Madam Speaker, I am indeed pleased to rise tonight to speak to the motion that is before us and to say, on behalf of New Democrats, that we do not intend to support this motion, the reason being that New Democrats simply do not believe that one can have a credible plan to fight inflation without addressing the role that outsized price increases by corporations play in contributing to inflation. Not only is there not a plan, but there is not even a mention of the ways in which outsized price increases by corporations are hurting Canadians in the pocketbook. We have heard from economists who have said that as much as 25% of the inflation that Canadians have experienced over the last two years is attributable to those very same corporate price increases.
We have seen it in the oil and gas sector, where there have been record profits and, in fact, an increase in extraction. We heard at the finance committee, not that long ago, that, in Canada, we are taking out record numbers of barrels of oil and gas every day in this country. Why is it that this can be happening alongside real economic strife in places like Alberta, where that oil and gas work is happening? It is because we have also seen a significant decrease in the level of employment, due to automation and other advances in technology within the oil fields. We are seeing a decoupling of profitability in the oil and gas sector and employment in the oil and gas sector, which is what really matters for Canadians when it comes to ensuring that the wealth generated through the extraction of our natural resources actually goes to Canadian working-class families.
While that can look good in terms of productivity numbers for the industry, depending on how it runs the numbers and depending on its purpose, whether it is reporting to shareholders or whether it is reporting to this place while seeking more subsidies, it is nevertheless the case that, even as the industry continues to extract more, Canadians are benefiting less. That is true from the workers' point of the view and the industry's point of view, but it is also true from the point of view of Canadian consumers because, as those same oil and gas companies that are employing fewer people, even as they take more oil and gas out of the ground, are doing that, they are also raising prices well above the increase in the cost of their inputs. In fact, some of their input costs are going down as they employ fewer Canadians in decent, unionized positions with good-paying wages.
That explains how they can be logging record profits, and by record profits, I mean more profit in a single year than the oil and gas industry has ever seen in the history of the country. One would not know that to listen to Conservatives in this place, who say that the oil and gas industry is not doing well. It is very hard to believe that an industry is not doing well when it is producing a record amount of product and it is achieving the highest amount of profit it has ever seen in the history of the country, while charging Canadians higher prices than it ever has before. As much as we hear about the carbon tax, and there is no question that the carbon tax does increase the purchase price of oil and gas, just the simple price increases, the input cost increases that those companies have been experiencing, are more than what the carbon tax is. Do we hear a word from Conservatives about unjustified price hikes by the oil and gas companies, and what that means for Canadians and their pocketbook? No, we do not. That is why this is a party that simply does not have a credible plan to fight inflation.
I think there are two different approaches one can take to trying to fight inflation, and I think they mark a significant philosophical difference between the Conservative Party and, ultimately, I would argue, the Liberal government, as well as New Democrats. On the one hand, one can try to increase people's disposable income. We see that through proposals to eliminate the carbon tax and reduce taxes generally. What I find passing strange is that, with respect to providing income support to the poorest Canadians, we know, when they see an increase in their income, that extra money is going to go only to continuing to pay their rent in the same place where they have already been paying rent, or to buy the same groceries they had been buying before but are no longer able to. That is not inflationary money in the economy. That is not driving inflation. Supporting people to be able to still put a meal on the table and pay their rent is not inflationary spending.
That is why I am very proud that New Democrats, two times now, have pushed the government to double the GST rebate. We know it is going to households that really need a lot of help in a really difficult time, when they are struggling to afford their rent and they are struggling to afford their food, but it will help in a way that does not cause further inflation, despite what the leader of the Conservatives says. The odd thing is that, when he advocates broad-based tax cuts, like eliminating the carbon tax, he has nothing to say about the inflationary impact of returning that money to households, not just the poorest households, which can be done through mechanisms like a higher GST rebate, but also higher-income households.
If the leader of the Conservatives wants to talk about how more money in the economy is going to lead to higher inflation, it is a strange admission. That is not even to mention that the real driver of certain kinds of inflation, when we talk about spending, or what would be if corporations actually spent it in the Canadian economy, which too often they do not, is the corporate taxes that the Conservatives and Liberals have often advocated. That is why there is actually a great meeting of the minds between Liberals and Conservatives when it comes to tax policy. It is why they have worked together, from the year 2000 to now, to lower the corporate tax rate from 28% to 15%. What does that mean? It means more spending in the economy, which, if we listen to the leader of the Conservatives, automatically means more inflation.
The Conservatives do not talk about how lowering corporate taxes can contribute to inflation. To the extent that it does not, it is because that money leaves the country and actually does not get spent. That is the point that Jim Flaherty, the former Conservative finance minister under Stephen Harper, made before he passed: they had lowered the corporate tax rate, and that was meant to increase business investment and raise productivity. However, as many Conservative members are fond of pointing out, Canada's productivity numbers are not what they should be, and it is not because corporate Canada has not had vast amounts of capital in waiting to make those business investments in order to raise productivity. It is because the companies prefer to either pay it out to their shareholders here in Canada or scuttle that money away into tax havens through agreements that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have made in order to make it easier for that profit to shift out of the country without those corporations ever paying their dues and helping to fund a number of things that are really important in helping Canadians get by in this difficult time.
Broad-based tax relief is one way to say we are fighting inflation. I think some of the hazards the leader of the Conservative Party likes to point out about other things, like income support, apply equally to broad-based tax relief at a time like this. We should be conscious of that when we are evaluating proposals for tax decreases. It does not mean that New Democrats oppose all tax decreases. In fact, we were very vocal about the excise tax and our feeling that it was inappropriate for the excise tax to have an automatic escalator, first of all, and that the exceptional increase in the excise tax this year, because of inflation, was not acceptable. We worked with opposition parties to oppose that, and, ultimately, although the government did not bring it down to zero, it dramatically reduced the excise tax increase with the budget implementation act.
The other way to combat inflation, which, for my money, is more effective, is to try to control the price of things Canadians cannot do without. What do I mean by that? I mean bringing down the cost of child care, because that puts money back in Canadians' pockets. It makes it easier for Canadians who want to work in order to support their family to be able to leave the home and do that work. We all know that this disproportionately affects women who want to have a career. They can do that because they can now access child care at a price that makes it so they do not work simply to pay for child care instead of contributing to the other meaningful expenses of a household.
With respect to a pharmacare program, we need to mobilize the power of bulk purchasing across the country and bring down the price of prescription drugs considerably. There have been so many studies done on pharmacare, going back decades. All of them conclude that, by having one federal program, we could significantly reduce the amount Canadians pay for prescription drugs. There is no question about it. It is why pharmaceutical companies hate the idea. It is why they have spent so much money lobbying the government to stop it. Unfortunately, they have done that far too successfully, and it is why New Democrats are here to continue pushing and to provide the political will to drown out the lobbying efforts of the pharmaceutical industry, because we know that, through good public policy, we can reduce the amount Canadians pay for drugs. That ensures not only that they get extra income, but also that corporations cannot just take that income by raising their prices, which is what has been happening in the oil and gas industry.
It is what has been happening in the grocery industry. If people want proof of that, they need look no further than today's news, where Canada Bread Company has admitted to price fixing with Weston Foods. The company paid a $50-million fine after having pleaded guilty. What about the other companies that were involved in that, and what about Canadians who have been looking at food prices over the last two years? People know very well that many companies have been raising their prices over and above the additional cost to the companies, whether it is for oil and gas to heat their home or it is for their groceries. I think we all have a legitimate suspicion that Canadians have not been treated fairly by corporate Canada.
With respect to creating more disposable income, Conservatives love to say that if the government taxes corporations, they are just going to pass that on to the consumer. If it cuts Canadians' taxes, corporations are just going to raise their prices. Does that mean we are stuck and that there is no hope and no way forward? No, it does not, because through good public policy we can reduce the cost of child care in a way that means people cannot just up the price, because we are regulating the fees and we are providing subsidy to make sure the organizations offering child care are not doing it at an exorbitant price. It is why New Democrats have a very clear and stated preference for non-profit delivery in child care, because we think that once we incorporate that profit motive, we are exposing Canadians to the very same greedy taking that we have seen in the oil and gas sector, in the grocery sector and elsewhere. That is the way. If we can control the cost of something that people cannot do without, that puts more money back in people's pockets in such a way that it cannot just be taken back out again.
It is why I supported the Manitoba Public Utilities Board, for instance, which has been very successful, over decades, in regulating the price of auto insurance and Manitoba Hydro. Interestingly, it is a body that the current Conservative Government of Manitoba has been trying to wreck, and to impede from doing its job of looking closely at requested price hikes by these crown corporations. It is ironic, given that one would think it would be the Conservatives most of all who would want a hawkish oversight agency to be looking at crown corporations and ensuring fair pricing. However, in fact, they are undermining the Public Utilities Board. I think it is important. We could actually use something like that nationally for the price of oil and gas, to ensure that when Canadians are going to the pumps or when they are heating their home, they can be assured that they are getting a fair shake on the price, and that the fact that it is the long weekend would not dictate whether they have a hole in their budget at the end of the month.
It is why dental support is important. With dental insurance, we can ensure that people are getting a service which they otherwise would not get at all. We know that, too often, because of people's socio-economic status, they have not been able to access dental care. For those who have been able to pay, this means they are going to be able to get more service without simply seeing corresponding hikes in prices.
New Democrats have a very settled opinion on what the way to fight inflation is: through good public policy and public investment so Canadians are working together and co-operating to provide the essentials of life and create more room for disposable income in their household budgets, instead of simply cutting taxes for everyone. Cutting taxes for everyone disproportionately benefits the most wealthy and then makes it harder to provide services for everyone, and it runs all the same risks of inflationary pressure on the economy that the leader of the Conservative Party is so concerned about when it involves public funds.
Here is another way in which that matters, and another way in which there is a very close resemblance between, for instance, the housing policy of the Liberal government and the housing policy of the Conservative Party. Neither one is willing to call out the role of corporate greed in housing. The leader of the Conservatives sometimes, maybe, kind of makes a passing allusion to it but is quick to say that somehow it is the fault of government. The housing market is working exactly how it was set up to work in the mid-1990s, with the blessing of Liberals and Conservatives. They decided they wanted to make it more of a financial market. They wanted a commodity-based approach to housing. That has been working. The national housing strategy, frankly, has been largely a joke in terms of increasing supply for affordable housing, and it has done nothing to impede the kind of harmful investment behaviour we see in the market.
The Conservatives are not proposing to do anything about that. The idea that, by simply balancing the government's books, we are going to see a significant change in the housing market or houses becoming more affordable is a joke. That is not how this is going to go. There are very deep pockets that do not rely on anything the government does in order to be able to spend in the real estate economy, acquire houses and acquire apartment blocks.
Where is the leader of the Conservatives when we talk about the travesty of buildings like Lions Manor on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, which used to provide affordable housing? It has just been acquired, not with government money, but by a giant corporate landlord that came in, bought the building and is evicting the tenants. One does not have a serious strategy to fix the problem of housing in Canada if one cannot criticize the corporate sector and the role that it is playing in jacking up the price of housing. It cannot be done. It is not serious.
Then we look at things that the previous Conservative government did to put money in the pockets of corporate Canada, never mind the corporate tax decreases, which were substantial. The Conservatives sold the plans for the CANDU reactor, which was world-leading technology. They love to talk about nuclear, but do members know that they sold that to SNC-Lavalin for pennies on the dollar? It was $75 million, but it came with a bunch of tax benefits and other things. I think they sold it for a final net cost of about $15 million. I do not know what it costs to build a CANDU reactor, but I know that it is measured in billions and not millions to get the intellectual property behind that. Before the Harper government, it actually belonged to Canadians, so that when somebody decided to build a nuclear reactor on the CANDU model anywhere in the world, Canadians could benefit. I think that is a real travesty. It is just an example of how the Conservatives are no better than the Liberals when it comes to stuffing the pockets of corporate Canada at the expense of Canadians.
I am mindful of a leader who does actually have so many policy similarities to the Liberal government. I could go on about that. I recall that, in the fall of 2021, when the leader of the Conservative Party was their finance critic, we were having a debate about the mandate of the Bank of Canada. Its mandate is to fight inflation, and it has been for a long time; it is to keep inflation at a 2% target.
We talked about what the impact of maintaining that mandate would have on Canadians if we saw higher interest rates. We said that if that was the only thing the Bank of Canada was going to do, it would jeopardize strong employment by raising interest rates to get inflation under control. It would put Canadians in jeopardy of losing their homes by raising interest rates in order to combat inflation, instead of having a more nuanced mandate, as many central banks around the world do. They keep an eye on strong employment and the effect of rising interest rates on the ability of folks to stay in their homes and to keep making payments on their mortgages.
The current leader of the Conservative Party was very clear at that time. He wanted the mandate to stay narrowly on the 2% inflation target; that was it. What did the Liberals do? They acquiesced. I was on a panel with them, shot out in the foyer, at the time. I remember, because when I said that actually the Liberals had done everything he said he wanted them to do, he mused about legal action against me for having shown the very direct link between the Liberal Party's actions and the Conservative Party's advice. I said that it would be a bad day for Canadians if we did experience inflation, because the Bank of Canada would raise interest rates and put them out of their homes.
Let us not pretend that the leader of the Conservative Party has not played a very important role in keeping the Bank of Canada on a mandate that is causing these increased interest rate hikes. It is not the only thing, but the fact that it does not have a more nuanced mandate is a product of his advice and the actions of the Liberal Party. Canadians are not benefiting from the kind of nuance that has been built into other central banks' mandates.
That is why I stand here today to say that there are more ways to fight inflation than what the Conservatives have put in here. In fact, what they have put in here goes squarely against New Democrats' approach to fighting inflation. New Democrats' approach has everything to do with putting money back in the pockets of Canadians but doing it by ensuring that all the things that they have to buy, such as child care, prescription drugs, dental care, housing, are actually brought down, instead of what we see in the motion today. That is just to cut those programs in order to balance the government's books.