Mr. Speaker, the leader of the official opposition has introduced a bill that the Liberal caucus will have no trouble supporting, because it is something we have been calling for for a long time.
Indeed, the first motion calling for the PBO to be made an independent officer of Parliament, tabled in the House of Commons on February 3, 2009, was sponsored by our Liberal colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. His motion also called on the government to “co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Budget Officer on all matters with respect to which he is called upon to report”.
If that motion from February 3, 2009, had been implemented, we would all be better off. The Parliamentary Budget Officer would have been better able to do his job independently.
Better late than never, which is why the Liberal Party supports Bill C-476 and why it is urging the government to support it as well, so that it can be examined in committee. We want this bill to be examined in committee because we think it is in the best interests of the public.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer needs to have more independence and a more meaningful role. The Parliamentary Budget Officer must report directly to Parliament, without having to go through the Library of Parliament.
That said, I doubt that these changes—although they are welcome and necessary—will eliminate the hostility the Conservative government has shown for anyone who refuses to blindly sing their praises or cover up their mistakes.
What is the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer? This person's role is to provide objective and independent analysis that may, on occasion, call into question the validity of the government's views and initiatives.
The Prime Minister cannot stand that. It has become clear that this government reacts very poorly and very aggressively to criticism and to independent thinking, whether from officers of Parliament, government scientists, foreign observers, the media or even government backbenchers.
The government would be better off keeping an open mind to these independent analyses. It might learn something that would help it fix past mistakes and avoid making new ones.
No one can deny that the Parliamentary Budget Officer produced some excellent analyses. Instead of shooting the messenger, the government should have listened to and respected what he had to say.
Here are some valuable PBO contributions: he analyzed the long-term cost of the Afghanistan mission; he showed how much the provincial penitentiary systems will have to pay in order to comply with the Conservatives' flawed crime agenda legislation; he produced a thorough report on the true cost of the F-35, generally considered accurate; and he proved that the old age security program was fiscally sustainable with the 65-year qualifying age, which was an assessment also echoed by the OECD.
The government responded to these obviously credible analyses with contempt, denial and attacks, dismissing them out of hand. Of course, the government was not obliged to accept the Parliamentary Budget Officer's analyses and conclusions. The government had every right to contest them.
However, the government should then have provided its own costed, detailed analyses before taking a stand on such important issues. Before imposing its decisions on the people, a competent government would have agreed, even demanded, to have these issues studied in detail.
Does the age of eligibility for old age security need to increase from 65 to 67? That is a fundamental question. Canada is the only modern, democratic country where the government has made that type of decision without providing any serious research to back it up and without having Parliament debate it thoroughly.
Instead of profiting from such a great Parliamentary Budget Officer—whose term just ended—and instead of engaging in productive dialogue with him, the government did nothing but viciously attack him as an individual.
In 2009, the government tried to cut the PBO funding by $1.3 million, one-third of the total budget. Public pressure eventually forced the government to find that money through the estimates.
In March of 2010, the PBO published a report showing the government would not balance the budget in 2014-15. The finance minister dismissed the PBO as wrong, but was unable or unwilling to provide any analysis to substantiate this rejection of the PBO's projections. Today, we all know that it is the finance minister who proved himself wrong.
When the PBO published a document showing the old age security program was sustainable in February of 2012, the Minister of Finance called Kevin Page unbelievable, unreliable and incredible.
Conservative senators moved to find Kevin Page in contempt for using the courts to access government spending data. The government refused to give Kevin Page information to which he is legally entitled under the Parliament of Canada Act. The government changed the PBO job vacancy notice in order to find someone ready to make compromises. Compromises?
Should someone compromise the truth? Should someone compromise in an effort to please the government and help cover up its mistakes? Should someone compromise on what should be disclosed to or hidden from the public, from taxpayers? It is not the Parliamentary Budget Officer's job to fiddle with the numbers or mask reality. His role is to produce precise, rigorous, uncompromising analyses.
What can we expect from a government that will not stop undermining the Parliamentary Budget Officer along with every other aspect of parliamentary democracy?
The government and the Prime Minister have never ceased to abuse the Parliament of Canadians. In 2008, they broke their own law on fixed election dates. They prorogued Parliament twice in order to circumvent the Commons, and they refused to hand over the F-35 documents despite a House order. They used time allocation or closure 32 times since the 2011 election. They forced committees to meet in camera, hidden from the public, for important debates and witness selection. They made improper use of omnibus budget bills to alter acts of Parliament that had little to do with the budget. They attacked the Veterans Ombudsman. Then we had Bev Oda misleading Parliament on the serious question of who altered a federal document.
Faced with a government that openly displays such contempt for parliamentary democracy, that refuses to hear any criticism, that is so suspicious of independent thought and is so afraid of the truth, any measures to help strengthen our Canadian parliamentary institutions deserve our attention.
That is why Bill C-476 should be examined, supported in principle and thoroughly scrutinized in committee. In addition to being very useful for the future of the parliamentary budget office, which is a new institution, the debate on this bill and all the questions it raises could—or so we hope—incite the government to really think about the true meaning of parliamentary democracy.
Order, please. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Order. The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Before we resume debate, I will let the hon. member for Markham—Unionville know that he has 20 minutes allowed for his speech but, in accordance with an order taken earlier this week, I will need to interrupt the debate at 15 minutes past the hour.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion of October 24, 2012, moved by my colleague on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, the member for Markham—Unionville. He moved that the seventh report of the said committee presented to the House on June 20 of this year be concurred in.
The intent of this committee report is clear on its face and in its recommendations. The intent is to finally institute long-overdue and widely called-for reforms to strengthen the capacity of Members of Parliament to effectively deliver their constitutional duty to review and approve federal estimates and spending.
It is widely recognized that one of the primary responsibilities of Parliament, and consequently its elected members, is the approval of the funds required to meet the government's financial obligations. This is known as the business of supply.
Each year, the Crown delivers to the House of Commons its spending plans or estimates for parliamentary scrutiny and approval. It is important to recall that it is Parliament that has the sole authority to grant the supplies.
O'Brien and Bosc, in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2009, reiterates the powers of Parliament to review and approve spending and the duties of the government to enable a process to deliver that duty:
The manner in which Canada deals with public finance derives from British parliamentary procedure, as practised at the time of Confederation. The financial procedures adopted by the Canadian House of Commons in 1867 were formed by the following principles:
These principles are important. We have the government frequently referring to past matters. This is an important matter, the very point of the foundation of this nation.
The first principle states:
that although Parliament alone might impose taxes and authorize the use of public money, funds can be appropriated to Parliament only on the recommendation of the Crown (royal recommendation), in Canada represented by the Governor General;
The second principle states:
that the House of Commons has the right to have its grievances addressed before it considers and approves the financial requirements of the Crown;
The third principle states:
that the House of Commons has exclusive control over the business of public finance (taxing and spending) and all such business is to be initiated in the lower house;
The fourth principle states:
that all legislation sanctioning expenditure or initiating taxation is to be given the fullest possible discussion, both in the House and in committee.
That last principle is the very crux of the report and recommendations from my committee: that all legislation sanctioning expenditure or initiating taxation is to be given the fullest possible discussion, both in the House and in committee.
It is widely acknowledged that the various House of Commons standing committees are intended to play an important role in assisting the House with the scrutiny of planned and actual spending and performance, but therein lies the rub.
Unfortunately, it has long been acknowledged that Parliament does not effectively fulfill its role and standing committees are at best giving perfunctory attention to the government's spending plans. The information provided to members of Parliament in committees is simply lacking in the detail necessary to ensure an informed vote. That is one of our most profound obligations here as representatives of the people of Canada.
In fact, in some recent instances the committees have been denied the opportunity to review the estimates at all because of tight deadlines imposed by the government.
Three recent reviews of the estimates process have been conducted with the objective of addressing this long-standing record of failure: a 1998 review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs; a 2003 review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates; and the recent 2012 six-month-long review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, hereinafter referred to as “the committee”.
A total of 75 recommendations were made to Parliament in the first two reports. In January 2012, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, or the committee, determined that few changes had been made by successive governments to act on these recommendations, and many of the barriers remained to delivery of this parliamentary duty.
The committee decided to revisit the constraints with appropriate officials and experts and to identify and address the most critical problems. Our committee worked diligently and co-operatively over six months, producing a focused consensus report with 12 modest recommendations. The many experts who work in these matters who came before us from around the world encouraged our committee to work in a non-partisan manner and to try to work together on a consensus with some strong recommendations. I can attest to that, and it is clear in the face of the report that across parties we worked diligently and came forward with a very logical plan to improve the role of members of Parliament in these important decisions.
The stated objective of the report was improving members of Parliament and committees' access to timely, understandable and reliable information on estimates, as well as the support and capacity necessary to complete an informed and constructive report to Parliament. As reported, the end goal of the committee study and recommendations to the House was to enhance transparency and accountability, agreed key elements of good governance and supposedly the very foundation of the government of the day.
As mentioned previously, the committee worked diligently to forge a consensus report, one that was practicable and readily acted upon in a timely manner. That determination was formed in concert with leading experts from around the world who had familiarity with the experience in other jurisdictions and with our own parliamentary procedures. There was only one dissenting opinion.
Both opposition parties supported expedited action, on the advice of experts, for the appointment of the Parliamentary Budget Officer as an officer of Parliament, along with a requisite enhanced budget. Regardless, it was the consensus of the committee that the mandate and function of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer merited study by our committee, including the option of reporting directly to Parliament as an officer of Parliament.
One would logically assume that as the committee is composed in the majority of Conservative members of Parliament and the review proceeded over a six-month time period that the recommendations that the Conservative members concurred in, along with those of us in the opposition party, had been vetted and received concurrence of their party. The government, in its response to the report, has in some instances supported recommendations and committed to action. In a number of instances, the Conservatives responded that the required actions are the prerogative of Parliament.
We just heard moments ago from the representative of the government that even in its response the government did not suggest that these matters be referred back to the committee. The government members simply stated that many of the matters that we were raising are the prerogative of Parliament to determine, which is precisely the reason why we wish the report to be concurred in, so we can move forward and begin taking action to improve our capacity in this place.
The government, in its response to the report, has in some instances supported recommendations and committed to action. In a number of instances, it responds that the required actions are the prerogative of Parliament. The government has outright rejected some of the other recommendations.
The President of the Treasury Board has committed to action by March 31, 2012, on at least two of the recommendations. An ongoing evaluation of accrual-based budgeting and appropriations would be completed and reported, as well as a model and timeline for transitioning estimates and related appropriations based on program activities. This would allow members of Parliament to review spending within a context of actual program delivery. We look forward to these changes. I know that all members of the House look forward to these reforms, and hopefully they will be expedited following the report in March of next year.
Where the government held that a number of the recommendations are simply within the purview of Parliament, it logically follows that the report be concurred in so that Parliament can proceed with the recommended reforms.
Regrettably, the government has also opposed a number of the key recommendations. Notable among those were changes to the timing and configuration of the tabling of the budget and estimates. This would have enabled members of Parliament to review proposed spending against the budget by also having access to information on actual programs and policies.
The suggestion was why not—like other jurisdictions including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa—simultaneously bring forward the budget, the estimates and the plans and priorities so that we can have a full debate on the substance of the proposals of the government. This, we were advised by experts, is the practice now followed in a number of other jurisdictions and is highly recommended as the more constructive and informed process.
What appears doubly odd in the refusal to accept the sensible recommendation is that it was the President of the Treasury Board who wrote to the committee at the outset of its study recommending consideration of exactly these reforms. The government also rejected the recommended review of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. I am now left deeply confused because just before I rose to speak, the government suggested that the matter can perhaps be referred to the committee. Therefore, perhaps there is a change of mind, and that review is useful.
The decision to reject the recommendations of the PBO is disconcerting for a number of reasons.
The PBO was created by the Conservatives with the stated objective of improving the flow of timely and accurate information to enhance the capacity of members of Parliament to deliver their duties to review government spending, which is precisely the objective of our review, precisely the task that was assigned to us.
The government of the day created that very position to assist us in that review. Of note, in 2004, the Standing Committee on Finance, following an extensive review, recommended the establishment of an independent budget officer reporting directly to Parliament. Despite 2006 election promises made by the Conservatives to create this independent budget officer, after winning the election the Conservative government enacted the PBO office but reneged on the commitment of an independent budget officer reporting to Parliament.
During the course of the six-month study, strong support was expressed by parliamentary experts for the creation of an independent office of the PBO, including his critical role in supporting and enhancing the capacity of MPs to effectively do their jobs.
As Prof. Joachim Wehner at the London School of Economics and Political Science testified:
The first [change that could be considered] is to protect and enhance the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
[S]ome adjustments are possible to the legal framework for the Parliamentary Budget Officer. In particular, this role could be strengthened...if he were a full officer of Parliament. Moreover, steps could be taken so that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has total access to all relevant information.... I see some scope for strengthening it also on the basis of international experience.
Those views were echoed by Robert Marleau, the former clerk of our House of Commons, who said:
The PBO should be the core staff of this committee. The PBO should be moved out of the library into the committees branch, and made a full-fledged officer of the House. Half of his budget should be spendable by this committee [of government works and operations] on studies, and the other half by other committees on estimates, as they apply for it.
This view was echoed once again in testimony by John Williams, well known to the House and now chief executive officer of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. He said:
I think the Parliamentary Budget Officer should be an officer of Parliament serving this committee, very much like the Auditor General serves the public accounts committee. Therefore, it would have the staff and the resources to do that program evaluation and also have the access to the documentation too.
We certainly know that is the question of the day, access to that information. Major concerns have been raised throughout the term of the current PBO regarding constraints on his ability to effectively deliver his legislative mandate due either to denied or delayed access to financial information and limited resources available to his job.
As far as I am aware at this date, numerous senior departments and agencies have yet to respond fully to the PBO request for information on spending, savings and cuts. I am advised today that the recalcitrant list of senior agencies and departments has now provided some information. I am advised by the PBO office that it is still not sufficient. Included among those recalcitrant entities were Finance Canada, Treasury Board, Privy Council Office, Citizenship and Immigration, Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
As the end of the term of the current PBO is imminent, now is the logical point in time to openly assess the terms of his mandate and the adequacy of the resources allocated to effectively deliver the services needed by Parliament. The concurrence by the government in the committee report provides the opportunity for the government to finally deliver on its commitments to openness, transparency and good governance.
I therefore call upon the government to concur in the report so that the government and Parliament can work together to expedite the reforms necessary to finally effectively deliver their mandate. By simply concurring with this thoughtful report and committing to work with all members of the House, the government could finally, in truth, claim credit for removing the blindfolds and handcuffs on the democratic process.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I take great pleasure in speaking in favour of the speedy passage of Bill C-45, jobs and growth act, 2012.
I am also pleased to congratulate the Minister of Finance for the outstanding job he is doing on behalf of all Canadians.
Canada is recognized internationally for the sound economic and fiscal policies of our Conservative government. Leadership on the economy is something that average Canadians who work hard, obey the law and pay their taxes understand.
While there are many benefits to passing Bill C-45 for the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, in the short time I have, I intend to focus on those aspects of this second budget implementation bill that are of interest to my constituents.
I intend to focus my comments on the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I've listened to a number of comments, starting with those of the Leader of the Opposition, which are ill-informed at best and misleading at worst, about this part of the budget bill and I believe it is important to set the record straight. Historically, the impetus behind the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882 was the result of representations made by Ottawa Valley lumbermen looking to protect the principal means they had at the time to bring their product to market.
In the 19th century, when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was legislated, rivers played an important role in the commerce of our great nation. The lumber trade of the upper Ottawa Valley relied upon rivers to bring the logs to market. Twelve years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act became law and three years after Confederation, Parliament passed An Act Respecting Certain Works on the Ottawa River. This act gave the federal government exclusive legislative authority in the construction of any works to ensure the Ottawa River is navigable. This was done to protect commerce and done years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act. That legislation is still on the books today.
What Canadians find misleading is when opposition members read things into the legislation that do not exist. Environmental protection for such things as pollution and fish habitat is covered by other legislation, not the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It was never intended for that purpose when it was written 140 years ago. The opposition may wish to stay trapped in the past, but our government believes it is time to leave the 19th century for the 21st century.
The public right of navigation is a common-law principle that dates back to Roman times. To my paddling friends, nothing in Bill C-45 detracts from the right to navigation in Canada. We respect the navigable qualities of any body of water that is indeed navigable, recognizing that any contemplated works need not compromise or undermine the recreational status of any body of water that is now or was previously the domain of paddlers.
This brings us to the Petawawa River. The decision by the federal government to include the Ottawa and Petawawa rivers in the list of 62 rivers retaining navigable waters constitutional jurisdiction protection was based in part on the real concern, on my part as well as that of my constituents, that the provincial environmental assessment process is being manipulated by the Ontario government to match a hidden agenda called the Green Energy Act. We needed to take an extra step to protect the Petawawa River.
In the province of Ontario the so-called Green Energy Act has been used to stifle democratic debate at the local level, running roughshod over the objections of local residents who are now being forced, through their power bills, to pay for unwanted and unnecessary power projects. Projects are being promoted under the guise of so-called green energy, when in fact the only green is in the pockets of the Liberal Party insiders who lobbied for 20 years to have industrial wind turbine contracts at outrageous financial subsidies. The collapse of the Liberal Party of Ontario and the resignation in disgrace of its leader led to the migration of these same individuals to Ottawa into positions of influence with their federal cousins.
The town of Petawawa unanimously passed the following motion at its September 4, 2012 council meeting:
That the Town of Petawawa advises the Premier of the Province of Ontario and his Ministers of Energy and Infrastructure, the Environment and Natural Resources that it does not and will not give any support or sanction to any project that is seeking or will be seeking ministry approval under the 2009 Green Energy act and in particular its “feed-in-tariff” provision.
To quote councillor Treena Lemay, who moved that motion: “The act promoted 'fast tracking' of environmental approvals for all electricity infrastructure projects, removed the long-established local planning process and left rural residents without effective noise complaint protocols and municipalities with no voice in their own community development”.
I thank councillor Treena Lemay for her leadership on this issue at municipal council.
In the case of the Petawawa River, plans to construct dam-like structures would destroy the fish habitat as well as recreational activities, including whitewater kayaking that now takes place on the river. I support the residents of Petawawa and their town council in objecting to the damming of the Petawawa River and will continue to object at the federal level until this proposal is withdrawn.
I share the concerns expressed by the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the fate of our other Ontario rivers, like the Vermilion. To quote the alliance:
We all want Green Energy, but let’s ensure it is truly Green, and not the “Green-washed” version that is being proposed for many of our Ontario rivers.
While I appreciate the concerns of Ontario residents and groups like the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the need for a federal presence in certain instances to provide a system of checks and balances to ill-conceived legislation like the Ontario Green Energy Act, these checks and balances remain in place with the passage of Bill C-45.
When the Navigable Waters Protection Act came before Parliament previously in 2009, I was honoured to welcome Jack MacLaren, a seventh generation Renfrew County orchard farmer, to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance. Mr. MacLaren contacted me after he ran into trouble with the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In his case what should have been a simple matter became a complicated issue because of a piece of legislation dating back to the 1980s.
I had also been contacted by municipalities that complained to me about the time and expense to clean out a municipal drainage ditch because of the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
In short, it is clear that changes are absolutely necessary to this act.
The other issue I intend to respond to is the criticism by the opposition that Bill C-45 is too detailed and complicated for them to understand. The opposition call Bill C-45 omnibus legislation, hoping that Canadians will buy into its delay tactics because it would rather complain than do its job.
Bill C-45 is the second budget bill. Here, I draw members' attention to a debate in the House that took place on June 13 of this year on the first budget bill between the opposition member for Markham—Unionville and the hard-working Conservative member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In that exchange the opposition member complained about a program he claimed was cancelled by our budget. Our government member responded with shock at what he had heard. He proceeded to set the record straight, reading directly from the budget that the program in question, the Canadian innovation and commercialization program, had not only been funded for another three years but had also been built up and made permanent. This led the member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore to ask the opposition member if he had even read the budget. The opposition member obviously had not read the budget, which brings me to my last point.
The opposition has had a copy of our budget for months, with plenty of time to analyze the budget document. If they were doing their job, they would be ready to debate and scrutinize all aspects of the budget now. Opposition for the sake of opposition is not acceptable to Canadians. The Library of Parliament can help out with a legislative guide for all things not understood, like the history of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This is why it is so important at this time to modernize a 140-year-old piece of legislation and proceed with the passage of Bill C-45.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support a number of petitions referring to Canada's 400-year-old definition of human being and asking Parliament to bring that into the 21st century. The petitioners are asking Parliament to stand up for the principle that every human being is created equal and every human being has an inherent worth and dignity.
In particular, I have a petition with almost 300 signatures from the riding of Mississauga—Erindale. I have a petition with almost 400 signatures from Calgary, Saskatoon, Vancouver Island, London and Bruce Grey. I have petitions from the riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, which together accomplish almost 1,200 signatures, many of whom are women. I have a petition from the riding of Markham—Unionville, which together have almost 1,300 signatures. I have a petition to the same effect from the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham with 300 signatures. I also have a petition from the riding of Scarborough—Agincourt with almost 300 signatures.
I have received petitions from all across the country with thousands of signatures but I will stop there for today.
Mr. Speaker, last week, the member for Markham—Unionville said that he thinks that the solution to the eurozone debt is “...putting massive funds into the scene. If the funds are massive enough, that will calm the markets”. Yesterday, his interim leader made the outrageous claim that “any Canadian transfer to the IMF...goes on our books as an asset”.
With such irresponsible economic policies, it is no wonder that the Canadian public relegated the Liberals to the third-party status. The Liberal position is no better than the leader of the NDP's position. He advocates for billions of Canadian tax dollars to be sent to bail out Europe's banks.
This is Europe's debt problem. Europe should act and must not delay.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again in the House to talk about some of the initiatives that our government is taking with respect to arts and culture and, more specifically, to Library and Archives Canada.
As I said in question period, our government understands the importance of arts and culture to the Canadian economy. That is why, as part of our economic action plan, we made a conscious effort and decided that, while other governments around the world were cutting funds to arts and culture, it was important to the Canadian economy that we continue to invest in arts and culture. We understand how many jobs that represents and how much economic activity it generates. It generates literally hundreds of thousands of jobs and some $80 billion worth of economic activity.
Our economic action plan not only increased the budget for arts and culture but we worked with our provincial and municipal partners across the country to make significant investments in the sector. In my own riding, I just had the good fortune on Saturday to work with my mayor, the town council of Stouffville and the provincial MPP to cut the ribbon on the expansion of the Stouffville Museum. It was a wonderful day. The entire community came out to celebrate the expansion. It followed on an earlier ribbon cutting of the expansion of the Markham Museum, another initiative that came through Canada's economic action plan.
We have announced investments in the Markham Theatre. Investments were made in the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. On every matter that counts, be it supporting artists or the Canada Council for Arts, we have continued to support that community because we have always understood how important it is to Canadians that their government support their artists and do everything in its power to preserve, protect and enhance its heritage. Our government will continue to do that into the future.
Library and Archives Canada has been mentioned in the motion. A lot is happening at Library and Archives Canada. It is moving forward with its modernization initiative that will improve and expand access to Canada's documentary and cultural heritage for all Canadians, regardless of their interests, profession or location. In fact, just last week, Library and Archives Canada announced the launch of its portrait portal, which showcases the largest collection of portraits in the country, including works acquired since the 1880s. This collection, made up of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, caricatures, medals and other works, represents historical figures who played an important role in Canada's development as a nation. This digitization initiative makes available to Canadians across the country many thousands of works by renown Canadian artists, ranging from portraits by Yousuf Karsh to those of William Topley. Hockey fans across Canada can even find rare hockey cards from around 1910.
The portrait portal gives Canadians the ability to access their national portrait collection at the time and place they want, wherever they are. For millions of people across the country, this will be an exciting first step in the discovery of the wealth and diversity of Canada's documentary heritage.
Library and Archives Canada is committed to posting over 2,000 digitized portraits every month for the coming years. This project illustrates its commitment to adapting to the new digital environment by making the national portrait collection more accessible to all Canadians from coast to coast. This is important because in communities across the country people want to have access to the collections, which we sometimes take for granted as members of Parliament, that we have right here at our doorstep.
It is not just Library and Archives Canada, of course. I know my community museums are doing a heck of a lot of work in order to digitize their own collections. We are very proud of that. Across the country, small and local museums have very impressive collections. We will continue to work with them to ensure those collections are preserved and protected.
Additionally, the government has sought to move forward with commemorations for the War of 1812. It is, of course, the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which, as we have said, was an incredibly important war in what was the foundation and creation of Canada.
The War of 1812 helped preserve the French facr here, and it led to a unified Canada. We are very proud of Canada's participation in that with our allies, the British and our first nations people. I know that people in communities across Ontario to Quebec to New Brunswick will be celebrating their local contributions to the War of 1812. Library and Archives Canada is also doing a part. Members will be interested to know that it will provide access to over 73,000 new images of the War of 1812. That is an incredible opportunity for Canadians to learn more about the War of 1812, a war that was so fundamentally important to the foundation of this country.
Last year, Library and Archives Canada also launched the Canadian feature film index. This index was created in 1972 and is now available as an online database that provides information on over 4,300 Canadian feature films produced from 1913 to 2009. This database is an important resource for filmmakers, students and researchers, as well as those who are interested in Canada's cinematic history. It ensures that this key part of Canada's documentary and cultural heritage is accessible to everyone.
We can trace Library and Archives Canada's commitment for enhanced accessibility to 2010 when it decided to expand the Lest We Forget workshop program to include students from across Canada. Military service files were selected from the vaults where they were stored. They were digitized and made available online, along with a step-by-step teachers' guide to organizing a workshop.
In the first year of this online program, Library and Archives Canada began with 200 military service files and the participation of our public library systems. This year, in the second year of digital outreach, students will be able to access more than 5,000 military service files of Canadian soldiers, doctors, nurses and chaplains who served during the First World War or who were killed in action during the Second World War. The number of participating public library systems doubled so that now LAC's Lest We Forget workshops are offered from coast to coast to coast. In the first six months, approximately 20,000 downloads of military service records were conducted by the Lest We Forget section of the Collections Canada website.
Our latest example is Library and Archives Canada's development of the new digital projects to help Canadians access their documentary heritage online. Library and Archives Canada recently launched discover blog. It contains information on military and genealogical records where Canadians can discover their family connections. These new initiatives showcase what great work Library and Archives Canada has done to enable Canadians to become more knowledgeable and to experience our historical and documentary heritage.
Again, this is good for Canadians. They will be able to access historical content regardless of their interest, profession or location. The modernization initiative means LAC is becoming an institution that promotes democratic access to Canada's documentary heritage for all. It means changing LAC's points of access to reflect the tremendous opportunities that advanced information and communications technology provide.
Library and Archives Canada has made some strategic choices to ensure that funds invested will yield tangible, sustainable results for Canadians.
It is clear that Library and Archives Canada's long-term plan to modernize and virtualize services in order to reach the greatest number of Canadians more easily and to provide Canadians with better service is actually working. More services in historical content are available to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Library and Archives Canada's long-term plan includes the introduction of video conferencing tools, like Skype, to extend front-line services to clients across Canada. Clients will be able to book an appointment on site or by using Skype or the telephone. This allows the right experts to be at the appointment and it allows the experts to prepare, therefore providing better services.
Additionally, Library and Archives Canada is using social media. The use of social media has been working to achieve a comprehensive presence on the web in five key areas.
First, in 2008 Library and Archives Canada launched its Flickr account to provide systematic images around the institution and from the collections. To date it has approximately 400,000 views.
Second, Library and Archives Canada has a Twitter account. It was launched at the end of February and is gaining new followers every day. It provides information to stakeholders and citizens, allows the organization to reach new audiences and facilitates access to Library and Archives Canada's services and collections.
Last week Library and Archives Canada also launched its streamlined YouTube channel in order to raise awareness about its holdings and activities. Also last week, Library and Archives Canada launched its official Facebook account. In addition to institutional messaging and news about events and new products, Library and Archives will initiate original features to engage with Canadians, such as “Today in History” and “What Have We Here?”
The fifth element of Library and Archives Canada's expanding web presence is the release of podcasts that highlight significant collection items and share expertise and knowledge. Each podcast episode will feature different content and will maintain a common focus on engagement with the collection and accessibility.
Podcasts have recently been launched on Project Naming, which enables Nunavut youth to connect with elders and to better understand their past. It also helps bridge the cultural differences and geographical distances between Nunavut and more southern parts of Canada.
Upcoming podcasts will feature the War of 1812 and the “Double Take: Portraits of Intriguing Canadians” travelling exhibit. This new way of promoting our heritage will facilitate discovery, access and engagement among Canadians, Canadian users and their collections.
In addition to the modernization initiative, Library and Archives Canada has also created a broad pan-Canadian network for the preservation of the country's documentary heritage. This emerging network now involves a wide range of stakeholders from the library and archival fields from across Canada. In so doing, Library and Archives Canada continues to serve communities across the country, but in a more efficient and effective manner, using partnerships with the documentary heritage network.
As I mentioned earlier, we on this side of the House have consistently understood the importance of arts and culture. Unfortunately, we have been placed in a position such that each time we make an investment in this sector, the opposition has voted against it.
As part of our economic action plan, we said quite clearly that we wanted to invest not only in arts and culture but also in a wide range of activities that are important to the Canadian economy. Of course, that included investing in roads and bridges. It included working with our provincial partners to make sure we could invest in colleges and university campuses across this country. Unfortunately, what happened? Again, the opposition voted against that.
What did it mean for my community? What did the opposition actually vote against in my community? It voted against the Stouffville museum. It voted against the expansion of the Markham museum. It voted against an emergency operations centre for the town of Markham, this following what was a terrible summer tornado in Vaughan, where the need for an emergency response system became clear and evident. It voted against improvements to our sports facilities.
For the town of Markham in the riding for the hon. member for Markham—Unionville, it meant voting against a skating rink, the largest outdoor skating rink in the GTA. It meant voting against tennis domes for the community that the hon. member for Markham—Unionville and I share.
One of the things that has been so important about the economic action plan is that it invested in communities across this country. It invested in all of these communities. Back in 2008 and 2009, we sat down with our provincial and municipal partners and asked, “What do we need in order to get the economy moving?” They told us we needed to invest in infrastructure, so that is what we did.
How did the opposition respond? It voted against.
Every single time the opposition members get up in this House, they consistently talk about an initiative they would have liked to see the government do as part of our economic action plan. They talk about infrastructure; we have already talked about how they voted against that. They talk about a national housing strategy. This government invested in housing for our seniors and for those who are less advantaged as part of the economic action plan. How did they vote? They voted against it.
When we talked about seniors and expanding opportunities for our seniors, the first thing we did was allow for income splitting for seniors. How did they vote? They voted against it.
They talked about increasing the supports for our vulnerable seniors. What did we do? We increased funding for GIS—
Madam Speaker, the member for Markham—Unionville has been here for many years.
What was meant was that governments actually do not create many jobs that create economic growth. That is what businesses do, but we give them all the tools they need. What they ask is that we give them the tools by which they can provide economic growth for businesses in Canada. That is our key point. The government has to give them the tools.
We also have the option of taking the tools away. The last Liberal government jacked EI premiums so high that it became difficult for businesses to survive. Then when that party had put the premiums so high, it borrowed money out of the EI fund and forgot to pay it back. That is not what governments should do in terms of building a credibility relationship with businesses.
We have done a great job in giving the tools to our businesses. That is why Canada is in the strong economic shape that it is in today.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to stand and enter this debate today on Bill C-38. It is a budget implementation act. I appreciate there is a lot of engagement around the House today from members opposite and members on this side of the House. As all members will recall, budget 2012 was tabled on March 29. It launches the next phase of our economic action plan.
The budget was applauded by economists from coast to coast. The member for Markham—Unionville just spoke. As he is a former economist, I was waiting for him to echo some of the economists across Canada, representing the major banks, who applauded the budget.
There is a reason that economists from across the country have applauded our measures in the budget. All over the world, nations are reeling from the chaos of a worldwide economic meltdown that struck in 2008 and worsened through 2009. Even this week, we saw major changes in two countries in Europe. With France and Greece reorganizing new governments and new leaders, political fallout is taking a toll on social stability.
By contrast, Canada has been shaken, but remains stable. The World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, Moody's and Forbes magazine have all applauded Canada's economic performance and predict we are positioned to lead world economies in the next years. The reason economists have embraced our budget is because they recognize the choices made in our economic action plan that keep Canada moving in the right direction.
Phase two of the economic action plan is a plan for jobs, for growth and for long-term prosperity. Budget 2012 takes important steps to address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of a global economy while ensuring sustainable social programs and sound public finances for future generations. The budget contains reforms that are substantial. They are responsible and they are necessary. They are reforms that will ensure that across government we are focused on sustaining Canada's long-term economic growth.
Just as we did in the first phase of Canada's economic action plan, the focus of this budget is on boosting economic growth and job creation. It is on stimulating innovation, investment, education and skills. Let me just list, in broad strokes, the major initiatives in Bill C-38.
The initiatives would be making major investments of over $1 billion to support science and technology; providing $500 million to spur growth of innovative start-up companies; ensuring responsible resource development by moving to one project one review, with a clearly defined time period for major economic projects while continuing to protect the environment; opening new markets and expanding international trade, bringing Canadian goods to the world; extending the hiring credit for small business for one more year to make it more attractive for small business to grow and to hire more workers; providing $150 million over two years for the new community infrastructure improvement fund; providing $5.2 billion over 11 years to renew the Canadian Coast Guard. That is something that is going to impact communities on both coasts of this great country and in the north. It is essential, and it will serve our communities for many years to come.
We would be focusing on employment insurance and promoting job creation by removing disincentives to work and supporting unemployed Canadians by connecting them more quickly to jobs. We would be providing $275 million over three years to support first nations education and to build and renovate schools on reserve. The measures over the last couple of years, which this initiative builds on, have made a huge difference in first nations in coastal B.C.
I mentioned earlier in a question and comment about a new school in Ahousaht. Some 800 people live in that community with only boat access. The new school is a huge asset in that community and it is going to impact education, which is a priority for the national chief. The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is from the coast of British Columbia. In addition to that on reserve, some $330 million would be going into upgrading water systems on reserve. It is extremely important for our remote, rural communities.
We would be building a fast and flexible economic immigration system to track immigrants with the skills and experience our economy needs. Our Minister of Immigration has been doing a major overhaul to make sure we attract the kinds of immigrants who are going to contribute to long-term prosperity in Canada, not only for their own families, but for our Canadian economy at the same time.
If we pause and take a look back, it is helpful to remember that after forming government in 2006, this government paid down nearly $40 billion on our national debt.
That positioned us well, inasmuch as in the ensuing recession period we had to run a deficit to provide the much-needed economic stimulus and keep people working.
The economic action plan launched a massive infrastructure investment plan. Yes, we hired more federal employees to ensure the money was well administered and went to projects that would position Canada well, creating economic opportunities that are having a positive impact right now across Canada from coast to coast.
We also launched a work-sharing program. We expanded EI benefits. We launched retraining programs for displaced workers and invested big time in education and science infrastructure. That was through the knowledge infrastructure program. All of this was to keep people working and to prepare for tomorrow's jobs.
The net result of prudent planning is that Canada has emerged as one of the top-performing industrialized countries.
Since the peak of the recession in July 2009, our economy has seen almost 700,000 new jobs, and most of those are full time. Canada is the only G7 country that has come out of the recession with more jobs than we had when we went into it.
Keeping taxes low for Canadians has been a key policy for this government. Since 2006, we have reduced the tax burden of Canadians through some 140 measures. As a result, the average Canadian family of four saves about $3,100 each and every year.
The budget contains measures to create employment. Included are a $1,000 hiring credit for small business and incentives for apprentices of up to $4,000 for tools, tuition and travel expenses. That would be for the Red Seal trades. Improvements to EI and the temporary foreign workers program would help connect Canadians with available jobs, including those seniors who are willing and able to work and who wish to continue working.
I made reference earlier to mega-investments in science, technology and innovation through granting agencies such as Genome Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. In addition, there is $105 million to fund innovation in the forestry sector, which is extremely important to generate value-added production, something that we are very interested in, in coastal British Columbia. Investments in the Coast Guard fleet and helicopter renewal valued at $5.2 billion will be of benefit to coastal communities.
There are huge investments to help improve the living conditions and opportunities for vulnerable people in remote settings. I mentioned the water systems on reserve, but there are big investments in education on reserve. That $275 million across the nation is going to make a difference.
In order to ensure the sustainability of old age security, the age of eligibility would be gradually raised to 67, starting in 2023 and fully implemented in 2029.
In two decades, the number of retirees will double and costs will triple. Meanwhile, by 2030, if the system is unchanged, the number of taxpayers for every senior will be down to two from, currently, about four. In 2010 there were four; when the program was initiated, there were seven.
We have ensured that the changes are made with substantial notice and with an adjustment period. They would not affect current retirees or those close to retirement and would give others plenty of time to adjust to the changes and plan for their retirement.
Overall, in British Columbia we would benefit from $5.6 billion in health, education and social transfers, fulfilling our promise to balance the federal budget without cutting transfers to the provinces.
The budget is focused on jobs and long-term prosperity. As with the previous phase of the economic action plan, it addresses the changing worldwide economic situation and is designed to keep Canada competitive for the benefit of all Canadians.
Let me quote from the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Berry Vrbanovic. He said:
Canada's municipal leaders welcome today's commitment by the federal government to continue working with cities and communities to rebuild the local roads, water systems, community centres and public transit that our families, business and economy depend on.
He goes on to say that:
Today's budget continues building a new infrastructure partnership that creates jobs and strengthens Canada's future economic foundations.
Of course, I know that our municipalities in coastal B.C. are very appreciative of that gas tax fund, the $2 billion fund that we increased even during tough economic times. Our great finance minister extended that gas tax fund to $2 billion to ensure municipalities have the funds to move ahead with important projects.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-38, the government's budget implementation bill.
I would like to use my time to address four themes: namely how the Conservatives are, one, hiding the full impact of their spending cuts; two, breaking their election promise to protect old age security; three, using budget 2012 to ram through important changes to Canada that are unrelated to budgets; and four, failing to create good paying jobs and recognize the important issue of growing income inequality in Canada.
Later on in this debate, my colleague from the riding of Etobicoke North, the Liberal critic for the environment, will speak on how the Conservatives are using this budget bill to completely rewrite Canada's environmental laws. We understand that streamlining environmental laws and protection can be a meritorious objective and approach, but there is a difference between streamlining and gutting.
The approach of the government to use an omnibus bill, the kitchen sink bill, to put all of these measures in the same legislation is to deny Parliament and committees the opportunity to subject this legislation to suitable scrutiny and enable us, as parliamentarians, to be both responsible and accountable.
I will first speak about the full impact of the government's spending cuts. The Conservatives are trying to hide the full impact of their cuts from Canadians by only talking about half of them. Allow me to illustrate that with a couple of examples.
We know the Conservative cuts will ramp up over four years until they reach $10.8 billion in ongoing cuts to the annual budget. However, budget 2012 only provides details on $5 billion of the $10.8 billion in ongoing cuts.
As we try to make sense of this budget, we must be mindful that the information the government released in budget 2012 applies to just under half of the overall cuts. That goes for the 19,200 federal public servants who will be laid off. Those positions that are being eliminated stem from just half of the cuts.
We hear about the ongoing cuts of $688 million to Public Safety, $153 million to Transport, $310 million to Agriculture and Agri-food and $378 million to international aid. Once again, those cuts are the result of just half of the overall cuts that are projected by the federal government. For the other half of the cuts we have precious few details.
From budget 2010, we know there will be an ongoing cut of $1 billion to National Defence and an ongoing cut of more than $1.8 billion to international aid. I do not know how the government can afford $16 orange juice, six star hotels, and several thousand dollars in limousine bills in that context, but that is another story. The only other person I know of who has stayed at The Savoy is Conrad Black, but that too is another story.
We read in the newspaper that Canada's foreign aid is being cut by $378 million, but that is not even close to the full story. When we add the cuts announced in 2010, we know the ongoing annual cut to foreign aid is at least $2.2 billion, which is roughly 50% of Canada's foreign aid budget.
We know the ongoing annual cut to National Defence is at least $2.1 billion, not the $1.1 billion introduced in budget 2012.
We know the ongoing annual cuts to the Government of Canada will be $10.8 billion, not the $5.2 billion announced in budget 2012.
What we do not know is the impact that these additional cuts will have on the programs and services offered to Canadians. We do not know how the other departments and agencies will be affected.
We do not know how many federal public servants will be cut in addition to 19,200 positions that were announced in budget 2012.
The government cannot cut an additional $5.6 billion without cutting programs and services.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that in addition to the 19,200 positions being eliminated in budget 2012, there will be a further 6,300 jobs cut as a result of the government's previous strategic reviews that have yet to be implemented, and a further 9,000 cuts as a result of the government's budget operating freeze. That creates a total of 34,500 federal public service job cuts.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer agrees that the 19,200 public service jobs that are being cut do not represent the full number. In his words, “Additional job losses will be required.... we're actually talking about cuts on top of cuts.” How many more federal jobs will be eliminated? The government is not telling Canadians or the public service the truth.
We do not know why the Conservatives are hiding the real figures. We do not know why they are not explaining to Canadians the cuts that are going to affect them. We do not know why the Conservatives refuse to give Canadians and Parliament all the information they need to have an informed debate.
As Liberals, we recognize the government is about choices and some spending cuts are necessary, even in good times. It was in that context that we, as a government--and I remember when the member for Wascana was minister of finance and the member for Markham—Unionville was the minister responsible for the expenditure review committee of cabinet. I served on the expenditure review committee of cabinet at that time. It is important to realize, to put this in context, that we were actually in surplus at that time.
It is important to also recognize that we agree, in principle, with reviewing government expenditures on an ongoing basis in surplus or deficit to ensure best value for taxpayers, to ensure that programs and services reflect actual need, not need that may have lapsed in the past.
It is also important to realize and to recognize the context of the surplus that the Liberal governments were delivering. The Liberal government had inherited a $43 billion deficit that was left behind by the previous government. Under the Liberal watch, Canada went from a $43 billion deficit to nine consecutive years of budgetary surplus that paid over $100 billion down on the national debt. And it was during those good times, during surplus, that we did expenditure review, but we did very differently from the way the government is doing it now.
In fact, we also cut Canadian taxes while maintaining a balanced budget and we introduced the largest personal income tax cut in the history of Canada. We also cut corporate taxes when we could afford to when we were in surplus. We cut payroll taxes.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Kings—Hants for giving me this opportunity to discuss the government's contribution to building a prosperous Canada and the important action we are taking to reduce inequality. Certainly Governor Carney yesterday indicated that this is a global issue.
We do not need another study. When there is an issue, I am proud to be part of a government that acts. I think it is important. We just looked at the information that the previous member for Markham—Unionville gave us. He talked about the numerous studies and he talked about three areas that are very important for us to move forward with. We are moving forward. I think this comes back to my nursing days in Emergency. We know what a problem is and we take action. We do not need to navel-gaze forever. It is an important issue. Our government is taking action.
Some of my comments are going to perhaps help the member look at the budgets that he has voted against and how they apply to some of things where he has voted against supporting equality for Canadians.
Since coming to office in 2006, our Conservative government has recognized the needs of individuals and families in our country and the challenges they face, which is something that today's motion neglects to mention.
For example, since 2006, our Conservative government has cut taxes 140 times, while ensuring that low- and middle-income Canadians receive the greatest benefit. These tax reductions are leaving significantly more money in the pockets of low- and middle-income Canadians. In fact, the average family of four now saves more than $3,100 per year in taxes than it did under the previous Liberal government, of which, I must point out, the member for Kings—Hants was a member. Indeed, the progressive tax system that he calls for is alive and well here in Canada.
As a recent Ottawa Citizen editorial reminds us, “In 2009, more than 19 million Canadians reported income of less than $50,000. They paid an average income tax of 7.5%. Those who made more than $250,000 paid 32.1%. That is pretty progressive.”
As a mother and a Canadian who has worked hard to make ends meet, measures introduced by our government have done more for Canadians who struggle with poverty than the motion before us ever could. Not only that, it fails to acknowledge the important work of the Standing Committee on Finance which has already undertaken numerous studies.
And so, again, really, do we need another study? Or should we just act?
For too many low-income Canadians, working can mean less money than staying on social assistance. For these Canadians, it is irrelevant that hockey players make millions of dollars a year. The important thing is finding a job that enables them to support their family. That is why budget 2007 invested more than $550 million a year to establish the working income tax benefit. Not only did the working income tax benefit fulfill our government's commitment to make work more rewarding for low-income Canadians already in the workforce, it increased the incentive for more Canadians to find work.
We went even further in budget 2009, when we doubled the tax relief provided by WITB, paying out over $1 billion in benefits to vulnerable Canadians and their families. I am proud that this program is making a real difference in the lives of Canadians who need it most, lowering the welfare wall so people can keep more of their hard-earned money.
For example, without the WITB, a typical low-income, single parent in Manitoba would have only kept about 28¢ of every additional dollar earned between $3,000 and $1,000 due to reduced benefits in federal and provincial income-tested programs and taxes. Because of our government's action, the same family now keeps 53¢ of every additional dollar earned. Programs like WITB demonstrate our government's commitment to the most vulnerable Canadians. However, we did not stop there.
Recognizing that families are the cornerstone of our society, budget 2011 introduced measures to further reduce the tax burden on hard-working Canadians. Some families need extra help. For example, many Canadians have added responsibilities in caring for their parents and other family members. These family caregivers make enormous sacrifices, often leaving the workforce and forgoing employment income.
In support of these families that care for one another, our Conservative government introduced the family caregiver tax credit, which came into effect this year.
We also recognize that parents of children with severe disabilities face emotional strains and financial hardships that can be overwhelming. Based on the recommendations of the 2006 Expert Panel on Financial Security for Children with Severe Disabilities, we established the registered disability savings plan. It is designed to help parents save for the long-term financial security of a child with a severe disability. Last fall, the government launched a review of the RDSP program to ensure that RDSPs are continuing to meet the needs of Canadians with severe disabilities and their families. Based on the feedback received during the review, economic action plan 2012 proposed a number of measures to improve the RDSP, including greater access to hard-earned savings.
Another area that he talked about was how important jobs are. Despite the targeted action our government has taken to help low-income Canadians access greater opportunity, the economy and job creation remain our top priorities because we know without a doubt that they are the best way to ensure a brighter financial future for all Canadians. That is why economic action plan 2012 contains important measures to respond to current labour market challenges and meet longer-term labour market needs.
We are taking action to help under-represented Canadians, including immigrants, persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal people and older Canadians, to find good jobs. For example, we increased funding to expand the ThirdQuarter project, an innovative initiative led by the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce to help employers find experienced workers who are over 50 by connecting them with potential employees. Furthermore, we are extending the temporary hiring credit for small businesses for one year, continuing an important incentive for job creation.
For younger workers, the government currently invests more than $330 million annually to support young Canadians through the youth employment strategy, including youth at risk and recent post-secondary graduates. Last year alone this investment helped to connect nearly 70,000 youth with the work experience and skills training they needed to build the foundation for success in the job market. Our economic action plan 2012 builds on this investment by providing an additional $50 million over two years to assist more young people in gaining tangible skills and experience. This funding will focus on connecting young Canadians with jobs in fields that are in high demand.
Our Conservative government has dedicated itself to helping low-income Canadians and I know we are on the right track to improving the economy for Canadian families. While the member for Kings—Hants wants to study income inequality, we are hard at work building a fair and prosperous Canada with opportunity for all Canadians.
In conclusion, I am very proud to be a part of a government that acts and does not sit and study and study issues. When action is required, it is not a right issue or a left issue, it is an issue that requires action. I am proud to be acting.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Markham—Unionville also has a selective memory. We do appreciate things that were done properly in banking regulation. What Canadians have not forgotten is the whole range of things that the government did not do well that got us into a lot of problems.
For example, when we went through a financial crisis under the previous administration, it managed to balance the books and was credited for doing so. However, it did so by cutting transfers to the provinces for health care and education. The Liberals promised to get rid of the GST, an unpopular tax, and somehow they forgot about that. Those are things that Canadians have not forgotten about.
Mr. Speaker, that is a terrific question because it was the government of Mr. Chrétien, and Paul Martin as finance minister, that made the fundamental changes to the Canada pension plan, which prepared the CPP for decades of prudential strength looking forward to the future. It was also the government, with Paul Martin as finance minister, that eliminated a $43 billion deficit, balanced the books and ensured that $100 billion was paid down on the national debt. Of course, we know we have now lost all that because of the Conservatives' ideological profligacy in the last few years.
As a minister specifically, I was part of the expenditure review committee of cabinet which was led by the hon. member for Markham—Unionville. During that time we saved billions of dollars. We did not do it based on ideology; we did it based on evidence. We looked at every department and every agency and we worked with departments and agencies. My department of public works saved over $3 billion, working with public servants, and $1 billion every year since by reforming procurement, by privatizing in some cases and by out sourcing in other cases, but also by getting better value for tax dollars. I am certain the hon. member would support all of those initiatives.
Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Employment.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
The electoral district of Markham--Unionville (Ontario) has a population of 127,191 with 88,931 registered voters and 206 polling divisions.
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