IN THE HOUSE | Speech on Budget 2019

Published: April 4, 2019
Categorised in: In the House

41st Parliament ~ Context : Debate

Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am going to start with the foundation of this budget, which goes back to what the member for Carleton just cited: the years of Stephen Harper. Under Conservatives, we saw successive and horrible deficits crippling the country and billions of dollars handed out to corporate CEOs. It was middle-class, regular Canadians across the country who paid the price of all of those policies we saw from the Conservative government.

Coming up to the Liberal government that took office in 2015, one would have thought that it was the time to think first about regular folks across the length and breadth of this land, to actually make a difference in the lives of regular Canadians. I am sad to say, quoting the famous words of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. It is the best times for a very small elite in Canadian society and it is the worst of times for everyone else.

Let us look at the size and scope of the way regular Canadian families from coast to coast are living. This is not a situation that developed only under the Liberals, the Conservatives are equally guilty. In fact, we have to go back a number of decades when we saw the cutting of part of our social safety net to see why we have come to the state that we are in. The statistics speak for themselves. Forty-six per cent of Canadians who say that on any given month, they are $200 away from not being able to cover all of their bills. Nearly half of Canadian families, 46%, are basically living hand to mouth and on any given month, a $200 shock, like a car breakdown, a medical emergency, medication they have to buy or some emergency at school, can make the difference as to whether they can pay their bills in that given month.

The reality is that Canadian families are struggling under the worst debt load of any industrialized country. It is not only the worst debt load in Canadian history but the worst debt load that any industrialized country is living under. The set-up of the budget should give pause for thought. One would think that the government would actually want to do something when half of the Canadian population is living hand to mouth, basically $200 away from being able to cover their expenses on any given month.

When Canadian families, as a whole, are massively in debt because of government cutbacks over the last two or three decades, one would think there would be an understanding on the Liberal side of what is at stake and Liberals would show some imagination and leadership to bring forward a budget that would a difference in Canadian families’ lives. Sadly, that is not the case. Sadly, this budget that dropped like a stone in the middle of the lake with just a few ripples after it was presented two weeks ago, this budget has really very little impact on the lives of regular families and does not in any way address some of the most egregious challenges that we face as a country.

As I mentioned, Canadian families are really struggling. They are struggling to pay for their medications, to keep a roof over their heads or to try to make sure their sons or daughters can go on to post-secondary education. Those are all fundamental problems that Canadian families are facing. I am not even talking about the length and breadth of the crisis that indigenous families are experiencing across the length and breadth of the land. Anyone who has gone to indigenous communities has seen what a sad betrayal this government’s lack of commitment on achieving reconciliation has been when we look at some of the budget figures, which I will come back to in just a moment.

(in translation)
En même temps, on voit une situation où le gouvernement veut poursuivre la pratique qu’on a vue sous les conservateurs, en continuant à maintenir un système de paradis fiscaux et des échappatoires fiscales. On parle de dizaines de milliards de dollars qui sont donnés chaque année aux grandes entreprises et aux Canadiens les mieux nantis. Ces argents sont donnés sans questionnement ni regard pour les bienfaits qui reviennent aux Canadiennes et aux Canadiens.

Pour l’ensemble des paradis fiscaux, on estime qu’entre 15 et 20 milliards de dollars sont perdus chaque année par le fisc et dans nos investissements collectifs. Comme on le sait, le directeur parlementaire du budget est justement en train de regarder ces chiffres. Le bureau du directeur parlementaire du budget a commencé ce travail il y a 6 ans, sous les conservateurs, et demandé simplement que l’Agence du revenu du Canada lui donne toutes les informations liées aux paradis fiscaux et aux échappatoires fiscales. Or, les conservateurs ont refusé.

L’ancien gouvernement de M. Harper a dit qu’il ne voulait pas que ces données soient remises au directeur parlementaire du budget. Pendant trois ans, les conservateurs ont refusé.
Arrive le nouveau gouvernement libéral, qui va vraisemblablement changer d’approche, apporter une transparence et faire en sorte que les Canadiens puissent savoir ce qui ne fonctionne pas dans le système fiscal. Or, eux aussi, pendant trois ans, ont refusé de donner ces chiffres au directeur parlementaire du budget.

Ainsi, pendant près de six ans, l’ancien gouvernement conservateur et l’actuel gouvernement libéral ont refusé de donner les statistiques et les informations au directeur parlementaire du budget, alors qu’ils y étaient obligés. L’année passée, comme on le sait, le directeur parlementaire du budget a menacé d’entamer des poursuites judiciaires et c’est seulement à ce moment que les libéraux, parce qu’ils savaient très bien que c’était embarrassant pour eux, ont consenti à donner ces informations.

Depuis maintenant un an, le directeur parlementaire du budget récolte toutes ces données et toute cette information, et on avoir l’information d’ici quelques semaines, probablement au mois de mai, de ce qui échappe à nos investissements collectifs.

Comme je l’ai mentionné au début, quand on demande aux personnes âgées, aux étudiants et aux familles de faire des sacrifices et de s’endetter, parce qu’on n’a pas de ressources pour les aider, mais qu’en même temps on donne des dizaines de milliards de dollars aux grandes entreprises et aux bien nantis, il faut au moins avoir de la transparence. Le directeur parlementaire du budget va nous donner cette transparence.

On va enfin savoir exactement de quel montant il s’agit — celui des paradis fiscaux, des échappatoires fiscales, et tout l’argent qui part en fumée —, parce qu’on a des gouvernements qui ont agi de façon irresponsable. Même si on regarde le peu d’informations qui existe dans ce recueil qu’on appelle le budget, les libéraux disent qu’en ce qui concerne les options d’achat d’actions, ils savent qu’on perd un milliard de dollars et plus, chaque année, en faveur de millionnaires qui reçoivent ce cadeau fiscal. Même s’ils ont juste touché à une petite partie de tout le système, cela rend notre système fiscal le plus inéquitable dans tous les pays industrialisés. Les libéraux ont dit qu’il vont éventuellement se pencher sur l’option d’achat d’actions, mais qu’ils vont le faire plus tard.

En regardant le budget, on n’y trouve absolument rien qui touche cette inégalité fiscale qui est présentement épidémique dans notre système fiscal. Toutefois, le mois prochain, les Canadiennes et les Canadiens vont être capables de juger, parce qu’enfin le directeur parlementaire du budget va présenter son rapport, et cela va être extrêmement important.

We have a tax system that is the most unequal, the most inequitable of all industrialized countries, an effective tax rate for large corporations of 9%, unbelievable, and yet the Liberals refuse to take any sort of action.

That is why when I say “It was the best of times”, as Charles Dickens mentioned, it is really the best of times for the top 1% of Canadians. They get tax gifts, left, right and centre. They did under the former Conservative government, and that continues under the current Liberal government.

It is really the best of times for the top 1% of Canadians. They get tax gifts left, right and centre. They did under the former Conservative government and that continues under the current Liberal government. Neither government actually stopped to think for just a moment of the impact that has on seniors and students, the impact that has on regular families right across the country.

I mentioned earlier that it is also the worst of times. I will mention two people that I know very well that really illustrate how far we have fallen in the Ottawa bubble from dealing with the problems and challenges that regular families live with every single day.

I will come back to my friend Jim, whom I mentioned earlier in the House, because it is so egregious to me that although the Liberal government is aware of Jim it is not doing anything to address his situation.

Jim sits right outside Parliament Hill on the bridge between Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier. He is there every day. In minus 33 degree temperature, he is out there. He is out there in the boiling sun. If it is pouring rain or a blizzard, he has to be out there. Jim lives on a disability pension that barely pays for his rent and his food, but he needs medication which costs him $580 a month. He sits out there with the hope that strangers will do what the government refuses to do and that is provide enough support so he can get through that month. His medication is not optional. He has to take it. Every day Liberal MPs walk by him. Every day Liberal cabinet ministers drive by in their limousines. The Prime Minister drives by in his limousine. Not once over the four years has any Liberal stood up to say that this is wrong, that Jim should not be begging to try to get enough money for medication for the month. Not once has any Liberal stood up to say that the government needs to put pharmacare in place now. An NDP government would do that. It has to be a priority.

Our leader the member for Burnaby South said just this week that we will put pharmacare in place immediately, for early 2020. Jim will finally get relief if the NDP is elected on October 19. Jim’s situation is not uncommon. There are thousands of Canadians that are forced in the most difficult situations imaginable to try to find enough money for medication for the month.

When Tommy Douglas, the first leader of the NDP, founded medicare, he had to fight for it. Lobbyists were pushing back and saying no to medicare. Liberals were criticizing Tommy Douglas. But he stuck to it and he got it done, and all Canadians benefit from having in place the universal single payer medicare system that we have today.

Tommy Douglas always envisioned that we would move rapidly toward pharmacare and yet decades later people like Jim are still begging, borrowing and trying to find a way to get enough money for their medication, and this in a wealthy country like Canada. There is nothing in the budget that addresses Jim’s difficulties. The Liberals just promise, like they do so often, to study it a bit more.

Here is another Canadian whose needs are not being met in any way by the budget and that is my friend Heather. Heather lives with her daughter and her mother in a one-bedroom apartment and they are struggling to keep that apartment over their heads. Heather told me that she wished this country had affordable housing. She is not alone.

Thousands of families are struggling just to keep a roof over their head. They have to make tough choices as to whether to pay for the heat, pay the rent or pay for medication this month. In the budget, instead of providing money to build affordable housing, which the Liberals do not seem to want to do, they just promise to lend a bit more money. That is their way of solving what is a conscious decision made by the former Liberal government to eliminate the national housing program.

Forty years ago, about 16% of the housing that was built in Canada was affordable housing, cooperative housing or social housing. The Liberals eliminated the national housing program. They destroyed it. Now, 40 years later, that 16% has fallen to 3%, and that is the nut and the crux of the crisis that we are living today.

Because the Liberals destroyed the national housing program, because they ripped up any possibility of continuing to build that co-operative housing, the social housing that all Canadians were able to access affordable housing, because they did that, people like Heather and her family are now wondering, on a week-to-week basis, whether they will still have a roof over their heads. In a country as wealthy as Canada, a country that the Liberals feel is wealthy enough to send tens of billions of dollars to overseas tax havens, Heather, indicative of so many Canadian families, is wondering whether, next month, she will still have a roof over the heads of her family. What is a wrong with a government that does not understand this situation?

When I mention indigenous communities and we talk about national reconciliation, it starts with putting in place a housing program to ensure that in indigenous communities, housing is available. It has to be done in conjunction with, working with first nations, working with indigenous communities. That is what the leader of the NDP, the member for Burnaby South and I pitched when we went public, just a few days before the budget, to say “Here is what needs to be in this 2019 budget.” The government, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister completely ignored that.

This budget should have contained significant provisions to build affordable housing now, right across the length and breadth of this country. This budget should have contained, rather than just paying lip service, a real, meaningful, true and lasting national reconciliation policy that includes housing, working with indigenous communities, making those investments, and it does not.

This budget should have said, very clearly, that we need universal single-payer pharmacare in this country now, not 10 years from now, not 20 years from now, not another 30 years of broken promises, but pharmacare in place now. Yet, none of those things are in the budget.

This budget should have contained, and could have contained, real action to build a fair tax system in our country. We ask people to pay their taxes. I have done hundreds of disability town halls, talking about the tax system, and nobody has ever said to me that they do not want to pay taxes. People want to make sure that within the tax system they are not paying more than they should. People understand, Canadians understand that putting money in common makes sure that we are all taken care of.

Yet we have a government system put into place that has allowed, over time, the wealthiest and most privileged of us to get by without paying those taxes. The burden has fallen on seniors struggling with limited pensions. It has fallen on students who are crippled by post-secondary debt, unbelievable amounts of debt. It is on families struggling to keep a roof over their heads, like Heather. It is on individuals and families like Jim, who are struggling to pay for their medications. All of those people, all of those Canadians are suffering because of the lack of priorities of the government.

Amendment to the amendment
Before I finish, I move:
That the amendment be amended by deleting all the words after the words “tens of billions” and substituting the following:

“…of dollars in election-year promises that continue the government’s track record of decision-making that benefits Canada’s most wealthy and well-connected, instead of everyday Canadians, by:

(a) failing to implement a universal, public, national pharmacare program;

(b) ignoring the scale and scope of catastrophic climate change on the future of the planet;

(c) failing to tackle the housing crisis head one; and

(d) continuing to give billions from the public purse to highly profitable corporations.

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