In Debate: Bill C-60 Further Undermines Seniors, Small Business and Working Families

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to this so-called budget bill. This Conservative omnibus bill goes far beyond any legitimate budget implementation. It contains an entirely new department of foreign affairs act and would amend nearly 50 pieces of legislation. This is the Conservatives third attempt to avoid public scrutiny and proper parliamentary consideration of their proposals.

    By tabling such an unwieldy and wide-ranging bill, with such a short timeframe for deliberations, the government is not only trying to deny both Parliament and the public the chance to study the implications of these sweeping changes but is undermining democracy.

   It is interesting to note that the Conservatives claim that this legislation would lead to growth in the Canadian economy. In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that this last year's trifecta of budget bills and fiscal upgrades would lead to a loss of 67,000 jobs. The PBO predicts that the unemployment rate will remain stagnant at over 7%.

    In my own city of London, the unemployment rate sits at more than 9%, with little hope of improvement in the near future. Families are suffering. Small and medium businesses are suffering. The community is facing real hardship, and the Conservative government is without any meaningful remedies. We hear a great deal of high talk from the Conservatives, and we certainly see their expensive action plan commercials, but we have not seen any creative or innovative ideas when it comes to economic stimulus and relief for communities such as mine.

   Bill C-60 contains nothing to make these economic conditions more manageable for families. There are no job creation measures, yet there are tax hikes on everything from hospital parking to credit unions. Those tax hikes for individuals will cost Canadians over $8 billion. Additionally, the Conservatives are raising tariffs on over 1,200 goods by $333 million but are doing nothing to ease record levels of household debt.

  The Caledon Institute, in its budget analysis, notes that good jobs have disappeared in Canada. We know that. I am going to quote from the institute report:

The decline of manufacturing has meant the loss in the past 10 years of more than 700,000 better-paying jobs that typically came with decent benefits and pensions. Its demise has contributed to the hollowing out of the middle class not only in Canada but throughout the developed world.

    The only government response to problems in the manufacturing sector has been austerity, cuts to programs and belt tightening. Sadly, these austerity measures have not worked. Around the world, austerity has only led to deeper recession, and here in Canada, the unnecessary focus on the deficit has resulted in a sluggish economy.

     An article in The Economist said that the government's plan, which relies on spending restraint and unusually high revenue growth, is seen by many as wishful thinking.

     Carol Goar, writing in the Toronto Star , said:

Since he [the Minister of Finance] began chopping programs and expenditures, the economy has drooped, the job market has sagged, consumers have pulled back and the corporate sector has hunkered down, sitting on its earnings. The same formula has delivered worse results in Europe.

     The federal government has the opportunity to avoid the disastrous consequences of austerity to jump-start the economy and make a long-term investment in our social, economic and environmental future. Instead, the Conservative budget plan offers a host of proposals that will only weaken families, workers, the environment and seniors.

    Seniors are often vulnerable to even the best of economic climates. This legislation would do nothing to address the retirement security of those who face a loss of their savings.

    In a previous budget bill, the government made changes to old age security and GIS and raised the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67. The receipt of GIS and OAS has a critical impact on poor seniors in this country. By raising the age of eligibility, the government is callously denying those who are struggling at hard, physically demanding jobs and those trying to manage on provincial support programs any hope of a dignified retirement at age 65.

    In this budget, Conservatives offer only a vague and unexplained reference to low-cost and secure pension options. Instead of raising the GIS to ensure every senior is lifted out of poverty, or opening up the CPP/QPP to allow seniors to increase their savings, the Conservative budget would implement the kinds of policies that are of no real value to the retirees of this country. The Conservatives' pooled registered pension plan does little to help with pension savings for the vast majority of Canadians.

    Although numerous organizations, from the United Nations to Statistics Canada, have released reports emphasizing the need to address affordable housing and poverty issues for seniors, this budget makes no mention of either of those. In point of fact, the Conservative government has absolutely no interest in the lack of affordable housing in Canada, and even less interest in the fact that more than 250,000 seniors live in poverty.

     By contrast, the budget bill before us has several measures to improve the government's ability to catch CPP/QPP overpayments and ensure the government is able to recover that money. While the recovery of inappropriate payments is a good thing, we need look no further than the controversy surrounding certain senators. I am concerned that, on the other hand, the government is failing to ensure that Canadians have access to money owed to them. The Social Security Tribunal set up by the government is not only rife with partisan appointments, but many fear the reduced number of tribunal members will make it painfully slow in its decision making, leaving poor people waiting and waiting.

     The Conservatives seem to have the attitude that the taxpayers are out to cheat the government, and that must end. I believe that the government should be serving the taxpayer and that our priority should be to ensure that Canadians are receiving the benefits and services they require and have earned. It is a good thing to ensure that overpayments are recovered, but not without ensuring that those who are slipping through the cracks are caught and helped as well.

    I would also like to highlight here the pension income splitting that the Conservatives introduced in a previous budget. The Caledon Institute of Social Policy stated:

The Budget also pats itself on the back for the pension income splitting provision, a very expensive ($920 million) and regressive tax break introduced in 2007 that favours wealthy senior couples. A senior couple with a modest private pension of $20,000 a year will realize a grand total of $310 in federal income tax savings as a result of income splitting. For a couple with $30,000 in pension income, the savings increase to $802. However, a well-to-do couple with $100,000 in pension income will see a tax reduction of $7,280 — more than nine times that of a couple with $30,000 in pension income, and more than 23 times that of a couple with $20,000 in private pension income.

     And what of single seniors? There are many single women and men who are unable to benefit at all. I would also like to highlight that seniors are still living in poverty in this country. Those particularly affected are single senior women who tend to have significantly less pension savings. We can and should do more for those living out their senior years making the tough choices between housing, food and medication. It is shameful that this budget would do nothing to address the poverty faced by seniors in Canada.

     In fact, the priorities of the Conservative government seem out of touch with the priorities of many Canadians. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives provides a good example of how exactly to remedy the lack of good public policy. It calls on the Conservatives to address poverty in a meaningful way by prioritizing improvements in the incomes of all low-income and middle-income households, better public pensions, higher minimum wages, the widespread adoption of living wage policies; and improving support for the ill, the unemployed, the young and the old.

    This is a travesty of a budget. That is the best I can say of it. It borders on neglect for those who need support the most.

     As members can see, there is a good deal more to this budget bill than just budget making. It would go far beyond anything that is legitimate, and I have to question it. I have to say that it is deceptive, it lacks transparency and I hope in 2015 Canadians will hold the Conservative government to account.

 Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, in a way, it is not surprising to hear the negativity from the other side when we consider that opposition members go to the States and talk down our economy.

    I am very much aware of the fact that the city the member comes from is experiencing one of the highest unemployment rates in history. I would think that the member would be concerned about creating jobs, especially for young people. Yet, Liberals are saying they are going to oppose the budget when it offers all kinds of opportunity for job creation.

    I want to quote Mike Holmes with relation to Skills Canada. He stated:

Actually, (I’m) very satisfied. I mean, to hear the $47 billion go into infrastructure which, one, we need--we need to fix the bridges, the roads--two, to help the young get into the trades, a $15,000 per person tax benefit. I mean, this is a move in the right direction. We’re going to encourage the young to get into the trades and we have jobs for them to do. In the long run they’re all going to be working for many years and the government is going to be receiving tax dollars. This is a win-win.

    My question, very simply, is this. Why would opposition members, especially this member from a high unemployment area, continue to work against the very thing our government has been trying to do: encourage youth to get into the skills trades and find meaningful employment?

 Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, you may have noted that when I began my speech, I spoke about talk, talk, talk, with no action. We are not seeing anything that is tangible and real.

     Yes, of course, there is unemployment in my town, thanks very much to the lack of action of the government. When Electro-Motive Diesel and Caterpillar threatened workers with a 50% reduction in pensions, wages and benefits, the government sat on its hands. Yes, there is unemployment because the government continues to sit on its hands.

    About a month ago, I visited one of the employers in my riding, Great Lakes Copper. It is managing. It does remarkable work and has a very strong workforce of about 300 people. It pays decent wages and provides benefits. However, it told me that the government allows the dumping of cheap copper into the Canadian market. There is no support or help for entities like Great Lakes Copper, and no practical training either. Within that particular manufacturing facility, multiple skills are required, and the government has provided nothing with regard to the multi-skilled levels for companies like Great Lakes Copper. Conservatives can talk, and they do talk, but I want to see some action.

 Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it was just over a year ago when we heard that the Conservative government was going to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67. The member made reference to poverty and many seniors are in a poverty situation. When one looks at the budget we are talking about today, the fact that there is really—

 The Deputy Speaker:   On a point of order, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

 Mr. Harold Albrecht:  Mr. Speaker, there is no truth to the concept that this government is increasing the age of retirement. I would ask my colleague to retract that statement.

 The Deputy Speaker:  That is not a point of order. That is obviously a question of debate.

    Resuming questions and comments with the member for Winnipeg North.

 Mr. Kevin Lamoureux:  

    Mr. Speaker, if the Conservative member gets in touch with his caucus, he will find out that, in fact, the age is being increased from 65 to 67. Anyone who is 52 years of age and younger is going to feel that impact.

    Pensionable incomes are one way that people are able to afford to live after retirement. Does the member find there is anything within this budget that would provide any hope that the government is going to deal with that particular issue?

 Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, indeed the age of eligibility for OAS-GIS has increased to 67. This is extremely difficult for people who do jobs that require hard labour or who are dependent upon provincial programs. The government did not discuss any of that with the provinces or with pension providers.

     The truth is that this country can afford to look after its seniors. The OECD, Bernard Dussault and Kevin Page have made it very clear that the GDP will increase on a par with the number of seniors and we can indeed maintain the age of eligibility at 65.