In Debate: Budget Implementation-failing on job creation and poverty reduction

Mr. Speaker, this budget implementation bill we are debating is disappointing.

We need a budget that is creative, has foresight, and addresses not only the needs of today but the needs of the future. It is crucial that we build a sound budget that will help promote and create jobs today, and a budget that addresses the needs of our aging population and the fiscal challenges that poses.

With its continued focus on corporate tax cuts instead of job creation, this budget is not what Canadian families need right now, or ever. The Conservatives have no workable plan for fixing front-line health care, strengthening public pensions, rewarding businesses that create jobs, or introducing practical measures to take the strain off the family budget. The government's budget does not forward the initiative to lift every senior out of poverty.

I would like to remind the Minister of Finance that my motion which passed unanimously in this House in June stated:

That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.

This budget implementation bill has failed to take that motion into account despite its unanimous passage. It seems that the government is only willing to pay lip service to democracy and the seniors struggling to make ends meet.

The government agenda is clear: go full steam ahead and cut $11 billion from programs and services Canadians rely on, underfund important programs, and continue to cater to big business with corporate tax cuts.

I wish to be clear. The money was readily available. We had the money to lift seniors out of poverty in the present and the money to address additional expenses the government will face in the future as our population continues to age. Instead of investing in Canada, the Conservatives chose to saddle the treasury and Canadians with corporate tax giveaways that will not guarantee one new job.

The Conservatives will continue with their corporate tax giveaways. On January 1, 2012, they will hand over an additional $2 billion to the most profitable corporations. Let me say that figure again, $2 billion.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer's mandate is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation's finances, the government's estimates, and trends in the Canadian economy. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's analysis found that the corporate tax cuts will cost the government $11.5 billion over three years, $11.5 billion with no guarantee of a single new job. Imagine the help to poor seniors and the supports for job creation $11.5 billion could achieve.

Jobs are a priority. They are a priority in my riding. London has the highest unemployment rate in Canada. It has been repeatedly hit with the downturn in the manufacturing sector, changes in the insurance industry, and of course, the collapse of the North American auto sector.

This budget does very little to help Londoners recover from all the job losses in our community. There are no specific measures to help the automotive sector, no plan to help families hit with rising costs due to the HST, and no changes to EI to help ease the burden on families struggling to find work. Over the next five years EI premiums will exceed benefits by $15 billion. We can afford to help unemployed workers and their families.

I know federal development Ontario has $20 million over the next two years to renew the eastern Ontario development program, but that money is spread all over the region. I worry that Londoners in southwestern Ontario will again get the short end of the stick.

I would like to add that Londoners are not the exception. Despite the Conservatives' claims around job creation, we have 300,000 more unemployed people since before the recession. I would point out that the overwhelming proportion of jobs created were part-time.

The number of involuntary part-time workers is now over 500,000. A person cannot raise a family on part-time work. A person cannot save for retirement on part-time work. A person cannot stimulate the economy on part-time work.

I repeat, the budget fails to make life more affordable for London families still struggling to recover from the effects of the recession.

The tax breaks to big business are a frightening precedent. It means a serious decrease in revenue for the federal government of close to $12 billion and will have profound ramifications in the future. This forfeited money is needed to address the decreasing tax base as more and more of our population become seniors and begin to retire. This presents a very real problem as the amount of revenue for the government decreases while demand for services continues to rise.

Those who are seniors today will not benefit as they should from the budget. The government heralds its increase to the guaranteed income supplement, yet that money is nowhere near enough. The budget provides $300 million per year for a small increase to the GIS: $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This is less than half of what New Democrats asked for and it will not come close to pulling every Canadian senior out of poverty.

The government's solution to seniors' poverty and seniors' access to resources is to offer tax breaks and trumpet the new horizons program. Both fall far short of what we really need: investment in home care; investment in pharmacare; increased access to resources; appropriate and affordable housing; and investment in geriatric studies. Investments in our community and in our families are what we need, not corporate tax breaks.

Most seniors cannot afford to cash in on the promised tax breaks in the budget because they do not earn enough. I am not sure how to make this any clearer to the members sitting opposite. The people who are struggling the most--seniors, single mothers, those who have lost their jobs--are the people for whom the government should provide help. The government has an obligation to help. Tax credits are of little use to the unemployed, the working poor and those struggling on pensions. They do not have the money to spend to get the credit, or they do not pay enough in taxes to qualify.

The new horizons program is the only investment the government is making in our seniors. There is so much more and much smarter ways to invest tax dollars to ensure our seniors are lifted out of poverty, have access to resources available to them, and are able to choose where they want to live. Dignity in retirement should be a right, not a privilege.

Our actions now will have an impact on how we treat our seniors in the future. If we fail to invest and make plans for the aging population, it is our own retirement that will be in jeopardy. Future seniors will not have the choice to age in their homes, will not have access to the care that is required.

There are many low or no cost ways to address seniors' poverty and these can be found in the government's own reports. In 2005, the National Advisory Council on Aging published its report, “Aging in Poverty in Canada”. It made many recommendations.

It recommended that the federal government increase the guaranteed income supplement to at least the low income cutoffs recognized by Statistics Canada.

It recommended that the federal government continue to increase its efforts to reach the number of people eligible for old age security and Canada pension plan benefits but who fail to apply for them.

It recommended that the government make public the number of eligible seniors who have not applied for the various program benefits and allow full retroactive benefits, plus interest, when someone applies late under the Canada pension plan since it is a contribution-based program.

It recommended that the federal government cease suspending guaranteed income supplement, allowance and survivor allowance benefits when tax returns are filed late or when renewal forms are not submitted. It recommended that the federal government instead increase its efforts to encourage renewal by sending reminders over a six-month period before reducing monthly benefits by 10%.

It recommended that the federal government allow seniors to earn an income of 10% of the benefits received by the old age security program before reducing the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance.

It recommended that the federal government and other levels of government increase their financial investment in social housing for seniors. It recommended that governments need to ensure that accommodation rates for residents of long-term care establishments do not exceed current market prices for similar room and board services in the local community.

It recommended that the government must also ensure automatic and compulsory sharing of pension rights under the Canada pension plan, employer pension funds, and retirement savings plans following divorce or legal separation.

In conclusion, by investing in our seniors now and by investing in job creation for all Canadians, we will be helping not only today's seniors but the people of the future.