Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I read an interesting quote this morning in a blog by Newfoundlander Drew Brown. Mr. Brown describes himself as a Newfoundlander in exile. He is a young man who is working on his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Alberta. The quote was by a well-known Newfoundland lawyer who gave a talk to the Canadian Bar Association back in the early 1930s. The group had just finished singing O Canada, and the Newfoundland lawyer stated:
That's the real difference between Newfoundlanders and Canadians. In Canada, you guys can sing “we stand on guard for thee.” Back home, we have to sing “God guard thee, Newfoundland” because no one else is up to the job.
There is truth in that. Newfoundland and Labrador is always in need of guarding, in need of fighting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, because God guards those who guard themselves.
I cannot give a speech on a motion focusing on the state of the country's finances without mentioning right off the top the current Conservative government's latest financial double-cross to Newfoundland and Labrador, a double-cross of biblical proportions, which was how it was described back home. I am talking about the $280 million that the Conservative government promised my province as a “transition fund” for “development and renewal”. Those are Conservative words, not my words.
The $280 million fund was promised after Newfoundland and Labrador surrendered minimum processing requirements as part of the free trade deal with the European Union. Minimum processing requirements protect fish plant jobs on land. We gave that up after the province struck a deal with the Conservative government to make the free trade deal with the EU happen, but the Conservative government has reneged on the deal.
Just recently the Minister of Justice came to St. John's and insulted Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to our faces. He said that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are demanding a CETA slush fund, which is not true. That is the same minister who used a military search and rescue helicopter to taxi him from a fishing trip on the Gander River. That minister has no credibility back home, but then neither does the Conservative government, not when they double-cross my province.
The government made a commitment to my province. We expect and demand that it honour that commitment. That $280 million fund is about diversifying the economy. It is about preparing our fishing industry for tariff-free access to the 500-million-person EU market. It is about a promise made and a promise kept. It is about integrity. It is about honour.
The first part of the first opposition day motion of the year before the House today calls upon the government to update this House on the state of Canada's finances in the wake of collapsing oil prices, in the wake of huge job losses, and in the wake of the decision by the Minister of Finance to delay the tabling of the annual budget until April. There is no good reason to put off updating this House or to put off the federal budget.
The decline in world oil prices has been stunning and shocking, going from an average of $94 a barrel last year to $56 a barrel this year. That $38-dollar drop has virtually wiped out the government's anticipated surplus in its next budget. The Conservative government's mismanagement and its sole focus on resource extraction has left our country vulnerable to these sorts of resource price shocks. We need to diversify our economy, and the Conservatives have failed to do that. Oil revenues have plummeted, and the Conservative government's reaction is to push an income-splitting scheme that gives billions of dollars to the country's wealthiest people. Oil revenues have plummeted, and the Conservative government is pushing a job-creator tax cut that creates only 800 jobs at a cost of half a billion dollars. Who can make sense of that math?
Newfoundland and Labrador knows all about the incredible downside of economic tunnel vision in terms of the oil industry, because we are getting it from both ends. Oil revenues are down from our own offshore oil play to the point that the province is facing a deficit this year of $916 million. That is a deficit of almost a billion dollars for a small province with a population of just over half a million people. On the western end, thousands of layoffs in Alberta's oil sands will also have a devastating impact on our migratory workforce. Alberta oil money has been propping up our fishing outports for years. That is the reality. Newfoundland and Labrador has been solely focused on the oil industry, to our peril; the fishing industry is an afterthought. It is an afterthought to the provincial government and an afterthought to the federal Conservative government. Diversification is not in the Conservative vocabulary.
The second part of today's motion calls on the Conservatives to prepare a budget that addresses the economic challenges faced by the middle class by creating more quality, full-time jobs and encouraging economic diversification. There is that word again. The Conservatives and the Liberals have failed at diversification. Over the last decade, under Liberal and Conservative governments, we have lost more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs, most of which were in Ontario. We are addicted to oil. We are fixated on pipelines, fracking, and deepwater drilling. It is oil at all costs, the environment be damned.
Let us make no mistake: we have done well by oil. My province in particular, Newfoundland and Labrador, is a have province because of oil revenues. However, with oil revenues down, the province is bracing for cuts to tackle that $916 million deficit. With oil revenues down, the federal Conservative government is apparently proceeding with income splitting for the wealthiest Canadians. What about the middle class? Where does that leave them?
I spoke on the telephone last night with a 68-year-old woman in my riding. She was a career woman who worked at a good job and now, in retirement, she makes around $25,000 a year. I asked her, and she said she considers herself middle class, but she cannot afford $900 a month for rent, which is the average cost of an apartment in St. John's. Instead, she is forced to live in her daughter's basement apartment. Where is the help for the middle class? Where is the help for that woman?
A forum on child care was held this past weekend in St. John's. One of the stories told was that of a single father of three who had to quit his job because he could not afford child care. The man said that because of the amount of money he made at his job the year prior to becoming a full-time father, he did not qualify for assisted child care, so he had to go on social assistance to raise his children. How will income splitting help that man raise his children? It will not.
My party, the New Democratic Party of Canada, proposes a national child care plan that would cost parents no more than $15 a day for child care. That plan would boost the economy by allowing more parents, more men and more women, to access the workforce.
To conclude, we are calling on the Conservative government to release its economic update, to diversify the economy, and to introduce a budget that includes measures to create quality jobs, a budget that addresses the challenges facing the middle class—and while they are at it, a budget that stands on guard for Newfoundland and Labrador.