Mr. Speaker, our country faces an immense crisis. It is a health crisis and a financial crisis, the likes of which we have never seen before. Therefore, my remarks are for the millions of Canadians who worry about their future and worry about the country their children and grandchildren will inherit.
Yes, I am a grandfather, and I thank the CBC for recognizing that. In fact, I am an opa 11 times over. I love my grandkids and it is their future I am worried about. They are the ones stuck with the $1-trillion bill created by this pandemic. It is our response to this crisis that will determine whether we leave them with a bright future or leave them shackled to crippling taxes, languishing economic growth and declining socio-economic outcomes.
The government faces an enormous challenge, that is clear, but our job as members of the opposition is twofold. We perform a challenge function. We hold the government to account for its actions and policies and provide parliamentary oversight. I know this is something the finance minister does not really welcome. She has demanded that we abandon those functions and simply rubber stamp hundreds of billions of dollars of borrowing and spending. That is downright reckless and we will not do it.
We have also proposed constructive solutions, like fixing the CERB and the wage subsidy programs, so I would like to propose a few more.
The government's fall economic statement, Bill C-14, should give us pause to consider whether the federal government has a robust plan for the future. I have concluded that it does not. It is true that the statement delivers badly needed additional support to Canadians in their time of need, such as a top-up to the Canada child benefit and interest relief on student loans. We support all those benefits. In fact, we called for them. However, thousands of Canadians still feel abandoned because of poorly designed and confusing programs and the Prime Minister's unwillingness to recognize the scope of the crisis in certain regions of the country.
Bill C-14 would do something else. It would dramatically increase the amount that the government can borrow by $700 billion and would set aside $100 billion of discretionary spending. With hundreds of billions of dollars at his disposal, one would expect that the Prime Minister would present Canadians with a cogent and defensible plan that both supports Canadians in their time of need and tackles the immense fiscal challenges ahead. He has not done so.
The Prime Minister boldly stated, “...Canadians are in for a hard winter. But we know that spring will surely follow. That is because we have a plan... plentiful vaccines are around the corner.” He even audaciously claimed that things were in good shape. My message for the Prime Minister is this: Things are not in good shape. I have not met one constituent who believes that things are in good shape in our country.
In December, 53,000 Canadians became unemployed. Last month, over 200,000 more lost their jobs.
The government is heading in the wrong direction and the mounting deficits and debt are staggering. The Prime Minister is spending billions, yet millions of Canadians are being left behind.
The fall economic statement fails to put forward a serious plan for the future. There is no successful plan to roll out vaccines. There is no plan for job creation or for small businesses. There is no plan to secure our long-term future and no road map to manage the massive financial liability our country is incurring to support Canadians in their time of need right now.
The Prime Minister's number one responsibility is to give Canadians hope. They want their lives back, they want their jobs back, they want their small businesses back. They want their health, their schools, their places of worship and their communities back. However, the Prime Minister has provided no confidence that things might soon return to normal. All we have is a trail of broken promises on things like vaccines and rapid testing on containing the virus. The reality is that there is no plan, and a vague promise to spend billions more is not leadership.
What would Conservatives do differently and why do we believe we could do better? Let me answer both questions by providing, as I promised, some constructive advice to the government.
First, no recovery is possible until the majority of Canadians have been vaccinated. To date, the Prime Minister has failed to deliver vaccines as and when he promised. He should do what was promised: deliver the six million doses by the end of March and then keep his word and make vaccines available to all Canadians by the end of September. More than 52 countries around the world are now doing it better than the Prime Minister. While he is at it, he should remove the shroud of secrecy around the vaccines. Let Canadians see exactly what has been negotiated with Moderna, Pfizer and others.
Second, he should address the declining competitiveness of our economy. In recent years, Canada has lost a historic amount of domestic and foreign investment due to a loss of investor confidence. We lag far behind our fiercest competitors. The government must address the lack of access to capital and talent and the significant regulatory, commercialization and interprovincial barriers that discourage investors from creating economic growth here at home.
Third, there should be no more taxes. Canadians are already taxed to the max. The financial burden on Canadian families has only worsened, with carbon taxes, new taxes on Airbnb rentals and cross-border digital commerce, increased CPP contributions and a clean fuel standard. Stop. People are exhausted. There is nothing left to give.
Fourth, with close to a million Canadians out of work, the reality is that many of these jobs will not come back. Therefore, does the government have an effective plan for retraining unemployed Canadians for the jobs of tomorrow? I have not seen it.
Fifth, economists point out that our aging population is putting a tremendous squeeze on our labour force, undermining our competitiveness when we can least afford it. How do we replace the baby boomers as they retire and exit the economy? Where is the strategy to find talent and train the best and brightest to rebuild our country?
Sixth, small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and employ over eight million people. Without targeted support, some 240,000 of these businesses will have to be shuttered forever. It is a tragedy in the making. Therefore, what is the government doing about it? Here is a suggestion: Small businesses, unlike the big corporations, need enhanced liquidity as they close up shop and wonder what is next. They need immediate emergency support and longer term financial tools to reorganize, reopen safely and adapt to a transformed business landscape. Will the government make improved support available?
Seventh, I note the Prime Minister has promoted ambitious investments in critical infrastructure, but most are still stuck in Ottawa. This is not the time for him to treat billions of dollars as his personal piggy bank to win the next election. I call for him to champion nation-building investments that make our economy more competitive. That should include things like gateway infrastructure, ports, railways, bridges and it should include energy infrastructure. I ask him to please get these investments out the door. So far it has been all talk and no action.
Last, and perhaps most important, our country faces a massive fiscal challenge. I am asking the government to exercise discipline and put in place the fiscal anchors, targets and rules that will stabilize our nation's finances so our children and grandchildren can actually see some light at the end of the tunnel. What is the government's debt target? How will it be achieved? What budgetary constraints is the government considering? Where did billions in spending go? Are taxes going up? Are we still committed to a declining debt-to-GDP ratio? Canadians have a right to know.
Canadians also have a right to ask us, the opposition, what makes us think we could do any better? I refer them to the great global recession of 2008-2009 when the country, like so many others, took a hit. It was a Conservative government that skilfully managed spending and investment so Canada was the last G7 country to enter that recession and the very first to emerge. Then we carefully set the fiscal anchors, stabilizing our nation's finances and securing our country's future. Can we do it again? I believe we can, because our kids and grandkids are counting on us.