Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity today to discuss the budget. First, I would like to talk about some things having to do with gender equality.
The budget bemoans the unequal sharing of caregiver responsibilities. Page 45 of the budget notes that 92% of EI parental leave is paid to women, while 8% is paid to men. The gap between 92% and 8% is very large, but there is nothing to indicate that it is the result of sexism or lack of autonomy. Most women claiming EI parental leave benefits are relatively young, between 25 and 34 years old. These women grew up in a relatively different world from that in which many members of the House grew up, especially in terms of equal opportunities for women. About 34% of these young women have a university degree, compared to 26% of men the same age. The young women most likely to have children today have a huge educational advantage over men.
However, they are also much more likely to take parental leave. Why is that? Maybe it is because they want to. Maybe it is a personal choice, and that is all there is to it. Maybe in the privacy of the discussions that take place between couples, women are statistically more likely to express a preference for spending more time with an infant child. Some ideologues might see this as a problem resulting from patriarchal social programming, but I would argue that as long as women are freely making this choice, there is no problem. I would note as well that parental leave is for those caring for newborns. It may be that the division of caregiving responsibilities is somewhat different for older children. Perhaps women are more likely to take on caregiving responsibilities for infants because some women choose to breastfeed.
In practical terms, if a mother wants to breastfeed her child, we can hardly expect her not to take parental leave. I am sure that the government and private-sector employers can do more to make it easier for women who must breastfeed their children at work. This will not change the fact that is is still not feasible for the non-breastfeeding parent to care for the child and to bring the child to the breastfeeding mother's workplace every time the child is hungry. Most families face these types of practical considerations and must take them into account when they are allocating childcare responsibilities.
In an attempt to increase the GDP, the government has presented a budget that restricts women's latitude by reserving part of the parental leave for each of the parents. It creates a restrictive system instead of a system in which parents have the choice to share parental leave as they see fit. Our approach is to give people more freedoms, not less, because we believe that the quest for equality is about promoting well-being, autonomy, and equality itself. It is not about promoting an ideology or increasing the GDP.
The leader of our party introduced a private member's bill to eliminate taxes on the EI benefits paid during parental leave, regardless of who is taking the leave, when it is taken, or for what reason.
I have made these points before, and I think they are particularly important. When I have spoken about the problems with the government's proposed change to the way that parental leave works, I have had a lot of positive feedback from young parents, young women in particular.
However, one young woman said that this was clearly a budget designed for women, written by men. In other words, it speaks about gender equality, but it does so in a way that is out of touch with the practical realities that young families experience. It introduces changes to the way parental leave works that limits the flexibility that families have. By spending money and introducing what it calls a “use it or lose it” approach to parental leave, it says it has to be divided up in a particular way if they are going to get all of it, as at least some of it has to be allocated to each person.
Of course, this does not work for single parents, families where, for various reasons, one person may be unable to take the leave as it presently exists. Members of Parliament cannot do that. We just had our third child, and it had to be my wife who took all of the parental leave because of the nature of the position I am in. With the nature of her work, she was able to do that. The inflexibility of the system that the government is proposing is out of step with what many people are looking for.
Now, why did this person I spoke to say that this is a budget designed for women but written by men? Part is of is that what many young parents are looking for, in particular when it comes to parental leave and the way they approach work in general, is a greater degree of flexibility. They are not looking for the government to dictate and limit their choices to a greater degree. They are looking for greater flexibility. Many young women want to be able to work and earn income, and they also want to have a greater degree of flexibility from the stereotypical traditional job, where they have to get up early and commute, not working from home.
Many people I spoke to are looking for an ability to have earned income, but to do so in a way that is more flexible. I think that is true for all parents. It is something that we as policy-makers could do a better job of recognizing and responding to, trying to find policy changes that enhance flexibility rather than inflexibility.
I was thinking about this, and we need to get beyond this sort of old paradigm about the way that parents choose to divide up their relationship between working outside the home or being with their children. This was an old paradigm, and parents were stuck. They were either a stay-at-home parent and did not earn income, or they were a parent working outside the home, having to be away. They did not have any flexibility.
That old paradigm, because of changes in society, but also because of changes in technology, is very much breaking down. More and more people are able to work from home, and it is much easier to do so. It is practical and realistic for someone to be at home with their family during the day and yet have their own home-based business, or to perhaps have that flexibility to be at an external workplace some of the time and work from home at other times.
This is what more and more people are doing, and it responds to the desire that people have for that flexibility, to be able to be both at home and earning income at the same time.
To some extent, this was my reality before getting elected. I was the vice-president of an opinion research company that was based in a different city. We did not have a local office. I appreciated the opportunity to be able to be at home, and to be working from home. We had hired child care at our house but, at the same time, I was present. If there was a situation where I was needed, then I could be involved in some way. It was only my older daughter at the time, and since then our family has grown.
The reality for more and more parents is that they are looking for flexibility, and wanting more parental leave is an expression of that flexibility. I would argue that rather than worrying about this pursuit of greater flexibility by parents, we should recognize and celebrate it as a choice that people are making. We should also recognize that despite the old model under which a person had to choose between either being at home or working outside of the home, the opportunity to more easily work from home provides parents with more choices. It provides more people with the ability to work, if they wish to, while also being present at home if they wish to be.
Policy-makers, through budgets, should look for ways of supporting people who want to have that greater degree of flexibility. One of these ways might be to make it easier to earn income while on parental leave. Rather than limiting flexibility in the way that the government proposes to, what about making it easier for someone to access parental leave while still taking some files home? I have talked to women in my riding, for example, who felt it was very important to take parental leave, but who also said it would have been easier if they could have taken some files home from work in the context of that leave. They were not able to do that because of the way the leave was structured; there was a very aggressive clawback for any earnings they made. That would be one thing we could do if we were thinking in the direction of improving flexibility instead of increasing inflexibility.
Another way would be to simplify the working from home tax benefit. Right now, the tax deductions associated with using one's home as a workplace are very complicated. We could develop a simplified formula to make that easier, so that the people who are considering working from home could quickly make that calculation and realize they would derive a benefit from it.
In general, I think the right approach is to listen to what families are telling us, and listen to what the reality is for many young parents. They want to be able to continue to work, have flexibility, and share responsibilities, but not be constrained in how they do it. That involves a very different approach from what the government is doing.
Why is the government proceeding in the way it is? It seems less to me about equality and more about GDP. It talks about getting more people into the workforce and that this will increase GDP. What we should be doing is increasing empowerment, giving more flexibility and choice to people. However, rather than using the “use it or lose it” approach of the government, if we gave more flexibility to the people, I think we would see an increase in GDP as well. I do not think that is what we should be aiming at, but that is a desirable ancillary benefit.
Having discussed these particular issues around gender equality in the budget, I want to speak more broadly about the problems we see in this budget. Again, let us be clear. The government promised that it would run three deficits of less than $10 billion, and that in the final year it would balance the budget. What do we have? We have no plan to balance the budget ever. Its balanced budget will be later than flights out of Toronto were this weekend. There is no plan for this to happen at any point in the future. The government thinks that is okay, because it says it is investing. A plan to spend money, which is what this is, should be a plan, in that it should have a clear-sighted set of constraints and timelines. Every single province in this country either has a balanced budget or a date by which they plan to get to a balanced budget. We might be skeptical in some of those cases about whether they will realize it, but every province either has a balanced budget or a timeline in terms of when they are going to get there. This is apparently the only finance minister in the country who does not think he needs to have that timeline, or at least he is not able to present it.
We need to have a balanced budget, and we need to have the associated stability to encourage investment over the long term. When individuals see rising taxes and an inability to balance the budget, it has a negative effect on investment, and we have seen the impacts of that.
What also has a negative impact on investment is when the government seems to no longer understand the importance of nation-building infrastructure. A central part of how this country became what it is was because of the vision of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister, our first Conservative prime minister, who realized we needed to have the national infrastructure associated with the railway for security and economic reasons so that essentially Canadians could access each other, protect each other, and do business with each other.
Pipelines, what we have been talking about so much today and in recent days, are the nation-building infrastructure of the 21st century. They are what allow us to prosper together. On this side of the House, we embrace the idea of pipelines as vital nation-building infrastructure that allow the whole country to prosper together. We have members from all across this country who understand this and are proud supporters of our position on it.
What has the approach been of the government? It directly killed the northern gateway pipeline, a pipeline that had already been approved by the previous Conservative government. It indirectly has been killing other pipelines. It killed the energy east pipeline by piling on conditions. Now the Trans Mountain pipeline is at risk through the Liberals' neglect and lack of action. What the government has now said is that it is considering nationalizing it.
It has become clear that the government has no interest in actually building pipelines. When it sends a signal that the only way it can build a pipeline is by nationalizing it, that is not exactly a positive signal to send in terms of investment. How about the government focus on enforcing the law, on having a plan to making those investments secure. How about the Liberals take a consistent position where they actually support the nation-building infrastructure we need in terms of energy east and the northern gateway pipeline.
I was recently in New Brunswick. At least one member of the government was annoyed and complained to the newspaper that I was in New Brunswick talking to his constituents. I will not apologize because I think it is part of my job to hear what constituents in Liberal ridings are saying, especially when what they are saying is not reflected by their MPs. I was in New Brunswick, and there is a great deal of demand on the east coast and across this country for the energy east pipeline for the kind of benefits that come with nation-building infrastructure.
I said that the government is not making much progress in building pipelines. I should make one exception to that, of course. It put hundreds of millions of dollars into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a Chinese-controlled development bank that is building a pipeline in Azerbaijan. Canadians are investing in an infrastructure bank that is building infrastructure in Asia, that is building a pipeline in Azerbaijan.
I do not think that is what people thought Liberal MPs from Alberta meant when they said that they would support pipelines. When members, like the member for Edmonton Centre, said that they would support pipelines, I think people in Edmonton Centre thought that meant here in Canada, not in Azerbaijan. Instead of getting infrastructure built here in Canada, instead of getting pipelines built here in Canada, in its desperate bid to curry favour with all kinds of unsavoury regimes, including in this case the PRC regime, the government is spending money to get Canada into this infrastructure bank to build infrastructure such as pipelines in Asia, infrastructure that it is not building here in Canada.
This is an important issue. This is a lot of money we are spending overseas. What is the government's rationale for joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank? It says it is because Canadian companies can then get opportunities associated with these infrastructure projects. Well, I say that Canadian companies can get those opportunities here in Canada. I will also say that I was in the headquarters of the Asian infrastructure bank in Beijing, and it told us that it already has open staffing and open procurement policies, which means Canadian businesses can already bid on those same opportunities regardless of whether Canada gives hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to those programs.
This is a misguided budget. It does not help Canadians. It invests in totally the wrong areas. That is why I am proud to oppose it.