Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to this motion. I want to congratulate the previous speaker, the parliamentary secretary, I understand it is his birthday. It must be nice to finally be able to have a drink in the province of Ontario. That is good news for him, but perhaps not as good news for his constituents.
We have a motion today brought to us by the NDP which asks the government to follow through on one of its commitments with respect to stock option deductions and tax havens. There may be aspects of the motion that one could sympathize with. Ultimately, we know that the NDP as well as the Liberals are eager to raise taxes at every opportunity. Conservatives are not supportive of the motion, but certainly we are sympathetic with the fact that the NDP thinks that the government should keep its promises.
In principle, the government made many different kinds of promises to people with different kinds of philosophies trying to basically promise everything to everyone. Of course, that is a little harder to do when the party is in government. I am going to talk today about how the government is increasing taxes across the board. I am going to counter some of the arguments made by the parliamentary secretary and I am sure he will enjoy hearing them. Then I am going to talk about the broken promises.
With respect to the issue of taxes, the parliamentary secretary painted a picture for us of the alleged progressivity of the government when it comes to tax policy, allegedly how the Liberals want to help people with lower incomes by lowering their taxes while increasing taxes for the wealthy.
The facts paint a very different picture. Frankly, this narrative created by the government is total malarkey. I should not say malarkey; it is “people-larkey”. It is total nonsense in any event. The Liberals say they are interested in lowering taxes for lower-income Canadians, but let us point out the reality.
Conservatives lowered the lowest marginal tax rate when they were in government. The Liberals have not touched the lowest marginal tax rate. If people are making $45,000 a year or less, they are indisputably paying more tax under the current government. The Liberals only went for the middle rate, not the lowest rate. It was Conservatives who lowered the lowest rate.
The Liberals also reduced the amount of money a person can put toward a tax-free savings account. This is important because tax-free savings accounts are the preferred savings vehicle of relatively lower-income Canadians. Why is that? I talked about it in previous speeches. When Canadians are looking at saving their money, they look at the relative advantages of various savings vehicles that exist. They look at something like an RRSP or a TFSA, and they assess the merits of them. We see clearly from the data that there are certain financial incentives associated for people with modest incomes making greater investments in TFSAs. Again, an advisable investment decision will vary depending on the individual, depending on the situation, but in particular, the government's ideological opposition to TFSAs and its desire to reduce the amount an individual can contribute to it has a disproportionate impact on Canadians who are in that middle- and lower-income level.
Again, in terms of what the Liberals have done with respect to tax rates, as well as what they have done with TFSAs, again it is a tax agenda that is very bad for, to use their verbiage, the middle class and those working hard to join it. Part of the problem is that they still never told us what in their minds it means to be middle class. They say that they are trying to help this group of people and yet they cannot even provide us with a definition of who qualifies as being in the particular group they are trying to address. That may lead to some of this confusion where again they are undertaking tax policies which very clearly do not appear to actually impact those who they claim they are going to impact.
Very often we see with the Liberals that the policies they undertake hurt those they are supposed to help. While the Prime Minister is off taking an illegal vacation, the Liberals are raising taxes on those who will actually have to pay for that illegal vacation through things like security costs.
Of course, who could forget the carbon tax? When it comes to the government's interest in raising taxes, this is of particular concern in my province of Alberta, but it is a concern across the country. The government is trying to force provinces to introduce a new tax. It is threatening them with punitive taxation if they do not follow along with the federal directive, even if it is an area that is clearly within provincial jurisdiction.
One of many problems with the carbon tax is that there are many Canadians who need to use fuel, who need to use energy in some way and simply cannot eliminate these costs. In Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, on a typical day in the winter it is -40°C. It is a great place to visit but it gets cold. People who live there cannot just decide they do not want to heat their home because of the carbon tax. That is not a realistic choice a person could make.
Some might say that the tax burden could be reduced through retrofitting and things like that, but people with a modest income may not have the capacity up front to do that retrofitting. One of the things we did when the Conservatives were in government was we brought in a home renovation tax credit to actually make it easier for people to make those investments in retrofitting. That was not a punitive approach; that was an approach that helped people have the resources to make the kinds of improvements they want.
The Liberal government's approach is always to punish people through taxation to try to get them to behave in what the Liberals imagine to be a socially desirable way. However, the Conservatives' approach was to provide support and tax credits so that people could make those kinds of decisions on things like doing home retrofits.
It could be said that from an environmental perspective, instead of driving, people should aim to take public transit. However, for many families, some with a large number of children, it is not nearly as practical or as easy to go pick up groceries or something like that. Even if they are paying this punitive carbon tax, there are simple realities of family life especially in a cold climate. The carbon tax for many Canadians is not helping them to reduce emissions; it is simply a punitive tax. They now have to pay more money to the government which makes their situation more difficult.
There are many different examples, such as the elimination of tax credits around public transit and other areas, that have simply made life so much more expensive for families. There have been independent assessments of this that show that Canadians at all levels are paying more tax under the government.
My friend the parliamentary secretary referenced this whole issue of the impact of the child benefit. This is another Liberal talking point about Conservatives sending cheques to millionaires. Let us be very clear. The Conservatives had a taxable benefit. Anyone would tell us that relatively speaking, taxable benefits, at least with all things being equal, are more progressive because we have a progressive tax system. Yes, people who have a child will get a child benefit regardless of their income, but it is taxable, and it is taxable on the income of the spouse who earns the lowest income.
The Liberals' approach to this through the tax changes they have made is that they are not going to give cheques to people who are in the very wealthy category, but at the same time, the Liberals are lowering their taxes by lowering the middle marginal rate, providing no benefit to people who are at the bottom. The effects of the change to the middle rate relative to the impact on removing the UCCB for a person at the top end is, at best, a wash.
The Liberal government's arguments around progressivity clearly do not fit. Again, the Liberals are hurting the people they claim they intend to help with their tax policy. When we have motions or proposals for increased taxes, again, generally speaking, we see who pays this.
When the government initially reneged on its promise to lower the small business tax rate, and that is one of the only promises that it unbroke its breaking of, it trumpeted that unbreaking as if it was a brand new commitment. However, when it first broke that promise, the point was made that when taxes are increased on small businesses, it does not just affect the business owners, but it also affects the people who work for that company. It makes it harder for small businesses to expand, to hire new people.
Many Canadians work in the small business sector. The government's targeting of tax increases to these businesses, as well as the regulatory changes that it proposed, some of which it is following through on, very clearly hurts the people the Liberals claim they are trying to help.
By contrast, what was the approach of the previous Conservative government? The government claims now that the previous government was lowering taxes on the wealthy. I defy the Liberals to give us one example of a tax change that was made that particularly affected the wealthy.
What taxes did we increase? We lowered the lowest marginal tax rate, we lowered the GST, we lowered business taxes, and we provided tax credits and we provided a universal child care benefit. Of course, when we lower the lowest marginal rate that provides some reduction to someone who is at the high end because everybody pays that lowest marginal rate. However, lowering the lowest marginal rate disproportionately provides an advantage to those who are of more modest means.
Of course, GST is the one tax that everybody pays and we lowered the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. It is pretty well established that when we lower business taxes that does not just help businesses, that helps union pension funds that invest in business, and that helps workers and helps consumers, but at no point did the Conservatives propose or implement a reduction in the top or even the middle marginal tax rate. We lowered the lowest marginal tax rate, we introduced tax credits, and we lowered the GST.
If the government members think that is not true, I invite them, in questions and comments, to point out the case where we did that. That is either malarkey or “people-larkey”, depending on how progressively one uses the language.
I want to get on to talking about another important issue that is raised by the motion, which is how the government shamelessly breaks all kinds of different promises. Clearly there is far too much on this front to go into all at once. It is interesting that the NDP motion points out that the government voted for a resolution. As it happens, we voted against that resolution at the time. We have been clear and consistent in terms of our position when it comes to increasing taxes, but the government voted for this particular resolution and then it did not actually move forward to implement it. This is again an example of the government wanting to send a signal but to do so in a very disingenuous way.
Certainly, there are parties in the House that take strong convictions on issues and they may be different from each other but often what we see from the Liberal government is simply wanting to send good-feeling signals to all different kinds of sectors without ever actually taking some action.
Since we are talking about taxes and the fiscal area, the first broken promise we should highlight is the fact that the Liberals promised three $10 billion deficits and then a balanced budget in the fourth year. My friend from the NDP talked about the government having attention deficit when it comes to implementing its promises. That is not the only deficit problem the Liberals have but it is one of them.
During the election, we were very clear that we were skeptical as to whether the Liberals would actually follow through with this, yet they opened the door to deficits and said that they were not going to say no to any spending proposals, except to veterans. The Liberals seem to have the attitude that, with the exception of veterans, they will not say no to anybody, and they are spending all sorts of new money. We are way over that $10 billion target and we are way over that target of balancing the budget within three years. The government now has absolutely no plan to get back to a balanced budget, not in the short term, not in the medium term, and not in the long term.
Of course, there are some people who argue that there is logic to deficit spending in certain situations. Certainly in a time of financial crisis there is good logic in running a deficit and then balancing that out with surplus during good times, but is has to be balanced out at some point. When there is a long-term permanent plan to always run deficits, I am not sure of any economic theory that supports the idea that they can just spend more than they take in, in perpetuity.
The Liberals have all kinds of defences and justifications for this. At the end of the day, it is very clear that they have broken a promise. It also needs to be underlined that although Canada has relatively low federal debt to GDP compared with other countries, our total government debt to GDP is comparable to many other countries. Here in the province of Ontario, this is the most indebted sub-sovereign borrower in North America and perhaps on the planet. We have provincial governments that deliver a lot of services compared with what sub-national jurisdictions deliver in other countries around the world and in some cases they are taking on a great deal of debt.
Since the election of the NDP in my province, we have had the introduction of new taxes, such as a carbon tax, but we also went from a time where Alberta had paid off all of its debt to a situation where we are again dealing with big problems with respect to deficit and debt. It is unfortunate when this happens because it is governments forcing the next generation to pay for the services and the spending of the present, plus the extra costs associated with it.
The current government went to Canadians with a proposal for a deficit of $10 billion over three years and then a balanced budget. Canadians do not have an opportunity to pronounce on individual promises; rather, they take platforms and programs as a whole. However, about 39% of them voted for a government that said it would run a $10 billion deficit. The government has completely broken that promise and I think many Canadians are concerned about it.
Speaking of the percentage of Canadians who voted for the current government, another promise that it made during the election that it has now reneged on was with respect to changing the electoral system. We have had a great deal of debate in the House about that issue. However, the way in which the government broke its promise was quite disingenuous. There was a committee process that heard from Canadians, that did a lot of good work and put a lot of time in. In the end, most of the parties represented in that committee agreed to a basic framework. They did not necessarily agree on the desired outcome, but they did agree to a basic framework, which was that there should be a referendum of all Canadians that would give them a choice between the status quo and a system that had some greater degree of proportionality. That was what came out of that committee report.
However, the government did not like that because through this electoral reform discussion it was quite clear that it wanted to move to a system that was actually less proportional and that was uniquely advantageous to the government. Therefore, immediately after this, it undertook this new and ridiculous other form of consultation, which did not actually ask people for their opinions but asked the sort of touchy-feely questions that were notionally related to electoral reform. My colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston said it best. He said that this was, “like being on a dating website designed by Fidel Castro.” It asked all kinds of emotive questions without actually asking for opinions, and regardless of what one put in, it always came to the same conclusions. This very compromised process was the government's justification for tearing up its commitment with respect to this electoral change entirely.
I have written a whole list on this sheet of paper of broken promises to talk about. I have only talked about two of them, and I do not know how much time exactly I have left. Let us see how many more I can get through.
The government had promised to show greater respect for Parliament. What have we seen by contrast? We have before us today a motion that is the re-asking of a motion that already passed in the House. It was a motion that, as it happens, the Conservatives voted against. However, it did pass in the House and the government members voted in favour of it. Now it is coming forward again. Why? Because there has not been action on something that the government said it was for. If it was not going to do it, it should have at least been willing to be up front with Canadians in terms of how the Liberals voted.
Formally, these motions that we pass are not binding on the government. However, we would expect the government, especially when it votes for something, to think about whether or not it is going to do it when it evaluates how it is going to vote with respect to a particular measure.
A particularly frustrating thing in terms of respect for Parliament is that we have a convention in this place where when party leaders ask questions of the Prime Minister, if he is present, he answers those questions. Well, it is not that he answers the questions, but he at least stands up after the question is asked and responds to the question. One could debate whether the previous prime minister answered the questions. I think he answered the questions very well, but he always responded to the questions. The member for Winnipeg North knows that whenever the previous prime minister was here, when he was asked a question by the then leader of the opposition, he stood up and responded to the question that was asked.
However, we now have a situation where the current Prime Minister, even when he is present, and I will not comment on how often that happens because it would be unparliamentary to specifically refer to the presence or absence of the Prime Minister in the House, very often does not answer the question, even when specifically asked questions by the opposition.
I could go on, but I know I am running out of time. There are so many instances where the government has failed to keep its promises. This is yet another example. Certainly, Canadians are frustrated by it, which is why they are going to throw the current government out in 2019.