Responding to the Fall Economic Statement

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 18:57 [p.2719]

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by recognizing that I am speaking today from the traditional territory of WSÁNEC peoples and I am honoured to represent Saanich—Gulf Islands. To the WSÁNEC indigenous peoples of this land, Hych’ka Siem. I am also going to apologize to my francophone friends.
I always want to speak a bit in French. The problem is that every time we have to change the channel, we lose time. That is why I am speaking only in English during my speech, and I apologize for that.

We received sombre news during today’s speech. I want to acknowledge that the moment our hon. Minister of Finance stood to present where we are as a country right now, in British Columbia, Dr. Bonnie Henry presented the sombre news that we had a new record broken this weekend. Over the weekend, 46 British Columbians died, which is a new record, and we had 2,364 new cases. Records were also broken in Alberta.

I take to heart very much what our hon. Minister of Finance, the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, said. This is a hard time. COVID is in its second wave and it is surging. It is important to acknowledge that we have to try to work together. We have to hold onto a sense, which we seem to have already lost in this Parliament, that we are all in this together and Canadians want to see us working together.

I also want to acknowledge that a bit of history was made today. I am the first women to take the floor to deliver a speech since the Minister of Finance did. I acknowledge my friend from the Bloc, the member for Repentigny, got to put forward a question. However, as the first women to deliver a speech since the hon. Minister of Finance did, I want to acknowledge that this is the first time in Canadian history that a finance minister has presented an economic update and that that finance minister was a women.

It happens that our first female finance minister also delivered her speech to the highest number of women members of Parliament. With the two recent by-elections, we are now 100 women out of 338 members. That is not enough, but it is a historic breakthrough.

It is in the spirit of women believing we can accomplish more when we work together that I want to acknowledge the recent leadership on a number of files of the new leader of the Green Party of Canada. As fortune and luck would have it, and I certainly wish there were more women leaders of other federal political parties, Annamie Paul has replaced me as the Green Party leader. She is, again, the only woman leader at the federal level.

Annamie Paul, in Green values tradition, has been on the COVID front saying we have to work together. We cannot allow this to become partisan. I know it has already become quite partisan in the House of Commons. I would urge my colleagues from all sides of the House to put Canadians first and recognize that we can score points off each other later.

For now, I urge members to try to work together and keep the volume a little lower out of respect for people across this country who are afraid. They are afraid of catching COVID, and they are afraid of older relatives of catching COVID. In my case, as my daughter teaches school in the Burnaby school system, I pay particular attention to any economic statement that says we will get better ventilation in our public spaces because I remain worried.

I want to reference another very wise woman before I turn to the details of the speech. That woman is Margaret Atwood. It is on one of the themes in our debates in Parliament, and it is a theme that really runs through the finance minister’s fall economic statement.

There is the question of whether in a COVID emergency we can also be cognizant of a climate emergency. In the summer, Margaret Atwood was asked in a virtual speech she was giving to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities if she was concerned that, because of COVID, the climate crisis has been pushed to the back burner. Margaret Atwood said that she is not sure about other people, but her stove at home has two front burners. I want to make sure that as we build back better and look at economic recovery, we continue to remember that the climate emergency has not gone away.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:02

We must ensure that every step we take is consistent with the kind of action we take as grown-ups in a climate emergency, as grown-ups who recognize that nothing has gotten better while we turned our attention to COVID.

Looking at the fall economic statement, I have to say that in some ways it predicts the path forward, and it gives us some quite substantial hints about what we may see in the next budget. We do not know when the next budget will be, but clearly there has been a lot of hard work going on here.

I did mean to say this earlier, so forgive me. Everybody has been working very hard. I just want to acknowledge that. In Finance Canada, they have been working very hard. Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Bloc, all of us as members of Parliament have been working very hard, but goodness knows, so has the civil service and the people, whether their efforts are inadequate or not as we judge them today, who have been securing vaccines for Canadians, who have been securing PPE, who have been trying to figure out how we pay for this, how we fund it and how we go forward. I just want to stop and acknowledge everyone’s hard work, and I want to thank the Minister of Finance for hers.

On where we are now and what needs to be done better, certainly I am very pleased to see that we may in fact, at long last, and as the Minister of Finance’s speech noted there has been a generation waiting, have decent child care. Maybe due to the fact that the Minister of Finance has had to stay home and take care of her own sick children, we might in fact finally get proper support in this country for early learning and child care. We are told we could see something in budget 2021. We will not be satisfied with less than a full program for child care for Canadians. I am feeling more optimistic than I did before I heard the speech.

I am pleased that we saw recognition in the speech of the huge amount of work that needs to be done on reconciliation, a reference to the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry and to meeting some of those calls for action is important. We need to meet all the calls for action.

We certainly are looking at improvements in contact tracing and testing. We need to do more and do better. At-home testing would be great. Quicker results would be great. I note this on the vaccine front, and this is offered in the spirit of collaborative and practical thinking about where we are on vaccines. Angus Reid polling tells us that 39% of Canadians say they want the vaccine as soon as it is ready, and 38% say they would like to wait and see. People want to make sure that it is tested and safe and can be used safely.

I would like to encourage the government to think about vaccines in relation to making sure that we all agree who the front-line workers are and who needs to get it first, and that we recognize it would not be a really wise global course for Canada to hog all the vaccines so that every Canadian is vaccinated before, say, front-line health care workers in other countries.

We need to take a sensible approach and make sure the vaccine is rolled out, and that those who are on the front lines get it first and that we recognize that we are all working together to ensure safety and reliability in the vaccines that are delivered. I hear concerns from my constituents on both sides of this, those who want it quickly and those who want to make sure it is tested properly.

I am very encouraged to hear more for youth in this budget. We let our youth down badly last summer. We need to increase the number of summer jobs, as is promised in this speech. My hon. colleague, the member for Fredericton asked in the House, just a few days ago, whether the government would agree that we should at least eliminate interest charges on student debt. It is very encouraging to see that will be done for one year, but let us keep doing it. Let us work towards abolishing tuition and giving our kids a good start in life without emerging with massive student debts, which unfortunately remains the case for so many of our young people. We can do better for our youth.

I was also really pleased to see the references to more pharmacare development, but it is very slow. We need to see a full pharmacare plan and we need to see it soon.

It was encouraging to see a recognition of the natural course of market share between fossil fuels and renewables. The economic statement notes the shift that was occurring before COVID hit. We were already seeing a massive shift of investment away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

This economic statement confirms that shift is happening, that the oil sector is not likely to recover and that the share of renewable energy, as affordable and reliable, is only going to increase. This is good and encouraging news and should underpin where we go when we look at measures related to climate.
I turn my attention now to the other emergency: the climate emergency. Since COVID hit, there have been more than 100 climate disasters that have collectively claimed 410,000 lives around the world. In that time roughly 1.4 million have died from COVID, but the climate disasters and the climate emergency will continue apace, and there is no vaccine against a climate emergency. We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and do so very quickly.

I was encouraged to see so much that really emerges from green strategy and Green Party policy, but really I am optimistic when I see the commitment to eco-energy retrofits for homes. This is described as being for homes, and we need to extend the commitment to all buildings. We need to make sure that commercial and institutional buildings can also make these investments in energy efficiency retrofits. They cost less per dollar of carbon averted, and they create more jobs right across the country in all the skilled trades: carpentry, electrical and insulation. It is a fantastic way to invest that builds our economies back at the local level, also helping local hardware and building supply stores. All the elements of eco-energy retrofits build our local economies.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:07

I was very encouraged to see better infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles. I say yes to tree planting, to making sure that we are planting indigenous species and to getting into those areas that have been burned off by forest fires and not recovering because the fires burned so hot: areas like the Thompson River valley and the Fraser. We have seen so many. The Elephant Hill fire area in British Columbia, for example, is still not recovering years later. We need to plant trees in those areas as part of our strategy to recover and protect our wild salmon. These things are interconnected, and it is a very important way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. I hope that in the budget we will also see indigenous peoples referenced as part of tree-planting strategies. Let us also make sure the indigenous guardians program is expanded and properly funded.

I am very encouraged to see that peat, grasslands and other nature-based solutions to the climate crisis are being referenced here. For the first time it looks like there is going to be substantial money, but it does not look like enough. However, farmers are a big part of the climate solution. Regenerative management of our soil, and making sure there is crop cover all the time so the soil does not blow away, are actually significant parts of carbon sequestration, and should be properly funded as a way that helps our farming community at the same time as it reduces greenhouse gases. It is good to see nature-based solutions playing a role where the government appears to be going for the future of climate action.

Public transit is terribly important. I must note that the early reaction from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to this economic statement is that it is disappointed there was not enough for its budget planning at the municipal level right across Canada. I have flagged that for the minister and for the government to make sure the Federation of Canadian municipalities is brought in as a very close partner. It has solid data, and I have always been impressed with its work. Partnering with municipalities has served many federal governments very well, going back to Stephen Harper’s government in 2008. Its infrastructure programs were rolled out thanks to our municipal order of government. We can do more there.

I want to raise a concern. Almost every reference to public transit that I have seen, including in this financial statement, focuses on urban public transit. We have a crisis in Canada, flagged in the report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, of a lack of public transportation to get from A to B in rural areas. The loss of Greyhound, the loss of Saskatchewan bus services and the loss of bus service throughout the Maritimes for areas that are more remote is a real crisis.

I hope that as we are building back better, the budget, whenever it comes out in 2021, has funding to ensure that people in remote areas have access to affordable, safe public transit so that young indigenous women and girls do not have to hitchhike and seniors do not have to get behind the wheel of a car when they do not want to drive at night because there is no other way to get from A to B. We can do better.

I was pleased to see the references to the interties for our electricity grid. It is important, as the financial statement points out, that we get off coal and decarbonize our electricity grid. However, just as the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith mentioned, the statement does not mention that shifting from coal to burn fracked gas to produce electricity does not produce major savings in greenhouse gases. It is a wash. We must therefore ban fracking and stop thinking that fracked natural gas plays any role in a solution to the climate crisis.

The financial statement also mentions nuclear reactors, or the so-called small and medium reactors that exist on paper. They are a proposal, a marketing strategy, for a dying industry. Do not put good money after bad. We have wasted billions of dollars in this country on a failed nuclear reactor strategy. Calling them small and modular does not make them a good place to put money.

We should invest in things that, per dollar invested, reduce the most greenhouse gases and create the most jobs. We need to keep that in mind along with the shortest amount of time between investment and return. If we keep those three things in mind, we will not need to put any money in nuclear at all, particularly in something that is a design project on paper and does not exist in reality.

What else do we need in the next budget? This has been flagged by a number of colleagues from different parties, and particularly the New Democrats and Greens have mentioned it before: We need to increase revenue flows. I applaud the minister for putting forward that we are going to need at least a three-year economic stimulus package to bring back our economy.

Come on; let us bring in a wealth tax. The billionaires have made $53 billion since the pandemic started. Let us tax that wealth and make sure that Canadians can afford our pharmacare plans, our child care plans and our dental care plans for low-income Canadians, and afford helping our students and taking care of our seniors. We need to have a wealth tax.

I flagged that we need to have a guaranteed livable income. This is referenced in the statement, by the way, I think at page 79. There is reference to the fact that many front-line health care workers are of low income and in precarious jobs. That is just not good enough. Essential workers have been working hard and risking their lives in long-term care homes. These front-line workers are paid so low it is just a scandal.

Let us look at guaranteed livable income so that we know no one falls below the poverty line and that every worker in Canada keeps what they earn on top of their guaranteed livable income so they do not face insecurity, such as housing insecurity and health care insecurity, and are protected. We need to look at guaranteed livable income and bring it into being, along with pharmacare and child care. We need to ensure that housing is a right and every Canadian has a roof over their head.

We need to look at doing more in taxing the digital giants. What the Minister of Finance said is encouraging, but as other colleagues have noted, if they are not paying their taxes, just GST and HST, for more than year, it is not good enough. We need to start regulating and taxing the digital giants, whether it is Airbnb, Amazon or Google, that are threatening existing Canadian industries, whether they are the small businesses up and down the main streets of our towns or our newspapers and broadcasters. We are starting to recognize the threat, but there is more we must do.

I noted something amusing in the questions and answers. My colleague, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, asked the leader of the official opposition if he had any thoughts on the government’s move toward clean, green energy. The leader of the official opposition responded, which I guess makes the Conservatives’ position clear, that he is really proud of the Keystone pipeline.

Let me get to this question of fossil fuels and how we are funding them. It is more than time to stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Stephen Harper promised to stop subsidizing fossil fuels in 2009, and the Liberals promised it again in their platform in 2015. However, fossil fuel subsidies have gone up.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:21

One way of ignoring that reality is to have trouble defining what a fossil fuel subsidy is. Finance Canada told the Auditor General it was not sure how we would define it. Here is how we define it. Any time we put public money into producing energy out of fossil fuels and expanding that resource, we are subsidizing fossil fuels which means stop subsidizing fracking. Stop subsidizing LNG, which is being subsidized by the federal and British Columbia governments by the way. Stop spending money on pipelines. The Trans Mountain pipeline is 100% owned by the people of Canada.

The minimum expenditure that is now committed is $12 billion. It could be far more than that as my friend from New Westminster—Burnaby has noted. Cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. We will still own the existing pipeline. It was a waste of money to buy it, but it is operating and brings crude into Burnaby for the last remaining refinery. There is no problem with that. It will be phased out over time, but stop putting public money into expanding greenhouse gases and for heaven’s sakes, Prime Minister, pick up the phone, call President-Elect Joe Biden and say “Good for you for cancelling Keystone. It is a good idea. What can we do to put our heads together? We were very pleased to see a border adjustment tax on carbon. Let us put together a continental package of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico together saying we are going to carbon price and we are going to have a border adjustment to protect us from imports from countries that are not pricing carbon properly.”

We have an incredible opportunity with an incoming U.S. administration, having appointed John Kerry as their climate czar. This appears to be a government that is serious. They are already ahead of us in reducing greenhouse gases even after four years of Trump. That is how poorly we have been performing. Let us seize the opportunity to call President-Elect Joe Biden and say we are with him, let us cancel all the fossil fuel subsidies and let us have both countries ban fracking because fracked natural gas produces methane and that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. If we are going to preserve a livable world for our kids, we have to keep both issues on the front burner.

I will be digging into this report as I know the party leader and members of our caucus, the members for Fredericton and Nanaimo—Ladysmith will be working through all of the details in this very detailed document. I am encouraged by much of what we see. I think we will be increasingly clear on what is missing. Please, let us make this the turning point it really can be. Post-COVID, Canada can emerge as a country that actually gets our act together, where our productivity index goes up, where our competitiveness goes up, where our job creation goes up, because we will not be wasting any more money in dying industries that not only are dying, but threaten us.

We have to put our kids and our recovery at the heart of everything we do as a nation, climate emergency and fairness in the world, eliminating poverty in Canada, eliminating racism in Canada and taking a stand globally so that we help around the world delivering on all the sustainable development goals. We can do this. We have a really amazing opportunity. I plead with all of my colleagues to think of this as a moment where we stop thinking about question period as how can I make the other guy look bad, but how do we together make Canada look good.

Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North)
2020-11-30 19:21 [p.2723]

Mr. Speaker, the former leader of the Green Party can never be accused of not being bold. I appreciate the degree to which she is very forthright in her opinions. On the issue of pipelines or fracking, I disagree in part with what the member is saying, but I understand what the member is saying and why she is saying it.

In regard to the LNG project, what would she do with that specific project given where it is at today? She talks about the negative impacts of fracking. I do not quite understand what she would do with LNG today if in fact she had the power to do something on it.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:22 [p.2723]

Mr. Speaker, liquefied natural gas, when it comes from conventional natural gas, is a viable alternative and we used to call it a transition fuel when I was in Sierra Club in the early 1990s. Nobody in the environment movement calls it a transition fuel anymore because what we are dealing with is not conventional natural gas; we are fracking. Fracked natural gas has the same carbon footprint as coal, so it represents a major lie to tell British Columbians, for instance as our premier tells us, that this is going to be wonderful because they will burn it in China instead of coal and that will somehow help. The global atmosphere does not care where the carbon comes from. Carbon from fracking, and the methane that is released, does just as much damage to the atmosphere as burning coal in China. They should cancel it.

The fact that this is being heavily subsidized for a group of foreign corporations is a scandal. Most of the manufacturing, by the way, is taking place in the People’s Republic of China to build what will then be shipped over to British Columbia. They should cancel it. It is a massive subsidy for jobs in the People’s Republic of China. Let us put the jobs in Canada and produce renewable energy here.

Jeremy Patzer (Cypress Hills—Grasslands)
2020-11-30 19:24 [p.2723]

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering if the former leader of the Green Party could clarify something for me. Earlier tonight, the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith said that he was excited about the geothermal drilling activity that happened in Saskatchewan that resulted in a gusher of a well.

The thing is, that well was actually drilled using fracking. We just heard the member talk about how much she has a disdain for fracking, but yet her colleague was talking glowingly about a well that was actually drilled using fracking. What is it? Do you support fracking or do you not?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:25 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the question from the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.

Let us be clear: When they are fracking, they are fracturing the bedrock for natural gas and they are actually fracking the gas, vast amounts of methane are released. However, there are transferrable skills. People who drilled wells for oil can drill wells for geothermal, and that is what happened here. This is a huge find. It is really important to recognize that actually 10% of all the abandoned wells through Saskatchewan and Alberta have potential to be tapped for geothermal.

Let us look at the opportunities transitioning away from fossil fuels and into renewables. Geothermal has huge potential, and those wells at depth, 10% of them that are already abandoned and are a liability on the books of Saskatchewan and Alberta, actually have potential to produce green electricity, and we support green electricity. We do not support fracking.

Marilène Gill (Manicouagan)
2020-11-30 19:26 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for her response to the economic statement.

I think she will agree with the Bloc Québécois that the statement lacks vision. The statement contains some good things, but it is seriously lacking in vision.

She touched on forestry, carbon sequestration and moving toward cleaner, greener energy. The Bloc Québécois has presented a multi-pronged approach, focusing in particular on the forestry sector, which is a cornerstone of Quebec’s and Canada’s economies. I would like to know whether she thinks that is a promising avenue. The sector can work on research and development into products that allow us to sequester carbon.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:26 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Manicouagan.

I think the Bloc’s approach is quite similar to the approach of the Green Party of Canada, because we need to invest in renewable energy, not in pipelines and fossil fuels.

I thank my colleague for her question.

Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby)
2020-11-30 19:27 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, we have been talking a lot about some of the disappointing aspects of this economic update, but the biggest disappointment as far as I am concerned, and the member has been talking about bold actions that need to be taken, is that the current federal government is not stepping up on what have been immense levels of profit and increase in wealth during this pandemic. Billionaires have received about $53 billion in new wealth in Canada. We have seen the web giants making huge levels of profits, and they do not pay corporate taxes.

My question for the hon. member is very simple. Does she feel it is important that the federal government actually take measures to increase revenue so that we are not in a situation where the federal government then cuts supports that are vitally needed for people because they have not put in place the revenue side of the equation?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:28 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for New Westminster—Burnaby. I actually referenced the same figure in my speech. The fact that the billionaire class has raked in another $53 billion since COVID began is a shocker. We do need a wealth tax.

Also, I think we should look at the profits of the large commercial banks, which are taxed less in Canada than in some of our competitor nations, such as the United States. We are looking at the banks who have had record profits, and the billionaires have had record profits. Goodness knows, there are the digital companies, and as we approach the Christmas season, we endorse the campaign not to buy anything from Amazon, because those big offshore digital giants are eroding our bedrock of small businesses across Canada, whether they are hotels affected by Airbnbs or newspapers affected by news services that do not even pay for what they are getting.

I am very much in favour of looking at future revenue sources. Let us continue to push the Minister of Finance. At some point, we have to find a new source of revenue. We cannot imagine going through the kind of austerity program that I remember, and that I know the member remembers, from the early 1990s when we lost something like 30% of our hospital beds in a misguided approach to cut spending. It really hurt us long term. We have to be prepared to find other sources of revenue so that we can keep building the kind of society that we know we can. We are a wealthy country. We just have to get our priorities right.

Ziad Aboultaif (Edmonton Manning)
2020-11-30 19:30 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to get in the last question for tonight.

I have never heard the former leader of the Green Party talk about nuclear energy as a solution for greener energy and a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I would like to hear her comment on this specific topic.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-30 19:30 [p.2724]

Mr. Speaker, I think the nuclear promise for Canada was best summed up years ago by commentator Fred Knelman, who said that nuclear is a future technology whose time has passed.

There is no future for nuclear as part of our solution to the climate crisis. It is very capital intensive. It is not labour intensive and it reduces very few greenhouse gases compared with the big winners. Energy efficiency investments and renewable energy investments outpace nuclear so clearly that one would only put money in nuclear if one were deluded and addicted to the technology, and I am afraid there are still some people in Natural Resources Canada who fall into that category.