Hansard – January 29, 2009

Brian Masse’s Budget Speech 2009

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I am going to be sharing my time with the member for St. John's East and am proud to do so.

An interesting launching point to start off this discussion is to refer to what is happening in the United States and the protectionism measures in the stimulus package they have developed, not just the current one, but the past one. Also they have a series of laws and guarantees in their legislation enshrined to protect their bus industry, their shipbuilding industry and also the defence contract which covers a series of different procurements which are importance.

One of the glaring examples of the reason why this budget needs to be defeated to propose a stronger budget is a procurement policy in Canada, something that once again, the United States and other countries do that would be within good faith practices in North America based upon what the U.S. is doing.

We saw this come to a head in my area of Windsor and Essex County and Chatham Kent when recently a contract was awarded for a truck to be built for the military of almost a quarter of a billion dollars. Instead of awarding that contract or putting in the RFP to make sure Navistar would build it in Chatham, it is going to be built in Texas. That is unacceptable when a half a billion dollars of procurement going out this door to reward people in Texas.

Ironically, in 2002, I was fighting with the auto workers to protect that plant, to demand from the then Liberal government which originally said that we could not do anything to assist or facilitate that plant to make sure it had a future. It denied all those things. Liberals said we could not do it under NAFTA and used every single excuse, but finally they capitulated and we were able to successfully keep that plant going until today with a modest investment and that retooling was very successful. Even though we have spent that money to help the plant development for the future, it has had good jobs since that time and paid for itself in spades.

Workers and their families have been able to live a solid life and donate to the United Way and other causes, and actually return the investment to the taxpayers of Canada through income tax. We are now going to watch that plant go down, be eliminated, and at the same time, we are going to be supporting a plant and a facility in the United States.

There are other examples of that by the current government in its past. Conservatives have a history of it. The eco-auto fee bate program, for example, which is still in the program the penalty axe back. It is important to note the type of strategies the government does not acknowledge or fix. When that program was put in place it literally had Canadian taxpayers' money going to Japanese vehicles made overseas with the Yaris, in particular, getting the actual incentive.

It is very difficult to support a government which does not plan its position properly. We are going to see a lot of the stimulus exit this country and we will do what the Americans did when one of George Bush's packages which was basically cheques to Americans. Essentially what they discovered was that only 10% of it actually went back in the value-added American economy. The rest of it was either saved or lost in banking scandals, or exited the country as other manufacturers of goods developed overseas.

Right now we are seeing a supposed rush to fix the problem the government has denied for so many years. That is the problem with supporting the government right now. It has over a series of years not only denied, but also worked against some of the issues that needed to be fixed. The manufacturing sector, for example, is a clear, obvious one. Over the last five years we have lost nearly 300,000 jobs in manufacturing across this country. It did not just happen yesterday. It happened for a number of years in different successive industries.

Without supporting a sectorial strategy, whether it be the textile industry, which we watched collapse in Quebec, whether it be the auto industry in Ontario, Quebec and other parts of Canada, or whether it be the shipbuilding industry of the past, there was no sectorial development. Now all of a sudden, there is going to be a solution to these things despite the Conservatives denying it for so many years.

That was a follow-up to a series of requests that had been made in the past. What happened after that is an issue of credibility and why they cannot be trusted.

Back on January 17, the Minister of Finance had this to say to the public:
“What Dalton McGuinty is doing is short-term ad hoc subsidy thinking, the kind of old-fashioned thinking that has proven to be the failure of short-term Bandaid fixes for specific companies. It's a shell game, certainly for successful businesses that pay their taxes and then watch their tax money being used for specific choices that are made by politicians. Quite frankly politicians aren't very good at picking winners and losers.”

He was referring to the auto industry. Now all of a sudden the minister has changed his tune and says he is going to be there but that the problem is they do not really understand the situation.

When the county of Essex and others raised the issue of lost auto manufacturing jobs, they chose to attack instead of putting in an actual plan, an actual vision. We have seen the jobs disappear. Canada used to be the fourth assembler in the world, and we are now down to ninth and losing even more.

The government has also ignored the reality of what is happening. It is important to note, because that divisive nature is what has caused the lack of confidence.

What ends up happening next is that they scramble around asking, what are we going to do now? The United States is actually going to have a bridge loan program. They drop their rhetoric of attacking the industry and driving away the possibility of future investment.

The Minister of Industry gets on a plane and goes down to Washington. He does not really meet with anyone. In fact I accessed his travel expenses, and it cost $601 plus the challenger jet. We do not know how much that cost but I am sure it was quite expensive to fly that into Washington. He goes down there and does not meet anyone.

All the minister gets is a document that you can basically download from the Internet. This is the actual system that the United States went through. They had open accountable procedures to go through their actual automotive investment bridge loan they were going to do.

We do not have that over here. We have not had a single public meeting. They want to put out billions of dollars, and at the same time they will not provide any access to the agreement. The only thing the minister has done is chosen to attack workers by insisting that we would have the same conditions in our agreement as the United States.

What the minister has done is he has given up our sovereign decision to even look at what a package could be. He has said, let the senators from Alabama decide, let the senators from Tennessee decide, let the United States Congress decide, let them make the decisions for Canada as we put billions of dollars on the line.

What is worse than that is the fact that they still have not come to the recognition that the year before the United States put $25 billion aside in an innovation research fund for the automotive industry to turn it green.

What has happened in the meantime, as they have been doing those tactics, is that Canada has already lost investment opportunities which is unacceptable. I will point to one of the most successful ones.

Despite the Detroit three getting a bad name with regard to hybrids, they actually have the most hybrids on the market. Investments are happening right now. General Motors, because of this incentive program, is actually building a battery factory in Detroit. They are building the volt as well, the first electric commercial vehicle that will hit the roads.

That investment has gone to Detroit, it has gone to the United States because they actually had an auto policy. Meanwhile the government here has not even had CAPC meetings. We actually had a plan. We passed a plan that was supposed to be implemented back in 2004, a call to action from 2004.

That is why these people do not need to be supported anymore. Too many workers and their families have lost their jobs, not because they have not been productive, not because they have not gotten up every single day and worked and did everything they should have, not because of the fact that they have not had the opportunities, we had those opportunities, it is because of a government policy that was never developed.

Ironically in this budget the government claims it is going to come up with one in a couple of weeks. For years the government has said it actually has a policy, and now it says it is going to come up with a policy in a few weeks and will table it in front of us, and we are supposed to trust them.

We are supposed to trust them with billions of dollars, with no accountability, no plan, no public meetings, no action, no type of input, and at the same time the government is going to come up with a plan later on. It is too late.

We need a new plan, and that is why we want to replace the government and see workers protected as opposed to being isolated and thrown out of their jobs.

Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, I respect the member for Edmonton—Leduc. That work was very valuable and it is unfortunate the other 20 plus recommendations were never acted on. However, the important difference is that we asked for a five-year complete window. That is important for the cycle of investment. We heard that from the investors. They said that they need a five-year cycle. What we got instead was a two-year and now a revival of perhaps another three years. However, that does not guarantee the full cycle.

If the government really wanted to help, it would have done the full five-year cycle so that it could plan out the medium and long-term investments. Now, the cycle is going to end again and the proper strategy is not there. It is a benefit. There is no doubt that. It is a step forward. However, at the same time, it is not what we were asked.

Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and his work as well in committee. Apparently, he is not going to be on industry committee this time and we will miss him.

With regard to unspent money, it is really tragic that we were not taking this money and acting. We had opportunities. That is why I highlighted GM. They procured a Korean-type technology for the battery system for their electric vehicles as well as the volt itself. They set up that system already and so even a company that is challenged right now is setting up a brand new environmentally friendly vehicle. We did not even compete for that because at the same time over here in Canada it took a lot of hard movement and pressure to get the federal government to even participate in a new engine development at Ford in Windsor. It is one of the good things that has happened.

At the same time, it showed the differences. That is why General Motors is going to be investing billions of dollars in the United States accessing their new manufacturing $25 billion loan program. Meanwhile, we have not had a response to it. These are difficult things. If we do not talk to the U.S. about what they are doing, then we either have to decide to get in the game or not. We have to be careful about how we do that, but we have to make that decision.

One of the things we are worried about is the ecoAUTO Rebate Program where Canadian taxpayers' money went abroad to basically support other industries. We look at the United States, who are looking to protect their industries right now, whereas we actually shovelled it out. Ironically, they kept the tax part on the vehicles. They added new taxes on top of those vehicles and a lot of that money comes from vehicles made in Canada. That is unacceptable.

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, one of the more disturbing elements of the budget is the lack of attention to employment insurance. Five weeks added on if one is collecting is a benefit but it does not increase the eligibility.

I have a case in my riding where one gentleman recently actually worked for 20 years paying into the employment insurance system. He never got it back in return, never had to use it and was happy to do so. He then changed professions and opened up his own business for the last couple of years. Then unfortunately his business has collapsed like so many other small businesses in this time of need. He found another occupation and became a truck driver and worked for eight months.

Now he has been laid off. Because he is considered new under the employment insurance system he is not eligible for benefits despite being eligible when he left after paying for 20 years.

I ask my hon. friend and colleague whether he thinks these types of practices are unfair. I believe a worker, is a worker, is a worker. Whether one lives in Prince Edward Island, Ontario or British Columbia one needs the support if one has paid into the system.