Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House for what might be one of my last times to talk about the budget.
The budget sets out a road map for the government. It gives an indication of its priorities and hopefully it gives an indication of the priorities of the population at large. The extent to which a budget is successful is the extent to which it represents the priorities of Canadians.
The government has made much of arguing the budget to be a health care budget, with which I will deal in a moment. If we look at that issue we see a government which has over the last five years cut over $21 billion out of health care and is about to put $2 billion back. This is not the kind of health care commitment that would qualify most budgets in the minds of most people as a health care budget.
The budget did many things and omitted many things. I will focus for a moment on the things it omitted and could have done in order to meet the priorities of Canadians. Canadians, as we know, face a number of crises at the present time. Canadians face a health care crisis which the budget addresses in a small way.
The population at large faces significant challenges with regard to job opportunities for both parents and younger people. The country also faces challenges with regard to the accessibility of students to education and a whole range of other questions including homelessness, our infrastructure problems and a tax system which remains extremely unfair.
The budget could have but did not address the priorities of Canadians with regard to their challenges in looking for work. The budget did nothing to increase the chances of any unemployed person finding work or of a person in a job feeling any greater security in terms of keeping that work.
The budget did nothing to improve the benefits for those most vulnerable in society, the unemployed, a group for which the federal government has responsibility in terms of its legislative jurisdictional powers over employment insurance and as a result of its control over fiscal and monetary tools which leads to certain levels of unemployment in the economy.
Over the last 10 or 11 years I have been in the House unemployment has been used as an economic tool for various other purposes dealing with interest rates, the value of the dollar and so on.
Nothing was done in the budget to combat the homelessness crisis with which we are all familiar. The Prime Minister has taken some steps since, but there is nothing in the budget or in the finance minister's set of priorities to ensure that those who are facing life's most severe problems, the unemployed and the homeless, have those matters addressed by the government. That is a priority which is askew.
There is nothing to address the unfair tax system. There is nothing to reduce the GST. As we all know, the government has given a tax break of $8,000 to millionaires and a handful of dollars to those at the lowest income levels. This hardly addresses the problem. It seems to make the problem worse.
There are other things too. There is nothing in the budget to tackle what are environmental concerns across the country, even the simple issue like a transit pass being available to employees in the same way as parking passes are. This modest and easy to administer environmental change did not find its way into the budget. As we probably all know, there is no adequate or proper funding for our cultural institutions.
Major Canadian priorities are not being addressed in the budget even though some tax changes were made. A person who makes $10,000 a year in income will receive from the budget tax savings of $51, a dollar a week. A person who receives $25,000 a year in income will receive a tax break of $115. A person who receives a $50,000 income will receive $160. A person who receives a $75,000 income will receive $595. A person who receives a $105,000 income will receive $813.
The more we make the better off we will be. That is not the priority of those who are fighting to survive in what is an ever increasingly challenging world. If one is making $1 million a year one will get a $8,000 tax break from the budget.
Let us remember all the fuss about whether or not hockey players should get tax breaks to stay in Canada. They did because those millionaire hockey players will get $8,000 extra a year to play in Canada while a family trying to get by on $10,000 will make $51 a year more, probably not enough to buy one ticket to go to a hockey game to watch that millionaire hockey player who gets an $8,000 tax break play in Canada.
Even where changes are made we see them made in the interest of those who are better off rather than in the interest of those who are less well off. We know our tax system is one of the most unfair in the developed world. Yet there is nothing here to make it more fair. Indeed we see a strategy of making it increasingly unfair.
Let me raise a few comments about health care spending. The government made much of the budget being a health care budget. Over the years of the Liberal government and over the years of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard as the Minister of Finance, we have seen $21.5 billion taken out of the health care system. Only a couple of provinces have been able to fill that gap.
In my province of Saskatchewan each year the NDP government has consistently put more money into health care than what the Liberals took out, at a great burden to a province with a small tax base and significant financial problems left over from nine years of provincial Conservative government mismanagement. The Saskatchewan NDP government saw health care as a priority, as did the residents of that province and Canadians as a whole, and thereby committed more money than was cut by the Liberal government in Ottawa.
What is the response of the Liberal government? As a result of the budget it will put back $2 billion, one dollar for every ten that was taken out of health care. We know the angst across the country over the state of our health care system. That angst is exacerbated when billions of dollars are cut from the health care system.
This is a modest prescription for the health care crisis caused by the federal government over its years of belt tightening. This modest prescription will not satisfy the needs of Canadians or do anything very significant to improve our health care system.
I would add in terms of the priorities of the most recent budgets of the Liberal government that it is plain the brunt of deficit reduction was borne by the most vulnerable in society. That deficit reduction was called for and was necessary. The minister is to be credited for having steered Canada through this difficult time.
However, the way in which he did it meant that he attacked the most vulnerable in society. That is in sharp contrast with the way in which Saskatchewan balanced its budget, the first province to do so. There were increased commitments to the things that are most important to Canadians, not the Liberal model of increased cuts to the things that are most important to Canadians.
In that strategy, in that model of Saskatchewan NDP government's deficit reduction, we saw continued increases in funding for health care, education and social programs, not cuts. That is a distinct contrast with the way in which the deficits were addressed in the two jurisdictions.
We remain with some serious problems that could have been addressed by the government but were not. For example, as students have indicated the budget does nothing to solve student debt and the base funding crisis facing post-secondary education. Tuition fees will continue to rise while the quality of education continues to erode according to the students. Those of us who spend any time on university campuses can ensure that is the case. Without increasing accessibility, without increasing the numbers of Canadians who have access to post-secondary education, it is difficult to see how we can solve the economic difficulties we face.
On a personal note, as someone who is the only person from my extended family to attend university, and it was 30 years ago at least when I was at university, the question of accessibility is a critical one that we cannot leave in the state in which it is at present. It takes a lot of support for those who come from families who do not traditionally see university education or post-secondary education as a tool for their children to find a way to break through and to have access to post-secondary education.
It is an obligation of the country as a whole and of the government which represents the country to ensure that accessibility is there. It is the only way we will individually ensure that we can make the greatest contribution to our economy and to our society. Education is critical in this regard and yet nothing in the budget addresses this matter.
Children in poverty is surely the most serious problem we face. Not only Catholic bishops but practically everybody in the country has called this issue a national disgrace. There is nothing in the budget for Canada's poorest children, even though there is much rhetoric on this point in a number of committee reports and so on from the Liberal caucus.
There is nothing for homelessness, nothing for those who do not even have a place to live in what is one of the richest countries in the world. As the Minister of Finance indicated in the past, only the national government has the financial resources to address the full dimensions of this problem.
There is nothing for child care. We have the problem of parents, single parents in particular, wanting to access the job market, wanting to make a contribution and wanting to ensure their own independence, being denied that opportunity simply because child care is out of their grasp. Either there is not enough accessible quality child care available to them or the cost is simply prohibitive. Again this is holding people back rather than enabling them to move forward.
I mentioned the problems of our tax system and how unfair it is. Even a reduction in GST of 1% would have meant a lot to everyday people. The Minister of Finance could have taken a lesson from the Saskatchewan NDP government's book and in fact given everybody a break, particularly those on low income who spend all their money on the most basic items. There is no commitment to assisting those at the lowest end of the economic scale with a tax break.
Perhaps the most glaring omission is with regard to those who are unable to find work in Canada and are forced to rely on what is becoming an ever more meagre unemployment insurance system. There is nothing to address this concern. Indeed everyone has to be reminded that it is the employment insurance surplus which has made the deficit reduction record of the government as credible as it is. In other words the taking of money from those who are working and those who are unemployed in order to balance the country's books. This is not something many people would be proud of.
We face significant problems across the country both in highways and in other infrastructure elements. There is nothing in the budget for them.
While budgets set out a course of action and a set of priorities which should represent the priorities of Canadians, it is clear that the budget has not done that. More important, it has left the most vulnerable, the most in need, out of the picture almost entirely. That is to be regretted.