Mr. Speaker, in regard to the government's new equalization formula, the finance minister had barely uttered the naive assertion that “the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and the federal government is over” before several provincial governments began to criticize the budget, including B.C.'s provincial government.
By including property value in its new equalization formula, the government is equating property value with wealth, but if one looks more closely in my riding of North Vancouver and in many areas of B.C., where there has been a massive increase in house prices in the last few years, this is simply false.
In the week before the budget, the premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, warned, “Anyone that says that your property values are in direct relation of your ability to pay doesn't frankly know a lot about what they're talking about”.
Everybody in the world knows that high real estate prices translate into de facto wealth, which is taxed by local governments amongst others. So I don't know why that wouldn't be part of the calculation.
The comments of the trade minister in attempting to defend this action confirm that even Conservative members from B.C. are out of touch with British Columbians and have little influence in the government's top-down decision making process.
In my riding of North Vancouver there is a serious housing crisis due to the booming real estate market. A couple who bought a home in North Vancouver 20 or 30 years ago for a fraction of what it is worth today have not seen a similar percentage increase in their personal income. Many are now seniors living on pensions who simply wish to stay in the house and the neighbourhood they have called home for decades.
It is estimated that property values in B.C. rose by 24% last year. Homeowner income did not rise by anywhere close to that amount and municipal property taxes are tied to property value, thereby creating further financial hardship for homeowners. If they sold their home to move elsewhere on the North Shore, or even to most other areas in Greater Vancouver, they would have to pay the same price for a similar house and therefore would find themselves in the same financial position.
To benefit from the increased value of their home, as is reflected in the government's equalization formula philosophy, they would need to buy a substantially less expensive home, which is difficult to find in North Vancouver and, for that matter, in most of the lower mainland of B.C. To see that wealth, they would have to move far away from their families and friends in their current communities.
It is clear that the government's new formula is out of touch with the reality on the ground in B.C. as evidenced by the provincial government's reaction to the budget, which echoed the official opposition's harsh criticism.
On child care, the government promised Canadians choice in child care in the last election and offered Canadians a taxable $100 for each child under six years of age, coupled with a plan to supposedly create child care spaces by offering businesses incentives to create them.
Fourteen months later, what has happened? After tearing up the child care deal signed with the provinces by the former Liberal government, specifically through the efforts of the hon. member for York Centre, the government has replaced them with nothing. Not one new child care space has been created in North Vancouver or Canada.
Because the funding is no longer flowing through those previous federal-provincial child care agreements, local child care facilities in my riding have been forced to cancel capital improvements and in many cases raise fees, sometimes by $100 per month. Thus, there is really no choice offered by the Conservative government. There is just one choice: take the $100 per month. This will not provide new spaces, nor will it make them more affordable or universal.
In this budget, the government has quietly abandoned its election proposal to have businesses create the promised 125,000 new spaces and will instead transfer a lesser amount to the provinces than our previous Liberal government had agreed to, but for children and parents it has been 14 lost months.
In a report released just yesterday by Dr. Fraser Mustard, a Companion of the Order of Canada and an internationally recognized expert in the field of early childhood development, he stated that Canada is ranked dead last among the 20 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to the report, Canada spends just .25% of its GDP on early childhood programs, whereas other developed countries spend up to 2%. Dr. Mustard described the programs and child care assistance that exist in Canada as a “chaotic mess”.
With such a massive budget surplus, the government could have done so much more. Instead, Canada is an international embarrassment and the government responds by reducing child care funding.
Adding insult to injury is the tax bill that parents are now receiving, which requires them to pay tax on the child care rebates already received. Revenue Canada's RC62 forms started arriving at homes several months ago. Judging by the reaction of parents in my riding to this Conservative child care tax bill, it is clear that the government has failed families on child care.
The budget also failed undergraduates in North Vancouver. While the budget did increase the number of students who will be eligible for Canada graduate scholarships, that represents assistance for only Canada's top 4,000 graduate students. While no one would argue that this is not an appropriate investment, the vast majority of students in Canada who are undergraduates will not receive a cent of assistance in this budget.
This means there is nothing for students at Capilano College in my riding, many of whom are enrolled in the successful Capilano College film program. The film centre offers programs that prepare students for a variety of career paths in the film production industry, and these are not necessarily students who will graduate and then leave our community. Many of these graduates will find local jobs in North Vancouver's film industry. North Shore Studios, located in my riding, is the major film producer in Canada and around the world.
There are over 6,000 persons in my riding who work in the film industry. Film and television production add $100 million per year to the North Vancouver economy and an estimated $1.3 billion per year, every year, to the economy of B.C. There is no innovative thinking in this budget that would help foster growth in this local industry by helping students in my riding.
As the official opposition critic for the Asia-Pacific gateway, I was extremely disappointed by the budget's lack of action on gateway projects, as I have been repeatedly in regard to action on gateway projects since the government took office. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has made my job as critic far easier than I wish it were. Whether it be the bungled relations with our trading partners in the Asia-Pacific, specifically with China, which are well documented, or the watered-down commitment to gateway funding and the lack of a cohesive legislative gateway plan, the government has dropped the ball.
In this budget, the government has employed smoke and mirrors on gateway funding to make it appear that it has increased funding when in fact it has yet to honour its election promise to at least match the funding that was attached to the previous Liberal government's Pacific gateway strategy, which included $591 million over five years. Within that five year period, the Conservative government is still $44 million short of what was promised by the previous Liberal government.
In addition, the Liberal gateway investment was always considered a down payment. Unlike the Conservative government, our competitors to the south in U.S. and Mexico are not waiting until 2014 to ramp up port capacity and make critical investments in transportation infrastructure.
By breaking its gateway funding promises, the government is failing B.C. on the gateway at home and abroad through its amateurish approach to relations with our Asia-Pacific trading partners abroad.
For example, it was nine months before the minister visited China. It was 13 months before even a parliamentary secretary visited India. The government closed two consulate offices in Japan. This is not exactly the opportunity based approach we had in mind.
In the last election the Conservatives promised to add 2,500 municipal police officers to Canadian cities. Where was that promise in the budget? Nowhere. Municipalities in B.C., which had hoped the government would walk the walk, are now back on their knees begging for funds to add police officers.
Constituents in my riding want the government to be bold with health policy. I believe it is time for a national catastrophic drug plan to ensure that every Canadian is able to afford prescription drugs recommended by their family physician. It has been estimated that the cost of ensuring that no Canadian spends more than 3% of their annual family income on medication, devices and supplies is $500 million per year.
This government inherited a $13 billion surplus and it has not even honoured its election promises on health care, let alone adopt new strategies such as the catastrophic drug plan, which would help millions of Canadians. One example would be the two million Canadians with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who in many cases have to spend a disproportionately high percentage of their income on health care costs.
For a member of Parliament from B.C., this budget is as much about what is not in it as what is. Whether it is broken election promises or failing to provide anything new for our province, this budget proves that the Conservative campaign slogan to “stand up for B.C.” is as ridiculous as the finance minister's grasp of simple Canadian geography.