Debate on the Conservative government's recycled budget got underway Tuesday morning with the opposition parties criticizing it and proposing changes.
Opposition Leader Jack Layton opened the first day of debate on the budget delivered Monday by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty by saying the government missed a "golden opportunity" to work with the other parties and to show Canadians that they are in Ottawa to work for them.
The revised budget tabled Monday contains all of the same measures in the March document — which was never voted on because the spring election was triggered first — plus two new commitments: The government is now setting aside $2.2 billion for a compensation deal for Quebec's HST harmonization, and is phasing out the per-vote subsidy for political parties.
Moved by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, seconded by Minister of State (Finance) Ted Menzies:
That this House approve in general the budgetary policy of the government.
Moved by Opposition Leader Jack Layton, Seconded by Peggy Nash, the Member for Parkdale-High Park, that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "that" and substituting the following:
"That the House not approve in general the budgetary policy of the government unless the government brings in additional measures to correct the government’s poor record of fiscal management, to address adequately the current jobs crisis in the economy, to address the shortage of family doctors and other health professionals, to deal with the need to provide Canadians with a comfortable retirement and a secure vehicle for their retirement savings, to lift every Canadian senior out of poverty, to make life more affordable for low and middle income Canadians and to address the government’s failure to substitute a more targeted approach to job creation for its ill-conceived, across-the-board, corporate income tax cuts."
Move by interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, seconded by Scott Brison, the member for Kings-Hants, that the motion be further amended by deleting the period and adding the following:
"...and rejects the government's budgetary policy because it does nothing to improve the worsening living conditions and opportunity gaps facing aboriginal people, fails to present any plan that fosters long-term, sustainable prosperity and equal opportunity for all Canadians, deliberately excludes low-income Canadians from qualifying for new tax measures by failing to make them refundable tax credits, abandons the federal government's role in the development and maintenance of affordable housing, continues to display a lack of federal leadership on healthcare particularly by ignoring the need to begin negotiations with the provinces on the successor to the 2004 Health Accord and leaves Canadians in the dark as to which programs and services will be cut in order to meet the Government's deficit projections."
Layton applauded the government for dedicating the money to Quebec and for two other budget initiatives: the Helmets to Hardhats program to help military veterans and the extension of the ecoEnergy home retrofit program. That's where Layton's affection for the budget ended. He went on to list the areas where the NDP believes it is deficient, including health care, job creation and help for seniors and cities.
"This budget will not get more doctors into practice," Layton said during his speech. "It's an issue that should have been tackled."
Layton said the budget's commitment to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors doesn't go far enough to lift seniors out of poverty and he repeated his opposition to corporate tax cuts.
He said the budget fails to help Canadian families and that he wants to work with the government to improve it.
"I choose to remain optimistic, Mr. Speaker, about what this House can accomplish," Layton said. "So in good faith, Mr. Speaker, I’ll reach across the aisle to say: 'You just need to try harder.'"
NDP calls for more on job creation, seniors
Layton proposed an amendment that said the government's budget should not be approved by Parliament unless it adds more measures "to correct the government's poor record of fiscal management" and does more to address job creation, the physician shortage, retirement security and to assist poor seniors.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae also denounced Flaherty's budget, saying it's divisive because it offers benefits only to some Canadians and not the ones who need help the most.
"It is not a budget for everyone, it is not a budget that brings Canadians together, it is not a budget for one Canada," Rae said during his opening remarks. "It does far more for those who are better off than for those who are not."
The interim Liberal leader also cast doubt on the government's pledge to eliminate the deficit by 2014-2015 and its plan to do it by making cuts to program spending that will amount to $4 billion a year in savings by the time the cuts are implemented.
"The finance minister is asserting a very false certainty in his deficit projections," he said.
The Liberals proposed a subamendment that called for the budget to be rejected because "it does nothing" to improve conditions for aboriginal Canadians, to foster long-term prosperity for Canadians, to build more affordable housing, to take leadership on health care and "leaves Canadians in the dark as to which programs and services will be cut in order to meet the Government's deficit projections."
Flaherty was not in the House of Commons for Tuesday's debate, leaving the duty of responding to the opposition to his parliamentary secretary, Shelly Glover.
The budget debate and the proposed amendments will have little effect on the government's plan to push the budget through the House of Commons before Parliament breaks for the summer.
The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons and the Senate, which means there's little the NDP and Liberals can do to prevent its passage.