Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my comments to the prebudget debate today.
I learned the other day that goldfish apparently cannot create new memories, which is interesting. I guess that every time they swim around their bowl that little plastic castle is a brand new thing to them, an exciting new event.
This may be humorous when it comes to goldfish, but it is not an appealing quality in a government. It is not an appealing quality for a government to be unable to learn from its mistakes or to learn from the past. Unfortunately that is what we have in this country.
Canadians deserve better. Unfortunately, I do not believe they are going to get this old dog of a government to learn any new tricks after a dozen years. The old tricks may have helped the government retain power but they have diminished Canada's image at home and abroad.
In recent months, Canadians are learning the sad degree to which power corrupts for this group: the adage seems to be that if it is good for the Liberal Party, it is good for Canada. There are many examples--too many--and they include: abusive and overt political manipulation of the immigration system; rampant patronage in senior levels of government departments and crown corporations; political favouritism in the awarding of government contracts, including direct involvement by the Prime Minister's Office; and the laundering of millions of dollars of payments to Liberal-friendly firms through the sponsorship program in exchange for doing little or no work, at least for the taxpayers of Canada, that is.
This is a tired government and a self-serving government. It is unwilling to admit its own failings. It is a goldfish government. It is unwilling to learn from its mistakes. It is led by a dithering leader whose international road show is simply a pathetic public relations exercise but also a tacit consequence of the absence of a domestic agenda, all thumb-twiddling and reaction but not a plan.
After all those years of wanting power the Prime Minister does not seem to know what to do when he gets it. There is reaction. There is reaction to the Auditor General's report by attacking the Auditor General. There is reaction to the Gomery commission by delaying and then partially disclosing information, or worse, by attacking the judge himself. There is reaction to questions regarding the stripper-pizza fiasco by attacking the opposition or making blanket assertions, wrong and false of course, about the opposition's immigration policies.
It is very difficult not to be cynical when one knows this is a government that has wasted billions of dollars on a failed gun registry in order to play to the post-Montreal massacre polls, a government that mismanaged away millions of dollars in the HRDC boondoggle and then broke the department in two just to get rid of the acronym, a government that deliberately keeps employment insurance premiums elevated and overtaxes working Canadians but claims to have compassion for low income people, who are disproportionately punished by high employment insurance premiums.
We have seen overpayments of $45 billion and counting. That is $6,000 per household. That is money that working people should have had in their hands so they could decide what to do with it. Most damaging of all to the low income workers of this country is the fact that this money is not in a reserve somewhere. It has been spent and it is never coming back.
This is a government that continues to allow the diversion of profits from this country to tax havens abroad by the creation of debt-reducing tactics allowed here, such as leveraging on Canadian assets and borrowing money to invest offshore, which results in the shifting of profit and the reduction of tax obligations for Canadian corporations so located, such as Canada Steamship Lines International.
Most of all, it is hard to believe that this debate and the hundreds of hours of prebudget consultation with Canadians are anything more than a cynical shell game when one recognizes that apparently the government has no accurate ability to conceive or develop its own budget numbers.
Last year $1.9 billion was the projected surplus and the finance minister went to great lengths during the election campaign to dispute any notion of the Conservative Party's proposed expenditures in a number of areas, saying they would drive us into deficit. Then we found out just weeks later that the actual surplus was not $1.9 billion but $9.1 billion, or off by $7 billion. Previous years have been almost as bad.
The inaccuracy, combined with the employment insurance overcharge, has accelerated debt paydown by default, but it has come at the price of transparency and in the absence of a fulsome discussion of what our priority investments as a nation actually ought to be.
The Liberal approach does a disservice to the budget process. More important, it discredits the budget process.
From our perspective, the Conservative Party believes in an elimination of wasteful spending. We believe in lower taxes, including lower EI charges, in increased basic exemptions and in reduced marginal rates.
I would particularly like to emphasize today the need to raise the lifetime capital gains exemption for small businesses and farmers. This level has not been increased since 1987.
I would also emphasize the need, particularly as a consequence of the BSE crisis in this country, for us to move on income averaging for farm families.
As well, because of the consequences of the elimination of the Crow rate by this government, road use has changed dramatically, particularly and nowhere more so than in rural western Canada. As a consequence, secondary roads are deteriorating rapidly under the use of heavy truck traffic that was not anticipated in the years gone by when those roads were designed.
This shifts an incredible burden of billions of dollars of investment onto provincial and municipal governments. We need a plan, an infrastructure strategy for road renewal in this country, and we need it urgently.
As well, when one considers all aspects of our corporate tax system, not just the corporate tax rate but depreciation, sales tax on capital inputs, inventory deductions and others, Canada has one of the highest tax rates on capital in the world, which is why tax havens in Barbados are so popular.
Unlike Barbados, however, we are not an island. We must be competitive. We export 80% of what we produce. We cannot allow uncompetitive tax structures to diminish our productivity and we must never be complacent about job creation.
There is another area I would like to address: aboriginal policy. As a member of Parliament for Manitoba I think this is particularly important, although I believe it to be a national issue. In Manitoba we have the highest percentage of aboriginal people within a province. It is currently at 13% and it will rise.
We have seen the social malaise that has too often characterized both the life on aboriginal reserves and the life for aboriginal people off reserve, but as with so many other subjects, the Prime Minister seems unable to address the issues around Canada's aboriginal people, apart from the “we feel your pain” rhetoric, perhaps.
I came across a quote the other day. These are the words of Frank Scott concerning a former prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. He stated:
He seemed to be in the centreBecause we had no centre,No visionTo pierce the smoke-screen of his politics.We had no shapeBecause he never took sides,And no sidesBecause he never allowed them to take shape.
These words could describe our current leader. Or current Prime Minister; I hesitate to use the word leader.
He squashed the previous government's accountability initiatives for aboriginal governance and he promised change, but nothing has happened in the years since. He was sworn in with a sweetgrass smudging ceremony conducted by an aboriginal elder from my province, but it was all about optics. Since then there has been no substance. So far the only thing the Prime Minister has raised is false hopes. While he dithers, people suffer and billions of dollars are thrown at a problem, with no end in sight. As a country we need to develop a plan.
I have a six point plan for him, developed with the input of aboriginal people across Canada and supported by the Conservative Party. None of these proposals will be expensive. Certainly they will all pay for themselves in very short order, unlike the perverse outcome of the $2 billion a year in welfare payments which will be distributed to aboriginal people this year. That money, most of it given to perfectly healthy young people, has become a welfare addiction, according to the Manitoba chiefs, and a rite of passage for 18 year old aboriginal young people.
These proposals, on the other hand, will not cater to power hungry chiefs but will enhance the power of their constituents.
First of all, we need to extend the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect reserve residents, the only Canadians who are not so protected.
Second, we need to eliminate the Indian Act provision which prohibits the repossession of chattels sold on reserve. This is an unnecessary obstacle to aboriginal people who wish to obtain credit.
Third, we need to establish home ownership programs, as has been done on several dozen reserves already, so aboriginal families will share the same property rights and responsibilities the rest of us take for granted. This will remove the power of chiefs and councils to evict families from their homes.
Fourth, we need to introduce schools of choice programs so families can exercise influence over education, which has been restricted by some chiefs and historically by non-aboriginal governments.
Fifth, we need to reform welfare delivery so that it enhances skills development and self-esteem rather than diminishing both.
Sixth, we need to establish matrimonial property laws consistent with provincial legislation so that aboriginal women are no longer forced to stay in abusive relationships.
These changes will address the root causes of much social malaise for aboriginal people. They are not a panacea, but they are far better than funnelling $10 billion through 20 different government departments.
These changes and others will build accountability from within far better than 5,000 federal bureaucrats can do from without.
Alas, my bet is that the Liberal government will do a poll and find out that playing to the status quo is easier. People do not like change. Any poll will show us that. It is especially so for those in power. They just hang on to power. That is all this government seems capable of or interested in doing.
We can provide more efficient government, more honest and transparent management, lower and fairer taxes and a better future for low income Canadians and aboriginal people.
That is precisely what this opposition party is proposing to do.