08 June 2012
Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, normally Irise to speak about the budget in response to provocation by SenatorGerstein, but I do not see him right now and so I do not have thepleasure of responding to him. However, I know in his heart of hearts hewould want to stand in this house and say, "This government isproducing the best economic performance in the history of the world andaren't we great?"
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Mitchell: If I said it again, honourable senators, would you give me a standing ovation? Marjory would stand up for me.
Honourable senators, I was therefore very encouraged to see, at somesuperficial level at least, that the name of the budget was the Economic Action Plan 2012: Jobs, Growth, and Long-Term Prosperity.I started to think about that. That is an interesting name, and itcertainly has spin, but it just defies reality because all of theevidence is to the contrary.
This government cannot run an economy and it cannot balance budgetsor run a budget effectively. It is striking that they cannot even do it,in particular, after they were handed a remarkably strong budgetsituation from the former Liberal government. I believe there were eightor nine consecutive surplus budgets and a $12—billion or $13-billionsurplus. The Conservatives could not do that after years ofunprecedented economic growth, again sustained by strong Liberalmanagement and Liberal policies on how to run a budget, how to run agovernment and how to run an economy.
Honourable senators, it is very interesting to note that for thelongest number of years the Canadian market outperformed the U.S.market. Last year, for the first time in a long time, the U.S. marketoutperformed the Canadian market by 17 percentage points, despite theU.S. market problems. That spread resonates because we do not have asmuch history and experience with Conservative governments in Canada,fortunately.
An Hon. Senator: We are getting there.
Senator Mitchell: In the U.S., on average, themarkets underperform 17 percentage points with Republican governmentsover Democrat governments. They underperform with right-wingconservative governments. That brings me to the question — rhetoricalperhaps, but maybe more than that — of what makes anybody think thatright-wing ideology works? Let us look at the facts and the figures.
We have listened ad nauseam to Mr. Flaherty and others saying that wehave the best economic performance in the Western world and that wehave the strongest banks. Well, we do, actually, and that is, again,thankfully because the Liberals — Mr. Martin, in particular — managedthose banks and did not succumb to Mr. Harper wanting to deregulatethose banks at about the time he wanted to get us into Iraq, I mightadd, but we will just look at the figures. This is not me speaking.These are OECD figures. This is not the UN, which the Conservatives donot like. We will go to the OECD figures.
Honourable senators, the government says that it can manage deficits.There is an interesting coincidence. I think they had a $30-billiondeficit in the most recent year. By how much did they drop taxes sincethey have been in? It was $30 billion. Now, is that not an interestingcoincidence? They did not balance the budget. They dropped the leastproductive tax that they could have chosen, the GST, and they ended upwith a $30-billion deficit and $30-billion tax cuts. If that is theirtax policy, why is it not working? Let me show honourable senators theways it is not working.
We will look at the government deficits as a percentage of GDP. Thisgovernment would say it can manage government deficits and manage thebudget. Of the 32 nations in the eurozone area listed in the OECDfigures, Canada ranks eighteenth. We are in the bottom half forgovernment deficit as a percentage of GDP. Where is this stuff about howthey can manage deficits?
Do honourable senators know some of the countries that are ahead ofus? Norway is ahead of us. The euro area countries are ahead of us, inspite of the fact that that includes Spain and Greece, and senators canname a few others. They are ahead of us. We are eighteenth out of 32. Itis appalling for the government to stand up and say that it can managedeficits.
Honourable senators, the next figure is for general government netfinancial liabilities. That is overall debt as a percentage of GDP. Letus look at that. Oh, my gosh, we are fourteenth out of 32. The Liberalgovernment dropped the debt by $100 billion, almost 20 per cent I think,and now it is going to be at $600 billion or so. Do honourable senatorsknow who is ahead of us? Slovenia is ahead of us. Oh, my gosh, that isan economic powerhouse. Sweden is ahead of us. The United Kingdom, withall the problems that it has been having, is ahead of us. Denmark isahead of us. I can go on, but we are fourteenth out of 32.
When it comes to real growth — growth forecasts — this is where thegovernment prides itself — manage the economy, drive growth, betterjobs. All we hear is jobs, jobs, jobs, economy, economy, economy. Whatdo we have? We are twelfth out of 32 for growth. Who is ahead of us?
Honourable senators will not believe this, but Mexico is ahead of us.Do you know why? Mexico can take a $100 barrel of oil and manage it.
Think about the only thing this government has really done ofanything that would be productive. They sat by and basked in the glow of$100 barrel oil. Anybody can manage that. Well, not anybody, becausethis government has not. We have runaway deficits, lower growth, higherdeficits, higher debt than all kinds of other countries that are Westernindustrialized nations. It is not me saying this. These are OECDfigures, right here in black and white.
Do not tell us and do not tell Canadians that this kind of plan ofyours and the ones before have done anything for the economy, becausethey have not.
Honourable senators, I ask again, rhetorically, why does anyonebelieve that Conservatives can run an economy? Not true. Before Ifinish, let us talk about unemployment. It is up 25 per cent thanks tothe government. However, way worse than that 25 per cent is the 25 percent unemployment for the youth of this country. We had some remarkablypowerful, remarkably good Aboriginal speakers today at the EnergyCommittee. One of the members on the other side, whom I like very much,said, "Well, what about all those jobs that development creates for youryoung people," and this man said, "Well, since when did thatdevelopment ever create any jobs for our young people?" It does nothappen.
Young people and the future are very much in jeopardy given the "economic plan."
Now I ask myself, how could this happen? Why would this happen? Whyis it that the people who think they can run economies simply cannot?Well, one of the reasons is because ideology trumps common sense. I willgive you a two-track example. You want to get $25 billion or is it $14billion or $38 billion to spend on F-35s? I do not know.
Senator Munson: What is a billion dollars?
Senator Mitchell: Let us say $35 billion. I amprobably low. The government is willing to spend — without any analysis,without any proof of what we would use them for or what kind of threatswe will face in the world — $35 billion on jets.
On the other hand, the government is not going to spend basicallyanything on climate change. Let us compare the two. Let us compare themon risk, economic advantage and disadvantage.
Okay, so the jets are $35 billion. You need some risk, but what isthat? I am not saying there is not some risk they need to meet, but thebig risk we saw, the one that they captured, and I remember thispicture, is that we have to be afraid of the Russian bombers. There is aRussian bomber built in 1952. It has propellers. Our jets today cannotfly slow enough not to stall beside those jets, and we play hockey withthose people, so that is not the threat we need F-35s for, I guess. Thenthere is terrorism. I have a vision of a terrorist who is strapped to abomb in one of our cities. What is an F-35 jet going to do? Strafethem? No. We need security. We need intelligence. We need relationshipsaround the world with people who can tell us what is happening to them,but we do not need F-35s to strafe some terrorist in downtown Toronto.
There is a threat. Sure, there will be threats of Libyas again andperhaps Afghanistans, God forbid. There are those kinds of things thatrelate to terrorism, yes, but where is the document? A one-page letter,three paragraphs I think, from the military — written in a day, or maybe15 minutes — saying this is what we need for a jet. Why do we not getsome sort of analysis that says these are the kinds of risks that wethink we will confront militarily in the future — like climate change:Where is that going to bite, and how much will that create conflict, asis already being created in Africa?
Honourable senators, sure, there is some risk, but let us look at therisk in climate change, on which the government spends no money. Therisk in climate change is infinite. It is absolutely infinite. You wantto wreck an economy, you just keep doing what you are doing: nothing.That is an infinite risk, and the science is settled. It is not a doubt,and the government is doing nothing, absolutely nothing, so we talkabout risk.
The other risk is that of lost opportunity, opportunity costs. Thereis huge opportunity in dealing with the economic possibilities thatarise out of climate change.
Let us talk about the comparison there. The risks, I would say, arenot comparable. There are pretty serious risks for which we need F-35jets — another Libya — but there are infinitely serious risks for whichwe need climate change initiative, real action. Now the government comesback and says we cannot do that because it is going to wreck theeconomy. It is going to wreck the economy. Is that not interesting? Wewill spend $35 billion on jets, most of which — or at least a hugeportion of which — will be spent outside of the country. The bigtechnology, the development, all of that stuff is outside the country.They are built outside the country. That will not hurt the economy, justsending that money out of the country. That is what you would say. Iwould say that is really grievously going to hurt the economy. Billionsof dollars are going out for that initiative. I am not saying we shouldnot do it, but I am saying let us compare the costs.
On the other hand, any money put into a climate change initiativewill largely stay inside the economy. If we had credits, for example,that you could buy like you can in Alberta now, that money goes tofarmers in Alberta who have reduced carbon. It goes to small businessesin Alberta. It creates jobs, some of them for young people, for whom youare not creating any jobs. That money stays in Alberta. Not only that,it stays in rural areas, areas like Senator Mockler's. Where you canbuild one huge plant for billions of dollars next to, in my case,Edmonton, how many small communities does that keep going? However, ifthe government builds 1,500, 2,000, 5,000 dispersed wind farms, solarfarms and biomass farms around the country, it keeps rural economiesgoing and keeps families in those careful, closed, safe ruralcommunities, just where we should have them.
I am just trying to give a different paradigm. I am trying to shift your paradigm so you can see.
Honourable senators, let us accept the government's logic. There isrisk to the F-35s and there really is not any advantage economically tothe F-35s. Compare the same parameters. There is risk to climate changeand there is huge advantage to dealing with climate change effectively.The two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact the oil economy anddealing with climate change are not mutually exclusive. They are quiteunified in their ultimate objective and results. In fact, this is whereSenator Unger and I disagree. She says I do not represent Albertan'sinterests. Oh my God, I cannot believe it. There are Albertans who caredeeply about the environment.
In fact, if I wanted to put myself in the Prime Minister's shoes,heaven forbid, and think about what he wants to accomplish withdevelopment, the last thing I would do is the kind of climate changeanti-policy that he undertakes.
For example, he wants to build the Gateway pipeline. Let us justassume that he wants to build it. If the biggest fear for the Gatewaypipeline is not that people are concerned about spills, I do not knowwhat the biggest fear is. The social license for that pipeline, in largepart, relates to spills.
Now, what does the marketing genius Mr. Harper do? He closes theoffice of environmental emergency protection program that deals withspills — the one that was in Vancouver — and he moves it to Quebec. Itis good for Quebec, but that is not going to alleviate the fears of thepeople of B.C. who are concerned about spills.
Honourable senators, let us take Keystone. You have got to curry thefavour of interests in the U.S. to build Keystone, so what do we do?Well, Senator Eaton — following Minister Oliver, following Minister Kent— stands in the Senate and elsewhere and attacks, bullies, diminishes,chills international U.S. environmental foundations. What kind ofmessage does that send? Can Mr. Harper not get that if the governmentwants to build these projects and sell our products, it has to develop asense of social responsibility, of true credibility on climate change,or the world will not let the government do it, period?
However, that is to say there is a huge future. I would say we allagree that we will be using fossil fuels for a long time. However, theworld will not be using a lot of our fossil fuels, or less and less ifwe are not careful, if we do not do something and show the world that wecare — like premier Redford, who gets it — that we are prepared toreduce our carbon, manage it effectively and make it work.
When I look at the budget, it has a nice name, but whenever one readsa Conservative title for a bill or budget one has to know that it meansexactly the opposite thing. It is not an economic action plan forprosperity at all. If the government wanted to have an economic actionplan for prosperity, it would have one that included live, targetedaction leadership in the world for climate change.
Do honourable senators know what else? One would not create a newenvironmental review process that the government thinks — or says — willstreamline and speed-up the process of development review and approval,but that is actually fraught with so many problems that delay afterdelay will be created in the courts.
Just this morning, these first-class presenters made the point thatthe government, with respect to the Fisheries Act, has excluded a veryimportant feature of Aboriginal fishing rights: moderate livelihood.That will not be covered by the act, and it has been very clearlydefined by the Supreme Court. It means that this is a gaping hole thatconstitutional, legal arguments can be sucked into — it is a black holeof legal arguments — and these projects will be held up in the courtsfor who knows how long.
How can Mr. Harper think that for one minute he has presented us withany kind of action plan on the economy, when he has presented us with aplan of inaction on the economy? In fact, if I can coin this phrase, itis a "disaction on the economy," and he is grievously hurting theeconomy.
There are some things he should be talking about. What about anational labour strategy? We talk about needing to create jobs. InAlberta, sure, we need some jobs, but we have so many jobs that wecannot even fill. Why? We cannot because we have people in one place whodo not have a job, sometimes, or they are not trained where they couldhave been trained, and so we cannot fill those jobs. We have no nationalcoordination of labour strategy.
We do very little to develop, for example, the Aboriginal populationand their young people and their needs. I remember Eric Newell ofSyncrude once saying that we will never be able to fulfill the labourneeds of Alberta for these projects until we can adequately,aggressively fill those jobs with trained, effective Aboriginal youngpeople and young workers. That is just forgotten.
We have a huge economic problem with productivity. It is huge. It is acontinuing problem in our economy. If we reduce energy input costs,like we would with a strong conservation strategy, we will immediately,by definition, increase productivity.
There is the question of rural development. There is a hugelyimportant potential for us in our rural areas to unleash creativity,economic potential and entrepreneurship. That could be sustained, ascould our farming community, with disbursed green or renewablealternative energy kinds of initiatives.
What about education? What has this government done to make it easierfor someone to get an education? What have they done to reduce tuition?That is the future. They have done nothing. In fact, it is quite thecontrary: It is getting harder and harder. In some senses, we arecutting our younger people loose.
What about research? They have fundamentally restructured it; theyhave reduced it fundamentally. They have also restructured it away fromany kind of research that is not specifically applied. That is verydangerous not just for creativity and getting really good ideas that onehad not expected, but that creates leaps forward with technologyadvancements.
There is also the question of uncertainty. The oil industry inAlberta is crying out for certainty. What will the cost of carbon be in10 years? People are not making major capital investments today becausethey do not know what the cost of carbon will be in 10 years. If we had agovernment that took it and provided leadership, we could get that andbegin to understand what the cost of carbon would be, and they wouldbegin to make investments.
We are on the precipice, in some ways. The markets are changing allover the world, and dramatically. Shale gas is changing dramatically.This government is bringing in a system of environmental reviews thatwill get bogged down in the courts; it will be slower. They are steppingback from getting the kind of social licence that they need, and theyare absolutely, fundamentally missing every last future opportunity foran economy based on alternative energy; an economy based on science andresearch; a futuristic, 21st century economy that can be a renaissancefor us and for our children and create leadership for Canada in theworld once again, like it used to be in the good old days under theLiberal government.