Gerry Ritz                         
Member of Parliament for Battlefords-Lloydminster      




   House of Commons Speeches                

Response to Budget, March 25, 2022

     Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again. I happen to be one of the members who has been here for the seven in a row so-called surplus budgets. What a surplus budget really means is that the government is taking too many tax dollars from the people out there.
     The largest daily newspaper in the country had an editorial on the budget the other day. It was an excellent comment and I would like to read it into the record. It stated:

     "Bills don't get paid with a promise and a smile.  Expressions of goodwill don't stave off bankruptcy, and half-measures won't rescue ... (anyone) in crisis."

    They are tremendous words and really encapsulate this whole budget. There is really nothing in the budget that is going to set the standard for the growth and the potential of this great country we call Canada. It is just not there, and this is supposedly a pre-election budget.
     I think the Prime Minister and his finance minister are trying to find some traction, and of course the Prime Minister was the finance minister for a number of those surplus budget years. They are trying to prove to people that they can be fiscally responsible because they have been blown apart by the scandal, the ad scam, and by column after column that show up in the main estimates and in the supplementary estimates and so on, with hundreds of millions of dollars that have been funnelled around strictly for political gain. That is not the way taxpayers want to see their money spent in this country when there are so many deserving issues out there that need to be covered.
     When we go through the budget in brief, a lot of the dollars sound significant. Then we can see the little asterisk beside an item: “over 10 years”. We have a government that is projecting out 10 years when the electorate probably would not give them 10 days if they went to the polls right now.
     The government is struggling for some sort of reassurance from people, and in polling, a little bump, a little dead cat bounce, as it is called, for the old fat cats over there. Then it can take that to the polls and say to the people, “We are prudent managers”. That used to be the rallying cry of the former finance minister: prudent fiscal responsibility. That is what he talked about. It so happens that it was not there. He did not know what was going on.
     We have a budget that seeks to tell Canadians somehow that the government is not going to go off the wall in spending before an election. It has gone the other way. It has actually promised the $2 billion for health care again. When the premiers were asked to comment on that the other night after the budget, Premier Hamm of Nova Scotia said that this makes five times that it has been promised. The government has announced it five times. That does not make it $10 billion. It is still $2 billion and it still has not been delivered. We have talked about it for over a year. We still have this money that has not gone out.
     Under health care, the government talks about improved tax fairness for Canadians with disabilities and for caregivers, which is a tremendous goal, a laudable goal. However, this is the same government that threw everyone off the disability tax credit, made them all go back through a means test, back through the health care system, to prove they were still disabled. The government is heartless on the one hand and has beautiful words on the other. I guess the proof will be in the pudding as to whether Canadians believe it or not. At the end of the day, the federal government, on average, is still only putting 16˘ out of every dollar into health care. That is the largest social factor in the country.
     The member for Mississauga who spoke before me talked about the high cost of pharmaceuticals. He is bang on. The government has not kept pace with that at the federal level. Here is what it has done. It has created surpluses, balanced its books and has no more deficits, but it has offloaded those deficits to the provinces. Each province is now carrying close to a deficit type of spending because the transfers have not been there. The government cut $25 billion out of health care and social transfers in the last few years and put $2 billion back in. It is not a great return on investment for the provinces nor for the citizens they represent. It is the same taxpayer. The government calls that sound fiscal financial management.
     The government is also making a pledge now. After the horse is out of the barn, it is going to close the gate. It is going to reinstate the comptroller. There has been a lot of discussion about why that was ever done away with.
     To set the record straight, that was actually done in 1995 by this same Liberal government in what was called a program review. I think the last thing we would want to turf out would be the comptrollership, unless we had other things in mind, unless we were starting to set up little slush funds like the sponsorship program where we did not want the comptroller to tap us on the shoulder and say, “I'm the fiscal conscience here and you shouldn't being doing that with taxpayers' money”.
     The government turfed out that whole system and now we see where it led. Just in this last little while taxpayers are starting to add up the dollars that have gone missing, which a comptroller never would have allowed to happen. It just would not have been done.
     Let us move on, where we get into the importance of learning. Nobody has an argument with that. Then there is aboriginal strategy. Nobody has a problem with that.
     But when heads of student groups and student unions across this country were asked what they thought about the budget, one student said, “They just gave me $50 and told me to go and buy a BMW”. That is how effective this budget is.
     Other students are talking about the Canada learning bond. Beautiful. It sounds great, but it is another wishy-washy thing. It is up to $2,000 for children in low income families born after 2003. The government will put in $500 and then $100 a year. If the family does its bit and puts in the same amount, after 18 years there will be $10,000 to $11,000 saved up. What is that going to buy at university in 18 years? My daughter just finished university and we were talking that kind of money on an annual basis as long as I paid for her housing. In 18 years that $10,000 to $11,000 just might buy books. The desire of the government and the line in the budget look really good, but in reality what is this going to do? Very little. Even the students themselves are panning it.
     When Chief Phil Fontaine was interviewed about the aboriginal component in the budget, he said it did not go anywhere near the advice that they gave and sought. With the housing crisis, the health care crisis and the education crisis from the aboriginal side, this does not get there. It is not even close. I guess the government missed that one.
     The government talks about the importance of knowledge and commercialization and it did come up with a few things: good ideas, but too little too late.
     Another great heading in the budget is “The Importance of Communities”. This is where some big dollars are talked about. There will be $7 billion in GST relief for municipalities over the next 10 years. That is $700 million a year, which is not a large amount of money. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce talks about an infrastructure deficit in Canada that is approaching $60 billion today, and that is what it would take just to get us back to a maintained and even par. That would not build anything new. It just would get us back to where we are limping along again. This is a $60 billion deficit and the government addresses it with $700 million a year; that is not even the interest. That will not even patch a few roads. If we build a couple of bridges and a couple of water and sewage plants, the money will be gone.
     North Battleford has faced those shortfalls. We had a water crisis a couple of years ago and approached the federal government under the cost sharing program. We said, “Look, we have to do something with our water and sewer system”. North Battleford needed about a $5 million hit to expedite the program. It had $15 million in bonds and debentures at the time but needed about $5 million to kickstart it and move the project a couple of years ahead.
     What did North Battleford get from the Liberals? A fancy sign out on the highway saying they realized North Battleford had problems, that their hearts and prayers were with it, and they wished the city good luck. That is what we got. The government really should have come through for North Battleford. The government talks about a stronger voice for municipalities, but in that case, who the heck was listening? Nobody. A stronger voice is wonderful, but only if somebody hears it. If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody in Ottawa give a damn? That is the type of thing we are finding here.
     There is funding of $4 billion over 10 years to clean up contaminated sites. That is good. What happened over the last 10 years when the government did nothing?
     The item I really love in the budget is the one dealing with the Juno Beach monument. My office in North Battleford was involved in this one. The Juno Beach monument will receive $1.5 million. That is fantastic. Wal-Mart is already in for about four or five times that amount. That monument is standing there. Wal-Mart did it. The federal government is now trying to take some credit with $1.5 million.
     We can go on and on and poke holes in the budget. Like I said, spending is on the rise and a surplus means the government is taking in too much in taxes.
     We have not even gotten into agriculture, but it would not take long to talk about agriculture in this budget: $25 million, that is it. The third largest contributor to the GDP of Canada gets $25 million. The announcement on Monday, the day before the budget presentation, really was all about BSE, but the $25 million in the budget says nothing about the grains and oilseeds sector, the pulse crops, the water problems we have across western Canada with drought after drought, and the grasshoppers. It says nothing about the PFRA pastures that are a sink for grasshoppers or the national parks that need the TB and so on cleaned up.
     The government missed a lot of opportunities with this budget and I really think Canadians are going to give it a pass over on election day.

    Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I found it quite astonishing to hear the member suggest that $750 million was not a lot of money. It really is astounding. It is important to Canadians that we have a responsible attitude toward taxpayers' money.
      The member started by talking about seven surplus budgets in a row, balanced budgets, and said that the existence of surpluses meant that we were taxing too much. If we follow that to its logical conclusion, what the member is basically saying is that we should only have balanced budgets and we should never pay down any debt.
     If the member would like to spend some time with me, I will explain to him that when there are surpluses for a fiscal year the surpluses are applied 100% against the debt. Over the past number of years, the government has paid down $52 billion worth of the national debt. It saves us about $3 billion a year in interest, which is then available to invest in Canadians.
     The member had better answer the question. Is he saying that there should not ever be a surplus in Canada, i.e. that we should not pay down debt in Canada? Is that his position?

    Mr. Gerry Ritz: Mr. Speaker, I think this gentleman is working on the government's medicinal marijuana, because that is not what I said at all. He knows better than that as an accountant. Surpluses mean the government is taking too much in taxes.
     The debt in this country, after paying down $52 billion, in market debt mostly, which means the interest rate was not as high as it was before, is still $43 billion higher than it was when his government took power in 1993. We are still spending close to $40 billion on the interest rate on that debt every year. That is money coming out of health care, infrastructure and kids' educations.
     We have to target debt. We cannot start mickey-mousing around with $1 billion a year that might go somewhere. We have to let Canadians out there decide. We have to get this albatross off their backs. We have to put in context $700 million when the government takes in $190 billion. It is not a lot of money in the government context. It is a lot of money to Canadians, no doubt about it. We have seen that same amount of money squandered in advertising contracts that go back to these guys through the back door. So sure, it is a lot of money, but when we talk about a $60 billion infrastructure deficit, $700 million a year to address it is chump change.

 Mr. Paul Szabo: Mr. Speaker, again the member is suggesting that somehow $750 million or any hundreds of millions of dollars is not a lot of money. I want to ask the question again.
     My understanding after 10 years of being in this place is that if there is any surplus at the end of a fiscal year, it is those moneys which are applied against the national debt. That is the way the national debt is paid down.
     The member has suggested that having a surplus means the government has taxed too much. In other words, he is saying we should just have a balanced budget, that we should not have surpluses and not tax that additional money away from people. However, if we do not, we do not pay down debt.
     I will ask him again. Does he understand that surpluses are applied totally against the debt and that if there are no surpluses, as he seems to suggest should be the case, then his party and this member is opposed to paying down the national debt?

    Mr. Gerry Ritz: Mr. Speaker, he can twist that any way he wants. He is 180° off plumb. It is not how we pay down the debt; it is when we do it. I think the member would agree with me that our program of a legislated paydown on the debt is far better than the harum-scarum way these guys do it, where they spend the surplus, have $1 billion left, say they will put that to the debt, and there we go, the surplus is in play. What a ridiculous attitude. No wonder we are in trouble.

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