Alistair spoke in the House of Commons on the Budget Implementation Act
November 24th, 2016 - 5:55pm
Madam Speaker, before I begin, I would like to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton Mountain. I want to wish everyone a happy Halloween.
Today we are dealing with the sequel to the first Budget Implementation Act.
Once again, we see that Liberals seem to be emulating the Conservatives with another omnibus bill. This one is tipping the scales at a good 231 pages, while the previous one, which was Bill C-15, was 179 pages.
I remember debating Bill C-15 in June when it came before us for third reading. That bill changed 30 different statutes. I remember that the NDP at that time argued that several portions of the bill should be split so that members in this House could do their due diligence, both here in the House and at finance committee. Unfortunately, those recommendations were not agreed to by the government and we had to again go through the omnibus bill.
I remember that the Liberals at that time were extolling the virtues of their so-called middle-class tax cut and the fact that they were bringing in the child benefit and had made some significant changes to employment insurance. It seems that for the second budget implementation act, we are hearing much the same arguments. It seems to be a chance for the Liberals to again put forward the arguments put forward in March in their budget speech, and so on.
The bill amends 13 separate pieces of legislation. I would have hoped for a little bit more time to study each individual one, but I hope that the finance committee will get its opportunity to do that. Some of the major acts that will be changed by the bill concern the Income Tax Act, the Employment Insurance Act, and the Old Age Security Act, among others.
One of the things we in the NDP have been concerned about that we have been hearing from the Liberal government both last week and this week, and what I suspect will be formalized in the economic update tomorrow, is the privatization of our infrastructure. This is very worrisome to me and to many of us on this side, and indeed to many Canadians, because it was an agenda that was never presented in the Liberals' election platform.
I am one who believes fundamentally that when we put forward a platform and use it to get votes, we should honour it, and there should be no hidden surprises. I feel that with this privatization agenda, the Liberals are taking a page from their provincial cousins in Ontario and that consumers and Canadians will be the ones who end up paying in the long run.
I believe that the real change that was promised last year was not supposed to be just a coat of red paint over the old blue one. There was supposed to be a whole new vehicle for Canadians. I think we are seeing a lot of the same arguments come forward. The Liberals did not run under these promises.
I will say that the Liberals are very good at acting like New Democrats during an election, but when it comes to governing, they are very good at acting like Conservatives.
The biggest problem is the fact that this was never outlined in their platform. I will go into further detail about that.
The first point is that the Liberals stated in their platform that they would establish a Canadian infrastructure bank, and I believe they will be going ahead with that. This bank was to provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects, but again, nothing was mentioned about privatization.
The second point is that the federal government would use its strong credit rating and lending authority to make it easier and more affordable for municipalities to build the projects their communities need. Again, nothing was mentioned about privatization, nothing about taking those assets and selling them to the private sector for private interests.
The third point was that when a lack of capital represented a barrier to projects, the Canadian infrastructure bank would provide loan guarantees and small capital contributions to provinces and municipalities to ensure that projects were built. Again, there is no mention of privatization of infrastructure assets.
I believe that Canadians were misled and will be in for a surprise at tomorrow's update.
At this point, I would like to acknowledge the hard work of my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. He has done some amazing work as our finance critic and really has led the charge for our party in exposing these plans and raising our party's concerns about them.
In budget 2016, we got a hint about what was to come and we started to see the term asset recycling. We found out that the government was now asking Credit Suisse for advice on the benefits of privatizing airports. This advice is coming from a company that buys airports. This is a clear conflict of interest. It would be like me asking a senator on whether it is a good idea to abolish the Senate. I do not think I would get an honest answer to that question.
I believe the infrastructure bank that is being proposed is going to be largely funded with private funds, and those are ultimately going to bestow a high cost on our society. Any company that invests in infrastructure is going to demand a high rate of return. It is not going to act in the public interest, and that is an important point to establish. It will be working on behalf of private shareholders.
Infrastructure projects by their very nature are a public institution.
Everyone depends on them. When we start selling those off, it is very hard to get them back and it becomes very hard to implement policies for the public good. On this side, we are all about that. We are about ensuring the public good is recognized and maintained for all policy options.
When companies want that rate of return on their infrastructure events, it means having user fees or tolls, and those charges are always passed on to the consumer. The consumer will not have any effect on changing those user fees or tolls because they will not have a democratically elected government in charge of them anymore.
We have seen experiences where public infrastructure projects have been privatized. I think of BC Ferries in British Columbia. The whole B.C. ferry system was made into a corporation. We have seen no stop of user fees and ticket prices go up and up, making life really unaffordable for the coastal communities.
This is all coming under the context of the Liberals having hidden their true plans, and it is a fundamental betrayal of the trust of Canadians.
The term asset recycling is no more than a cover word for privatization. We have seen experiences of this in other governments around the world. For example, the right wing government of Tony Abbott in Australia tried to introduce asset recycling schemes. The Australian senate saw through the use of this language and it gutted and retitled the bill to call it "encouraging privatization". Perhaps that is what we should be calling this bill.
I will go back to B.C. The B.C. Liberal government has become an expert in this. It sold off a ton of public assets to balance the books. To me, that is short-term gain for long-term pain.
Asset recycling will fundamentally rob future governments and budgets of the ability to regulate and generate revenue. The Advisory Council on Economic Growth was started up in March to advise the the Liberal government. The chair of this group is none other than Dominic Barton, who has spent 10 years with the McKinsey consulting group, which promotes massive private involvement in infrastructure. If that is the advice the government is getting, it is easy to see exactly what we will see in the update tomorrow.
On October 20, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth published three reports with recommendations. One of those key recommendations was that Ottawa should privatize some of its existing assets as a way of raising money to spend on other infrastructure.
The road map seems pretty clear to me: to sell off our public assets that were funded by taxpayer dollars so private interests can start generating their own revenue streams on them. This is contrary to what was promised to us in the election. The NDP can never support a bill that would sell off our communal assets to make a quick buck. It has been shown not to work. That is why we stand opposed to the bill and the general economic policy of the government.