Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the debate. I certainly was listening carefully to the comments of the previous speakers and I have some comments to make about what has been said.
Last week I said in a scrum that if the Minister of Finance was William Tell, I am very glad that I did not have an apple on my head.
I would like to document the gross inaccuracy of the predictions that have been made by the minister before the members opposite start congratulating themselves too much on their alleged record of economic management. Let us have a look at that record.
In 2006, in his first budget, the Minister of Finance predicted 3% growth. The actual growth was 2.8%. In 2007 he predicted 2.3%. He missed that target as well. In 2008 he predicted 1.7% growth and actual growth was 0.7%. In 2009 the minister had to admit that there was going to be a contraction in the economy of 0.8%. The actual contraction was 2.8%. In 2011 he predicted 2.9% growth and the actual growth was 2.5%. Last year he predicted 2.1% growth and the actual was roughly 1.8%.
If the annual real GDP growth experienced under every prime minister were averaged, only one prime minister in the living memory of some members, R.B. Bennett, had a worse economic growth record than that of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's average annual growth during the time of his prime ministership has been 1.4% over his seven years.
When the Minister of Finance announced the economic action plan in budget 2009, he promised a temporary deficit that would be eliminated in 2013-14, which by the way, begins six days from now. Instead, we have an $18.7-billion deficit predicted for 2013-14. Based on his previous record, that is not going to be an easy target to reach.
I want to go back over the ground because members keep saying “Let's pretend we don't have a memory of any of these things”. The problem is we do have a memory and we do have a record.
In 2008 the minister predicted a surplus of $2.3 billion. That became a deficit of $5.8 billion, an $8.1-billion difference. In 2009 he predicted a deficit of $33.7 billion, which became a deficit of $55.6 billion, a $21.9-billion difference. In 2012 he predicted a deficit of $21.1 billion, which has become a deficit of $25.9 billion, a $4.8 billion-difference.
Perhaps the most famous inaccuracy of the Minister of Finance, and the bow and arrow is looking a bit shaky in his hands right now, was the 2008 fall economic update, which is perhaps his most infamous economic prediction. We all remember that because it was the one where he predicted no recession for Canada, a series of future budget balances that came in at a $0.1-billion surplus and the balance would be achieved from the future sale of government assets.
It is worth recalling that we reached our lowest point in terms of our debt at $458 billion six years ago. This budget predicts that by the end of this fiscal year it will be $627 billion, an increase of $169 billion.
This is the same Minister of Finance who, as he is delivering his budget speech, stands up and waxes full of pieties saying governments cannot spend their way out of a recession and then, looking meaningfully over at the opposition, says some people might disagree with this statement, but nevertheless the government is standing by its record of economic management and fiscal prudence. A $170-billion increase in the national debt and the government has the nerve to say that it is some kind of an example of fiscal prudence. It is preposterous.
It is also preposterous to say that it is a government that has somehow embraced restraint. Program spending has gone from $175 billion in 2005-06 to $253 billion today, which is a 45% increase. That is far greater than the rate of inflation and the rate of growth in the real economy.
Let us look at the fact that Canada is a federation. One cannot just take the federal programs and the federal approach in isolation. What I would like to see in this budget is not only a statement of the federal government's plans and hopes for the future, which is allegedly what we had in the budget statement. I, and I think most Canadians, would like to see how the federation is doing. How are Canadians doing? Where is the unemployment rate? Where is the job-creation rate? How indebted are Canadians? Have they fallen behind or are they moving ahead? How are the provinces doing? How are the municipalities doing?
Let us look at simple facts. Since 2007-08, the provincial debt, the debt of all the provinces, has gone from $321 billion to $534 billion, which is a $230-billion increase. This year, 2012-13, only Saskatchewan and the three territories that are largely supported by the federal government are now expected to run a surplus. Therefore, when we look at the actual condition of the federation, it is far more serious than the government is prepared to tell us. It is far more problematic than the government is prepared to admit.
However, we have a government that nevertheless is eager to pat itself on the back. I heard this in the statements of my colleagues for Leeds—Grenville and Okanagan—Coquihalla, who said that this was such a wonderful budget because for the first time in 40 years the government had identified the skills challenge as a problem facing Canada. What?
This is not the first time in 40 years that a problem with job training has been identified. There is obviously a problem. Everyone is well aware of this and recognizes the problem. However, acknowledging that there is a problem and proposing a solution are two completely different things.
Let us take a moment to talk about job training. Six years ago, the government signed a number of agreements with the provinces whereby it handed over complete authority for training to the provinces. The government gave them money and told them to do their best to solve the job training problem.
It seems that the Prime Minister became angry recently when he learned that there was a problem. He was the last to notice and to realize what was happening.
The Prime Minister went slightly overboard six years ago. Now he is getting back to work and is saying that he has a solution. He has announced that the government will allow young students and workers to receive $15,000. The government will take care of all the advertising for this wonderful program and will take back responsibility for training.
The Prime Minister said that his government would solve this problem that no one else had addressed before. What an exaggeration, what arrogance on the part of the federal government and the Conservative Party.
The provinces had actually started working on it. Not everyone wanted the government to create a $15,000 program because the Prime Minister would then announce that everyone—including the federal and provincial governments and the private sector—would have to contribute $5,000.
Today, the Prime Minister is saying that he is prepared to sit down and to negotiate with the provinces. It is not a good idea to announce a program before you have conducted negotiations. In fact, that is contrary to what should be done. Better yet, the government should say that it has things to discuss with the provinces and that it wants to do that.
They had an opportunity. Just six months ago, the premiers made an unprecedented decision to tell the Prime Minister that they would like to have a meeting to discuss the economy. They wanted to have a chance to discuss the issues that concern them and concern the government, because running a modern economy or running a federation is not the exclusive property of the Government of Canada. It is not the exclusive jurisdiction of the Conservative Party. It is a concern of every political party, a concern of every region, and a concern of every government.
The Prime Minister declined. The Prime Minister of Canada refused to attend. If we compare Canada to every other federation in the world, no other federation would be in a situation in which the leader of its federal government would refuse to sit down with the premiers who had specifically asked for a meeting to discuss the economy. It is unbelievable.
After the last 48 hours, I have a suggestion for the premiers: they should rent themselves panda costumes and get together and tell the Prime Minister there is going to be a fantastic photo opportunity. They will not even be behind glass. They will be out in public and willing to sit down. That is the only way I think we can get this Prime Minister to sit down and talk to the premiers.
Instead of having a meeting and a serious discussion, what does the Government of Canada do? On health care, the Minister of Finance walked into a luncheon meeting of the ministers of finance and said, “I am too busy to have lunch. By the way, I want to tell you what the transfers for health care are going to be for the next 10 years.”
The member for Peterborough is saying “Hear, hear”. Maybe that goes down well where he comes from, but having sat at a premiers' table and at a ministers of finance table, I can say it is ridiculous to have a federal government walk in and in five minutes describe what the program for transfers is going to be.
There has to be a discussion. The government cannot have a take it or leave it approach. The take it or leave it approach is even being rejected by the members of the Conservative Party opposite.
Even now, even at this late hour in the life of the government, we are beginning to see signs of life, signs of people wanting to speak up, signs of members of the blue army chorus saying they want to wear something different and come out today and have a voice of their own. However, even that is being stamped down by the leadership of the Conservative Party.
This budget does so much less than what it pretends to do. In the dialogue between the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla and the member for Peterborough, the member for Peterborough was saying, “Isn't it a wonderful thing? We have discovered that if you reduce tariffs, it is going to have a positive effect on the economy.”
The Conservatives raised tariff revenues for the federal government in this budget by $300 million, but the two items upon which they reduced them magically leaped out—magically.
John Ivison from the National Post magically picked the items out of all the possibilities of items that the government would either reduce or increase, and he said that the reporters from The Globe and Mail had the same magic information. How did that happen? How would they have suddenly landed on baby clothes and hockey equipment? Of all the items that are there, those are the items they picked.
I do not think so. I do not think it was a lucky guess. I know my friends in the New Democratic Party have written to the RCMP and are going to launch an investigation. I wish the investigators well in their search for this difficult piece of information.
The government has raised tariffs by $300 million. I would love to be a fly on the wall listening to the Minister of Finance talking to our Asian friends and saying, “We really want to lower tariffs and we really want to engage with you in the Pacific negotiations, but by the way, we are taking a $300-million cash grab before we sit down and have a serious discussion about tariffs.”
It is ridiculous. The range of things the government is doing, not to improve the budget but to simply sell the budget, is unbelievable to me.
I have to hand it to the government. It knows how to orchestrate leaks. It knows how to feed little pieces of gruel to the press the week before and say, "Here is a little item. You might want to nibble on this. You might want to nibble on that." Suddenly and magically, the press knew that skills training and infrastructure were going to be the focus of the budget. Every single speech given by a member opposite, dutifully prepared by the Prime Minister's Office, expressed it.
That is what we know. We know the Conservatives know how to orchestrate. We know that after they have orchestrated, as the member for Cape Breton—Canso would have said, they also know how to sell.
He is not even here to listen to what I have to say. This is what happens to an interim leader. He says to mention his riding, but when I go to the length and trouble of bringing him into the story, he walks out. I cannot understand it.