The environment and the economy are not going hand in hand when we build new fossil fuel infrastructure

On Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 in Parliament, Speeches

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Beaches—East York for splitting his time with me. More specifically, I would like to thank the government House leader.

As one can imagine, it has been a difficult thing for me over the years to obtain speaking slots on important bills. I went too quickly on my last occasion, where the Liberals offered me a speaking slot, because it was on the application of time allocation on Bill C-69, an omnibus bill. It was certainly egregious to have applied time allocation and to have made the bill omnibus in the first place. However, there is no question, and it bears repeating, that the spirit of co-operation to members on the other side such as myself, who are not likely to give a speech cheering the government on, means even more when the decision is made that a Liberal member of Parliament will split speaking time to allow me to speak to the issues before us.

In the instance of this budget speech, there is much to like in this budget. Before I get to that, let me just step back.

This is a concern I have been raising for years, going back to my election in 2011. It has been some time since we have had a budget that one could honestly describe as a budget. By this, I mean in the old days, say before 2006, when I would go to budget lock ups on behalf of Sierra Club of Canada. I would open the budget and would be able to find a budget for every department in the Government of Canada. I would be able to see what it spent last year and what it would spend next year. It would be easy to verify if there was an announcement in the budget for x hundreds of millions of dollars for thus and such, if it was new money or reprofiled old money. We no longer know any of these things. There is no budget in the budget.

It is a fundamental principle of Westminster parliamentary democracy that Parliament controls the public purse. That is now a laughable anachronism. It is anachronistic to imagine we actually control the public purse because we cannot see into it. I started describing this in the Harper era, but the budget every spring should be called the “annual, thick, spring brochure”. It is very thick and it is full of good ideas and lots of good rhetoric. However, it does not tell us the revenue coming in, the expenses going out, and the bottom line. This is something a basic budget in every household knows.

We know we have a deficit and we know the bottom line. Beyond that, we have to wait for supplementary estimates and other things that receive very cursory review in this place.

I make the plea again. I have noted things in this budget that are truly puzzling, but they are not explained. At page 324, the Government of Canada is projecting virtually no increase in spending over a five-year period. There is no explanation for it, but it is almost magical that right now there will be $95 billion in spending this year. In 2023, it will be $97 billion. There is no explanation offered for how, over a five-year period, spending stays virtually flat.

I could be wrong, and we need to dive into this as there may be more explanations, but it appears to me, from reading the charts on page 311, as if there are $20 billion found in savings to pay for some of the new programs in this budget, but it is not explained. There really is not much budget in the budget.

However, there are good things that will be funded, and I welcome those.

Let me mention the good things before I dive into the things that worry me.

The most important to the conscience of the nation is the commitment to fully implement the order of the Human Rights Tribunal in relation to the treatment of first nations children. This is fundamental, it is important, and it is stated in the budget that it is $1.4 billion in new money.

I congratulate the Minister of Indigenous Services, our former minister of health. I hope she has all our support in the task ahead. She has been very candid in laying out the challenges of providing clean drinking water, ensuring every indigenous person has access to affordable housing, that every indigenous child has the same access to health care and educational opportunities as non-indigenous children. This budget goes a long way to make that so. Money alone will not do this. We need to see this in a non-partisan light as fundamental.

Another thing I was pleased to see, after two years of Liberal administration, is this. I have been disheartened to see our commitment to overseas development assistance falling. We have a commitment, which came to us from our former prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, that every country on earth that is a donor country should contribute 0.7% of its GDP, gross domestic product, to overseas development assistance. The closest we ever got to that was under former Prime Minister Mulroney. We went to 0.45%. When the new Prime Minister came in 2015, we were at 0.26%, and we dropped to 0.24%. Therefore, I am really pleased to see in this budget the first new money to overseas development assistance, a $2 billion commitment over the next five years.

I am pleased to see changes to reverse some of the damage done by the Conservatives to those recipients of seasonal employment insurance. Many industries are seasonal, and people who have to get employment insurance more than once in their lifetime are not recidivists who need to be punished. They are people who work in the tourism or forest industries. We need to revisit that, and I would encourage the government to go further than it has.

Of course, we have seen a substantial commitment to the expansion of biodiversity protection to nature, and some money to the science of studying whales. I hope we are not studying them as they move to extinction. However, $1.3 billion over five years certainly must be noted and noted with approval.

We have seen improvements in this budget in commitments to actual science.

I will never forget the words of the 2012 budget. It is terrible that I remember verbatim the words of Harper’s budgets. In 2012, it was stated that money from the federal government to science must be for projects that were “business, land, and industry-friendly”, in other words, no such thing as intellectual inquiry and basic fundamental research. Therefore, I am pleased to see that is gone by the board.

Most important, I am pleased to see a commitment, with no money, to pursue pharmacare for Canada. However, the Minister of Finance’s comments immediately afterward suggests the Liberals do not understand the commitment.

Where am I disheartened, and I am fundamentally disheartened by this budget?

One thing we had been promised for small business was more clarity around the change in rules. It is true, and credit where credit is due to the Minister of Finance, that the controversial anti-small business provisions were eliminated. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty for small business about how income sprinkling will work. It said to not apply to those in the service sector, but that is not defined. Therefore, I would urge the government to consider giving the one-year delay in implementation so family businesses can sort this out, because it is not all that clear. They could be penalized a few years down the road when they are audited.

A second area where it was not quite what was promised is this. In October there had been a commitment that past savings accumulated by small business and family-held businesses would not be prejudiced by this, that there would not be retroactivity. However, when we really look at these passive investments, they are not really grandfathered, because they can boot that small business out of the small business tax rate and have a really large impact on their effective taxes. That needs to be revisited.

However, I am really horrified by the fact that in the year 2018 we have a budget with nothing new to address the climate crisis. In fact, we have some weakening of resolve. We were told initially that there would be a carbon price in place by 2018. The language we now find on page 151 of the budget is, “The Government will review each system”, referring to provincial systems, “and implement the federal system in whole or in part on January 1, 2019.” This is a very significant commitment, virtually the only one made by the Liberals in their election platform, and it is slipping into the distant horizon.

I also worry because another commitment made in the platform has not been acted on, which is to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. We cannot keep subsidizing with tax dollars the very thing we are trying to reduce, which is the emissions of fossil fuels.

I was disappointed with respect to the budgets in 2016 and in 2017. In 2018, I am almost giving up. The Liberal government is capable of looking back to the budget of 2005, which was full of great climate programs, such as eco-energy retrofits, very popular job creators to fight greenhouse gases. We need to have an energy-efficiency revolution. I cannot find it here. We should be building the east-west electricity grid. It is not mentioned here. We are not seeing the programs to incentivize getting renewable energy for homeowners and small business, or for energy-efficient vehicles and electric vehicles. I ask the government to look again. It has to do more on climate.

Kevin Lamoureux – Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the concerns that the leader of the Green Party brings and raises consistently in regard to environmental issues. I like to believe that we have a government that has been very sensitive with respect to the environment, including incorporating it into all three budgets that we have presented.

My question is in regard to the social planning that has taken place. In this budget we see the Canada workers benefit. It is a take-off of another program, but we are seeing it greatly enhanced, which will allow many low-income individuals to receive that much more money back at the end of the fiscal year or for taxation purposes, thereby assisting those individuals who need that extra assistance in the work environment. When we look at that program in this budget or look at the Canada child benefit program, or the guaranteed income supplement program, these are all programs that have really helped put more money in the pockets of individuals who need that money. I am interested in the member’s thoughts on those types of programs.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, first let me say parenthetically that when I speak of the climate crisis, I am not speaking of an environmental issue. The environment is involved, but it is no longer fundamental in the same way that drowning is very rarely described as a water issue. This is a matter of life and death. It is a security threat. We are not dealing with it as a security threat. We are dealing with it as one more thing, a bauble on the tree that we can attend to now and then.

That may have been acceptable in 1995 or 1996. Even in 2005 it was too late for that. I lament it from the position of someone who is terrified of what will happen if we continue sleepwalking to the precipice of the climate crisis.

To the parliamentary secretary’s point, absolutely there is much that has been done to improve the status of people who are low income. I like the national housing program. It is taking a long time to get roofs over people’s heads, but at least the federal government is back in housing and looking at low-income housing. I agree the child benefit is better, but in a gender budget, where is the national program that we had in 2005 for universal child care in Canada?

Richard Cannings – South Okanagan—West Kootenay

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her concern around climate change, which is something that I am concerned with every day here in this place. I am very concerned with the government’s putting things off, year by year, into the future, where it will be more of a cost to our children.

I would like to give the member more time to talk about things like the eco-energy retrofit program that was such a successful program under the previous government, which leveraged billions of dollars. Canadian consumers liked it. Canadian homeowners liked it, and the business and builders’ associations liked it. Everyone benefited and the environment benefited as well.

When I talk to representatives from Germany, Norway, and Sweden about subsidies for electric vehicles, they cannot believe Canada is not doing anything in that regard. I want to give the member more time to talk about some of the possibilities.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, the list of things we can do to stimulate the economy while reducing greenhouse gases is very long, and they are proven technologies.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, through its partners and climate protection program, has a litany of examples of where municipal buildings were built that circulated cold water through the building in summer to advance on the need for air conditioning and reduce electricity costs, and also circulated warm piping through. There are so many examples of the use of heat pumps and the use of better insulation, which saves money while reducing greenhouse gases and creating jobs. That is the true meaning of the economy and the environment going hand in hand.

To have an inconsistent statement like, “I can build more pipelines but because I am good person, therefore, the environment and the economy go hand in hand”, those kinds of meaningless bromides do violence to these concepts that are well understood. When one does something that actually reduces greenhouse gases and creates jobs, then the environment and the economy go hand in hand.

The environment and the economy are not going hand in hand when we build new fossil fuel infrastructure and incentivize more greenhouse gases at a moment when a moral responsibility should be on all political leadership globally to redouble efforts. As things stand in Canada, we are nowhere near our Paris targets.

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