Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak to the government's budget implementation bill. It is a very long bill, unprecedented in its length in terms of Canadian parliamentary history, despite promises to the contrary from the government.
There are many different aspects and themes that one could dig into. I am going to focus my remarks on what I see as five dominant debates that have emerged around this budget. I will share some thoughts on each of those five areas.
I want to speak about the government's carbon tax and associated debates about the issue of climate change and how we should respond.
I want to address deficits. The current government's massive deficit is relatively without precedent in peacetime and in times without a global economic downturn.
I want to discuss some of the debates around poverty, equity and how we can and should be responding to those very real issues.
I will speak about the energy sector and pipelines.
Finally, I want to address the government's media bailout. It has been interesting observing the debate around the media bailout and having conversations with the people I know in the press. I will contend very strongly that our position, opposing the bailout, is the fundamentally pro-media position. We recognize the importance of strong, independent media, and there is a legitimate discussion about what can be done that establishes conditions for the financial success of the media.
However, the way in which the government has approached this, whereby the media are dependent on the evaluations of a government-appointed panel, makes the media very vulnerable in terms of perceptions of lacking independence. They will be vulnerable to the kinds of challenges that naturally arise when they have been put in a position of having to come to a government-appointed body for dollars. I will speak more to that in a few minutes.
The first issue I want to address is that of the carbon tax. We have a government that does not want to have a debate around the effectiveness of the carbon tax as a tool. The Liberals will accuse anybody who does not agree with their chosen policy mechanism of somehow being not serious about responding to the challenge of climate change.
I sincerely believe that we need to respond to the challenge of climate change, and that we need to do it in a way that is effective, which means not using the climate change issue as an excuse for imposing new taxes on Canadians. Let me make a few points about that.
The first point is a historical one. Let us look at the records of the past Conservative government and the current Liberal one, as well as at the record of the previous Liberal government, by way of a contrast.
A previous Liberal government, under Chrétien and Martin, signed the Kyoto protocol, yet greenhouse gas emissions went up significantly during that period. Our Conservative government proposed binding, sector-by-sector, intensity-based regulatory targets. In other words, they did not penalize companies for increasing their output, but sought to regulate in a way that enhanced the efficiency of our production here in Canada.
In the long term, those kinds of measures would ensure and indeed increase our competitiveness. They would also ensure that we were part of effectively responding to the challenge of climate change.
The objective record of greenhouse gas emissions under the previous government shows that emissions went down. It was the first government in Canadian history under which emissions went down. In response to that, people like my friend from Spadina—Fort York will praise the record of the Kathleen Wynne Liberals, which is not as popular in Ontario as he might wish it to be.
However, across different jurisdictions we see that in every single Canadian jurisdiction, emissions under the Conservative government either went down, or they went up by less than they had under the previous Liberal government. Although the member for Spadina—Fort York might not want it to be true, he must recognize that under the previous Conservative government, progress was achieved in terms of the issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in every single jurisdiction across this country.
That was done with an approach that emphasized binding sector-by-sector regulations but also ensured that individuals had the capital they needed to make investments in these kinds of improvements.
Rather than a punitive approach, like the carbon tax which punishes people, we had things like the home renovation tax credit, which ensured that people who wanted to make energy innovation investments in their own homes had the tax advantage in the process of doing so. That empowered people to engage with an issue that I think many people want to engage with, rather than the punitive approach adopted by the Liberal government.
What have we seen from the government? Upon taking office, the Liberals decided they would take the punitive approach, that they would impose new taxes on Canadians. Make no mistake that this approach is designed to raise revenue for the federal government. The GST is consistently being charged on top of the carbon tax. The GST, as everyone knows, is a federal tax. The imposition of the carbon tax in association with the GST means that this tax is designed to and will increase revenues for the federal government.
It is a punitive approach. It is a negative approach. It is a taxation-oriented revenue approach that is imposed on all Canadians. Because it is a point-of-sale tax, it is particularly regressive. We know that consumption taxes are more likely to hit those who are struggling economically. Even the natural regressivity of a sales tax was not enough for the government, which decided on top of that to provide an additional benefit for Canada's largest emitters.
It makes one wonder how sincere the government is in its rhetoric. The Liberals will extol the virtues of a carbon tax, yet they give a break to the largest emitters. The Liberals say these large emitters will really struggle to pay the carbon tax and it might hurt us economically. However, they are completely indifferent to the suffering this imposes on small and medium-sized businesses and to the suffering this imposes on individual consumers.
It especially hurts low-income people. Without the benefit of things like the home renovation tax credit, without some of the positive, constructive policies we had in place before and without things like the transit tax credit, which was an environmental measure that benefited people who were using public transit, without those kinds of measures, we are in a situation under this government where many people may not be able to make those kinds of investments that would allow them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
This underlines the failure of a punitive approach instead of a constructive approach. Our party believes that through constructive regulations and supporting innovation and not through punishing people we can work collaboratively for environmental improvements that do not hurt the economy. That is what we saw previously.
I would just note parenthetically that whenever we talk about the issue of how greenhouse gas emissions went down under the previous government, members on the other side will always say that was only because of the global recession. However, they never bring up the global recession in the context of deficits, which I will talk about next. When they want to complain about the fact that deficits were run under the previous government, they mysteriously forget that there was a global recession, but then when they are trying to explain away the real progress that was made under the previous government on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, they are happy to talk about the fact that there was a global economic downturn.
The reality is that Canada was relatively less affected by the global economic downturn because of prudent policies that were pursued by the previous government in the lead-up to that. Canada was relatively less affected and our emissions still went down; whereas other parts of the world were more affected and yet global emissions went up. It is simply not logical to say that greenhouse gas emissions went down only because of the global economic downturn, because Canada was outperforming the rest of the world in terms of environmental improvements as well as the economic situation relative to the rest of the world. That very much contrasts with what we see under the Liberal government.
I want to speak now to the discussion about deficits. Let us be very clear that we are dealing with a significant dissonance between what the government promised in the last election and what it is saying today.
The government promised three deficits which would be a maximum of $10 billion and then in the final fiscal year, which is the one upcoming, the budget would be balanced. However, the government has articulated absolutely no plan to balance the budget ever.
It is great to see young people watching the debate today. I know they will have to pay for the spending of the government long into their future, as a result of the fact that the government has no plan to balance the budget and is spending money today that those young people will have to pay back tomorrow. At the very least, it is a broken promise.
How do members of the government respond to the reality that they broke a promise? The previous speaker, the member for Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, talked about when they came into office, they started to take a look at the situation. Maybe the Liberals should have started to take a look at the situation before they wrote their platform. The fiscal situation is quite clear in the reports coming out from the government, in terms of all the financial data that is publicly available. It is not as if there is any surprise in the fiscal situation.
The Prime Minister made commitments that he said were set in stone, yet he broke those commitments as soon as he came to office. The Liberals have to explain why they brought one spending plan to Canadians in the election and delivered a completely different spending plan as soon as they were elected to government. Beyond the question of broken promises, it is hard for me to understand how anyone who claims to care about their children and the next generation would impose on them the burden of paying for the benefits we enjoy today, plus interest.
Sometimes we hear members across the way raise the spectre of austerity. Let us be clear that the worst cases of austerity are those that we have seen in countries which have had no choice as a result of a debt crisis. When governments spend without a plan of ever balancing the budget, it causes a situation where the most severe form of austerity is forced on them whether they like it or not. What goes up ultimately must come down.
What we advocate then is having a plan to control spending, that is, to moderate the growth of spending in such a way as to balance the budget, not to dramatically increase spending beyond government revenue. It is a little bit absurd to suggest that any call for spending control or any call for balance will somehow be austere. It is a grievous misuse of the word “austerity”, as if to imply that we only have two choices, austerity on the one hand or out-of-control spending on the other. I actually think we can pursue a middle way, which is prudent measured spending that recognizes fiscal realities, while still investing as much as possible in the future in social programs but in a way that ensures that those social programs will be sustainable.
Members across the way know that if one spends consistently more than one has, or makes promises as the Kathleen Wynne Liberals did that are completely unbudgeted with no plan to pay for them, then yes, people are going to be disappointed when those things cannot be delivered. However, it is a result of overspending. It is a result of out-of-control debt and deficits. Then subsequent generations will have to pay not only for their own needs, but they will also have to pay down the debt and interest on the consumption of previous generations.
We propose a fiscal policy that avoids the need to pay massive interest and instead is prudent and measured. It is one in which when we make spending commitments to people, we do so in the context of a balanced budget so that they can have the certainty that those programs will be there for the future.
What we see from the Liberal government are these branded plans, these national strategies that often involve most of the spending in the latter years of those programs, but they have no realistic fiscal plan of actually delivering on. It is a grievous problem. It is one that will negatively affect the next generation and the most vulnerable. Inevitably, the government is promising things that it will not be able to deliver. I think that is a good segue into making a few comments about the government's approach to the issue of poverty.
The budget implementation act proposes to legislate goals, legislate the hopes and aspirations of policy-makers. Might I humbly submit, that is not going to provide very much confidence and reassurance to those who are living in poverty. What makes much more sense are concrete policies that would benefit the most vulnerable.
I have already spoken about how the carbon tax disproportionately impacts those who are most vulnerable in terms of being forced to pay more and not getting the same holidays that the large emitters get.
The government legislates goals. It spends half a million dollars developing a logo for an anti-poverty organization, yet it does not pursue the kinds of policies that we pursued that help the most vulnerable.
With respect to homelessness, the Conservatives invested significantly in housing first. We raised the base personal exemption and lowered the lowest marginal tax rate. We also cut the GST, which is the one tax that everybody pays.
Our approach was to recognize the need to help the most vulnerable but also to understand that helping the most vulnerable should not be an excuse to increase the size of government. Big government does not benefit those who need help the most. Constantly growing government benefits well-connected insiders, as we have seen consistently from the policies of the Liberal government.
The Liberal government could consider following the positive track record of the previous government. It could provide tax relief through raising the base personal exemption, through lowering the lowest marginal rate, through cutting the GST, through providing relief on the carbon tax to those who need that support the most.
There is nothing progressive about the government's approach to policy which gives huge amounts of money in corporate welfare, in payouts to companies like Bombardier. Bombardier even said it did not need the money, and then used some of that money to give benefits to its executives.
Nothing helps the most vulnerable when the government subsidizes CEOs through policies like the supercluster. Instead we could have a competitive tax regime. We could cut taxes for the most vulnerable. We could establish the conditions by which people could keep more of their own money and use more of their own money to meet their own needs.
Instead, the government uses climate change, uses poverty, uses whatever excuse it can come up with as part of its insatiable plan to increase the size of government and to increase government spending.
I am going to try to hit my last two points in the brief time I have left.
When it comes to our energy resources, the government spent a huge amount of public money to buy a pipeline with no plan to get that pipeline built. Under the previous government, four pipelines were built, some of which did increase our ability to move resources to tidewater.
The government has no plan to proceed with pipelines. It brings in legislation like Bill C-48 and Bill C-69 that would significantly hurt our ability to move forward in terms of pipelines, while, through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it is paying a Chinese-controlled bank, an instrument of Chinese foreign policy, to build pipelines overseas. Its justification is that Canadian firms might get some of that work.
I have visited the headquarters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing. It told us that regardless of whether Canada is a member of that bank or not, Canadian firms would still have the same ability to bid for work through that bank.
This talking point for justifying sending hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars to China to build pipelines in Azerbaijan and other places instead of building pipelines here by getting out of the way of the private sector holds absolutely no water.
Finally, on the point of the independence of the media, $600 million of taxpayers' money is going to a bailout of the media. Leading voices in the media have talked about how problematic this would be, because in order for the media to be strong, independence of the media is required. It also requires the perception of independence.
Journalists recognize that the perception of government handing over significant amounts of money through a process that fundamentally can be controlled by government makes them so much more vulnerable to misperceptions and criticism. We need to have media that are independent of government and that can do their job well.
This is an attack on the independence of the media through the government's attempt to control the process of allocation of funds. It is a significant threat to the media's independence more so than we have seen in the recent history of this country and more so certainly than the odd verbal criticism here and there.
For these and many other reasons that I do not have time to go into because it is such a large bill, I will be opposing this legislation.