Madam Speaker, as some members will know, I used to sit on the finance committee in a previous Parliament. I do not get to do that now as chair for the Conservative caucus, but I see this is a report that has 145 recommendations and is one of the biggest in the past five to six years. Typically, what I have noticed is that the Liberal government has been ignoring the finance committee's recommendations, and in this concurrence report we have an opportunity to compare what is in the recommendations from the pre-budget submission to the government, created by the Standing Committee on Finance, with the actual budget document. We can compare the two and what has been proposed.
Some of these recommendations I actually agree with, but I know the government has no intentions of following through. The recommendations are either not in the budget document, or the Liberals have gone completely silent, so I want to highlight those issues I am most interested in.
Recommendation 12 is a good one: “Ensure that the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board changes do not create barriers for new medicines for Canadians.” It is Canadians with rare diseases who would be impacted by these changes. January 1 was when these new regulations were supposed to be coming in. I do not think I have spoken to a single patient advocacy group or stakeholder group that has said these changes were terrific and that they should go through, especially during a pandemic when we have interim health orders and special rules put in place by the federal health minister to manage the pandemic. This is the wrong time to be introducing changes such as this.
Now they have been delayed to July 1, so we have less than two short months, and the federal government should be delaying it further. This is the wrong time to be introducing PMPRB changes that would deeply impact new medications coming onto the market, including vaccinations that will be coming onto the market here in Canada, because they provide so little direction to provincial governments, health insurers and benefit plans. It would create more uncertainty.
In fact, it would create so much uncertainty that Alberta Health Services, the operator of the Alberta health care system, sent a letter to the federal health minister saying that these rules did not make sense. It could not inform the manufacturers or the people it negotiated with to give them any type of certainty on what the future would look like. That is Alberta Health Services, the provincial health insurer, telling the federal government it had gotten it wrong and that even it was confused by the contents. That was repeated by the Quebec government, and the British Columbia government said the same thing.
One of the biggest worries I have is that the federal government is taking its lead from an organization that, in its annual report to Parliament, says that medication is going up in cost and is actually one of the biggest drivers of health care costs in Canada, with 70% of those costs coming from expensive drugs for rare diseases. These are very expensive drugs, of which Kalydeco is a good example. The problem with what the PMPRB is doing is that, in that 70%, there are many rare disease medications that are given for everyday conditions. The health care systems decide that a rare disease medication works for a condition really well, and they allow it to be prescribed off-label. The federal regulator, this organization that is only supposed to look at excessive pricing of medication, is saying it is going to include that as if it was given to someone with a rare disease, and that is wrong. That is not the way it should be done. I have called them out on it at the health committee. I continue to do so in public advocacy, but recommendation 12 is very good. I think the finance committee got it correct, and the federal government is getting it wrong.
Recommendation 15 is about Diabetes Canada asking for Diabetes 360° to be implemented in Canada. I think this is a very good recommendation. I know there are many diabetics in my riding who suffer from this condition or have children or family members who suffer from it. This, to the government's credit, is in budget 2021. Diabetes is a condition that is chronic, and its numbers are going up. Every single year in Canada, more Canadians suffer from it. This is one of these chronic conditions that will crush the different medical systems in Canada, because there are so many associated costs. I have a friend who lost half of his foot to diabetes. It is a terrible condition, so I am pleased it is in both the pre-budget submission and budget 2021.
I will move on to recommendation 23, to “Uncouple the eligibility for the disability tax credit...and a registered disability savings plan”, so if someone loses access to the DTC, they would not also lose the RDSP and have to refund the RDSP. Members will remember that in the last Parliament the federal government, through the CRA, went through an audit process in which it denied tens of thousands of people with type 2 diabetes very unfairly. Many of those then also lost access to the RDSP and were forced into this massive refund.
There are many members on the Conservative side, in other parties, and on the Liberal benches as well, although not in the government unfortunately, who thought this was deeply unfair. Uncoupling it would be the right way to go, but it would be much better if the CRA simply ceased going after diabetics in this country and treated them like people who have a very bad chronic medical condition.
Recommendation 24, asking to make the disability tax credit refundable, is a very good recommendation. I had a private member's bill on this in the last Parliament, which I am hoping to reintroduce with some tweaks in this Parliament.
The disability tax credit is for Canadians with disabilities that never go away. Some people are unable to walk, like my daughter who passed away in the last Parliament. People with a rare condition like Patau syndrome, which she had, Edwards syndrome or spinal muscular atrophy will never walk, and the disability tax credit makes it possible for parents, when they still need support, to pay for things like a wheelchair or assistance to get into a bed. It pays for those costs. However, with the way it is set up right now, lower-income Canadians do not get access to it because they are not paying taxes. This is a good recommendation, and I really wish the government had taken it up, because it would help lower-income Canadians especially.
I am going to move on to recommendation 45, which asks us to adopt Bill C-395, the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, from the 42nd Parliament. It is also about disabilities. The member for Carleton actually proposed this private member's bill. This is a terrific idea for a person who chooses to work when they have a disability, like a learning disability or a physical disability, that makes them unable to work perhaps a full week or makes it challenging for them to go to a workplace every day even though they want to. They get innate dignity from working and a great sense of self-worth just for showing up to work and doing a job with their own two hands, and they should not be made worse off at the end of the day. There are a lot of programs, such as PDD and AISH in Alberta, that penalize people who go to work. They actually lose more money than they get from them.
I am glad to see that the finance committee decided to put that recommendation in. However, it is very sad that for budget 2021, it was not added into the bill. It would bring a great amount of fairness to persons with disabilities.
I have looked at the content of the pre-budget report and budget 2021. There is a Yiddish proverb that says, “It doesn't cost anything to look”, so I'm looking through the window at what's being done.
Recommendation 62 says, “Simplify access and implementation of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funds for housing.” I have been a huge critic of the CMHC and I make no apologies for it whatsoever. However, I do welcome Romy Bowers, who is the new chief executive officer, and look forward to filing many, many access to information requests with the CMHC.
I do not like this recommendation because the CMHC is there to provide one service. I know it tried to rename itself “housing Canada”, and I believe it misled a parliamentary committee when it pretended that it was not using current funds to fund the rebranding. This has been set aside during the pandemic as something to do in the future, but hopefully CMHC will return to Parliament to ask for more money to do the project.
It has a project called the first-time home buyer incentive, which was introduced before the 2019 federal election. At the time I called it an election gimmick. Officials were saying that this was going to help 100,000 first-time homebuyers in Canada, but by my count, as of January 31, 2021, there have been 9,108 approvals. One hundred thousand people were supposed to be helped between 2019 and 2022. We are about at the midway point now, and we have 9,108 approvals. Also, an approval does not mean that a first-time homebuyer actually followed through and accepted the offer to have the government share in the equity of their home in a purchase. I strongly believe that even if we simplified access and implementation, this program would still be a failure.
During the 2019 election, the governing party announced that it was going to change the rules for the incentive to make it easier, to broaden the reach and to expand the income levels so that people could still apply for it. The city where the most people applied for it and took the offer from the federal government through the CMHC is Edmonton. Edmonton is perhaps an expensive city in the Alberta context, but it is nothing compared with Vancouver or Toronto. Very few people in those two large metropolitan areas took advantage of it.
I do not like this recommendation because, frankly, the CMHC's primary purpose for existing is to provide mortgage insurance for chartered banks, credit unions and financial institutions. That is its primary role and it should focus on that job. It acts as a backstop. It does an immense service by providing and broadening the ability of first-time homebuyers to become homeowners. That is the purpose of its existence. I am happy to continue to criticize the previous CEO now that he has joined Alberta Investment Management Corporation, but that is the purpose of CMHC. Home ownership is the purpose of CMHC. That is what it was created for. I do not like this recommendation because I do not like it getting more powers. I am sure I will get a letter in the mail from someone at CMHC disagreeing with me and I look forward to submitting an ATIP for the drafting of that letter as well.
Recommendation No. 90 says, “Require the companies receiving the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility”, which was the LEEFF program, a program that some employers in Calgary did take advantage of, “to prove that their business plans are in line with the Paris Agreement target to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.” This is interesting because the Paris Agreement does not say 1.5°C. It has several models in it, too. The IPCC also talks about several different models. A lot of that work is based on the social cost of carbon by William Nordhaus, who is an award-winning Nobel laureate.
This is the stuff that really worries my constituents. This is the stuff where they start accusing the government of trying to reimagine the economy and taking advantage of a crisis to force through its ideas. The large employer emergency financing facility was to help large employers during a pandemic. It should not be used to then leverage them on the one side to do policy objectives of the government and, on top of that, who is going to review these business plans? Who is going to sit down and kind of add up what is leading to the Celsius degree reach?
For a trucking company I might be able to understand it, but what about a really large employer like a post-secondary institution? That is where it becomes really difficult. Who is going to review my business plan if I am trying to teach tens of thousands of students every single year? What does that have to do with demonstrating my temperature increase? Do I need to lower the thermostat in my buildings? Stuff like that seems kind of ridiculous, so I am perplexed as to why it is in this finance pre-budget document.
The report goes on like that. There are some good ideas and some bad ones. Recommendation No. 109 says, “Require airlines to reimburse their customers whose flights are cancelled.” I agree with that. I have a lot of constituents who are extremely angry at the airlines. Calgary is home to WestJet, which used to be its biggest employer after the downturn in the oil and gas economy. Now that the pandemic has hit, oil has drastically rebounded and is very close to $70 for West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select is just a few dollars behind it, so the price of a barrel of oil is very strong right now.
A lot of my constituents still have not gotten their refunds. The government has struck a deal with Air Canada and WestJet is still waiting to hear from the federal government, but independent travel advisers also cannot be hurt with any refund. I know the two major airlines, and others have been doing it too, are leveraging independent travel advisers, trying to extract out of them their commissions for services already rendered. I really wish this recommendation had included independent travel advisers. I have probably met with 40 to 50 in my riding several times. They are suffering. They are small business owners, typically they are single parents and it is a really big deal.
Recommendation No. 123 says, “Withdraw from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” I have been on this train for four years now trying to get the federal government to withdraw from this bank. It was the member for Malpeque who put it best to the government when he said that the federal government needed to wake up and smell the roses. This is the only way we are going to find leverage.
Canadians are being held against their will in the People's Republic of China. It has cracked down on democracy activists in Hong Kong and renegued on the basic agreement it signed with the United Kingdom. It has intimidated Taiwan, which is an ally and close friend of Canada. It has tried to annex the South China Sea. It has persecuted over a million Muslim Uighurs, an ethnic minority in Xinjiang province, that it has interned in concentration camps to try to wipe them out culturally.
The least the federal government could do is get a stick and withdraw from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a way to apply political pressure, to have a G7 country back out of the AIIB, a bank that is based in Beijing, has built pipelines in the suburbs of Beijing, has built pipelines in other countries and financed projects. In Recommendation No. 123, I really wish the federal government had taken this on.
It is nice to see an all-party committee such as the Standing Committee on Finance actually say to the federal government that it is right, and no less than the chair of the committee tell the federal government it is wrong on the matter of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. We need to withdraw from it. It would send a signal to Beijing that we will not be intimidated and that we will stand up for the two Michaels, and other Canadians who could be, in the future, held hostage by a regime that has taken advantage of the federal government at every single opportunity.