Speeches | Speech at Second Reading of Budget 2012, Bill C-45

10 December 2012

Honourable senators, I would like to build on the presentation by my colleague Senator Day. I would like to begin by saying that I always enjoyed Senator Gerstein's presentations; he is a happy warrior. He was usually the sponsor of the government's budget bills and gave a very positive version of events and the statistical and economic analysis, and I must say that Senator Buth has certainly followed in that tradition. She is a happy warrior. She has certainly risen to the occasion and found those bits and pieces of data that somehow seem to support the idea that this Conservative government is actually competent enough to manage an economy or do very much of anything else.

I am provoked to get to my feet and fundamentally argue that there is very little evidence to suggest that they have done any kind of capable job, let alone a competent one, with the economy or with any number of other initiatives. I would like to outline that to further the debate and to clarify some unfortunate misunderstandings that have been perpetrated by Senator Buth.

I begin with a rhetorical question: Why does anyone believe that a Conservative government can actually manage an economy? All the evidence is to the contrary. Since this government took over, unemployment is up somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent. Do honourable senators realize that 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed in this country today? This government, which stakes everything on creating jobs and development and economic growth, has got 1.4 million Canadians unemployed.

When Senator Buth talks about how our GDP percentage of whatever compares with the G8, just imagine what it means in human terms that 1.4 million people are unemployed. That is exactly the case. Not only that, but when it comes to the secondary target they have, which is economic growth, do honourable senators know what the economic growth in Canada was in the third quarter of this year, in the three months leading up to September? It was 0.1 per cent for that quarter. When factoring in the full three quarters, we are annualizing a 0.6 per cent GDP growth. This idea that somehow Canada has the strongest economy in the whole world just — if it were not for northern Alberta, it would even be worse.

U.S. growth this year is going to be 2.7 per cent. This economy that they have been giving advice to — did the Prime Minister not go down and give advice to the U.S. government on the economy? Maybe he should have taken some of his own advice because whatever he said seems to be working there, but it is sure not working here.

Unemployment is up 25 per cent. Youth unemployment is at about 15 per cent. There are 1.4 million people unemployed. The government has run record deficits. They have turned a $12 billion surplus around to a $56 billion deficit at the peak. Now, they continuously miss their deficit reduction targets. They were just out by 30 per cent this year. It was going to be 21. I think it is over 19 and now it is going to be up $7 billion.

What can we believe? It is not just the F-35 data one cannot believe; it is also anything to do, it seems to me, with fiscal management: a $150 billion increase in debt to this point, give or take; it might be $130 billion, as it depends whose figures are used. It is projected to be upwards of $200 billion.

What part of all these figures would indicate to anyone that this government is competent to run an economy? Which one? I do not see it.

They will say, "It is not really our fault," because that is what they are so good at. They do not get that leadership is not about making excuses; leadership is about getting results. They will say, "You know what, there is a worldwide recession and we are doing better than everybody else. By the way, the banks are so strong." I love that one. Who was the Prime Minister and what was he saying in opposition about how we should change the banks, restructure them and deregulate them? We would be in a fine pickle then. At least we have sustained banks because of proper fiscal management of the economy by the Liberal government.

What they forget is that Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin, who ran nine consecutive surplus budgets, were confronted with the 1998 meltdown of the European banking system. They were confronted with 9/11 and the collapse of the stock market. Stock markets in North America were cut more than in half. They were burdened by a $42 billion — I know you do not like to hear this, but it is true. They were burdened by a $42-billion deficit that we had to recover from. Thank God we had 13 years of Liberal government. It is just too bad we do not have it right now, because maybe 1.4 million people would not be unemployed.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Mitchell: Let us go on. The government says it has this objective: The most important thing we can do — and they may well be right — is to diversify oil and gas markets for our oil and gas products. Of course, there is a good deal of urgency in that; we have a single export market for our oil and gas. That is the U.S., and it is very likely to be self-sufficient in both of those products within — and this is Mr. Prentice saying this, not me — five, ten or fifteen years. One would think that if the government's stated objective was to diversify markets and get a pipeline built, if they had seven years in power, if they had a prime minister who calls himself an economist and knows how to run a country, he would at least have been able to move that pipeline project along. Are we any closer to getting a pipeline to diversifying our markets than we were seven years ago? Absolutely not.

Why is that? I do not believe that they have been competent — no leadership — to run that file, and it is ending up pretty much like where our economy is ending up.

I should point out some other economic figures. I will come back to my point about the pipeline.

Canada is not even in the top third of OECD countries when one compares the total central government debt as a percentage of GDP, and it is even worse if one compares all of the debt of government in the country. We are not even the fiftieth percentile when it comes to domestic growth, GDP growth this year.

I go back to how it is that this government has so incompetently handled the pipeline file. First, they do not get that the world has changed, that now it all comes down to social licence. If the government is sending the wrong messages, it does not matter how hard Enbridge tries to prove that it can built a pipeline safely with environmental responsibility; when the government is sending these messages over and above that, they are establishing an almost impossible situation within which to gain social licence. What they have to realize, and they have not, is that you will not get those projects unless you get social licence, and you will not get social licence unless you establish once and for all that you can do the environment and deal with climate change.

When they talk about shutting down the offshore spills office in B.C. — and they shut it down — when the single greatest problem people have with that pipeline is offshore spills, what kind of message does that send? The senators here and the ministers over there get up and start to attack environmental groups, foreign foundations that fund environmental initiative and debate, when Keystone is hinging on getting environmental support. It needs environmental support if it is ever going to be built. It needs to prove its environmental bona fides. What possible good does it do to send a message attacking these environmental groups? I notice that the senators over the other way and even the minister may finally be getting the message that you do not start attacking those people when you are trying to gain social licence and establish the credibility on the environment.

When you shut down the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, when you shut down the Experimental Lakes Area, when you gut the environmental process, what does that do? It sends a message to the people, the people of B.C., the people of Canada, the international public, that they are not going to give you the credibility because you are not building the credibility on the environment. You will not get the social licence. I think it has been a disaster, and this government has been incompetent in its ability to move that along.

Second, what is profoundly missing is any sense of national leadership. The premiers of B.C. and Alberta are at odds over the pipeline. One would expect that perhaps they would be; they represent provincial interests. Premier Clark gets paid to do that for B.C. and Premier Redford gets paid to do that for Alberta, but who is representing the national interest? Where is the Prime Minister? When the premiers asked to meet with him to establish some sense of arbitration, some process of mediation, where is the Prime Minister? Some of the most significant oil energy leaders in the country are saying the Prime Minister should fulfill this role.

The premiers asked to meet with the Prime Minister at the November conference in Halifax. The Prime Minister turned it down. We are one of the only Western industrialized nations that do not have a national energy strategy or a national environment strategy. How can it be that a government can meet the kind of challenges facing this country on the economy, the environment and energy if the Prime Minister has cut and run? The Prime Minister is nowhere to be seen. He has a role to lead. There is no national leadership. He cannot manage the economy and cannot even build a pipeline in Canada.

Senator Buth said this is an energy superpower. The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources pointed out that that status, if it exists at all, is absolutely in peril. The only way you get out of that peril is through national leadership, and there is none. Unbelievable.

Senator Mahovlich: It sounds like we are on the Titanic.

Senator Mitchell: Third — and this is a kind of a micro-level illustration of how poorly the government can manage basic government responsibilities — is meat. Four years ago 22 people died on this government's watch because of problems with listeriosis. We have recently had the spectre of an E. coli outbreak, which has not killed anyone but has certainly made them ill and has certainly damaged the agricultural economy's ability to export and so on. It is not that this was a surprise. The government knew it had some problems in this sector. It is not that they say they do not have the resources, because Minister Ritz has said over and again that we have more money, millions; we have hired hundreds and hundreds more people. It was not a surprise; they have experience; they have money; they have people. What do they not have? They do not have competent management. What would it take? What would that minister have to do to lose his job? I know, I know. Why do you not stand up and tell us how much you hate those environmental NGOs, because you did such a good job of sending the right message around the world by saying that?

I can go on, of course, but I would like to finish by saying that if ever there was an indication of clear incompetence, it is a government that refuses to accept science. Climate change is a huge issue. If honourable senators think dealing with climate change will hurt an economy, just talk with the people in New York and see how badly climate changes hurt economies.

If honourable senators talk to Justice Cohen, who has attributed the disappearance of 9 million sockeye salmon three years ago in large part to climate change, and talk to people on the East Coast fishery who do not have jobs, and talk to people in the forestry industry who have lost jobs, and talk to the people of the North who see their community and their way or life and their surroundings melting away and with it their economy and their jobs, the fact is that we need leadership on climate change. We need a national environmental strategy. We need a national energy strategy. We need some leadership on unemployment. We have 1.4 million Canadians unemployed. I do not know where it is that Senator Buth can actually stand there and say that somehow she is working with an efficient, competent, capable government, because all the evidence is absolutely to the contrary. It is on that basis that I find myself having to vote against this bill.

I mean it!

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