I gave the following 10-minute speech Monday (March 24th) in the House of Commons.
This latest federal Conservative budget is not a good one for Newfoundland and Labrador.
From yet more cuts to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans — at this point they’re amputating bone, Mr. Speaker, there is no meat within DFO left to cut (I’ll come back to that in a moment) …
To charging tax on hospital parking — Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are already vicious with the fact they being charged to park outside hospitals, charged to see their doctors, in other words …
To increasing the age of eligibility for Old-Age Security to 67 from 65 …
This budget is not a good one for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Not good for the fisheries, not good for the sick or their families, not good for seniors.
It’s not good for First Nations, Mr. Speaker.
Workfare is introduced in this budget whereby aboriginal youth will be forced to work for benefits.
At the same time, Mr. Speaker, post-secondary funding for aboriginal youth doesn’t come close to meeting the need.
This budget is not good for the unemployed.
The Conservatives are following through on their EI changes that punish workers by forcing them to take lower paying jobs or jobs outside of their communities or outports.
This budget is not good for the vast majority of students.
There’s nothing in the budget to tackle crippling student debt — the average federal student debt load is $28,000.
There’s a problem in this country with accessibility and affordability of post-secondary from one province to the next and there’s nothing in this budget to address that.
This budget is not good for the vast majority of young Canadians.
There are 240,000 more young people unemployed today than before the recession, but all this budget does for youth job creation is re-announce $70 million in funding over 3 years for 5,000 internships.
That’s a start, Mr. Speaker, but — again — it skims the surface of the actual need.
Closer to home again, Mr. Speaker, there’s nothing in the Conservative budget to offset the 4 per cent increase to Marine Atlantic fares that’s due to come into effect April 1st.
If that doesn’t amount to a tax increase for all of Newfoundland and Labrador, I don’t know what does.
News flash for the Conservatives, Mr. Speaker — Newfoundland is an island and when you increase the ferry rates the cost of everything eventually goes up.
There’s barely a mention of Labrador in the budget, Mr. Speaker, and the one mention was for an old jobs program.
For Conservatives, Mr. Speaker, and I said this last week during Question Period, Labrador is just a place to pull puppet strings.
If Labrador can’t get a decent mention in a federal budget that’s released just before a federal byelection, on the eve of a federal byelection in Labrador, well, Labrador will never get anything.
Conservatives seem more preoccupied with winning the Labrador seat then actually doing something concrete for Labrador.
And you know what they’re saying back home, Mr. Speaker, you either do it the right way, or the Penashue.
Conservatives choose to cheat Labradorians out of fair representation — that’s the Penashue, and they defend it at every turn.
Mr. Speaker, the Atlantic caucus of the New Democratic Party was in Labrador West this past fall, and one of the chief concerns we heard on the ground was the desperate need for affordable housing.
The mining industry — iron ore specifically — is doing very well, but the vacancy rate is practically zero.
The local college offers a mining course that practically guarantees employment, but classes aren’t full because there’s no place for students to live.
We heard stories about how women remain in abusive relationships because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
There’s nothing in the Conservative budget that tackles the national housing crisis in a real way.
The Conservative government is investing $253 a million in affordable housing, but that does nothing to address the lack of affordable housing in Canada through a National Housing Strategy.
Throwing money at the provinces without a national plan is irresponsible, it makes no sense.
I stood on my feet in February to address the need for a national housing strategy — to talk about the needs of Labrador, to talk about the housing needs of the northeast Avalon.
And then what did every last Conservativer member — including Peter Penashue — do … they voted against a national housing strategy.
There’s nothing in this budget for the people of Labrador.
Let me reiterate: if Labrador can’t get anything substantive from a federal budget that’s released on the eve of a federal byelection in Labrador — this could be seen as an election budget for Labrador — Labrador will NEVER get anything from this Conservative government.
Newfoundland and Labrador MPs are supposed to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Ottawa, they’re not supposed to represent Ottawa in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Again, Mr. Speaker, that’s the Penashue — that’s not the right way, that’s not the New Democratic way.
I mentioned DFO cuts earlier in my speech.
Newfoundland and Labrador may not be the great fishing epicenter that it once was.
The Grand Banks of Newfoundland may not be what they once were.
But that doesn’t mean the Government of Canada should walk away from a responsibility for our fisheries that it took over when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.
But that’s what’s happening.
The latest cut has the Conservative government slashing the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans by $108 million over 6 years.
There’s talk that regional headquarters, like the one in St. John’s, could close.
I have a direct quote from the budget: “To compliment these savings Fisheries and Oceans Canada will also improve regional program efficiencies by reducing management overhead and consolidating decision-making authorities.”
Now, does that say directly that regional offices will close?
No, the wording never does, but Mr. Speaker — the writing most definitely appears to be on the wall.
I also mentioned hospital parking earlier in my speech.
This budget requires that GST/HST be paid on all hospital parking.
Currently, public sector bodies are exempt.
So, the change will make parking spaces or facilities operated by a municipality or hospital, taxable.
Canadians — Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — see the parking fees, the parking fees that are destined to increase, as a financial barrier to health care.
The Conservative government is charging people to see their doctors — charging people for medical treatment — that’s what it amounts to.
So let me sum up all the people that this Conservative government is leaving behind — or so arrogantly neglecting — in its budget:
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians first, Labrador of the Big Land in particular, seniors, students, young people, First Nations, Canadian youth, low-income Canadians, and fishermen.
Labradorians are lucky in a way, Mr. Speaker.
As I mentioned, a byelection will be called there soon, a byelection in which the people of Labrador will have an opportunity to send a message to the Conservative government that their way of governing — dictating from Ottawa, dictating from Ottawa without a moral compass, is unacceptable.
All Canadians should be so lucky to have that opportunity, to have that voting opportunity here and now.
Because the Conservatives would find themselves out of office.
And we wouldn’t have to wait two long years to do it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.