In my riding of Chatham-Kent—Leamington, or CKL for short, agriculture, agri-food and agri-food processing is a bedrock element of our local economy, just like for the previous speaker.
I want to begin my comments here. Before proceeding, I would also note that as a father of four daughters, my desire is that they face no glass ceilings in their careers. I want to congratulate the finance minister on being the first female finance minister to deliver a budget. My youngest daughter Kiana just completed her masters in economics, and so maybe, one day, she, too, will deliver a budget, hopefully one based on solid economics rather than election politics.
Back to agriculture, the Canadian agriculture and agri-food system is a key driver of our economy and generates $143 billion, accounts for 7.4% of our GDP, and provides for one in eight jobs, at least in 2018, and more than that this year.
This budget does include some provisions for up $100 million for rebates from the carbon tax for on-farm natural gas and propane use. At the agriculture and agri-food committee, we are presently finishing a review of Bill C-206, sponsored by my colleague, the MP for Northumberland—Peterborough South, which proposes an exemption from the carbon tax for on-farm propane and natural gas.
No doubt the existence of this private member's bill influenced the government's decision to include this measure. We discussed, and continue to discuss, at committee the utility of a rebate versus an exemption system. Farmers in my riding and indeed farmers all across Canada can thank Conservatives for this initiative appearing in the budget. Nevertheless, it is good to see that this issue is acknowledged, and that is a positive.
I also want to acknowledge monies targeted to agriculture in the form of incentives as part of programming to address climate initiatives. Practically speaking, though, the costs alone of fossil fuels, of nitrogen fertilizers is enough to encourage their judicious use. Despite that, innovation and environmental responsibility have always been hallmarks of our ag sector.
As the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has acknowledged, present viable, scalable technologies that reduce agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions are presently lacking. Given that, incentives to encourage development and innovation are far better tools than punitive taxes, as many witnesses at the committee have testified.
However, if there is one measure that has the potential to move the needle in the adoption of technology in the ag sector, it is the expansion of high-speed broadband to rural and remote areas. The further adoption of precision agriculture, a key technology to build on ag's strong track record of environmental responsibility, is so often hindered by the lack of high-speed Internet access, and the previous speaker echoed these comments.
While the $1 billion amount announced for the universal broadband fund pales in comparison to other funding promises, it is the increased use of this technology that does have the potential to lower ag greenhouse gas emissions.
Given all the attention that the deficit of connectivity in rural and remote areas has attracted over the years, all of the promises, all of the election pledges, even before COVID-19, should have led to the ag sector, and indeed all rural Canadians, using world-class broadband infrastructure by now.
To quote a recent Western Producer editorial, “They didn't and we don't.” The parallels between promises of increased high-speed access and national child care programs are eerily similar, often announced and seldom delivered.
Specifically, I want to point out the situation in my riding of Pelee Island. While the most southerly inhabited point in Canada, it can be considered as remote as, if not more remote than, many parts of our north. There is no reliable 911 service. As it currently stands, Pelee Island has no broadband Internet available to the public. Internet speed on the island is either dial-up or slow cellular hubs for existing businesses, residents and visitors with huge costs associated for small amounts of data. Stormy weather disrupts this service. Pelee Island is the very definition of remote, with only boat and air access in summer, in good weather, and only air access in winter, again, in good weather.
My riding lies in southwestern Ontario, a region serviced by the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT for short. Ten per cent of Canada's underserved broadband area resides in southwestern Ontario.
Therefore, under the government's previous connect to innovate, CTI, program, SWIFT's share of funding should have amounted to $58.5 million, yet the amount received was zero, not a penny. Similar to the structure of the previous CTI program, the government has chosen to administer the present universal broadband fund with no pro rata share provisions for under-serviced areas. This budget contains spending measures of $509 billion, over half a trillion dollars, but Canadians were looking for a budget with a plan for growth, for investment in infrastructure and a budget with a debt management plan to recover from the huge impacts of COVID.
I recently surveyed my constituents on a host of issues. Specifically on the statement that small businesses are the key to economic rebound in Canada, and 87% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed. Only 13% agreed or strongly agreed that multinational corporations were the key to our economic recovery. My constituents and all Canadians were looking not for a government-led spending plan, but a budget investing in infrastructure and creating the climate for a business-led recovery. The small businesses that I relate to in Chatham and Leamington, Blenheim, Ridgetown and many other towns in Chatham-Kent—Leamington need the confidence that their government will manage the country's finances well, so that the climate into which they invest is stable and predictable.
While this budget talks about some small investments in infrastructure and necessary measures to support small businesses affected by government, what this budget does not contain is a plan to pay for all of the election promises. There are no tax reforms, no financial guardrails anchored to fixed thresholds, no targets and no path to balance. These are the kinds of measures that give small business the confidence to invest and lead our recovery, and that is this budget's greatest failure.
Is this the spending legacy that we want to leave to our children and grandchildren? Last June I had the pleasure of announcing in the House the birth of my first grandchild. I also stated at the time that it was estimated that her share of the federal interest-bearing debt would be over $39,300 at fiscal year end. I was wrong. According to the budget just tabled, her share of the debt as of March 31 is over $43,300 and the budget predicts that her share of the debt five years from now will grow to over $50,700.
Here is what really scares me. Today's budget has assumed an average interest rate-carrying cost on our present debt of 1.2%. Yes, today's interest rates are low, but these budget assumptions assume that the average carrying cost will only rise to 1.9% five years from now. This assumption is inconsistent with how the government is funding its annual deficits. The government is printing money to finance its spending and every time in the past when governments have done this, the economy experiences inflation. In fact, we already are.
Asset inflation is here, as anyone who is trying to buy a house or a two-by-four already knows, and the Consumer Price Index is sure to follow. What follows inflation? It is higher interest rates as the government tries to rein in inflation and prop up its currency, so I have very little faith that interest rates will average 1.9% on the government debt five years from now.
Who does this hurt? People who have assets with low debt like this scenario, but for those working for a paycheque, their wages seldom keep up to rising costs. Everyday Canadians do not want this inflationary future, so this budget, with so much unfocused inflationary spending, cannot be supported. We will hear the usual refrains from government members that we Conservatives want to have our cake and eat it, too. Conservatives have supported and will continue to support measures to support Canadians and small business, but not the reckless, uncontrolled spending without a plan for our grandchildren.