Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on Bill C-28 today, the implementation of the budget. It gives me an opportunity to speak once again on some of the issues I have heard about from hundreds of constituents, which we in this House all know translates into thousands of Canadians.
I would like to speak on a couple of issues. One of them is the impact the budget has on persons with disabilities. There is also the impact it has on people who work on and enjoy heritage, culture and creativity in this country. Finally, I would like to speak about the impact of the budget on the needs of native children and on children in general.
I will start by saying that I have spoken out many times in the House about the disability tax credit and the fact that it does not meet the needs of Canadians. I am afraid that continues to fall on the deaf ears of the government.
On May 12, I moved an amendment to the draconian changes to the disability tax credit. I moved to have those amendments withdrawn from the budget, but that was to no avail. These changes go completely against the will of the House of Commons as expressed on November 19, 2002, when we all voted together as a House on a motion put forward by the New Democrats, which was:
That this House call upon the government to develop a comprehensive program to level the playing field for Canadians with disabilities, by acting on the unanimous recommendations of the committee report “Getting It Right for Canadians: the Disability Tax Credit”, in particular the recommendations calling for changes to the eligibility requirements of the Disability Tax Credit so that they will incorporate in a more humane and compassionate manner the real life circumstances of persons with disabilities, and withdraw the proposed changes to the Disability Tax Credit, released on August 30th, 2002.
At that time the Minister of Finance reluctantly withdrew the changes, only to reintroduce similar ones in the bill. That was a very major disappointment to people in the disability community and to the House. We feel that it was a contemptible act on his part. This credit is already so restrictive that officials from the department have admitted at committee that Terry Fox, if he were alive today, would not be considered as having a disability under the draconian interpretation of this law.
This is not a bill that has persons with disabilities in mind. I would like to review some of the changes within the budget that impact on persons with disabilities. First, the employment assistance for persons with disabilities program was renewed, but only with a $13 million increase over five years, which is less than the rate of inflation.
The disability tax credit, which amounts to about $400 million annually and goes to 450 million Canadians, provides a reduction of about $1,000 per recipient. The budget adds another $25 million this year and $80 million more per year starting in 2004-05, so what is wrong with this picture? The tax credit is still not refundable, so Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities with no or low incomes still get nothing out of this credit. The proposed changes in the amount of the tax credit are insignificant, other than the normal increase due to indexation. The proposed changes to eligibility are designed to restrict eligibility: to reverse court decisions that said the eligibility was too restrictive.
The pilot project to recognize episodic and mental health disabilities through a consultation group is a welcome first step, but these types of disabilities need to be incorporated into the mainstream programs under the DTC and CPP and probably will need more than $25 million.
The child disability benefit, which will provide $1,600 more per year for disabled children in families that are eligible for the national child benefit supplement, is a good measure, but only families earning less than $33,000 will get the full credit.
I would like to move on now to the area of culture. The budget shows, in my estimation, very little concern for preserving and promoting Canadian arts and heritage. There is not a penny for the CBC and there is minimal cultural investment elsewhere. Specifically, there were increases of $150 million over two years to the Canadian television fund to increase Canadian programming, $20 million over two years for historic places, and $17 million over two years for Katimavik.
For cultural and heritage programs, the government added $187 million over two years, $150 million to the Canadian TV fund over two years, and $20 million for historic places, as I have said. However, by not renewing the $60 million to the CBC there will be cuts to real annual programming of $29 million for English TV, $18 million for French TV, $5 million each to English and French radio, and $3 million for new media.
Critical to cultural survival in this country is the future of Canadian television drama. This budget cuts the Canadian television fund by $25 million for what appear to be unknown reasons. As time goes by and more and more people come to the House and talk about the crisis in Canadian drama, it is an absolute mystery why the finance minister will not put that critically needed money back into the system, where it would then go toward triggering other moneys.
As many people have pointed out, the changes that were made in the budget for the film and TV industry in fact take money from Canadians and give money to Americans. In fact, there is a tax break for foreigners producing in Canada and a cut for Canadians who are trying to make their own culture here. As a result of the reduction in CTF funds, many Canadian made shows may have to be cut and others are in peril. Canadian TV dramas have gone from twelve to four currently in production.
As well, thousands of jobs are at stake. An actor who was here recently pointed out that the $25 million means much more than its face value because the money is then matched by private donors. If our government is unwilling to support Canadian TV content, why would private donors be willing?
Nor is Canada unique in providing government funding for television production, because most countries around the world also provide support. I know that some people see television production as an extra or a luxury when money is needed for so many other things. However, without Canadian made drama we would be left living our experience through American made dramas and would have a completely distorted sense of reality.
Trina McQueen's report to the CRTC about the dire straits of Canadian drama quotes Canadian producer David Barlow, who said:
If a society consistently chooses the dramatic fantasies of another culture, they come to believe that their own reality is not a valid place on which to build their dreams. Their reality simply isn't good enough for dreaming.
In 2003, that is a sad and tragic state for us to find ourselves in.
As a playwright I know first-hand how difficult it is for our Canadian artists and creators to earn a living. It is amazing that they continue to persevere as they do. We are all richer for it, yet there is nothing in the budget that really acknowledges the sacrifices that artists make, particularly as their average income is about $13,000 a year.
This budget does not recognize the needs of income averaging for artists. The budget does not in any way reflect the needs of artists to be eligible for employment insurance. Another way to acknowledge the contribution of our artists is through income tax breaks on the moneys earned by artists through their creative works. This is what my current private member's motion proposes. I know there are government moneys available through agencies such as the Canada Council for the Arts, but the council, for example, accepts only about 25% of the applications, and artists can apply only twice over four years.
I know that some have argued against treating artists as a special interest group in the tax system, but the reality is that our tax system has had many special interests, including students, persons with disabilities and persons contributing to their RRSPs. Why not spend additional credit on our artists in acknowledging their contributions?
Money for culture seems to suddenly appear when the Prime Minister's legacy is at stake, such as the $100 million for the political history museum in Ottawa. One wonders how much of that will be devoted to the Prime Minister's wing. While money definitely should be allocated to Canadian museums, I am wary of opening up yet another museum in Ottawa when so many regional museums need funding and this is not allocated in the budget.
I recently spoke to people at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum about their situation. As other museums across the country are saying, they need money to keep the lights on. They need money to hire curators and to collect artifacts. The regional museums across the country, of which there are over 2,500, need money to provide clean, dry storage for their artifacts. They need money for promotion. They need money to make sure they can collect the pieces of heritage from their regions and put them in a form that local residents will be able to see, value and understand as being part of a larger patchwork of heritage across the country.
As I said, there are over 2,500 non-profit museums and related institutions across Canada, which attract more than 50 million visits each year. With few exceptions they have been languishing under severe funding cutbacks for many years and are not funded adequately. Many buildings are crumbling and roofs are leaking. Collections of great local and national significance are threatened. Our collective memory is fading.
I would like to say that this budget has been a major disappointment in terms of heritage. The Canadian Museums Association and the New Democrats are saying that what we need is a comprehensive museum strategy instead of haphazard announcements that are more political than anything. We need to make available more funding for existing museums, particularly outside the national capital region.
To go back to the whole issue of the importance of museums, it is important to realize that more Canadians--and this is a very interesting statistic--go to museums than they do to sporting events. Local museums are like canaries in the mines: if the museum is in dire straits, it likely means that the town is in dire straits and that in fact there is trouble in many other sectors of the community already.
There have been many disappointments in the budget, but particularly critical are the cuts we see to Native Friendship Centres and the lack of any really effective anti-poverty strategies that would benefit the lives of aboriginal children. I would like to talk about the need for funding for children's programs, particularly for aboriginal children.
I have had the pleasure since February of this year to sit on the subcommittee on children and youth at risk. We have been conducting a study on the conditions of aboriginal children in Canada, both on and off reserve. I have met some exceptional people through this exercise and have heard some amazing testimony. No one spoke of any kind of government dependency, but rather of partnerships and horizontal collaborations to create an integrated policy framework for the development of young first nations children.
It is important to look at first nations children because the aboriginal population is much younger than average. Children 14 and under make up 33% of the aboriginal population in Canada, compared with only 19% in the non-aboriginal population. As well, sadly, more aboriginal children live in poverty than any other segment of the population. In fact, aboriginal people in cities were twice as likely to live in poverty as non-aboriginal people, yet little attention is given to aboriginal children living off reserve, particularly in cities, where they are most likely to be in poverty.
One of the few places that provided programs and support uniquely for aboriginal children was the native friendship centres, but this bill reduces the funding to these centres. Native friendship centres offered programs such as head start for young children and went a long way toward building a happy and healthy future for these kids. Therefore it is inexplicable in my mind as to why this funding was reduced.
When a program is working well why is money taken away from it? Why is it not added on? Why do we not learn lessons from that and create even stronger programs?
The way to deal with poverty among aboriginal children is obviously to deal with the poverty that exists within aboriginal families and families living in poverty in general. The budget has been very weak in dealing with the real needs of poor Canadians. The budget does not deal with what we need, which is a truly effective anti-poverty strategy.
What the budget does not deal with is the fact that we need a national day care strategy inspired upon the Quebec model. We could also use a national initiative to raise the minimum wages in all jurisdictions above the poverty line.
We need a national welfare standard that is above the poverty line. We also need effective strategies for ensuring full access to comprehensive disability supports. A national poverty strategy would also look at an enriched child tax benefit with assurances that all welfare families would be eligible.
We need to see the elimination of inter-provincial residency requirements and fee differentials for long term care, all health procedures, post-secondary education and other services. We need a coordinated strategy to build low income housing and end homelessness. Of course a national poverty strategy would include the realization of food security for all in Canada and a substantial reduction in the rate and depth of poverty in Canada.
I now want to say a couple of things about post-secondary education. I think everyone in the House is on the verge of attending graduations at the high schools in their ridings. Each of us will sit there very proudly watching as these young people go up to the stage with their dreams ahead of them. Many of them will go on to universities with plans to go into medicine, engineering, the arts, social work or into working with children. However their dreams depend on being able to afford post-secondary education.
The budget has been a disaster in terms of providing any real moneys for young people and for universities to actually provide affordable education. We are all seeing students in our ridings who get into university and who get a student loan only to find out after a year or two that they cannot afford to continue. Some have to work at two jobs while trying to keep up with their courses but they fall behind. Their debts are growing, their marks are falling and they are becoming overburdened by debt at the age of 19 and 20.
We are seeing a huge tragedy occur among the people who we had hoped would step into our shoes at some point and provide the energy and the idealism to make this the kind of country in which we all want to live. Our young people have found a very hard rock and an unlistening government in this budget.
I feel that the budget has been unfortunate in so many ways. It has missed the point in being able to build a stronger Canada. For persons with disabilities, for artists, for first nations children and for our students, this budget, like the ones before it, continues to ignore the realities facing all Canadians.