Statement made on 12 March 2009 by Senator Pierrette Ringuette
Hon. Pierrette Ringuette:
Honourable senators, I have quite a few points to make, and I hope my colleagues will bear with me. I am a member of the National Finance Committee. I have been a member of that committee for a few years.
I have the greatest respect for Senators Murray, McCoy and Atkins and for the words they have just spoken to us. However, I am from Atlantic Canada, and for the last three years, particularly in New Brunswick, we have been losing jobs by the thousands. A thousand jobs in New Brunswick, on a per capita basis, translates to a hundred thousand jobs in Ontario.
For the last three years, I have been constantly fighting for New Brunswickers who were losing jobs and not receiving any help from this government. That is the reality, and I must fight for the people back home who need me to support them as they try to get through this situation. I hope honourable senators will understand that I cannot wholeheartedly support the motion.
Honourable senators, Bill C-10 is an omnibus bill. This is not the budget, for two reasons. There are items in the bill that are not contained in the budget book, and there are items announced in the budget book that are not contained in the bill. Allow me to list a few of them.
The government is buying publicity on TV, stating that there are certain credits for Canadians in the new stimulus plan. Can any honourable senator identify where in Bill C-10 one can find the Home Renovation Tax Credit? The federal Harper government is spinning and spending millions of dollars on TV and radio ads for something that does not exist; the Home Renovation Tax Credit does not exist in Bill C-10.
Another item that does not exist in Bill C-10 is the First-Time Home Buyers' Credit. This credit is not contained in Bill C-10, but it was spun in this chamber.
Another item that was spun in this place and repeatedly raised by the Leader of the Government in the Senate when asked questions about the situation of the economy, and yet not contained in Bill C-10, is an expansion of the Working Income Tax Benefit.
The fourth item that was spun in the budget plan but is not contained in the omnibus bill is the money for rural broadband.
I am here to work on behalf of Canadians and I am trying to do the best I can. When we have this kind of attitude, of repeatedly saying one thing and doing another, we have no choice but to question almost every word. How can we not question all of Bill C-10?
Well, I questioned. I asked the witness from Transport Canada if he could inform the members of the National Finance Committee as to the amount of infrastructure funds that were spent over the last three years, on what kind of project and where. I asked that question February 24, three and a half weeks ago, and we still do not have the information. However, the information that I have with regard to infrastructure is that only 4 per cent of the new funding pledged by the Conservative government initiative in 2007 was disbursed to Canadians.
We have a major problem with regard to ensuring that what this government says and does, and what it spins, is accurate. That is, from my perspective, one of the first matters to address with regard to infrastructure. Investment in Canada and the national securities commission need to be deeply studied. I have great grave reservations there.
Another issue with regard to economic stimulus is that we have been hearing, for the last three months, over and over again — on TV, in reports and documentaries, in the U.S. and in Canada — the news that consumers are worried and that we must ensure they regain their confidence and have the money to spend in the marketplace. Here comes the cycle.
Honourable senators, can you believe that, as an economic stimulus plan, the current government is imposing wage restraints on public service employees, on the RCMP, on Crown corporation employees and, last but not least, our army personnel? One day we hear that the army is in dire need of recruitment, and I believed that. One recruiting tool is wages, the decent pay that we provide to members of our Armed Forces. However, in order for them to receive decent pay, to receive the premium, they need to go and fight in Afghanistan.
Speaking about premiums, nowhere in Bill C-10 is there mention of removing the very nice bonus that those higher in the hierarchy receive on a yearly basis, which amounts to millions of dollars. There is no restraint or cutback on that. Why do we cut the people who are the lowest paid on the scale but some keep their bonuses? This government is sounding more and more like our Canadian banks.
We have issues concerning Crown assets that will be sold at some time in the next 12 months, although no one knows which particular assets the government intends to sell. They will be sold during a depressed market. Give me a break. Canadians worked hard to pay for those assets, and now the government wants to sell them at a fire sale. Give me a break.
A 5 per cent cut is proposed to the Public Service Commission. The government is in desperate need of hiring people to replace the public service employees who will retire. We need to increase staffing by 20 per cent, and yet this budget proposes cuts to the very agency responsible for recruiting. Bill C-10 contains proposals that simply do not make sense.
One issue that I find very odd is that while we are losing 100,000 jobs per month in this country, this government is spinning that it will provide more training. It proposes to provide 10,000 training positions for EI recipients. That amounts to 10 per cent of the people who are being fired on a monthly basis. Certainly that will help our people a great deal.
I would like to direct honourable senators' attention to a few issues in the Main Estimates 2009-2010. One issue is cuts to workplace skills training. There is nothing in the Main Estimates for the upcoming year compared to $229 million for it in last year's Main Estimates. Another issue is the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, which was $99 million last year and is $62 million this year. A third issue affects grants to voluntary sector organizations for adult literacy and essential skills. Last year, the budget was $24.8 million and this year it is $20.7 million. A fourth issue is cuts to funding for training for the labour market from $528 million last year to $505 million this year. Recognition of skills received $77 million in the budget last year and will receive only $49 million this upcoming year. The downsizing amounts to $2 billion.
I refer honourable senators to the transfer payments program that, in Budget 2006-2007, was cut from this government. The social transfer includes social programs and post-secondary education. Between 2006 and 2013, my province of New Brunswick was supposed to receive, for training purposes included, $2,183,000,000. With the revised formula from this government, my province will receive $237 million less. Yet, this government says it will provide training and help people.
With respect to the Employment and Insurance program, for the past year parliamentarians in this place and in the other place have been complaining about delays in servicing those who apply for EI benefit. Some delays are as long as 90 days. We have complained regularly about that because people need the service. We should provide that guarantee to people but how will we do that? In the Main Estimates 2009-2010, the operating expenditures last year for the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development were $606 million and this year it is only $586 million.
The Hon. the Speaker: I regret to interrupt the honourable senator, but her 15 minutes has expired.
Senator Ringuette: May I have five more minutes?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Ringuette: I do not need to have a written speech because I care as much as I can in order to better serve the people of New Brunswick. I assure honourable senators that if the government is allowed to reduce the current operating budget of Human Resource and Skills Development Canada, it will take even more time to provide the services to EI recipients.
Honourable senators, I have been talking about Bill C-10 and the estimates. Yesterday in the Finance Committee, there was suddenly a glimmer of hope that we might be able to provide help to the most needy because we can deal with the issues surrounding pay equity and navigable waters and make the necessary changes. With respect to navigable waters, the official who appeared before the Finance Committee said that it would take at least six weeks before they have any guidelines. Parliament has the power to interfere on those issues.
For all the unemployed fathers, mothers and young people, we desperately need to pass this bill as it stands. Then, we will have done our job for the needy.