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Alberta Tory hopes Tea Party speech brings 'balance' to budget debate

A reporter files a story on the federal budget during the media lock-up prior to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's speech in the House of Commons on June 6, 2011.


The House of Commons got a small taste of Tea Party politics Monday, as Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber channeled the American small-government movement to push for more cost-cutting in Ottawa.

The former Edmonton lawyer and Alberta MLA caught the media's attention Monday morning with a post on Twitter stating that he would be delivering his "Tea Party" speech at noon.

"Perhaps that was slightly overly-dramatic," Mr. Rathgeber later said in an interview. "But the Tea Party movement in the States advocates for less government, more individual accountability, lower taxes and reductions in government spending and I think I hit all of those themes."

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The speech itself was fairly tame, straying ever-so-slightly from the party line by warning of economic danger should the federal government fail to trim costs. But Mr. Rathgeber said he sees a role for Conservative MPs to push the cabinet - also known as the executive - to move more aggressively on the cost-cutting front.

Speaking later, Mr. Rathgeber noted the political dynamics of this Parliament are much different than the Parliament prime minister Jean Chrétien and finance minister Paul Martin faced in the mid-1990s, the last time Ottawa made a serious attempt to cut costs.

Then, the main opposition party was the Preston Manning-led Reform Party, which was urging the Liberals to cut more aggressively.

"Now this Parliament of course, there are two official opposition parties [the NDP and the Liberals]and two unofficial opposition parties [the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party] but all of them are to the immediate left or to the considerable left of the government," he said.

"So to provide some sort of balance to the debate, because the executive, they have their obligations and there are demands for the federal government to spend money in many, many areas, so to bring balance to the debate, yes I think there is a role for the private member to remind the government that taxpayers are increasingly, in my view, demanding fiscal responsibility."

The full text of Mr. Rathgeber's speech follows:

As I rise to speak formally in the House for the first time since my re-election, I would like to thank the constituents of Edmonton-St. Albert for once again placing their trust in me and returning me to this honourable chamber. I look forward to serving them in my capacity of their member of Parliament.

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Many thanks also go to my campaign team and hundreds of volunteers for their hundreds and hundreds of hours of hard work. Special thanks to my family and friends who continued to support me in my role as a member of Parliament.

Our government has clearly demonstrated that our economic action plan is working. If anyone needs proof of this, just last week Statistics Canada announced over 22,000 new net jobs were created in the month of May, bringing the total number of net new jobs to 560,000 since July 2009. The jobless rate is at 7.4%, the lowest it has been in more than two years. This also marks the seventh straight quarter of economic growth.

A recent forecast predicted Canada's economy will grow by 3.2% in 2011, and a further 3.1% in 2012. The future for Canada is bright and the steady job growth rate demonstrates our government is clearly on the right track.

Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to focus on building a stable economy and securing jobs. The next phase of Canada's economic action plan stays the course with a prudent, low tax plan that will continue to support the economic recovery and create more jobs.

This budget contains new measures that will have a positive and lasting impact on the lives of every Canadian. These include a new children's art tax credit and a new family caregiver tax credit, extending the popular eco-energy retrofit program to help families lower their heating and electricity bills, enhancing the GIS so that low income seniors will receive additional annual benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples, and enhancing or extending the programs to help businesses keep workers and providing a hiring credit for small businesses to make new hires. These measures build on our government's strong record of support for families, seniors and small businesses, a record that I believe speaks for itself.

I would also draw attention to several significant specific achievements of this government. We have cut taxes more than 120 times since forming government, and increased the amount Canadians can earn tax free. Thanks to our Conservative government's decisive tax relief actions, a typical family will save more than $3,000 a year in taxes. We reduced the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%, and the small business tax rate from 12% to 11%. Significantly, we have removed over 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls altogether, and introduced pension income splitting for seniors.

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I am also pleased to see our government has set out a three point plan to eliminate the deficit, a plan that is achievable and measurable. As a result, we remain on track to balance the budget by 2014, 2015. I am proud of the work our government has done to bring our country through the global downturn. By all accounts, we have done a remarkable job and set an example for the entire world to follow. For these reasons, I will support this budget.

However, high taxes are still a problem for Canadian taxpayers. The Fraser Institute recently declared Monday, June 6 as tax freedom day, the day on which the average Canadian has paid their total tax bill for the year and at that point starts working for themselves.

In 2011, the average Canadian family will earn $93,831 in income and pay a total of $39,960 in taxes to all levels of government, or 42.6%. This year's tax freedom day is two years later than last year's, and ironically is due to our growing economy and Canadians' increasing incomes, which moved many of them into higher tax brackets. There is no sign that tax freedom will arrive any sooner next year.

Over and over again I am asked, why is it so difficult for government to trim the excess when Canadians across the country have to cut back on their variable spending and make a conscious effort to stretch their hard-earned dollars to the limit. This budget optimistically predicts $4 billion in savings, or 1.5% of total federal spending. If federal departments were able to spend $4 billion less than expected last year without any planning or cuts, then I would suggest we could actually find additional savings within the budget's proposed $4 billion.

Canadians expect nothing less of us, and we should reward their trust by delivering common sense federal spending proposals to utilize taxpayers money effectively and efficiently.

Last week, the Manning institute published research indicating that a vast majority of Canadians, over two-thirds, is becoming less dependent on government. Those Canadians expect less of government, except in core areas such as keeping them safe. Canadians are increasingly more aligned on themselves, their families and volunteer organizations, and becoming less reliant on government. Canadian taxpayers expect government to focus on that which it can do effectively and efficiently.

Accordingly, the government will conduct a one-year government-wide strategic and operating review as part of our three-point plan to balance the budget. Perhaps one of the first areas we should focus our attention on is the duplication of federal and provincial departments and programs. Theoretically, it is estimated that the federal government could reduce its operating budget by $44 billion a year and therefore eliminate the deficit by spending only in areas that fall under the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction, and I mention that theoretically. I am certainly not advocating leaving the provinces entirely to their own devices. However, one must seriously question the efficiency of parallel bureaucratic structures administering essentially the same programs. After all, there is only one taxpayer.

Some observers believe we may be facing a long-term structural deficit problem that would not be resolved by simply trimming a mere $4 billion of so-called government fat. A study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies asked why we have never considered "whether government can be restructured in any significant way as to deliver essentially the same level of service to the public at a significantly reduced cost and size".

In this phase of our fiscal reality, all areas of government must fall under the microscope. A first and important step in this process is the elimination of the $2 per-vote subsidy to all political parties. Although not mentioned in budget 2011, greater savings will be realized by the imminent elimination of the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.

Eliminating unnecessary services and programs is easy. However, to effectively find our way back to balanced budgets, we must also seriously examine the cost of providing services deemed necessary. This examination will inevitably turn to the government's own human resources. We cannot continue to sustain a public sector whose growth outpaces every other category in size and compensation.

Between 1999 and 2009, the Canadian population increased by 11% but the federal government's civilian workforce grew by 35% and public-sector compensation grew by 59% compared to 30% in the private sector. Canada is fortunate to have an outstanding civil service. However, if balanced budgets are to be achieved, all unsustainable trends must be addressed. Perhaps we should view the predicted rise in attrition as an opportunity and not as a threat. The result would be a significantly less-expensive public sector.

Based on the facts before us, some economists believe we are fast approaching a tipping point in our nation's finances. If we do not reduce government expenditures from 43% to 38% of GDP over the next decade, as recommended by the International Monetary Fund, invariably the result will be higher taxes, dangerous debt loads or both. As the experience of European countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have demonstrated, this path must be avoided at all costs.

Canadians are increasingly demanding tax relief, balanced budget and smaller governments. It is always easier to borrow money when someone else will have to repay it than to cut spending. Similarly, it is always easier to say "yes" and cut a cheque than to say "no". Saying "no" takes courage and resolve.

However, on May 2, Canadians gave this government a mandate to deliver on the promises it has made. A majority government is also an opportunity to set Canada on a permanent course toward greater fiscal responsibility. The budget before this House is an important first step in this pivotal journey.

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