Speech on Budget 2012

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in opposition of Bill C-38. As the Conservatives' first budget as a majority government, the budget implementation act serves as a road map to the government's priority for these four years. Let me say that the future does not look very green.

The biggest theme I drew from this budget is the government's focus on large industrial projects as the key to Canada's economic success. Behind the guise of such words as “streamlining” and “modernization”, the government is stripping away long-standing protections for our environment from short-sighted, unsustainable development projects such as, for instance, the Enbridge pipeline proposal.

One-third of the budget implementation act is dedicated to gutting environmental laws that protect Canada's fisheries, rivers, oceans and ecosystems. With the stroke of a pen, the government would eliminate decades of progress, condemning future generations to deal with its mess.

I would like to speak on the changes to the Fisheries Act the Conservative government is attempting to sneak through in this Trojan Horse budget implementation act. These changes are an undemocratic and egregious abuse of power that would do permanent harm to the ecosystem and to Canada's fisheries.

Let us make no mistake: these are radical and dangerous changes. Rather than prohibiting the harmful alteration, disruption and destruction of fish habitat, it would narrow habitat protection to apply to those activities that would harm “...fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery”. The Conservative government does not seem to understand the concept of an ecosystem or biodiversity. If the Conservatives did, they would know that they cannot protect only one species of fish and forsake the others.

The Conservatives would like Canadians to think that they care about creating jobs, yet Western Economic Diversification Canada would be cut by $16.3 million by 2015. Our economy in western Canada is still facing economic challenges, and we need Western Economic Diversification Canada to assist in the development of new industry and jobs. Downturns in commodity prices generally lead to volatility in western Canada, particularly in forestry, agriculture and manufacturing. Canada's New Democrats believe we should invest more in research and development, encourage more participation by aboriginal peoples and get people properly trained for jobs for the future.

For months I have heard from constituents who are furious with the government for raising the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. Canadians understand that our demographics are changing, but these negative changes to OAS are motivated not by statistics but by ideology.

Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and the old age security program is sustainable in the long term. Seniors who would be hit hardest by these changes are those who have worked all their lives for modest incomes at jobs that often take a toll on their bodies. Instead of raising the age of retirement, Canada's New Democrats continue to put forward practical solutions that would strengthen Canadians' retirement security. We propose working with the provinces to increase CPP, with the goal of eventually doubling benefits. We also propose increasing the guaranteed income supplement. This measure alone would immediately lift every senior in Canada out of poverty.

I have also heard from constituents who believe that the government's move to eliminate all funding for Katimavik is short-sighted. Past participants have written to me to describe the multitude of economic and social benefits that this program brings to communities across Canada. The government's cuts to youth programming come at a time when the youth unemployment rate in Canada remains at over 14%. That is double the national average.

Budget 2012 also outlines millions of dollars in cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, including the elimination of 100 food inspection positions. Canada's New Democrats are calling for the reversal of these cuts so that Canadian consumers can be assured that their food is safe to eat.

Despite repeated election promises to maintain support for our public broadcaster, the Conservatives are cutting CBC's budget by almost 10%. These deep cuts will result in significant programming cuts and hundreds of jobs lost. More troubling is the government's move to weaken the public pillars of Canadian culture rather than to invest in a more vibrant, innovative and creative future.

In my riding, constituents remain concerned about chronic overcrowding in the ERs of Royal Columbian Hospital and Eagle Ridge Hospital, as well as long surgery wait times and expensive prescription costs. They look to their federal government to provide leadership by enforcing national health care standards and implementing long-awaited reforms. Instead, the government seems more concerned with downloading responsibilities to the provinces and territories, which will inevitably result in increasing disparities in the quality of health care among the provinces and territories.

Small businesses are also looking to the federal government for leadership. While I was pleased to see that budget 2012 extended the hiring credit for small businesses, more needs to be done to ensure small and medium-sized businesses continue to be the job-creating engine of our economy. I have been consulting with small businesses in my riding; they overwhelmingly support an overhaul to regulations governing credit card processing fees. It is time to make the system more fair and more transparent.

I have heard from constituents who continue to be frustrated by the lack of adequate public transportation infrastructure in our communities. While the federal government continues to ignore this vital issue, cities across our country lack a mechanism for sustainable, predictable and long-term funding. Canada's New Democrats propose a national public transit strategy as well as immediately allocating another cent of the existing gas tax to public transit funding for municipalities.

Let us focus on getting more cars off the road and reducing commuter-caused pollution by ensuring municipalities have the tools they need to build public transit systems that are forward-thinking and that contribute to building healthy, sustainable communities.

While our economy is said to be in recovery, many Canadians remain unemployed or underemployed. The majority of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque and work hard to make their monthly budgets balance. Those who are close to retirement are worried about the security of their pensions and are upset at the government for mandating them to spend two additional years of their lives working.

As managers of the public purse, the Conservatives have shrunk national revenues by slashing the corporate tax rate to 15% and subsidizing the heavily polluting and highly profitable oil and gas sector. On the other hand, in the past few weeks Canadians have learned more about the Conservative government's secretive plan to spend some $30 billion on F-35 fighter jets, as opposed to the $10 billion figure quoted by the Conservatives in the last election.

Canada's New Democrats believe the Conservatives' spending priorities are out of line with the priorities of Canadians, which include ensuring the viability of the public services Canadians rely on, such as universal public health care, a strong pension system, affordable advanced education and a healthy environment.

It is time to address the growing inequality we see in our schools, our neighbourhoods and our cities. It is time to stop sacrificing the long-term economic, environmental and social health of our country in order to achieve short-term economic gains.

Budget 2012 makes it clear that the majority Conservative government has no intention of addressing these pressing issues. I will be voting against the implementation of budget 2012, and in doing so, I believe I will be reflecting the majority views of my constituents.