Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak about the budget implementation act, 2019. While the budget acknowledges anxieties facing Canadians today, the government is failing to show a sense of urgency for addressing the underlying causes.
The budget contains misguided priorities and also includes delays and a lack of funding for serious issues, such as climate change, child care and universal prescription drug coverage. With the last budget of its mandate, the Liberal government has failed to take the bold actions Canadians want to build a more sustainable and equitable future and a better Canada.
Canadians, particularly young Canadians, are deeply worried about climate change. Last month, high school students in Nelson joined thousands from across the country and the world, who had been walking out of class to demand stronger action on climate change. I also received passionate letters from grades 5 and 6 Ktunaxa students. They are worried about polar bears and the environment. I have special concern for my granddaughter Lalita, who at times worries if her generation will have a future at all.
The IPCC says we have less than 12 years to act to avert climate catastrophe and a recent report found Canada was warming at twice the global average. Bold, urgent action is needed. However, the budget continues to delay phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that jeopardize our ability to transition to a green economy before it is too late. It proposes simply to study subsidies pointing to a peer review process announced last June.
Earlier this month, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development found the government's attempts to study fossil fuel subsidies had been flawed. Her audits found the government had failed to do a fulsome inventory of subsidies and did not consider long-term environmental and social impacts on an equal basis with economic factors.
The time is now to end fossil fuel subsidies and begin the shift to renewable energy, public transit and energy efficiency. That should not, however, include handouts to hugely profitable corporations such as Loblaws. Actions such as that show the government is out of touch and failing to support Canada's small businesses and workers in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
As the NDP's critic for national parks, I am also disappointed to see no funding has been allocated to protect Parks Canada's assets from climate change despite a recent report commissioned by the agency estimating this would cost up to $3.3 billion. In fact, it seems Parks Canada has lost $15 million from its budget, which was returned to the fiscal framework after the cancellation of the Icefields Trail project instead of being allocated to other urgent park priorities, like adaptation.
Canadians are also deeply anxious about affordability issues. They are grappling with sky-high housing costs in a time of stagnant wages and precarious work. The dream of owning a home and being able to retire feel like they are slipping out of reach for many.
The budget includes measures targeting millennials who want to buy their first home, but these measures are misguided. One proposal is to increase the amount first-time homebuyers can borrow from their registered retirement savings plans to $35,000. However, Abacus Data reports its research found only 36% of millennials even had an RRSP. Many young Canadians are struggling to save for a home or their retirement because of high student debt and lack of affordable child care. The budget does little to address these issues.
In British Columbia, the $10-a-day child care pilot project introduced by the NDP government has been a game-changer for the families selected to participate, including one of my former staff members in Nelson. There have been media reports of families saving around $1,000 a month or more on child care under that program.
The budget acknowledges that the lack of affordable child care is putting education, employment and home ownership out of reach for parents, particularly mothers. Despite this, the 2019 budget provides no new funding to make affordable child care a reality for more families.
One of my staff members in Ottawa spends more than a third of her take-home pay on day care for her toddler, but considers herself lucky because she was able to secure a licensed spot. Like most of the country, in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, there is a shortage of licensed child care spots and parents sign up for wait-lists before their children are even born.
The budget acknowledges that women's participation in the workforce has stalled since the early 2000s and researchers cite access to quality, affordable child care as an important factor in encouraging women's attachment to the workforce.
Last month the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club announced it was closing its licensed child care program for three-year-olds to five-year-olds because it had been unable to recruit qualified staff.
Recruitment and retention of early childhood educators is a major problem in Canada due to the low wages in this female dominated field. However, the federal government is not taking urgent action to address this issue.
Meanwhile, Sarah, a pharmacist in Kimberley, is leading an effort to get more after school care programs running in town. She conducted a survey that found that many local mothers are unable to work because of the lack of after school care or their employment options are extremely limited due to school hours.
Almost two decades ago, scholar Rianne Mahon termed the quest for universal child care the never-ending story. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development has called it a long-term vision. Frankly, mothers are done listening to this story. An NDP budget would make funding universal, high-quality, affordable child care a priority, because it is good for families, for children and for the economy.
I was also disappointed to see that the budget would take the half-measure of reducing interest rates on student loans instead of eliminating interest entirely. Last month I wrote to the Minister of Finance and theMinister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to request that they follow B.C.'s lead. It stopped charging interest on provincial student loans this February.
Too many Canadians of all ages are also anxious about how they will afford the medications they need, and the health of our nation is suffering. My constituency offices have heard stories of people taking half doses of their medications, risking anaphylactic reactions instead of purchasing EpiPens or waiting until payday to fill prescriptions.
Instead of acting with a sense of urgency to establish a universal, comprehensive public pharmacare program that would lower drug costs and cover everyone, the budget would delay this important work. The budget proposes funding over four years for the establishment of a new drug agency while not taking steps to deal with inadequate and unequal coverage across the country. It would also delay funding for those living with rare diseases until 2022.
Studies show that pharmacare would save Canada money and improve health outcomes, and most Canadians want us to fill this critical gap in our medicare system. The time for talk and study is over; it is now time to act. Canadians need to be able to use their health care cards, not their credit cards, when picking up their prescription medications.
The NDP has a plan to ensure that pharmacare is available for all by 2020, and I encourage the Liberal government to take a serious look at what can happen if it is truly committed to a better Canada.
Another anxiety many retirees and workers have is whether the pensions they have earned from years of hard work will be secure and not stolen if their company goes bankrupt, as happened with Sears Canada.
Instead of moving forward with overdue changes to bankruptcy laws to protect workers and pensioners, as suggested by my colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, the budget asks them to rely on the good faith of corporate executives. This is out of touch with the experience of retirees who saw their pensions cut while executives got bonuses and shareholders received dividend payments. Pensions are deferred wages and need to be given super-priority status in bankruptcies.
The budget does contain some positive measures, such as increasing federal investments in broadband and setting a target for achieving high-speed Internet connectivity across the country by 2030.
In February, I gave a speech in Parliament about the digital divide between rural and urban Canada and urged the government to make funding this issue a priority in the budget. I am pleased to see that the government is acting on this issue, but 2030 does not show urgency. Rural cellphone coverage and the affordability of cell and Internet service also remain pressing concerns for Canadians.
I am also pleased to see a top-up of the federal gas tax fund this year, which will lead to an estimated $280 million in extra funding for local governments in B.C. and funding for the green municipal fund to support energy efficiency initiatives.
Every year I ask my constituents whether their lives are better, worse, or the same six months after a federal budget. While the government has been quick to bail out corporations like SNC-Lavalin or Kinder Morgan, it continues to tell ordinary Canadians to wait for solutions to their problems. Unfortunately, there is very little in this budget that will benefit my constituents, while adding $19.8 billion in debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off. An NDP budget would make different choices and put people and the planet at the centre of government policies.