Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member the same question: Why is it that he sits in a caucus with the members for Kings—Hants, Wascana, York West, Guelph, Westmount—Ville-Marie, Malpeque and Vancouver Centre? I could go on and on.
These are all people who, one way or another, have either been accused of wrongdoing or have been found guilty of wrongdoing, either with their expense accounts or with respect to Elections Canada rules. If the hon. member has such high standards, I wonder why he sits in a caucus with so many people who have broken so many rules. I wonder if he is going to call and ask them to resign their seats in the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, the Liberal MP for Westmount—Ville-Marie urged Canada to jeopardize its security and military relationship with the United States, yet that was the same Liberal Party that had no issue with the fact that our Canadian Armed Forces would be exposed to cluster munitions in Afghanistan simply by working on joint missions with the United States. The Liberals cannot have it both ways.
On this side of the House, we understand the importance of taking real action on the destruction of cluster munitions, while at the same time never wavering from our commitment to the men and women in uniform.
Could the Minister of Foreign Affairs please comment on the government's response to rid the world of cluster munitions?
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform has already answered that. We are working very diligently to bring forward some reforms which will be in place for the next election.
However, when the member talks about those people who are breaking the law, let us talk about the members who surround him: the member for Guelph, fined $4,900 for sending out a robocall; the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, a $2,500 fine for a robocall; the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville violated the Canada Elections Act by failing to repay loans for his 2000 leadership campaign; the member for Vancouver Centre violated the Canada Elections Act; former Liberal MPs, Dryden and Volpe, violated the Canada Elections Act.
Mr. Speaker, this is a big day today. I just exchanged pleasantries with the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, and it is his birthday. We are expecting to maybe put forward legislation identifying today as a national holiday.
I am happy to put in my two cents' worth on this important bill. This is a significant and important piece of legislation, and certainly my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, during first reading of the bill, identified the fact that our party will indeed be supporting it because we believe in the spirit of the bill and that, in essence, it would be an important step forward. I also recognize the fact that my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville, had tabled the first motion before Parliament in February 2009, calling for the parliamentary budget officer to be made an independent officer of Parliament. That is worth noting as we begin to discuss this particular bill today.
Although this bill is about the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it is hard to talk about it without talking about the first Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page. For obvious reasons, the two will be inextricably linked. My thoughts on this bill will therefore be very respectful of the experience Mr. Page had over his five years as PBO, and his comments on the office, including the challenges that he faced and the worries he had about its future if not strengthened and protected.
One of Mr. Page's comments sums up the issue around transparency and accountability under the current government. He summed it up well when he said, “Our institutions of accountability are in trouble. Parliament does not get the information and analysis it needs to hold the executive...to account.” Of course, “the executive” refers to the Prime Minister and cabinet. Later in his comments he said, “In a culture where secrecy is far too common and analytical dissonance is not welcome, the future of my office, the legislative budget office is in doubt.”
This is a debate that has taken place here in the chamber, but also right across this country in the court of public opinion. I believe it was one that Mr. Page put forward. Canadians understand the significance around this issue and certainly are respectful of the courage, the vision and the passion he had for this position, and as well of his ability. It has been proven time and again, issue by issue, that the Parliamentary Budget Officer was very often closer to reality than what we were hearing from the government benches and the spin around the various issues or crises of the day.
Mr. Page is a man who dedicated five years of his life to the service of Parliament and to Canadians to provide and promote financial transparency and accountability. Seven years ago, the current government promised a new standard of accountability. We know the Conservative government rode in on the white horse called “accountability”, promising a different era, certainly a more open Parliament and a more open government.
We have not seen that. That horse has been dead for quite some time, as much as the government might want to beat it. In the eyes of most Canadians, whether the horse ever arrived in Ottawa or not, it is certainly gone now. The government had a golden halo of transparency that was very much touted and highly talked about, but that halo is considerably tarnished now.
That is what happens when the standard method of operation is “do as I say, not as I do”. It is very significant, in the wake of what transpired this past week, when we saw the former Conservative member for Edmonton—St. Albert comment, “I barely recognize ourselves and worse I feel that we have morphed into what we once mocked.”
I certainly do not agree with everything the member has said or with his views on many issues. However, I think it was eloquent, poignant and truthful. Many Conservatives across this country, certainly Conservatives in my riding with whom I have great friendship and for whom I have great respect even though we may have different political views, are very concerned about how the government has taken those principles of transparency, openness and accountability, and just sort of put them in the back of the bus.
The departure of the member for Edmonton—St. Albert brings that to a very poignant point in the life of the government.
Bill C-476 stands for principles, including the principle that the parliamentary budget officer should be an independent watchdog and provide independent analysis to Parliament, not cheerleading for the government.
The purpose of the office itself is to help with forecasts on economic and fiscal planning, help with costing new programs, and help with the scrutiny of departmental apportionments and appropriations. We have seen the debacle with the F-35s. The numbers continue to change. I think it was my colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who first brought the issue around the F-35s to the House two and a half years ago.
We were given a snow job then. We were given numbers that certainly dismissed any concerns around the procurement of the F-35s. It was with a clear vision, clear thinking and a commitment to get to the truth that the Parliamentary Budget Officer pursued what was real within the tendering process. Through those numbers, the Parliamentary Budget Officer was able to bring it around to what many other nations across the world that were involved in the procurement of this particular aircraft knew all along.
I want to commend my colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. I want to again echo support for this bill on behalf of our party. We think the parliamentary budget officer should be independent from the executive. The role of the PBO is essential in providing this House with the important information that it needs, so that it can base its decisions on truth, not spin; on fact, not fiction; and on hard numbers.
It is for those reasons that we will stand and support this piece of legislation.
The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.
The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.
Order, please. We still have to try to work on getting the response time similar to the time taken for the answer as close as we can.
The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.
Mr. Speaker, let me first apologize to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. I answered a question on Friday that I was not particularly proud of, and I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell him that, of course, I am very proud of all our astronauts and our achievements in space, including our first astronaut.
To continue, a study will do no such thing. We will not be interfering in the provincial jurisdiction. We will not be telling provinces what to study or how to interpret.
The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.
Mr. Speaker, today we are dealing with Bill C-60, the first Conservative omnibus bill following its 2013 budget. It is a bit less abusive than Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 from last year, but it is still an omnibus measure, lumping together various unrelated matters. By my count, at least 18 different government portfolios are implicated.
At the end of the day, the government will force a single vote on all of that all at once. That renders the vote so meaningless, because it cuts across so many unrelated disciplines. Again, democracy is compromised in the process.
There are some items for sure in Bill C-60 which people could generally support: better allowances for veterans, for example; dealing with the adoption tax credit; more incentives for charitable giving; the extension of capital cost allowance; and additions to the gas tax transfer.
However, these positive things are intermingled, unfortunately, with many very negative measures, especially large tax increases that will hit and hurt middle-class Canadians in particular, and we cannot and we will not support those negative measures.
Budget 2013 is crafted to feed several false illusions. The first of those is the mythical notion that the Conservatives are the competent economic managers that they claim to be, but let us look at the facts.
When they took office in 2006, they inherited from their Liberal predecessors 10 straight years of balanced budgets, an annual surplus that was running at the rate of $13 billion every year, lower debt, lower taxes, low and stable interest rates, a sound and solid Canada pension plan, steadily dropping employment insurance premiums, annual economic growth rates of 3% or better, the best banking system in the world, the best ever transfer payments to provinces and territories, progressive investments in child care, skills and learning, science and innovation, environmental integrity, infrastructure, trade and three and a half million net new jobs. That is what the Conservatives inherited. That is what was handed to them as a starting point in 2006.
Just as an interesting historical sidebar, before the Conservatives inherited 10 years of Liberal balanced budgets and robust surpluses, the last time a Conservative government actually balanced a budget for Canada was 101 years ago in 1912. The prime minister at the time was Robert Borden, originally a school teacher, as a matter of historical fact. He, too, inherited his surplus from a Liberal predecessor, namely Sir Wilfrid Laurier, but sadly, he managed to maintain it for only one year before dropping into deficit.
The current Conservative government has behaved in a similar manner through excessive spending and reckless budgeting. Between 2006 and 2008, they put Canada back into the red again before, not because of, the recession, which hit in the latter part of 2008, and they have not balanced the books every since.
In budget 2013, the Conservatives claim they will eliminate the deficit hocus-pocus by 2015. Is that not convenient? Just on the eve of the next federal election they are projecting a balanced budget. A close look at their financial plans provides ample reason to be just a little bit suspicious. Here are some of the fiscal tricks.
First, they use rosy growth estimates. To puff up government revenues, the Conservatives have based their fiscal planning on optimistic projections about economic growth. They ignore the reality that in years just passed, their numbers have never ever been correct. Time and time again, their initial forecast has had to be downgraded, as both the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Canada have just done once again in this last month.
Second, they use deficient reserves. To create the illusion of more financial flexibility and strength than they really have, the Conservatives have lowballed the reserves that should be in place to serve as fiscal shock absorbers for Canadians against unpleasant future economic surprises. The amounts set aside should grow in the outer years because the risk is larger in the outer years, but the Conservative government has foolishly flatlined its reserves going forward, meaning it is not protecting adequately against future risk.
Third, they use exaggerated lapses. When a government department does not use all the budget in any given year that is given to it, the excess money naturally lapses back to the central treasury. The Conservatives in their budget are counting on very large lapses over the next several years. In fact, that is worked right into their arithmetic. In other words, they are planning to make big announcements of big new spending plans but never actually investing the money.
Fourth, they use excessive optimism about catching those tax cheats. While cracking down on those who do not pay their rightful taxes is an absolute necessity, the Conservatives claim of a balanced budget depends heavily on quickly collecting billions in unpaid taxes, and that seems highly improbable at a time when they are chopping the resources needed in the revenue department to go after those tax cheaters.
Fifth, they use big program cuts. For big programs like infrastructure, the government claims to be increasing its investment, but any hypothetical increase would actually occur only years down the road, beyond the mandate of this Parliament, sometime in the latter part of this decade, conveniently well after 2015. It is a trick that is called multi-year bundling and back-end loading. When the government has nothing to announce, it rolls a bunch of years together and pretends it is going to spend money five or ten years down the road while it actually cuts in the short term. That is happening here. In reality, the build Canada infrastructure budget has been cut by $1.5 billion this year, $1.5 billion next year and $1 billion in the year after that. Any hypothetical increase is only well after 2015.
Sixth, they are claiming before proving. Using all of the tricks that I have just mentioned to concoct the false notion of a balanced budget by 2015, the Conservatives will claim that they have met their fiscal objective just before they call an election and, importantly, before proof to the contrary can become available. In the normal financial cycle, the audit report on the government's books for 2015 will not get published until much later, that is well into 2016, long after any election has come and gone. So much for the Conservative illusion of fiscal and economic competence.
Their second illusion is that they really care about jobs and job training and they boast about their proposed new jobs grant. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development mentions it in the House almost every day, but again it is fiction. It is spin. It is make-believe. It does not exist.
What exists are labour market agreements, and they have existed since the late 1990s. They are job training agreements between the Government of Canada and all the provinces. The latest versions of these labour market agreements were negotiated about five years ago, and they are worth now about $2.5 billion all together. Federal money is regularly transferred every year by the Government of Canada to the provinces. The provinces use those funds to tailor job training and labour market programs and services that suit their local circumstances. The provinces are in charge of the design. That is what exists now.
The Conservative government wanted to appear to be doing something about skills and jobs in the 2013 budget. People without jobs and jobs without people is one of Canada's biggest economic problems at the present time. The government wanted to look as if it were aware of that and doing something about it.
However, the government was not prepared to invest any new money to try and make an actual difference in terms of job training. What it did do was create an illusion of action and the fiction it was doing something about jobs and training. What it is basically proposing to do is claw back the $2.5 billion per year labour market money that it now sends to the provinces and renegotiate it with provincial governments. That is all. It amounts to recycling existing money. There is nothing more. There is nothing new. There is no additional federal investment.
The provinces will need to contribute more and so will the private sector. That may actually serve to reduce the extent of job training in some sectors and some provinces, because some of those other partners, the provinces or the private sector, may not be able to match the federal dollars. Even the provincial treasurer in Alberta has made the comment that he does not know whether Alberta would want to participate in that kind of initiative.
The bottom line here is that there is no new money and no additional federal investment in training. It is an illusion to try to create the impression that something new is happening when it is not. That is tragic, especially for young Canadians looking for some hope and opportunity.
Here are the numbers. More than 212,000 fewer young Canadians are working today than just before the recession began in 2008. The youth unemployment rate is a very stubborn 14.2%. That is nearly twice the rate for other Canadians. The actual number is 404,000 jobless young people. Worse still, another 171,000 have simply given up and dropped out of the labour market altogether. The government and the budget do nothing but shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is simply not good enough.
Another fiction, the third one, is the government's bogus claim that is does not increase taxes. That assertion is completely false, and that is one of the key reasons we cannot support Bill C-60. It increases taxes, especially the tax burden of middle-class Canadians and all those who are working so hard to join the middle class. It happens in dozens of nefarious ways. New hidden Conservative taxes on safety deposit boxes total $40 million a year. On certain medical services, it is $2 million a year. New Conservative taxes on credit unions amount to $75 million a year. It goes on.
However, there are three hidden Conservative tax hikes that hit especially hard at the middle class. They are taxes on small business dividends, taxes on payrolls and taxes on imported consumer goods.
First, the Conservative small business tax, a new tax burden on small businesses, will absorb $550 million every year, taking it from small businesses and hurting the middle class.
The second new Conservative tax is the EI payroll tax, which will suck up $600 million every year in higher EI premiums, again hurting the middle class. By contrast, facing a job challenge in the 1990s, a Liberal government did not increase EI payroll taxes. We in fact cut them. We cut them 12 consecutive times and we cut them by 40%. Employers and employees saved billions of dollars and 3.5 million net new jobs were generated. The Conservative government's record is the opposite of that.
Finally, the third tax increase that we object to is the new Conservative increase of tariff taxes, taxes on imports, which will take about $333 million every year from middle-class Canadians.
The cost of vacuum cleaners will go up by 5%. Bicycles will go up by 4.5%. Baby carriages will go up by 3%. Plastic school supplies will go up by 3.5%. Scissors will go up by 11%. Ovens, cooking stoves and ranges will go up by 3%. For coffee makers, the cost will increase by 4%. On wigs, especially cosmetic wigs for cancer patients, the cost will go up by a whopping 15.5%. The cost of USB drives will go up by 6%. On blankets, the cost will go up by 5%. On toothbrushes, the cost will go up by 2%. On pillows, the cost will go up by 6%. On alarm clocks, the cost will go up by 6%. There are dozens and dozens of imported products.
The government's excuse for this is that it only wants to provide these higher tariffs in order to give a benefit to a lower-income country overseas. However, the reality is, when we put on these tariff increases, the country overseas does not levy the tax and does not pay the tax. The tax is levied in Canada and it is paid by Canadians. The burden is on average middle-income Canadian families. This is a self-inflicted cost burden in Canada, which is why we cannot support it.
When all of these measures I mentioned are fully implemented, as well as some other taxes that are buried in this legislation, the burden will add up to more than $2 billion per year in new Conservative taxes that are being levied on Canadians. The largest portion of that burden will fall squarely on the backs of middle-class families.
For substantive reasons of public policy today, we will not vote for these measures. Also, because the government is trying to hide these new taxes and deny them, we cannot sanction such deceit. Liberals oppose Bill C-60.
Therefore, I move, seconded by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-60, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures (Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1), because it:
A) raises taxes on middle class Canadians in order to pay for the Conservatives' wasteful spending;
B) fails to reverse the government's decision to raise tariffs on items such as baby carriages, bicycles, household water heaters, space heaters, school supplies, ovens, coffee makers, wigs for cancer patients, and blankets;
C) raises taxes on small business owners by $2.3 billion over the next 5 years, directly hurting 750,000 Canadians and risking Canadian jobs;
D) raises taxes on credit unions by $75 million per year, which is an attack on rural Canadians and Canada's rural economy;
E) adds GST/HST to certain healthcare services, including medical work that victims of crime need to establish their case in court;
F) fails to provide a youth employment strategy to help struggling young Canadians find work; and
G) ignores the pressing requirements of aboriginal peoples.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about one of the points that my colleague just raised. He spoke about the role of the House of Commons within our Canadian democracy. It is a place where anyone can bring up ideas related to the topic of debate.
I am not a member of the Standing Committee on National Defence. We have an extremely competent critic who is a member of the committee. I was therefore not fully aware of the issue raised by Bill C-15. I had heard about this bill and I had heard that it left a lot to be desired. However, I was not able to examine the issue before the bill made it to the House and we had a chance to examine it more closely.
This once again highlights what an important role the House of Commons plays in our country's democracy. I congratulate our dear colleague who just spoke for bringing up that point.
I would also like to say something about my colleague from Winnipeg North.
I remember when the member for Winnipeg North joined the House of Commons not long ago after a very exciting by-election win in Winnipeg. He brought tremendous experience as a provincial legislator to that race and then to Parliament. I remember being very impressed by his oratorical skills, his ability to speak in Parliament and to get right to the core of an issue so that we could better understand what was at stake in any debate. When I learned that he had been a member of the armed forces I doubly appreciated his public service and what he has done for this country. He joins two eminent Canadians, one of whom is sitting to my left, the member of Parliament for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who also was a member of the military. Not only was he Canada's first astronaut in space, but he was also a member of the naval forces and used his skills and knowledge as an engineer to support that arm of the armed forces. In the Senate we have Senator Roméo Dallaire, a great military man, a great Canadian, a great internationalist, and of course a great Liberal. We have on this side of the House a fair amount of depth when it comes to discussing military issues. I am proud to say that I belong to this caucus.
The government has for years disparaged the opposition by saying that it does not support the military. In any crisis or any situation where the military was discussed with a certain amount of intensity, the government never missed a beat in questioning the esteem with which all members of the House, including members of the opposition, hold members of our military, not only veterans but currently serving members.
I ask members to look south of the border for one minute. I wonder if they can recall a time when, in a crisis or in any other situation, the military has been used as a partisan weapon by one party to attack another. In a crisis, have we heard presidents say members of the other party do not respect the military, do not believe in the military, do not have the best interests of the military at heart? I do not hear that from south of the border, yet that is supposed to be a society so much more divided than ours, so much more polarized than ours.
Government members talk a good game when they talk about supporting the military, but when it comes time to give charter rights to members of the military, they do not talk about such things but rather gloss over them.
I would remind hon. members that two weeks ago was the 31st anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That anniversary day coincided with the day that the new Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, met with--
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to join in the debate. It has been informative. Being neither a lawyer with a legal background or a member of the Canadian Armed Forces with a military background, I have certainly learned quite a bit from the debate here today. It has been worthwhile.
That being said, our caucus is blessed with a great depth of legal knowledge. My colleague, the member for Mount Royal, and my colleague from down the road in Halifax West have addressed many of the rights issues woven throughout this piece of legislation. I am certainly respectful of their opinion on it.
As well, our caucus boasts a number of people who have served our country in military service. The member for Winnipeg North is a former member of the Canadian air force. He was posted in Edmonton for a number of years. Our colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, is a former naval officer, a colonel, in the Canadian navy. He went on to become involved in the space program and was Canada's first astronaut. He is a man whose opinion is widely respected across the country.
Then, of course, from the red chamber, there is Senator Romeo Dallaire. His vast experience and understanding of all issues military has a great deal of equity in his opinion. When people of that calibre bring forward concerns on a particular piece of legislation, such as Bill C-15, obviously it is worth taking note.
One of the key provisions brought forward today is the provision for security of tenure for military justices until they reach the retirement age of 60, resign or are removed for cause on the recommendation of an inquiry committee. The outlining of sentences, objectives and principles is another provision. The legislation would also amend the composition of a court marshal panel according to the rank of the accused. The bill also changes the name of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board to the Military Grievances External Review Committee. One of the other key components is that it allows certain service offences to carry a criminal record.
In our party, we understand the need to reform the Canadian court marshal system and to ensure that it remains effective, fair and transparent. However, we also believe that Canadian citizens who make that career decision, that life choice, to join the Canadian Forces should not lose some of their rights before the courts.
We believe and understand that rights and equality are universal. Without an effective means for appeal, and no recorded proceedings, which was mentioned by my colleague from Halifax West, the current summary trial system is unbalanced and does not respect the basic rights of Canadian Forces members. Our party does not believe that introducing a criminal record for Canadian Forces members for certain service offences is fair and just, as the means of pardoning offences has been recently removed by the government.
Finally, we find it problematic that the VCDS can intervene and give direction in military police investigations. The VCDS is also subject to the code of service discipline.
Obviously, there are a number of disparities between the military and civil justice systems that should be narrowed as much as possible. While we recognize that updates to the military justice system must be made, the government is missing an opportunity to make these changes properly.
Many aspects of the MJS inexplicably remain unimproved or provide unnecessary powers. For example, Bill C-15 enshrines in law a list of military offences that will now carry a criminal record, and some are hardly necessary. Without a pardon system, which was recently revoked by the Conservatives, and summary trials set up with no records and no meaningful appeal, a Canadian Forces member would be left haunted by a record and unable to find employment upon release.
I would think it would have twigged on the government that many Canadians, after they finish their military service, have challenges securing that first job out of the service. Many times, the skills an individual acquires, even the technical skills, do not align with accepted or traditional construction trade skills.
The helmets to hard hats program, which works with members who try to seek employment after having left the military, is recognition of that. The Conservatives take a great deal of credit for it, but they have put only $150,000 into the program. The program is really run by Canadian building trades and a number of corporate sponsors. That being said, it is a program that recognizes some of the challenges members of the Canadian Forces face upon release. It would be nice if the government would play a more significant role.
That being said, if the Conservatives were attuned to the challenges of departing members, one would think they would understand that coming out of the military with a criminal record because of an offence that in our own court system would not be recognized as a criminal act becomes a burden in itself. That is yet another challenge that has to be overcome by an individual. It is truly unfortunate and unnecessary.
My colleague from Ajax—Pickering said that the testimony given by a couple of witnesses was somewhat extreme. Retired Colonel Michel Drapeau is a respected Canadian with a very distinguished military career. I will read into the record his quote from the testimony presented:
I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of these charter rights when facing a quasi-criminal process with the possibility of loss of liberty through detention in military barracks.
We cannot dismiss testimony from individuals whose opinions we greatly respect. We should take that into consideration. Certainly the testimony of both Retired Colonel Drapeau and M. Létourneau was very compelling and should be reflected going forward.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present this petition signed by people from my riding, Westmount—Ville-Marie, more specifically Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. The petitioners are calling on the government to reconsider its decision to close the post office located at 5751 Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal. This post office is very important to the residents of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present a petition from a large number of residents in my riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie who ask that the post office, known as the Montreal Victoria post office, be allowed to remain open. It is extremely important to the community from an economic and a social perspective.
I am therefore asking the government to reconsider its decision to close that post office.
The electoral district of Westmount--Ville-Marie (Quebec) has a population of 100,360 with 77,112 registered voters and 192 polling divisions.
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