Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to debate this private member's bill this afternoon.
First, our government is dedicated to supporting Canada's senior citizens. Many have spent their lives working hard, while demonstrating great resolve and determination to make this country great. As the older generation passes the torch along to a new and younger generation of Canadians, we want to ensure that seniors are always respected and receive the appreciation they deserve.
We have also taken concrete action to benefit our seniors. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of the steps we have taken in that vein.
Our government has established October 1 as National Seniors Day to pay tribute to the seniors who have helped build our country and continue to help make it great.
Since 2006, we have funded over 11,000 new horizons for seniors programs and projects, in hundreds of communities across Canada. The new horizons for seniors program is a federal grants and contributions program that supports projects led or inspired by seniors who want to make a difference. Projects must be led or inspired by seniors and address one or more of the following five program objectives: promoting volunteerism among seniors and other generations; engaging seniors in the community through the mentoring of others; expanding awareness of elder abuse, including financial abuse; and providing capital assistance for new and existing community projects and/or programs for seniors.
One other objective of the new horizons for seniors program is to combat social isolation. Although it is not the case for every senior, there are too many who are not aware of or cannot partake in their community's activities due to social isolation. Research clearly shows that isolation continues to be a serious concern, particularly for older Canadians. We take it very seriously.
Recently, the Minister of State for Seniors conducted calls for proposals for projects that focus on one of three priorities: identifying seniors at risk of isolation and determining the existing programs and services that could support them; expanding community-based services for seniors who are experiencing or are at risk of social isolation; and supporting social participation through intergenerational learning.
By doing this, our government is making it easier for seniors, individuals, and organizations to form partnerships with the not-for-profit sector, the private sector, and governments, to localize and leverage the resources in their community. We are pleased to help create partnerships that would form a circle of support around all seniors in our communities.
Another object of the new horizons for seniors program is protection. I am proud to note that our government passed the Protecting Canada's Seniors Act. This act will help ensure consistently tough penalities for criminals who have committed elder abuse. We want to ensure that seniors feel safe and secure in their homes and in their communities. We believe this legislation will help.
We are not only committed to protecting the safety and the security of seniors, but also to protecting the security of their pensions and Canada's retirement income system. Obviously, the level of retirement income in Canada is directly related to the state of the Canadian economy.
I am proud to note that just last week, Statistics Canada announced that the Canadian economy grew by 2.7% in the third quarter. This is the ninth consecutive quarter of economic growth in Canada. This is yet further evidence that despite a fragile global economic environment, our government's economic action plan is working. We are also on track to balance the budget in 2015, all the while keeping taxes low.
Our plan is working. That does not mean we have not faced difficulties. We have faced the adversity of the worst recession in a generation. We have faced the difficulty of an opposition party that wants to raise taxes and punish job creators.
Recently, we faced a new threat. It is not the same as the economic threats that lie beyond our shores; rather, this is one that is right here at home. It is the threat of one of the world's most inexperienced leaders, the member for Papineau. Time and time again, the Liberal leader shows poor judgment. This is the type of judgment that would damage our economy. It would damage the confidence of foreign businesses looking to invest in Canada. It would create dangerous instability that would prevent businesses from expanding.
It almost sounds comical, but sadly it is true. Even though he is the federal Liberal leader, he has not put forward one single economic policy. While many Canadians are honourably giving their hard-earned dollars to support charities, the elected member for Papineau was taking those same charity dollars and pocketing the speaking fees. While we create greater prosperity that gives the nation hope, he emphasizes dictatorships and free-flowing dope.
Pensioners and seniors know better. They know the Canadian economy has benefited from the unprecedented leadership of the Prime Minister for eight consecutive years.
In fact, the Prime Minister has recently signed an historic trade agreement with Europe that will contribute to greater prosperity in Canada for generations to come. Canada has also profited from our prudent and responsible fiscal plan. This has been led by the Minister of Finance. They do not call him the world's greatest finance minister for nothing.
Across the globe, Canada has a reputation as a nation with steady leadership and a strong economy. Despite the economic threats that continue to exist outside our borders and beyond our shores, Canada has enjoyed strong economic performance during both the recession and the recovery.
I would like to highlight a few other examples of how our plan for creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity is benefiting Canadians.
Since 2009, Canada has created over one million net new jobs. Almost 90% of those are full-time and more than 80% are in the private sector. This is the strongest job creation record in the entire G7.
This is good news, but we cannot be complacent. We must continue to take responsible, prudent steps to build our economy. Economic action plan 2013 is continuing to support our economy. It includes helping small businesses by extending the small business hiring credit, helping manufacturers with tax relief when they make new investments in machinery and equipment, and supporting persons with disabilities with new training investments to help them secure employment.
Economic action plan 2013 also keeps taxes low. We are keeping taxes low for all Canadians including seniors. Since 2006, we have cut taxes for seniors and pensioners, and have taken many steps to ensure they keep more of their hard-earned dollars in their wallets. For example, we have introduced pension income splitting, doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income tax credit, increased the maximum GIS earnings exemption to $3,500, and increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs to 71 from 69 years of age.
Overall, our actions have resulted in delivering over $2.7 billion in annual targeted tax relief to seniors. Seniors have asked for this and they have also asked that we keep Canada's retirement income system strong. We have done exactly that.
Canada's retirement income system is recognized around the globe. It is a model that succeeds in lowering poverty for seniors and in providing high levels of retirement income. This model is based on a three pillar approach.
The first pillar is made up of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits, which provide a minimum income guarantee for seniors. The second pillar is the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. These plans provide a defined benefit in retirement based on an individual's career earnings. The third pillar includes tax-assisted private savings opportunities. This includes registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans.
The three pillars are strong, but we have taken action to make the system stronger. We passed the Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act that will provide employers, employees and the self-employed with a low-cost pension option. This will enable more workers to benefit from the lower costs that result in large, pooled pension plans.
PRPPs are a viable option that provinces can enact very quickly. It would assist the 60% of Canadians who do not have access to workplace pensions. Unfortunately, the bill we have here today, Bill C-513, would only apply to less than 10% of the pension plans in Canada.
We do not support the private member's bill. Rather than focus on ineffective proposals, I encourage the Liberal Party to support our job-creating measures. After all, the best way to ensure a healthy retirement plan for tomorrow is to have a job today.
The hon. member for Papineau.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, I can attest that I and our government find it regrettable, to say the very least, that we hear comments such as this from the House leader of the official opposition when, in fact, the opposition members themselves are delaying important pieces of legislation through the continuance of filibustering and delaying tactics here in the House and at committee.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I can tell you and the opposition House leader that we will continue debating the NDP's regrettable amendment to block second reading of Bill C-2, the respect for communities act. However, if the opposition members finally allow some progress on that critical file, we will turn to Bill C-3, the safeguarding Canada's seas and skies act, at second reading.
Tomorrow we will start the second reading debate on Bill C-12, the drug-free prisons act.
Monday, before question period, we will resume the second reading debate on Bill C-5, the offshore health and safety act. After question period, we will return to Bill C-12.
On Wednesday, we will start the second reading debate on Bill C-13, the protecting Canadians from online crime act.
That debate will continue on Thursday, but if we cannot finish Bill C-2 today, we will make time for that debate on Thursday morning.
Tuesday, November 26, as the government House leader announced earlier in the week, will be the fourth allotted day, which will see a Liberal motion debated.
During the constituency week, the member for Papineau certainly put forward a number of unusual ideas, some of which, or maybe one of which, may be put forward as a motion for the Liberals' allotted day. Some of those unusual ideas include the member for Papineau, the leader of the third party, saying that he admired the dictatorship in Communist China. He also advocated to minors the legalization of drugs. Finally, the leader seemed to suggest that he is putting the interests of criminals ahead of those of their victims by reducing sentences for serious crimes.
We find that reprehensible, but we have yet to see how the Liberals will approach those very important issues, in the eyes of the Liberals, come their allotted day next Tuesday.
Mr. Speaker, let me suggest that this member take her acting classes, not from the member for Papineau, but from the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, because he is a much better actor than she is.
At the same time, she asked about what documents the RCMP have. They have whatever they have asked for.
Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of points.
First, I would point out that the member opposite should know the motion he refers to was supported by our government when it was introduced. The only party that refused to vote in favour of the motion brought forward by the member for Papineau was the NDP. However, the point I want to correct for my hon. colleague and my friend from Winnipeg is the fact that the Liberals were actually following our lead on transparency.
I think all parliamentarians understand the fact that our government has been posting ministers and senior bureaucratic travel and hospitality expenses for the last several years. We were the first government to come up with a system whereby ministers would be required to post travel and hospitality expenses. It was not a grand idea from the Liberals. Frankly, they were following a system that we had in place for several years. We are happy they are finally seeing the light and coming onboard with us.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to take part in this debate. Let me start by stating my disappointment that we are not actually debating the Speech from the Throne.
Instead, we are having a short debate on the self-congratulatory motion from the government. After eight years, we have grown used to that tone. More troubling, it is again limiting the opportunity for members of all parties to participate in a debate on the government's agenda.
One of the things I have seen across the country is disappointment that the government does not even respect its own members of Parliament. Canadians elected MPs to represent their voice in Ottawa. Instead, what they got is the Prime Minister's voice in their constituencies.
That the government is denying the traditional role for its own back bench to speak on the throne speech is only the latest example.
That is not what Canadians expect from MPs. Like many of my colleagues, I spent the summer meeting with Canadians. I spent time with my family at home in Montreal and with my constituents in Papineau. I visited over 60 major centres, cities and towns, where I spoke with teachers, truckers, farmers and small-business owners about their concerns.
It is wonderful to have the opportunity to meet with Canadians, speak with them, listen to them and learn more about the challenges they face. It is a privilege that we share here and I hope to be able to do them justice today.
A recurring theme of the hundreds of in-person discussions I had with people is that Canadians feel as though they have been abandoned by this government. Although it is great to get out there and hear honest feedback, that feedback is hard to hear for anyone who cares about public service.
The more I listened, the more it became obvious that it was not easy for Canadians to talk about either. There is cynicism now, but it is not what we Canadians like to feel. It is not who we are, when we are engaged and connected with people. These stirrings of mistrust and suspicion just do not sit well with Canadians. However, at the same time, I get it. It is hard not to feel disappointed in one's government when every day there is a new scandal, another lapse in judgment.
Canadians are being led by a government that says it is committed to accountability and transparency, but that same government has lost five caucus members to scandal. The Prime Minister's Office remains under RCMP criminal investigation for a $90,000 cheque written to a sitting legislator. The former chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee is charged with fraud, abuse of trust and money laundering. The member for Peterborough, until this past summer the Prime Minister's own parliamentary secretary, has been charged with four counts of breaking election laws. Those are just the ones we know about.
The individuals in question can resign from the Prime Minister's Office or be told to leave caucus; they can even flee extradition in Panama. However, the Prime Minister put them there. He gave them an opportunity to abuse the public trust. He thought they were worthy and, one by one, they are proving him wrong. What does that say about the Prime Minister's judgment?
I understand that Canadians are disappointed and that they feel abandoned. It is only natural when, day after day, people realize that their trust is being broken and that their hopes have been misplaced.
The Speech from the Throne that we heard yesterday was an opportunity for the government to get back on track and regain the confidence of Canadians. What the government told us yesterday can be grouped into two categories: hot air and background noise.
The priorities they identified are fine as far as they go, but they do not go very far. Canadians need more job opportunities, better job opportunities, not a jobs grant that has been rejected by all 10 provinces because it demands extra funding from stretched provincial budgets. Canadians need to feel that their priorities are the government's priorities, that their interests get more attention and air time than the government's desperate attempts at self-preservation. Where is the plan to attract investment to this country, to create good middle-class jobs? Instead, the government turns investment away with its Keystone Kops approach to policy.
Where is the plan for our youth when this so-called economic recovery is practically non-existent for them? Where is the plan for middle-class Canadians who are being crushed under a record level of debt, debt they acquired to keep this country afloat during the economic crisis? All they are seeing from this government is a crass attempt to take credit for their work, their entrepreneurial spirit, and their willingness to take risks.
These are difficult problems to solve. The government has grown so long in the tooth, so tired, that it seems it cannot even be bothered to try. Instead, we get policies focused on bringing the CRTC firmly into the 1990s. Instead of a forward-looking approach to data and telecom, we get a smattering of policies that the government itself rejected in the past. In a world of Apple TV, YouTube, Netflix and big data, the Conservative government is still looking under the couch for the remote control. No wonder it is having such trouble changing the channel.
To Canadians, I say there is much more to the government's agenda than what they heard yesterday afternoon. As Conservatives approach their party's Halloween convention in the great city of Calgary, they are once again putting on a costume, but really just revealing how out of touch they are with Canadians. Their environment minister doubts climate change, questioning evidence about melting summer sea ice in her own constituency.
Their development minister indicated that the government will not provide funding for any more projects to help war rape victims or young girls who are forced into marriage.
Their health minister is opposing the decisions of her own department's doctors and health care professionals.
Their anglophone ministers are criticizing the PQ government's plan to legislate minority rights, while the minister responsible for Quebec is saying that there is nothing that upsets him in that plan.
These are not rogue members of Parliament. These are cabinet ministers, the most senior elected officials, hand-picked by the Prime Minister. Their positions—climate change denial, a crackdown on reproductive rights, denying Canadians medical treatment, finding no fault with an attack on individual rights and freedoms—are an affront to Canadian values.
Canadians elected the government to represent their interests, but one thing has become perfectly clear: the Conservative government serves only its own interests. It has only one goal, and its goal is not to serve Canadians. The Conservative government is a political government staring down an unending series of political problems, and it is responding the only way it knows how, with political solutions, and none of it is helping our struggling middle class.
Our economy has more than doubled in size in the past 30 years. Who has benefited from that growth? Not the middle class. Despite all of our economic progress as a country, middle-class families have not had a real raise in decades.
As incomes have stagnated and costs of key items like post-secondary education and transportation have risen far faster than inflation, Canadian households have had to shoulder more and more debt. As a share of disposable income, our households are now more in debt than even those in the United States.
Members of the middle class are now worried—and rightly so—about the fact that no matter how hard they work, they will not be able to give their children the same opportunities their parents gave them.
Canadians struggling to get by on lower incomes are also worried about this. They are watching the dream of hard work being rewarded by upward mobility go up in smoke.
The success of the middle class is vital even to more fortunate Canadians. Until the government recognizes that a strong economy is one that provides the greatest number of quality jobs to the greatest number of Canadians, economic growth policies are likely to lose popular support.
Canadians were promised by those guys, above all else, leadership when it came to the economy. It is what many voted for, but what are the results?
First, growth has been particularly stagnant under the Conservative government. Now in his eighth year in office, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest has the worst record on growth of any prime minister since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the Great Depression.
Under the Conservative government's self-proclaimed steady hand, we have seen ten consecutive federal budget surpluses turn into seven consecutive deficits.
The government has ballooned our national debt at an unprecedented rate. By the next election, it will have added more than $150 billion in just eight years, according to its own numbers.
The unemployment rate remains unwaveringly higher than it was before the recession hit five years ago, with the youth unemployment rate nearly twice the national average. Unfortunately, our unemployment rate seems to improve only when workers give up and leave the labour market.
We saw this in our own families and in the communities we live in and represent from coast to coast. Meanwhile, the government kept telling us not to worry, that the economy was its priority and that everything was fine.
I think we could handle the hypocrisy if it did not come packaged in a slick marketing campaign that we ourselves, as Canadians, paid for. Do members know what always drives home the government's economic record for me? It is that economic action plan logo. Every time I see it, with three arrows pointed heavenward, I think to myself, “Yup, that's exactly what the economic action plan has delivered: rising debt, rising unemployment, and rising disappointment for Canadians”. That is the economic legacy of the current government.
As I listened to the Speech from the Throne, one word came to mind. It is one I have used to describe the government before. Not surprisingly, it still fits today. That word is “unambitious”.
As I said back in April, this is a government whose primary economic message is, “Well, it could be worse. Be happy you don't live in Spain”.
That attitude is completely out of step with the values of Canadians. The Canadians I spent time with this summer are ambitious. They are not complacent. They are not willing to settle for good enough when they know that better is possible.
That is the profound difference between this government and the people it is supposed to serve. Session after session, this government does everything it can to convince itself that it is impossible to do any better and that expecting more from our leaders and ourselves is a waste of time—naive, even. That may be true of those who have been in power for too long and who are out of touch with reality. They might start to believe that making special, rigged appointments and secret agreements and denying the facts in no uncertain terms is the norm. If so, that kind of vision of the world might very well start making sense.
However, to tell Canadians that their political engagement is futile, that their occupy-activism is empty, that their 1,600-kilometre Idle No More walk, through a Canadian winter, makes no difference, well that kind of defeatism has no place in this House. It has no place in the Canada I know and serve. It has no place in this country whose future we determine together. Canadians expect more, and so they should. They have every right to.
We look forward to having even more conversations with Canadians, to doing our part to restore hope where it is fading. It is time—actually, it is well past time—to return to these great stone buildings the respect, the dignity, the public trust that they deserve.
On top of all that, it is good to be back here.
The electoral district of Papineau (Quebec) has a population of 101,019 with 70,115 registered voters and 178 polling divisions.
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