Masse on the Budget Implementation Act in Parliament

Hansard from April 7, 2008
Brian Masse M.P. in the House of Commons – Budget Implementation Act

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's speech in the House here.

I come from Windsor, Ontario, where we have suffered incredibly with manufacturing job losses, not just this year but the last four to five years where we have seen a significant downturn. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in my community while government policy has been very much absent.

We have seen people basically have to make decisions about whether to keep their homes or whether or not to send their kids to school for college or university educations. We have witnessed a downturn that is so significant, it really has undermined the fiscal capacity even of this country, because we used to have economic earners that would contribute quite a bit to the tax coffers of this country.

We have not seen government policy and we have been fighting this nonsense for a number of different years, from the current Conservative regime and the previous Liberal one, where they thought that if they just did general corporate tax cuts without a strategy, we would see economic development and growth. That is not the case for the automotive industry. It is not the case for the tool and die and mould-making industry. The best on the planet, in Windsor, is actually going under because of the fiscal problems and the way the borrowing practices are.

Second to that, they are being undermined by the unfair competition of trade barriers, be it particular ones or non-tariff trade barriers that are implemented. They cost Canadians jobs, and they are the best in the world.

I listened quite clearly to my colleague. He understands that just having a corporate tax cut when they do not make a profit does not help them rebound in this session. The same goes with research and development, if they do not have access to those actual grants that are available through the SR and D program. Because they did not make a profit, it does not lead to the changes that are necessary, or it does not provide the capital that they need to be able to advance into alternative types of competitive industries, transforming, for example, from the auto sector to some other sector. They do not have that availability even to compete.

Therefore my simple question to my friend is this. As he sat on the plane thinking about this, why then does he not support his friend and vote against this budget so we do not undermine the fiscal capacity of this country and put in programs that actually work for him and his friend?

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate today on the budget bill as well as the immigration changes included in the bill.

Let me be clear. We in the NDP were attempting to negotiate with the Liberals to keep them in government with our deal on health care but they refused. We actually extended the opportunity to change the path they were moving toward and they refused to negotiate. They were behaving like the current administration.

When it came time to vote in the House of Commons there were not enough NDP votes to prop up the Liberals because independent members voted against them. The Liberals cannot even do simple basic math. Surprise, surprise.

Liberals members want to blame everyone else for their misfortunes. At the end of the day, Canadians defeated their administration because they were sick and tired of the constant empty promises and most important, because they were sick and tired of the Liberals ignoring the greatest needs of Canadians.

We have been left with the current environment with Liberals continuing to feel sorry for themselves. They expect some empathy from Canadian citizens but at the same time they prop up the current administration for their own benefit without any type of hesitation whatsoever. They have been explicitly doing that under their current leader and will probably still do that under their new slate of leaders now sitting in the House. Liberal self-interest always comes first. Nothing has changed over there.

I once again remind the Liberals that they did not actually work in a forthright way to negotiate a change in health care. They brought themselves down.

I do want to speak to the government's current fiscal plan, which is a clear gutting of Canada's capacity. The slew of corporate tax cuts are once again being supported by the Liberals. This was originally started by the member for LaSalle—Émard, who is always missing from the House of Commons.

Mr. Brian Masse: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I retract that appreciate that correction.
I do want to talk about what the budget is going to do to the manufacturing sector. We have seen a record set of job losses over the last number of years. It is not a current crisis that has emerged over the last year, this has been several years in the making where we witnessed basically a strategy of saying reducing tax cuts is going to actually lead to economic development and growth and prosperity in the manufacturing sector.

That is not the case because we witnessed the decline of that industry because of a whole series of issues related to trade and tariff and non-tariff barriers, unfair competition. It is also changing technologies where we have not been supportive where other countries have done that to make sure they take advantage of it.

What has happened is we have eroded ourselves, for example, in automotive when we were actually number four in the world in terms of producing and assembling automotive vehicles, we are actually down to tenth. The slide will continue as the government continues to negotiate a Korea trade deal which will be at the expense of the automotive industry.

I want to pay particular attention to a couple of aspects of the budget for automotive which are very important. The first is the fee bate program which we were happy to see cancelled. This eco-fee bate program for those who are not familiar with it, literally saw millions of dollars of Canadians' money wasted, some of it actually going to those who produced automotive vehicles in Japan, Korea and other countries abroad. This program over two years was $116 million. We were glad to see this program gutted at the end of the day and completed, but I was very disappointed in the Minister of Finance, by not rolling over those funds into a specific automotive strategy.

What the Conservatives have done instead is kept the component which has the tax on the vehicles which will go to many Canadian manufacturers and that is roughly estimated at $50 million a year. So they cut $116 million out of automotive, kept in an extra tax so they have introduced and maintained a current tax on automotive, and from tax rolled out another $250 million program over five years. So it is a $50 million program over five years. That is just coming from the tax, so they have really gutted the automotive component and support.

This is at a time when even parts manufacturers were looking at some type of an investment strategy. We have seen a lost opportunity with the automotive sector and we are going to completely witness its demise if we do not come out with a practical strategy.

The strategy has to come with an investment arm and I would argue it has to be more complicated than what the province of Ontario is suggesting. It has to have greater accountability when it comes to job creation, components to technology as well as accountability.

I would also argue that the federal government is wrong by not having that actual strategy compared, evaluated and supported by a trade strategy. That is very important because the Minister of International Trade is pursuing a deal with South Korea. This is ironically the star candidate from the Liberals who crossed the floor in the House of Commons just after losing out in a general election but winning his seat back.

This deal has been condemned unilaterally, just basically across the board by many groups and organizations including the auto industry because in there are several factors not taking place in terms of consideration of how we actually ship vehicles into Korea. We have only a few hundred vehicles that get there, but they get hundreds of thousands that can be put into the Canadian market. That is not fair. We have to have some sense of balance. With that we are expecting to see some type of change.

Regarding the budget there was no understanding or appreciation with regard to the tool and die, mould making and parts sector. We have seen a capital cost reduction allowance going to be diminished by the government over the next three years. We fought hard at industry committee. We actually committed to work together and created a report with over 20 different recommendations, many of which were shelved. But one of the ones we were pleased about was the capital cost reduction allowance.

The government only came in terms of a two-year program, but it was not sufficient because a lot of decisions had already been made about investment at that point in time. What we want is the third, the fourth and the fifth year. So we went for two years which is only a small window and it was helpful to some degree. We were appreciative of that.

There were actually projects that got underway that are very helpful. But the fact of the matter is now the Conservatives are phasing out this strategy so what we will see is a devolution of this as an opportunity to invest back into Canada.

I do not care what the personalities are, but I am sick and tired listening to the battle going on between the province of Ontario and the federal government which seems to be a war of personalities more than actually working to create an opportunity for economic development.

This apparently goes back ten years, but it does not matter. We need an automotive strategy. We have been proposing that through a transportation strategy for many years and we would like to see that moved upon.

The budget does not do that. We see a complete erosion of the fiscal capacity of Canada to the point that when we have to respond next time, it will be more challenging.
Hence, this is one of the key elements that we see that is as much taking advantage of and egregious as the fact that the government is changing the employment insurance system to basically rob workers and employers for all the money in contributions they have put in over the years.

From the previous administration going back several years, we know that the fund is up around $57 billion in terms of employment insurance. Now that system will be basically robbed and the government will be putting in a $2 billion program.

From a city that has been city that has been struggling with the recovery of manufacturing and trying to go forward, retraining and opportunity are very important.

With the employment insurance decision, we will see that when areas have greater losses of jobs and there will be a squeeze on the funds, I am willing to bet the number one thing that will happen is that we will see a reduction of workers' hours and a reduction of eligibility.
Many people who pay into the system can never take advantage of it, because they are working part time jobs or they do not have enough consecutive weeks. We see every day in my constituency people who do not make the qualifications any more because the bar has been set far higher than what they can work or achieve in the current market. That is wrong, because people need an opportunity to be retrained and to have faith and hope that supports will be there for them and their families.

We only have to look at a few industries to see the example. A lot of people think we should go high tech, that we will do the high end of things and make sure that we will be the best in the world.

That is happening right now in our tool and die and mould-making sector. Windsor and Essex county are the best in the world, there is no doubt about that, but they are significantly challenged because of the lack of automotive decision-making and also procurement that has happened, as well as being blocked into other markets, intellectual property theft and a whole series of things.

When we tour some of these plants and we see that work which used to be done in this area and which was the best in the world is now sent overseas to China and to other places that actually sometimes has to be sent back to be fixed at our own plants here.

However, workers in our community who have good skills and abilities unmatched across the world are laid off. Some people think we can just lower the wages by a couple of dollars, but that will not make a difference at all. We could lower $10 an hour on a job. If we do not have access to that market, it will not make a difference.

It is like the corporate tax cuts we have right now. As tool and die and mould-making companies are struggling to get buy, a reduction in taxes does not help them. They need targeted, specific, developed plans, one, for example, to deal with some of their funding.

When they make arrangements with the auto sector, they do not get paid for a year or a year and a half for their actual projects, so they have a problem getting access to capital from banks and large interest loan centres, or they have to pay extra interest on those, which becomes an inefficiency.

We need the federal government and the province to work together on a strategy that eliminates that type of non-cooperation with the fiscal arrangement and also to make sure that there will be supports there so that when workers are the best in the world and are actually trained, they will have access to the markets that are being penetrated over here.

I have to say that I cannot support the budget. There is a whole series of reasons behind it than just the economic sector and the manufacturing sector, but I want to be very clear. If we do not seize upon the opportunity, despite the fact that we have a lot of unemployment, despite that a lot of change is happening, if there is a real interest to be involved with this, then there can be some significant change.

Canadians have done their part. The people in my constituency of Windsor West have shown consistently that they are the best in the world in terms of producing and manufacturing automobiles and all the component parts. They win awards on a routine basis. I am very proud of their accomplishments.

However, they cannot do it alone. They need fair practices and a government that recognizes that other countries are doing these things at their expense. Even the country next door, the United States, under our NAFTA agreement they have several favourable clauses that protect their industries at the expense of Canadians.

We cannot pretend this will go away. We have to deal with it, and the budget does not do that.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, it is always a challenge for social services during a downturn; there is no doubt.

Ironically, with this budget, this Conservative government is actually reducing what we can actually get on a return on charitable tax. Because it has tied it to the income tax bracket, what has happened is that the amount of money we give to charities is actually--we are going to get less this year than we did last year because the government has not decoupled that. What it is going to do to Canadians is that basically as we give to charity, we are going to get less back. So, it is a double whammy on us.

I can say that when it comes to our city and area we have been hurt by the border as well, with the thickening of the Canada-U.S. border. We have witnessed a loss in trade for some of the tourism as well as some of the other activities where Americans would come over to Canada and would visit and partake not only just in the lifestyles but also in terms of commerce and social functions. What that has done is actually put other charities at risk, and that has been a shame.

I have a private member's bill that actually looks at reforming the charitable tax act of Canada. I wish the government would adopt that as opposed to a general corporate tax cut, because that would put more money back in people's pockets and more money into charities and not-for-profit organizations like the United Way and the VON that do good work for Canadians, as opposed to sending that money overseas.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to be in Halifax, tour the shipyards on a couple of occasions and talk with the workers there and I can tell members we have the best in the world here.

I have heard a few Conservatives today say that we have to have freedom of movement of labour and that those individuals right there should basically pick up and ship out. However, what I can tell members is that if we do not change the way we trade and the way we actually have accountability, we will continue to lose out on good skilled people and also the infrastructure that is important for our national security.

For heaven's sake, how can a country like Canada, from coast to coast to coast with so much water, not have the capacity to build and maintain some of its own ships? That we are going to farm this out is unacceptable.

I know the hon. member has fought for this but it needs to be understood not only just in terms of an issue related to employment and training and the capacity of the country to actually be involved in something, it is also a national security issue. We have to have our shipyards for Canadians to protect Canadian interests.

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to ask my colleague a question on such an important matter.

The United Nations has been looking at this matter for 20 years. It has been under development through a lot of negotiations. During that timeframe, there have been a lot of countries that have had to wrestle with many different problems, from land treaties, to the elements of aboriginal peoples' treatment, in terms of programs and services, dislocation from original land, and a whole series of settlements, and there has been so much progress to get to this point. This is not seen as the ultimate solution in the sense that it is going to solve everything, but it is an important significant step for Canada to be part thereof to put the pressure on all countries, including ourselves, to deal with this matter.

I would like to ask my colleague about two decades' of work that Canada was so intimately involved with that could literally go up in smoke with this, and that seems to be a departure from the traditions of a country that is starting to wrestle with old problems and bring restitution to things that we have done as a nation that have a healing effect to move forward.

I would ask my colleague as to what the rest of the world might think of Canada being in the position of 20 years of working on this and then pulling out at the last minute and what others will think of us and our country's leadership.