Speech on Budget 2013

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-60 on the budget implementation act.

I would like to focus my speech on the issues, concerns and priorities raised by my constituents during my annual pre-budget consultations. As a member of Parliament, I take seriously my job to represent my constituents' voices in Ottawa. In March of this year, I hosted four town hall meetings: one in Port Moody, one in Coquitlam, one in New Westminster, and a final one by telephone. I also meet with all three mayors and councils in my riding, as I believe it is important to also listen to their priorities and concerns. I also sent out a survey to every household in the riding, asking constituents for their input on spending priorities and economic concerns. In total, I engaged thousands of constituents on what they would like to see in this year's budget.

My constituents' number one priority is health care. I believe Canadians are proud of our health care system, which is the envy of countries around the world. However, we also recognize the importance of ensuring health care remains universally accessible and properly funded. I hear far too many stories from people who have to wait months on end to see a specialist or to receive a vital surgery. The government's hands-off approach to health care is unacceptable. Instead of working with the provinces and territories to address the challenges facing our health care system, the current government unilaterally imposed a funding scheme that actually sees federal health care transfers decrease in the long term.

The high cost of prescriptions is another issue of serious concern, particularly for seniors who must also balance the realities of shrinking pensions and the shortage of affordable housing options. The current government's track record on support for Canada's seniors is dismal. The Conservatives' scheme to raise the age of retirement for the old age security from 65 to 67 years of age is disgraceful.

I also heard from a number of constituents who are frustrated with trying to find quality, affordable child care. Canada's New Democrats understand that a comprehensive national solution is required. That is why we are proposing, with the provinces and the territories, to establish and fund a Canada-wide child care and early learning program.

Another troubling issue we are seeing across our country is youth unemployment rates, which remain stubbornly high, at 13.5% for those under 25, compared to 7% for those over 25. Let us not forget that many students coming out of post-secondary education are saddled with record-high levels of student debt. Where are the jobs of tomorrow? Where are the quality jobs that enable people to support a family or pay down student debt or save for a down payment or save for retirement? Quality full-time jobs are disappearing at an alarming rate, and we are not seeing this issue get the attention it deserves in this budget.

I will take a moment to credit some of the great small businesses operating in my riding, like Resonance Technology, an innovative company on the cutting edge of new technologies. Companies like this are at the forefront of our economy, driving growth and creating jobs. We need more of this. Unfortunately, the reality is that income levels for average Canadians have stagnated while the cost of living continues to increase. From food prices and housing costs to MSP premiums and bridge tolls, British Columbians have been feeling the pinch. However, their tax burden will soon be a bit lighter, thanks to the people's successful efforts to overturn the harmonized sales tax, which was unfairly imposed on B.C. by its provincial government in collaboration with the current federal Conservative government.

I would like to focus on the claim by the Conservatives that this budget would increase funding for infrastructure. In fact, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, over the next four years federal infrastructure funding will be $4.7 billion lower than it was last year. City officials are asking for a long-term funding arrangement so they can plan for the needs of our growing regions.

Improved transit infrastructure is one of the greatest needs in the Lower Mainland. Residents in Coquitlam and Port Moody have waited well over a decade for the Evergreen Line, which was nicknamed the “nevergreen line”, after years of delays made many people question whether it would ever be built.

The case of the Evergreen Line demonstrates that our governments are not up to the task of working together to meet the transit needs of our growing communities. At every town hall meeting I held, people expressed concern over the government's agenda to degrade environmental protections.

Let us talk about its record. Through last year's massive omnibus budget bills, Bills C-38 and C-45, the Conservative government gutted environmental protections from every act it could think of: the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and many others. Canadians rallied to save the Experimental Lakes Area, which conducted world-class freshwater research. Unfortunately, the government chose to ignore these calls. A number of my constituents were particularly disturbed by the government's Orwellian attitude towards scientists, environmentalists and public servants. In March, the official opposition introduced a motion in Parliament calling on the government to defend basic scientific freedoms and evidence-based policy. I am sad to say that even the Prime Minister voted against that motion.

The government has been in power for seven years now and its arrogance is beginning to show no bounds. Its unilateral move to shut down the Kitsilano Coast Guard station flew in the face of expert opinion as well as the will of the public and municipal and provincial governments. Despite serious safety concerns raised over shutting down the only Coast Guard station in Vancouver, which is home to the busiest port in Canada, the government rammed through this closure. Consolidation of marine communication traffic services will put B.C.'s coast at greater risk. The government has also cut oil spill response centres. Given the number and scale of proposed resource development projects, this is the worst time to be cutting enforcement monitoring and emergency response.

This budget has announced $108 million in cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. While the government claims that this will be found through efficiencies like travel and printing, we know this will have a serious impact on DFO front-line services, including its ability to carry out its mandate to protect wild fish. Last year's cuts left DFO with only five offices in B.C., and the smallest staff level since 1983.

It has been almost seven months since Cohen's recommendations were released and we have yet to hear a single word from the government on how it will respond. Following the $26 million Cohen report, the government should be responding to the 75 recommendations rather than turning its back on B.C. salmon and fish habitat.

All of the concerns I have highlighted speak to the serious feeling of neglect that has been brewing on the west coast. The Conservative government has been ignoring the priorities of British Columbians for far too long.

I would like to conclude my remarks on the budget by focusing on a theme that was frequently raised at pre-budget consultations. There is a feeling of restlessness and discontent among the electorate with the state of our democracy. I heard much criticism on the way the government has centralized power, limited debate and tried to marginalize the role of Parliament, not to mention the muzzling of scientists and quality information. Taxpayers are frustrated with being on the hook for the unelected, unaccountable and under-investigated Senate.

Principles anchored within the Senate's mission, such as the protection of minorities and balancing the executive and legislative branches of government, are important principles, but they must be addressed through accountable and democratic means. Abolishing the Senate is part of the NDP's broader and progressive vision for democratic reform. This means reforming our electoral system to ensure that Parliament reflects the political preferences of Canadians. New Democrats have long advocated for a system of proportional representation. A reformed electoral Senate would go a long way toward better representing Canadians in Parliament. It could reverse dismally low voter turnout rates and improve representation of women and minorities.

Canadians are hungry for change. Canadians are looking for leaders who are not afraid to tackle the issues facing our communities and our regions. This was an underwhelming budget. I believe Canadians want to see their federal government build healthy, sustainable communities.