Speech on Budget 2011

Mr. Speaker, last week, the government released the 2011-12 budget and, once again, it falls short for Canadians. The government continues to give away billions of dollars to the most profitable corporations while moving ahead with $11 billion worth of cuts from programs and services that Canadians rely on.

Just recently, we heard of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans totalling $56.8 million this year alone. This means that habitat conservation and monitoring will suffer. Most disturbing was the announcement that the Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador search and rescue centres will be moved to Halifax, jeopardizing the lives of countless people who make their living on the sea.

As Fisheries and Oceans critic for Canada's New Democrats and the official opposition, I am very concerned that the budget does not even mention the word “salmon”, an iconic species in British Columbia that has faced many challenges over the last decade. I am concerned that with the cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it will become more difficult to protect our salmon and other aquatic species.

This budget contains little for the people of New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody. This budget does nothing to address the $574 million funding shortfall for the Evergreen Line. Many in my riding have dubbed this desperately needed transit project the “Nevergreen Line” as, after 20 years of delays, this line still has not come to fruition. As completion has again been pushed back to 2015. It is now being speculated that this may be the most delayed transportation project in the country. These delays are ridiculous.

People in the Tri-Cities are calling for the federal government to come back to the table, to sit down with the province and TransLink, our local government authority, and hash out a new funding formula that puts shovels in the ground this month. The Evergreen Line is the most pressing transportation infrastructure project in the Lower Mainland and, at the very least, deserves a mention in this budget.

The government's strategic and operating review reveals that Infrastructure Canada is cutting $45 million of green infrastructure funding, even as it stares down a $123 billion municipal infrastructure deficit in this country. The green infrastructure fund is imperative if we are to move forward with transit and other green building initiatives. As a former city councillor, I know too well the lack of funding that cities face. It is an uphill battle and we must do more to invest in our cities. This budget fails to do that.

However, I am not surprised. This budget also does nothing to address the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. Canadians want the government to take action on climate change. The federal government needs to follow a path to lower carbon emissions. The government has consistently failed with regard to this environmental file.

Canada's New Democrats have proposed several initiatives that the government could take to demonstrate its commitment on this issue. The NDP has a plan to cap carbon, putting a price on carbon and establishing hard emission limits for Canada's largest polluters.

We have also put forward the climate change accountability act. In fact, it was re-introduced today by my hon. colleague, the member for Halifax. It would ensure that Canada meets the long-term target of reducing our greenhouse emissions to 80% below that of 1990 levels by the year 2050 and set interim targets between 2015 and 2045.

Canada's New Democrats also would like to see more emphasis on green and renewable energy. Canada could become a leader in this field if we dedicated the resources to developing it. Rather than subsidizing big oil, we should help businesses that are committed to making green investment. We could use the money that the government gives to large oil companies to invest in transit, household energy, conservation and renewable energy development.

One thing I will commend the Conservative government for is the renewal of the eco-energy retrofit program. I stood in the House in February of this year and called on the government to reinstate the program. The eco-energy retrofit program not only created jobs but helped working families make needed improvements to their homes. I am pleased that the Conservative government listened to the NDP and brought this program back. I think the Conservatives would do well to build and expand on this program.

When Canadians are asked what issue is most important to them, many say that it is health care. At the beginning of March, Canadians were horrified to hear of patients at the Royal Columbian Hospital in my riding being treated in a Tim Hortons donut shop. The Royal Columbian Hospital has been at the centre of several patient horror stories since it was forced to drastically increase its capacity in 2004 when Saint Mary's Hospital in New Westminster was shut down.

The federal government cannot sit back. It is time to act. It is time to protect our public health care system and provide adequate funding.

This budget does nothing to help front line health care workers. Too many Canadians are without a family doctor. I hear from people in my riding who cannot find a doctor who will take their family on and, instead, must rely on walk-in clinics with long wait lines, or use the emergency room, which is a very expensive way to provide health care.

Canada's New Democrats are calling on the federal government to invest in public health care and to invest in the training and hiring of 1,200 new doctors and 6,000 new nurses, which would lessen the load in hospitals and save millions in health care costs in the long run.

The health care system faces many challenges and New Democrats have proposed solutions, such as a national pharmacare program so that people can get the medication they need at an affordable cost; and appropriate home care service so that seniors can d stay in their home when they face chronic health care problems.

New Westminster--Coquitlam and Port Moody is a diverse riding, but one issue I hear consistently is that it is becoming more and more difficult to make ends meet. I am talking about affordability. My riding is home to many seniors and some live in poverty. Seniors living in poverty after working their whole lives building this country is unacceptable.

This budget provides only a $300 million per year increase to the GIS. That is only $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This is less than half of what is needed to pull every Canadian senior out of poverty. It would not take much and it would go a very long way to help the seniors in this country to live in dignity. It is shameful that the government continues to provide corporate tax cuts and subsidize oil and gas companies when seniors in this country are living in poverty.

The Lower Mainland is one of the most expensive places to live and yet this budget fails to invest in affordable housing. Among all the world's major metropolitan areas, Vancouver has been ranked the third least affordable city. Residents across the Lower Mainland, including my constituents, struggle to secure safe, affordable housing. When will the government wake up and face the realities of the average Canadian, including the affordable housing struggle?

As we all know, the government made a backroom deal with B.C.'s provincial government to impose the harmonized sales tax, effectively shifting the tax burden from corporations to individuals. Hard-working citizens have been hard hit with this new tax, paying upwards of $800 in additional taxes each year. Many seniors in my riding have written to express to me their frustration at how the HST has affected their already strained pocketbooks.

Instead of acknowledging their role in implementing this much hated tax, the federal government has shrugged off responsibility onto the provincial government. British Columbians know better and deserve better from the government.