New Democratic Party
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP)
Madam Speaker, since this is the first opportunity I have had to rise while you have been in the chair, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment and tell you how proud I am as a woman parliamentarian and a fellow British Columbian to see you in the position that you hold today.
I am speaking today on the budget implementation bill. A number of issues have been discussed already in the House around the inadequacies of the budget that the government has put forward. The budget does not adequately address the very desperate needs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast in this critically uncertain economic time. People are losing their jobs and families are very concerned about being able to hold on to their homes.
The government is also doing something else. The government had committed not to bring in unnecessary confidence motions, yet in the budget bill the government is adding items that have nothing to do with the budget. It is bringing in through the back door things that are more ideologically motivated and really have nothing to do with stimulating Canada's economy.
The Conservatives are taking away women's right to pursue pay equity under the Human Rights Act. They are opening up Canadian industry to more foreign ownership. They are almost putting a for sale sign on Air Canada. They are making punitive efforts to go after students who are carrying student loan debt. The budget overall totally fails to protect the vulnerable in our society, to safeguard the jobs of today or to create the green technology jobs needed for tomorrow. It does nothing to protect the vulnerable in society, the people without homes, women and children. There is nothing in it for child care.
Some of the things in the budget implementation bill which have nothing to do with stimulating the economy are the amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act to streamline the approval process. More authority is being given to the minister to allow construction without environmental assessments. Pay equity will no longer go through the Canadian Human Rights Commission. With regard to foreign ownership there are changes to the Investment Canada Act so that only significant investments will be reviewed. A new national security provision has been added, which is rather worrisome. Members will remember the debate we had last year in the House of Commons about RADARSAT-2. I have mentioned the Canada student loan changes.
Collective agreements are being cut. In fact, the government on that side of the House that always talks about crime and community safety is rolling back the increases that were given to the RCMP only in June. If the RCMP cannot trust the Conservative government, I do not know how other Canadians can.
Another issue is employment insurance. The necessary changes have not been made to the two-week waiting period. In my community people are waiting up to eight weeks for their first cheque. As we all know, less than 40% of working Canadians qualify for employment insurance and the government has made no changes to that.
I want to take a moment to talk about the process my community went through in the lead-up to the budget. We were asked by the government side and by Canadians to consult with them about what they wanted in this federal budget.
In my riding we sent out thousands of invitations to British Columbians to participate in a community forum. Large advertisements were placed in the papers and emails were sent. Each of the three city councils and councillors were invited to attend. A non-partisan facilitator who has a lot of experience, Ted Kuntz, was present, along with other facilitators.
On January 3 there was a snowstorm in my community. We do not get snowstorms in New Westminster—Coquitlam very often, but even then the room was full of people from the community, community organizations and interested people from my riding who wanted to have some of the hard discussions around what they would like to see in the federal budget. We broke down into small groups with the facilitators and came back with recommendations. I want to talk about the kinds of things that activists, city councillors and mayors in my community thought should be in the budget.
They noted that from 2005 to 2008, homelessness in the city of New Westminster has risen 53%. They noted that homelessness in the Coquitlam area, in the tri-cities had risen 157% from 2005 to 2008. They noted that average rents in New Westminster had gone up 28% in the last six years alone. All of us from B.C. and from the Vancouver region know how unaffordable ordinary housing is for families. They talked about needing a national affordable housing strategy, and of course we did not see that in the budget. There is a small tax credit for people who want to renovate their cottages and for people who want to put new grass around their homes, but there is no national housing strategy. Canada at one time had a housing strategy that was the envy of the world. Nations came from all over the world to look at how we developed our housing strategy, but no longer. That speaks to why we have so many people on the street today.
My community also raised the issue of transit. They would like to get out of their cars and get around our community and to downtown Vancouver with rapid transit that would be ecologically more sustainable. They talked about the Evergreen transit line which, by the way, is mentioned in the budget as the priority for British Columbia, but all it says in the budget is that it could be funded. There are no hard dollars attached, no real commitment at this point to the Evergreen line.
They talked about the desperate need in my riding for seismic upgrades to our schools. Madam Speaker, you know, because you live in the same province as I do, that we are in a very dangerous earthquake zone, the worst seismic hazard zone in all of Canada, in fact. Fifteen schools in my riding rate high on the need for vital upgrades to make those schools safe for our children in the event of an earthquake.
They raised the issue of public safety. They noted that Canadians had been promised in the 2006 election an additional 2,500 RCMP officers for municipalities across the country. We have not seen that either. My community in Coquitlam has one of the lowest ratios of police officers to population in the entire country. Instead of delivering on this promise, the government is rolling back an agreement on wage increases for the RCMP. I submit that could further demoralize the force and make it even more difficult to recruit the RCMP officers that we need.
Child care was a huge item mentioned because the demand far outstrips the supply in my community. Five hundred and twenty requests for child care placements were denied in the city of New Westminster in 2007 alone. Average full-time child care spaces cost families about $700 a month which is far too high.
They talked about the green economy. They talked about shipbuilding. They talked about salmon. Salmon is almost a cultural icon in British Columbia but is also very much a part of our economy. They also looked for promises on addressing the pine beetle infestation that has affected British Columbia. Douglas College tuition has increased by 78% in the last five years.
It was a terrific consultative process. Out of that process came the “Community Blueprint for the Federal Budget, New Westminster--Coquitlam--Port Moody, Economic Investment Considerations and Priorities”. We have heard over and over on this side of the House how New Democrats have not put any effort into what they wanted to see from the Minister of Finance. This document was put together by the community members, the community leaders and ordinary citizens in my communities of New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody and was delivered to the Minister of Finance in advance of the budget being tabled in the House. However, we did not see our needs reflected in the Conservatives' budget.
Therefore, today I would like to seek unanimous consent to table this document, the community blueprint for the federal budget from New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody, and have it added to the public record. There have been some discussions with different parties, indicating that I would be asking for unanimous consent, and I hope I have that.
Subtopic: BUDGET IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2009