Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to highlight some of the NDP's objections to Bill C-44 at third reading.
As we analyzed the bill, it became clear that we do not oppose the actions of government because it is made up of Liberals, but we oppose the Liberals because of their actions. The legislation is rife with things that would not take the country in the right direction and it fails to live up to the very commitments made not by us in the last election campaign but by the Liberals themselves.
I want to highlight some of those problems and also suggest other ways that the government might have proceeded that would have helped to attain the goals it says it wants to attain.
Let me start with housing. No money was allocated in the budget proper for a national housing strategy this year, and that is unfortunate. There is some money promised for down the road, but this is unfortunate because for all the words that come from a government, statements on positions and everything else, it is really where a government spends its money that we learn its priorities and we see what it is serious about. It was not a promising sign to see no money right away.
We in the NDP support the idea of the development of a national housing strategy but it would have been nice to see in the budget implementation bill some legislation that would create ongoing statutory funding for housing. That is because reliable, stable funding, year over year, is the basis for a well-functioning and reliable national housing strategy that could put a meaningful dent in the dearth of affordable housing and social housing that we currently have in Canada.
Putting money in the budget would have been one way the government could have signalled its seriousness about a national housing plan. Instead it is left to the ad hoc decision-making of government year over year.
The NDP has proposed in the past, through private member's bills, legislation for a meaningful and permanent national housing strategy, including provisions for how to consult and develop that plan so that decisions would not just be made at the cabinet table. Everyday Canadians would have the opportunity on an ongoing basis to feed information from their own lived experiences and those of their friends, neighbours, and family, into that ongoing strategy that would have reliable, multi-year funding going forward.
I raise that as an example of how the government in the legislation could have signalled and solidified its commitment to a national housing strategy. It was disappointing not to see that. Instead, we have the word of the Liberals that the money will come.
We have their word on a lot of issues. It is hard to believe that the Liberals will be able to achieve all of their goals given the current state of the country's finances and the choices that they have made in terms of not seriously going after, for instance, large tax offenders and in terms of not raising the corporate tax rate. I will have more to say on that later.
The other thing in the bill that is an important priority for me and for the NDP is the health care funding. What was promised in the election campaign by the Liberals and by the Prime Minister was promised on the basis of a criticism of the previous government and Stephen Harper's plan for health care funding that would cut the regular increases by the federal government for health spending from 6% to 3%. That was roundly criticized by Liberals in the last campaign and there was a clear promise in their platform and by the Prime Minister that not only would he not adopt the Stephen Harper funding model but that he would change the way the funding model was decided. The Prime Minister said he would convene a meeting of premiers to talk about a new national health accord.
After the election the premiers took the Prime Minister at his word and asked to have that meeting. On a number of occasions they held joint press conferences calling on the Prime Minister to convene a national meeting of premiers to discuss a new national health accord, but they never had that meeting. The legislation is the outcome of that broken promise by the Prime Minister to convene that meeting and to meaningfully include premiers in deciding the structure and the framework of health funding in Canada going forward.
Instead, the Liberals adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy where they went to each province separately and made side deals, the gist of which in all cases was to get provinces to sign on to the very same Harper model of funding health care that they had opposed during the election. That is what is represented in the bill.
On the additional money the Liberals promised during the election for home care and mental health, instead of flowing to the provinces out of the commitment made by the Prime Minister and Liberals in the last campaign, it became a condition of their signing on to the Stephen Harper model. This money was used instead as a threat and as a coercive tool to get provinces to sign on to a funding model that they had roundly criticized and that the federal Liberals had roundly criticized.
Therefore, it was a serious switch of priority and strategy by the federal government, and I think a serious broken promise on one of the most important issues of public policy in Canada. That is what the bill represents in its current form. I think that is shameful, and I cannot but draw attention to the fact that now, frankly, we do not really have a national health accord, because 10 side deals, and we are not even at 10 yet but nine out of 10, do not a health accord make.
This was the opportunity. After the Harper government reneged on the idea or passed up the opportunity to create a new national health accord after the health accord of 2004 expired in 2014, there was a moment to bring the provinces together to negotiate a new health accord in the way that former prime minister Paul Martin did in 2004. There was a moment to be able to do that again, and it certainly seemed like the federal Liberals were posturing to fill that role, which would have been good. They ought to have done that, but they passed it up and adopted the Harper ultimatum, although they gave themselves a bigger stick with the promises of home care and mental health money.
Now it is an open question as to when we are going to get that opportunity again. It is on the current Prime Minister's shoulders that we may lose the opportunity to have a meaningful national health accord for a generation. I think that is seriously shameful and something that I hope Liberals across the way who ran on the idea of having a new national health accord appreciate that they are complicit in, having Canadians miss out for a generation on a meaningful national health accord, because that is not what the funding arrangement in the legislation before us represents.
This includes not having a national pharmacare plan, for instance. It would be wonderful if in this budget implementation act we saw the legal provisions necessary to institute a national pharmacare plan. A national pharmacare plan would allow us to provide more equitable drug coverage to Canadians across the country so that it would not matter where one lived in Canada, one would get good access to the prescription medication one needed. It would allow Canadians to do this at a lower out-of-pocket price for the portion they would be responsible for. It would also allow governments to provide better service at a cheaper rate, and there have been all sorts of estimates. If we triangulate the lowball estimates and the higher estimates, it is quite reasonable to think that we could be saving Canadian taxpayers in the neighbourhood of $7 billion annually if we had a national pharmacare plan.
This was something the Liberals promised in 1993, if members can believe it, and here we are today. However, as we did prior to 1993, consistently after 1993, and are doing today, the NDP will continue to advocate for a national pharmacare plan until we have one.
I think it is shameful to think that after all those years, 25 years after Jean Chrétien got elected with a compelling majority and a clear promise to have a national pharmacare plan, we still have to be here talking about it. We are not talking about the details of it, whether it is working well, or how it could save Canadians more money if we modified the plan this way or that. We are still talking about establishing one at all, which I think is a great shame.
We had promises from the Liberals as well to restore lifetime pensions for veterans, but that is not anywhere in the act. When we talk about commitments made and how those get followed through on where it really counts, which is where the money gets spent, we see another promise coming up empty.
We still hear repeated promises from the Minister of Veterans Affairs and that we should just wait, that it is coming. However, the government has continued with the court case it promised to stop against Equitas and Canadian veterans. It is saying that there is no sacred covenant between Canada and its veterans. It has money to spend on that, money that would be better spent on veterans who, through their service, have earned our respect and deserve to live with dignity. The government should be doing that with the money.
It is the same when it comes to first nations. The government is continuing to spend money it promised it would not, fighting first nations in court. It could be flowing the money, money that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and many other bodies have said is owing to first nations people as an important piece of the reconciliation process. It would help get first nations people in Canada back on their feet and address the endemic problems in their communities, so they could become full participants in all the wealth, resources, and quality of life that Canada has to offer. They have been excluded from that for far too long. Nothing in the legislation addresses that.
On my point about veterans, they have said clearly that lifetime pensions have to be restored. The Liberals clearly said that as well. The New Democrats have been advocating for that. One would assume there would be wide support. There certainly would be support on the NDP benches for restoring lifetime pensions, yet it is nowhere in the legislation.
The Liberals talk big about spending priorities, but the recent release of the defence review is a very good indication of what it means to be a Liberal spending priority. It means money announced for 2026, 2027, 2028. By the time our grandkids are adults, they will start spending money on this serious priority.
It is frustrating to see large numbers being thrown about, including on infrastructure, knowing that many years and a number of elections will have to occur before the time arrives to spend that money.
This means we are not having a serious debate in Parliament about our priorities. Instead, we are playing a game of make belief with Monopoly money. The Liberals can announce all sorts of money for 2035, but they will never have to deliver it. The circumstances will have changed so many times and in so many ways, in ways we cannot predict. When the time comes to spend that money, it will have been re-budgeted, reallocated, and changed many times over. It is convenient for the government to talk now about what it wants to do in 2027, 2030, 2040, or 2050. I think 2055 is when the government says it might balance the books.
This is not a real debate. It does a disservice to this place and Canadians for a government to pretend that by announcing money 10 years into the future, it is doing a real thing. This is really indicative of its priorities. People in this place deserve better and the people we represent deserve better. Therefore, I make no apologies for focusing on the next few years and what the government announced in spending, because the rest has yet to come.
On my point about housing, if the Liberals were serious about long-term funding, they would have included it in the legislation. It is the case sometimes that five-year or 10-year plans are required to address something, which is certainly true when addressing the shortage of affordable and social housing. However, the bill does not include a national housing strategy and funds for that strategy. Statutory funds for that strategy is the way to do it.
At the very least, it appears to be a sign of insincerity when governments talk about the need for a long-term plan, but do not want any accompanying legislation that would mandate the money and lay out the consultation process for that kind of long-term spending. Long-term spending like that ought not be done willy-nilly. If a 10-year plan is required, there should also be a corresponding structure, which is appropriate to lay out in legislation, and provide a legislative guarantee of those funds. We do not see that in the bill.
However, what we see is a guarantee for a structure going forward, not just for 10 years but indefinitely. Canadian taxpayer money is going to be used to pad the pockets of corporate Canada. That is shameful. When we talk about legislating priorities in the budget implementation bill and putting one's money where one's mouth is, the Liberals are doing that.
The Liberals are talking about a $35 billion fund that will be used to privatize infrastructure and make it easy for large corporations, not even large Canadian corporations, but large international corporations, to own Canadian infrastructure and dictate to Canadians what they will pay to use a highway or cross a bridge, so they can make money on that. Then, when it is not making money anymore, if the plan is ill-conceived and it does not generate the 7% to 9% return they thought it would make, they will walk away from the project, and Canadian taxpayers will pay the bill.
We see the Liberal priorities the bill. Unfortunately, they are not the priorities the Liberals espoused during the election campaign.
The government talks about openness and transparency. We have very good reason to doubt the sincerity of that. Yesterday we heard that the Liberals' record on access to information requests, which is a very reasonable measure of openness and transparency, was worse than the Harper government's was in its last year.
The embarrassing appointment process, now the non-appointment process, for Madeleine Meilleur to the position of Commissioner of Official Languages was far from open and transparent. The Prime Minister still will not admit that it was a mistake to think that such an overtly partisan person could be seen as independent enough to occupy the position of an independent officer of Parliament. There is nothing open or transparent about that.
Canadians have every right to worry, with a proposal like the infrastructure bank, that they cannot expect the kind of openness and transparency one would need in order to evaluate whether it was getting value for money.
It may well be true that more things get built as a result of the infrastructure bank, but they are not getting built for free. No one is building it out of charity for Canadians. The Saudi investment authority is not going to come to Canada because of the infrastructure bank and say that it got a letter from the bank, it heard we needed a major bridge, it would build it for us, do it cheaply and it would be a nice quality bridge, and not ask for payment. Canadians are going to pay. If we are building more infrastructure, we are paying more. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
To hear the Liberals on one hand espouse and call on some of their members' experience in business and finance and say they are smart managers, then on the other hand pretend that somehow Canadians ultimately will not pay for every bit of infrastructure that is paid under the bank, and in fact pay more, is farcical. Those investors will demand a higher return than the banks the government could borrow from, which was its promise in the election. It has been an ongoing insult, frankly.
When we talk about getting money to build more infrastructure by borrowing at 2%, the Liberals like to say the NDP was going to balance the budget, so we would not have built any of that stuff.
First, the stuff on the infrastructure bank is stuff for which they are borrowing money and they are borrowing it at a higher rate from other investors. The idea that this is not a deficit that Canadians are incurring is factually wrong. The Liberals can play with the books, put it on the books of the infrastructure bank, or private investors, or whatever, but at the end of the day it is the Canadian taxpayer who will pay for that. The Liberals are not fooling anyone on this side of the House.
The other thing is this. The Liberals are not pursuing revenue streams, or ways of saving money. When I talk about a national pharmacare program, that is a way to save substantial amounts of money. If they were borrowing at 2% to build infrastructure instead of 7% or 9%, they could build a lot of bridges and roads for $7 billion a year.
The Liberals voted for an NDP motion telling the government to take meaningful action on closing tax havens and loopholes. A black and white commitment of the Liberals was that they would close the CEO stock option loophole. They passed that up. That is almost $1 billion a year, and substantially more when we start addressing the issue of tax havens and tax cheats. Some have estimated that to be as high as in the order of $50 billion to $60 billion annually. That is a lot of money. Therefore, the idea that somehow there is no money to be found to advance these important priorities is false. It is a question of political will and a government willing to follow through on its commitments.
When we take all of that into consideration, it is clear that, not only when we talk about the infrastructure bank, for instance, this is not the way to go for Canada. This is not the way to build infrastructure. It is not value for money for Canadians. There are better ways of doing it. I have tried to highlight some of those. Not only is this not the right direction, but it does not even get us in the direction the Liberals promised they would go in the last election. On all counts, Canadians should stand opposed to the bill. I know we will.