Speech on Budget 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to budget 2014. The government's budget document was over 400 pages, but I must say that it is very thin on ideas and solutions.

The Minister of Finance speaks of returning to a balanced budget, yet this is the government that has created the largest deficit in Canadian history and has delivered eight deficit budgets in a row.

Under the watch of the Conservatives, more than $100 billion has been added to our national debt over the past six years. Their corporate tax cuts have resulted in over $200 billion in foregone revenue over the past six years. At the same time, they are failing to address high unemployment, especially among youth, and record levels of personal debt.

When we talk about managing the economy, Conservatives and Liberals like to sling mud at the NDP, but when we look at the actual numbers, New Democrat governments have the best record of delivering balanced budgets.

New Democrats have a progressive vision for our country, one that promotes a strong economy without compromising social or environmental prosperity. We believe in creating good quality jobs, protecting public health care, providing affordable child care, and protecting our environment. We believe that seniors should not have to work an extra two years before they are eligible to retire. Our vision is affordable and inclusive.

Government revenues would increase by reversing the Conservatives' corporate tax cuts, by creating value-added jobs here at home instead of shipping our jobs and resources overseas, and by ending subsidies to highly profitable oil and gas companies. It is about priorities and prosperity for all Canadians, not just the ultra-rich and well-connected.

This year's budget has been criticized as a Conservative re-election strategy: Do nothing this year, then roll out the goodies before next year's election. It contains many re-announcements of previously committed funds, especially on infrastructure.

My riding has one of the highest commuter rates. Traffic congestion is a daily reality, and infrastructure has not kept pace with our transportation needs. I fought hard to ensure that the Evergreen Line would finally be built, but more work remains. Sewers and waterlines need upgrading, bridges need replacing, and we need more sidewalks and walking paths. The government continues to expect cities to do more with less, to pay for transit infrastructure with uncertain and limited gas tax revenues.

Our region is one of the most unaffordable places to live in Canada. I am disappointed that the government is not addressing affordable housing in this budget. Housing is a basic need, and affordability affects us all, from mortgage rates and property values to the limited supply of quality rental suites. I am concerned about those living in co-ops who rely on a federal subsidy to help pay the rent. Many of these subsidies will soon expire, leaving residents with limited options.

Community groups that provide housing for the homeless and other vulnerable members of society are concerned that the new criteria for the homelessness partnering strategy may prevent them from accessing federal funding.

Housing for those who require mental health care is a concern for many in my riding. We cannot continue to let Riverview Hospital deteriorate before eyes. We need a vision for this site that preserves the land for public use and that addresses the lack of mental health housing in the region.

In this year's budget, the Conservatives continue their assault on public servants and labour unions. They are going after employee compensation through bargaining, focusing on disability and sick leave, despite a PBO report confirming that public sector sick leave is actually in line with the private sector.

Just before Christmas, many Canadians were shocked to learn that Canada Post intends to end door-to-door delivery service, increase the price of stamps, and lay off thousands of employees. These cuts will certainly affect seniors and people with reduced mobility. They also raise mail security issues.

Conservatives seem to think that this is a great idea. Canada Post's CEO even suggested that it would give seniors a chance to exercise more. Only a New Democrat government would defend workers, the middle class, and our most vulnerable.

British Columbia has the unenviable distinction of having one of the worst rates of child poverty in this country. It is not acceptable that one in five children lives in poverty.

This callous response by the government is on the record: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour's child? I don't think so”.

Adopting a poverty reduction plan with targets and a coordinated set of policies is the only proven way to eliminate poverty. However, this requires political will. The government could wipe out poverty among seniors with the stroke of a pen by simply increasing the guaranteed income supplement. Instead, seniors face rising costs on everything from prescription medications to electricity bills.

Last weekend, a team of volunteers joined me in a neighbourhood canvass to talk with their neighbours about affordability issues. People told us that they are feeling nickel-and-dimed to death.

The NDP has put forward simple, practical solutions to help make life more affordable. We believe that the government should regulate outrageous credit card processing fees that eat into small business profits. It should cap ATM fees, which are among the highest in the world. It should crack down on predatory payday lenders and prevent companies from charging customers a monthly fee just to receive a paper copy of their bills.

Many Canadians are unaware of the existing benefits available to them. After hosting a seminar on the disability tax credit, my office helped one family claim $5,500 in a tax refund it was entitled to.

I have also assisted small businesses in accessing government funding for innovation. Small and medium-size enterprises drive our economy and create the majority of new jobs in this country. However, with nearly 300,000 more people unemployed today than before the recession, the government is simply not doing enough. It should be helping SMEs to succeed, not hindering them.

Another NDP proposal for this year's budget asks the government to reinstate the popular ecoENERGY home retrofit program. This program is a win-win. It saves families money, creates good quality jobs, reduces energy consumption, and more than pays for itself in economic spinoffs and tax revenues.

Last weekend I was on the doorsteps. I had several conversations with constituents about Bill C-23, the unfair elections act. They are alarmed by the Conservatives' cynical approach, which they feel will bring American-style politics north.

The Conservatives' scheme to overhaul Canada's Election Act reeks of a government that puts political interests ahead of the national interest. Bill C-23 aims to make it harder, not easier, to vote by scrapping voter information cards and eliminating the vouching system. It restricts Elections Canada from promoting the very act of voting, leaving that responsibility to political parties.

At a time when voters feel alienated from the democratic process, the Conservatives are moving to disenfranchise even more people from their right to vote. Canadians are asking for real electoral reform, not blatant partisan attempts to tip the scales in one party's favour.

I have long held the position that Canada should adopt an electoral system of proportional representation to ensure that voters' expressions are better represented. I was speaking to concerned citizens in my riding last week from Fair Vote Canada, who raised this very issue.

I also continue to hear loud and clear from constituents who are fed up with paying for an unelected, unaccountable, and still under-investigation Senate. New Democrats believe in abolishing this archaic institution and focusing on making Parliament work for all Canadians.

The NDP's vision for our country is one that promotes economic stability without sacrificing social or environmental prosperity. We need a government that understands the realities of today and that is willing to tackle the tough challenges of tomorrow. We need a government that agrees that it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations have clean and safe drinking water, healthy rivers and oceans, abundant wild salmon, and a stable climate.

In conclusion, while there are some positive elements in this budget, I cannot support a budget so thin on ideas and solutions.