Mr. Speaker, I am gratified that my remarks at least sound like a speech. That is what they were intended to do and I thank my friend for that.
The second point I want to make is that the statement is an evolution of a plan that our government began with an update a year ago. If there are no surprises, it is because we are already pursuing appropriate measures. If there are no flashy new proposals, it is because the plans we have already made in the last year are coming to fruition. If there are no panicky new responses, it is because we have laid out solid preparedness and panic is unnecessary.
Instead of criticizing the government for failing to introduce new measures for 2009, the members of this House should praise the government for having already put in motion stimulus measures for 2009. For example, as a result of the government's stimulus plan, Canadians and businesses will pay $31 billion less in taxes in the coming fiscal year alone. This is almost 2% of our gross domestic product. It is a larger percentage of GDP than anything that has been implemented by our neighbour to the south. Even president-elect Obama is only proposing a temporary 1.1% economic stimulus in 2009. In the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy and Australia, none of them have proposed anywhere near the 2% of GDP stimulus that our government has arranged.
Some of our tax reductions were planned to come into effect only in 2009 for staged stimulus. These include raising the amount every individual can earn without paying federal income tax from $9,600 in 2008 to $10,100 in 2009. Also, effective January 1, 2009, Canadians will be able to benefit from the tax-free savings account, a flexible, general purpose account that will encourage investment. Corporations will also benefit from a reduction in the general corporate income tax rate, which will fall from 19.5% to 19% on January 1, 2009 and will fall further to 15% by 2012.
As another example of fiscal stimulus already planned, available federal funding for infrastructure projects rose by 40% this year and will rise by another 40% next year, hitting a record of $6 billion in that year alone. This is double the amount spent in 2007-08.
These measures provide permanent, sustainable, structural fiscal stimulus, unlike the temporary stimulus measures taken by some other countries. Taken together, these tax reductions and infrastructure investments represent a substantial fiscal stimulus.
The government could have waited. It could have held off any increase in this past year and not planned ahead for any increase in the next year, and then the government could have announced in this fiscal and economic statement the whole doubling of infrastructure spending, some $10.5 billion in one year, but while that might have satisfied the thirst of some for sensationalist measures, it would have done no more for the economy than planning ahead has already done.
It is not a coincidence that the U.S. has just determined it has been in a recession for over a year, whereas Canada is only now reaching that point. Does anyone in this House believe that it is just good luck that our success has been noticed around the world? Ordinary Canadians know that it is because of the hard work our government has done.
I understand that some in the media do not like old news. It is natural that newspeople want to report new initiatives, but do some members of this House really believe their own rhetoric? Can they really close their eyes and wish away the 2008 and 2009 stimulus measures the government has already put in place?
It is as if critics are saying, “We know that you've planned ahead. We know that you've had the foresight to arrange in advance all this stimulus. We know that, as a result, our economy has already been buoyed by that and will continue to benefit next year, but we don't care”. It is as if critics are saying, “Because you didn't wait until now, we are going to ignore the fact that you've already dealt with the problem”.
It is a bit like someone giving his or her spouse a birthday present a month before the birthday because the person knows how much the spouse needs that present, only to be criticized for not having a second present ready when the birthday arrives. How unfair is that?
As it is, with the stimulus plan in place since last year, the Prime Minister has been able to meet with other first ministers already and work with them to identify by next month, just a few short weeks from now, specific infrastructure projects. He has secured their commitment to tackle barriers to these specific projects. This is really amazing planning and foresight. This is careful, considered planning and foresight that was set out in the throne speech already approved by the House. This is planning and foresight that Canada needs most in uncertain economic times.
Consider the alternatives. If this economic and fiscal statement does not pass, what will happen to our government's carefully laid plans? Will these plans simply be abandoned by whatever government emerges? Will the implementation of these measures at the very least be delayed while a new government scrambles to forage a new consensus? Or will the country be plunged into yet another election mere weeks after the government's carefully laid plans received the support of the largest number of Canadians of any party in the last election?
Every one of these alternatives would inflict further damage upon our economy. The fact that we are even forced to ask these questions means that the members of this House have foisted a higher level of uncertainty and anxiety upon our nation. This is an entirely unnecessary and damaging thing to do to the economy and to our fellow Canadians.
Also, if this statement is defeated, the many needed fiscal measures it proposes will be lost or at least delayed. RRIF withdrawal relief for seniors will be lost or delayed. The $1.5 billion increased credit capacity for Canada's export sector, most notably in auto-related and other manufacturing, will be lost or delayed. An increased borrowing limit to protect insured depositors will be lost or delayed.
The $1.5 billion of increased credit and loan guarantees for small and medium-sized companies will be lost or delayed. Eliminating tariffs on imported machinery and equipment to encourage capital investment and increased efficiency will be lost or delayed. I could go on. These measures and others in the statement are all measures the House should neither abandon nor delay.
What will happen if we do take note of this economic and fiscal statement? Will the sky fall in? Of course not. First, all of its beneficial measures will proceed immediately. Second, the work of detailed budget planning will be allowed to proceed unhindered. First ministers will identify priority infrastructure projects by next month. Finance ministers from across the country will be consulted in a week or two. The usual prebudget consultations with stakeholders will occur.
Third, several important new pieces will fall into place to complete the picture. Economic variables have been changing with lightning speed. Remember that long ago era when gasoline prices were hitting $1.35 per litre? That was just six short weeks ago. Within a week or two we will receive the detailed funding plan that the government has prudently insisted upon from the automotive sector, which affects 10% of our economy. Within a few short weeks the Americans will decide both their economic plan for auto sector and their broader stimulus package.
Because so much of our economic ills are made in the U.S.A., our largest trading partner, its medicine will have a beneficial effect on our economy too. Is it not simple prudence to have this information before finalizing our budget?
Finally, there is some merit to keeping some of our powder dry. If this economic downturn is prolonged, we will be ill-served by using all of our fiscal ammunition now at the outset.
We must also remember that if the waters we are in really are uncharted, they may turn out to be less dangerous than everyone fears. Let us act accordingly.
I am glad the government has withdrawn parts of the statement that the opposition found wanting. This demonstrates a willingness to work together with the opposition, and I sincerely hope this will encourage a mutual effort.
In passing, however, I want to take strong issue with those who describe this flexibility as a sign of weakness or a sign of lack of credibility. In fact, the ability to change course is a sign of strength. My admiration for our Prime Minister has only deepened from this and has never been greater.
If we are to mature in our deliberations, we have to learn to consider the ability to compromise, as our Prime Minister is doing, to be a virtue. It is not too late for my Liberal friends across the aisle to embrace their own strength and to draw back to a compromise also.
I am glad our government has shown flexibility in withdrawing its proposal to eliminate the subsidy to political parties. This demonstrates a willingness to work together with the opposition, and I hope this will encourage a mutual effort.
In passing, however, I want to take strong issue with those who describe eliminating the subsidy as undemocratic. In fact, the subsidy itself is an attack on democracy.
Democracy should be a level playing field where all citizens have equal opportunity to make themselves heard politically. State-funded parties are more associated with totalitarian dictatorships than with democracies.
A subsidy to any party discriminates against those citizens struggling to compete without a similar subsidy and it is therefore elitist and undemocratic. Replacing corporate and union subsidies with government subsidies simply replaces one anti-democratic elitism with another.
I hope the day will come when all Canadian political parties will rise or fall based solely upon their support among citizens and not upon unequal government subsidies.
Democracy also works best when elected parties deliver, as nearly as possible, the leader and the policies they promised to voters. A vote for a party or a candidate is the voter's consent to that party or candidate's policies and leaders. Violating that consent in any significant way is a violation of democracy.
No Liberal supporter voted for a government that would include a coalition with separatists. No NDP supporter voted for a government that would sign an agreement with a separatist coalition. I do not think a single voter in my riding of Kitchener Centre voted for any government that could be held hostage by a veto of a party that insists Canada does not work and that has no interest in making Canada work.
I have had many friends who once supported the Liberal Party. I can only imagine how they feel about a once strong federalist party being reduced to begging the permission of the separatists to govern. We all know the agenda of the separatists has nothing to do with the economic survival of Canada. The separatists will not even enter this chamber until after we finish singing O Canada.
Many Liberal voters would never have given their consent to this. No party in Canada today obtained the consent of any Canadian to abdicate to the leader of another party. No party in Canada today obtained the consent of any Canadian to govern in a coalition. This would be a government for which no one voted. It would be a government that simply usurped power.
No circumstances in Canada today are so extreme as to justify such a violation of voters' consent. This is a bad time to experiment precipitously with new and uncertain measures.
These are not just my views. Canadians all across our great land are appalled by what the Liberals and the NDP have done in the House. To quote my citizens own Waterloo region Record:
The entire coalition will be propped up by the Bloc Quebecois, a party dedicated to destroying Canada. For the proposed 2 1/2-year life of this experiment, this would-be nation killer gets a veto over every single act of government. Ordinary Canadians helplessly watching all this can have no faith that the Bloc will give a damn about them or Canada's well-being.
These are not my words. These are the words of the people in my riding of Kitchener Centre. A deal signed with the separatists can only be bad for Canada. To quote again:
As sincere as the NDP's beliefs may be, their reflexive vilification of business as well as their ingrained penchant for heavy government spending could be disastrous in a recession.
These are not my words. These are not the words of a Conservative leaning newspaper, believe me. These are the views of people in my riding of Kitchener Centre.
The Liberals themselves said during the election that we could not have a coalition with a party, the NDP, whose platform is bad for the economy.
Another quote is:
In its hour of need, Canada is being asked to make do with a guy whose expiry date is set for May. This will hardly bolster the trust of Canadians—or investors both foreign and domestic looking for a safe place to park their cash.
These are not my words. These are the convictions of people in my riding of Kitchener Centre. If the opposition wants to do this, it should have the integrity to take the deal to the voters. However, the better course for ordinary Canadians and the better course for Canada is to let our government govern with the strengthened mandate it gained in the last election.
In a letter to the editor, one of my constituents, Sherri Helmka, put it very succinctly when she said the following, “My message is to all politicians in this country: Put your differences aside and deal with the future uncertainty facing all candidates. In other words, do your job!”.
We can do that by taking note of the fiscal and economic statement as an outline of direction and by waiting a short seven weeks or so from the conclusion of this debate for the government to propose its detailed budget.
Despite the events of this past week, I again invite each member opposite to walk this path through the forest of economic peril with common focus on the needs of ordinary Canadians. It is not too late.