It may be too soon to end CRB, wage subsidy

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2021-05-11 10:20 [p.7021]

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. It is our second day of looking at the budget implementation act, Bill C-30. Given that the budget was over 700 pages long and the budget implementation act is over 300 pages, I will start at a higher level of extraction by examining the nature of this legislation and refamiliarizing some of us with the controversial issue of omnibus bills.

This is clearly an omnibus bill, but I want to set out why it is not offensive. At over 300 pages long, the budget implementation act contains well over 20 acts. It affects the Canada Labour Code, the Federal Courts Act, the Trust and Loan Companies Act, two different varieties of student loans and student financial assistance. I will not read them all, but a large number of pieces of legislation are affected.

The issue of illegitimate omnibus budget bills takes us back to the era of the Harper administration in a minority. They were the best way to push through offensive legislation when parties that formed the majority of the members of Parliament, but were not the administration, would have objected. With the use of offensive omnibus budget bills, the Conservative government quite shrewdly discerned that it could put through things that would not otherwise get public support or MP support, given that they are confidence votes. It put through things such as the Budget Implementation Act 2008 and Budget Implementation Act 2009, which weakened environmental assessment leading up to the majority actions of that government. It continued to put lots of things in budget implementation acts that were omnibus bills.

An omnibus bill merely means that many pieces of legislation are being passed all at once. This is not offensive is if it is all to one purpose. Everything in Bill C-30 is mentioned in the budget. As far as I can see, there are no sneaky surprises, as we discovered in a recent budget in which there were deferred prosecution agreements for corporations. As I go through this bill, it is not like the omnibus budget bill of spring 2012 that destroyed our environmental assessment process, which has still not been repaired. It gutted the Fisheries Act and eliminated the national round table, among other things. This is an omnibus bill, but it is appropriate in that everything I can find in Bill C-30 is consistent with the budget itself and has to do with legislative changes to make it possible to enact the budget, which this Parliament has now passed.

There are items of concern. When the bill gets to committee, maybe improvements could be made on some of these, but certainly it is of concern to see withdrawal of supports for important things within our economy during COVID. We are clearly not looking at a post-pandemic budget. After not having had a budget for two years, this budget continues to face times of deep uncertainty. I have had my first vaccine shot. I will wait four months and then get a second shot. With vaccines, we see there is light at the end of the tunnel, but with variants, spikes and economies in various provinces opening up a bit and then closing rapidly, there are a lot of reasons why businesses and individual Canadians will continue to need support.

The notion that we would lower the Canada recovery benefit from the current $500 a week to $300 a week by July should be looked at. That is soon, and we may not be ready for that. The wage subsidy is ending by September. A lot of businesses in my riding know for sure that they will need that wage subsidy well beyond September. There are deep concerns particularly in the tourism sector, so I will focus on tourism for a minute.

The tourism sector has received $500 million in the budget, and that is not nearly enough. We underestimate it, as Canadians and even as parliamentarians. All of us have tourism in our ridings, and collectively across the country tourism’s contribution to GDP is roughly the same as the oil sands. It employs far more people, thousands and thousands of them, across Canada in every region, and $500 million is not adequate to meet the needs of the tourism sector.

Big businesses in my riding, attractions such as Butchart Gardens, would normally have upwards of 700 to 800 employees seasonally. Butchart Gardens did not have anything like that number last summer because it was not open, but the wage subsidy allowed it to keep specialists employed: the hundreds of people who were recruited from around the world as horticulturalists. It simply will not be able to keep that workforce if we do not have a wage subsidy. If it loses that workforce and these specialists, horticulturalists and experts are not able to be employed here, they will go to other countries. Their skills are in demand.

We have a very big concern about the $500 million provided for tourism and the $1 billion for promotion. Some of the businesses in my riding feel rather hollowed out by the notion that we will have a billion dollars going to advertising attractions in Canada that cannot stay open.

It is also peculiar that we have a decision by the Department of Transportation that cruise ships on our coasts will not open until February 28, 2022. I have yet to see any justification for that arbitrary date. This is a big concern, because if we are letting people get on airplanes, are saying there are vaccination passports and that people are okay to travel, certainly we should be informed of why there is this arbitrary date. It would continue to damage tourism.

This budget is also very short on support for ground transport. The bus lines of this country, whether Wilson Bus Lines or Maritime Bus, need more connectivity between cities and towns. The support for Via Rail is welcome, at $491 million, but it is all in the Windsor-Quebec corridor. What about Vancouver to Toronto and Montreal to Halifax? In the absence of Greyhound, the Irving Bus Line and others that run between communities, those routes need daily trains and an expanded economy service.

What is missing again is what we are going to do to improve our financial prospects going forward. If we are not going to be looking at cuts, we need more revenue. There are some new taxes in this budget and some ways to save money. I particularly applaud the idea that the Government of Canada is going to stop spending as much on travel by civil servants: That is a $1-billion savings over five years. Most of that travel, as we know, was by air. We have learned during COVID that we can find other ways to meet that avoid greenhouse gases and avoid so much travel.
Long-term we need to look at more revenue. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has pointed out that our debt-to-GDP ratio is going to level out at about 51%. It was about 30.6% before the pandemic, and it will be 2055 before we get to pre-pandemic debt-to-GDP ratios. In 1995-96, we were at 66%, but we do not want to go through that deep austerity program ever again. We have to protect our health system. We have to expand it with pharmacare, which should have been in this budget and was not.

We need to look at where we can get more revenue and be consistent. For heaven’s sake, it is time to stop subsidizing fossil fuels. It is time to cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline, which is going to cost another $10 billion to $12 billion. We are looking at excess profits from our banks. We should be going after those. We should be looking at a wealth tax. We certainly do not do enough in this budget. It suggests consultations on what to do about credit card interest rates and horrific payday loans. Those things need more attention.

We need to look at improving the revenue line so that we can afford universal pharmacare, which we must, and so that we can make sure the day care program takes place across the country for all Canadians. As well, we need to bring in support initially for low-income dental and get rid of the interest on Canadian student loans. All those need revenue in their appropriate place. With that, I am thankful for the time to speak to Bill C-30.