Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that I am sharing my time with my colleague from Jonquière.
I rise today to speak to Bill C‑32, on the 2022 fall economic statement. Unfortunately, this bill seems more impressive in form than in substance. Bill C‑32 contains maybe 25 various tax measures and a dozen or so non-tax measures. It may seem like a lot at first glance, but these are in fact two kinds of measures. Some are just minor amendments, like the ones this Parliament adopts on a regular basis, while others were already announced in the spring budget but had not been incorporated into the first budget implementation bill in June, Bill C‑19. In cooking we call that leftovers.
Simply put, like the economic statement of November 3, Bill C‑32 does not include any measures to address the new economic reality brought on by the high cost of living and a possible recession. This is a completely missed opportunity for the federal government. This bill will not exactly go down in history and its lack of vision does not deserve much praise either.
However, it does not contain anything “harmful” enough to warrant opposing it or trying to block it. The government often tends to bury harmful measures in its omnibus budget implementation bills, hoping they will go unnoticed, but that is not the case here. The bill contains no surprises, either good or bad.
As my colleagues can see, I am trying very hard to show some good faith. Bill C‑32 contains some worthwhile measures, but they were already announced in the last budget. I will go over them briefly.
An anti-flipping tax has been implemented to limit real estate speculation. That is a good thing. A multi-generational home renovation tax credit has also been created for those who are renovating their home to accommodate an aging or disabled parent. The Bloc has been calling for such a measure since 2015, as have many seniors' groups that have contacted me many times about this issue. I commend the government for introducing it.
There is also a first-time homebuyer tax credit to cover a portion of the closing costs involved in buying a home, such as notary fees and the transfer tax. It is hard to be against apple pie. There is also a temporary surtax and a permanent increase to the tax rate for banks and financial institutions, as well as the elimination of interest on student loans outside Quebec. Quebec has its own system, so it will receive an unconditional transfer equivalent to the amount Quebeckers would have received had they participated in the federal program.
In addition, a tax measure that supports oil extraction has been eliminated. It is just one drop in the bucket of subsidies, but it is a start. A tax measure is being implemented to promote mining development in the area of the critical minerals that are needed for the energy transition. In addition, assistance can be provided to a particular government. That is interesting. A total of $7 billion to $14 billion will be available for all foreign countries, when previously, it was $2.5 billion to $5 billion. While we are still far from the United Nations goal of 0.07% of gross GDP, the government is enhancing Canada's international aid, something the Bloc has been calling for for some time. As the status of women critic, I am regularly reminded that Canada can and must do more and better to safeguard the health of women and girls internationally.
Bill C‑32 sidesteps the big challenges facing our society, but there is nothing bad in it. It puts forward a few measures and does some legislative housekeeping that was necessary under the circumstances.
As such, I will reiterate, half-heartedly, what other Bloc members have said: We will vote in favour of Bill C‑32 even though the economic statement was disappointing. We take issue with an economic update that mentions the inflation problem 115 times but offers no additional support to vulnerable people and no new solutions despite the fact that a recession is expected to hit in 2023. The government seems to think everything will work out with an “abracadabra” and a wave of its magic wand.
Quebeckers concerned about the high cost of living will find little comfort in this economic update. They will have to make do with what is basically the next step in the implementation of last spring's budget, even though the Bloc Québécois did ask the government to focus on its fundamental responsibilities toward vulnerable people.
For the rest of my speech, I will therefore focus on the lack of increased health transfers, the lack of adequate support for people aged 65 and over, and the lack of much-needed genuine reform to EI, which, I should note, is the best stabilizer in times of economic difficulty. Sadly, the government dismissed our three requests, even though they made perfect sense. We can only denounce this as a missed opportunity to help Quebeckers deal with the tough times that they are already going through or may face in the months to come.
First, the Bloc Québécois asked the federal government to agree to the unanimous request of Quebec and the provinces to increase health transfers immediately, permanently and unconditionally. ER doctors are warning that our hospitals have reached breaking point, but the federal government is not acting. It clearly prefers its strategy of prolonging the health funding crisis in the hope of breaking the provinces' united front in order to convince them to water down their funding demand. It is the old tactic of divide and conquer.
I want to remind my colleagues that yesterday, at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, on which I sit, during our study on the mental health of women and girls, the ministers of Women and Gender Equality and of Mental Health acknowledged that the national action plan concept, which seeks to impose national standards, was slowing down the process. Meanwhile, the women and girls who are suffering are being held hostage. The government's feminist posturing must end.
Second, people between the ages of 65 and 74 continue to be denied the increase to old age security, which they need more than ever before. Seniors live on fixed incomes, so they cannot deal with such a sharp rise in the cost of living in real time. They are the people most likely to have to make tough choices at the grocery store or the pharmacy, yet the government continues to penalize those who are less well-off and who would like to work more without losing their benefits. Unlike the federal government, inflation does not discriminate against seniors based on their age.
Currently, Canada's income replacement rate, meaning the percentage of income that a senior retains at retirement, is one of the lowest in the OECD. We cannot say that the government is treating seniors with dignity.
There is also the increase to old age security, which should prevent demographic changes from significantly slowing economic activity. Contrary to what the government says, starving seniors aged 65 to 75 will not encourage them to remain employed. That is done by no longer penalizing them when they work.
Not a day goes by that I do not receive a message from citizens about this. This morning, I again received comments from important seniors' groups such as AQDR and FADOQ, and they can be summarized in one word: disappointment. I do not even want to talk about the brilliant decision-makers who want to delay the pension process for 10% of seniors.
Third, let us remind the government that employment insurance is an excellent economic stabilizer in the event of a recession. While more and more analysts fear the possibility of a recession in 2023, the Canadian government seems to be backtracking on the comprehensive employment insurance reform that they promised last summer.
Essentially, the system has been dismantled over the years. Currently, six of 10 workers who lose their jobs do not qualify for EI. That is significant, it is a majority, it is 60%. Seven years after the government promised reform, time is running out. We must avoid being forced to improvise a new CERB to offset the shortcomings of the system if a recession hits.
During the pandemic, we saw that improvised programs cost a lot more and are much less effective. Above all, the government's financial forecasts show that it does not anticipate many more claims. In fact, the government is forecasting a surplus of $25 billion in the employment insurance fund by 2028, money that will go to the consolidated fund rather than improve the system's coverage. As for the 26 weeks of sick leave, the measure was in Bill C‑30 to update budget 2021, passed 18 months ago, even before the last elections. All that is missing is the government decree to implement it, but those who are sick are still waiting.
One last important thing: Last weekend, I attended the Musicophonie benefit concert for a foundation in our area, the fondation Louis-Philippe Janvier, which helps young adults suffering from cancer. I was told that the organization does indeed have to make up for the government's lack of financial support. That adds to the unimaginable stress on those who are sick, who should instead be focusing on healing with dignity. Even 26 weeks is inhumane. A person cannot recover properly in that time frame.
In closing, the government is acknowledging the rising cost of living without doing anything about it. It is warning of difficult times ahead this winter without providing a way to get through them. It makes some grim economic predictions without ever considering any of the opposition's proposals as to how to prepare ourselves.
As a final point, I want to talk about supply chains. We learned how fragile they are during the pandemic. Last spring's budget document mentioned the problem 71 times. The budget update mentioned it another 45 times. Neither one includes any measures to tackle the problem, leaving business owners in limbo. The new Liberal-Conservative finance minister missed the opportunity to send a clear message of leadership and instead raised fears about potential austerity. The government is rehashing past measures, implementing what it already announced in the April budget, but there is no indication that it has a clear sense of direction, leaving the people who really need it out in the cold.
For those who lose their jobs, we need EI reform. For those who are sick, we need to increase health transfers. For our seniors, we need to give them more money so they can age with dignity.