IN THE HOUSE – Speech - Budget Implementation Act, 2021

44th Parliament, 1st session

Madam Speaker, I would like to underscore today the importance of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. We have much to reflect upon and much to do in terms of the justice that is required for true and meaningful national reconciliation.

 

From the very beginning of the pandemic, the member for Burnaby South and the NDP caucus have been pushing for supports that can really make a difference in people's lives. In the beginning, the Prime Minister proposed initial supports for the pandemic that were barely $1,000 a month. That is far below the poverty line, and it was the serious proposal by the Prime Minister. Members will recall that the member for Burnaby South and the NDP caucus pushed very hard to get that amount above poverty levels, above dire levels. We understood the magnitude of the pandemic and the impacts that were being felt in people's lives, so we pushed for an adequate level of support and ultimately they got $2,000 a month through the CERB, which became the CRB.

 

It is to our utmost dismay that we are now debating a bill that takes us back to where the Prime Minister originally wanted to go, with barely over $1,000 a month for people struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic who are unable to work because their businesses have closed. Whole sectors, including the tourism sector, have repeatedly raised concerns about the fact that the pandemic is not over yet and that there is no place for a victory lap. Indeed, the variants we are seeing are indicating, in some countries and regions, a disturbing number of new cases. In fact, we are seeing this even in the case of individuals who have been vaccinated with two doses.

 

People are subject to these variants, which are disturbingly starting to creep up in various parts of our planet and in some parts of our country, yet the government has persisted from the very beginning, with a budget announcement and now with Bill C-30, in slashing the benefits that Canadians so vitally depend on. They need those benefits to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads and often to pay for medication because the government broke its promise to put in place public universal pharmacare. However, we still have the situation where the government continues to insist that slashing benefits to below the poverty line is somehow in the best interests of Canadians. This is something the New Democrats have raised from the very beginning and continue to raise as a broad concern. As the variants disturbingly start to make progress across the country, this should be a concern for the Prime Minister and the government.

 

There are other aspects of this bill that the NDP has raised broad concerns about. One is seniors, who often live below the poverty line. They will not be given an OAS increase unless they are 75 and over, even though we know the poverty rate among seniors who are 65 to 75. That is another measure that makes no sense at all. We raised this at committee and offered amendments, but the government continues to refuse to do the right thing and put in place a broad level of OAS support that lifts seniors up, regardless of their age, and does not create two classes of seniors.

 

Broadly, our biggest concern with Bill C-30 has been the lack of vision in how we get through the pandemic and rebuild afterward. As my colleague, the member for Vancouver East, has pointed out, there is no wealth tax, there is no pandemic profits tax and there are no concrete measures against tax havens. Despite the plethora of documentation showing that Canadians and profitable corporations are taking their profits overseas, which is well documented in the Panama papers, the Paradise papers, the Bahamas papers and the Isle of Man scam, the government has not, after six years, brought a single charge against any of the Canadians or profitable Canadian companies guilty of tax evasion. Despite the fact that the information is freely available to the public, not a single time has it said that this is wrong and we should do something about it.

 

It strikes me as incredibly hypocritical for the government to say that it restored some of the cuts to the CRA and that is all it needs to do, when we have databases with the names of thousands of Canadians and profitable Canadian corporations and the government has refused to do a single thing about this issue. It has not charged a single Canadian. It has not charged a single profitable Canadian corporation.

 

As members know, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has indicated how serious this is. It is something that costs Canadians, in terms of tax dollars, an astounding $25 billion a year. Addressing the lack of a wealth tax, the lack of a pandemic profits tax and the refusal to take action against tax havens would make such a profound difference in our quality of life. We are talking about $25 billion to $40 billion annually that would be available to provide supports for seniors, for students and for people with disabilities, and to broaden our education system. We could lock in place public universal pharmacare. We could put in place dental care, which my colleague from St. John's East proposed and the Liberals voted against just a few days ago.

 

Today, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, we are talking about the fact that there are dozens and dozens of Canadian indigenous communities that do not even have safe drinking water, yet the government continues to say that it cannot do anything about the issue because it would cost too much. The reality, as members know, is quite different. The reality is that the government seems to rely on providing supports to the ultrarich. It does it with impunity and does it regularly, and it does not take care of the rest of Canadians, who have real, meaningful needs that have not been addressed by this bill, nor by government action over the last six years.

 

I can tell members about the heart of the housing affordability crisis in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and in my riding. In that context, in the two communities I proudly represent, New Westminster and Burnaby, housing costs have spiralled out of control. However, the government has done very little about this. It makes noise about having contributed in some way to building housing units, but the B.C. government has built more new housing units than the rest of the country put together. The federal government made a small contribution to that, but it has tried to take credit for a program that was put in place by the B.C. government. This is another measures that could make a substantial difference in the quality of life of Canadians, yet the government refuses to implement it.

 

The member of Parliament for Nunavut did a housing tour showing, in vivid and appalling detail, the housing crisis in Nunavut and in the north, yet the government has not acted. It has refused to take the actions that would make a difference in the quality of life of indigenous communities and throughout northern Canada. It is perplexing to say the least that a government that could have put in place the tools to make a difference in people's lives has chosen not to do that. The government could have made substantial investments in this budget and with this budget implementation act, but it has refused to do it.

To add to that, I will come back, in a circular way, to my initial argument. The Liberals are cutting the emergency response benefit at the most critical time. Canadians who have tried to get through the last 15 months and have managed to survive thanks to the member for Burnaby South and the NDP caucus, which pushed for a CERB that was above the poverty line, are now seeing, looming on the horizon, a government that wants to lower the emergency response benefit to below the poverty line. That is unacceptable, and we will continue to push the government to do the right thing and not cut the emergency response benefit

 

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