Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, one thing I have come to know in this place is that the hallmark of Liberal budgets is they leave a legacy of broken promises. I will focus my comments on what some of those broken promises are.
We have heard the Liberals say that it would be a budget that would really support students and would deal with the crisis that is facing students. Only two days before the budget, I read in the Vancouver Province that tuition fees at the University of British Columbia were going up another 16%. Arts students will now pay about $4,000 in tuition compared to $2,000 three years ago. That particular increase was on top of previous tuition hikes of 23% and 30%, and in effect doubles the tuition costs for students at that facility.
That university is not alone. It is happening at every post-secondary educational facility in British Columbia and in many other parts of the country.
Why is this happening? Is it the fault of the facilities? Is it the fault of the students that somehow they are not paying their way? No. As was pointed out in the alternative federal budget, it is that the cash transfer from the federal government for post-secondary education is 50% lower than it was 10 years ago. That is why students are in a crisis.
I read another story the day before the budget which said that according to a new study, four out of 10 university students are unable to graduate on time because they have to drop courses in favour of paid work to make ends meet. Actually, this study was commissioned by the millennium fund which was set up by the former prime minister. This is further evidence of the kind of crisis students are in.
It quite astounded me to see the finance minister stand up in the House and hear him crow about all the good things the government was doing for students in this country. In effect what the government was doing was allowing students to borrow more debt. That is what the solution has been from the federal government, rather than addressing the systemic serious flaws and the fact that transfer payments have been cut back.
Let me turn for a moment to housing. When the Prime Minister was in Quebec City on February 23, he said in remarks to the media that there would be a five year commitment in new spending, five years of funding in this coming federal election. He said it would be in the Liberal platform. In the budget there is zero dollars for housing.
There are many members who represent ridings and communities where housing is probably the most serious daily problem facing people. People are unable to meet their rent payments. They are unable to secure decent, affordable and safe shelter.
The Prime Minister promises a five year commitment for funding in the election and a few weeks later in the budget there is a zero commitment to housing. Is it any wonder that people have lost faith in the Liberal government and the political process in general.
Michael Shapcott is the spokesperson and co-chair of the National Housing and Homelessness Network. He pointed out in his analysis of the budget that from 1984 until today we have suffered with cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars in social housing funding in Canada.
In fact, at that same press conference in Quebec City on February 23, the Prime Minister had the gall to say that he had not cut social housing. I remember raising the issue in the House a few days later. Not only did he cut social housing, but he demolished the whole program. It was when he was finance minister that social housing was cut.
There have been some commitments through the affordable housing framework agreement which was signed in 2001, and there was finally some money committed, although it was far short of what was called for across the country. Even after that, when the analysis is done and we look at what has been spent, only about 8.8% of the promised funds have actually been spent on developing affordable housing.
That is another example of a broken promise by the Liberal government. I would go further.
My colleague from Palliser has mentioned the situation with the debt. I remember in 1997 and again in the 2000 election, the Liberal promise was that whatever surpluses there were, 50% would go to debt reduction and tax relief and 50% would go to social programs. In reality, during that period of time, 44% of the fiscal dividend has gone to debt reduction, 46% went to tax cuts and only 10% of that so-called dividend has been allocated to genuine enhancements in federal programs. This comes from the very good analysis that has been done by the alternative federal government. Is it any wonder that people lose faith in the budgetary process.
The finance minister made a lot of noise about how he would target his budget to ensure that the debt to GDP ratio would go down to 25%. When we examine the impact of that in terms of the loss of revenue and investment in social spending that has suffered so much, we have to seriously question the logic and the priorities that have been put forward by the present finance minister, the one who came before him, and the one before him.
In his analysis of the budget, the executive director of the National Anti-Poverty Organization said:
First it was an obsession with the deficit. Now it's the debt.
It is a bitter pill indeed for Canada's poor, who as a result, get nothing for social housing, child poverty, employment insurance reform or other social needs.... As the finance minister in Chrétien's government who brought down the drastic budget of 1995, [the present Prime Minister] bears a large share of the responsibility for the unravelling of Canada's social programs that his father helped put in place.
There are people out there who watch what is going on. There are people who actually take the time to monitor the long term impacts of budgets and what the impact is on low income people.
I held a forum in my own riding of East Vancouver. We heard from the Vancouver and District Labour Council. We heard from the Vancouver Aboriginal Council and the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities. We heard from people from End Legislative Poverty and from the Tenants' Rights Action Coalition. They all said the same thing, that the people they were dealing with on a daily basis were suffering the terrible impacts of the broken promises from the government.
The budget was a great disappointment to people. I look forward to the day, soon I hope, when we can get out there and have a debate in terms of an election and examine what the real record of the Liberal government has been. People will have an opportunity to cast a ballot and to make a decision through a vote about what they want to see in terms of changes. I think people are really disgusted with what they have seen in terms of not only the corruptness of what goes on such as in the sponsorship scandal, but the broken promises through successive budgets that have hurt the most needy and vulnerable people in our society.
I do not think the budget is anything to be proud of. Indeed, it is something we should examine in light of all the other budgets that have come down to see how much the gap has widened in this country between wealthy, affluent people and poor people. That is the true measure of whether or not the federal government has done its job in distributing income, support and wealth in this country. I would say it gets a failing grade.
Subtopic: The Budget