Alistair speaks on Liberal budget choices

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP):  Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to give my thoughts on Bill C-63 on behalf of the hard working and amazing constituents of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. I have to once again note, on their behalf, how unfortunate it is that we have to debate this bill under the yoke of time allocation. This bill, like so many others, is being railroaded through the House. It seems like it is the only way the government can get its legislation through, rather than having meaningful dialogue with the opposition parties.

    I want to start off by underlining some key facts and figures, and they are not pretty.

 

    Over the last 30 years, workers have helped grow our economy by over 50%. In spite of this, their salaries are stagnating and their retirements are becoming less secure. The inequality gap in Canada between the richest and the majority of Canadians is growing faster and wider than in other developed countries. The 100 richest Canadians now have the same wealth as the combined wealth of the 10 million less fortunate.

 

    Employment insurance is becoming harder to access. Statistics show that less than four in 10 unemployed persons qualify for insurance when they need it. That statistic has not changed. In fact, none of these statistics have changed for quite some time now.

 

    Closer to home, in my riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and in my beautiful province of British Columbia, since the House of Commons passed a resolution in 1989 to eliminate child poverty in Canada, the child poverty rate has increased from 15.5% to 18.3% today. The richest 10% of B.C. families with children receive 24% of the total income, while the poorest half of families share 27%.

 

    My own home town of Duncan has extremely alarming child poverty rates. It is especially severe in the city where almost three in 10 children live in poverty. As I said, these are not new statistics. Continuous Liberal and Conservative governments have been aware of these. We are now two years into the government's mandate and we still have some of the most disadvantaged families in the country, waiting for meaningful action to tackle many of these dreadful statistics.

 

    A lot has been made of the Minister of Finance of late. It is worthwhile to talk about him because he is the sponsor of this bill. The opposition represents most of Canadians, given that about 60% of them voted for the parties on this side of the House, and most of them do not have any confidence in the minister.

 

    Yesterday, and continuing through today, he has been unable to provide yes or no answers to simple questions from the member for Carleton. He will not reveal his assets in other numbered corporations so the House may have confidence in his abilities as the finance minister.

 

    The real sticking point for our members in the NDP is that he sponsored Bill C-27, an act that would allow federally regulated sectors to change their pensions to targeted benefit programs, while he had shares in Morneau Shepell, a company that stands to benefit in extreme ways from the passage of that legislation. I would like to see Liberal members of Parliament have the courage to bring that bill forward for second reading debate and hear the arguments they put forward on how it would affect the retirement security of the middle class they claim to stand for each and every day in the House of Commons. I am so looking forward to that day.

 

    Budgets are about choices. I want to go through some of the choices that exist in the bill and that the government has made.

 

     One of its provisions will allow the Minister of Finance to transfer some $480 million to the Asian infrastructure bank, which was mentioned in the 2017 budget. Many members of the opposition have expressed concern about why Canadian money is flowing to that bank and about the good it could have done here in Canada. For those of us who represent rural communities, $480 million is untold riches of what it could do and build in our local communities.

 

    This fits with the pattern of the government's spending choices. Right outside these doors, we have a hockey rink which cost $5.6 million. I know the government likes to talk about it as a legacy project, but it will be dismantled after February and it is only a block away from the largest skating rink in the world. Therefore, $5.6 million is a princely sum of money to be spending on something that will make the front lawn of Parliament look better for three months.

 

     Also half a million, $555,000, was spent on a building wrap, while Canada Post headquarters gets renovated. The government spent over $200,000 developing the illustration on the cover of budget 2017.

 

    When we start to see spending patterns and choices like this, it raises legitimate questions about the government's priorities.

 

     This leads me to the second part. When we talk about those choices, what invariably comes up are the missed opportunities. The budget implementation bill, because it would implement certain measures of the budget announced earlier this year, gives members of Parliament a large amount of latitude to talk about some of the choices that were not made.

 

    For example, we asked the Minister of Finance if he could include provisions to cap CEO stock options, CEOs who make use of this loophole to shelter some of their income. We asked him to actively fight tax havens. We asked him to establish an all-important $15 minimum wage for federal workers to show that kind of leadership to our provincial counterparts and to show that we actually cared about the workers of our country. We could have made huge investments in energy efficiency home renovations. We could have addressed accessibility problems linked to housing, drinking water, mental health services, and education in first nation communities. More important, we could have established a universal pharmacare program, a program that the parliamentary budget officer conservatively estimated would save Canadians over $4 billion. Unfortunately none of these provisions were implemented.

 

    In March 2017, the government supported our party's motion to tackle tax havens and place a cap on those same tax loopholes for CEOs, as I just mentioned. However, while the government supported it, we are still waiting for that concrete action to address the problems caused by tax measures benefiting those at the top.

 

     The previous Conservative speaker talked about a tax system that increasingly treated some at the top differently from those at the bottom. He used the term “nickel and diming”, and I could not agree more. Vulnerable sectors of our Canadian society, such as those suffering from diabetes, are unable to access the disability tax credit. I have seen the cost to these families to treat their diabetes. Meanwhile, high-flying millionaires, Liberals friends at the top, can use tax havens and measures about which none of us at the bottom could even dream.

 

    This goes to a sense of fairness. We need to institute that fairness in our tax system. We need to see that the government is supremely confident and serious about tackling this widespread problem. The paradise papers have only released the tip of the iceberg of how deep this problem goes, how deep the rot goes, and it really needs to be addressed.

 

    The government likes to talk about the child benefit. Of course, families receiving money is a good thing, but it still does nothing to address the chronic shortage of available child care spaces. I have families talk to me about this all the time. The fact is that they cannot afford to get a second job because the cost of child care is so high and the spaces are simply unavailable.

 

     At least one party in the House consistently and constantly talks about these issues, whether standing up for minimum wage, adequate retirement security for our workers, or ensuring families get real breaks, and that is the NDP. It is why I joined this party. I will continue to stand with it to raise these issues on behalf of my wonderful constituents of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford to ensure we get the true progressive policies our country deserves.

 

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):  Madam Speaker, the member concluded his thoughts on standing up for Canadians. The member is correct in one sense. He did stand up and say no to the Canada child tax benefit. He did stand up and say no to the middle-class tax cut. He did stand up and say no to the tax that was being applied to Canada's 1%. When it comes to the whole issue of tax evasion, I have news for the member. Chances are there are fairly wealthy New Democrats also out there, as there are wealthy Conservatives.

    There is a need for us to look at the way individuals avoid paying taxes. That is why the government has put in close to $1 billion to look at that and prosecute, where we can, tax evaders.

 

    Would my colleague support that initiative brought forward by the government? We have allocated close to $1 billion to go after rich tax evaders, whether they are New Democratic wealthy, Conservative wealthy, or Liberal wealthy? Does the member support that initiative?

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:  Madam Speaker, I have to address the misleading information that the parliamentary secretary just uttered right now.

    When he talks about New Democrats voting against the tax measures, I want it to be known that every Liberal member of Parliament gave themselves the maximum tax bracket raise in that budget. The median income in Canada is around $41,000 a year; those people got zero. He can argue with me all he wants but that is a fact. That is why we voted against the measure, and he knows that to be true.

 

    When we give tools to the CRA to ensure it cracks down on tax avoidance, we want to ensure it goes after the people who deserve it, not nickel-and-diming the people at the bottom. We are very concerned that the CRA's level of service and the way it goes after Canadians is completely misguided. The Minister of National Revenue needs to stand in the House and be accountable for her agency's actions.

 

Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):  Madam Speaker, the budget implementation bill is important because it puts forward the measures the government will enact through its budget.

    One of the key issues Canadians are deeply concerned about is universal pharmacare. Theoretically, we have universal health care, but the government, with the Conservatives, voted against an NDP motion to bring forward universal pharmacare.

 

    Could the member explain to me if there is anything in the budget implementation act that speaks to universal pharmacare for Canadians?

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:  Madam Speaker, when it comes to universal pharmacare, health care has been consistently listed by Canadians as the number one priority.

    The supposedly progressive Liberal government likes to talk the good talk, but when it comes to real action, when we gave it the opportunity to implement a national pharmacare plan to really save money for Canadians on their prescriptions, the Liberals were nowhere to be seen.

 

    I want it to be known that there is one party that will keep fighting the good fight. It is right here, the NDP. My constituents in Cowichan—Malahat—Langford can count on me to continue raising this issue on their behalf and ensuring the most disadvantaged members of our Canadian society get the help they deserve.

 

Mr. Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East—Cooksville, Lib.):  Madam Speaker, the member knows full well just how hard families work in his riding, in my riding, and in ridings right across the country. For our part, we have to ensure we support those families and those children. That is why the first budget brought forward the Canada child benefit. Now, with our economy doing so well, it is providing those investments back into our communities so our communities can continue to grow.

     Does the member not believe that his community, and all communities, deserve this funding, this plan that is working, that is driving our economy, creating jobs, and taking 300,000 kids out of poverty?

 

 Mr. Alistair MacGregor:  Madam Speaker, speaking of investments, I would like to refer the hon. member to the national housing strategy. Most of that money will not come into effect until after 2019. The last time I checked, some communities are in crisis right now. We have known about the housing crisis for decades, and still Canadians have to wait until they elect another Liberal government in 2019. The NDP will ensure the job gets done immediately.