Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure in this place. Today, I want to talk about inflation and spending. I have been here for just over a year. I have driven all over Ottawa, and I still cannot find the money tree that the government seems to have in its backyard, which it finds to spend on just about everything.
Let us find out why spending matters. It drives inflation. There are two kinds of inflation. There is demand-side inflation, where there is too much demand for too few goods or, as we often hear, too much money chasing too few goods. There is also supply-side inflation, which is not enough goods to meet the demand. We have both of those in Canada.
The problem is that the government would have us believe that the only issues causing inflation are supply-side issues that are outside of Canada's borders. However, many are now pointing out that inflation is being driven by too much demand in Canada, because we have too much money chasing too few goods. That is because we extended COVID supports longer than we needed to. We have prominent Liberal members, former members of Parliament, former finance ministers and former governors of the Bank of Canada suggesting that there is too much demand in Canada.
The Bank of Canada is trying to lower demand. That is why it keeps raising interest rates. However, when one raises interest rates, it really hurts people, including those vulnerable folks who are looking for shelter.
Inflation is even worse. Inflation hurts the lowest-income people, seniors and the most vulnerable Canadians the most. Every time they go to the grocery store, they feel like they are getting squeezed. They see it every day.
One of the main drivers of inflation is energy prices. It has been happening for the last number of years. Consistently, on this side of the House, we have put forward ideas to reduce the cost of energy. If one reduces the cost or the price of the thing causing inflation, one will reduce inflation.
I talked about spending and COVID supports. The government would have us believe that this is a binary discussion, and if one does not believe in government spending, then one did not support any of the COVID supports. That is not what we have been saying on this side of the House. In fact, this side of the House supported, in the very earliest days, the government putting forward programs to help people.
However, as COVID wore on and it became clear that there was abuse and that people were receiving COVID support payments that they should not have received, including prisoners, people who were lying, fraud artists and organized crime, people said, hang on a second, maybe we should consider making some changes. Even the Auditor General recommended that the government make some changes to the process they were using.
The government said not to worry. At the end it would go back, it would audit everybody and it would recover the money. However, the cheques were cashed and the money is gone. The CRA, which is supposed to be in charge of auditing the payments, said that it is not really worth the effort to go after everybody the Auditor General identified. That seems a little unnerving.
We are talking about $32 billion that the Auditor General said should be investigated. That is for payments that went to individuals who were ineligible but who got money anyway. There are also additional billions of dollars that went to people who were eligible, because of the government's poor design of a program, who should not have been eligible. That includes corporations that paid dividends to their shareholders, and they took the wage subsidy. They also had money to repurchase shares. That was about $7 billion or $8 billion. The Canadians for Tax Fairness put out a report yesterday showing how much abuse there was of the wage subsidy by very high-earning corporations.
In addition, we gave money to students, when the economy was open, to stay home and not work. That was another $8 billion or $9 billion. We are talking about almost $50 billion of COVID support payments out of a total $200 billion that might have gone to people who should not have had it. That is like 25% of the program.
That is why we are concerned. That is why we think that the Auditor General has given the government pretty good advice when she says that it should identify, go after and recover the payments.
It will increase Canadians' confidence in the integrity of the system. If the government just hopes that we all forget about it, Canadians are not going to believe that the government is working in their best interests. In fact, we need the government to take more seriously those who abuse the system so that it ensures the integrity of the system.
Canadians' support for institutions is falling, because the institutions are failing Canadians. We cannot simply say it is going to be too hard to look at these payments or to recover the money, so it is not really worth the effort. It should always be worth the effort to make sure that we recover payments that were improperly paid to Canadians.
We could have an honest discussion about those very low-income individuals who made an honest mistake when they applied. The amount is probably one or two billion dollars, and we could have a discussion about what kind of program, repayment or amnesty would make sense.
The Auditor General has called into question some of those payments. The Parliamentary Budget Officer also identified that over 40% of all spending that happened during COVID never actually went to helping Canadians through COVID. Those are two respected, independent officers of Parliament who have called into question the government's entire COVID support plan.
In times of inflation, we should always worry about top-line government spending, because when the government spends, it competes for goods. The government is spending 25% more per year, every year, than it did pre-COVID. The government calls that fiscal restraint. I have never met somebody who increases their spending by 25% and says they are spending a lot less money than we think they are.
We also have the tightest labour market ever seen. Unemployment is at an incredible low, yet the government continues to hire employees at a blistering pace. The private sector is trying to hire employees. They want to grow their businesses, to recover from COVID, to employ people who pay taxes and who pay corporate taxes. They cannot find anybody to work.
We have hotels with entire floors shut down, because they cannot find anybody to work there. It is not that they do not have the demand. They are turning people away. However, they do not have people to work, to open the rooms, to get the revenue, to pay the taxes, to pay the labour and to grow the GDP. Instead, the government wants to hire all those individuals and have them work for the government. That is not the way to grow ourselves out of this issue.
The government said, for almost five or six years, that we have to spend money because interest rates are so low. When the government was asked what happens if interest rates go up, it said not to worry because interest rates were going to remain low for the foreseeable future. When the government was asked what would happen to the cost of servicing the debt if interest rates went up, it said that was never going to happen.
Just this year, the government is going to spend $43 billion a year servicing and paying interest on the debt. Last year, it was $24 billion. Do members know how much we will spend on health care transfers to provinces next year? It will be $45 billion. We are going to spend almost as much money on servicing the debt as we will on transfers to the provinces for health care.
Everybody is wondering where we could find more money for health care. How about we spend less money on interest on the debt so that we would have more money for the things that Canadians rely on. However, that means we would have to spend less money on the things that are not important. The government has so many priorities that it has absolutely none at all.
The other issue is that the government does not need more revenue. The government has decided to continue to increasing taxes on things like the excise tax, which is a great example. The excise tax is going up on alcohol, beer, spirits and wine. It is going to cost industries tens of millions of dollars, which may even increase the price of those libations that members of Parliament and Canadians enjoy.
The government is increasing the excise tax because it linked it to inflation. However, when it decided to link that tax to inflation, no one believed that inflation was going to be 7%. All reasonable people are saying to take a pause on raising that tax. We do not need to continually hurt people as they try to purchase a six-pack of beer, a bottle of wine or a bottle of their favourite spirit.
The government does not need the revenue. It is making more money than it has ever made before. It is breaking records every day. The government needs to reduce its spending, to make sure that it is not taking on as much debt, to reduce the interest cost on the debt and to make sure that it does not compete with the private sector.
We need to make sure that we reduce inflation and to make sure Canadians can afford to live in this country.