Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to add my voice to the debate that just began on Bill C-97, another budget implementation bill from the Liberal government.
I rise for the first time as the finance critic for the New Democratic Party. I thank my leader, the member for Burnaby South, for trusting me and for granting me the privilege of serving in the NDP caucus on issues related to finances and the economy as well as on tax issues, as I already do in my role as critic for national revenue.
I am very pleased to be able to continue the fight for greater social, fiscal and even environmental justice, just as we have been doing for quite some time now. That is extremely important to me.
Unfortunately, I must say, this bill falls quite short of the expectations we had, on this side of the House, as well as the expectations of most Canadians. It falls far short of what we would expect from the Liberal government, which has failed to fulfill the promises it made during the election campaign.
It is all the more disappointing because we are debating the Liberal government's last budget implementation bill. This is the government's last real opportunity to implement its legislative proposals for moving our country forward. I am very disappointed that several of the Liberal government's promised initiatives are not found in this bill. The Liberal government will definitely not keep certain promises. In the next election campaign, the Liberals will have to defend why they are keeping Canadians waiting for beneficial and important measures that would improve the lives of most of our constituents. I am truly disappointed, even though some measures have been implemented.
It is difficult to examine such a huge bill. I will reiterate the comments of my colleague from Vancouver East, who earlier called this an omnibus bill. I, too, consider this to be an omnibus bill because of its nature, the variety of laws affected and the fact that many of these measures are not found in the budget document presented to the House on March 19.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will consider the points my colleague raised to show that this is an omnibus bill that meets the criteria set out in the new rules of the House of Commons.
I hope that parliamentarians will be able to have their say through separate votes, at the very least. This would allow us to make decisions as parliamentarians and do our jobs properly. It is very difficult for a member of Parliament to vote on a wide range of measures. We may agree with some and not others, but at the end of the day we have to make a choice.
We have to choose between measures that may be good but are connected to bad budget measures or bad legislative measures, which means that we are forced to oppose the entire document. I hope that the Chair will decide to divide this bill so that there will be several votes, which would allow us to better represent our constituents on such important issues. I am confident that we will be able to make good decisions.
Moving on from the form of this bill, I would like to talk about the content. This budget misses the mark and is in keeping with the trend we have seen in recent years and more obviously in recent months and days: putting the wealthy and Liberal Party cronies above all else. Lobbyists have direct access to the Prime Minister's Office, and the second they knock at the door or make a call, they get what they want. The office does everything it can to make them happy.
This budget is a continuation of the Liberals' policy to benefit the party's friends, insiders and donors, like SNC-Lavalin and Loblaws, which have joined the list of companies in the Liberal government's good graces. I could also mention KPMG and big pharma, which still have considerable influence in the Prime Minister's Office. Lastly, we cannot forget Kinder Morgan, the big, Houston-based oil company that pocketed $4.5 billion of Canadian taxpayers' money.
These kinds of actions give us a glimpse of a party's and a government's true values. This budget is essentially the continuation of a policy to benefit wealthy insiders. It obviously does not benefit the ordinary Canadians who truly need help. These people are struggling every day, every week and every month to make ends meet.
Pharmacare is one important element that is nowhere to be found in this bill even though it is an obvious and easy solution that people have been talking about for years. The Liberals have been promising pharmacare for over 20 years, but today, the parliamentary secretary talked about doing things the right way, studying the matter before taking action, laying the groundwork to create ideal conditions and setting up an advisory council before creating a universal pharmacare program. They have been promising that for 20 years. No more excuses. This is long overdue, but the government keeps saying that it is too soon to take action on this file because the conditions are not ideal yet.
People in Sherbrooke have talked to me about being unable to get some of their prescription drugs. One of my constituents has to take three drugs prescribed by his doctor, but because he cannot afford all three, he had to ask his pharmacist which one was the most important. That is an everyday reality for people in Sherbrooke and elsewhere in Canada. In this budget implementation bill, the government is telling people they will have to keep waiting even though everyone who has studied the problem agrees on the solutions. The government is still asking people to choose between medication and food or medication and rent.
Sadly, the government lacks the courage of its convictions. It refuses to stand up to the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies that object to this idea. These are the actions that show us where the Liberal government stands, namely on the side of the companies. These companies are resisting efforts to create a pharmacare program, because they see it as a threat to their bottom line. Everyone knows that drug and insurance companies are immensely profitable, and they are afraid of losing some of their market share, which would hurt their profits.
Once again, the Liberals are siding with big business over Canadians, who just want access to quality medication so they can heal and participate fully and actively in the economy. A healthy population means lower costs for the provincial health care systems, which are straining at the seams.
This is another example of the Liberal government's wait-and-see approach and its habit of putting off important decisions. Powerful lobbies are influencing the Prime Minister's Office and shutting down any good ideas that could hurt their bottom line.
Another thing the bill fails to mention is the environment. I brought this up earlier. The environment is the single most important issue for our generation and our society, especially now in 2019. It was already very important, but it is even more critical today. The environment is virtually a non-factor in the bill. As I was saying earlier, this bill is the Liberals' last chance to take a stand before the election, to propose meaningful and hopefully bold legislation. However, with respect to the environment, they are proposing a few paltry measures here and there. They are proposing measures for purchases of electric vehicles and renovation projects. Given the scale of the problem, these measures are grossly insufficient.
This clearly demonstrates that the Liberals are siding with large corporations on this issue. The major oil companies are still getting subsidies, and just recently they benefited from a $4.5-billion cheque. A single company got that big of a cheque from Canadian taxpayers, from the government. Once again, the government is saying that we need to put off any changes to oil subsidies. The Liberals have put that off until later, probably until after the election, if they are lucky enough to get re-elected and if we do not take their place. That is the reality of a wait-and-see government.
The government wants to put off these changes until later. Major lobby groups have been putting pressure on the government. Billionaire oil companies are getting cheques from the government and keeping their subsidies. Bill C-97 would have been a good opportunity to put an end to shameful oil subsidies that are being condemned around the world. Other countries have taken action to end oil subsidies. This is yet another example of a government putting the interests of large corporations above those of ordinary Canadians. Canadians deserve as much attention as the large corporations are getting from the Liberal government.
The most recent example of this is the famous $12-million subsidy. That is a lot of money. We tend to forget sometimes how much money we are really talking about. A significant amount of money, $12 million, was given to a highly profitable company, Loblaws. That is how the government chooses to fight climate change. It invests in companies that have all the money in the world. If there is a grocery store that has the means to buy itself some fridges, it is certainly Loblaws. In every one of our ridings there are grocery stores that are struggling to make ends meet every month. They want to pay their employees well and provide good working conditions. They see the government caving to pressure from multinationals like Loblaws and giving them the money they need to replace their refrigerators. It is so frustrating for taxpayers, businesses, small grocers, or any business that wants to become greener and invest in improving their energy efficiency, to see that corporations are the ones getting the subsidies to upgrade their refrigerators. It is the right thing to do, but the government chose the wrong target.
I also want to mention some of the proposed measures in the budget that are just half-measures. In some cases, it might be a step in the right direction. However, in other cases, the government again hits the wrong target.
There is the home buyers plan, which allows home buyers to withdraw some money from their RRSPs to invest in buying a house. The government told us that this measure will help millennials access home ownership. We recognize the importance of encouraging access to home ownership. In fact, we also proposed something to that effect in the past few weeks.
The national housing crisis must be addressed. It is clearly an important and serious issue for our country. The Liberals' solution involves expanding the home buyers' plan, allowing people to withdraw $10,000 more from their RRSPs to use as a down payment, raising the limit from $25,000 to $35,000.
Maybe some of my colleagues had young people in their ridings come and knock on their doors to say that $25,000 from their RRSPs was not enough and they needed more, $35,000, in order to buy a house. That makes no sense.
Perhaps some members will tell me that happened to them, but most young people who come to see me are not telling me they need more money from their RRSPs. They are telling me that they simply do not have any money to put towards a down payment, that they simply cannot afford to buy a house. It is not about their RRSPs or how much they can withdraw. I do not know how the Liberals came up with that solution. On top of that, they claim to be targeting millennials.
This may benefit some people who want to buy their first property, but it is certainly not something that will help millennials, given that statistics show that only 35% of them have RRSPs. It makes no sense to target this measure at millennials.
The bill also amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. This clearly does not meet the expectations of many unions and stakeholders involved in this important file, who want pensions to be protected from unscrupulous executives who will do anything to get their hands on as much money as possible before declaring bankruptcy.
What the government failed to do in this bill was change the creditors' priority ranking. It was the government's last chance to change creditors' order of priority in a budget implementation bill. It was an opportunity to put employees, their pensions, their salaries and their benefits first in the priority ranking. However, the government again chose to side with big business and lobbyists, who argued that it would not be good for the economy. They told the government not to give priority to employees because it would stifle investment. The government always gives in to these types of arguments by lobbyists who knock at the Prime Minister's door. Sears executives would like us to believe that they acted in good faith. That was another missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity here has to do with student debt. The government says it will postpone collecting interest on student debt. That is how the government plans to help students drowning in debt once they complete their studies.
The government could support those students and help them become homeowners, as mentioned earlier, but no, students will continue to pay interest on their students loans, on what they owe the federal government. The government had one last opportunity to do something but missed it.
The Liberals are squandering their last chance. They are going to tell Canadians to wait a bit longer, but I think the last four years have proven to Canadians that whatever the Liberals say during a campaign is not worth much at all. The Liberals have had four years to make these changes and deliver on their promises, but they have clearly failed to do so. They have helped the rich at the expense of ordinary Canadians who really need help. It is a great shame those ordinary Canadians must suffer the consequences. The government is telling them to keep holding their breath.
That is unfortunate and is the reason why Canadians will have to choose another economic vision, another vision for our country, a vision for an energy transition, a true vision for the environment, a true vision for pharmacare, a true vision for housing, a true vision for helping people who are really in need. Canadians are going to have to choose people who will stand up to the big oil and economic interests of multinationals, which try to get everything they want from the Prime Minister's Office. Canadians will have people who stand with them.