House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was targets.

Topics

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, part of the answer, to make it very clear to the member's constituents, is that in 2019 there was an election promise that we would do 10% for those 75 years old and above.

Having said that, the member is right. There was a very high sense of co-operation within the chamber for the first few months, and then the Conservatives kind of cut out and the Bloc would have continued on. However, there have been some co-operative moments that have helped to facilitate things.

I would not want to give a false impression. The Prime Minister was clear at the very beginning that we wanted a team Canada approach in combatting the coronavirus, and that meant getting everyone onside working together, whether opposition parties, provincial governments, indigenous leaders, other stakeholders or so many others.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, the member spoke about a little of everything, but the debate is on concurring in the finance committee's report on the pre-budget submission to the government.

Over the years, we have seen that the number of recommendations being accepted by the Government of Canada keeps going down. I think it is around 25% to 30%. However, I want to draw the member's attention to recommendation 123, which is to withdraw from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. An all-party committee has recommended something that I have been requesting for nearly four years now.

Why did the Government of Canada not withdraw from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank following the series of human and democratic rights violations we saw in Hong Kong, in China seizing the South China Sea and also in the continued persecution of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives have a certain slant or spin that they like to take.

I am wondering if the member would provide his thoughts at a future time as to some of the projects that have actually been accomplished. I can recall one, for example, that assisted in flood-proofing in the Phillippines, which was needed.

It is easy to bash China, and lately the Conservatives have been fairly good at it, but it should also be noted that it was Stephen Harper who agreed to a secret trade agreement, which did not even come to the House of Commons. It seems when he was prime minister, he was all gung ho: “Let's do everything with China.” Since the new leadership, the Conservatives seem to have taken a 180° turn.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, too many Canadian families are suffering from the high cost of prescription medication. The situation has been made far worse by the pandemic, because many Canadians have lost their jobs or seen their hours reduced and have seen their coverage under workplace plans eliminated. This can have devastating and very negative consequences for family budgets.

The Liberals first made a promise for a national pharmacare plan back in 1997, which was 24 years ago, yet here in the most recent budget, in 2021, we saw a half-page mention of it. I do not know what happened. Did the Liberals cave to the pressure from big pharma, or is this just another promise that they want to drag out for another few election cycles? Working families cannot wait. They need to have this kind of plan in place. It is the missing element for our health care system.

My question is this. How much longer are Canadians going to have wait before the Liberals actually get serious about this plan? When can we expect to see some substantive action on this file?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, a few years ago I was with my daughter, Cindy, on Keewatin Street pushing for a national pharmacare plan, and the Winnipeg Sun had us on the front page of the paper. We have put forward petitions, and I have spoken on many occasions about it. I was really pleased to see it was in the throne speech back in September 2020. I am an optimist, and believe we are going to see a national pharmacare plan.

The NDP needs to realize that, in order to maximize the benefits of a national pharmacare plan, we need to have provinces on board. We cannot have a truly national plan that maximizes the benefits without the provinces. If he reads the throne speech, he will see it specifically references, I believe, needing to continue to look at working with provinces on ways in which we can implement a national pharmacare program. In the last four years, we have had more discussions about pharmacare than I have seen in the previous 26 years of my parliamentary experience.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, with the NDP asking why pharmacare has not taken place, and the Conservatives asking why we have not planted all these trees, one would think they were oblivious to the fact that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, which has capitalized a ton of the resources of the various departments and ministers. This is where their time has been focused.

At the same time, we are seeing promised legislation continue to advance, but perhaps not at the speed we would have liked had there not been a pandemic. Could the parliamentary secretary comment on how the government has responded to what is going on right now while balancing that against some of these other, very important initiatives, which have been brought forward?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 3rd, 2021 / 6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I will answer in two parts. First, I love our announcement about the two billion trees. It is something tangible and Canadians can really relate to it. I look forward to its ultimate realization, as we have actually seen tangible movement.

Second, I have frustration with Bill C-14 and how the Conservatives decided to play politics more so than act in Canadians' best interests. It is an absolute and total shame that, when Canadians needed us most, when we needed to be there, the Conservatives squandered away opportunities to see Bill C-14 pass, which would have enhanced things for Canadians, whether through the wage subsidy or the Canada child benefit program.

I am very proud of the fact that the Prime Minister has never lost sight of the first priority of this government, which is the pandemic. We are combatting it and ultimately striving to build back better.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Martin Champoux Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to come back to the question raised by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean a little earlier.

I too have had discussions with seniors about the controversial $500 payment and 10% increase in old age security. These measures apply to people 75 and over and ignore seniors 65 to 75.

I spent half an hour on the phone with a Mrs. Guévin from my riding, who was in tears at first. She was shocked, depressed and discouraged because she needs that money but is under 75. She wonders about the reason behind this decision to exclude seniors under 75 and to focus only on seniors 75 and up, when those aged 65 to 75 have just as many needs as those 75 and up.

I would like to hear what the parliamentary secretary has to say about that.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, shortly after being elected in 2015, one of the first things we did was increase the guaranteed income supplement substantially. I think about $920 would have been the maximum. At the end of the day, it lifted hundreds of seniors out of poverty here in Winnipeg North alone and tens of thousands, going well into hundreds of thousands, across Canada. This included people aged 65 and over.

There are other things the government is doing to hopefully make life a bit easier for all seniors. The age of 75 is something that was an election promise, and I think Canadians recognize the value of giving a 10% increase to the three million Canadians who are 75 and over.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say hello to all of the members who are taking part in the debate on the report of the Standing Committee on Finance. As we know, finance committee reports mean budgetary policy.

At this stage, we are being asked to concur in the report of the Standing Committee on Finance, but since the budget has already been tabled, we might as well talk about that. For starters, it was two years in the making and was introduced one year into an unprecedented, global health crisis.

In Canada, this budget is the result of a tendency to want to erode the power of members, who are increasingly being asked to rubber-stamp the government's propositions in favour of ministerial power. Decision-making power is ever more concentrated within the Prime Minister's inner circle. This new culture is reflected in extremely lengthy omnibus bills that are tabled without the possibility of being amended and that are being rammed through the parliamentary process.

The budget comes after a year-long health crisis, a year of the government not being transparent with the public, parliamentarians, the Parliamentary Budget Officer or the Auditor General's office, a year of scandals and failures—which, in a particular case, led to the resignation of the Minister of Finance, one might say out of an excess of charity—a year in which Parliament was prorogued for six weeks, paralyzing the democratic process.

It was never clear why the government was so afraid to table a budget, especially in these troubled times. The budget was long overdue, but not necessarily the one we were hoping for. Now that we have seen it, this budget marks a new offensive in Ottawa's gluttonous drive to centralize power. Indeed, this budget is in keeping with Ottawa's deeply rooted tradition of wanting to build a government that is the only one to set the priorities, strategies and actions that will ultimately be implemented.

On paper the so-called Canadian confederation is composed of provinces that are free to follow their own destiny and only share certain responsibilities, but this budget clearly says that that is just a sham. This budget shows us that Canada is not a confederation at all, that it can only have one legitimate state, Ottawa, and that the provinces are mere administrators responsible for managing the losses, begging for money and enforcing the decisions of the central state.

Canada—and this is its intrinsic logic—will be increasingly called upon to become a unitary state. The approach is disconcertingly simple but undeniably effective: to further drain Quebec and the provinces financially by deploying a maximum number of new pan-Canadian structures, national strategies and centralized and centralizing standards. That is how Canada will erode Quebec's ability to act and then impose its choices, choices that Quebec would probably not have made if it had made its own decisions freely. According to this vision, Quebec will no longer be the home of a nation, but a mere administrator for outsourcing.

I would like to make an aside. Last fall, when the Bloc Québécois moved a motion calling for an official apology from Ottawa for enacting the War Measures Act in 1970, under which hundreds of people were arrested, one government member spent 10 minutes of his speaking time talking about everything other than the motion. We asked him about this during questions and comments, and he told us that he was not interested in history and the past.

I am bringing this up because the Bloc Québécois has no problem looking back on, learning about or understanding the past. We can learn a lot from history, and what history tells us about the budget and the financial situation we are talking about today is that English Canada, whether you are talking about the British or Canadian government, has always taken advantage of crises to hold Quebec back. This was true in the 19th century after the patriots' rebellions, it was true after the 1980 referendum, it was true after the 1995 referendum, and it is true now in this health crisis.

After the failure of the Patriotes' rebellion in 1837-38, the government took advantage of the new balance of power to pass the 1840 Act of Union to take away our power. After the failure of the 1980 Quebec referendum, the government took advantage of the new balance of power to unilaterally patriate the Constitution, without Quebec's agreement, in essence excluding Quebec from the decision. To this day, Quebec is still not among the signatories.

After the failure of the 1995 Quebec referendum, the government once more took advantage of the situation to put in place its plan B. It is very similar to what we see happening today. The plan involved several parts. The spectre of the partition of Quebec was raised. A law was passed, the Clarity Act, which denied Quebec democracy. A mass propaganda campaign was waged, along with an ideological invasion through the sponsorship program. Quebec's efforts at diplomacy were sabotaged. I would remind members that during the post-referendum years, the Premier of Quebec was uninvited from international ceremonies at the behest of scheming Canadian embassies.

Then came the financial destabilization, which has been known for years as the fiscal imbalance. In this case, the plan was to unilaterally reduce transfers and use that money to interfere in Quebec's jurisdictions under the guise of providing assistance. Does that remind my colleagues of anything?

Between 1993 and 1997, the government reduced the provincial transfers in an effort to eliminate its deficit. These reductions were equivalent to five times the cuts the government was making to these programs. The government made more cuts, diverting money from the employment insurance fund. Between 1993 and 2001, the percentage of unemployed workers eligible for benefits dropped from 65% to 49%.

To offset those cuts, the Government of Quebec had to take on $845 million between 1990 and 1997 in expenditures normally covered by Ottawa. This was also the case for the health transfers. In 1997, when he was leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives, Jean Charest contradicted what he had repeated ad nauseam during his years in Quebec. He said, “Forget Lucien Bouchard and Jean Rochon. The person who is really responsible for hospital closures and the deterioration of our health care system is Jean Chrétien.”

Subsequent federal budgets contained numerous announcements of federal investments in areas of shared jurisdiction or areas exclusively under provincial jurisdiction, particularly health and education. At the time, federal Liberal minister Marcel Massé was disconcertingly candid when he said, “When Bouchard has to make cuts, we in Ottawa will be able to show that we have the means to preserve the future of our social programs”. He deserves credit for being clear, albeit extremely cynical.

Now, in 2021, nothing much has changed. As we know, the Government of Canada's budget does not provide for any increases in health transfers for the provinces. The COVID-19 crisis has shown how important it is to have an optimal health care system that is prepared to deal with the most challenging of situations. The effectiveness of the health care system is certainly not solely dependent on funding, but funding is an essential component. The provincial governments need to hire doctors, nurses and orderlies. Needs are increasing exponentially, and Quebec is responsible for dealing with them since health falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. However, the money remains tied up in Ottawa at a time when the health care system is overburdened.

This is a long-standing problem, as I said. Since 1995, federal transfers for health care have melted away like snow in the sun. Even before the pandemic, population aging was already a real challenge. In Quebec, the population segment aged 85 and over will triple over the next 30 years. When the Medical Care Act was first passed in 1968, Ottawa was to provide 50% of the funding for health care. Today, federal support is closer to 23%. I would remind the House that we were not even asking for 50%. We were asking for 35%, but even that was too much to ask. The financial shock has been enormous for Quebec. It has had to deal with mass retirements and chronic underfunding.

In Quebec, spending on health and social services represented 9% of GDP and 50% of the public budget last year. That is huge. According to an organization called Force Jeunesse, by 2048, those figures will increase to 15% of GDP and between 65% and 82% of public spending. Think about that.

This poses very serious political problems for provincial governments, which quite simply are losing their budgetary autonomy. The shortfall will continue to grow, and the provinces will have one obsession, which is to fund their health care system, ignoring everything else.

In the past, now and in the future, the transfers must be adequate and unconditional. I remind members that it would not be a gift from Ottawa. We pay our taxes, it is our money, and it should be spent on health care.

Liberal and Conservative federal governments alike have never increased the transfers. Even worse, the current Prime Minister lectured Quebec about its management of the vaccination rollout, even though it was his government that was unable to supply the provinces as it should have.

Of course, that was not the only criticism from the Prime Minister of Canada. He is also talking about imposing federal standards on long-term care facilities. He might want to look after our seniors the same way he looked after the borders during the pandemic, but I am saying no thank you.

The Bloc Québécois made health transfers a central issue a long time ago. As a matter of fact, in December 2019, I remember we had just started to sit. It was our first week. My first speech ever in the House, which at that point was not yet doing virtual sittings, was about this subject. If I am not mistaken, it was during debate on the throne speech. We will not back down.

Part of the reason we are pressing this issue is that we are thinking of the working conditions of our amazing health care workers. I commend them for their heroic efforts. Let us not mince words, they are working in veritable war zones, taking huge risks, yet they still manage to keep smiling. I sincerely commend them for their devotion and their courage. They deserve the greatest recognition.

As I was saying, costs will go through the roof, putting Quebec in an untenable position. It will no longer be able to concentrate on anything other than its health care system. This is the only issue we will hear about in the coming years and decades. Make no mistake, the window opened by the Quiet Revolution fostered Quebec's identity as a nation in its own right instead of a province among many, but this could close that window a little more. We were even at the stage where we were developing relations with other countries in the world through a system of diplomatic representation. We had developed our own programs, our own Crown corporations and even our own diplomatic ties.

Today, that is no longer in our reach. We are being reduced to the status of a local branch, a mere administrator, while Ottawa co-opts and monopolizes all the flexibility to make decisions. We can read in the pages of this budget that in conjunction with draining Quebec and the provinces of their ability to act, the federal tentacles are coming out, as they did after 1838, after 1980, after 1995. As it dismantles Quebec, Canada builds itself up. Ottawa is setting up the infrastructure to be able to permanently interfere in the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

Let us take a look at what is in the budget: long-term care centres, a national child care program, possibly pharmacare, women's health issues, a framework for mental health with Wellness Together Canada, reproductive health, a Canada water management agency, critical mineral management, securities, a federal office for recognizing foreign credentials, a federal framework for skills training and other sectoral initiatives in employment, an initiative to help seniors age well at home, a national advisory board on child care, a new program to support skills for success, a new apprenticeship program, a new data commissioner, and a natural infrastructure fund.

It is safe to say that the 739-page budget document does not skimp on intrusions of all kinds, in every way and in every facet imaginable. Need I point out that there is no right to opt out with compensation? No, because that goes without saying.

These multiple intrusions were even denounced in a letter from André Pratte that was published in the Montreal Gazette. Remember, André Pratte was a senator and editorial writer for La Presse, and he is most definitely not a sovereignist.

I also want to quote the columnist Antoine Robitaille, who wrote:

...as is often the case in Canada, when something seems necessary and desirable, the federal big brother ignores the constitutional rules and takes the lead.

In his article, Antoine Robitaille quoted Justice Rowe, who was himself quoting constitutional expert Peter Hogg:

According to the latter, if in a federal nation paramount central power “completely overlapped regional power”, then that nation stops being federal. In such a system, the provinces can exercise their jurisdiction as they please—“as long as they do so in a manner that the federal legislation authorizes”!

It is a declaration of war, war on independence, war on the merest hint of the people's desire to assert themselves as a nation or affirm provincial autonomy.

Whenever we raise these issues, as we do on a regular basis, people always accuse us of trying to pick a fight. What are we supposed to do, though?

Should Quebec keep quiet, suck it up, accept these limitations, settle for never being more than a province, never being more than a minority? Every day that it exists within this system, Quebec loses a little bit of itself. Are we supposed to tell ourselves that is not so bad? No thanks.

Contrary to what the feds would have us believe, political power and the ability to act is a real issue, especially in times of crisis. This is not some wacky fixation on a fight over a flag. This is about power, political power.

Naturally I am going to say that the only way to escape dependence is to gain independence. This will certainly not come as a surprise to anyone, but independence requires that we have budget autonomy in every respect and at any price.

Former separatist finance minister Bernard Landry spoke of strangulation by the tentacles of big government. One of his successors, the former federalist finance minister Yves Séguin, directly compared Ottawa to a vampire. His metaphor was even stronger, adding a bloody touch to the comparison.

This must stop at all costs. Ottawa must stop and re-examine its boundaries. To be honest, I do not think it will happen. As I was saying, I believe that the only way to escape dependence is to gain independence.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, I liked that the member gave us a history of political debates in Quebec over the past 30 years.

However, I would like to come back to a comment one of the Bloc Québécois members made about old age security. In the budget, the federal government decided to give $500 to those 75 and older.

Can my colleague tell me why, in his opinion, the government decided to proceed in this way, when the best option would have been to give that amount to seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement, in other words those with an income of less than $18,744?

I know that the Bloc is interested in this topic. We know that the demographics of our country is changing and that our life expectancy is going up. I would like my colleague's opinion on this.

If the government really wanted to help seniors, why did it decide to give this money to a certain group of seniors, but not another, when it could have done more to help seniors who have a much lower income than others in this country?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7 p.m.

Bloc

Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Calgary Shepard for his question.

He rightly mentioned that the population is aging, which would require an increase to health transfers, even during the pandemic. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation, but it did not create it. Regardless, the government should have increased these transfers because of the aging population and the increased costs associated with that.

In response to his question about seniors, I would say that the solution we would advocate for, do advocate for and will advocate for is a permanent increase to the GIS, as opposed to a single payment in the lead-up to a potential election. We are talking about a real, permanent increase.

Seniors are people over the age of 65, not 75. When I talk about increasing old age security I am talking about all seniors, no matter what age range they fit into.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, right before we started the debate to concur in the report from the finance committee, we spent most of the day today debating the government's bill, Bill C-12. I think there is widespread agreement that the bill needs some strengthening at committee.

I specifically notice recommendation 66 of this report to increase serious investments in infrastructure for fighting climate change. That is a very worthy initiative, and I do not think we will find any disagreement on that. However, what does the member think when we see a recommendation like that but then contrast it with the fact that the Liberals spent billions of our taxpayer dollars on buying a bitumen exporting pipeline? Of course, they are now spending billions more trying to upgrade its capacity. We are all being warned that this is the most serious decade for us to get real climate change action coming from the government.

I wonder if my hon. colleague has any comments on the actual infrastructure spending that is going on versus what is being recommended in the finance committee's report.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I think we need to invest more in the electrification of transportation rather than in fossil fuels. That is the kind of simplistic solution we have come to expect from the Liberals. For example, they bought a pipeline by claiming that the revenue would be used to plant trees. In the end, those trees were never planted. That is fairly typical of the government.

As everyone knows, the Bloc Québécois also introduced its own bill, which set out real, binding targets and a real accountability mechanism. It is all well and good to say that there are targets, but if the government does not make a real effort to meet them, then it is never going to happen.

The government needs to continue to decrease funding for fossil fuels. Obviously, we are not asking the government to cut that funding off overnight because we need to make a transition. Investing that much money in fossil fuels is inconsistent with our environmental goals. That goes without saying.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, what fine words from my colleague.

I heard him say the words “dependence” and “independence”. I would like him to explain to me what we came to understand during this health crisis, when we had to collaborate with the government and try to adjust certain programs.

At one point, the government went it alone. Now, we are hearing over and over that the provinces need the necessary funding to see to the things that fall within their jurisdiction.

Does my colleague think there is a movement afoot with regard to the funding that has not been transferred and that would go a long way to help each and every province, especially Quebec?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Laurentides-Labelle for her question, and I will take this opportunity to acknowledge her excellent work.

I will say, however, that it must be easy to be a Liberal. It is a pretty easy approach to say that the money will not be sent. When opposition members challenge this, they are told, among other things, that these are squabbles, abstract issues, or that it all belongs in the past.

It must be very easy to hide behind that kind of reasoning, behind the all-powerful veil of federalism, while telling members that the issue of sovereignty is an abstract one—although the government would never dare question Canadian sovereignty, for example. I will leave the Liberals to their contradictions.

There is definitely a movement, and it is clear to the unions, the National Assembly of Quebec and health care workers. It goes without saying that this government must give us what was once called our due. We need it and we pay for it. They would not be giving us a gift, because it is our money.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Martin Champoux Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to recognize the excellent work of my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

Honestly, I have to say that it is a joy and pleasure to talk to him about international trade, the economy and all sorts of business-related issues. He is a very interesting source of information, and his speech was further proof of that. I commend him and invite all my colleagues in the House to give him a call from time to time to talk to him and get his opinion. It often helps one to see more clearly.

What does my colleague think about the current government's habit or tendency to impose conditions on the money that it transfers to Quebec and the provinces? For example, health transfers always come with certain conditions.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Bloc

Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Drummond for his fine words.

I always find it strange to answer questions from my colleagues, but unlike what we see every day in question period, I can assure the House that we did not agree on the question in advance.

The government's centralizing tendency to always impose these types of conditions is real. It confirms that Canada is not a confederation or a sharing of certain interests, but an increasingly unilateral state. The evidence is that, any time the government sends the provinces a bit of money, it has to be on its terms. It has to impose standards and tell us which direction to take. I would like to remind members of what the constitutional expert that I quoted earlier said, and that is that the provinces are free as long as they follow the rules imposed on them.

How is there any flexibility or independence in that? I am still looking for the answer.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, today I am speaking from the traditional unceded territory of the Qayqayt first nation and the Salish peoples.

I want to start by sharing with all members of Parliament and all Canadians our deep appreciation for the frontline workers, for the first responders and for health care workers, who have been carrying us with such courage and bravery through this pandemic. We know how costly this pandemic has been. The third wave has now hit. We have lost over 24,000 Canadians over the course of the last year and a bit.

It is with an appreciation for the courage of those frontline workers, those first responders, those health care workers that I speak today about what has been a traditional right of passage in Parliament. I have been on the finance committee for a number of years, so I have been through a number of different versions of this, where the finance committee goes out and does pre-budget consultations across the country.

This year, due to the pandemic, these consultations were conducted largely by email and on Zoom. In previous years, we have seen, regardless of whether the administration was Conservative or Liberal, members of the House of Commons finance committee going out across the length and breadth of our country and having hearings on what the shape and form of the budget should be.

The budget, after all, is really the seminal document for the course of the year. The budget document is the most important document, and the budget implementation act is the most important legislation that we see over the course of the year.

Every year we see Canadians, organizations and communities step up to offer a very compelling vision of the future of this country. We have seen municipalities across the length and breadth of this country, and I would like to speak both to the City of Burnaby and the City of New Westminster, which spoke over the course of the last year to the finance committee.

We see as well organizations, seniors, groups of students, workers and labour organizations all stepping forward and putting an enormous amount of time into making sure that the submissions they provide and the statements they make to the finance committee fully communicate the importance of a shift in our budget orientations and essentially a shift in our values. People with disabilities step forward as well to talk about their vision of the country.

This has been happening for years. We have Canadians stepping forward in good faith, providing remarkably detailed suggestions and a vision for the future of our country. Every year, whether it is a Conservative administration or a Liberal government, we see the finance committee take all those great suggestions and documents and leave 90% of them on the cutting room floor.

We see in the budget even less reflection of the importance of what we need to do as a country moving forward. Often we will hear Liberals and Conservatives say that we do not have the money for this, and ask how we can get the money for these compelling issues that people are bringing forward, compelling solutions that would make a difference in Canadians' lives.

Permit me for a moment a detour around the issue of how we pay for this compelling vision that the vast majority of Canadians share. I have been in Parliament since the Conservatives and the outset of the financial crisis in 2008-09. They did not think of small businesses, did not think of people, workers or families. Their first thought was to the big bankers and bank profits, so they waded in with an unprecedented, at that time, $116 billion in liquidity supports for Canada's big banks. The first priority of the Harper Conservatives was making sure that the banking sector maintained high levels of profit, so $116 billion was put forward for the banking sector.

We now fast-forward to this pandemic, a crisis that we have not seen certainly since the Second World War, arguably a crisis, a pandemic of this nature that we have not seen in a century. The first thought of the Liberal government was not families, small businesses or communities. The first thought was maintaining banking profits. Therefore, the first and most important decision financially that the federal government took under the Liberals was, this time, $750 billion in liquidity supports. That is three-quarters of a trillion dollars showered on Canada's big banks to make sure that their profits were maintained.

There is no doubt that when we raise those figures with Canadians, they find it astounding that the same members of the parties that are constantly asking “How do we pay for this?” are willing to turn on a shower of money without precedents, both in the previous financial crisis and now during this pandemic.

The words “How do we pay for these things?” ring hollow when we compare the amount of money that both Liberals and Conservatives have been prepared to put forward to make sure that the banking industry is going well, but we will talk about some of the other items they have showered money on in a moment.

The point is that we have Canadians of good will coming forward each year and putting forward a compelling vision of this country that ends up on the cutting room floor because Liberals and Conservatives prefer to go to Bay Street and make sure that Bay Street's vision of the country is maintained, rather than the Main Street vision that so many Canadians share.

This is not just about liquidity supports for the banking system. This is also about the $25 billion that flows to tax havens every year. Over 10 years, that is a quarter of a trillion dollars, $250 billion, that the Conservatives and Liberals have injected into the system to help this country's ultra-rich. That is the difference between what the vast majority of Canadians see and what they get, whether it is the Conservatives or the Liberals in power.

What is the compelling vision that Canadians brought forward? We saw this from witness after witness in the hundreds of briefs that we received from across this country: Canadians want to see the ultrarich actually pay their fair share. The $25 billion per year that goes to overseas tax havens is tax dollars, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer has indicated so carefully. That is a quarter of a trillion dollars over the course of the last decade. If we couple that with $750 billion for the banking sector, we see that a trillion dollars has been granted in a heartbeat to the ultrarich.

What Canadians want to see is an end to those practices, an end to Canada being perceived as and very clearly indicating that it is a home for those who want to take their money overseas and not ever pay a cent of taxes.

Canadians want to see a wealth tax. They believe that as we have gone through this pandemic, the ultrarich should actually pay their fair share of taxes. The Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have indicated that this is a $10-billion-a-year investment that Canadians could receive for things like resolving the homelessness crisis, ensuring that we have in place public universal pharmacare, ensuring that we actually adequately fund our health care system. We are looking to put in place a national child care. It has been promised for 30 years and is still being promised by the Liberals, but as yet they have not made any concrete steps.

These things are all indicative of a broader vision that Canadians have, a vision of building a country where nobody is left behind. As we know, last week the Parliamentary Budget Officer also indicated that a pandemic profits tax would bring another $8 billion. That is enough to resolve the homelessness crisis in our country and ensure that everyone has the right to housing and a roof over their head at night.

Previous governments had a better vision and were more in tune with where Canadians are. In the Second World War, we had an excess profits tax. We ensured that everybody was in it together.

Those taxes, the wealth tax and profits tax, served to fuel our fight against fascism and Nazism and to win it, and to ensure that when women and men in the service came back home after the Second World War, we could make unparalleled investments in housing, transportation, health care and education.

That is not the vision the Liberals and Conservatives put forward today. In the pre-budget consultations, we see a scant reference to tax justice, except in the NDP dissenting report. We see a scant understanding of the vision that so many organizations and Canadians provided to the finance committee as a road map to follow, not something to be rejected because Bay Street wanted to have a free ride.

What are the other compelling components that were part of this vision Canadians brought forward?

Here is what Canadians wanted or would have liked to see in the budget that was just tabled: every person's right to affordable housing, pharmacare and a social safety net that is not full of holes. Every one of those elements is extremely important, and that is the vision Canadians share.

Over the course of the last year, we have seen the cuts in real terms. I fault the Conservatives and Liberals equally on this. They have, over time, simply not provided the needed funding for health care. As a result of that, we see our health care system struggling under the weight of this pandemic. That is a vision Canadians put forward to the finance committee, to ensure we had adequate funding for health care, to ensure that these cuts, which have been gradual but nonetheless very present, would get reversed.

Canadians had a compelling vision also that they shared with the finance committee of applying home care. We know that in providing supports for home care we save enormously in the health care system. It is much better to have seniors provided with the support in their homes rather than in a hospital bed at a much greater cost and a much lower quality of life in one of the nation's health care centres.

Ensuring home care, public universal pharmacare and dental care are put into place are all part of a vision that Canadians share. When Tommy Douglas brought forward and forced a former government back in the 1960s to put in place universal health care, his dream, and the dream of Canadians, always was to expand and ensure we had, as the member for Burnaby South, the national leader of the NDP, said so compellingly, “from the top of our head to the soles of our feet” health care that would cover everything. That was the vision Tommy Douglas brought forward, repeated now and amplified by the member for Burnaby South. It is a vision the vast majority of Canadians share.

A few years ago Canadians from all walks of life, all backgrounds and creeds were asked who their most famous Canadian in history was, their favourite Canadian, the one who best typified Canadian values. They overwhelmingly chose Tommy Douglas. They share this vision of ensuring that we have a full public and universal health care system that includes all the other elements, pharmacare, dental care and home care as well.

At a time now, when 10 million Canadians have difficulty paying for their medication and have no access to a drug plan during a pandemic, any weakness in health care, like not being able to fully pay for one's medication, can lead to inestimable tragedy. This means those people are more vulnerable. At all those times, it strikes again. I think the number of Canadians who massively support public universal pharmacare is at a rate of more than 80%.

For the Liberals and Conservatives to have said no, to have voted down the Canada pharmacare act at the end of February is something that strikes at how hypocritical it is when Liberal and Conservative MPs say that they will listen to this vision of tomorrow, but will reject it and not provide any supports for it. However, for bankers and billionaires who want to take their money overseas, they will ensure everything is in their favour so they can accomplish that.

When we look at the overall situation in our country, we know that Canadians are struggling to make ends meet, that more than 50% of Canadians are $200 away from insolvency on any given month. We know that people with disabilities struggle. Half of those people have to go to food banks and half of them are homeless. A growing number of homeless across the length and breadth of our country are people with disabilities, yet the Liberal government showed alacrity in providing $750 billion in liquidity supports for banks within four days of the pandemic hitting.

We should contrast that with the fight that the NDP had to undertake for months to get a one-time $600 payment to people with disabilities. Even in that case, the Liberals refused to provide it to everybody with a disability. Let us contrast that $750 billion for Canada's big banks and that $600 for about a third of Canadians with disabilities, who are struggling with the pandemic as they have had to struggle in their everyday lives. Again, the statistic is something that needs to be absorbed by all of us. Half of those who go to food banks to make ends meet are Canadians with disabilities. Half of them are homeless.

The tens of thousands of Canadians who are homeless across the length and breadth of our land are people with disabilities, yet the finance committee report does not reflect the urgent nature of putting in place something like a guaranteed livable basic income or provide income supports for people with disabilities. There is no reflection of that. We have, instead, and the budget confirmed a study that would take a number of years and would lead to nothing.

In the case of an urgent need for people with disabilities, not only did the finance committee majority not step up but the Liberal government, in its budget, did not step up at all. We are seeing an increasing inequality that is profoundly disturbing.

Currently 1% of Canadians hold more than a quarter of all the wealth in Canada. It is clear that 40% of Canadians are sharing almost nothing because of the alarming growth in the rate of inequality. For their part, Canadian billionaires saw their wealth grow to $78 billion during the pandemic. This creates an enormous gap between the needs of Canadians and what the governments, whether Conservative or Liberal, provide to the public.

What should the finance committee pre-budget consultation really have included? It should have accurately reflected the views of Canadian organizations from coast to coast to coast. It should have set out that compelling vision of ensuring that we would build a country where every single Canadian would matter, where nobody would be left behind. It should have put in place public, universal pharmacare, not promise it for 30 years, and universal child care. It should have ensured there was a right to housing for all Canadians. It should have put in place a guaranteed livable basic income. It should have ensured the needs of Canadians, regardless of their backgrounds, regardless of the region they live in, would be met. That would have been a finance committee report that we could all stand behind and that would have reflected where Canadians want Canada to go.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, earlier in his intervention, the member talked about child care and the important need for it. I could not help but wonder about that. I believe he was elected in 2004 and was here when Paul Martin brought in a budget in a minority government that had child care in it. Then shortly thereafter, that member and his party sided with the Conservatives, taking down the government. As a result, Canadians did not get the child care that was in that budget.

We are in another minority Parliament here with a similar situation. Will he see this budget through to the end, so that child care can get to those Canadian families that have been waiting so long for it?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, that is complete and utter science fiction. Paul Martin brought forward a budget that was massively padded with corporate tax cuts. Paul Martin represented the corporate sector, and that is what he put forward. Members may recall there were $5.4 billion in corporate tax cuts. Jack Layton and the NDP caucus said that they would not support that budget and wanted the massive corporate handouts to stop. They wanted money for post-secondary education, public transit, seniors and housing. They forced the government to basically change its budget, stop massive corporate tax breaks and invest in people.

There is social housing just a few kilometres away from my home, where I am speaking from now, that is just one example of how Jack Layton's vision made a difference in that budget.

I simply reject that science fiction. The member should speak from facts.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like my colleague to comment on what we have been hearing for the past 10 minutes or so, that the budget does not reflect what the community needs, that there are inequalities, that there is greater support for decisions to protect the major players and that the web giants, among others, need to be taxed.

I am hearing a lot of dissatisfaction with the budget. I know all about it. My party and I voted against the budget. Why did we do that? We did it for essentially two reasons: a $110 monthly increase for our seniors 65 and over, and not 75 and over, and immediate health transfers with no conditions.

After hearing all that, how is it that he and his party voted in favour of the budget?

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, as the member knows full well, we have a document. There is also the budget implementation bill, which will be passed in the next few weeks. At this time, we will study the bill as a whole and propose amendments to those elements I just mentioned.

All the reasons for dissatisfaction, as the member stated, will be considered by the NDP. In my opinion, Canadians are generally dissatisfied. From the beginning, the NDP has managed to change the government's mind. We greatly improved the programs offered during the pandemic. The NDP is not just here to vote against measures, it is here to improve and change things to help people. As the member knows very well, the NDP managed to do this during the pandemic, and it will continue to do so.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I have a quick question for the member from the NDP.

The budget outlines an extension to the wage subsidy and the rent subsidy. I have heard from quite a few constituents, especially in the seasonal tourism sector, who have found this extension to be not nearly enough. It leaves them at a disadvantage in terms of their businesses being able to recover. I am curious if the member from the NDP has any further thoughts or comments on that.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, this is a major problem, because what we see with the budget is the Liberals basically doing a victory lap. They are going around saying, “Hey, we beat COVID”, so they can wrap up all of these programs that the NDP forced them to put in place in the first place, because things are going great.

I need to caution this government on the victory-lap mentality it seems to have with this budget. We are in the midst of a third wave that is deadlier than the previous two. We are seeing variants coming from various parts of the world that are strongly worrisome, because they seem to be outpacing the very slow acquisition of vaccines.

We need to make sure that all of these programs continue for the tourism sector, as the member pointed out, and for a wide variety of other sectors that will be profoundly economically damaged if we start to see the cutbacks that the Liberals are forecasting. In nine weeks they are going to start slashing programs, and this is simply not the time to be irresponsible. It is simply not the time to do a victory lap. It is the time to take care of Canadians and make sure that supports are in place.