F-35s and the Liberal tax cuts that only benefited the wealthiest. Adopting these changes will reduce my ability to hold the government to account. It will lessen transparency to Canadians.
This budget fundamentally betrays the commitment to creating a more accountable and transparent government.
This bill also has a huge impact on veterans. I am happy to see there is an investment for additional support for veterans' social reintegration and transitioning. I am pleased to see the creation of an education and training benefit, for example. However, I am deeply disappointed there is no mention of re-establishing lifelong pensions for injured veterans, yet another broken promise by the Liberals.
Overall there is little movement and most promises for veterans have had to wait for the next year's budget. Veterans have waited long enough. David Flannigan, Dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, agrees. He said, “Bottom line, this budget doesn’t do enough for our Veterans and their families...How long do Veterans have to wait?”
This budget did very little for the military as well. Our military has become extremely good at finding efficiency in everything it has done over the last decade. There comes a point when we simply have to feed the people who need it. It is time to invest in our women and men in uniform. The New Democrats believe our troops should have the support, training, and equipment they need to do the difficult and dangerous work they are asked to do every day. Only with a well-trained and well-equipped military can Canada continue to play an independent role in the world in promoting peace and security. This budget did not provide the resources for the military to do this. I know we are all waiting for the national defence review to see if more is coming. Most important, the military is waiting.
Seniors issues are not a central part of the budget. Yesterday's CBC headline was “'We're so far behind': Canada unprepared for housing needs of rising senior population”. This was in reference to the census figures. Canadians need a long-term plan, something in which the government does not seem to want to invest.
There has been an investment of some money for drug costs, but it is still not providing seniors with the real help they need. They are making decisions between eating, buying their medication, or paying their housing costs. That is shameful in a country like this. A national seniors strategy is needed now.
Bill C-44 makes our government less accountable and sells public infrastructure that Canadian taxpayers have built to Liberal insiders. When a housing crisis is happening in the country, when our seniors, veterans, and military need help, I can confidently say that the budget bill offers Canadians a series of misguided priorities.