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Thank you for visiting my website. I hope this offers you useful information on the work I am doing as Wascana’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons.
If you have any questions or comments about any federal program or service, or need help dealing with any department or agency of the Government of Canada, please don’t hesitate to contact my Constituency Office. It is an honour to serve our community.
Yesterday in Ottawa I spoke to a meeting of a progressive policy think-tank known as “Canada 2020″. The topic was the lack of growth in the Canadian economy over the past decade and how that is affecting the middle-class. The complete text appears on my website.
Later yesterday, Finance Minister Joe Oliver issued a rebuttal — sort of. While he was clearly miffed, he failed to make any specific response to any of the main points.
I pointed out the chronically bad records of Conservative governments when it comes to balancing budgets — there was only one in all of the 20th century.
I pointed out that BEORE any recession arrived in Canada in the fall of 2008, Mr. Harper had already burned through the sizeable fiscal surplus left to him by his Liberal predecessors, and he put our country back on the verge of deficits once again.
I pointed out that two-thirds of Canada’s federal debt today is attributable to the deficits accumulated by the Mulroney and Harper governments, and that Mr. Harper alone has saddled every Canadian with $4400 in new Harper debt.
I pointed out that Mr. Harper has a weak record on economic growth, job creation, job quality, median family incomes, economic fairness, the well-being of the middle-class and all those working so hard just to get to the middle-class.
I pointed out, like the late Jim Flaherty did before me, that the Harper government’s Income Splitting scheme is very expensive and unfair. It also does nothing for economic growth.
I pointed out the sheer waste of costly Conservative government advertising, the huge hole the government has created in infrastructure funding, and the way Canada has fallen behind in the advancement of science and innovation.
I called on the government to improve its support for municipal infrastructure, access to higher learning and skills, and research and development.
Mr. Oliver shied away from all these areas. His rebuttal focused instead on one thing — the extent to which Transfer Payments to the provinces had been reduced in the battle against Brian Mulroney’s massive deficits and debt in the 1990s.
Well, if that’s what he wants to argue about, here’s the answer:
Maybe Mr. Oliver should pick a different topic.
April 14, 2015
Check against delivery
Good morning everyone. Greetings and good wishes from the Parliament of Canada, and especially from Justin Trudeau and our National Liberal Caucus. Thank you for coming.
I’ll do my best to keep things moving quickly this morning. I presume you all want to get over to the Court House for another day of the Duffy trial. I wouldn’t want to keep you from this most significant exercise in government transparency.
I’m grateful to “Canada 2020″ for being our hosts today. I’m glad to kick-off this new “Breakfast Series” on economic issues. I also want to thank my colleague, Mauril Belanger, the MP for Ottawa-Vanier, for spreading the word about this event — on very short notice. Mauril, thank you very much.
What I want to talk about this morning is economic growth — or the lack thereof over most of this past decade.
Greater growth is what’s needed to lift the well-being of Canada’s middle-class and all those working so hard just to get to the middle-class. It’s the key to fairness. It’s also key to balancing the federal books and, more importantly, keeping them balanced for any appreciable length of time. The Harper government has failed on all these counts, and Canada needs a better economic plan.
This is a good day for a discussion of middle-class economics. It was exactly two years ago today that Justin Trudeau became Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and no one has done more to put the middle-class at the forefront of public policy. But some folks still won’t listen.
A week ago in Toronto, Finance Minister Joe Oliver unburdened himself of a remarkably bitter speech that largely ignored middle-class realities.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it was good to see the Minister out and about. We haven’t seen him much in Parliament. He’s made it to the Daily Question Period only five times since last December. And befuddled by oil prices, he punted his budget into a whole new fiscal year. So people were anxious to hear what he had to say last week.
Sadly, he contented himself with an absurd dissertation about the history of balancing budgets. He seemed totally obsessed with the 1970’s, and his memory was highly selective.
He forgot the OPEC oil crisis of that decade. He forgot John Diefenbaker’s six consecutive deficits a decade earlier. He forgot that only one Conservative Prime Minister in all of the 20th century actually managed to balance a budget — that was Robert Borden, the year was 1912, and it lasted for just one year.
But more importantly, Mr. Oliver forgot that more than two-thirds of all the federal debt outstanding in Canada today can be attributed to the deficits accumulated by Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper. Mr. Harper alone has added $4400 in new Harper-debt for every man, woman and child in Canada.
Compare that — as Mr. Oliver suggested we should — to the Liberal record.
When Liberals last came to government in 1993, we inherited from Mr. Mulroney an economy that the world’s financial media said was eligible for “honourary membership in the Third World”. A $40-billion annual deficit was suffocating jobs and growth. Just servicing that debt was sucking up fully one-third of all government revenues. The IMF was knocking at the door.
Within three years, Liberals eliminated that deficit. We ushered in a decade of surplus budgets. We paid down debt, slashed the debt-ratio in half, reduced taxes, safeguarded the Canadian banking system, secured the future of the Canada Pension Plan, increased Transfers to Provinces to a record high, and invested in families, medicare, education, infrastructure, and science.
Three-and-a-half-million net new jobs were created and the economy grew at annual rates better than 3%.
Fast forward to 2006. Mr. Harper took power and inherited a $13-billion annual surplus — probably the strongest fiscal situation in the western world. But in less than three years, he put this country back on the verge of deficits once again. And that was BEFORE — I repeat, BEFORE — not “because of” the recession that began in the fall of 2008.
Through poor policy choices and reckless spending while the economy was still vibrant, Mr. Harper squandered Canada’s fiscal security. The recession made it worse, but it was Stephen Harper who made us vulnerable in the first place.
And note this — that recession (which Mr. Harper still blames for everything) lasted only nine months and ended six years ago. But still Canada struggles with an economy at low ebb. It’s been Stephen Harper’s “diminished decade”.
Far from decent growth, since the Harper government came to power, Canada has had an average annual economic growth rate of only about 1.75% — that’s the worst growth record of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett in the 1930’s.
But rather than tackle this weakness, Mr. Harper distracts. He says “not to worry”, we’re still doing better than other countries. Really? Last fall, the IMF was already predicting that 139 other countries would grow faster this year than would Canada, including the US, the UK, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia … even Ireland and Greece and many others. And that was before the big downturn in oil.
A more recent analysis by the OECD in March shows improving growth in many major economies — across the Euro zone, in Germany, France and Italy, in Japan and India — but slower growth in Canada.
All our major chartered banks, have revised their Canadian growth forecasts downward. So has the Conference Board. The Governor of the Bank of Canada says the whole first quarter of this year will look “atrocious”. StatsCanada says our economy actually shrank in January.
So, the Harper government has failed to achieve meaningful economic growth. What does that mean for the middle-class?
It means weak job creation. The government brags about stale job numbers that are 3 and 4 and 5 years out-of-date. The reality of jobs growth last year was a 60% drop from two years earlier. Unemployment is projected to remain high. Long-term joblessness is getting to be a particular problem.
Job quality is also on the decline. The CIBC says it’s at a 25-year low. Involuntary part-time work is rising. Another 28,000 full-time jobs disappeared in the latest StatsCan survey last Friday.
Median after-tax family incomes (in other words, middle-class incomes) are largely flat compared to where they were 30 years ago. Income growth has averaged just less than half a percentage point per year. People don’t feel they’re getting ahead.
Household debt is at a record high — 165% of disposable incomes. Retail sales are down. Major stores from Target to Future Shop are closing.
Three-quarters of those working in the private sector don’t have a company pension plan. The average 35-year-old today is able to save less than half of what their parents did at that age. Among those now nearing retirement, fewer than one-third have even $100,000 put aside to sustain themselves, and another third have virtually no retirement savings at all.
Two-thirds of middle-class parents are worried about affording post-secondary education for their kids. In more than 40% of empty-nester families, their adult children have moved back home (or never left) because the economy is just not good enough to let them get started on their own.
And ominously, national surveys show a majority of Canadians believe the next generation will actually be worse off than their parents.
Think about that. It means the fundamental Canadian middle-class expectation of inevitable progress … of upward mobility from one generation to the next … can no longer be taken for granted.
These are the fruits of too little economic growth. Mr. Harper and the elusive Joe Oliver don’t seem to think any of this matters. They have no growth plan. Their only goal — at the expense of all else — is to cobble together a very large tax break for a very small fraction of Canadians, most especially the wealthiest.
To make financial room for that, they sell-off federal assets — everything from the shares in General Motors to an historic tree farm in Saskatchewan. They punch a big hole of nearly $5-billion in current funding for municipal infrastructure. They cut support for the RCMP and other public safety agencies. They clawback money intended for veterans. And yes, they lard on billions of dollars in new taxes.
And what’s all that in aid of? So they can impose Income Splitting for the wealthy — so those earning $233,000 can get the biggest tax break.
This scheme is too expensive — it will cost more than $2-billion every year. It’s unfair — fewer that 15% of Canadian households can qualify; 85% will never get a penny. It favours those who have the most, at the expense of those with the least. It deepens inequality. It does nothing for growth. It won’t create a single job.
Canada can do so much better!
We can have an economic growth plan to drive greater prosperity, ambition, optimism, security and fairness — especially at the heart of our economy, the middle-class.
First, when resources are tight, there’s no room for waste. So why is this government spending $3-billion more per year on expensive external consultants to duplicate the public service. Why have the numbers of political staffers escalated? Why is the Prime Minister’s Office so bloated?
And why are your hard-earned tax-dollars being squandered on highly-partisan, tax-paid government advertising? To date, this government’s advertising costs have topped $750-million — three-quarters of a Billion Dollars! Sometimes promoting things that don’t even exist!
How many Veterans could have been helped with that amount of money? How many summer jobs for students could have been created? How many extra Mounties could have been recruited or food inspectors put on the job to keep Canadians safe?
And yet, this profligate government has the gall to drop another $7.5-million for more ads this spring — spoiling the hockey playoffs again to the tune of $100,000 for every 30-seconds of airtime — to flog their long-delayed, already discredited budget.
It’s all deeply disrespectful of taxpayers. All sheer waste.
A far better way to manage the country’s finances would be to invest — properly and prudently — in the fundamentals that drive better growth … to make our economy bigger and stronger, more competitive, productive and prosperous.
A good place to start would be transformative investments in community and public infrastructure. Think of this — urban congestion in our major cities, caused by old and limited infrastructure, costs the national economy $15-billion every year. And much of that is preventable.
As fiscal hawks like David Dodge tell us, with interest rates at historic lows, now is the time to build. We can convert that short-term cost advantage into long-term capital assets. As we do so, we will create tens of thousands of good solid middle-class jobs, while building the underpinnings of greater growth, productivity and better jobs in the future. The returns will flow for generations to come.
Support for taking a quantum leap forward on infrastructure is universal. It comes from the G20 and the IMF globally, from the Bank of Canada, and the Premiers, Municipal governments, every major think-tank (including Canada 2020), every major business and labour organization … even the federal Department of Finance!
In their own budget plans, Finance Canada points out that investments in public infrastructure are the single most cost-effective and immediate way to promote jobs and growth — more effective than any other technique, including tax cuts.
But this government has chopped it’s flagship “Building Canada Fund” by a whopping by 87%. Sure, they claim to have a 10-year plan, but three-quarters of the money is totally hypothetical until after 2019. And with a deliberately obscure application process, they missed almost all of last year’s construction season — on purpose. To avoid investing. To save the space for Income Splitting for the wealthy. It’s so wrong-headed.
Every dollar into roads, water or transit brings growth of $1.20. A dollar into affordable housing brings growth of a $1.40. A billion dollars into infrastructure stimulates 16,000 person-years of good employment.
And it will continue to pay dividends, because we’ll lay the foundation for a more successful and prosperous country for years to come — one that’s more resilient, both economically and environmentally.
A similar argument can be made for investments in higher learning and advanced skills — our intellectual “infrastructure”.
Right now, just over 50% of Canadians have some level of post-secondary education — that includes universities, colleges, polytechnics, apprenticeships, on-the-job up-skilling, the whole gamut. And that’s good. But 70% of all the new jobs of this coming decade will require skills beyond high school. Not 50% — 70%!
Urgently, we need to close that gap. The challenge is especially large for Aboriginal young people (they’re the fastest growing segment of our population), and new Canadians, children in low income families, adults with literacy limitations, those living with disabilities and others who have been marginalized.
We need a far more inclusive workforce. We need a culture of lifelong learning. And that means tearing down the barriers that block the way to greater Canadian brainpower.
Couple that with our capacity for scientific research, new technology and innovation.
This didn’t used to be a sore point for Canada. According to the OECD, we used rank in the “top-ten” countries for total investments in R&D. Not anymore. Under the Harper government, we fell back. Among OECD countries the average total investment in R&D comes to about 2.4% of GDP. Canada has dropped to 1.6%.
We invested less in 2012 than we did in 2004. Programs and facilities have been closed. Scientists have been fired and muzzled.
We can and we must do better — both in government and the private sector. And in addition to what can be achieved by applied science driven by the private sector, we need to rebuild federal support for curiosity-based, pure science and discovery once again.
It’s all about brainpower, the creation and dissemination of new knowledge, to maximize our utilization of the best new ideas, to be a smart economy, poised for growth, based on science and facts, not the prejudice of ideology.
There’s more to come. The ideas I’ve offered this morning are just a beginning. But the point is this:
When we cast off the mediocrity of this past “diminished decade” … when we regain our ability to be ambitious and hopeful … when we treat each other fairly … when we work together around a common vision of what we have the capacity to achieve … Canadians can accomplish great things.
One thing is clear. Canada needs a new plan for the economy. One that’s fairly built around the middle-class and all those working hard to get there. One that’s focused on growth, both today and tomorrow. One that restores confidence among Canadians that their children and grandchildren will always be able to do better than the generation before.
Canadians are ready to embrace change. With his plan and his team, Justin Trudeau is ready to provide the opportunity.
As Stephen Harper’s government fills the airwaves with messages of fear, war and terror — talking about anything but the faltering Canadian economy — it’s important to ask if Conservatives are putting their money where their mouth is.
Given all of Mr. Harper’s heated rhetoric, you would think that agencies responsible for public safety — like the RCMP, for example — would be at the top of the government’s priority list. But think again.
Since 2010, annual funding for the Mounties has declined in every year except one. The cuts add up to $598-million, or 18%. After five years of inflation are taken into account, the real effect is a budget reduction of 26%. The amount allocated by the government specifically for the RCMP’s key anti-terrorism unit (known as “INSET”) has been frozen ever since the Harper government came to power, even though the actual costs of that unit have more than tripled.
But that’s not all. In addition to overt cuts and long-term freezes, there is also the sometimes insidious practice of “lapsing”. That’s where the funding for an agency (like the RCMP) gets announced by the government, voted by Parliament, and then a big chunk goes unused. It “lapses” and reverts to the government’s central treasury.
This is what happened to about $10-million that had been ear-marked for the fight against child pornography. It was never utilized. Overall, over the past five years, more than a billion dollars in funding commitments to the RCMP have “lapsed”. Is the loss of that huge amount of money just bad management, or budget-cutting in disguise?
And what are the consequences? The policing and security work of the RCMP get compromised.
After the terrible events in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, at the National War Memorial and on Parliament Hill last October, more police officers were required for national security. RCMP Commissioner Paulson testified to Parliamentary Committees that as many as 600 personnel had to be reassigned to that type of duty — taken away from the fight against organized crime, white collar crime, drugs and gangs.
Given their inadequate resources, the Mounties have been forced to rob Peter to pay Paul.
In addition, forensic labs in Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax have been closed. And the national criminal records database has been allowed to deteriorate under a serious backlog.
This is what you get when the Harper government fails to “walk the talk” on public safety. The Conservatives claim they need to put new powers in the law, but police forces and security officers cannot fully utilize the laws already there when their budgets don’t give them the necessary resources. And new laws will be meaningless without the funding to make them work.
And it’s not just the RCMP. Failures to properly support public safety agencies are riddled throughout the Harper regime:
Maritime search and rescue. The border agency. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Security Intelligence Review Committee. National Defence and Veterans Affairs. The prison system. Canada’s emergency planning and response programs. Transportation safety — rail, air, marine and surface. Not to mention environmental protection and food safety.
The well-being of Canadians is put at risk when these things are undermined. So why is this happening?
It all goes back to Stephen Harper’s promise to a wealthy fraction of Canadians to provide them with a multi-billion-dollar tax break called “Income Splitting”, just as soon as he could declare a balanced budget. So honest or not, dangerous or not, Mr. Harper has been prepared to compromise even public safety to concoct the claim of a balanced budget before the 2015 election.
A great many things have been sacrificed on that altar.
And for what? So a small number of folks with incomes above $233,000 can get the biggest tax breaks.
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