That the House recognize the harmful effects on working and middle-income Canadians of the growing income gap fostered by this government's unbalanced economic agenda, including its failure to reform employment insurance to ensure that people who lose their jobs during economic downturns are protected and trained, and therefore the House has lost confidence in this government.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Over the last couple of years, I have travelled across this country meeting with and listening to people struggling with income security and poverty. I of course saw many things that I expected to see, including the growing difficulty that many of our most at risk and marginalized citizens are having in keeping their lives together, putting food on the table, finding decent homes and participating in the communities to which they belong.
Their circumstances seem to be getting worse instead of better. They know that a lot of this is due to the damage that has been done to the social safety net that we have woven underneath all of us over a number of years but which over the last 15 years has been literally torn apart and destroyed and is tattered.
However, I have also seen some things that have surprised me, particularly in a time when the economy is good. I went to Calgary, Alberta, where oil is king and where the new economy is obvious from the rising skyscrapers that pop up almost daily in that city of great wealth, only to discover at the foot of those buildings some 3,500 to 4,000 people living on the streets and homeless.
Many of them, as we would expect, are suffering because of the difficulty they are having in accessing government programs. There is mental illness and there is suffering from addictions of various sorts. Even more startling is the reality of young people in particular, who went to Calgary attracted by the new economy, by the new work that was supposedly out there. In fact, they found work, but at jobs that do not pay enough for them to be able to afford the very expensive housing that is available, if they can find it at all.
In my travels, I also went to Toronto, where a report had just been released that studied the effect of income security on working age adults, only to find that in that city, the financial heartland of this country, there were hundreds of thousands of young people, including young men, immigrants, single mothers and single parents, working full time all year long but still living in poverty. Some of them are working at two and three jobs but are still not able to make enough money to pay the rent, feed their children and keep themselves at the standard of life they expected to have if they did that, if they worked hard like that, put in the time and made the effort.
I moved from there to meetings with people in places such as Hamilton and Welland. I also spoke to my colleagues from Windsor, who told me of the terrible impact of the downturn in the manufacturing sector, of the literally thousands of people who, having worked hard all their lives, having brought their skill and knowledge to the table each day as they showed up at the plant, now find themselves without work.
The alternative is to go on EI, which many of them do not qualify for because of the changes to that program. Or if they do qualify, it is for too short a time to bridge the gap between the good jobs they had, which provided a decent income with benefits for them and their families, and looking around but finding that what is left are jobs in the service sector that pay barely minimum wage or a little bit more. However, these jobs do not pay benefits, so there is no way to make sure their families have the dental care, eye care and the different benefits that were available to them when they had those good jobs in the manufacturing sector. Some 55,000 jobs have disappeared in that sector since January.
Then I travelled for some time in my own backyard, in northern Ontario, where community after community is dependent for its livelihood on the forestry sector, on the work in the forests and in the plants and mills. Those plants and mills, which existed for years, were very profitable and provided to the Canadian economy a great stimulus, are now shutting down. We have community after community barely hanging on. People are losing their jobs. Again, some qualify for EI but many do not. For those who do, it is not for very long. They are having to move on.
Those people have spent a large part of their lives working in those industries and it is all they know. They brought their best game to the table every day. They invested in homes, built cottages on the lakes nearby and some built up small businesses. Now they are having to turn their backs on those investments and head out to lands unknown. Some may go to Calgary where they may get a job but they will not have the support to access the kind of housing they will need to support their families.
The same thing goes for a lot of communities in British Columbia where forestry is under attack as well. All this is happening at a time when we are experiencing a good economy, so they say, in this country. Last week Statistics Canada issued a census report that told us yet again, because we have heard it before but this time very definitively, that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are stuck or disappearing.
We have a government here in Ottawa obsessed with the notion that a good economy will lift all the boats. Well, the evidence is in. Many of these boats are taking on water. Many of them, in fact, have gone under and other people are paddling without any boats at all.
Even the government, in its human resources development committee performance report of 2007, has recognized that the gap between the lowest and highest income families and between ones with the lowest and highest net worth, is wider. What the census report of last week told us was that most Canadians are stuck in neutral income while the richest 5% in Canada are dramatically accumulating more wealth.
Canada's rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class stagnates. Between 1980 and 2005, median earnings among Canada's top earners rose more than 16% while those in the bottom fifth saw their wages dip by 20%. Those in the middle are making about a buck a week more than in 1980. Almost 900,000 Canadian children are still poor and more than one-third of these deprived children are in the care of single mothers.
We have a government here in Ottawa supported by the Liberals because they will not stand up to the agenda that the Conservatives keep rolling out in front of us, with substantial tax breaks to people who really do not need it. They are convinced that all we need to do is to cut more taxes and that will fix everything that ails us.
The Conservatives gave a $2 billion tax relief package to the well-off, to corporate financial institutions and oil companies, not understanding that this simply depletes the treasury and reduces government's capacity to deal with some of these alarming realities affecting communities across the country.
This is unsustainable and causing irreversible damage to Canadian families. I detect an uneasiness as I cross the country. People are beginning to realize that they are no more than a paycheque or two away from poverty.
People used to look ahead, to look for the next wrong and understood that if they worked hard, got the training and made investments that they would get ahead. Today, however, more and more people are looking over their shoulder to see what might be there if they should lose their jobs. What they are discovering is that there is not much.
Each day Stephen Harper's Conservatives are allowed--
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to second the NDP opposition day motion today with regard to the harmful effects of the growing income gap fostered by the government's unbalanced economic agenda.
It is official now that in the Canada of the Conservatives the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The May 1 report from Statistics Canada, a report based on the data from the 2006 census, shows this clearly. The Statistics Canada report shows that earnings of full time, full year earners rose for those at the top of the earnings distribution, stagnated for those in the middle and declined for those at the bottom. It also pointed out that between 1980 and 2005 median earnings among the top 20% of full time, full year earners increased by 16%. In contrast, median earnings among those in the bottom one-fifth of the distribution fell 20%. Median earnings among those in the middle 20% stagnated, increasing by only 0.1%. The report also outlined the very dramatic decline in income levels of recent immigrants to Canada over that same period, which is of great concern to all of us.
In British Columbia, the statistics are particularly noteworthy. In the inflation adjusted median earnings for workers who worked full time between 1980 and 2005 in Canada, there was virtually no change over those 25 years. However, in British Columbia, earnings dropped by 11.3%, a huge loss in purchasing power and a huge decline in the quality of life for B.C. families. It is clear that families in British Columbia are losing ground at an incredible rate.
New Democrats have long proposed measures to deal with the growing prosperity gap, the gap between the rich and poor, the difficulty working middle class Canadians have making ends meet and the unconscionable poverty in a wealthy country like Canada.
We have signed onto the make poverty history campaign. We initiated the child poverty pledge in 1989. We believe that we should be working, as all members of Parliament and government should be working, to close the gap by redistributing income more equitably and more fairly. Sadly, however, it keeps getting worse.
Tax cuts were proposed by the government and the previous government in the belief that they would cause economic benefits to trickle down and put more money in people's pockets, but it has failed and failed miserably. Huge tax cuts to profitable corporations and big polluters have not caused the income gap to change. In fact, it keeps rising. Poverty continues to be a serious problem all across Canada and many Canadians are one paycheque away from homelessness.
Many of our social programs are mere shadows of what they once were. EI, for example, does not serve part time and seasonal workers well. We know that most of the jobs created in recent years have been in those categories. We have lost well-paying jobs with good benefits in manufacturing and forestry all across the country.
At the same time, the Conservatives seem incapable or uninterested in doing anything about this. One example of this is the situation with regard to housing. There are too many homeless people in Canada, some say over 300,000, too many people at risk of homelessness, too many people paying too much of their income for housing and too many people couch surfing across the country.
There is nothing in the recent budget for homelessness or for affordable housing except more study: five more pilot projects on homelessness. There is nothing new to support housing since the NDP convinced the last Liberal government to cancel its final attempt to give the corporate sector yet another huge tax cut. Instead, we convinced it to put that money into housing, post-secondary education, public transit, the environment and international aid.
The Conservatives came in and had the pleasure of being able to spend that money but they have taken no new initiatives of their own in that time.
The Wellesley Institute notes that the fair housing income threshold has gone down for Canadians. It notes that in 2000, 22% of Canadian households were below the income level required to afford a two bedroom apartment and that it rose to 26% in 2005, which means that 3.2 million Canadian households cannot afford a two bedroom apartment.
The Wellesley Institute also reports on home ownership and it notes that over half of all Canadian households no longer qualify for the purchase of even an entry level home. Those are very serious questions of affordability for Canadians, for middle class Canadians and for working Canadians.
The situation with regard to housing in British Columbia is particularly concerning. Housing unaffordability, as reported by the Vancouver Sun in January, is increasing in Vancouver. There is little hope of significant change.
The Vancouver Sun story pointed out that owners of standard two-storey houses needed 71% of their pre-tax income to service their ownership costs, that owners of detached bungalows needed 67% of their pre-tax household income, and condo owners needed 36% of their pre-tax income to service their ownership costs. That is on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
Those are hugely significant numbers. That is a huge part of people's income that is going into housing when those who are spending over 30% of their income on housing are deemed to be spending too much on the housing portion of their living requirement.
Also, in Metro Vancouver the 2008 homelessness count was recently completed and the numbers are up yet again. The number of those living on the street was up 37% over 2005 and up a whopping 131% overall since 2002. It is likely even higher than that given the difficulty of actually taking account of homeless people in our cities. It is estimated that 20% of those folks who are homeless are actually working and homeless.
Today there is new information out about child poverty in British Columbia. According to BC First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, B.C. has the worst record in Canada on child poverty for five consecutive years now. The numbers today are that the number of poor children in B.C. rose to 181,000 in 2006, compared to 175,000 in 2005, giving B.C. a child poverty rate of 21.9%. This is well above the national average of 15.8%. This is another serious indication of what is happening.
In British Columbia recently we have seen in the Vancouver area that the Citywide Housing Coalition has begun to organize silent protests every Saturday, called “STAND for Housing”. People stand on street corners in silent witness to the need and the slogan is “homes for all”.
Last Saturday there were 80-such stands in the province of British Columbia. It organized a province-wide stand; 40 on the Lower Mainland, including 2 in Burnaby, 18 on Vancouver Island and 24 in the interior in the north.
In Burnaby, Kaitlin Burnett organized one with the Burnaby Teachers' Association and students from the Burnaby North Secondary School organized the other. I can say that the number of people, when I was attending these stands who honked their horns in support and who called out from their car windows to explain their situation with regard to affordable housing, was incredibly significant. People know the importance of this issue. They know how hard it is hitting them in the Lower Mainland. The Citywide Housing Coalition says that the number one cause of homelessness in B.C. is:
The federal government pulling out of an annual social housing program that brought as many as 2,000 units of affordable housing to BC.
It is recognized there and in report after report in communities all across Canada and by organizations all across Canada that the federal government needs to be a key player in solving the housing problem in Canada.
What would the NDP do around housing? We have a plan. We call for a national housing program that actually builds homes. It is a 10-year plan to build 200,000 new, affordable and social housing units, 100,000 renovated units, and 40,000 new rent subsidies. It includes a green renovation program. We would immediately reconnect to a continuation of the RRAP program, the housing renovation program, and the homelessness initiative. Both of these programs are set to expire in 10 months and the government still has yet to recommit to their extension.
We would see that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation gets back into creative housing development and reinvests some of its significant profits into housing development. We would pass a housing bill of rights based on Bill , introduced by the member for , originally proposed by the member for , to enshrine in law the right to housing and require by law the establishment of a national housing program.
We would take measures such as my Bill which takes up an idea from the Canadian Real Estate Association to propose changes to taxation law to encourage reinvestment in affordable rental housing.
We cannot have confidence in a government that has no plan and takes no action to address these issues. We cannot have confidence in a government that pursues policies that only increases the gap between the rich and poor and has no policies to end poverty and homelessness. We want to ensure that Canadians have access to safe, secure and affordable housing.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak in opposition to today's motion.
This House is going to hear a lot of rhetoric from the NDP during the course of today, a lot of skewed statistics, in fact we have already heard some, and a lot of misinformation.
Before continuing, I would like to refute something we have heard repeatedly from the NDP. If one were to only listen to that party on the issue of the Canadian economy, one would think we were in the midst of the Great Depression with double digit unemployment. It is disappointing the NDP would paint such a pessimistic picture for Canadians, especially when we consider the actual state of our economy and the job market.
We all acknowledge that certain sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, are having trouble adjusting to Canada's changing economy. We have unfortunately seen some job losses specifically in these sectors. This must be truly difficult for those directly affected. We need perspective here, however. The Canadian job market has remained exceedingly healthy under our Conservative government and let us review some of the facts.
Over the past 12 months, 325,000 net new jobs have been created, 100,000 plus net new jobs in this year alone. What is more, the unemployment rate is near a 33 year low with the share of the adults working at a record high rate. Overall, net employment is up over three-quarters of a million since we took office in 2006 in all regions of this country, with full time jobs accounting for 80% of that increase.
One would hope that even the NDP would recognize that the robust job creation we are seeing in Canada is good and the best way to ensure that our economic prosperity is broadened. If they do not believe me, they should listen to their NDP colleague, the member for , who we need to recognize this morning. I think he may actually be at the hospital getting a cast on his wrist as a result of one of the page's trying very actively to score a goal on him in a soccer game last night. Our thoughts are with that member.
I will quote the hon. member who, during an exchange in this very House in February last year with the , stated the following:
He said that the best social program is a job; that the best thing we can give Canadians is a full time job. He was absolutely right. When Canadians have jobs that they like and can depend on to look after their families, they have pride and dignity.
I could not agree more with the NDP member. I further want to briefly clarify something we will also hear today about new net job growth in Canada. Often, observers on the left, when trying to paint a doom and gloom scenario, will dismiss positive job numbers, claiming new jobs being created are in sectors of the economy that are not as high paying or as high quality. Let us be clear. That is not the case. New jobs being created today are largely equivalent to or are of greater quality than those being lost. Listen to CIBC economist Benjamin Tal, who said:
Not only did the Canadian economy generate close to 400,000 new jobs in 2007, but the vast majority of them were in high-paying sectors...in Canada the loss of manufacturing jobs is being offset by job gains in sectors with equivalent and higher employment quality.
However, as I mentioned previously, we are seeing specific sectors of the economy bearing the brunt of this economic volatility.
As a trading nation fully emerged in the global economy and international financial markets, it is only natural that we would be facing economic challenges from outside our borders. As the United States is our largest trading partner, we are bound to feel the impact of its economic slowdown, especially on our exports. Additionally, the weak U.S. dollar has caused the value of the Canadian dollar to appreciate thus challenging the manufacturing, tourism and forestry sectors.
We are further seeing increasing economic competition from abroad, especially emerging economies like China, Brazil and India. Unfortunately, this is leading to job losses in Canada. We recognize that and we are taking real concrete action to assist those workers in communities that are affected.
That is why we are investing $1 billion in the community development trust. This money will support provincial and territorial initiatives that help communities, as well as help workers transitioning from the economic challenges of today into the opportunities of tomorrow. The fund will provide for job training and community transition plans that foster economic development and create new jobs, and infrastructure development to promote economic diversification.
I would note the reaction to our initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. It was unanimously endorsed in Parliament through Bill . It was also supported by provincial premiers of all political stripes across Canada. New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham was “pleased that the Prime Minister and his government have made this commitment”. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty applauded it as well saying that it is “good for the people of Ontario. The Prime Minister has done something which we've been asking of him”. Even Manitoba's NDP Premier Gary Doer has praised our initiative by stating, “I also believe that this is very, very important to the regions and the communities in Canada and the money will be very, very helpful and important”.
This Conservative government's approach has been to encourage economic growth and job creation while simultaneously assisting those facing economic downturns. It has been an approach of balance. I am not merely referring to balanced budgets, although we have of course three of those already completed. I am also referring to a prudent, long term approach addressing the priorities of Canadians. That includes lowering taxes, reducing debt and carefully managing government spending. That approach will allow Canada the ability to face the upcoming economic challenges.
Indeed, our solid economic and fiscal situation has put Canada in a position of strength, well prepared to meet future challenges head on. However, we cannot rise to a strong position like this in a hit and miss fashion. In times of economic uncertainty, Canadians cannot afford leaders who would advocate panicky, band-aid and ultimately short term solutions. These are not solutions but rather, irresponsible attempts at public policy that would lead to deficits and higher taxation that would only drive businesses and jobs away, in effect only exacerbating the economic downturn it has attempted to correct and further disadvantaging those Canadians for whom today's motion purports to speak.
The sponsor of today's motion, the member for , should know that better than most members in this House. In the early 1990s he served provincially as a member in Ontario's disastrous NDP government under the leadership of the then premier, the current Liberal member for . That NDP government in Ontario reacted to economic turbulence not through prudence but through panic, and panic at a price. The NDP government's first budget alone tripled Ontario's deficit to $9.7 billion, and increased to $10.1 billion in its final year. The damage was long term, leaving future generations to pay the price.
As Sun Media columnist Lorrie Goldstein reminded us earlier this week, the NDP government, which the member for belonged to:
--ended up doubling the province's debt in five years.
What that disastrous experiment showed is what nanny states forget--they can't command the economy to do what they want and when they try, the usually make things worse.
Even the member for has acknowledged the fiscal havoc wrought by his government noting, “I'll admit I ran a deficit during the worst recession since the 1930s”. Regrettably, it would appear neither the sponsor of today's motion nor the member for has learned from their experience. They both still advocate panicky, short term, band-aid measures, measures that would max out the national credit card with billions and billions in reckless deficit spending, leading to massive tax hikes and a greater debt burden for future generations.
We must ask ourselves then, if we are talking about ensuring the economic prosperity of typical Canadians, why do the Liberals and the NDP persist on tax and spend ideology along with short term, panicky reactionary measures that would do absolutely nothing but ensure such prosperity is never fully achieved?
Contrast that with our Conservative government's prudent action to ensure Canada has strong economic fundamentals through our long term economic growth plan Advantage Canada. That plan seeks to provide Canada with global advantages through lower taxation, to reduce net debt, and to provide more entrepreneurial freedom, the best educated and most skilled workforce and modern infrastructure.
We are making steady progress toward reaching the objectives of that plan, and we have very solid economic fundamentals to help us do it. Our budget is balanced and it will remain balanced. We have the fastest growth in employment and living standards in the G-7. Interest rates are low and inflation remains low and stable. Canadians have countless reasons to remain confident and optimistic.
The true power of our strong economic and fiscal fundamentals, however, lies in their ability to make constructive choices possible. Thanks to these solid economic fundamentals and long term economic planning, we have made the kinds of choices that put Canada ahead of the curve. While others have only recently begun grappling with the effects of global uncertainty, our Conservative government saw signs of an economic slowdown coming well in advance. We knew we had to act, and under the leadership of the and the , we did.
Our strong fiscal position provided Canada with an opportunity that few other countries have to make broad based tax reductions that will strengthen our economy, stimulate investment and create more and better jobs. That is why in last October's economic statement we announced bold new steps to build a better Canada by reducing taxes for Canadians, including a reduction in the GST, by establishing a new era of declining business taxation, and by reducing federal debt by $10 billion this year.
In total, actions taken by the government since 2006 are providing $21 billion in tax relief to Canadians this year. This is equivalent to 1.4% of Canada's GDP. As a share of the economy, this is significantly greater than the stimulus package just now reaching U.S. households.
Moreover, our tax relief is sustainable, backed by a track record of balanced budgets, and this tax relief is permanent. This proactive aggressive action to support the Canadian economy has been praised by prestigious non-partisan international and domestic economic organizations for its foresight and effectiveness.
The University of Toronto's Institute for Policy Analysis declared, “helping offset the weakness here will be the 'fortuitous' injection of stimulus from the tax cuts...announced” in the October economic statement. BMO economist Doug Porter congratulated our government for our economic statement that was “brilliantly timed. Just as the economy was running into serious heavy weather”, Canada has some “serious fiscal stimulus”. Most impressively, the distinguished IMF World Economic Outlook released this April praised the measures, “A package of tax cuts has provided a timely fiscal stimulus”. The Canadian government's “structural policy agenda should help increase competitiveness and productivity growth to underpin long term projects”.
Since coming to office, this Conservative government has taken action to reduce the overall tax burden for Canadians and businesses by nearly $200 billion.
Overall, we are bringing taxes to their lowest level as a percentage of the economy in nearly 50 years. Canadians are getting back their own money in increasing amounts, more money in their pockets where it belongs, which means our economy will benefit from consumers with thicker wallets and every reason to be confident about their future.
As for those who suggest that our economic leadership and tax reductions are not benefiting low income Canadians, I ask them to consider the facts.
Statistics Canada reported this week that in 2006, the first year of our Conservative government, the rich did not get richer but lower income Canadians did. Families at the bottom of the income ladder saw strong growth in their earnings in 2006. I will quote from the report:
After-tax income improved for families in all five income groups, except for those at the top, where it remained stable.
Why? Consider that approximately 700,000 low income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls by 2009 because of our actions. Consider that since coming to office, our tax cuts have disproportionately benefited the bottom two income tax brackets. Indeed, over three-quarters of personal income tax relief is being provided for Canadians in the lowest two tax brackets with people in the lowest bracket alone realizing almost 30% of all annual personal income tax relief. Most important, we cut the GST, the only tax cut benefiting the one-third of low income Canadians not paying income tax.
Accordingly, it is somewhat odd that the NDP and their colleagues on the left have been so adamantly opposed to this reduction. Even Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom is puzzled. I will quote him at length:
The New Democrats say the [GST] cut favours the rich....
And yet...were equally outraged...by a new study pointing out that the tax system has become less fair since 1990 because (wait for it) governments have been relying too much on regressive sales taxes, like the GST.
The reason that sales taxes are unfair is that those toward the bottom tend to spend more of what they earn (and hence pay more in sales tax as a proportion of their income) than those at the top.
He further noted:
Economist Marc Lee, who authored the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study, calculated that roughly half of the increased tax burden borne by the poor between 1990 and 2005 came from small hikes in regressive levies such as sales taxes....
So in this context, it could be argued that [the Prime Minister] struck a small blow for social justice by reducing Canada's most notorious regressive tax. Indeed, it could be said that he took a small step towards rectifying the tax unfairness created by former prime minister Jean Chrétien's Liberals...
I find the left's attack on the GST cuts both baffling and sadly indicative.
Nevertheless, unlike the Liberals, we are taking concrete action to help low income Canadians through tax measures like the landmark working income tax benefit ensuring people are better off as a result of taking a job. Taxes, reduced income support and loss of benefits often discourage individuals receiving social assistance from working, clawing back nearly 80% of their income. This benefit, a first step we hope to build on, will increase income support while simultaneously strengthening work incentives. This is a move that has also been praised across the political spectrum.
The Caledon Institute of Social Policy acknowledged it was a “welcome addition to Canadian social policy. It fills a long recognized gap in Canada's income security system”. The NDP member for approved our measure as an “important program that goes in the right direction”. Even Ontario's Liberal finance minister called it a progressive move saying, “I think that will help those at the lower end of the income ladder and I think”--the Conservative government--“has taken a good step.”
Clearly today's motion ignores what this government has accomplished and will be defeated accordingly. For that I applaud the Liberal opposition for once again expressing its unwavering confidence and approval of our Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate. I will be splitting my time with perhaps the foremost expert on economics in the House, the hon. member for .
I thank my colleague from for bringing forward the motion. We come to Parliament, we work with our colleagues and we forge relationships with other members of the House, which can be very productive based on respect. This is the relationship I feel I have with my colleague. I know other members of my family have it as well.
The motion is one that needs to be addressed because it deals with a hugely important issue, Clearly though, and I will say this up front, it is not an issue that Canadians would want and certainly do not expect to be the impetus for a national general election. The motion raises an issue that Liberals, and particularly our leader, have brought front and centre to the national agenda. It will be the centrepiece of our next national campaign, the time of which will be determined carefully and not as a result of the latest move in a game of inside Ottawa parliamentary checkers.
A couple of months ago, the member for , an outstanding Canadian hero, embarked on a country wide tour focused on poverty in Canada. I think he went to more than 20 locations in this immense country. Canadians will know, knowing the member, that this was not a photo op, but somebody who was trying to find real solutions on poverty.
One of his first stops was in my riding of . We thought we would have a decent crowd, but we were all surprised to see over 300 people come out to a church basement in Dartmouth to talk about poverty, its causes and some solutions. We heard from a number of groups and organizations, homeless shelters, youth in crisis workers, food banks, mental health workers and many more, people who combat poverty on a daily basis and try to make a difference in their communities. These groups expect their politicians and their governments to do something about it.
We should acknowledge that improvements have been made over the years to help Canadians with many major national initiatives such as the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan Act and the Quebec Pension Plan Act, the guaranteed income supplement in 1967, the national child benefit in 1997, which has had a significant impact on reducing child poverty in our country. We implemented personal income tax cuts. We brought forward the plan to strengthen health care, which followed on the 1960s plan to bring a national health care system into Canada.
The member for understood that among the challenges facing low income families was the lack of affordable and universal access to child care. Our Liberal government signed child care agreements with each of the provinces and territories, agreements that would begin to chip away at family poverty, allowing individuals to work to earn a decent living and support their families. Those child care agreements were one of the first casualties of the Conservative government.
We all know we live in a prosperous country where our standard of living ranks among the best in the world. Despite this success, far too many Canadians are left behind and it should be unacceptable to us all.
Last fall, the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, a man who is serious about solving serious problems, laid out the most ambitious plan to tackle poverty in Canada. This is what we will do when we return to office. It is our 30:50 plan. We want to reduce by 30%, or cut in half, the number of children living in poverty over five years. That plan includes the creation of a making work pay benefit to lower the welfare and to encourage and reward work by Canadians. It includes support for working families to expand and improve the Canada child tax benefit and to help lift the vulnerable seniors out of poverty by increasing the GIS for the lowest income seniors.
I want to talk about another issue that is referenced in the motion, and that is employment insurance. Our government in the last decade reduced EI premiums, both for employers and employees. Since 1994, the EI rate for employee contributions has been reduced from $3.07 to $1.95 in 2005 and for employer contributions from $4.30 to $2.73 by 2005. As a result of these rate reductions, employers and employees paid some $10.5 billion less in premiums comparatively than they would have paid in 1994.
On the benefit side, from 2000 to 2005 the Liberal government invested in the EI program. Parental benefits were extended to one year. In 2004 a new employment insurance benefit, the compassionate care benefit, was introduced. In 2004 a pilot program was introduced to provide workers with five additional weeks of EI regular benefits in regions of high unemployment. Several other pilot programs were introduced, which included benefits for those who were new to the labour market to have access EI benefits after 840 house of work rather than 910 hours. We also went to the best 14 weeks of earnings, not a bad idea for people in high unemployment areas, and we increased benefits for the working while on claim threshold.
However, I think we can all agree, and certainly members of my party understand, that we should do more. We should re-evaluate employment insurance. Members in this House for , for , for , for and from parts of Cape Breton have stood up and have been involved in discussions to make that happen.
As Liberals we have worked hard over the past two years to work with labour groups and other opposition parties to find common ground to improve benefits for EI recipients. We need to evaluate this. We need to look at a number of things, such as the waiting period and what is referred to as the black hole.
How about the expansion of sick benefits, as proposed in Bill ? Bill , a private member's bill, was introduced by my colleague from and is supported by members of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society. It is a recognition that the workplace has changed and illness has changed. People are recovering from strokes and from heart attacks, but they need support. This bill was supported by all parties except the government party. It would have been a perfect thing for the government to stand up and do for workers in Canada.
We need to address how EI relates to people who are working part time. Often they are women working in poverty. We need to do more about that.
In budget 2008 the government introduced the idea of a new crown corporation. It may be a good idea. Some people have called for a different agency to look at EI, but there has been no consultation on it, and if it were not for the fact that the Liberals brought forward a motion at the human resources committee, which was supported by other parties, there would have been no consultation on this.
Is $2 billion the appropriate amount of money as a reserve fund? What is the bureaucracy going to look like? Should there not be some consultation and discussion with workers across this country? I think there should be. EI needs to be changed. We need to do it rationally and sensibly, balancing the workers and employers. It is imperative for us to do that.
Over generations, Canada has built a social infrastructure that is designed to help vulnerable Canadians. Improvements have been made, with public health care, pensions, EI and support for children and others, but we need to do more. Furthermore, I believe there is a public appetite in this country for us to do more. However, today we have a government that seems to love power but seems to hate government and sees little or no role for government in assisting those most in need.
Partly through design and, in fairness, partly through incompetence, the federal fiscal framework has a reduced capacity to help, but Canadians want a government with a heart, a mind and a solid plan to reduce poverty in this country. Our leader has put forward such a plan. In the next election the Liberal Party will campaign on that alternative. We are the only realistic alternative to this government.
Poverty in our country is not inevitable, but it will take leadership, energy and national will to make the difference. We should talk about it here in Parliament. I am pleased that we are also studying it at the human resources committee, but to really make a difference we need a government that sees a role for government in standing up for those who need help, a government that balances budgets but not at the huge social cost and huge social exclusion we see now.
I believe the Liberal Party has the leader, I believe the Liberal Party has the plan and I believe the Liberal Party has the team to attack poverty in our country and work for those who most need help.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this motion today. I am going to tackle this question by focusing on two aspects.
The Statistics Canada data to which the NDP makes reference has two problems attached to it.
The first is the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, so it is a question of distribution. Here, I think, only the Liberals have a coherent plan to help those Canadians who are worse off.
The second aspect is that the average person's income has hardly grown over many years, and that is a question of growing the pie, creating wealth and improving our productivity performance. This is an area in which the NDP has absolutely no understanding.
As well, as I shall indicate in my remarks, the Conservatives are wrong-headed by adopting measures that will not do anything to improve productivity and living standards in this country.
First of all, I would like to point out that the NDP has taken a contradictory position, which is not all that surprising.
On the one hand, the NDP claims that, as a party, it now understands Quebec and Quebeckers. On the other hand, based on my calculations, if the NDP manages to get its motion adopted, when would the election be held? It would be held June 23, the day before Quebec's national holiday. For a party that claims to understand Quebeckers, it is a little strange that the NDP would make Quebeckers vote in a general election the day before their national holiday.
The first issue here is to help those who are worse off. On this issue I at least agree that the NDP would be in the same spirit as the Liberal Party. The difference is that we have a concrete and very ambitious plan, and we will form government at some point and will be in a position to implement this plan.
As my colleague has mentioned, this is the so-called 30-50 plan, in which we have committed publicly to reduce the overall number of Canadians living in poverty by 30% over a five year period and to reduce numbers of children in poverty by 50% over a five year period. By setting out those concrete targets, we are holding our feet to the fire, because the commentators will monitor our progress and make sure we hit our targets.
There are three basic components of this plan. One is an expanded “making work pay” benefit, which will help lower income Canadians climb over the welfare wall, get over the disincentives to work and become full participants in the labour force. This is good for the incomes of lower income Canadians and also good for productivity.
The second component is that we will provide major support for working families. We will provide child tax credits as the Conservatives did, but ours will have one key critical and crucial difference. The Conservative tax credits are non-refundable, meaning that if people's incomes are so low that they pay no tax, they get no credit. Therefore, the high income Canadian, like the , gets large sums of money from these credits, and he does not really need it, while the lower income Canadians who do not make enough to pay tax and therefore are not eligible for this credit get nothing at all. Our child tax credit will be refundable, meaning that the lower income Canadians who pay no tax will get just as much, at least as much, as the higher income Canadians.
The third important component of our 30-50 anti-poverty plan is to increase the GIS, the funding for income for lower income seniors. We will increase that as well.
Through these measures and a number of other measures, we are totally serious about making a radical dent in poverty in general and in child poverty over the five years from the time we come to power. These measures will certainly have a major bearing on this increased inequality that has afflicted Canada and indeed countries throughout the western world over the last decades.
I come now to the second aspect. The first aspect is to reduce the inequality and our anti-poverty plan will make a major move in that direction.
The second component is to grow the pie: to increase the productivity so that the income levels and the living standards of all Canadians will rise more quickly over the coming 10 years, let us say, than they did over the last 10 to 20 years. It is here I believe that the Liberal Party is unique in this House, because the NDP has no understanding of wealth creation, of growing the pie, and the Conservative Party and government have zero interest in helping those who are in poverty because that is not their base.
We are the party of balance. We understand that one has to grow the pie and create the wealth in order to redistribute it.
On the subject of productivity, I think the NDP should study very carefully the new ideas and new policies emerging in Europe among their social democratic brethren, particularly in Scandinavia, and indeed among NDP-led provinces, which have to actually govern and therefore understand the real world.
I would say that only the federal NDP is left in a kind of class warfare mentality of the 1960s where anything that reduces corporate taxes, for example, is inherently evil, while the NDP-led provinces and Scandinavian countries led by social democrats are in fact leading the way and understand the need for lower corporate taxes to enhance productivity. Indeed, the Scandinavian countries are leading the world in terms of having among the lowest corporate tax rates. Among those with the highest corporate tax rates, one finds George Bush's United States.
I would suggest to the NDP that it is necessary to grow the pie, as well as to share the pie, because if we do not grow the pie and the pie shrinks then we will have very little to share.
As we in the Liberal Party have said, competitive corporate taxes are an important part of the productivity agenda. We need look no further than Denmark, Sweden and Norway to find leadership in this area. I know the Conservatives agree with us on this. Following our leader's call for corporate tax rates, soon thereafter they copied the idea.
Another important angle about improving productivity and living standards is to tax smart. We in the Liberal Party have favoured not only lower corporate taxes but lower personal income taxes to give people the incentive to save, to work and to invest. That would be a part of our program, funds permitting.
Whereas, on the government side, the Conservatives put no less than $12 billion a year, $60 billion over five years, into the worst, dumbest possible tax cut that anyone could imagine, and that is to cut the GST, a tax on consumption, rather than to use that money to cut taxes on income.
There is not an economist on the planet who would disagree with my view that if we want to improve incentives to save, to invest and to work, if we want to improve Canada's competitiveness and productivity, the way to go is to reduce income tax. According to IMF,OECD, C.D. Howe, The Fraser Institute, name it, the worst thing to do, the most anti-productivity tax agenda is to reduce the GST.
To conclude, to deal with this problem of a growing gap and stagnant incomes requires a double policy to provide public assistance to those at the low end, which is at the core of the Liberal 30-50 plan, and, on the other hand, to produce a sensible, credible, coherent plan to raise the productivity growth of this country and thereby grow the pie and enhance the living standards of all Canadians.
I submit that in terms of this balance between wealth creation and wealth distribution, it is only the Liberal Party that offers the balance that this country needs.
Mr. Speaker, I am indeed the member for Chambly—Borduas, and I am proud to represent the voters and everyone in that riding who is paying attention to this motion here today.
I must first congratulate our colleague from and thank the NDP for moving this motion here today, which gives us the opportunity to debate an issue that is too often ignored, but that is nonetheless extremely important, especially for the people living in poverty. I would have liked to be able to ask our colleague from a question earlier, but I will save it for another time. I will touch on it during my presentation.
The motion is especially important because it links the issue of the gap between the rich and the poor with factors that cause poverty among our citizens. The program most butchered by the Liberals was the employment insurance program. The Conservatives continued the butchering, so much so that people were literally deprived of money owing to them in the form of EI benefits, just so the government could build up the kitty and increase the surplus to pay down the debt or meet other government obligations. Who knows? The Conservatives are probably even using part of the $54 billion diverted from the employment insurance fund for national defence and utterly questionable expenses.
This motion is even more interesting because it reminds us of what our society values and makes us think about the real role we play here in the House of Commons. Above all, we are here to represent the people, and not to represent economic interests that serve to benefit groups, consortiums or, as is currently the case, oil companies, or that would finance the war. That is not it. Our primary concern and focus should be the well-being of the public.
Therefore, the motion before us today is completely appropriate, and we will support it. We will vote in favour of this motion and we urge our colleagues in the House to do the same.
If the member for wanted to be credible in this House, he should have said that the Liberals were also going to vote in favour of the motion. Announcing a plan will not convince the House that the Liberal Party is sincere in its desire to eradicate poverty, since in the last 13 or 14 years, more than any other party, it has contributed to the impoverishment of working class people.
I remind members that in 1997—and I am referring to issues raised by the Liberal member for —the Liberals eliminated the assistance program for older workers, which was not all that expensive. Workers over the age of 55 were forced into poverty if they could not be retrained. They no longer had any recourse other than social assistance in their respective provinces. This party, along with the Conservatives, also ensured that seniors were not informed that they were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.
The people who are the most isolated, the people who are the most vulnerable because they are unaware of their rights, were deprived of $3.5 billion.
If the hon. member who spoke earlier had wanted to be credible, he should have apologized, acknowledged that he and his party had not done their homework and had been irresponsible, and announced that they were going to vote in favour of the motion before us today. If he had wanted to be credible, our Liberal colleague would have refused to jump on the Conservative bandwagon, he would have acknowledged that the cuts he and his party had made to employment insurance were a bad decision and were unfair to unemployed workers, and he would have announced that the Liberals were going to vote in favour of this motion in order to correct the injustice done to all people who lose their jobs.
By reducing access to employment insurance, the previous government succeeded in excluding nearly 60% of unemployed workers. Barely 40% of all people who lose their jobs qualify. Not only is this an injustice, but it is a very serious economic crime against the unemployed, their families, the regions concerned and the provincial governments.
People who would have been entitled to employment insurance benefits but do not receive them go on welfare, placing a double burden on the provinces. They contributed to the national fund, just like their employers. But over the past 12 years, the federal government has siphoned off the $54 billion surplus to use for other purposes. No, the ministers have not pocketed this money. It has been put to use elsewhere. But it was not tax money to begin with. It consisted of contributions for insurance in case workers lost their jobs. This is totally unfair.
The current has admitted that funds were diverted and that it should never have happened. After he admitted funds were diverted and that it was unfair, we expected an announcement saying that they would right this wrong and accept the unanimous recommendation of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities from 2005, which stated that all of the diverted money, the $46 billion that has now become $54 billion, should be refunded to the fund at a rate of $1.5 billion a year. To be sure it is done legally and, above all, legitimately, the funds should be considered a loan just as if the government had borrowed from financial markets.
That was a unanimous recommendation from the committee. We expected the Liberals to accept it, but they turned a deaf ear and continued to loot the fund for other purposes.
The Conservatives have been doing the same thing for two-and-a-half years. They admit now that they should not have. And what have they done to fix it? Nothing. They are just as guilty as the Liberals. There is a saying that the person holding the bag is just as guilty as the one filling it. Right now, it is the Conservatives who are holding the bag. Why are they not putting the cash back into the fund?
We would then find ourselves in a position where the two parties—of course we would urge the Liberals to support the action—would become more credible. But, neither of them has the credibility to do it. When plans or strategies are announced to eliminate poverty, neither party—neither the one in power nor the one forming the official opposition—has any credibility.
The current government, for its part, has added to the burden on the poorest individuals and families. For example, the first thing it did was to eliminate a national child care program. Quebec's national child care program, which is paid for in part by the government and in part by parents, has resulted in a decline of roughly 3% in the poverty level. This is huge.
When the federal government eliminates the program for the rest of Canada, people slip into poverty. In addition, when the government deprives women's groups of the means to defend their rights, it is depriving a segment of our society that has difficulty obtaining recognition of its rights, especially labour rights. The employment insurance policy is a wrong-headed policy, because only 33% of all women who lose their jobs can hope to receive employment insurance.
Anyone who is looking for factors that exacerbate poverty does not have to look any farther than the government, which is continuing to make cuts to measures designed to eliminate poverty. For 18 years, since 1990, the federal government has promised repeatedly to eliminate poverty, yet it has done just the opposite.
Just a week ago, I believe, Statistics Canada announced that the gap between Canada's rich and poor had widened since 1980. The rich have gotten 16% richer, while the poor have gotten 20% poorer. This is no big deal, apparently, because Canada's decision makers, who were elected on the promise that they would do better than the previous government, are supporting the previous government's decisions and adding insult to injury by eliminating existing measures.
Regarding employment insurance benefits, the solution is not very complicated, because measures are available to us. They existed in the past. In terms of a social safety net, one of the most effective ways our society has to prevent poverty from worsening is the employment insurance system. With employment insurance, workers who lose their jobs and have no income have enough money to support their families. Employment insurance is not a gift from the government, because only employers and employees contribute to it.
The purpose of the fund is to insure against unemployment. The previous government changed the name to employment insurance. That change had an impact. It might have seemed as though it was just a name change—maybe it sounded better or something. But there was more to it than that. As soon as the name of the fund was changed, the government started meddling with the fund and using it for other purposes.
That is quite disturbing, so we suggest that the government go back to the main reason for the fund's existence and dedicate it to supporting people who have lost their jobs. What needs to be done? The government has to relax the eligibility criteria. For example, someone who has worked 360 hours should be eligible for employment insurance benefits. Benefits should be calculated based on the 12 best weeks, and people should be able to collect benefits for 50 weeks, not just 45 weeks.
Benefits should also be increased to 60% of an individual's income rather than the current 55%. Some people might say that 60% is a lot, but that is not true. We have to remember that most of the people who lose their jobs are low income earners. Even high income earners living on 60% of their previous income have to change their lifestyle. It is very difficult for people who lose their jobs to lose 45% of their income. People should not have to lose more than 40%. That would at least help them a little.
Here is the situation. We introduced Bill , which covered all of these measures, here in the House. All of these measures were recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, which is a House committee whose mandate is to advise and counsel the House and ministers. The committee approved all of the measures I mentioned, measures that are included in Bill C-269.
What happened? The Conservatives said the bill required royal recommendation and that they would not give it. Imagine that. That money does not belong to the public treasury. It belongs to workers and employers. The Conservatives have decided to prevent this House from studying a Bloc Québécois bill that would lead to measures that are a little more humane and fair and have been paid for by those who contribute to the EI fund, namely workers and employers. The Conservative government has refused to give royal recommendation. In a letter, the Leader of the Bloc Québécois and the Leader of the NDP officially asked the to give royal recommendation. The leader of the official opposition refused to sign the letter. Imagine that.
The Canadian government, the Conservatives and Liberals together—those Liberals who literally destroyed the employment insurance system—now is saying we have to trust it because it has a plan. When it announces a plan, there is cause for concern because people end up even more disadvantaged. The government's past plans are an example of what they are capable of and that is cause for concern. We have to be concerned about both the government and the Liberals. The government wants us to trust it, but we do not.
The interesting thing about the NDP motion is that it expresses the public's general lack of confidence. Why this lost confidence? Because the Liberals and the Conservatives have not lived up to their responsibilities when it comes to protecting the social safety net, in order to ensure a balance between creating wealth and distributing that wealth. They do not care about the working class and the most vulnerable in our society. Not only did they not care, but they have managed to make the situation even worse.
If the Liberals want to gain some credibility today, then they have to vote in favour of this motion. All their fine speeches have nothing to do with their true intention. Their true intention will only be known when they vote. My concern is that they will support the Conservatives' disastrous policy and uphold measures that are totally unfair to the working class and to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.
This government is only interested in war, oil companies and nuclear power and not in humanity. I will close there. I invite all my colleagues who truly want to represent their ridings to vote in favour of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hard-working member of Parliament for .
I am very proud to be speaking today in the House on this motion sponsored by the NDP, which expresses no confidence in the Conservative government for its completely unbalanced economic policy.
It is no surprise that the Conservatives are continuing the same unbalanced economic approach that we saw from the former Liberal government and that we saw from the former Conservative government before the Liberals came to power.
What we have seen essentially over the past 20 years is a steady economic degradation in the lives of working families from coast to coast to coast. The figures are pretty compelling. Most working families sitting around their kitchen tables tonight, after their shifts, are going to be talking about the fact that they are earning less now than they were even 20 years ago.
Two-thirds of Canadian families are earning less than they were in 1989 when the Conservative government pushed through the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Subsequent to that we had the Liberals pushing through, with the Conservatives, the NAFTA. We have essentially seen, through trade policy, that those agreements have benefited the wealthiest citizens in Canada. Most working families are earning less.
The trade policies that the Conservatives put forward, like the Liberals before them, are policies that are structured around the boardroom table and not structured with the interests of those who are sitting around kitchen tables.
Let us talk about what the results of the last 20 years have been because the NDP has been very clear. We want to renegotiate NAFTA. It has not been in the interests of most Canadian working families and we have been very clear about that.
We are the only party in the House that says to Canadians that things have not worked. The bottom line is that these trade agreements have failed and we are going to go back and renegotiate. Happily, as members well know, we now have the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the United States, who are running for president in November, agreeing with the NDP and saying it has to be renegotiated.
As members also well know, the PRD, the major opposition party in Mexico, is also saying the same thing, so what we have is increasingly, progressive forces in all three countries saying it has not worked.
What has happened over the last 20 years is that middle class Canadians essentially have lost about $1,000 in real terms out of their pockets. They are actually earning less now, about a week's wages, than they were back in 1989. For lower middle class Canadians, they have actually lost even more, probably about $1,200 because they have lost on average two weeks of income for each and every year since 1989, and for the poorest Canadians, as my colleague from said earlier, the income decline has been catastrophic. They have lost a month and a half of income, on average, which is close to $2,000 for each and every working family across the country.
For the Conservatives to pretend that everything is fine is simply ridiculous, but they talk to the wealthy, and the wealthiest of Canadians now take half of all the real income in Canada. Their income has gone up 20% in that same period, so if the Liberals and Conservatives are only talking to corporate lawyers and the wealthiest people in society, I guess they get kind of out of whack. They simply do not understand the economic fundamentals and the failures that we have seen from the current Conservative government and the former Liberal government.
The statistics are compelling. Two-thirds of Canadian families are earning less and we now have levels of income inequality that we have not seen since the Great Depression. It has been a catastrophic failure of economic policy and economic fundamentals. The most catastrophic impact has been on younger Canadians, a generation that has been completely lost by both the Liberals and the Conservatives over the past 20 years.
We know full well now that we are talking about record levels of student debt, levels that are incomprehensible to people in this House who represent the NDP, who see how willingly the Conservatives and Liberals shovel money at the corporate sector in corporate tax cuts. They just never seem to be able to shovel enough money off that truck, yet for poor students in this country, the average debt level is now $26,000. Statistics Canada tells us some other things about that younger generation. Those same individuals now come into a job market with far lower wages than existed 10, 15 or 20 years ago.
Most of the jobs that the Conservatives love to say they are creating are part time and temporary. If someone has three part time jobs for a couple of hours each a week, according to the Conservatives the workforce has been tripled. It simply is not true. We have seen a hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and family sustaining jobs. There have been one-quarter million jobs lost on their watch.
At the same time what they have managed to create is part time, temporary jobs, nothing that will allow students to pay off their record levels of student debt. Another thing the NDP opposes is that those jobs, because they are part time and temporary, do not come with pensions and benefits. The generation that we are sacrificing with record levels of student debt, created by the Liberals and continued by the Conservatives, are the same individuals who are earning less to pay off the debt. When they finally manage to get through the process of paying off their student debt, when they reach retirement age, most of them will not have access to company pensions. What are we doing to the nation's youth when we mortgage them to that appalling extent?
Liberals and Conservatives have been doing the same thing now for 20 years. That takes massive change and that is why I think more and more Canadians are looking to the NDP.
I come from British Columbia where we have seen the effects of Conservative economic policies. I guess that is almost an oxymoron because there is nothing about policy in their economic approach. It is simply one of shovelling money at the corporate sector. We have seen the impact of the softwood lumber agreement. There have been 10,000 jobs lost in British Columbia since the agreement was pushed through with the support of the Liberals and unfortunately the support of the Bloc.
We had a change in government in British Columbia which brought in a Liberal government. The median figures are very compelling of what the Liberals have done provincially, along with the federal Liberals and Conservatives, to British Columbia. For most British Columbians since 2001, since the B.C. Liberals came to power, their median income has gone down. This is for all age categories up to the age of 55. We are seeing that for individuals at the ages of 20, 30, 40 and 50 their real income has gone down. They are earning less now than they were when the NDP was in power. These are compelling economic facts. It is the compelling economic bottom line.
In this corner of the House we are not economic cheerleaders, unlike the Conservatives and Liberals who like to say that everything is going well because the wealthy in Canada are doing well. We are the ones who look at the hard facts. We are the ones who look at the figures. We are the ones who say this has been a fundamental failure of economic policy and that is why we cannot express confidence in the Conservative government.
The Liberals of course, as is their wont, will continue to support the Conservatives, continue to prop up the regardless of what that means for ordinary working families, regardless of what that means for the middle class, regardless of what that means for poor Canadians. The Liberals will simply prop up the Conservatives. But they have an opportunity now, given the hard economic facts that Statistics Canada gave to them last week, to actually stand up in the House and say that these economic failures mean that the government has failed and we need to go back to the Canadian people and have the Canadian people judge based on what is happening to their family income and what is happening when they discuss things around their kitchen tables.
And so solutions do not come about through magic. It is very simple: we need social policies, industrial policies, policies to support our industries, including the manufacturing industry, the auto industry and the softwood lumber industry.
We need the government and the public sector to get involved. Given the weak economic policies we have had for the last 20 years and the total failure of those policies, the NDP is the only party saying essentially that we have to go in a new direction, one that takes into consideration the importance of the public sector and that thinks it is important to raise family income across the country rather than lowering it. The NDP is the only party that is offering this economic alternative.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join my colleague from and to support the NDP motion on the economy and jobs in the middle class. It is worth fighting for across the country, not just in Windsor, Ontario which I represent, but in London, Kitchener, all the way along the 401 to Toronto, as well as St. Catharines, all those areas where we have seen economic devastation. It is important to fight for these jobs for the rest of the country as well. People in British Columbia all the way to Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador understand that when Canadians do well, we all do well together.
These policies of the Conservative government supported by the Liberals are shrinking the middle class and it will be very difficult to get it back. There is that element of Canada's history where we have had prosperity and a lot of different elements that created our great social fabric which has made us a leader in the world. That will disappear. We do not want that to happen.
I do not necessarily want to go to another election. I fought in elections in 1997, in 2000 when I was elected to city council, in 2002 in a byelection, in 2004 and in 2006. I do not need another election, but we have to go to one right now because it is necessary to save these jobs.
There are calls to my office every single day. We are witnessing people's dreams going up in smoke because there has not been the proper strategy and economic planning that should have been there during times of prosperity. The policies right now are stripping us of our capability to compete in the world. These are not nameless people. They are people in my constituency.
I have heard Conservative members say in this chamber that they believe in the mobility of work, that a person should just find a job somewhere else. That is no way to build a community. That is no way to raise a family. That is no way to develop a country that competes in the world, that people should have to move all over the place just because the proper policies are not in place.
Let us talk about specific people in my constituency. Jennifer is a 39-year-old single female who has two college degrees and skilled training in the tool and die and mould making industry. She has done everything right. She has invested in and paid for her education. She is a law-abiding citizen. She has been laid off from four different companies, two of which have actually gone bankrupt. Why would that happen when we are the best in the world at tool and die and mould making? Because our economic and trade policies subvert the efforts of workers. They allow other types of merchandise to get into this country, but we have no access to the other market. We have no supports in place.
An example is the rise in the dollar. Because the government wants to have a petrol industry as the sole provider for Canada, it escalates the Canadian dollar. No company or worker can benefit from that. The rise in the dollar cost them their jobs because it happened so quickly. That is not fair for someone like Jennifer. She has done everything right. What did she do? She went on employment insurance. She is one of the few women who can actually apply for employment insurance. That is a scandal in itself, something brought on by the previous administration and supported by the current one, where most women cannot even qualify for employment insurance.
Jennifer has tried. She has gone back to work for a number of different people. Her employment insurance is running out. What will happen now? She is on her last legs, and is selling her car and other assets. Her house is the last thing that she has. That is not fair. She is a skilled tradesperson. What has happened is not acceptable. We have led the world in that industry for many years and can continue to do so but the right policies need to be in place. This is happening at a time of indifference.
Look at the automotive industry. There have been 250,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last number of years, and the automotive industry has taken a big hit in that: people in St. Catharines, Brampton, Oakville, London and Windsor, in southern Ontario we have seen some of the biggest losses. People are worried. They are sitting around the kitchen table looking for solutions, but they cannot do it alone. The government has to do its part.
The government wants to enter into another unfair trade agreement with South Korea and further sell out the automotive sector. Why? Because it is easy for the government to do. It is a feather in its cap. It is interesting because the government will let state owned companies that produce vehicles and subsidize them flood into our markets and cost our workers their jobs. The Conservatives are the people who brought in an eco-auto rebate program that actually sent money to Japan and Seoul, Korea and to those automotive manufacturers that got subsidies. That is wrong. We should be producing those vehicles here. We have the people with the skills and ability in the trades. They are willing to do it.
We have recently seen a number of unions put out good business plans on how to work together. They have led the charge. The CAW has always led the charge to try to bring more automotive jobs. It had to bring the previous administration and the current administration kicking and screaming to the table.
Why do we not have a national auto policy? Why do we not have proper trade policies? The United States does. It protected its shipbuilding and bus industries. It has tariffs on certain vehicles that go in to the United States. It does it because it recognizes those jobs are important, and it is hemorrhaging some of those jobs now too.
There is an opportunity right now for us to work collectively to improve human rights, labour and environmental standards that will protect Canadian citizens, provide jobs and be a better economic trading bloc, but the government wants to shut that down. It does not want to talk about that.
What are people to do in their communities? Are they supposed to all work at Wal-Mart? Is that the way it is supposed to be? It is wrong. Service jobs are fine. They are good for the economy, there is no doubt about it, but manufacturing counts. If people are interested in the real facts, they should go to www.caw.ca, the CAW website, and look at the economic studies that Jim Stanford has done. He is renowned and recognized.
Look at the TD Bank. It is no socialist think tank, but even it has recognized the fact that we are losing good jobs and lower wage jobs are now falling into their place. That is bad for everyone. It is bad when the coffers of Ontario, for example, go down.
I take pride in the fact that Ontario has been able to provide for this nation, not only for my community and province, but for the rest of the country, and build it from coast to coast to coast. We are gutting the manufacturing sector by rapidly accelerating the Canadian dollar and not having manufacturing or auto strategies when other countries have these elements. It is wrong and we lose capacity.
There is one very interesting element that has not been talked about enough in this debate and it should be. When we gut our manufacturing base, we gut our ability as a nation to have full independence. We have to rely on others to do the hard work, when our own people can do that. They can build the tools and moulds and assemble. We have the natural resources. We know that the secondary work, after natural resources, is where the real money is. Why does everything have to be about shipping it out somewhere else for the secondary work to be done? Why can we not do that here like we have in the past?
We have unfair trading practices, for example, in the textile industry, where there has been dumping. The WTO has provided a remedy for that. It had a tariff element that we could have put in place to save some of the jobs here, especially in Quebec. The United States took the WTO up on that, but we did not. We sat around and let it go by, and that is unacceptable.
Other policies are important. I just came from the transport committee. We know the government has tabled Bill . In my riding, as everyone knows, is the busiest international border crossing, with 40,000 vehicles and 10,000 international trucks going through it every day. The has tabled a bill that changes the Customs Act.
The transport department has not work with him. What happens if they do not work together? The two separate chambers create laws that add to more backlog and other issues. That is unacceptable. The lack of infrastructure spending is incredible, whether it be the railway, the airline industry or our roads.
I would not get up and say nothing has been done by any of the previous administrations or the current one. Stuff has been done, but we are choosing the wrong priorities right now. Instead of investing in Canada, we have general corporate tax cuts. To stay competitive and prosper, we have to invest. The decision for large corporate tax cuts as opposed to investing in our railway system, our roads and in air is costing us competitive advantage.
It is important to note that. As we make that choice, we lose opportunities. Other nations are making the choice to invest in those things. That is why the NDP supports motion. At the end of the day, the middle class income earners need sustainable jobs in order to raise their families with dignity and send their children for university and college educations so we can compete with the world. If we do not, we will be left behind.