Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-4, which was to be a budget implementation bill but it is much more. It is that much more that has a bunch of us on this side of the House worried about what the government really intends to do. For example, this budget implementation bill includes a redefinition of what constitutes a danger in the workplace.
The definition has been in the Canada Labour Code for many years and is well understood now by the health and safety officers, workplace safety committees, employers and employees and to change it in a manner that will not allow us to have full and fulsome debate is a dangerous practice in itself.
We will not know what the new definition means. The old definition talked about any existing or potential hazard or condition, or any current or future activity that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person exposed to it.
The new definition requires that this danger be imminent or serious. What the heck does imminent or serious mean? To find out, we have to ask the minister. The minister is the only person who is now able, under this legislation, to determine whether something is an imminent or serious threat to an individual, because the government has taken out health and safety officers across the country and replaced them with one individual.
Each and every declaration of a danger to a person in a workplace in Canada now has to be determined by the minister himself or herself. I do not know if the minister has enough time to get to all the workplaces in Canada. The minister is pretty busy legislating companies back to work, so I do not know if he or she has enough time to do that.
It is a very serious measure that is being taken in a budget implementation bill with very limited time for discussion.
The other thing that is happening in the bill is that for the public service the definition of what can be arbitrated, in terms of what we call interest arbitration processes, has changed dramatically. The definition of what constitutes an essential service is now in the head of the minister. It is not in a jointly agreed to by both parties system.
The minister can decide what is an essential service in the civil service. For example, the minister could decide that his or her driver is an essential service and therefore that person would be prohibited from taking any action.
The danger with this kind of tinkering with the existing well-known and well-understood legislation is where it may lead in the rest of Canada. We have police forces, fire departments, ambulance services and paramedic services across the country that rely on an arbitration system to feel as though they are getting paid appropriately for their work and that their terms and conditions of work are dealt with. They are not allowed to go on strike. They are not allowed to exercise what the rest of Canadians have, which is the ability to withdraw their services.
All of those other folks across the country have to be wondering where the heck the government is going and where it will lead the provincial governments that deal with these things as well.
The government has not only redefined what is an essential service and just basically said that the minister can pick and choose what he or she wants it to be, but it has redefined what constitutes the terms under which an arbitrator can decide a collective agreement.
As members will recall from a year and a half ago, or maybe two years, the former minister of labour actually set the conditions under which an arbitrator was free or not free to decide a collective agreement. When it came to Air Canada, Canada Post and CP Rail, those agreements were decided by an arbitrator, except the arbitrator's hands were tied.
If I were in the police force or if I were a firefighter, I would be worried about where this federal government was leading us, down the road of re-defining what could and could not be done by an arbitrator.
I want to talk about this issue, because I am the deputy critic for persons with disabilities. The member for Winnipeg South Centre talked in glowing terms about the fact that the government had made the enabling accessibility fund a permanent feature of future budgets, which is a good thing. The problem is that fund is a Conservative slush fund, unfortunately. I do not mean that any of the groups that receive the money are somehow complicit in this, but 85% of the money goes to Conservative ridings.
Conservatives do not represent 85% of the population of Canada. I think something like 24% voted for them last time. How is it that 85% of the enabling accessibility fund goes to Conservative-held ridings, or if a group or organization is turned down for money under the enabling accessibility fund, all it has to do is have a friend like the Minister of Foreign Affairs and that minister will grease palms or whatever it is he has to do to change the decision by whoever made the decision so a group or association can get money out of the enabling accessibility fund?
We do not have any objections to there being an enabling accessibility fund. In fact, it should be bigger than it is, but we would like to see it distributed fairly across the country. I have groups in my riding that have been turned down for enabling accessibility money and cannot fathom the reasons why, because they are not given. There is no sudden decision that a group did not get it because of X, Y or Z. The decision is made that they just did not get it. When we hear that groups in Conservative-held ridings have no trouble getting money, we wonder where the money is coming from.
The other thing I want to say about the budget implementation act is that the government has determined it can add new stuff that was not in the budget. Not only were the issues dealing with the redefinition of what constitutes a danger, the removal of health and safety officers and replacing them with the minister, the changing of the arbitration for the civil service, but a redefinition of what constitutes a Supreme Court justice has been added, someone coming from Quebec. How is that in a budget bill? How is that something that we can think costs money? The Conservatives response, and I understand where they are coming from, but I do not like it, is that it is something that came up just recently, that they have to fix it really quick and that they can rush this thing through and get it done in a hurry.
There are a whole bunch of other things that came up just recently that have not been included in the bill but have to do with money, that have to do with budgets, that have to do with taxpayers and their pocketbooks. The Conservatives talked about them in the throne speech, but they are not here.
The throne speech talked about “pay to pay”. For those who do not know what that means, a cable TV or a cellphone subscriber with any of the big carriers in Canada has to by $2 to get a paper bill. If they do not have Internet to get their bill, they have to pay $2 and the government collects tax on that $2. No wonder it is delaying it because it wants to keep collecting that tax.
Most of the people affected by that are seniors who do not have access to the Internet, who do not have ready accessibility to electronic forms of payment. Not only that, even those people who have opted to get it electronically are now being told that if they want the detailed billing, they have to pay $3 to get it electronically, and the government will tax that. Therefore, there will 15¢ federally and in Ontario another 8¢ provincially going into the coffers of the government every time people pay their bill or accepts the bill in paper. The Conservatives promised to do something about that in the throne speech. Where is it? If they can do things really quick like this, why can they not put this in the budget implementation act?
There is no help for airline passengers. The Conservatives voted almost unanimously, if not unanimously, against Bill C-459, which would have provided a system to help airline passengers from the vagaries of the airlines bumping them off a flight. There was talk about that before the throne speech, but there is nothing in the throne speech or in the budget bill.
There is nothing in the budget bill that is a relief for the 200% increase in cable TV fares that have cable and satellite fees that have taken place since it was deregulated completely by the CRTC. In the throne speech the Conservatives did not even talk about that. They said that consumers would be able to pick and play whatever they want, but at a cost. If I pick a channel, it would cost me an arm and a leg. There is nothing in here for the pocketbook of the ordinary Canadian. If the Conservatives want to talk about pick and play, let us apply it to this legislation. We would like to pick and play those things that are good for Canadians and not have to vote against them, while we can vote against those things that are not good for Canadians. That is the kind of pick and play I would like to see.
We have no relief for bank fees. People from the Syme Seniors' Centre in my riding told me that just recently the banks told them that in order to get a printed statement of their bank account they would have to pay. It is a not-for-profit seniors centre that is trying to struggle through with whatever little money it can get from grants and the rest. It now has to pay to get that statement. It did not used to because it was a seniors centre. Now that it has to pay to get the statement, there is no relief. There is nothing in the budget bill that actually reduces those exorbitant bank fees.
We need to rethink how we do these budgets and not put things in a budget that have nothing to do with budgets.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on some of the key initiatives in economic action plan 2013 no. 2.
Our government remains focused on the economy and creating jobs, all while keeping taxes low and returning to balanced budgets. The key to success is balancing the efforts to support job creation and economic growth while respecting commitments to reduce deficits and return to balanced budgets over the medium term.
With the help of Canada's economic action plan, Canada has experienced one of the best economic performances among the G7 countries, both during the global recession and throughout the recovery. Canada has created over one million net new jobs, nearly 90% full time and nearly 85% private sector, since the depth of the global recession in July 2009. This is the strongest job growth record in the G7. Not only that, but both the IMF and the OECD project Canada to have among the strongest growth in the G7 in the years ahead. In fact, the OECD recently projected that Canada will lead the G7 in growth in 2013.
Our government is also committed to keeping taxes low. Unlike the high-tax NDP and Liberals, our Conservative government believes in low taxes and leaving more money where it belongs, in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families and job-creating businesses. Since 2006 we have cut taxes over 160 times, reducing the overall tax burden to its lowest level in 50 years. Our strong record of tax relief has meant savings for a typical family of four in 2013 of over $3,200. Unfortunately, the NDP opposition thinks that higher taxes are the answer.
Just a couple of weeks ago the NDP leader reconfirmed his party's plan to impose a crippling tax hike on job creators and the millions of Canadians they employ, even as they continue to cope with a challenging global economy. As if imposing a $20-billion carbon tax on Canadians was not enough, the NDP leader has another multi-billion dollar tax hike he wants to impose. At a time of global economic uncertainty the NDP wants to take over $10 billion each year out of the pockets of Canadian entrepreneurs and businesses to fund big, bloated government schemes. This punishing NDP tax hike would target job creators, especially small and medium-sized companies with a nearly 50% increase in their tax bills.
When I was very young I started working for my father who had his own hardware wholesale business. Small business taxes at that time were crippling for him. While he managed to stay in business for many years, he always appreciated it when governments understood that small businesses were not in the business of feeding the government coffers. Their business is to sell goods and to employ people.
My father ran his own business over the course of 35 years. The periods of greatest growth were during times when business tax rates were reasonable and low. Our current Minister of Finance and our government understand this and that is why we continue to support job-creating businesses, like the one that I worked for when I was younger.
Of course I did not have to apply for the job. I was given the job automatically because my father owned the business, but I still worked hard. The business did well when it was not all about red tape and spending many hours working out the calculations needed to pay that kind of debt to the government. That is why I want to talk about the small business advantages that we are giving them and the tax increases that would kill jobs and stall Canada's economy. Clearly, Canadians cannot afford these risky tax-and-spend schemes. Thankfully, as I said, our Conservative government understands that high taxes are not the answer.
Our government also understands the importance of general fiscal responsibility. Indeed, before the global recession hit, our Conservative government paid down $37 billion in debt, bringing Canada's debt to its lowest level in 25 years. This fiscal prudence and impressive debt reduction placed Canada in the best possible position to weather the global recession.
When the global recession hit, we were able to respond quickly and effectively with Canada's economic action plan. While other countries continue to struggle with debt that is spiralling out of control, Canada is in the best fiscal position of any G7 nation. In fact, our net to GDP ratio in 2012 was 34.6%, the lowest level among G7 countries, the second lowest being Germany at 57.2%. We can see the gap there. The G7 average is 90.4%.
While the NDP and Liberals want to engage in reckless spending, our government is on track to return to balanced budgets in 2015. Our plan to return to balanced budgets is working.
In 2012-13, the deficit fell to $18.9 billion. This was down by more than one-quarter from the deficit of $26.3 billion in 2011-12, and down by nearly two-thirds from the $55.6 billion deficit recorded in 2009-10. Our government's responsible spending of taxpayer dollars played an important part in these results with direct program expenses falling by 1.2% from the prior year, and by 3.8% from 2010-11.
Overall, measures taken by our Conservative government since budget 2010 will result in a total ongoing savings of roughly $14 billion. This legislation builds on this effort. Bill C-4 will phase out inefficient and ineffective tax subsidies. One example is the labour-sponsored venture capital corporations tax credit. Indeed, a number of independent experts have recognized this subsidy as being ineffective when it comes to creating jobs and supporting Canadian businesses.
Members should not take my word for it. I will tell them what others are saying about this tax credit, the labour-sponsored venture capital corporations tax credit.
A recent paper by the Montreal Economic Institute says:
All things considered, labour-sponsored funds are financial instruments that fulfill neither their economic objectives, namely to make venture capital available to help Quebec businesses, nor their financial objectives of offering a good return to contributors, their performance being interesting only by taking into account the additional tax credit.
Jack Mintz, a respected economist, said:
These credits have not only been ineffective in generating more venture capital, but they have also helped finance poor projects that should have never been funded in the first place.
He said that in 2012.
The C.D. Howe Institute also recognized that providing tax relief to these funds has been:
...a disappointing use of taxpayers’ money. Such funds have been shown in multiple studies, including this one, to do a poor job of achieving public policy aims.
That is from the C.D. Howe Institute E-Brief of September 2012.
I also want to talk about closing tax loopholes, which is contained in Bill C-4, loopholes and other schemes that only benefit a select few. Closing these loopholes is important because when everyone pays their fair share, our tax rates can be kept low, which makes Canada a more attractive place to work, save and invest.
In fact, since 2006 and including measures proposed in economic action plan 2013, our government has closed over 75 tax loopholes. This will result in $2.5 billion in additional revenues in 2013-14, and more than $2.6 billion in 2014-15. Indeed, the legislative proposals in budget 2013 to close tax loopholes are estimated to raise $100 million in revenue in 2013-14, rising to over $270 million in 2017-18, for a total of close to $1 billion over the next five years.
Shamefully, the NDP has voted against every single attempt by our government to close tax loopholes since 2006. I am not sure why it is doing that. I do not think they understand the importance of the one million jobs that have been created since the depth of the recession.
We understand there is still more work to be done and that Canada is not immune to the kinds of global challenges that come from beyond our borders. That is why we are so convinced that our job-creating measures are important and that we need to continue along this track. That is why I believe the legislation should go forward quickly.
The House may know that I had the good fortune to work with our esteemed Minister of Finance, who has won global accolades around the world for his work, his fiscal responsibility, his understanding of Canada's economy and for making sure that we are leading the G7 on so many indicators. It is difficult to be humble on his behalf. The Minister of Finance is, I believe, responsible in large part for the major credit rating agencies giving Canada a rock solid AAA credit rating. Moody's, Fitch, and Standard and Poor's have all given Canada this solid rating. It is something we take for granted. Canadians do not think about that every day. They are able to go about their business knowing that our economy is well looked after by the Conservative government and this Minister of Finance. It is important for Canadians to understand that our commitment to balance the budget by 2015 is an important one. It is ambitious, but we have made that commitment. Ultimately, it enables us to keep taxes low. We have cut taxes 160 times.
Earlier today my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre was talking about her family and the fact that she is not only a chartered accountant but a mother and that she appreciates the measures our government has taken on both of those fronts. I would say too that it is about helping families. We are looking at many countries in Europe that cannot afford to give tax breaks to families. They cannot afford to offer tax credits such as the children's fitness tax credit, which I have taken advantage of with my own children, the new children's arts tax credit and the universal child care tax benefit. These are the kinds of things that help families, putting money directly into their pockets so that they can use those funds for whatever they feel is necessary.
That is the kind of choice we like to provide to parents. We would not be able to do that if we did not have a strong economy. It is all about jobs, the economy and maintaining that long-term economic growth and prosperity. That is why I wanted to speak to the bill today, Canada's economic action plan.
If I might, I would like to compare that to something the Liberal leader said over the summer. I believe it was at the Liberals' caucus retreat. When asked when he would release his plan for Canada's economy, he said that it was too soon for him to be talking about the economy. He did not plan to release that for a long time, possibly a couple more years, maybe before the next election.
It is a good thing that the Liberal Party is the third party in the House, because I cannot imagine a prime minister without a plan for the economy. He has been the Liberal leader for many months now, since the beginning of the year, and he apparently needs a few more years to come up with an economic plan.
I am so proud that we have a Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance in Canada who already have a plan, and that plan is working.
I would be happy to take questions, if there is time, and talk about my support for job creation and this bill's support for job creation and Canada's economic action plan, which is working.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, who was member of our public accounts committee, where her skills as a former accountant and auditor certainly served the committee well.
I am pleased to take this opportunity to discuss the parliamentary budget office and our government's strong commitment to sound fiscal management and reporting.
Managing the nation's finances has become increasingly challenging in today's global economy, and we have proven that we are up to that challenge with each phase of our Conservative government's economic action plan. In particular, there have been a number of economic factors that required us to act. They include the global economic downturn and, more recently, the problems in the eurozone. At home, our economy faces demographic pressures, such as our aging population.
In this changing economy, the organizations that succeed are those that adapt and listen. The same is true in government. That is why members on this side of the House consult with Canadians each year and report to the Minister of Finance by helping him prepare the budget. In short, we are listening to Canadians.
I am pleased to say that our government has taken strong action to meet the evolving expectations of Canadians, whom we have consulted. We have taken a number of actions to be more responsive, transparent and accountable to Parliament and to Canadians since 2006. Canadians were tired of the old way of doing things and the old political model. That is why we promised the Federal Accountability Act as our first piece of legislation, and we delivered on our promise to Canadians. The act was the most sweeping anti-corruption legislation, following 13 years of Liberal corruption and mismanagement.
We are entrusted to operate and manage government for Canadians. We take that trust and responsibility seriously by respecting, in a wise and transparent manner, the hard-earned money that Canadian taxpayers have entrusted us with. One of the ways that our Conservative government took action to improve financial transparency was through a revamped reporting regime, including the creation of a non-partisan parliamentary budget office.
The range of services the government is responsible for is incredibly vast. We support our economic prosperity and competitiveness as a nation and we ensure public safety and security, as well as the well-being of our environment. However, those are just a couple of examples. There are many others. In each case, we make sure that Canadians are getting value for money and the accountability they expect and deserve from us.
One can imagine that the incredible scope of what we do brings some pretty unique reporting challenges. For one, the decision-making process can take time. The budget process, for example, starts months in advance and we hold extensive consultations with Canadians.
Earlier in the debate, a member of the NDP suggested that we were just starting the new budget cycle. That is not particularly accurate. As MPs, we have been consulting with constituents since December. We held budget round tables in January. Right now, we are just submitting to the finance minister some of the information that we gathered from these meetings.
What happens after the budget? First, we have to make sure that we read the budget. After we have done that, the next step is a budget implementation bill. That it is the part that takes all of the little components that have been described throughout the budget and includes them in legislation. We then see how the two tie together. For those people who took the time--and there were a few from the opposition who did, although not very many--to go to the technical briefings on budget implementation, they found out exactly why each of those things in the larger implementation bills fitted with the budget that had been presented. The first meeting lasted four hours and the second for six and a half hours. I am proud to say that I attended those. They gave me confidence to talk about our budget and to recognize that the items in it have been fully explained, and of which we should be proud.
All of this to say that our government operates within a very complex environment. However, this is still not an excuse to remain static. It just means that we must be that much more committed to taking the bold steps needed to transform how we serve Canadians and remain accountable to them.
That is exactly what our government has been doing. For example, we have strengthened the way we manage our financial resources and shown more accountability and transparency in reports, such as our quarterly financial reports.
Indeed, over the past few years the government has taken a number of steps to ensure that Parliament and Canadians are better informed about public spending. These include steps to improve financial reporting, which has vastly improved under our Conservative government. Specifically, for example, as I mentioned before, the government now prepares quarterly financial reporting on spending for departments, agencies and crown corporations. This requirement has been in place since April 2011. In doing so, we have taken a page from the private sector, where publicly traded companies have been required to publish quarterly financial reports for years. That is accountability. That is but one example of the government's leadership in supporting the work of parliamentarians as well as the work of independent bodies of Parliament such as the parliamentary budget office.
I would add that all public and some non-public reporting mechanisms are provided to the parliamentary budget office to support its efforts.
There are many other examples of our government's positive actions, which this motion gives us a chance to discuss and debate. Our Conservative government's leadership is clearly evident in the fact that the Public Accounts of Canada, which is one of the most important accountability documents prepared by the government, has consistently received a clean opinion by the Auditor General of Canada. The bottom line is that our government is as committed as ever to providing more timely and relevant information on many and varied activities to parliamentarians and Canadians.
The government is also committed to responding to all requests for information with the appropriate publicly available information. Our record on transparency and accountability speaks for itself. We have followed up on our commitments with concrete action to provide an open and honest government that hard-working Canadians expect and deserve.
It was this government that created the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. We still believe in its mandate, as created in the Federal Accountability Act.
While the tax-and-spend NDP might like to see a needlessly overgrown bureaucracy, our Conservative government believes that the current structure of the parliamentary budget office can provide quality non-partisan analysis while respecting taxpayers' dollars.
Mr. Speaker, new court records have confirmed that Elections Canada has seized Conservative phone records in 56 ridings. Voter suppression calls have been traced to the Conservatives' national campaign number.
Why will no minister touch this? Why will any of the MPs whose ridings are involved not speak up? When will they tell us what they know? The members for Winnipeg South Centre, Yukon, and Nipissing, when will the Conservatives come clean to Canadians, or are they waiting for the RCMP to once again raid their headquarters?
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre gave an excellent speech. In her opening remarks, she explained that she was a chartered accountant and also a mom, so she is used to balancing the books. She is used to watching the dollars, as most Canadian families do.
I want to ask her a question about the NDP's carbon tax. The NDP has been talking about this $21 billion tax. As members know the NDP is linked to the Broadbent Institute. It was really sad when, a while back, the Broadbent Institute said it wanted to increase green taxes, such as a carbon tax, and taxes on natural resources and more and more taxes, which could add up to over $30 billion.
I want to ask her this question, because she does have expertise in the financial sector. What would a $21 billion carbon tax, or the taxes with which the Broadbent Institute would like to shackle Canadians, do to the economy of Manitoba at this very important juncture in time?
The electoral district of Winnipeg South Centre (Manitoba) has a population of 78,286 with 59,444 registered voters and 162 polling divisions.
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