13 December 2010
Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, I would like to make some comments under the tradition of some latitude with budget bills of this nature.
I had some trepidation and some reluctance as I thought about saying what I am about to say, but I was provoked in a positive way by Senator Marshall's question to our colleague Senator Day on Thursday when she said:
With the information that is being provided, does the honourable senator not think the government is on track with its expenditure plan?
I began to question which information could possibly be provided to give anyone any sense that this government is on track with its expenditure plan. I would like to discuss several areas where I think they are so clearly off-track that I actually have no confidence, no evidence, and no indication that they will ever get back on track. What we have had for the last five years, which has not been very good, certainly will not improve over the next, hopefully, only weeks or months before they call an election, which they will lose.
The first area I would like to talk about is the question of managing the economy. The only claims that the government can make to managing the economy that I can catch are two kinds of claims that they repeat often and yet they cannot really take credit for them. One is their stimulus package. However, we all know that we would not have had a stimulus package had they not been brought to the brink of destruction for their government by the opposition during that tumultuous period two years or so ago which forced them to bring in a stimulus package.
In fact, just weeks before they came to that conclusion and announced it, the Minister of Finance had said, "There is no problem. We have no recession." The world knew there was a recession. Every economist in this country, except one, the Prime Minister, knew there was a recession. The opposition forced the stimulus package, which has led to some performance in the economy; nevertheless, not anywhere near the performance that it might have had had it been implemented properly. There is much evidence that when it was implemented, it was implemented in a biased fashion that was driven by politics.
Second, the Prime Minister often takes credit for the tremendous strength of our banking industry. Yes, we have a tremendously strong banking industry, but I remember this very same Prime Minister in the old days, before he was Prime Minister, saying that the banks should be far, far less regulated. In a very American Republican way and turn of phrase, that was the point he made.
The claim to economic management comes down to two things. One is the stimulus package, which was not their idea, and the second is a strong banking system, which would have been eroded by his first initial gut initiative on policy to deregulate banks.
What I want to say is that they are welcome. The Liberals gave them those two things, and thankfully they did. However, if one looks at the results, the growth in our economy is significantly down, and it can be blamed on the worldwide recession. Unemployment is up 30 per cent and, while some jobs have been recovered, many of those jobs are not quality jobs to replace the ones that have been lost. They are temporary, part-time and without the same strength and stability as the jobs that were lost.
When this government says that it can somehow manage an economy, I say, let us look at the facts. Let us look at the information we have before our very eyes. Let us look at results, because as many people in the private sector will know, results actually count, and they should count here, but they are not being counted by this government.
Next is the question of fiscal responsibility. I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that this government can manage the fiscal regime of this government. Why would I? There is absolutely no evidence that they have or that they can. Let me itemize that for honourable senators.
This is a government that increased spending by $80 billion in four years — $80 billion. That is a 40 per cent increase from the day they started to this fiscal year. That is the hard-nosed, tough-minded, fiscally-responsible government: $80 billion. It is incomprehensible that they would do that. That resulted in a $56 billion deficit, a record. They will say it is because they had to do the stimulus package, and I will say, again, they cannot add because the stimulus package is, what? We cannot really find out exactly, but maybe $30 billion or $40 billion. Let us say it is $35 billion. Not all of that was spent last year. Only part of that was spent last year and a good chunk of it will be spent this year. Now, because the government has extended the March 31 deadline — and let me get to that because that is another serious problem the way they went about doing that — some of it will be spent there.
Let us say $20 billion of stimulus was spent last year and would be, therefore, placed against the $56 billion deficit. Take that $20 billion out and you still have a $36 billion deficit. That is bad management. That is not worldwide recession or responding to it. That is bad management. It is too much money that you do not have and borrowing to spend $36 billion.
Honourable senators, this year the government wanted to get the cut-off for the March 31 stimulus package because they did not want to have to count any of that money in next year's because maybe just next year you can start to develop a better deficit profile. Again, what the government forgets — again because they do not know how to manage properly — is that all of those municipalities had to jam their projects to meet that deadline. When they do that, they push up their costs. They had to spend a lot of money that they might otherwise not have had to spend because the government was playing politics to make itself look better next year.
Honourable senators, that deficit will not be much lower this year, and I doubt that it will be much lower next year. When confronted with the problem of a $56 billion deficit, what do you do? Well, we get jets that are not being tendered. That is not particularly fiscally responsible, and estimates are that it will cost us $3 billion that it does not have to, minimum. Furthermore, you have billions of dollars for prisons that will not help make society any safer, but will make them worse. You also have the UAE, Camp Mirage, $300 million — and that is only what we know. What will it cost us when we have to rent this new air base for the four years for the extension of Afghanistan? What is the Prime Minister's response to that? Honourable senators, his response is not to show leadership by reducing his costs. He bumps his costs 30 per cent of his office costs. Why does he do that? He does it not for some productive policy analysis or better, God knows, control of his cabinet and his government. He bumps his costs because he wants to spin the case and the message in ever increasingly intense ways because he does not want to deal with the facts.
Honourable senators, I look at that and I say, what confidence would I ever have, would we ever have, that they will manage this any differently in the future? I think there are two problems at least. One is that the ideology does not work. Sometimes the government has to be in partnership with the private sector, with individuals in society, and so on, to make things work.
Government leadership is essential in many ways, in many times appropriately done. You admit it because when the crunch comes you abandon your ideology and you intervene to create stimulus or, you abandon your ideology and you intervene to save the Potash Corporation for Canada. I say it is some of that and it is some dogma as well, this black and white, the world should be simple because that is how we want to view it, but it does not work.
The third area where I have tremendous concern is with foreign relations. Honourable senators, look at what has happened to our stature in the world. We lost the seat in the UN and we lost the UAE air base at huge cost. We have much anecdotal evidence of people just looking at us completely differently when we are abroad, and you can see it in Cancun and how Canadians were being treated at Cancun. Why has that happened? One, we denied any kind of respect for China for four years. When the Prime Minister finally went to China, he was actually reprimanded on an international stage in public by the Premier of China. It is incomprehensible, but that is what happened.
We have failed to understand and grasp the importance of international maternal health care, and because reproductive health care was forgotten in our policy, we lost tremendous credibility. I remember Secretary Clinton, again, being very cold with us at an international press conference and not doing a joint press conference with our minister; unprecedented to see that.
I see that we had no help from the U.S. in trying to win our seat in the UN. Why would that be? Because we were absolutely unhelpful at Copenhagen with, among other things, climate change. We provided them no support whatsoever, and I can go on.
Honourable senators, if we do not have this kind of stature in the world that we once had, what does that do for us back home, for Canadians? Who will have the stature, the power, the presence to defend the seal hunt? Who will have the stature, power, and the international presence to defend Alberta's oil sands? Who will have the stature and the power to get strong international trade agreements with countries that will look at us in a way that they have not looked at us before? Who will be able to defend Israel if we have no stature in the international community? Who will have the significance and where will that come from? We have lost that. We have lost it because it is a dogma that I believe simply does not work.
Honourable senators, I would say here are some structural problems that account for these difficulties that no amount of information that Senator Marshall has conjured up and has called to our attention will dispel. The fact of what has occurred is the information that dictates what, in fact, I believe we can expect. There is an ideological problem. You have to intervene sometimes. That ideology does not work all the time for sure. There is a dogma problem. The world is not black and white, and it is not clear all the time. There are complex issues that need complex decisions and complex solutions.
I think there is a real problem with the way the federal government has failed to collaborate with the provinces. In five years, the Prime Minister has met once, for two and a half hours, for dinner at 24 Sussex Drive with the premiers. Why would we not want to be meeting and working with and collaborating with the 10 provinces and the three territories? Is not there some synergy and strength we can get by working together? That is not happening; absolutely not happening. If you were the Prime Minister, anyone reasonable, would they not want to meet with the premiers to see how we could run this country together and collaborate and bring people together? You can only build strength this way.
This will be sensitive, and you will probably get mad at me, but, then, that is your steady state with me. The fact is that there is a problem — and I can only look at it from outside, but there is at least anecdotal evidence — with the leadership.
One, great leaders pursue great problems. They embrace them and they meet those challenges. Great leaders always do that. No great challenges here. Ask yourself the question: What is the legacy of this government? What have they done to make this place better? How are people happier or more prosperous or more optimistic about the future? What have they done for climate change? Ask yourself that. Try to give yourself a legitimate answer to that question. I would say nothing is the legitimate answer.
Honourable senators, the second issue with leadership, I believe, is the sense that great leaders attract and hold great people. I am not saying he has not got some great people; maybe he has. One of the greatest that he had was Jim Prentice, a high-quality person. He has left. That is a red flag for me. One day, after Peter MacKay figures he is being undercut enough, he will probably go, too.
Finally, and this struck me starkly when I saw the Prime Minister calling for special reports on stimulus package signs, special reports on his desk, I said we have got a Prime Minister who is so worried about signs that he would take his time to look at reports on signs. Who is worried about the deficit of $56 billion when he is worried about signs? Who is worried about the extension in Afghanistan when he is worried about signs? Who is worried about health care when he is worried about signs? This is appalling and this is really anecdotal, but, if you look at his desk, it is piled with files. I go into a CEO's office in this country; nothing on the desk. I have been into other Prime Minister's offices; nothing on the desk because they are not bogged down in paper. They have time. They have cleared their desk and they can think. I believe that the Conservative government has a prime minister who wants to control and bind and hold, and it does not work.
In fact, this country is very obviously complex, and it is far too complicated for an individual, a single person, to try and control and run it, and I think that is a structural problem. I submit it. I may be wrong, but we will see in time. What I know right now is that we have structural problems in the way that this government has run itself for five years, and I do not see any evidence whatsoever as we approach giving them another $4.2 billion that these structural problems will be solved. That, I think, is the nut of this debate.