Hon Steven Fletcher - Reply to Budget 2018

#TheLastTory

 

(unedited Hansard)

Hon. Steven Fletcher (Assiniboia): I appreciate the opportunity to keep Assiniboia awesome again. And Assiniboia is certainly much more awesome than the previous speaker's riding–but, Interlake–actually, Interlake's kind of nice, too. Anyway, we're all very fortunate to live in this great province.

      I'd also like to thank the Premier (Mr. Pallister) for the opportunity to speak as a Conservative in this House and to reflect on the budget from a Conservative point of view, a Conservative who's also a naturalist, compassionate and concerned. 

      Mr. Speaker, first, let's start about the good stuff in the budget. I was very pleased to see that there was recognition of the museums in Manitoba, over 200, and an ability to allow those facilities–and often run by grassroots, ordinary citizens–to expand their program and to help educate Manitoba, Manitobans, Canadians, tourists, our young people, about the great history of Manitoba. That's important, even in this place, because if you don't know where you have been, you probably don't know where you are, and you definitely do not know where you're going. So I applaud the initiatives around museums. I also applaud the investment in the Royal Aviation Museum, capital investment; Manitoba is the centre of the aerospace industry in Canada, at the beginning of aerospace, in the mid- and early 20th century. 

      I also applaud the increase in the personal exemption tax threshold. When people start talking about taxes, most eyes glaze over, especially with the personal income tax exemption. Anyway, increasing it is a very good thing, particularly for the people at the lower end of the income scale. Manitoba is about half that of Alberta on this scale, and many thousands of dollars behind our neighbouring provinces. So, what that means is people on the low end of the income scale pay taxes sooner, the lower that number is. So, by increasing that number, people do not pay tax on more of their money that is earned. We hear a lot about minimum wage increases. Well, there's two ways to look at this. Why work and get taxed, or is it better to work and not get taxed for the work that you are doing? The fact is, it is better to–there's a balance there, but Manitoba is way off on the left side of this equation, and, hopefully, we can increase it so the people at the low end won't be taxed on the earnings that they earn. 

      Now, let's talk about the big picture. Now, Madam Speaker–or Mr. Speaker, I do not have any notes with me. I don't use notes or electronics like many of my other colleagues. But these are the figures from a 30,000-foot level. Expenditure's gone up by $370 million in this budget. Revenues have gone up by $600 million. So the difference is 230 millionish. Now, if you look in the revenues, where that comes from, it's comes from federal transfer payments, yes, and there's been this huge increase in that. But there's something very interesting in the revenue side, and that is there's a $240-million reduction in the personal income tax revenue. 

      So somewhere the government has had to make that up. In other words, there has–not only has it been a $600‑million increase in revenue, but they must have made that $200 million to get to–so there's actually $800 million somewhere in that budget that did not exist before. And nobody seems to have noticed this. So I bring forward this observation and ask where the money has come from. So of the $600 million–we actually have to find $800 million today. So we find the carbon tax, we find the increase in transfers from the feds, but that still doesn't cover where this revenue's coming from. 

      So I, in the budget lock-up had to–I asked the obvious question, and after a bunching of humming and hawing, this is where the money has come from. It has come from hydro water levies, so the water coming down–so that's money out of Manitoba Hydro, incredibly, and this has to change. But the more debt Manitoba Hydro gets or takes on, in a cash‑flow point of view, the government of Manitoba receives money. So the greater the debt, the more revenue the government receives. And this is not a partisan issue; this is just a crazy way of accounting. So the government gets money from Hydro going down the river and gets it going up, plus the revenue from whatever they can generate. 

      Like, that is just–and this is why I am conducting a Hydro inquiry, this reason and many others. But how did we get to a situation where we have a huge flood of supply, demand is going down, prices are going up and service is going down. I think that's fair. 

      How does that happen? And we ran on an inquiry. There was no downside to having an inquiry, but the government didn't do it so I've done it with a great group of interested stakeholders who are highly qualified to help with such an inquiry and the next date is March 28th. We've already had our first set of hearings, which people can see on Facebook or YouTube and if you're interested you can register through the websites or Facebook pages. 

      Madam Speaker, in the budget, it's not clear how much this new Crown corporation, Efficiency Manitoba, is going to cost but we do know that the NDP apparently left $50 million on the table and that is going to be used as the seed money to create this new Crown corporation. 

      Now, I know what people are thinking. NDP left money on the table? Is that possible? Well, apparently it is. And, rather than putting that money towards anything else, their government's decided to create this new Crown corporation, which I've been very critical of and for good reason. And the other interesting thing in the budget is that the operating of that Crown corporation, given the Hydro documents and so on, looks like it's going to be about $100 million a year. So that's a–for what? It's not going to reduce any greenhouse gases. It's just going to be–[interjection]

      You know, they–you know, Mr. Speaker, the member from Springfield, you know, and St. Paul–the member from St. Paul, who's not even in his seat, is able to heckle without notes. I wish he could speak without notes. And perhaps he could offer us the same courtesy, not heckling or talking around the Chamber. And perhaps the Speaker should–or perhaps could consider calling out that member.

      Now, in regard–now that–[interjection]

      Mr. Speaker, point of order. 

Point of Order

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The honourable member for Assiniboia, for a point of order. 

Mr. Fletcher: I–the member from St. Paul continues to cause disturbance. I've alluded to it. He continues to do it. I wonder if you are able to stop that member from interrupting the speeches. 

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The honourable–the interim House leader from the House leader–the honourable member for Rossmere, on the same point of order. 

Mr. Andrew Micklefield (Acting Government House Leader): On the same point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

      There is no point of order. Frequently, con­versations happen around the House. If, on occasion, something is overheard, that's not at all uncommon. The member is being unnecessarily picky on this point. There's no point of order. You can hear right now it's a fairly quiet House. Like the member to finish his speech, please. 

Mr. Deputy Speaker: On the point of order, there–I would agree with the member from the–Rossmere. There was no point of order. 

      I know the member for–from–the member from St. Paul did–made a comment to another member, but I still was able to listen to what you had to–the member from Assiniboia had to speak on. So, if there was–if it got to a point where I couldn't understand or I couldn't hear you, I would have called it as a heckling, but I will continue to have the member from Assiniboia with his speech. 

* * *

Mr. Fletcher: Mr. Speaker, I–I'm–I do not heckle ever, and it's unfortunate that other members don't provide the same courtesy back.

      But, as we go on, the carbon tax–this is going to touch every Manitoban. I have been a vocal opponent of the carbon tax, and this is why. It doesn't have anything to do with carbon. It is a tax–is a tax like the PST. It is–and it's been imposed on Manitobans by the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Now, Ottawa can introduce the tax, and I say the government should challenge them in court like Saskatchewan, like the Leader of the PC Party in Alberta has stated and probably the next leader and premier in Ontario in six weeks. That is the trend, because if your goal is to reduce taxes, that is not happening. If your goal is to reduce carbon, that is not happening. And we ran very clearly on no new taxes. So I'm very clear on that. I've been recessed from the government on this issue and that's fine, because this carbon tax does not do what it was–what people espouse it to do, nor was it ever. Carbon pricing this way does not reduce GHGs ever. Now–but it does cost people money, money out of their pocket. 

      A carbon tax is like a Manitoba mosquito. It is annoying, it's like a blood‑sucking parasite that spreads disease and illness and makes people sick, and what do Manitobans do with mosquitos? They just squish them. They swat them, but first they try and prevent even getting bit. So that's what we should do with Ottawa. Don't let them bite. But instead–this would be akin–this carbon tax, instead of fighting the carbon tax, what we're doing as a province through our elected representatives is basically taking off all our clothes, going into a swamp and saying mosquitos, take my blood. Let me feed you. No Manitoban would do that, but that seems to be what is happening, and sure, they might be swarming in Ottawa, those mosquitos. I say let's get the spray and kill the mosquitos. Get rid of the mosquitos. Get rid of the carbon tax. If you want to reduce carbon, do it. 

      Now, to fight Ottawa on this, there's lots of ways to do it. We could say, well, we have a boreal forest, agricultural land, a tundra, all our carbon sinks. If you look at the total equation of carbon emissions, which is not only emissions but also absorption–carbon sinks like trees, wheat, muskeg, those are all carbon sinks. So, if you take all that, take our emissions, it would be very close if Manitoba is a net emitter or a net carbon sink. Like, that's the way to fight Ottawa, but they don't do it. 

      I was in Germany recently, just in December, on an energy study paid for by the German government. There were members from Midwestern United States and Prairie provinces. Three members from this Chamber were invited, one member cancelled at the last minute, but this trip was fascinating. All the slides and presentations are on my website and on my YouTube channel, and there were live tweets from this trip, but even the Germans when asked, does a carbon tax reduce GHGs? The answer was no, to a person. There was one guy said, well, sure, if you increase to like 300 euros a ton that would affect it, yes, well, sure. If you get rid of all the humans, that would affect it too. 

      But, for all intents and purposes. So rather than go with the orthodoxy, yes, Mr. Speaker, I called it: the emperor has no clothes, and therefore is a great target for blood-sucking mosquitoes or open to be taxed without any kind of results. If you look at the budget as a whole, there's a massive amount of revenue, including the agricultural levies in insurance programs. 

      Thank you.

 

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