I gave the following 10-minute speech today (Jan. 27th) in the House of Commons on an Opposition Day Motion calling on the Harper government to immediately present an economic and fiscal update to Parliament.
I read an interesting quote this morning in a blog by Newfoundlander Drew Brown.
Mr. Brown describes himself as a Newfoundlander in exile, a young man who’s working on his PhD in political science at the University of Alberta.
The quote, Mr. Speaker, was by a well-known Newfoundland lawyer who gave a talk to the Canadian Bar Association back in the early 1930s.
The group had just finished singing O Canada and the Newfoundland lawyer said:
“That’s the real difference between Newfoundlanders and Canadians. In Canada you guys can sing ‘we stand on guard for thee,’ but back home, we have to sing ‘God Guard thee Newfoundland,’ because no one else is up to the job.”
Mr. Speaker, there’s truth in that.
Newfoundland and Labrador is always in need of guarding, in need of fighting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, because God guards those who guard themselves.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot give a speech on a motion focusing on the state of the country’s finances without mentioning, right off the top, this Conservative government’s latest financial double-cross to Newfoundland and Labrador.
A double-cross of biblical proportions, which was how it was described back home, Mr. Speaker.
And, of course, I’m talking about the $280 million that this Conservative government promised my province as a “transition fund” for “development and renewal.”
Those are Conservative words, Mr. Speaker, not mine – “transition fund, development and renewal.”
That $280-million fund was promised after Newfoundland and Labrador surrendered minimum processing requirements as part of the free-trade deal with the European Union.
Minimum processing requirements protect fish plant jobs on land, and we gave that up, Mr. Speaker, after the province stuck a deal with this Conservative government to make the free-trade deal with the EU happen.
But the Conservative government has reneged on that deal, Mr. Speaker.
Just recently the Justice Minister came to St. John’s, Mr. Speaker, and insulted us to our faces.
He said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are demanding a CETA slush fund.
Which is not true.
That’s the same Minister, Mr. Speaker, who used a military search and rescue helicopter to taxi him from a fishing trip on the Gander River.
That minister has no credibility back home, Mr. Speaker, but then neither does this Conservative government.
Not when they double-cross my province.
This government made a commitment to my province.
We expect this government - we demand this government - honour that commitment.
That fund is about diversifying the economy; it’s about preparing our fishing industry for tariff-free access to the 500-million person EU market; it’s about a promise made, a promise kept, Mr. Speaker.
It’s about integrity; it’s about honour.
The first part of the motion before this house today, the first Opposition day motion of the year, calls on the government to update this House on the state of Canada’s finances in the wake of collapsing oil prices.
In the wake of huge job losses.
In the wake of the decision by the Finance Minister to delay the tabling of the annual federal budget until April.
There is no good reason, Mr. Speaker, to put off updating this House, to put off the federal budget.
The decline in world oil prices has been stunning, has been shocking - from an average of $94 a barrel last year to $56 a barrel this year.
That $38-a-barrel drop has virtually wiped out this government’s anticipated surplus in its next budget.
This Conservative government’s mismanagement and sole focus on resource extraction has left our country vulnerable to these sorts of resource price shocks.
We need to diversify our economy, Mr. Speaker.
And the Conservatives have failed to do that.
Oil revenues have plummeted, Mr. Speaker, and this Conservative government’s reaction is to push an income splitting scheme that gives billions of dollars to the country’s wealthiest people.
Oil revenues have plummeted, Mr. Speaker, and this Conservative government is pushing a job-creator tax cut that only creates 800 jobs at a cost of half a billion dollars.
Make sense of that math, Mr. Speaker.
Newfoundland and Labrador knows all about the incredible downside of economic tunnel vision in terms of the oil industry.
We’re getting it from two ends, Mr. Speaker.
Oil revenues are down from our offshore oil play to the point that the province is facing a deficit this year of $916 million.
That’s a deficit of almost a billion dollars for a small province with just over half a million people.
On the western end, thousands of layoffs in Alberta’s oil sands will also have a devastating impact on our migratory workforce.
Alberta oil money has been propping up our fishing outports for years.
Newfoundland and Labrador has been solely focused on the oil industry to our peril.
Mr. Speaker, the fishing industry is an after-thought - an after-thought to the provincial government and an after-thought to this federal Conservative government.
Diversification is not in the Conservative vocabulary.
Mr. Speaker, the second part of today’s motion calls on the Conservatives to prepare a budget that addresses the economic challenges faced by the middle class by creating more quality, full-time jobs and encouraging economic diversification.
There’s that word again.
Again, Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives – and the Liberals – have failed at diversification.
Over the last decade, under Liberal and Conservative governments, we have lost more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs – most of which were in Ontario.
We are addicted to oil, Mr. Speaker.
We are fixated on pipelines, fracking, deep-water drilling.
Oil at all costs, the environment be damned.
Make no mistake, Mr. Speaker, we have done well by oil .
My province in particular.
Newfoundland and Labrador is a have-province because of oil revenues.
But with oil revenues down the province is bracing for cuts to tackle that $916-million deficit.
With oil revenues down this federal Conservative government is apparently proceeding with income splitting for the wealthiest Canadians.
What about the middle class?
Where does that leave them, Mr. Speaker?
Mr. Speaker, I spoke on the telephone last night with a 68-year-old woman in my riding.
She was a career woman who worked at a good job and now in retirement she makes around $25,000 a year.
She said she considers herself middle class, but she can’t afford $900 a month rent, which is the average cost of an apartment in St. John’s.
Instead, Mr. Speaker, she’s forced to live in her daughter’s basement.
Where’s the help for the middle class?
Where’s the help for her?
Mr. Speaker, a forum on child care was held this past weekend in St. John’s and one of the stories told was that of a single father of three who had to quit his job because he couldn’t afford child care.
The man said that because of how much money he made at his job the year prior to becoming a full-time father, he didn't qualify for assisted child care.
So he had to go on social assistance to raise his children.
How will income splitting help that man raise his children?
It won’t, Mr. Speaker.
My party, the New Democratic Party of Canada, proposes a national child care plan that would cost parents no more than $15 a day.
That plan would boost the economy by allowing more parents, more men and women, to access the workforce.
To conclude, Mr. Speaker, we’re calling on this government to release its economic update, to diversify the economy, to introduce a budget that includes measures to create quality jobs.
We’re calling on this government to introduce a budget that addresses the challenges facing the middle class.
And, while they’re at it Mr. Speaker, a budget that stands on guard for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.