IN THE HOUSE – Speech – Government Orders, Budget Implementation Act, 2021, No. 1

44th Parliament, 1st session

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say that I am coming to you from the traditional unceded territory of the QayQayt First Nation and the Coast Salish peoples. I thank them for this privilege.


I would like to start off by paying tribute to frontline workers, health care workers and emergency responders across the country. We have seen over the last 15 months, as our country has entered into this unparalleled health crisis, incredible bravery and incredible dedication on behalf of all those Canadians who have tried to keep us alive and well, and who continue to serve us during this pandemic.


Now, we can look, and there is a potential light at the end of the tunnel, as we start to see, slowly, the number of infections going down. We still have much work to do, there is no doubt, but we can start to envisage what kind of society we can actually build post-COVID.


I do that from my background as a financial administrator. As members know, I started out my adult working life as a factory worker and eventually was able to save up enough money to go back to school and learn about finances and financial management. I was able, fortunately, to use that in a variety of social enterprises and organizations.


The one thing I learned that is fundamental, when we talk about financial administration, is that we have to follow the money to see what the priorities of a social enterprise, business or organization are. What the priorities are is often dictated by where the flow of money goes. In this debate and this discussion around the main estimates and where we are as a country, it is fundamentally important to ask the question “Where is the money flowing to?” That is why this main estimates process and this debate tonight are so fundamentally important.


As members well know, in our corner of the House, and this dates back to the time of Tommy Douglas, within the NDP we have always believed that it is fundamentally important to make sure that those who are the wealthiest in society pay their fair share. Tommy Douglas was able to, in the first democratic socialist government in North America, actually put in place universal health care. He was able to do that because he put in place a fair tax system.


We can look at the NDP governments since that time. I am certainly not telling tales out of school. As members are well aware, the federal ministry of finance is not a hotbed of New Democrats. However, the federal ministries of finance have consistently, over the last decades, acknowledged that NDP governments have been the best in terms of balancing budgets and providing services for people. That is the same approach that we will take, one day, to provide the type of stewardship that we believe is fundamental to renewing our country, providing the supports, and building a society where everyone matters.


Let us look at where the current government stands, in terms of that flow of money. Prior to the budget, we put forward, and it should have been reflected in the estimates process, a variety of smart ideas that other countries have already incorporated as we go through this pandemic. We believe that we should be putting into place, as other countries have done, a wealth tax. We should be saying to the billionaires and the ultrarich of this country that they have to pay their fair share. They benefited from this pandemic and their wealth has increased, and now they have to give some of that back, to make sure that we all have the wherewithal to move forward.


We also proposed a pandemic profits tax, because we have seen in previous crises, like the Second World War, that putting that type of practice into place ensures that companies maintain the same profit levels but are not profiting unduly from the suffering that so many people have experienced through COVID-19.


We have also been foremost with regard to cracking down on overseas tax havens. As members know, I have spoken out about this. The member for Burnaby South, our national leader, the member for Hamilton Centre and the rest of the NDP caucus have been vociferous in this regard because these lose an astounding amount of taxpayers' money every year. They are the result of both Conservative actions and Liberal actions.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out two years ago that Canadians lose $25 billion every year to overseas tax havens. That $25 billion could meet an enormous amount of need. It could serve in job creation or the transition to a clean energy economy. All of those things could be accomplished, but what we see is an intricate network of tax havens that has built up over the years because of both Conservative and Liberal government decisions. The cost to Canadians is profoundly strong when we think of $25 billion a year in taxpayers' money being lost to overseas tax havens.


When we couple that $25 billion with a pandemic profits tax, which the Parliamentary Budget Officer evaluated at $8 billion, and a wealth tax, which would bring in $10 billion a year, we start to see what financial underpinnings could be put into place to actually meet the needs of Canadians across the country. We often see that there is a flow of money to the ultrarich: the wealthiest banks and billionaires in this country. At the same time, we often see that those who have the most critical needs do not even get a trickle of that financial flow.


At the beginning of this crisis, where did the government decide to flow its money? We know this now. This is no secret. In fact, the Liberal government seems to be proud of this fact. Within four days of the pandemic hitting in Canada, an astounding, unbelievable, record amount of $750 billion was made available in liquidity supports to Canada's big banks through a variety of mechanisms and federal institutions: OSFI, the CMHC and the Bank of Canada. That is $750 billion. It is unparalleled in our history and unprecedented.


If we go back to the Harper government, there were criticisms at that time because during the global financial crisis $116 billion in liquidity support was provided to the banking sector. Of course the banking sector prospered enormously from it, but $750 billion is so difficult to get our minds around. It is a vast amount of money. It is a colossal flow of an unprecedented amount of cash in liquidity supports to the banking sector.


The banks have responded accordingly. There were no conditions attached. They jacked up their service fees, as so many Canadians know. They did not reduce their interest rates to zero, as we saw in the credit union movement. Credit unions, such as Community Savings Credit Union in Vancouver, reduced their line of credit interest to zero and their credit card rates to zero because they knew Canadians were suffering. Canadians had to struggle to put food on the table, and the credit union sector in many respects responded to that, but the banking sector did not. It just kept seeing that money roll in. During the pandemic, its profits have been $60 billion so far. It is unbelievable.


I pointed out earlier that there is no pandemic profits tax and there is no wealth tax. Canada's billionaires have increased their wealth during this pandemic by an astounding $80 billion, yet there are no measures for any sort of fairness or to make sure the ultrarich pay their fair share. We can follow the money and see, with the Liberal government, that as we went through an unprecedented crisis its first and foremost thought was for the banks and billionaires of this country. This is unique in the responses of governments through crises in the past.


During the Second World War when we needed to win the battle against Nazism and fascism, the federal government put into place an excess profits tax and wealth taxes to ensure that we had the wherewithal to win the war effort. After the Second World War, we were able to build an unprecedented amount of public housing, hospitals and educational institutions across the country and to build the transportation sector. The country boomed in so many respects because the investments were there starting with a fair tax system, but not this time. There is no wealth tax, no pandemic profits tax and no cracking down on overseas tax havens.


What did the NDP do? We hear rumours that the Prime Minister desperately wants to call an election, and we will all be asked what we did during the pandemic.


Under the leadership of the member for Burnaby South, the NDP went to work immediately. We saw the huge amounts of money that were made available to the banking sector right off the bat, and we started pushing for an emergency response benefit that could lift people above the poverty line. We forced and pushed because we had seen from the best examples of other countries that we needed to put in a place a 75% wage subsidy. We pushed hard, as members know, to make that a reality.


The track record is very clear. We pushed in the House of Commons for supports for students, seniors and people with disabilities, with the big caveat that the Liberal government never put in place wholesale supports for all people with disabilities. It has now asked them to wait three years before there is any hope of support. People with disabilities will have to wait three years while banks had to wait four days in the midst of a pandemic. That is the national tragedy we see with the flow of money going to the ultrarich, the wealthiest, to make sure that banks and billionaires benefit first.


New Democrats fought those fights and won many of them over the course of the past year. I know that has made a difference. We still see suffering. We still see people lining up at food banks in unprecedented numbers. Tragically we still see people with disabilities who are barely getting by. Tragically we still see people closing, for the last time, the doors of businesses that they may have devoted their lives to building up. These are community businesses that served the public and created jobs in communities across this country, but in so many cases those small businesses have had to close their doors. Nothing could be more tragic.


As we come out of such a profound crisis, we see many people being left behind; however, the government has put forward a budget that slashes the CERB benefits even more. The CRB was slashed from $500 a week to $300 a week, which is below the poverty level. We see the government responding to the economic crisis of seniors by saying that those over 75 get a top-up on their OAS to lift them up to the poverty line, but those under 75 are out of luck with the government.


That contrasts vividly with the government paying out money through the wage subsidy to profitable companies that then paid huge executive bonuses or often paid dividends to their investors. The government says that is okay, despite the NDP's warnings from the very beginning that it had to put measures into place. It is not a problem: It will recover money elsewhere, but then it slashes the CERB benefits for people who need them the most.


What does this mean, in terms of an estimates process, and how would the NDP approach the issue of making sure we meet the needs of Canadians and respond to the crisis that so many people are living through in this country? As I have already mentioned, New Democrats would tackle it from the revenue side. We would make sure that the ultrarich pay their fair share. We would crack down on overseas tax havens. The government never introduced a single piece of legislation that adequately responded to the crisis in financing we see with the hemorrhaging of $25 billion a year to overseas tax havens.


The CRA was before the finance committee last week. The year before, I asked who had been prosecuted in the Panama papers, the Bahama papers, the Paradise papers and the Isle of Man scam. A year ago, CRA was forced to say it had never prosecuted anybody. This year I asked the same question, and the result was exactly the same. No company and no individual has ever been prosecuted. We have thousands of names of people who have been using these particular strategies to not pay taxes, yet the CRA has never had the tools in place to take them on.

New Democrats would make sure that everyone pays their fair share, that the ultrarich actually pay their fair share, that billionaires do not get off scot free and that the companies that try to take their earnings overseas have to pay income tax and corporate tax. We would make sure of that.


What would we do in the estimates? What would an NDP estimates process look like? We have already seen signs of that over the past year. We have been tabling legislation, bringing forward bills and making sure that we actually put into place the programs Canadians need.


Members will recall I tabled Bill C-213, the Canada pharmacare act, ably supported by my colleagues for Vancouver Kingsway and Vancouver East. We brought that to a vote with the support of 100,000 Canadians who had written to their members of Parliament. Liberals and Conservatives voted that down, even though we know pharmacare is something that will make a huge difference in the quality of life for Canadians. It is estimated that 10 million Canadians cannot pay for their medication. Hundreds die every year because they cannot afford their medication. For thousands of others, families are forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying for their medication. We can end that suffering. At the same time the Parliamentary Budget Officer, that independent officer of Parliament who can tell us with such accuracy what the net impacts of policies are, has told us we would save about $4 billion overall as a people. We would be able to reduce the costs of medications, so the estimates process would include universal public pharmacare in this country.


As we saw with the member for St. John's East just last night, we would be bringing in dental care for all those who do not have access to dental care. Why is that important? We heard yesterday about a person in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, who passed away because they did not have the financial ability to pay for the dental work that was vitally important for them to be able to eat. These are tragedies that are repeated so often in this country.


What else would we see in the estimates? The guaranteed livable basic income was brought to the House of Commons by the member for Winnipeg Centre. We have seen how so many members of our caucus have fought for the rights of indigenous peoples. It should be a source of shame for the government that dozens of indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water, six years after the Prime Minister's promise. As the member for Burnaby South said in response to a question from a journalist, how would we ever accept the cities of Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal not having safe drinking water? It is simply astounding, yet we have no wealth tax or pandemic profit tax in place. We have no set of priorities that allows us to ensure that all communities in this country have safe drinking water.


We saw the incredible tragedy of the genocide in residential schools. There are first nations communities that do not have the funding to find their missing, murdered, dead and disappeared children. This has to be a national priority as part of reconciliation. It cannot simply be pretty words. We have to act, and that means ensuring that when we say “follow the money”, it is no longer the very wealthy or ultrarich who receive the vast majority of federal funds, but the people across this country, indigenous peoples, who get the supports that they need and the quality of life they deserve.


There is the issue of the right to housing. Again, it would be part of our estimates to ensure that all Canadians have roofs over their heads at night. This is not rocket science. It takes investment. Other countries have had the right to housing instilled. In a country with a climate as cold as Canada's, housing should be a fundamental right of every Canadian.


We would provide supports to peoples with disabilities, students and seniors. People have been struggling through this pandemic, yet students are still paying their student loans, seniors are being denied the increased OAS if they are under age 75 and people with disabilities are being asked to wait three years. The Prime Minister wants to pump $20 billion into the TMX pipeline instead of investing in clean energy that would result in hundreds of thousands of new jobs.


The estimates process with an NDP government would be different and better. We will continue to fight for a country where no one is left behind.


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