Nathan responds to the introduction of Federal Budget 2011-2012

Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP): As it is my first time rising in the House, I wish to thank the good people of Skeena—Bulkley Valley in the northwest of British Columbia, an area a little larger than the country of Poland and stunning in its beauty and diversity. I am speaking not just about the natural environment, which is most impressive for any who have been to British Columbia, and people are most welcome at any time to the northwestern part of B.C. where residents know how to lay out a good table and roll out the invitation mat to all, but it is also a place diverse in its views, a place that has relied on the natural resources and wealth of our country to create economies generation after generation.

About 35% of my riding consists of first nations, representing some of the strongest and longest historical occupation of North America, more than 15,000 years, and since time immemorial for some, the Haida, the Haisla, the Tlingit, the Taku River, the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, proud nations that have learned over multiple generations to work in harmony with the environment, to produce an economy that sustains them, and in fact restores and replenishes that environment which we rely upon.

That is one of the things that comes first to attention and notice when looking through this budget. This is obviously one of the largest opportunities the federal government has to affect the lives of Canadians. It is one of the largest expenditures by any source, if not the largest in the country. Every year some $280-odd billion goes out the door. The lack of accountability of the government in taking care of some of the most fundamental concerns of Canadians is somewhat breathtaking.

Having so recently gone through an election and having met with constituents from across the country who presented concerns to members on the economy, the environment, pensions, and the public safety net that has been so eroded over the years, it is surprising to me what a missed opportunity this budget now represents to Canadians and to the government. One would have thought that rather than rehash the document from 60 days ago, the government would have reflected on what it heard from Canadians, if it was listening at all.

That brings to mind that the Prime Minister never actually took any real questions from real Canadians during the election, that the entire scripted process led to some sort of preordained public event that was meant to look like a campaign but was in fact nothing more than a public relations exercise. The failed opportunity in that was that Canadians were trying to express something to the Prime Minister and his party, suggesting that there is a need to balance the views they hold, that no one party or ideology in this place has all the answers available to us, and that we have to take from different pieces.

The helmets to hardhats is a good example of a program that was initiated by all parties, seeking a way for our veterans land in good, sustainable jobs, but it is a small piece and there are many more pieces available that we could have grasped on to. There has been much mention within the ranks of the 103 New Democrats sitting as the official opposition that four and a half million Canadians responded to the message we offered them, saying we wanted a government that was a little more caring and balanced, and that looked at the books of our economy.

The government is running two deficits now. It is not just running the fiscal deficit, it is running a social deficit as well. These programs are very quick and easy to tear down. The finance minister has contemplated a staff reduction in the federal government by as much as 30%. Cutting and slashing is easy to do. It is much more difficult to build efficiency and proper services to Canadians who are in fact paying for them.

When we look at the other side of the ledger, we see the government willy-nilly cutting the corporate tax rate another couple of points and saying this will obviously bring jobs to the economy when we compare it to the U.S., as one of my colleagues did. We are sitting below half of the corporate tax rate that the Americans are enjoying right now. There is such a thing as a law of diminishing returns. If the tax rate were 50% and we lowered it to 40%, we would see some results. If we were to lower it to 30%, we would see a few more but less. If we were to lower it to 20%, 15% or 14%, we would see less and less, to the point where we would see nothing at all.

The leader of the official opposition today, the member for Toronto—Danforth, asked a direct question of the Prime Minister about $100 million to one oil company alone in the last budget. That is a lot of money. He asked the Prime Minister a simple question: Has the finance department done any assessment at all as to what kind of return we got back for $100 million?

I know what kind of return we could get back for $100 million to help seniors get out of poverty. I know what kind of return we could get back to help Canadians create the green economy that they have been so desperately looking for. We in the NDP know those facts and figures because we have done the research. If the government were to do nothing else, it should build its policies based on actual evidence as opposed to mere rhetoric.

We asked the government to assess the cost of its crime agenda, a very simple question. In fact, it is the same question the government put to us when we pushed for climate change legislation. It asked, “What’s the program cost? Can you give us the dollar figures?”

We proposed a bill that said that the Government of Canada, every five years, should declare its intention on climate change initiatives, what it planned to do, and every five years should report back on the successes and failures of the previous five years. That is what we asked for.

The government went ballistic saying that the costs would be insane to have such an open and transparent government, as if somehow there would be a cost for being honest with the Canadian people.

Now let us reverse the tables for a moment and talk about crime. It says it is going to increase the prison population by this much. The Parliamentary Budget Officer and others have come forward to say this. We can do the math, but when we ask the government to actually put some figures forward, as to the efficacy of its crime agenda, as to the actual costs, it says that if one victim is saved then the cost is worth it. What simple-minded rhetoric.

We can do better in this place. We can bring forward evidence when making policies. When we look to this budget and ask the government to justify a further two point reduction in the corporate tax rate, it should justify it and show us the evidence or some research. There are all these folks working around the Hill and all over Parliament who are very bright. There are some folks in the finance department who are extremely accomplished. I am sure they could punch a few numbers into a calculator and then tell us what two points more gets us in terms of job creation in this country.

We can do the math quickly because in the law of diminishing returns it gets us nothing. We do not get any more if we are half of what our closest competitor is charging for business and corporate taxes. It does not pay off. For American companies working in Canada, they have to declare their profits in the United States anyway. We know this. We have been through this. We have seen governments around the world try the same mantra, replacing good politics with rhetoric.

The results are that the public sector will be starved to the point where people will seek it through the private sector. It is privatization through starvation. If the government runs down the public sector enough, when Canadians still need the services, roads, hospitals and schools, they will start to seek the private solution more and more. They are being handed this carrot that it will be better in this Shangri-La private world, that the public sector cannot deliver these things.

The whole fundamental and basic concept of governance is to come together collectively to do what we cannot do individually. I cannot pave the road in front of my house, nor can my neighbours slap the money together to do it. We do it collectively and we see priorities from one to the other.

My kids are not in school yet, but I fund the local school in my region because I understand the value that education is expensive, but ignorance is much more expensive.

There is a fundamental concern I have when the budget is presented like this. We have a crisis in the northwest with the fishing sector. We are going to go into one of the worst fishing seasons on record. There is nothing with regard to employment insurance, which I know my friend from Acadie—Bathurst will talk about.

Instead, the Conservatives are going to cut $57 million out of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, rather than monitoring or assisting the fishermen who are going to go broke this summer. The solution from the Conservatives is to cut another $57 million out of a department that is already starved.

This is not a solution. This is not a practical result. We in the official opposition seek not just to oppose but to propose, to make suggestions that there are such things as investments in the public sector, that government can do things well, that government must in fact do things well and exceedingly do things better. That is the expectation from the people who put us here.

The people in the northwest have been going through a recession that many who sit in their seats would loathe to experience. I have communities that have upward of 80% unemployment. That is structural unemployment. It gets to a level where the need for assistance, the collective operation of government, is required.

We have a government that is starting to believe its own spin. It says the recession must be over, so it must be over. So it makes a budget that does not have a recession in mind.

I have news for the government. The recession is still going on in too many parts of our country. This was not a time to pull back. This was not a time to play politics with our economy. This was a time to give serious and honest consideration to the needs of people, not cutting western diversification as the minister is now going to oversee, but helping, putting it back into those places that we know create jobs, helping the small business community, and ending the handouts and freebies to the government buddies in the oil and banking sectors.

Chris Alexander (Ajax-Pickering, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure in my youth to plant trees in the member’s riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, so I am familiar with the economy of the region.

I would like to ask the hon. member the following question. How many jobs and how many communities would stand to benefit from the free trade agenda proposed by the government and new trade liberalization measures with the Americas, Asia and other parts of the world? That is the only way to generate new jobs and new employment across this country, including in his riding.

Has the member done the math? Has he done the calculations? After having done them, will he not consider supporting this budget and its ambitious trade liberalization regime for those reasons?

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP): Yes, we absolutely have done the math in my part of the world, Mr. Speaker.

I welcome my colleague to come see the devastation that has resulted from free trade and the softwood lumber agreement. It is a loss. We have done the math. The math is that 250,000 jobs have been lost in the forestry sector and mills have closed throughout British Columbia and Alberta. We have seen those mills reopen south of the border using tax havens that were allowed for in previous Conservative budgets. The softwood lumber agreement helped fund the people who were suing us in Washington. Of the $4.5 billion that was collected, $3.5 billion stayed in the United States and helped fund the lawyers who are now suing us again.

We in the New Democrats are for trade. We are for fair trade. We are for trade agreements that are worked out with principles of fairness, of the environment, of the society and of the economy. However, to simply put forward free trade, as my hon. colleague said, as the only way to create jobs is a blindness of ideology that forbids the idea that evidence can be brought forward.

Exporting the raw logs of the trees that my hon. colleague planted is not good for the economy. Exporting raw bitumen out of the oil sands is a loss of 15,000 jobs for every 400,000 barrels exported. If that is the member’s idea of a good economy for the future, I loath to think what else he would do to the manufacturing sector, the auto sector and the aerospace sector, sectors that we built up with good government policy, not with this mantra of free trade for all and everyone will have a chicken in their pot. It is much more complicated and better than that.