Mr. Ed Harper (Simcoe Centre, Ref.)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-93.
First I would like to address some of the comments which were made a moment ago by the hon. member for Mississauga South. He was trying to defend the government's position on the GST. He suggested that it might be an election issue. I assure all members it will be a major issue in the coming election.
The promise that was made in the red book, without reading the weasel words or the fine print, to scrap, abolish or get rid of the GST was made by a government in full knowledge of the difficulties that would be put in place trying to do that.
When he says we cannot take a few isolated comments out of context, I remind him and all members that the current finance minister apologized to the Canadian people for the government's lack of performance on the GST.
Not only did the finance minister apologize, but the Deputy Prime Minister resigned. A member of cabinet resigned over their failure to do what they had promised the Canadian people.
Talking about the resignation, I have to mention that it was done only after a poll was taken in the riding to make sure that the Deputy Prime Minister would be re-elected, hardly a move to address the cynicism that exists between the politicians and the voters. Her denial to do what she should have done for over a period of a week certainly hurt politicians, not just the government.
We had the Prime Minister who, in a town hall meeting, took exception to people who understood what they were saying differently and challenged that they should have read the red book.
Again on the GST, the government talks about harmonization. While in opposition the Liberals fought harmonization. As a matter of fact, the current finance minister was very strong in his opposition to harmonization. He said that once it is in there, we will never get rid of it. How he has changed his position now that he has moved from the opposition to the government.
In order to save face, to try to put some kind of positive spin on the GST, we get the $1 billion incentive to the three Atlantic provinces to come on board with harmonization. That is $1 billion which will be paid by taxpayers right across this country.
In the province of Ontario, the Ontario treasurer resisted harmonization on the basis that it would shift the tax burden on to Ontario taxpayers. It would increase it by $3 billion. He rightly resisted it.
When we talk about the GST, it indeed will be an election issue. It is one that we have to be honest about. I do not think the government, in making the promise, was honest. Its members are still not replying to the reasons why they did not fulfil their promise in being truthful with the Canadian people.
We are talking about the budget as it relates to the deficit and the debt this afternoon. It is one of the main reasons for my seeking office in 1993. I was very concerned about the insanity of the annual deficits that both the Liberals and the Conservatives had been running, $30 billion, $40 billion overspending resulting in now $600 billion of debt.
My concern was not so much for me as it was for my children and my grandchildren. I realized that while I had been in business over the years, I had allowed the governments of the day to engage in this overspending. They had mortgaged the future of my children and my grandchildren.
We were enjoying the benefits of being the number one country in the world and enjoying the very best in social programs but we were not paying our way. We were mortgaging their future. They were going to be paying our tab for being the number one country in the world, which we are, but we have done it on the backs of our children and our grandchildren.
That is something that we should be ashamed of. I am here to do all I can to reverse that, to bring some fiscal sanity to this place. I am hoping we will be able to do that.
When I think of this fourth budget that we are dealing with today, I recall the first budget, the second budget and the third budget. I have to go back to the first budget and say what a shame it was that the government wasted that first budget. It did absolutely nothing to deal with the serious problem of the deficit we had been running which at that point was almost $500 billion.
As a matter of fact, when the Liberals ran in that campaign they made light of the deficit and debt by telling Canadian taxpayers that while it is a problem, do not be worried. It is okay. Do not fret. It is something they would look after. In the first budget the Liberals failed to address it any meaningful way. As difficult as it is to believe, they actually worsened the situation because they lowered the cigarette tax. They caved in to the smugglers. They said they have to deal with the smugglers and they reduced the tax on cigarettes. They were more concerned abut the smugglers with no regard for the health and cost implications to health care for Canadians.
I found it absolutely unbelievable to see the current health minister stand in the House and talk about the concern he has for the young people in our country who are smoking and that "we have to do all we can to make sure it does not happen". However, he is a member of the government that reduced the taxes on cigarettes and by doing so encouraged thousands of young people to take up smoking and put their future health at great risk. I found it extremely hard to believe when the health minister stood up today trying to show concern for the health of our young people, when by their actions they started many young people down that road.
The price of cigarettes was a major deterrent. I saw it in my own riding after the tax was reduced. When I drove by a high school I could see a significant number of young people smoking. The numbers increased because they could afford to buy cigarettes again and they were delighted. I find his concern now about the health of our young people a little difficult to believe. Of course, there was no thought of the future cost implications to our health budgets.
The second budget was a bit of an awakening. In the second budget the finance minister began to make a connection that the
deficit was resulting in high unemployment, in high taxes and was perhaps more serious than the government thought it was back in 1993 during the campaign.
Even at that point, the government still was not even serious enough to really tackle the deficit and come out with a program to eliminate it over a specific period of time. I recall very well that there was a warning issued by Moody's to the finance minister. Moody's told the finance minister, I believe before the second budget, that he had a very serious problem. "You have been living beyond your means. You have a huge debt load and you are going to have to sell your bonds to maintain this lavish lifestyle you have enjoyed. We are concerned enough about your position that we are considering downgrading your bonds. We are telling you this because we want you to know how serious we think the situation is and how it is going to reflect in the advice that we give to people you borrow from, because you will have to borrow".
There was another piece of information given to our finance minister at that time. He ignored the first and he also ignored the advice that he had to set a target date to balance the books. This rolling two year target where somewhere down the road we may get to a balanced budget is not going to fly with the people buying bonds. Give us a commitment. Give us a date. Of course, we know what happened when the finance minister ignored that advice. There were many who shot the messenger. Moody's was giving us good advice but there were those in government who asked who these young finance people in the red suspenders were to tell them what they should be doing. As a result of that advice being ignored, our bonds were downgraded with the potential to cost us more in interest payments.
In the third budget we did get some action. We heard again from the finance minister these deficits and debts were a serious problem. I am sure he was having a battle within his own party about whether to cut or spend more on social programs. Thank goodness his position prevailed and there were some limited cuts, but not nearly enough to eliminate the deficit and balance the books.
Now we get to the fourth budget, the budget we are talking about today. As difficult as I find this to believe, I actually heard cheering from the other side when the finance minister stood up in the House and bragged about the fact that we will only be overspending by $19 billion. This is an accomplishment to be recognized with great applause that we are now only spending $19 billion more than we are taking in in taxes. This is an accomplishment.
There was even the suggestion that the battle is won. It is over. Now we can start spending again. We do not need to worry about it. We have won the battle. I have not heard anybody in the private sector saying that the battle is over. Is $19 billion of overspending something to applaud? I cannot believe it, but they did. I heard it.
Then we look at the other side of this $19 billion of overspending. We are now approaching $600 billion of debt. I did not hear any applause when that was mentioned. As a matter of fact, that may not have been mentioned too strongly, as indeed it should not have been. This Liberal government has increased our federal debt from $500 billion to $600 billion.
I heard government members saying in 1993 not to worry about the deficit and the debt, then during their term of office they realized that we were right and they were wrong and the deficit and the debt are a problem. I heard what they were saying about OAS and health care, the great defenders of health care and OAS. They are now doing far more, as we talked about.
NAFTA and free trade they opposed when in opposition. Now they are the biggest free traders we have ever seen. The Prime Minister spends as much time out of the country as he does in the country. Free trade has been good for Canada and NAFTA has been good for Canada.
The government does not know how to create jobs. The Liberals did not know how to create them when they were in opposition. They are now starting come around but it is a complete flip-flop from what they were saying when they campaigned in 1993 on all those issues.
Credibility is going to be an issue in this coming election. I suggest there is not a whole lot of it on the government side. The Liberals are going to have great difficulty just on those two major promises that were made to the people to get their vote, job creation and getting rid of the GST. Those two promises, regardless of the 173 others in the famous red ink book, are the ones on which Canadians gave Liberals their trust. It was based on both of those. They have failed the Canadian people on both those major promises. They are going to answer for it in a few weeks.
Promises made, promises broken. Canadians do not like to have promises broken, not when it involves jobs and not when it involves their pocketbooks. The voters are about to have their say. There will be some very surprised people. The polls indicating some popularity right now are paper thin.
This was an election budget to try to calm the waters and plug the holes in the dam, and there are some pretty big holes in that dam. Going into this election the voters will be asking, and we will be encouraging them, are they better off today than in 1993.
I do not think we are going to find very many voters from coast to coast who will answer in the affirmative to that question. They will take a look at that and say "you are absolutely right, I am not and yet I was told I was going to be".
They will look at jobs. They were promised jobs. The facts are there are 1.5 million unemployed today, 2 million to 3 million Canadians underemployed today, one in four of those who have a job worried about whether they will hold that job.
There have been 77 straight months of unemployment in excess of 9 per cent. Am I better off today relative to jobs? I think not. That is about the same number as when the Liberals promised jobs, jobs, jobs to get elected in 1993. They have not produced them. They will have to answer for it.
Let us go to taxes now. The GST is a tax. Canadians hate that tax. Canadians heard the words "we're going to get rid of it" and the weasel words, "scrap, abolish, get rid of, read the red book if you can find one". They were looking for tax relief. What the government has given the taxpayers is 37 tax increases and it has not scrapped the GST.
That is why voters are so cynical about politicians. They do not have jobs. They do have the GST and their taxes have increased. All we hear is that there have not been direct personal tax increases, which is true, but there have been 37 indirect tax increases with the granddaddy of them all the CPP payroll tax increase. Some can call it an investment but it is a payroll tax and it is a tax increase.
The Fraser Institute has just released a study which states that the average Canadian family has taken a $3,000 pay reduction since the Liberals have been in office. That has come about because most Canadians have seen their salaries frozen and in that same timeframe Canadians have had 37 tax increases. The reality is the average Canadian family is $3,000 poorer than it was in 1993. Again, am I better off today than I was in 1993? I think not.
The record is there. We have record consumer bankruptcies. It was almost 80,000, just 79,000 and change which is up by 22 per cent since 1996. Am I better off today? There are 80,000 consumers who will say no very loudly.
Business bankruptcies are up by 7 per cent to 14,229. Canadian household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 54 per cent in 1985 and is 91 per cent in 1995. Am I better off today than I was in 1993? I do not think so. Canadians are asking themselves, "if this is a feel good budget, why don't I feel good?"
In this atmosphere the government is saying that low interest rates will get the economy moving, that there will be no tax cuts because low interest rates will do it. We have record bankruptcies and record consumer debt. How in the world will low interest rates get the economy moving? Canadians have lost their borrowing power. They are in debt right up to here.
However, we should remember that when the Liberals talk about low interest rates they are talking about going into debt which is one thing they know a great deal about. We have to give them credit for that. They know about going into debt. That is what they are encouraging the Canadian people to do: "Borrow, borrow more. You can borrow your way to prosperity. Just go deeper in debt". That is a terrible message to send to the Canadian people. We should be asking the Canadian people to be fiscally responsible, to not spend what they do not have because future generations will be paying for it. Of course, the government cannot do that because it cannot even do it.
The low interest rates factor is a two-edged sword because not everybody benefits from low interest rates. There are those who do but there are many who do not. I am thinking of those who are living on fixed incomes. Across the board tax cuts help all Canadians. That is what will get our economy moving. That is what will create the jobs Canadians are so desperately looking for. The government has not made the connection between high taxes and high unemployment.
We have been going down this road of government spending and high taxes for 25 years and it has not worked. Why in the world are we not looking for a better way, a different way? What we have been doing has not been working. The unemployment numbers support this claim and something has to be done about it.
There is a lack of vision, a lack of ideas. It is the status quo. The Liberals have been saying: "We have always done it this way so we have to keep going down this road. We can't do it any differently. We just don't have the vision or the plan to do it". I am proud to say that we have a vision and we are going to be offering it to the Canadian voters in the coming election. I believe there will be the change in this place that is so desperately needed.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Budget Implementation Act, 1997