May 6th, 2021 - 2:45pm

Access to Affordable Drugs, Auto and Manufacturing, Community, Consumer Protection, For Seniors, Gas Prices, In the House

Brian Masse Windsor West, ONNDP

2021-05-06 17:17

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-30.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge and thank the voters for putting together a minority Parliament. I came here during the majority government in 2002. I have experienced majority governments for the Liberals and the Conservatives, as well as minority governments. I have found that this Parliament, at least, has been much more flexible and cooperative in many respects than the previous government, which had a large majority. At that time we heard that a lot of the things being proposed in this budget were unattainable for Canadians, such as child care and increases to employment insurance.

I am proud of the member for New Westminster-Burnaby and others at the finance committee. With all of the presentations that have taken place, they have consistently come forward, arguing for better programs, investments and choices than we currently have. I became a New Democrat a little bit before Jack Layton, but when we got with Jack, we were more into proposition than opposition.

We are proud to have influenced this economic situation and challenges for Canadians, in bringing the Liberals to some action on items that we had been told could never be done. We were told there were not the finances for them or that they were bad for the economy and all sorts of different things.

During the majority government we had before, very little got done. A lot of things were put off. I think now we see much more activism in the base of Parliament. At times there is high drama, but definitely, as a minority Parliament, we have gotten more accomplished than we did in the previous government where getting any of these things done was often mocked. I point to the increased supports for small businesses, the wage subsidy and the CERB, all of which were basically left out of the initial response to the pandemic, including student debt. I could not say how many times I have stood in this chamber and argued that interest should not be applied to student debt because it is an investment. Interest would bring on further debt. Debt also delays family experiences because people have to put off life decisions. As opposed to paying down the interest on loans from the banks, that money could be going to investments for people’s futures and also to our communities.

The problem that we have with some of the issues in this budget is that they do not get rid of the problems for the future, but just kick them down the road a little bit. The increased benefits for seniors are a good example: They are divided between people who are 65 and people who are 75, and division is not what we need now with COVID-19.

I look at what this arbitrary age division would mean for my constituency in Windsor, Tecumseh, Essex, and all the regions around us, as we have a significant senior population. We have a lot of people with health issues. The ecosystem that we are a part of includes the pollutants drifting from the United States as well as from our own industrial base, and means that the risks to people’s health are much higher than elsewhere. We have scientific evidence of this. One of the reasons I got involved in politics at the federal level was the Gilbertson and Brophy report, in which the Chrétien government at that time tried to hide a government study showing higher rates of cancer, thyroid issues, respiratory issues and all kinds of issues for infants. All of those different things came to light.

What I am suggesting is that the age factor for seniors really makes no difference. The risk factors are almost the same. The government is dividing those people. I do not know why, when what we are having to invest is pennies in the overall scheme of things. That money, for the most part, goes to paying for rent and food. It goes into the local economy. It allows people to live with dignity. It often goes for medications. We still do not see a pharmacare element to this bill, which is unfortunate. When we look at the investments we also do not see dental care, which is really crucial.

That is why New Democrats are continuing to present the government with options they can look at. The U.S. administration under President Biden brought in a wealth tax. Many other countries have done that as well. There are, quite frankly, winners and losers under COVID-19 for a lot of different reasons. Part of that is public policy.

For good reasons different businesses have had to close or amend their business practices. It has been very challenging for them, through no fault of their own or anybody else, but to prevent the spread of COVID they have lost their regular income. That is why these employment subsidies are important. Other businesses have emerged from this and have really done quite well. We do not hear about insurance companies having problems because business is very lucrative right now.

We can see from the work done at the industry committee that the telco giants have done exceptionally well during this time. I will give some credit to them: There have been improved incentives for consumers, but the volume of products that have gone out has risen exponentially, as have their profits and their responsibility to help offset some things right now.

There is no petroleum monitoring agency in this budget. Gas pricing, the hosing of consumers and the lack of accountability are still significant problems in Canada because we do not publish the rack pricing the United States gets. There is less accountability for that in Canada. A petroleum monitoring agency was supposed to be brought in by the Paul Martin regime, but it was never fulfilled. A motion passed in the House of Commons that it was supposed to be established. It was created, then it was defunded, and then when the Conservatives took power it was off the books. It languished and was in the works for a long time. It took us years to even try to get it. That was an oversight of a basic thing. As a result, people pay more out of pocket.

There are still significant public subsidies for the oil and gas industry. In one of my first speeches on this issue, about a decade ago, I listed 17 different ways an oil and gas company could get a subsidy from the federal government at the time. Some of that has been reduced a little, but it is still not anywhere near where it should be. It is interesting that the U.S. taxes worldwide profits and Canada does not. The current administration in the U.S. is going to be introducing higher corporate taxes. If we do more subsidization, the profit margins will be higher here, so we will be sending dollars to Washington, so to speak.

We have to look at these things. There is no doubt about tax havens, as we have seen in the news again today. How ridiculous is this? How many times do people have to suffer through the inappropriate taxation policies we have now? People who can afford accountants and lawyers, and who squirrel money away, are seen as clever and capable. They get away with it, whereas in Windsor and Essex region the working class cannot afford those types of services to hide money and to pay less than other people. That is where there should be a significant improvement in this budget.

New Democrats have called for not only an investment in people, but also in green transportation infrastructure. In my area, the auto sector is significant and we fail to see much improvement in this budget. There are some vague references, but no measures to get results. There is still no Canadian national auto strategy. Last week, Ford Motor Company announced more funding for battery and electric vehicle production in Detroit and the surrounding area, which has eclipsed my area and the entire country. Detroit and the surrounding region have almost tripled or quadrupled all of Canada’s investments in green auto infrastructure and strategies for battery and electric vehicle manufacturing and production. This is important, because a transition is taking place. If we look at jobs in the production of parts and all of the different components, we are losing more of that market share. What is unfortunate about that is we are also losing out on the growth of the industry beyond the auto sector by having that innovation take place.

Canadians are also worried about the passing on of debt, and how to finance it. That is why New Democrats have provided some solutions, such as a significant luxury tax, not just for boats and cars but for other things as well. Right now, real estate speculators for foreign investors are sitting on empty land and are getting away with using our tax haven system. That is a problem. As we look at this budget implementation act part one, keeping in mind that part two has to be done in the fall, Canadians can count on New Democrats to try to make things work here in this chamber.