In Debate: C-43 Omnibus Budget Implementation

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, here we are again standing in the House and talking about another omnibus budget bill designed to ram through hundreds of changes with little study or oversight, and without consultation and, I would say, without the consent of Canadians. Canadians do not trust the Conservative government any more, thanks to draconian bills, secret cabinet meetings, the muzzling of scientists, and the continual stifling of our democracy.

    These policies are anything but transparent, as the Conservatives had promised when they were first elected. I am sure that we remember the first Conservative bill, the Federal Accountability Act. Accountability is dead because we have before us Bill C-43, another long bill, in this case consisting 460 pages, with 400 clauses, and dozens of amendments to acts that include a variety of measures that were never mentioned in the budget speech.

    The point of electing MPs from across the country and from a variety of political parties is to ensure that there is oversight and democratic governance. These omnibus budget bills mock the very principles that Canadians hold dear. It behooves the government to allow MPs to take the time to study the bill to ensure that due diligence and oversight are respected. After all, does oversight not remain the cornerstone of our democratic system?

    It is not just New Democrats calling for oversight. In 2002, the OECD report entitled, “Best Practices for Budget Transparency”, stated that draft budgets should be submitted to Parliament no less than three months prior to the start of the fiscal year. It also noted that budgets should include a detailed commentary on each revenue and expenditure program, comparative information on actual revenue and expenditure during the past year, and an updated forecast for the current year should also be provided for each program. None of these practices are currently followed in Canada. If these guidelines were followed, I believe we would have a much more democratic process, one that we could all be proud of and follow with security.

    Sadly, as I have said, I am afraid democracy will once again get the short end of the stick and this bill will be rammed through the House. The government has the numbers and has consistently rejected NDP amendments and failed to listen to Canadians. The quick passing of omnibus bills is problematic. There are many issues in this particular bill that absolutely must be addressed and weighed by parliamentarians. Tragically, the bill in front of us is an overt and outright attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, particularly unemployed Canadians, who will not be helped by the implementation of the so-called job credit.

    This proposal has already been panned by experts like the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who called it wasteful and extraordinarily expensive. Mike Moffatt from the Ivey school of business at the University of Western Ontario said that “the proposed ‘Small Business Job Credit’ has major structural flaws that, in many cases, give firms an incentive to fire workers and cut salaries”. He went on to say:

 

 

    The way this...system is designed is that the maximum benefit a company can receive from firing a worker and going under the $15,000 threshold far exceeds the maximum benefit a small business can receive from hiring an additional workers.

 

    As we know, this measure will take $550 million from the EI fund. It should have been subjected to serious scrutiny by the government, but, as we have come to expect, the Conservatives ignored analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer and never sought detailed analysis of the real job impacts from the Department of Finance. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that the program would create about 800 jobs, maximum, despite its enormous price. As I mentioned, economists such as Mike Moffatt have written that the proposal actually gives employers a greater incentive to fire workers than hire them.

    I cannot in good conscience support a bill that would actually give employers a reason to fire employees instead of permanently hire them. That is exactly what Bill C-43 would do. Quite literally, it attacks the unemployed and the very vulnerable people that this country has promised to protect.

    The provisions in this budget implementation act would allow provinces to impose residency requirements on people without permanent status and would deny refugee claimants and those without permanent status in Canada the ability to obtain the most basic social assistance. After the Conservative cuts to refugee health, which are just beyond the pale, the current government continues to attack some of the most vulnerable people in Canada in the name of saving a few dollars. It is absolutely unconscionable.

    Let us not forget that the Conservatives are promising a false balanced budget. To get to their so-called balance, they are cutting provincial health transfers by $36 billion. That smacks of the missing EI funds that we saw not very long ago, and all of this would have a very negative impact on Canadians.

    This bill also includes an amendment to the Aeronautics Act that would allow the Minister of Transport to prohibit any development of or change to an aerodrome in Canada that he or she feels is not in the public interest. That means that any airport of any size anywhere in Canada would be subject to a veto by the Minister of Transport. I must say that I do not have a great deal of faith in these ministers. I have constituents who are very angry about this and rightly so. This is yet another attempt by the Conservatives to centralize more power in the hands of the Prime Minister and cabinet, and it is the absolute antithesis of democracy.

    I am happy to say that there are a few aspects of the bill that have some positive implications.

     It is good, for example, to see that the NDP's long-standing proposal to end pay-to-pay billing by telecommunications and broadcasting companies is in the bill. We will have to see if it actually goes anywhere. I have heard many complaints from seniors from across the country about this unfair charge to receive a paper bill, and I am pleased that the change was included. However, the change falls short and fails to live up to the promise the Conservatives made to end unfair gouging by the banks. Like so much the current government does, it is just another half measure.

    The bill also includes measures to address a major appeals backlog at the Social Security Tribunal by allowing for more tribunal members. I am pleased to see this. The backlog is absolutely unacceptable. It has hurt a lot of very vulnerable people—I have heard the stories—and I am hopeful that the backlog will be tackled. However, there would not have been a backlog if the government had not decimated the tribunal in the first place.

    I wish I had more positive things to say about Bill C-43, but I am afraid I do not.

     There are a lot of good things that the government could have done with this bill, things that would have helped Canadians find jobs and make life more affordable. Those are things like a pan-Canadian childcare program that would ensure that families had access to quality childcare at $15 a day. That is the kind of thing that boosts a community, helps families, and sparks the economy.

     The government could also develop a strategy to deal with persistent youth unemployment. It could implement a youth hiring and training credit. The Conservatives did not do it, and unfortunately the youth of this country are going to suffer as a result.

    They could have phased out the billion-dollar subsidies for the oil and gas sector. Imagine having a billion dollars to invest in the security of our seniors and in job creation for our youth. Imagine that money redirected into health care.

    I am very sorry to say that none of those things have been addressed by the government. The Conservatives could have done some good, finally. They chose not to, and I am very sorry about that.

 

Mr. Mike Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague did talk a bit toward the end about youth employment. Certainly as part of our study in the finance committee on youth employment, we did see that it is a stubborn issue that has been a real challenge over the past number of decades. One of the things that we talked about in committee was the idea that too few of our young people were encouraged to go into the trades, which have a somewhat negative stigma to them. Unfortunately, as a result of that, we have missed a generation of tradespeople who are not available to do work in our country right now.

    One of the provisions of the budget would extend the existing tax credit for interest paid on student loans to interest paid on a Canada apprentice loan. Does the member not believe this is a great thing for young people, in order for them to pursue a trades education and to be able to provide people for the work that we are going to have to do in the future, in particular construction work and that type of thing? Does she not believe that is a good initiative in this budget?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, supporting the trades and youth is critical. When I taught in London, Ontario, one of the travesties of the situation that I encountered was this undermining of the trades, or this sense they were somehow of lesser value to the economy. We know that is not the case.

    I have not seen a great deal of positives from the Conservative government, or from the previous government. It very much seems that in cutting their transfers for post-secondary education, they were more interested in balancing budgets or doing whatever it was they thought they were doing.

    This gives me an opportunity to do a little bragging. Fanshawe College is my riding. Right now, it is developing programs in conjunction with local businesses to support the development of the region and job creation. They are using the expertise of the college and its staff to have an impact on student and regional jobs, and technologies. Will the government support that? I am waiting.

 

Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from London—Fanshawe for her speech.

    Once again, unlike most of the government members, she focused her comments around items that were actually in the budget bill.

    She pointed out many problems with this bill. I would like to know what she thinks of the aspects dealing with the much-touted tax credit for small businesses, which is really more like a premium holiday, given that it is being offered through the surplus in the employment insurance fund. That surplus was achieved largely by making it harder for contributors to access EI benefits.