That the House call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada including: (a) a roll back of its recent Employment Insurance Premium hikes which inflict a higher relative burden on low to modest income workers; (b) ending the punitive new claw back of Employment Insurance benefits that are discouraging many Canadians from working while on claim; (c) making tax credits, such as the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, refundable so that low income Canadians are not excluded; (d) making the Registered Disability Savings Plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis; and (e)removing interest charges from the federal component of student loans.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much the chance to address this issue in the House today. We all recognize, or at least most of us recognize, that income inequality is a growing issue. Whereas in the years between about 1945 and the mid-1990s, the growing economy created greater equality not only because of the well-paying jobs that were created but also because of a range of government programs that sustained people who were in difficulty.
Since the governments came to grips with the impact of deficits in the early 1990s, right up until today and most emphatically in the last five years, we have a seen a decline in income equality and we have seen a growth of inequality. Those are the undeniable facts.
If I could quote someone who is not a radical figure but a very responsible one, the Governor of the Bank of Canada said this recently in a speech in Halifax, on the subject of income inequality.“The people who say it's not an issue are wrong, and the people who say it is an issue and who then want to create class warfare are wrong. The focus needs to be on ensuring equality of opportunity.... It's a massive issue; fundamental to society. It's not right if big swaths of society become discouraged and marginalized.”
What we have proposed today in the motion is quite practical. It is saying to the government and to the House that there is a series of very discrete and practical steps that we can take to reduce what is an undeniable trend that certainly has accelerated over the last five years because of the impact of two things.
First is the impact of the financial crisis, which has affected the entire world and has naturally had an impact on Canada in terms of rates of growth, the increase in joblessness, the increase in youth unemployment and the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs, a trend we had seen over the last 30 years and we have seen it accelerate most recently. Second is because governments sometimes have taken steps that have in fact accelerated inequality rather than moving things in the other direction.
What we are asking the government to do is to, first of all, recognize that this is a problem, not to dismiss it. We had to work very hard to convince a number of Conservative members of Parliament to allow the finance committee to study this question, and I am delighted that my colleague, the finance critic for the Liberal Party, has been able to persuade people that this is something that the committee needs to study.
However, we need to go even further in looking at these practical measures. We want the government to roll back the increase in employment insurance premiums, a tax that is regressive, that has a greater impact on lower and middle income people than it does on those who are better off. We want to end the clawback because, again, the clawback is going to have a negative effect on people on lower incomes and not help them in the least.
We want to make sure that tax credits, such as the family caregiver tax credit, can actually be taken up by people who have no taxable income. We want to make it refundable. It does not make sense to say that this is not going to be available to low-income people who are in fact going forward and taking care of their mother, father or someone else in their family who is disabled, that it is going to be available to people who have a taxable income but not available to people who do not.
Also, we want to make sure we make the registered disability savings plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases, because that is what it was intended to do.
Finally, we want to remove interest charges from the federal portion of student loans, because right now the federal government is actually making money on student loans, and we know that student debt is in fact an ever-increasing issue.
Before I proceed further, I just want to make it clear that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from , who has been sitting here with a great deal of anxiety and concern that I might take up the full 20 minutes rather than just the time I agreed to as my share.
This is an important issue as it concerns our current economy. Globalization has created extraordinary possibilities for Canada. Our country is rich in natural resources. Our education system compares favourably with that of other countries. Our country has great advantages, but, at the same time, we must recognize that inequality has continued to grow over the past five years, and the past five years have been just as difficult as the 1990s.
I do not believe that this is really a partisan issue. The government could say that we had problems in the 1990s and that the Liberals have nothing to say about that. But we have to admit that during recessions and periods of government cutbacks, the government has the complex task of ensuring that inequality does not get worse. Quite frankly, this government does not want to take on that responsibility. It does not want to deal with this problem and even denies that there is a problem.
However, there is no doubt that it is a problem because we see that well-paid jobs continue to disappear and are being replaced by jobs that are lower paying, short-term and part-time, and do not have the same benefits.
Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation as the Deputy Speaker of the House. You and I both remember the days in Windsor when we saw the transformation of an economy, which had powerful trade unions, which had good well-paying jobs, which performed important work in manufacturing, where members had pensions that they were assured would be there for them when they retired. Yes, frankly, they were good times. People were well off, people were able to buy cottages and take care of their kids. Those years are definitely not with us any more.
We are now in a time when workers are being asked to take further cuts and further drops in benefits, when a defined benefit is becoming very much the exception rather than the case, where we understand that there are greater and greater inequalities in how we are able to face life together.
There are a couple of false routes, as the Governor of the Bank of Canada said. Class warfare is a false exit. Trying to pretend we can stop the world and get off is a false exit. Pretending that we can somehow hold back all the forces of globalization is a false exit. However so is denial, pretending that if we continue to prosper as a country then obviously everyone will be able to share automatically in this prosperity.
President Kennedy said in the 1960s at the very height of the period I was describing, when things seemed to be all in balance, that the rising tide will lift all boats. Now we are in a situation where the rising tide lifts some yachts, some very big boats, but it does not lift a lot of other boats. That means that government policy has to take the steps that are necessary to increase equality, to increase real opportunity and to understand that prosperity, social justice and sustainability are not necessarily enemies, are not necessarily at war with one another, but need to be brought together.
However, in order for that to happen, it will take deliberate, thoughtful, intelligent government policy. Some might say the steps we are proposing today are not radical enough. I would say they are very practical. They involve saying that we want the employment insurance premiums hike to stop at a time when we are in recession, at a time when people are hurting. We are saying that tax credits should be refundable. That is to say that if people have no taxable income, they should still be able to get the credits. We are saying that for students—particularly when we see youth unemployment on the rise the way it is today, up to 15%—it is really unconscionable that the Government of Canada would be making money off the loans we are giving to students in order to allow them to go to college and university.
This is why this is in fact the issue of our time. We cannot assume that prosperity will be fairly shared and we cannot take prosperity itself for granted. We have to avoid the mistakes of the extreme right and the extreme left, and we have to come up with practical proposals that will make a difference to ordinary people and ensure that our prosperity is truly, fairly, deeply and widely shared.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from for being so generous in sharing his time with me on this particular issue. I will speak specifically about the changes to the EI provisions for those working while on claim.
In his comments, our leader alluded to the over-arching campaign by the Conservative government to misinform, misdirect and mislead Canadians on a variety of issues. Pick a topic and we can see the misinformation coming from the government. We certainly saw it during the opening week in the House of Commons. The Conservatives continue to talk about their record on the economy and set themselves up as great stewards of the economy. Let us look at that alone.
Since 2006, the Conservative government has added $100 billion to the national debt. I cannot see any reason to take a bow for that. When the government came into office, just over a million Canadians were unemployed. Right now, there are just shy of 1.5 million Canadians unemployed. There is no reason to take a bow on that. The unemployment rate went from just about 6.5% to just shy of 7.5%.
The Conservatives inherited a $14 billion surplus from the Liberal government and they turned it into a $55 billion deficit. That is a record in the history of this country, and it is the kind of stewardship that we have seen from the Conservatives, yet they continue to say they are great stewards of the economy. That is false and leads to what am going to say today.
The media is exposing the government for its misdirection and misinformation in misleading Canadians. We had the opportunity to read Allan Gregg's piece from last week. There were also comments by John Ibbitson, Andrew Coyne and Lawrence Martin. In particular, Andrew Coyne was very strong in his column last weekend when he said, “Conservatives did not invent dumb, dishonest, attack dog politics—though they may have perfected it”. He talked about lies and personal attacks, saying that “[t]he Conservatives are better at it: more disciplined, more relentless, less daunted by shame”.
That is where the problem lies with the working while on claim provision. We have heard the misinformation on that by the minister and the has simply rehashed the talking points.
Let us talk about the history of the working while on claim provision. In 2005 the Liberal government put forward a measure to take a disincentive out of the working while on claim program. People were allowed to make 40% of their EI benefit. The math is simple. If someone's EI benefit was $200, that person was able to earn $80 and keep that $80. That is how basic it is: 40% of earnings were retained. Under the new provision, a clawback begins on the first dollar. The $80 that the person made would be clawed back and he or she would clear $240 rather than $280. If that person is counting on $280 for their household income for that week, that is an attack on the most vulnerable and poorest in this country. That is what the Conservative government is doing.
The minister has shown no understanding and no appreciation for the files. If the government were going to make this change, the minister had every opportunity to let it be known to members of the House and Canadians. There was not a word in the budget document about cancelling allowable earnings. There was not a word about changing the provision on how to determine the benefit rate and the clawback.
The minister made a big announcement on May 24 about the change in the pilot project. She said nothing about cancelling the provision. She made another speech on August 2 and sent a letter to EI recipients in July where she underlined that “you [the claimant] will always benefit from accepting work”. That is not the truth.
The examples that Service Canada has on its website now are unbelievable. The department puts the high end in, and this is another inequality. Here are two examples from its website.
Mario finds a part-time job making $500 a week, about $30,000 a year, which is not a bad part-time job. Or there is Anna, who is very lucky to find a part-time job and make $790 a week, which is almost $40,000 a year. In my riding, that is a career.
Service Canada has two groups: the haves and the have-mores. The Conservative government does not care about those Canadians out there who are having trouble finding work, the 7.5% of the population who are unemployed.
Anyone making under $300 a week over and above their EI benefits is going to feel the impact of these changes and clawbacks. What really drives it home is that according to Statistics Canada, the median weekly income of part-time wage earners is $226. Therefore, anyone under that income is going to feel a harsh negative impact from the changes, and certainly quite a few over that median amount will also be impacted.
In the agricultural sector, for which we have a lot of western members here, the median income for part-time work is $160 a week. Food and accommodation is about $180 a week. These people are being hard pressed by the actions of the Conservative government.
I am sure that all members have received correspondence on this issue. I have a letter from a lady who has allowed me to discuss it.
Rhoda is off on maternity leave. She has a nine-month-old daughter. When she went on maternity leave she was told that she would be able to make $143 a week to supplement her income, and so she did her yearly financial plan around that. Then the rule changes came, and she said that the only notice she received was a confusing letter in July. Now she grosses $143, but after deductions that is down to about $115, and then comes the $71 in clawback provisions. From $143, she ends up with $44. That is the real math of these changes and the impact they are having on Canadian households.
Again, I can cite the examples used by the minister and the . Yesterday in the House, when our leader asked what the government was doing for the less fortunate and low-income families, the got up and read off a whole list and mentioned, as part of that list, that the working-while-on-claim provisions were helping low-income families. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those provisions are actually hurting the most vulnerable.
This is what really gets my goat and gets me thinking: Where are the members from rural communities out there? Where are the members who represent ridings where seasonal work and seasonal industries generate regional economies? Why are they not speaking up? Where are the guys from Atlantic Canada? Why are they not speaking up on behalf of their constituents? Why are they not telling the that this is wrong, that it has to be changed and that these clawbacks have to be taken out?
The minister should do this now for the most vulnerable. Let us see them get off their duffs over there and do something for the people of this country.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Parliament for .
I would like to thank the member for for bringing forward this motion to the floor of the House today because it provides an excellent opportunity to highlight the record of our government on combatting poverty.
It is an inconvenient truth for the members of the third party that poverty has never been lower in Canada than it has been under a Conservative government. Thanks to the strong leadership of our , our government has acted where the Liberals only talked. In 1996, the poverty rate reached the highest level ever in over 40 years in Canada at 15.2%. In 2010, three million Canadians or only 9% of Canada's population lived in poverty. While this number is still too high, we are continuing to act to reduce it. This number represents the lowest percentage in Canada's history and is 32% lower than under the Liberal government. To put this in context, this is 1.3 million Canadians who, under our Conservative government, were lifted out of poverty.
In 1996, at the peak of poverty in the last 40 years, 16.2% of women were considered to be low income. In 2010, I am pleased to report that the poverty rate among women in Canada dropped to all-time low of 9.3%, a 57% decrease in poverty. When the Liberals took power in 1993, poverty rates were 2.1% higher for women than for men and in 2000, almost a decade later, poverty rates were still 2.1% higher for women than for men. In 2009, under our Conservative government, that gap was erased as women found greater income security under our government.
Another hard truth for the Liberals is something that I am very passionate about. In 2006, children experienced a higher rate of poverty than adults in Canada. Since 2006 when we formed government, for the first time in Canadian history, children had a lower poverty rate than adults. In 1996 under the previous Liberal government, 18.4% of Canadian children lived in poverty, which was 3.4% higher than working age Canadians. In 2010, this number was cut in half, with 8.2% of children, unfortunately, still living in poverty, a rate which is 1.9% lower than working age Canadians.
The pattern is very clear. Under the Liberals, there was more child poverty in Canada than under our current government. This is because while the Liberals spent over a decade talking about providing support for Canadian families, they did not deliver. Our government, in the first year, brought in the universal child care benefit, which provided direct financial support to Canadian families, bringing 24,000 families out of poverty.
In addition to introducing the child tax credit, we have improved the child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement. The Canada child tax benefit helps Canadian families with the costs of raising their children. Low-income families also receive a national child benefit supplement. As a result, low-income families benefit from a tax-free monthly benefit for each child under the age of 18, up to an annual maximum. All of these changes have met with opposition from the parties across the aisle as they voted again and again against helping these Canadian families.
While on the topic of supporting families, I was a little surprised to see that the Liberals chose to highlight the family caregiver tax credit because it was the Liberals who voted against the creation of this tax credit in the first place. Because of the actions of our government, the typical Canadian family pays $3,100 less each year in taxes than under the previous Liberal government. However, tax cuts and direct financial support can only go so far. We have been clear that the best way to fight poverty is to connect Canadians with jobs.
We know that people who remain active on the job market are likely to find a permanent job more quickly. A permanent job is what provides stability and helps improve living conditions.
Even in challenging economic times, the leadership of the and the has created economic opportunities for Canadians. As I have pointed out in the House several times, we have had the strongest employment record among the G7. Canada is the envy of our economic peers, with over 770,000 net new jobs.
We are dealing with the reality of an aging population, coupled with robust economic growth in our natural resources industry, creating labour shortages in several regions of the country. These shortages are already acute in many regions and they will only continue to increase. According to Statistics Canada, more than a quarter of a million jobs were unfilled last spring. Our government's goal is to get as many Canadians working as possible and if they lose their jobs, we want them to return to work as quickly as possible.
Over the last several months, our government has announced new common sense measures to ensure that EI is fair, flexible and responsive to the needs of Canadians. EI is designed to be a form of temporary income support while claimants actively look for a job. It is certainly not intended to discourage people from trying to get back into the job market.
It has been found in study after study that a person can find a permanent job more rapidly if they continue to be active in the labour market by looking for work or by working, even part time or casually. The working while on claim pilot promotes workforce attachment by encouraging claimants to accept available work while receiving EI benefits and earning some additional income while on claim. This applies to receiving regular benefits, fishing, parental and compassionate care benefits.
This is a pilot project. This is not a permanent change but an opportunity to test whether we can encourage unemployed Canadians to work while they are on claim. These changes are about empowering unemployed workers and helping them get back into the workforce. We believe that most Canadians would rather have a permanent job than spend longer periods of time on employment insurance.
Our government has also made historic investments in skills and training for Canadians. Sadly, the Liberal record has been to vote in opposition to all of these job creation initiatives. These include the youth employment strategy, the EI hiring credit, the apprenticeship incentives, targeted initiatives for older workers and the tool tax credit.
While we are on the topic of education, it should be noted that the default rates on student loans have dropped to the lowest levels ever. This is because our government in 2009 created the repayment assistance plan. Through this program we provide students the flexibility they need to manage their debt by paying back what they can reasonably afford.
I also want to take a moment, while we are talking about education, to correct the member for . The government does not make a profit from student loan interest rates. Student loans are funded through government bonds, and the interest rate is set on a yearly basis on a break-even ratio.
In addition to this, with respect to supporting students, we announced on January 1 of this year that part-time students will no longer actually pay interest on loans and grants, and in budget 2011, we provided loan forgiveness for students, particularly those who are seeking new family physician residencies or nursing positions in remote areas. Finally, we have extended the grants program for students. Over 290,000 students benefit from this program, almost double what it was under the Liberals.
In conclusion, as I demonstrated earlier, poverty levels have been reduced to historic lows under our government. Default rates on student loans have dropped to the lowest levels ever under any government. The simple truth is that Canadians are better off with a strong, stable, majority Conservative government.
I encourage the member of Parliament for to admit that his party was wrong and agree that there should be some support for our action plan. I encourage all members of the House to support the tangible results of this government and to vote against this motion in the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House to talk about the great work our Conservative government has been doing to support Canadian families across Canada.
As a government, we have taken many measures to help families, and in particular, low-income families, and have made significant gains in reducing poverty in Canada.
The numbers are quite staggering. In 1996 the poverty rate was 15.2% under the Liberals. In 2010, under the Conservative government, it was 9%. Clearly, we are doing something right when we have achieved the lowest percentage of poverty in Canadian history.
Another hard truth for the Liberals is that before 2006 children experienced a higher rate of poverty than adults in Canada. After 2006, when we formed government, for the first time in history, children had a lower poverty rate than adults.
In 1996, under the Liberals, 18.4% of children lived in poverty. In 2010 this number was cut in half, with 8.2% of children considered to be living in poverty, a rate which is 1.9% lower than working age Canadians. Since 2006, there are 225,000 less children in poverty than under the Liberals.
As we all know, the only way to permanently solve poverty is to create jobs and economic growth.
Our government has encouraged private sector sustained through various policy initiatives.
First, we encouraged employers to create jobs by investing in programs, to provide small and medium-sized businesses with the workforce they need to promote growth and contribute to our country's economic stability. We have taken steps to ensure that Canadians have the skills and training required to take advantage of the job opportunities they need to achieve self-sufficiency.
One of the ways we do this is by investing significant funds annually in labour market and labour market development agreements with the provinces and territories, which help train over 750,000 each year.
We have a number of other initiatives that pave the way for diverse groups of Canadians to participate in the economy.
We are reaching out to youth through our youth employment strategy, skills link, career focus and Canada summer jobs and through apprenticeship grants. In fact, in Canada's economic action plan 2012, we announced a significant increase in the amount we would invest in the youth employment strategy over the next two years. This investment will connect to young Canadians with jobs that are in high demand by helping them develop the skills and gain the experience they need.
We are reaching out to the men and women who have lost their jobs due to the recent economic downturn. We are giving them a hand up, not a handout, and offering to retrain them for the jobs of tomorrow.
As our economy emerges from the recession, our next challenge will be to address the growing skills and labour shortage that is emerging in parts of our country.
Work-sharing has been a great success. I am happy to say that fewer and fewer companies need to take advantage of it. Through this program, employers were able to keep their employees on the job, while they recovered from the economic downturn.
One of the items I am most excited about is the progress our government has made in speeding up the recognition of foreign credentials. Over the past several years, our government has been funding national organizations to develop standards for credential recognition, as well as programs to evaluate credentials more quickly.
The government has also introduced a number of initiatives to help aboriginal Canadians succeed in the labour force. Our ASETS program is helping between 14,000 and 16,000 aboriginals connect with jobs across the country.
Our Conservative government believes that persons with disabilities should have the same opportunities as other Canadians to obtain and maintain employment or to become self-employed. That is why we are improving accessibility to the workplace for people with disabilities by supporting training and skills development funded through the opportunities fund.
Under our economic action plan, the government has dedicated an unprecedented amount to help Canadian workers over the last two years. Sadly, we have witnessed the parties across the way vote against every one of these measures.
There are 770,000 more Canadians who are working today than when the recession ended. As a result, Canada boasts the strongest rate of employment growth among the G7 countries. Canada remains a pillar of stability in an increasingly fragile global economy.
Because of the tax breaks we provide to families, the average family now pays $3,100 less each year in taxes compared to when the Liberals were in power.
We can measure the effects that our policies have had on reducing child poverty. As I stated earlier, there are 225,000 fewer children in poverty than when we took office in 2006. That is the Conservative record on helping the most vulnerable in our society.
The working income tax benefit supplements the earnings of low-income families. This one initiative alone was expected to help 1.5 million Canadians and working families across the country in 2011. Our government brought in the universal child care benefit, which provides all families with up to $1,200 per year per child for each child under the age of six to help cover their child care costs.
We have ensured that single-parent families are able to transfer their universal child care benefit amount to a dependant for tax purposes, ensuring in most cases that this money is not taxed.
In addition to introducing the child tax credit, we have improved the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement. The Canada child tax benefit helps Canadian families with the cost of raising their children. Low-income families also receive a national child benefit supplement. As a result, low-income families benefit from a tax-free monthly benefit for each child under the age of 18, up to an annual maximum.
Low to middle-income families that have children with disabilities can expect additional help. Our government has also brought in measures to allow parents a choice in how savings are set aside for the future of their children. Choices and flexibility are the keys for families as costs related to coping with a disability can prevent families from contributing on a regular basis to a savings plan.
Our Conservative government has repeatedly shown its commitment to supporting families through significant EI measures as well. Foster parents now have access to parental benefits once a child has been placed with them for the purpose of adoption, instead of waiting until the legal proceedings were complete.
Eligibility to the compassionate care benefit has been extended to include additional family members and others considered as family by the person who is gravely ill.
Self-employed persons are now able to opt in to the EI program to receive maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.
As for military families, they now have improved access to parental benefits to ensure that a tour of duty overseas does not deprive them of the opportunity to bond with their newborn child.
In order to always better support Canadian families, the government has moved forward with the introduction of the helping Canadian families in need bill, which would create a new EI special benefit for parents of critically ill children and flexibility of access to sickness benefits for parents who become ill while receiving EI parental benefits.
The government also recognizes that many Canadian families are taking on caregiving responsibility for dependent relatives. In 2009 we created the family caregiver tax credit to provide tax relief to caregivers of the relatives, be they aging parents, minor children, spouses or common-law parents. Sadly, the Liberal Party voted against creating this much-needed tax credit.
Our government will continue to remain focused on jobs, growth and economic prosperity. Unlike the opposition, we will not put forward reckless economic policies such as a job-killing carbon tax that would raise the price of everything.
We reject the Liberal record of much talk and no action. Our economic action plan is working to reduce poverty in Canada. We invite all members to support the government in achieving historic successes in reducing poverty in Canada. That is why our government will not be supporting the opposition motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this motion on income inequality. I will splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for .
Inequality is another inconvenient truth of our era. Its growth is every bit as unsustainable for our communities, businesses and economy as climate change. If we cannot reduce it, it will hobble growth and opportunity for the next generation.
We cannot afford to misuse our economic strengths in this way. Canada is among the most fortunate of nations, with the 10th largest economy in the world. We have the resources, natural, economic and financial, to create the kind of society that we want. We can afford to share our prosperity. The good news is that shared prosperity leads to more prosperity. Greater equality is not a trade-off but an investment into our future.
Income inequality remains one of the most serious challenges our country faces today and has been on the rise in Canada for the past 20 years. We in the NDP welcome all efforts to reduce, not accelerate, income inequality. We are glad that the Liberals are finally on board and we appreciate the suggestions in this motion.
However, what needs to be done is not just embroidering the cloth but repairing the fraying fabric of our society.
Sadly, the Liberals presided over increased income inequality while they were in power during the 1990s and 2000s and they have consistently supported Conservative budgets that have led us down the wrong path.
We welcome this opportunity to spend today debating this motion. It is an important issue that gets far too little attention in the House and from the government.
Our former colleague, Tony Martin, has made reducing inequality his life's work, including when he was in the House, and we miss him.
Here are some facts. Most Canadians' real income has been stagnant for several years. Over a period of 33 years, average income rose by just 5.5%. According to the Conference Board of Canada, income inequality is increasing more rapidly in Canada than in the United States.
The Conference Board of Canada recently gave Canada a C grade for incoming inequality and ranked us 12 out of 17 peer countries. The OECD has noted that Canada's level of inequality is now above the OECD average.
Much of the increase in inequality is being driven by income gains by the top 1%. The richest 1% of Canadians saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007. The richest 1% in Canada took home almost one-third of all growth in incomes between 1998 and 2007, at the expense and to the detriment of other income groups.
At the same time, unemployment and economic growth are highly divergent across this country. Over 43% of unemployed Canadians live in Ontario alone. This increase in inequality has serious implications for Canadian families.
Household debt has reached record highs, suppressing demand and hindering economic growth.
Lars Osberg at Dalhousie University argues that:
Over the 1981 to 2006 period, the life experience of most Canadian families changed--the “new normal” has been that entering cohorts of young workers earned less in real terms than their parents’ generation did at a comparable age.
Our young people are also facing high unemployment. The unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 is more than double the national average at 14.8%. This means that there are 400,000 youth in Canada who are looking for work and cannot find it.
Women, aboriginal people, racialized communities and recent immigrants also suffer from disproportionate poverty relative to other Canadians. Such inequality has serious societal consequences.
A 2009 groundbreaking book on inequality by British scholars, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, empirically demonstrates that inequality, more than GNP, has a significant impact on a range of social indicators, including health outcomes such as average life expectancy and other measures of human development such as rates of literacy, teenage pregnancy or incarceration.
This is not the legacy that we should be leaving to the next generation. However, rather than taking action to correct these imbalances, the government has chosen to pursue an austerity agenda that has only exacerbated them.
The first thing we should do is support Canada's middle-class, not attack it. We should not stand idly by when giant corporations cut half the pay of workers or the workers lose their jobs, as in the case at Caterpillar. We should not intervene in private sector collective bargaining to force lower wages than even the employer was prepared to offer at the bargaining table, such as at Canada Post and Air Canada. We should not happily ship value-added jobs out of the country to the U.S. or China by focusing on exports of bitumen rather than upgrading resources right here at home in Canada.
We need to raise the floor, not lower it, by increasing the low wage, low skill sector of the economy with temporary foreign workers and instead sanction employers who pay them less than Canadians doing the same work.
In an era of increasing inequality, the government's attack on OAS, GIS and employment insurance, along with reckless cuts to the services Canadians rely on, is only adding to the problem.
When the Liberal and Conservative governments plundered the EI fund of billions of dollars and then told unemployed Canadians that they would have to accept lower benefits, that was simply unacceptable.
The Conservative government continues to promote a “you must accept less” doctrine for the vast majority but a “the sky's the limit” approach for the high rollers.
Before the mid-1990s, Canada's tax benefit system stabilized inequality as effectively as systems in Nordic countries, offsetting over 70% of the increase in income inequality.
However, redistribution has become less effective since then. The OECD has noted that taxation and benefits now offset less than 40% of the increase in inequality.
The Conservatives put a lot of stock in the economic spinoff approach to wealth distribution, claiming that higher incomes for the rich will eventually trickle down to the rest of us.
However, tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthiest Canadians have resulted in growing income inequality, stagnant economic growth and a higher unemployment rate.
Income inequality is a serious problem with serious consequences, and Canadians want us to do something about it.
According to an EKOS poll, income inequality is Canadians' primary concern.
If we cannot reduce equality, it will hobble growth and opportunity for the next generation.
Instead of tilting the playing field increasingly to the advantage of the most powerful and affluent in our society, we need a government that takes a first “do no harm” approach.
Rather than eliminating the deficit even faster than promised so that the government can introduce new tax cuts that will benefit Canada's most affluent households, it needs to invest in the services and programs that Canadians want and need right now.
We need strong, balanced job creation right across Canada and a living wage, including for all contracts and procurements with the federal government.
Sadly, in Canada we have seen weak leadership that has turned its back on the daily struggles of most Canadians, but we can change that. Canadians can count on the New Democrats to work for a future where Canada is prosperous for all and where no one is left behind.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals' motion raises some points that are worth discussing. It is true that recent changes to employment insurance have hurt low-income workers. It is also true that non-refundable tax credits for caregivers cannot even be used by many people because their income is too low to take advantage of the tax deductions. And it is quite true that income inequality is growing in Canada. In fact, the gap in Canada is greater than in the United States. The Conservatives are rather silent about this, perhaps because they dare not admit that it is true. However, the changes called for in the Liberal motion barely scratch the surface of the problem. It is a good start, but we need much more profound changes in our society, as my colleague mentioned earlier.
I could criticize the government for all its measures with which I disagree, but as a member of the NDP I want to do politics differently. As our friend Jack often said, we want to work together. Therefore, rather than blaming the Conservatives, I would like to suggest some things we could do to help the most disadvantaged, measures that are compassionate, but that would also benefit the country financially. That is something they should like.
The motion we are debating today talks about reducing income inequality between the richest and the poorest. Let us talk a little bit about the neediest of the needy, those who do not even have a roof over their heads.
A recent study by Stephen Gaetz entitled The real cost of homelessness asks an intriguing question: can we save money by doing the right thing? It seems that a number of studies in Canada and the United States show that investing in prevention costs less, in the end, than using a patchwork of emergency solutions. Furthermore, we would be acting very compassionately. For example, the homeless are more poorly nourished and more stressed, often are the victims of violence or accidents, and do not sleep as well. The homeless are three and a half times more likely to have asthma than an average person, four times more likely to have cancer and five times more likely to have heart disease. In addition, they are 20 times more likely to have epilepsy and 29 times more likely to contract hepatitis C.
According to Michael Shapcott, from the Wellesley Institute in Toronto, in 2007, the monthly cost of a hospital bed was $10,900. Comparatively, the cost of a shelter bed was $1,932. Even better, the cost of a social housing bed in Toronto, where rent is not the cheapest in Canada, was $199.92. You do not have to be good at math to see that the best solution is rather obvious, in both economic and human terms.
A homeless person is also at a higher risk of ending up in prison. In fact, according to a study by Kellen and others in 2010, approximately one in five inmates was homeless at the time of being incarcerated. According to Statistics Canada, in 2008-09, the average yearly cost of incarceration for a male was $106,583, and was $203,061 for a female. I highly doubt that subsidized housing for one of these people, even including support workers, would have cost the government as much.
So yes, I agree with Mr. Gaetz: we can save money while still doing good. Secure, affordable, adapted, adequate and safe housing helps prevent a lot of problems. It is an intelligent way to effect profound changes in society, not only for the homeless, but also for everyone. Everyone should have the right to adequate housing without having to destroy themselves financially.
Many families and individuals have a hard time making ends meet because they earn a pittance, because they are ill, because they are retired and living on a fixed income, because they are young and are having a hard time finding a first job, or because they are students.
It is mainly these people who see the gap between their incomes and those of the wealthy getting wider every year.
Yes, we must ensure that employment insurance is fair for everyone, including those who cannot find full-time work and who will lose out with the new clawback mechanism established by the Conservatives. By the way, the presumption that everyone can find full-time work is false.
At the museum where I worked for 19 years, there were only three guides who had full-time jobs because of the nature of the work. The other 17 worked part-time. Jobs are becoming increasingly precarious, particularly in seasonal industries such as tourism and education. Many workers in these industries are women or young people who have less chance of success from the outset.
Yes, we must also ensure that caregivers can benefit from tax credits, even and particularly those who do not make enough money during the year to be able to take advantage of tax deductions. Once again, many of the people in these circumstances are women. Nonetheless, I am going to say it again: we need to take things much further than this motion.
Why not make the housing renovation programs permanent rather than providing temporary programs that leave something to be desired? With doors and windows that do not leak, heating systems would use less energy, and people would have lower heating bills and more money to spend on other things. There would also be more jobs available in the area of renovation.
Why not renew the agreements between the CMHC and social housing projects for buildings that need to be renovated or for those that cannot continue to provide subsidized housing once their mortgage expires?
Why not allow housing co-operatives that are trying to find another source of funding to end their agreement with the CMHC before the set end date without extremely restrictive penalties? This would allow them to find the money they need to do major renovations that cannot wait and that they do not have the means to do given their existing agreement with the CMHC.
Why not invest a portion of the CMHC's profits in new social housing, in conjunction with the provinces and territories, of course? People wait years for social and community housing. In the meantime, all of the money they spend on rent, which costs them much more than 25% of their income, could be helping other sectors of the economy. That money could also help them avoid having to choose between buying food or paying the rent. In the end, it would be better for the government too.
Why not bring back the 19.5% tax rate for big corporations, a rate that is, after all, still lower than that in the United States and that would give the government the money it needs to offer services to those who need them most? That money could be reinvested in housing and the fight against poverty.
I should point out that the NDP has repeatedly asked the House to adopt a national anti-poverty strategy. Maybe it is time for that now. All of these suggestions would help reduce the gap that is widening at an alarming rate between rich and poor in Canada.
Yes, I will support the Liberal motion this evening, but the House should also support bills introduced by my NDP colleagues, such as Bill and Bill , which would guarantee all Canadians the right to decent, affordable housing so that they do not have to do without other essentials.
I hope that the members of all parties will set aside partisanship and support these important bills when the time comes to vote on them in the House. Forward-thinking, human policies like these are the only way to tackle growing inequality in our society.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the Liberal motion introduced by the leader of the Liberal Party. I will share my time with the member for .
Just to refresh the memory of those who will be listening or those here in the House today, I will speak to the motion, which says:
That the House call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada including: (a) a roll back of its recent Employment Insurance Premium hikes which inflict a higher relative burden on low to modest income workers; (b) ending the punitive new claw back of Employment Insurance benefits that are discouraging many Canadians from working while on claim; (c) making tax credits, such as the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, refundable so that low income Canadians are not excluded; (d) making the Registered Disability Savings Plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis; and (e) removing interest charges from the federal component of student loans.
Anyone listening to our concerns and those we have spelled out in our opposition day motion can clearly see that this is meant to address the income inequality in our country. We have been hearing from Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have been impacted by the changes that the Conservative government has implemented since it was elected. The irony in all of this is that when the government came to power there was a $14 billion surplus and that surplus was squandered in the first year that the Conservatives were in power. Now all of a sudden, we see they are coming up with all these initiatives that are harmful to low- and middle-income Canadians.
It is a government that increased the deficit in its first couple of years. Even before there was a recession or it would admit to a recession, it increased the deficit by $56 billion. What have the Conservatives done? In the six years they have been in power, they have increased the country's debt by $100 billion. This does not make sense. Then we turn around and watch as the government gives large corporations tax breaks to the tune of a savings of $6 billion annually, all at the same time as we see low- and middle-income people suffering at the hands of the government and the decisions it has taken.
I can cite examples where the new rules concerning the working while on claim project are having a detrimental impact on Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
It is not just in Atlantic Canada. As members know, my riding is in Newfoundland and Labrador but this impacts not only Atlantic Canadians. This impacts those who have to avail themselves of EI while on maternity leave or while giving compassionate care to sick relatives. This is not just about people who work in seasonal industries, although they are impacted too. This whole change to the employment insurance program, which came about without any consultation, is a serious issue.
In fact, people tell us they got their cheque and it was less than what they were expecting and they had no knowledge of why that was the case. I have had people tell me that if the government is going to take 50¢ from the very first dollar they earn and they get half of what their paycheque should be, then they take into account all the expenses associated with going to work, whether child care, transportation costs or whatever those expenses may be, they wonder where the incentive is for them to take part-time work or to look for full-time work because the government is going to penalize them for doing so. It is not right. Unless meaningful action is taken, the gap between the rich and the poor in our country will continue to increase.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, an independent economic research organization, income inequality has increased over the last 20 years. We do not need the government making it even worse for low- and middle-income earners.
It is not just the issues that I spelled out as topics of our opposition day motion, but there are also the issues of fleet separation and owner-operated policies that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, although it would not say so, was contemplating getting rid of. Independent fishermen, who are not wealthy, really need these policies in place to continue to fish as independent fishermen and sell their product to whomever they can. However, if the government had done away with those policies, it would have meant that large corporations would have been able to fish the same product, and there is no way that the independent fishermen could compete with these large corporations.
This is what we see with the Conservative government. We see the focus continually on helping the wealthy get wealthier while we see low-income and middle earners being penalized.
People are getting discouraged. They do not know whether they should even complain about it because no one seems to be listening. This is why, as the Liberal opposition here in the House of Commons, we felt it was absolutely essential that we come forward with this motion today to try and impress upon the government how important it is to reconsider some of the policies that it has implemented.
We have asked the to review some of these polices. However, it would appear from her responses to questions raised with respect to the working while on claim project that the government either does not understand the implications or refuses to acknowledge that this is happening. Maybe this is what they intended to do from the very beginning.
We say, “Where there is a will there is a way”. We have said this time and time again in the House of Commons and Canadians have been writing to us to, please, get the message across. If the Conservatives are listening at all, not just to us but to Canadians who are being negatively impacted by this, and they are now aware of the negative impact this new policy is having on Canadians then they can change it. There is no harm in admitting that a mistake was made, especially if it would be to the benefit of Canadians.
There are so many measures that the government is taking that are totally unnecessary. One is increasing the number of MPs in the House of Commons. When I think of an additional 30 members of Parliament with all the costs associated with that and then I hear from people in my riding who are having difficulty making ends meet, it just does not make sense.
We have to question the priorities of a government that cannot seem to relate to Canadians who are having difficulty with the pressures that are put on them on a daily basis with the increased cost of living, post-secondary education, raising a young family and mortgage rates. If the government cannot relate, and that would appear to be the situation with the present government, then we see the wealthy getting wealthier and the low- and middle-income earners making less.
My riding is predominantly a rural riding where people try to make ends meet. In a lot of cases, they are able to get seasonal work and they work very hard. They want to work full time, year in and year out, but if the work is not available they will do the seasonal work, which is also important because there are employers who have seasonal industries. If the people are not available to work in those industries then that becomes an issue. The industry suffers as do the individuals who cannot avail themselves of the jobs.
We have to change our focus. The Conservative government has to starting thinking about those who really need support in our country and be there for them.
Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that I certainly support the motion. The motion relates to inequality and so I will speak mainly on the new EI clawback rules that came into effect on August 5. As the leader of the Liberal Party, the member for , said in his remarks, the government has taken steps that have in fact accelerated inequality. He outlined a number of areas.
I want to talk specifically about the EI changes and how they have really accelerated inequality. My colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador just talked about her riding. She said the wealthy are getting wealthier and the poor, poorer and that the gap is growing. Nothing shows it more starkly than these changes to the employment insurance system.
If a person is making over $300 per week, then they are a little better off, but if they are making less than $300 a week, they are very much worse off.
In my neck of the woods people are in the seasonal industries. We have tourism, fisheries and agriculture, all of them seasonal industries. A farmer may need someone for a day, so the person will only get a day's work, or in the fisheries doing mussels it may be for half a day or a day. A person on employment insurance is lucky if he or she can get more than a day, a day and a half or sometimes two days a week extra employment, because in all honesty, the jobs are just not there, but we need those people in the seasonal industry.
On these very provisions the government introduced, I question whether the minister understands her files according to the answers she has been giving on this issue. However, knowingly or unknowingly, the government has introduced a system that is good for those who are making fairly decent money and are able to get the additional work, but is terrible for those who do not have the work time in their own areas. That is not the way the system should be going. It could be done with balance.
The original system allowed 40% of eligible EI earnings to be kept while working on claim without any clawbacks. If the government had introduced legislation with the 50% clawback starting after the 40% level, then the system would have worked for everyone and it would not have increased inequality.
I want to give the House a couple of examples that are coming our way. Constituent one is a nurse from my riding. She is on parental leave. She lives 45 minutes away from the hospital. The hospital only needs her for one four-hour shift. Another nurse I know works an eight-hour shift, but they only need her for one hour.
The nurse has to hire a babysitter, put gas in the car and drive 45 minutes each way. She is only getting four hours work, but the benefit of that is that it helps the hospital with its scheduling and maintains the nurse's skills. She is in the hospital once a week, seeing patients, seeing any new computer changes and keeping up on all the things she has to do as a registered nurse working in the health care system. Therefore, it keeps her in the field and her skills sharp, which is a real benefit to the health care system.
However, the government, in its lack of wisdom through this change, is now clawing back half of those wages. She is only getting paid 50¢ on the dollar because of this change. That is hurting both the health care system and the nurse as an employee, because she no longer has benefits from going to work. In fact, she said she could not afford it and told the hospital she could no longer work that shift because it was costing her financially. That is a loss to the health care system, and there are hospitals with several such employees. That is the impact of these changes.
A second constituent had this to say in her letter:
I do taxes for a living so our season is 3-4 months in the Spring. When the information was sent earlier in the year about the 50% clawback, I misunderstood the depth of the changes. I assumed (because it wasn't stated clearly) that those on E.I. would still be allowed to earn 40% without it affecting their E.I., and everything they earned while working would, instead of coming off dollar for dollar, come off 50% on the dollar.
However, this is so not true to my dismay 2 weeks ago. There is no allowable earnings? What's to entice people to work while on E.I.? The thought of making half of their wages? We now have to weigh the option of whether to work or whether to stay home because nobody wants to work for free.
There are really four things happening here as a result of the minister's changes. First, the great majority of people in Atlantic Canada are earning far less while working on claim than they were under the old system. Let us keep in mind that these people see it very vividly.
If they were on employment insurance prior to August 5, whether it was parental leave, regular EI, fisheries EI or compassionate care, and they were working while on claim, then they would get their check following August 5. Their total net disposal income, what they get on EI plus what they earned while working on claim with the new clawback, very vividly shows that they are getting less. They can see it because they were in the system before and they can see the return now.
There are four impacts. First, the majority of employees in Atlantic Canada have far less disposable income under this system. Second, employers are affected in that if they want a person for a day or a day and a half a week, they are not going to be able to get them because people cannot afford to work when half of their wages, 50¢ on the dollar, are being clawed back by the Conservative government.
Third, the economy is impacted, because there will be a loss of productivity. Employers will not be able to find employees for short-term work. A potato farmer who has truckloads of potatoes to grade but is only going to have work for half a day a week, where is he going to get employees?
Fourth, and dangerously, it will create an underground economy. People will say, “Look, I know you need workers and I know I cannot afford to work and claim it, so can you pay me cash?”
That is the reality of the system, those four serious points.
Out of concern, I took a number of cases from Atlantic Canada and asked the Library of Parliament to do an analysis of the old system and the new system. They produced a document entitled, “Case studies for the new pilot project, working while on claim”.
Mr. Speaker, because it has been mentioned here in the talking points of the government, you will know that the minister did provide an example, which she put in her letter. However, these are real case studies based on real lives. They tell a story. In all of these cases, people are getting less now than they were under the old system. That is increasing the inequity within our country.
At the very beginning of this document, it explains the system and how it works. It is very clear from a question by the that was addressed to the member for that he does not understand the system.
In conclusion, as the government does not understand the system and as this document is from the Library of Parliament, which does good work, I wonder if I could have unanimous consent to table this report so that government members could see actual cases and the explanation of how the system really works or does not work.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I will try to bring the amount of energy of the past speaker, but I will add a little more fact to my speech.
I am disappointed in today's Liberal motion, specifically the attempt by the Liberal Party to play political games with the registered disability savings plan, the RDSP. Even more troubling about this rather distasteful attempt to play politics here is the fact that the Liberal Party actually voted against the creation of the RDSP.
Early after being elected in 2006, our Conservative government recognized that parents of children with severe disabilities faced emotional strains and financial hardships that were often mentally and physically overwhelming. One of the difficult burdens these parents face was the thought of what would happen to their son or daughter in the future, especially after they were gone. It is not an easy topic to come to grips with and not one we would want to sully with political games.
That is why our Conservative government went about creating what became the RDSP by talking to Canadians most impacted directly. We struck an expert panel that toured the country and listened to hundreds of stories, often difficult stories, forcing those involved to consider those events in life that we did not like to talk about frequently. The expert panel held a very open and public consultation. It considered the advice, talked to experts and conducted more research. From that process, a detailed report entitled “A New Beginning” was released in December 2006, with numerous recommendations. The report is available online on the finance department's website and I encourage all Canadians to read it.
I would draw the attention of Canadians to pages 29 and 32, which discuss at length the eligibility criteria to become a beneficiary and a number of possible eligibility criteria the panel considered, to which today's motion alludes.
From the advice the they heard during their deliberations, panel members recommended that eligibility to become a beneficiary of a registered disability savings plan be coincidental with eligibility for the disability tax credit as defined in subsection 118.3 of the act and that there be no additional eligibility requirements.
Making the disability tax credit eligibility a requirement for the RDSP was deemed, as per the panel's report, the most appropriate way to ensure that the plan would be targeted to those with a severe and prolonged disability, based on a definition of disability that was already used and accepted in the income tax system.
With respect to the disability tax credit, it is beneficial to review the general policy rationale and eligibility criteria. Specifically, the disability tax credit provides tax relief to individuals: markedly restricted in their ability to perform a basic activity of daily living due to the effects of one or more severe or prolonged impairments in mental or physical functions; significantly restricted in their ability to perform more than one basic activity of daily living, if the cumulative effect of their restrictions is equivalent to having a single marked restriction in the ability to perform a basic activity of daily living, as certified by a qualified health practitioner; or would be markedly restricted were it not for extensive life sustaining therapy three times a week or at least 14 hours in total.
With the exception of blindness, no specific impairment or condition automatically grants eligibility for the disability tax credit. Rather, eligibility for the disability tax credit is determined on a case-by-case basis based on the effects of the impairment.
The Canada Revenue Agency is responsible for administering the Income Tax Act. Determining whether an individual qualifies for disability tax credit is the responsibility of the CRA. This objective approach ensures that tax relief is provided to those most in need.
Furthermore, the current eligibility criteria are consistent with the advice of another advisory panel, the Technical Advisory Committee on Tax Measures for Persons with Disabilities, established in 2003 under the former Liberal government, to provide advice on how to address tax issues affecting persons with disabilities.
The committee's final report was submitted in December 2004 and contained 25 recommendations. As the report was submitted to a Liberal government, the Liberal Party no doubt recalls that the committee made several recommendations regarding the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit and that in 2005 the Liberal government accepted the committee's policy recommendations.
The disability tax credit continues to abide by the eligibility criteria the former Liberal government accepted. Nevertheless, our Conservative government knows that the registered disability plan is a program that can always be improved. That is why, when we created it, we explicitly committed to reviewing it three years after it became operational. As members may know, this review occurred between October and December 2011.
Again, our Conservative government encouraged all Canadians, including individuals, families, groups representing Canadians with disabilities, financial institutions and experts in the field, to share their views on the registered disability savings plan. Based on their feedback received during the review, our economic action plan proposed a number of measures to improve the RDSP.
In recognition of the fact that beneficiaries who were disability tax credit ineligible might, due to the nature of their condition, be eligible for the disability tax credit for some later year, it proposed to extend in certain circumstances the period for which a registered disability savings plan may remain open when they became disability tax credit ineligible. This measure would apply to registered disability savings plans where the beneficiary had become disability tax credit ineligible and where a medical practitioner certified in writing that the nature of the beneficiary's condition made it likely that the beneficiary would, because of the condition, be eligible for the disability tax credit in the foreseeable future.
I should also note that in response to feedback from Canadians, we also recently passed legislation to ensure that individuals could appeal, in every case, a determination concerning their eligibility for the DTC.
Rest assured that the government is keenly aware of the importance of the registered disability savings plan to Canadians with severe disabilities and their families. To that end, we remain committed to ensuring that support is provided to those most in need. We will not play politics with it and strongly advise the Liberal Party to do the same, especially considering the fact that it voted against the registered disability savings plan's very creation.
Instead I ask the Liberal members to listen to the stories of those Canadian families that have been touched by the RDSP, families like Antonia Maioni's. Antonia is a noted professor of political science at McGill University, but she is also the mother of a very special boy. In her words, as written in the Globe and Mail recently, she says:
—while most people are worrying whether they can maintain their lifestyle in retirement, parents of the disabled are more apt to wonder whether we'll have the strength or the means to care for our adult dependents--not to mention what happens when we’re no longer around.
She commends our government for bringing forward the registered disability savings plan for these children with disabilities so they can rest assured there will be provision for them in the future.
I have heard a lot of words from the Liberals, but we have not seen a lot of action. When they do act, it is to vote against the measures of our government that bring support to families that need it. I ask all members of the House to join with me and vote against the Liberal record of inaction.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and to respond to this motion. It covers a number of areas. I would like to highlight our government's success in ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to access post-secondary education. My focus will be on that aspect of it.
As a government, our focus is on jobs and economic growth, and we recognize that ensuring educational opportunities for our youth is vital to our competitive advantage as a nation.
Over the last several years, the OECD has consistently reported that Canada has the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates in the OECD and the G7.
It is not just the OECD that recognizes the success of Canada's post-secondary education system. This month the Council of Ministers of Education released Education Indicators in Canada, in which it found that Canadians are better educated than they were 10 years ago. It also reiterated that Canadians have one of the highest post-secondary attendance rates in the developed countries. This certainly is an important indicator of how we are doing overall. The progress we made in the last number of years has been very significant.
Our success in post-secondary education and training contributes to our labour market productivity and competitiveness. It sparks inspiration, drives innovation and pushes us to succeed in the global economy.
Understanding this, our Conservative government has placed a premium on improving access to learning and training opportunities. It is our Conservative government's policies that are ensuring Canada remains a leader in post-secondary education.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC, contributes to Canada's growth and future prosperity by providing supports to students so they can obtain the skills they need to excel in today's demanding job market.
According to the OECD, Canada's youth employment rate is the second lowest among our economic peers. Undeniably, education falls under the provincial jurisdiction and domain, but we do everything within our jurisdictional powers to reduce barriers to those seeking a higher education.
We are taking action in priority areas where we can make a difference. One of the most important areas is removing financial obstacles, which will ensure that an individual's family finances do not determine his or her ability to access post-secondary education. Of course our most powerful tool to establish and accomplish this is the Canada student loans program. In 2010-11, the program served more students than ever before in its history. More than 500,000 students received support to pursue their post-secondary education. Since 2008, our government has implemented major improvements to student financial assistance to help students achieve their educational and future employment goals.
Budget 2008 introduced the Canada student grants program, a very important program. These grants provide upfront, non-repayable assistance to students from low- and middle-income families, as well as students with permanent disabilities or dependents. In 2010-11, more than 320,000 students received funding through the student grants program. That is an increase of 25,000 students over the previous year.
Budget 2008 also brought in the repayment assistance plan, which helps borrowers experiencing difficulty repaying their loans. I have heard directly from students in this regard. It allows them to make affordable payments based on their family income and family size. In 2010-2011, 165,000 students benefited from this plan. In fact, 90% of the students on the repayment assistance plan did not have to make any payments at all. The success of this program has led to an all-time low in student default rates. It is a very important program for students and one that is well received. The difference is quite noticeable. In the 2003-04 year, under the previous Liberal government, there was a 28% default rate. In the 2009-10 year, our Conservative government reduced this to a 13.8% default rate.
Our government has also expanded online services enabling people to apply for and manage their loans online, everything from applications to loan repayments. This provides a more convenient service to students who are increasingly accustomed to managing their lives online, while at the same time replacing a lot of old paper-based processes.
Year after year, we introduce new measures to make post-secondary education more accessible. Sadly, each year we see the opposition vote against making post-secondary education more accessible.
Budget 2010 announced significant supports for Pathways to Education to help disadvantaged youth pursue post-secondary education. This program is a community-based charitable group that was founded in Regent Park in Toronto in 2001. It encourages disadvantaged youth to stay in school and go on to college or university, as education is very important if they wish to advance. It focuses on addressing both financial and non-financial barriers to post-secondary education, and no doubt getting an education is a key.
The program has been so successful that it has expanded to 11 communities over the past decade and has helped to significantly reduce high school dropout rates. Federal funding will help Pathways improve its programming and expand to even more communities across the country, helping up to 10,000 youth access the program.
I can proudly say that we are delivering on these commitments despite the opposition voting against all of these initiatives.
In budget 2011 we expanded the eligibility for both the Canada student loans program and the Canada student grants for full and part-time students. We increased the amount of income students can earn, so they can earn more and still qualify for financial assistance. This is something that the students themselves requested and we have listened to them.
Our government has doubled the amount of money full-time students can earn while they study, from $50 to $100 per week, without affecting how much they can receive in loans.
Since January 1 of this year, new and existing loans for part-time students are interest-free during their studies. This change will save students on average close to $350 a year. Reducing this financial burden will enable part-time students to better balance the responsibilities of work and home while studying. It will also help to put a post-secondary education within the reach of more Canadians.
As well, we have committed significant funds to forgive a portion of the Canada student loans for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners and nurses who work in rural or remote communities. This will provide incentives to new graduates to consider working in parts of the country in urgent need of these services, including first nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
As a member of Parliament from a rural region of the country I can attest to the fact that we need more doctors in rural Canada. In fact, just recently as I was flying to Ottawa, a constituent sitting next to me raised this issue and the fact that getting doctors and nurses in rural areas is a grave difficulty and an important concern to the community.
Doctors will be eligible for up to $8,000 in loan forgiveness per year to a maximum of $40,000. Nurses and nurse practitioners will be eligible for Canada student loan forgiveness of $4,000 per year up to a maximum of $20,000. These benefits will become available in the spring of 2013.
We are not finished yet.
We will continue to work with our provincial and territorial colleagues to streamline the system. For instance, we just recently reached an agreement with the Government of British Columbia to integrate the province's loan program with the Canada student loan program. B.C. students now only need to deal with one service provider instead of two, the National Student Loans Service Centre.
Also in time for the 2012-13 school year, full-time students in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer need to complete a loan agreement every time they receive funding. Instead, most students only have to fill out one loan agreement for the entire duration of their studies. The six provinces we are partnering with on these multi-year agreements represent 85% of Canada student loan borrowers. We are looking to make similar arrangements with the remaining jurisdictions.
Thus far I have only talked about our government's direct assistance to students and their families, which is enabling young Canadians to attend college or university. That does not even begin to cover the many other ways we support post-secondary education.
Let me remind the House that the Government of Canada also underwrites research and infrastructure funding, and of course it transfers money to the provinces and territories that they spend on education.
All told, our government invests $10 billion each year to post-secondary education opportunities for Canadians, money that is making a major difference in the lives of post-secondary students and our country as a whole.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for .
The growing gap between the rich and poor in Canada is a sign that we as a society are failing to preserve the core Canadian value of equality of opportunity for all people in Canada. Unfortunately, it is clear that the Conservatives do not believe that government has a positive role to play in facilitating equality of opportunity for all Canadians.
This morning, our leader asked the House to call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada.
Clearly, those measures can begin to reduce the unacceptable gap between rich and poor.
It is clear that the Conservatives' ideology is focused on leaving Canadians on their own to fend for themselves. We recently saw the Conservatives' answer to social inequality when the UN special rapporteur on the right to food highlighted serious food insecurity issues in Canada, in particular in aboriginal communities.
We have seen the Conservatives' strategy play out time and time again. First, they emphatically deny that there is a problem and then savagely attack the credibility of those raising the issue. It is particularly shocking that aboriginal Canadians suffer from one of the largest gaps in terms of income inequality given that the Crown has a unique and historic fiduciary relationship with first nations people in Canada. The most recent Statistics Canada data shows that the median income for aboriginal peoples was 30% lower than that of non-aboriginals. Aboriginal Canadians are working to build sustainable prosperity in their communities but they can no longer count on their federal government as a partner.
Canadians know that education is the key to success. Appallingly, only one in three first nations students graduate high school and, under the Conservative government, the rate is getting worse. First nations receive only two-thirds of the annual per-student funding as non-first nations students in provincial systems but not one penny of the government's so-called new funding is targeted to close this annual $3,500 per-student gap. Why does the government think that an aboriginal student is worth less than a non-aboriginal student and why does it think that aboriginal students do not require that same equality of opportunity?
The Liberals support equal rights to high-quality and culturally appropriate education for first nations students and recognize that the present situation prevents them from participating fully in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities and of Canada as a whole.
With first nations suicide rates five times the national average and Inuit suicide rates eleven times higher, the Conservatives are cutting the aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy. These are young people who feel hopeless and helpless and the government is cutting help to them. Even though aboriginals are much more likely to suffer from diabetes, have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancies, the Conservatives are cutting aboriginal health programs. The National Aboriginal Health Organization, the aboriginal diabetes initiative, the aboriginal health human resources initiative and the aboriginal health transition fund have all been cut by the government, but the government knows that social inequality is the key to health inequality.
Despite overcrowding rates on reserves six times those off reserve and more than 40% of on reserve homes in need of major repairs, the Conservatives have no plan to deal with the crisis in first nations housing.
Last November, the Conservatives supported a motion made in this House by the Liberal Party. The motion urged the government, as a priority, to address the needs of first nations communities whose members have no access in their homes to running water fit for drinking. This crisis requires more than those words; it requires action from the government.
The government has failed to provide funding to upgrade the huge numbers of first nations water and waste water systems, which have been determined by the government's own national assessment to be at either high or medium risk.
The government is turning its back on first nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians and the Canadian values of compassion and fairness. We know that health outcomes are the ultimate report card for the success of a society. Closing the gap in the health status of first nations, Inuit and Métis will only be possible if the government chooses to accept its role to address the equality of opportunity for the first peoples of Canada.
Since 2009, Richard Wilkinson's book, The Spirit Level, has brought together the evidence and raised the consciousness about the role of inequality and health outcomes. I will quote from his new and updated edition, The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone. It reads:
It is now time egalitarians returned to the public arena. We need to do so confident that our intuitions have been validated and found to be truer than most of us ever imagined. Because the evidence shows that few people are aware of the actual scale of inequality and injustice in our societies, or recognise how it damages the vast majority of the population, the first task is to provide education and information.
Understanding these issues is already changing attitudes to inequality among politicians. In Britain, The Spirit Level has been endorsed across the political spectrum. In a major speech at the end of 2009, David Cameron said that the book showed that, among the richest countries, it is the more unequal ones that do worst, according to almost every quality of life indicator.
In September of this year, in his first major speech as the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband said:
I do believe this country is too unequal and the gap between rich and poor doesn't just harm the poor, it harms us all....
Words are a start, but changing policies and politics, changing the way our societies organise themselves, will require the evidence to be recognised even more widely.
Few tasks are more worthwhile than this as we think The Spirit Level shows. The health of our democracies, our societies and their people is truly dependent on greater equality.
I am calling on the government today, if it is to share embassies with the British people, maybe it could listen to the experts and the politicians who are in the United Kingdom now on the importance of working on social inequality.
Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue. In fact, in a recent survey around three-quarters of Canadians indicated that income inequality is one of the top economic issues that we have to deal with as governments and politicians.
This is not a partisan issue. Income inequality has grown in Canada on a secular basis over the last 30 years. It has grown under Progressive Conservative governments, Liberal governments and Conservative governments. It has grown under New Democrat provincial governments. It has grown under Liberal and Parti Québécois provincial governments in Canada.
While this is not a partisan issue, it is an important one. It is one that we should have a debate about and talk about what we as federal leaders can do, working in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments and leaders in Canada.
The reality is that there has been an acceleration in the gap between the rich and the poor in recent years in Canada and throughout the industrialized world. This is not an ordinary economic downturn and recovery cycle; it is a global economic restructuring. It is one where resource rich countries like Canada benefit disproportionately from the global demand for their natural resources.
However, within Canada, there will be growth in the gap between have and have-not provinces exacerbated by the provinces that have those natural resources versus those that do not.
The reality is that this is not something that the federal government or provincial governments can do alone. We need to work together.
The reality is that there are some types of government programs that can help with issues of income inequality. The working income tax benefit, which was introduced in the last fall economic statement of the Liberal government and embraced and continued under the current Conservative government, is a measure that both governments can claim responsibility for. It is a good policy. It is the kind of policy that can help break down the welfare wall, that barrier to those people who want to work but lack the economic incentives to do so.
If we believe in that kind of public policy, we ought also recognize that tax credits for disability, or for children in sports or music or cultural activities or for caregivers, ought to be refundable. Because of the perverse nature of non-refundable tax credits, it the poorest of the poor, the people who need these benefits the most, who do not qualify for them.
The changes to OAS, again, are an example. If we evaluate who receives OAS, 40% of the people receiving OAS make less than $20,000 per year and 53% make less than $25,000 per year. There is a disproportionate hit to those with the lowest incomes. We all have to consider that when we are making decisions in Parliament.
I believe that the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, said it best when he remarked in regard to inequality that, “The people who say it's not an issue are wrong, and the people who say it's an issue and who want to create class warfare are wrong. The focus needs to be on ensuring equality of opportunity.... It's a massive issue; fundamental to society. It's not right that big swaths of society become discouraged and marginalized.”
I think Governor Carney has nailed it, frankly. We have to focus on equality of opportunity. We cannot guarantee equality of outcome. However, we can work together to ensure equality of opportunity.
If we look at this, I believe one of the successes of the U.S. economy multi-generationally was the sense of hope, that one could be born into any station in the United States and have a shot at success.
I think one of the reasons why the U.S. economy is, and probably will continue to be, stagnant for some time is that people have lost that sense of hope, that capacity to grow and develop and for their children and someone else's children to succeed.
If we think of the drivers of equality of opportunity, where are the best opportunities to break multi-generational poverty?
I was just at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives' conference at the convention centre here in Ottawa. There was session focused on education and learning. They were talking about lifelong learning. They were talking about restoring the honour of trades. They were talking about early learning and child care.
These are CEOs of the biggest companies in Canada who were talking about how to address some of the issues, the drivers of equality of opportunity, and they were talking about early learning and child care and how important they are.
A federal government cannot act on early learning and child care alone, but there is no constitutional barrier to a federal government working in partnership with the provinces on that issue. I served in a cabinet where we signed agreements with every province and territory on early learning and child care. We committed federal funds and we worked co-operatively, because it is a national imperative. Quebec has a good system and I congratulate it and several Quebec governments for having implemented a program that has helped to strengthen equality of opportunity and upward mobility.
It is not just good social policy; it is good economic policy. The reality is that there is no area of educational investment that will yield more bang for the buck in its impact on people's success in the future and their growth economically and socially than in the years before they even get to grade 1 or the primary grade in the public education system.
These are the issues we should be talking about in this House, not pithy partisanship. We should be talking about ideas on how we can work together across party lines and with provincial governments to address these issues.
Let us look at the issues of aboriginal and first nations. It is not economically or socially sustainable to have the fastest growing and youngest population in the country as the most economically and socially disenfranchised at the same time. In the House, as politicians we have to develop the kinds of ideas and solutions, the head start programs, the early intervention programs, that can help save a generation of young aboriginal and first nations youth.
We also have to engage non-aboriginal Canadians in this discussion. Part of responsible politics is pedagogy. We have to engage non-aboriginals and we have to tell them that they in fact have as much interest in seeing young aboriginals and first nations members succeed as the members of those first nations communities themselves. If we do not address the issues of what is going on in aboriginal and first nations reserves, it is not only a social time bomb but also an economic time bomb for our country.
These are the kinds of issues we should be talking about when we talk about equality of opportunity. What we now see in Canada is a resource-driven recovery and a gap between resource provinces and non-resource provinces.
Alberta is investing massively in education, and I congratulate it, as that is exactly the right thing to do. Alberta has a progressive premier in Premier Redford out there.
At the same time, my province of Nova Scotia is cutting investment in public education by about 30%, because of budget issues.
One of the things that came out of the meeting of Canadian Council of CEOs today was that one of the CEOs was saying that an Alberta CEO has as much interest in the education system in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland as he does in the Alberta education system. The future workforce in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan could very well come from places like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
In fact, there is a vested economic interest, not just in those provinces but across the country, in strong education and in working with the provinces to ensure that they can afford to invest in that fundamental underpinning of equality of opportunity: strong public education.
One area we should be looking at, whether we are talking about learning and lifelong learning or restoring the honour of the trades, is the German model of apprenticeship and skilled trades. Germany has a robust economy, and they have not had the same growth in income inequality that we have had in Canada. One of the reasons is that in Germany they have never lost the honour of skilled trades.
Over the last 30 years in Canada, we have lost the honour of skilled trades. We need to restore that. We have to work with apprenticeship programs. The federal government and provincial governments need to work hand in hand to deal with this issue.
The economic and social returns of dealing with income inequality and equality of opportunity issues today is one that can yield huge benefits for future generations of Canadians, and that is why this is an important issue that we should be engaged with in Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be splitting my time with the very affable and capable member of .
I am pleased to respond to the motion put forward by the member for , as I always welcome an opportunity to compare our record to that of other governments.
For instance, in the 2003-04 year in which the Liberal government was in power, it presided over a 28% default rate for student loans. In the 2009-10 our Conservative government reduced this to a 13.8% rate.
In 1996 the poverty rate was 15.2%. In 2010, under our Conservative government, it was 9%. In 1996, under the previous Liberal government, 18.4% of children lived in poverty. This is a troubling number. In 2010, under our Conservative government, this number has been cut in half to 8.2%. Since 2006, 225,000 less children are in poverty than under the previous government.
It is not about national strategies and glamorous meetings. Rather, it is about getting the job done for Canadians with real action and a real plan.
Here are the facts.
The Liberals gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering, unprecedented cuts, totalling tens of billions of dollars annually in the mid-1990s, downloading that cost and responsibility on to the provinces and the municipalities.
Our Conservative government has increased them back beyond the 1990s levels to record levels. In fact, in my home province, by simply treating this in a principled, fair manner, we are treating all Canadians equally. Per capita funding has actually increased the amount of transfers to Alberta to record levels.
In 2012-13 the federal government will provide provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06.
As a result of the actions of our government, the typical family in Canada pays $3,100 a year less in taxes than under the previous government. We have increased transfer payments, there is less child poverty and lower taxes.
Unlike previous governments that just needed four more years, we have taken real action for all Canadians, especially middle-class and low-income families.
However, tax cuts and direct financial support can only go so far. We have been clear. The best way to fight poverty is to connect Canadians with jobs. Acquiring skills is crucial to securing a good job and a promising career in today's knowledge-based economy.
A post-secondary education is especially important when it comes to an individual's pocketbook. Research by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada indicates that a university graduate makes up to $1.3 million more over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate.
I am proud to be part of a government that is ensuring more young Canadians can take full advantage of what higher education has to offer for themselves as individuals, but also for our country and our society as a whole.
As all members of the House are aware, job creation and economic recovery continues to be our government's top priority. Thanks to the strong, capable leadership of the , Canada has created 770,000 net new jobs since the worst of the recession.
We have been clear. We are committed to creating more education opportunities for Canadians that will lead to better jobs and a sustainable and competitive economy.
We have invested $10 billion annually in support to students and their families, research and infrastructure funding and transfers to provinces and territories to create post-secondary education opportunities for all Canadians. Much of that money goes directly to supporting students. In 2010-11 over 500,000 students received $2.2 billion in Canada student loans. Since its introduction, 4.7 million students have received $38 billion from the Canada student loan program to achieve their educational goals.
This investment has yielded impressive dividends. In 2011 Canada ranked first in overall post-secondary education attainment among OECD countries, with 50% of adults aged 25 to 64 having some form of higher education. That compares to the OECD average of 30%. Even more remarkable, this share rises to 56% for younger Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34.
In addition to loans, there are the Canada student grants that provide extra non-repayable financial support. The grants reduce the amount students need to borrow, putting a post-secondary education within reach of families that would otherwise struggle to help their children attend college or university.
In my riding, working fathers and mothers realize that education is the key to their children's future and they often tell me they just need a little more help to ensure that every child has the opportunity for an education.
Over 320,000 students from low and middle-income families, along with students with permanent disabilities and those with dependents, have benefited from these grants in 2010 and 2011 alone. That is 25,000 more than benefited from these grants the year before. We also paid out $703 million in Canada education savings grants, which provide a 20% top-up on parents' savings for their children's post-secondary education.
We have worked hard to make these important programs more accessible to all Canadians. We have made numerous improvements to them in recent years. They are helping more students than ever before pursue higher studies.
For example, income thresholds have been raised for part-time student loans. As of the 2012-2013 school year, that means students can earn more money but still qualify for loans and grants. The maximum amount part-time students can receive has recently been increased from $4,000 to $10,000.
It is projected that over 2,500 additional part-time students will be eligible for a Canada student loan in 2012-13, rising to just under 8,000 in year five and on an ongoing basis. Nearly 500 additional part-time students will receive a Canada student grant in year one, rising to about 1,500 in year five and continuing to rise after that.
Another major improvement is our decision to no longer charge interest on part-time loans. While a student is in school, this amounts to roughly $350 in savings each year for the average student. These changes to part-time loans enable people who may be working full-time to achieve their educational goals for themselves and their families.
We have also made it easier to pay off student loans. The repayment assistance plan allows borrowers to make affordable payments based on their family income and family size. In this way we help ensure student loan repayments are kept affordable. One hundred and sixty-five thousand students benefited from the repayment assistance plan just last year.
We also announced earlier this summer that we would be delivering on our commitment to forgive loans for new doctors and nurses who chose to practice in rural areas. In rural communities, such as mine, this is one of the most significant social enhancements we can do to help enable more of our young people to come back to our communities and practice medicine in our communities, and not just doctors, but nurses as well.
Our government has set aside $9 million a year to forgive a portion of Canada student loans for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners and nurses who work in underserved rural or remote areas, such as first nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
From new online services for students to streamlined processes for applications and loan payments, often in partnership with the provinces and territories, we are taking major steps to increase accessibility to higher education.
Our government's mandate is to help the economy grow and create jobs, which means more employment opportunities for students. We are committed to having the most skilled and most educated workforce in the world.
What we need now is not a national strategy to tell us what is important. What we need is to continue with the plan that we have set forward, the plan for economic recovery and economic success.
It is time the opposition do more than just talk about poverty, equality and opportunity. It is one thing to talk about creating hope; it is another thing to actually provide hope and equality for all Canadians.
I urge all members to join our in implementing a real plan, which has already demonstrated impressive results.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to stand and discuss the record of the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader, who we know as the failed former NDP premier of my home province of Ontario, when it comes to improving the lives of Canadians in need.
How can the Liberal Party, which slashed transfers for health care and social services to the bone in the 1990s when it was in government, stand here and pretend to make such a claim?
How can the Liberal Party, which, when relegated to the opposition benches, voted against every measure our government brought in to help Canadians in need, now claim that it is concerned somehow about income inequality?
What matters in life and in Parliament is not what we say and the flowery motions that we bring forward in Parliament, it is the actions we take and how we vote. Let us discuss the real record of the Liberal Party. I will start from when the Liberal government was in power.
For 13 years, the Liberals held a majority government. When they had the votes to pass any piece of legislation or to enact any program, what did the mighty defenders of those Canadians in need do? They launched an attack on the poor, the sick and the needy like no government had ever done before or has done since. They gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering unprecedented cuts totalling tens of billions of dollars annually. When they cut money to the provinces on health care, do members know what happened? Hospitals closed, nurses were fired and doctors saw their working conditions deteriorate like never before. When they cut money to social services, schools closed, colleges and universities crumbled, and community services were scaled back like never before.
This is not rhetoric and I am not exaggerating for effect. That is what happened. That is their record. I know the Liberals do not want to believe it and they may not believe me but they should listen to what one of their own, their current finance critic, had to say. The member for described the Liberal Party of Canada's proud record of helping those in need by stating:
...the [Liberal] government balanced its books by slashing transfers to the provinces by forcing the provinces...to...face deficits, and health care systems and education systems in a crisis as a result of its inability and irresponsibility to actually tighten its own belt more significantly.
I have another quote from the member for . He states:
Shifting the burden to the provinces...was the easy but cowardly way to accelerate deficit reduction. ... The Chrétien-Martin cuts sent the health and education systems into crisis in every Canadian province.
What a record. What an achievement.
We should not just take the Liberals' current finance critic's word for it. We should also listen to what the current Liberal leader said. When he was bankrupting Ontario, and I was there and saw it, and killing Ontario jobs with his reckless NDP tax-and-spend schemes, he had to face the brunt of the then Liberal government's slashing of transfers in the nineties when he was premier of Ontario. At that time he said:
...when the federal [Liberal] government decided in its wisdom that it would cut back unilaterally, particularly in the area of social assistance, it had a major and devastating effect on the people of this province.
Is that what the Liberal Party of Canada wants our Conservative government to emulate? Are those the lessons we have to learn from them, that those slash-and-burn actions of gutting hospitals and schools help combat income equality? As several of my colleagues noted earlier, the answer is obviously no.
The Liberals drove income inequality to its highest levels in over 40 years. For the good of Canada, I am happy that this Conservative government is taking no lessons from them, especially on transfers for health care and social services.
While the Liberal government slashed and cut, we actually increased transfers to record levels. In 2012-13, the federal government will provide the provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06 under the previous Liberal government.
Unlike the Liberals, we have a commitment and have cemented it in law that those transfers under our government will never be cut and will always continue to grow each and every year.
In the words of the noted economist Jack Mintz, earlier this year in the National Post, “...the federal government has been more than generous with transfers to the provinces continuing to rise to levels not seen this past half century”. We should think about that. Our approach to transfers, the most significant means by which the provinces help those in need, has been called “more than generous” by respected third party observers. The Liberals' approach to transfers, by the Liberals themselves, was called devastating, cowardly and crisis-inducing.
I think Canadians would be pretty quick to tell us which approach is the right approach for Canadian families and those Canadians in need. Yet, the Liberal Party today has the audacity to stand here and pretend that none of this ever happened. Sadly, I believe it has been so long since the Liberals were in government that they have simply forgotten the reality of the time and started to believe their own talking points.
Perhaps knowing the shame of the Liberal record and wanting to atone, a senior Liberal member recently made a startling admission. In a recent interview, the member for said, “...in hindsight, the Chretien government--even though I'm a Liberal--cut perhaps too deeply, too much offloading...there were some negative effects”. I applaud the member for Markham—Unionville for his admission of Liberal culpability as a first small step, but the Liberals need more than words.
The Liberals need to stop voting against every constructive step our Conservative government has taken since 2006 in Parliament to help Canadians in need. They need to stop voting against policies like the refundable working income tax benefit. This benefit makes it more attractive for low-income Canadians to stay in the workforce by removing the disincentives for them to work. It was a landmark achievement and it has been recognized as such by observers on all sides. The Caledon Institute of Social Policy called it “a welcome addition to Canadian social policy. It fulfills a long-recognized gap in Canada's income security system”. The United Way of greater Toronto heralded it as “...positive changes that will help to improve the situations of low-income families”.
It is clear that we deliver and the Liberals talk. We make things happen and they pretend. We invest in provinces and social services and they download. Our record is clear. We will take no advice from the record of the Liberal regime when it was government. We will continue to lead and we will continue to show Canadians the leadership they need, regardless of where they live in this country and regardless of their family situation. We will always be with Canadian families.
Mr. Speaker, what a hard act to follow. It is hard to believe someone in the House gets $160,000 a year to repeat the talking points of a minister, but I guess that is the type of path we are going down here. A reasoned debate would be nice, probably one that is full of bluster and full of a lot of things.
Nonetheless, we can have a reasoned debate here on the motion we are bringing forward today, based on inequalities of income, on lifting those out of poverty, on policy requirements in order for people to get themselves from a position of feeling downtrodden to a position of bettering themselves. It does not take a lot of debate and a great deal of expense to fill the gaps in some of these cracks people are falling through.
There are several policies that came out in the last budget bill that really were disappointing in many ways. They were easily fixable.
One thing my colleague talked about earlier was the non-refundable tax credit. Let us take the example of the volunteer tax credit for firefighters. It is non-refundable. Therefore, if one falls below a certain income, one does not get any benefit whatsoever. As a result, it becomes an income tested tax incentive, an incentive for people to protect their family and communities through volunteer firefighter work.
The average income in my riding is quite low compared to other ridings. Therefore there is a substantial number of volunteer firefighters unable to receive any benefit. What does it take to convert this non-refundable tax credit into a refundable tax credit? It does not take that long. It certainly is helping out the most needy in this particular case.
When we look at the situation we have here, we have volunteer firefighters, caregivers, all these people who have these small incomes, which may seem insignificant to many of us but are actually significant to them. If there is someone who is making $20,000 a year, obviously this tax credit can become a significant portion of money throughout the year. Yet people in that income bracket or below it cannot receive the benefit. That is unfortunate. This is the type of policy, misgiving of policy, misappropriation of debate and policy, we need to look at in order for people to better themselves and get out of the situation they are in if they are receiving that kind of money.
Before I go on, I would like to add that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
If one considers what we are debating today and its many aspects, the narrative is important. The narrative deals with people who are certainly receiving benefits from the government as a stopgap measure to get them to full-time positions. Employment insurance is something that has been discussed quite a bit in the House and certainly over the past few days.
Here is what is happening when one seeks out the devil that lies in the details. The budget states we are going to give people an increase for working while on claim. That means that if a person receives a certain amount of money, let us say $200 per week in employment insurance, under the old system that person could earn up to 40% of that amount and would still have EI. That is the incentive to work, because even though people are keeping that money, they are also getting work experience. Perhaps they could get a full-time position at the place where they are working, when it becomes available. That happens quite a bit.
The government said it was going to increase that from 40% to 50%, yet I hear no applause. There is no applause because the devil is in the details. At 40%, a person could keep that money and nothing would happen to it. Now when the government said 50%, it meant the money would be clawed back 50% on every dollar made. There again is the devil in the details.
That is like going to a store and seeing the price of the shirt we want to buy is $30. Then on the shirt itself there is a sticker that says “half price”. Naturally, we get out the $15 to pay and the clerk says, “I am sorry, but actually that is half price of the original price, which was $60”. That is what the government is doing. The devil is in that particular detail. That is why we have these debates so that we can talk about the people who fall through the cracks.
There are people right now who work two days a week while on EI in order to get a car or to move into their own home, but they cannot do that because the disincentive is built in.
I do not doubt in any way, shape or form that when people set out to do this, whether they were members of the Conservative Party or whether they were bureaucrats, they were principled in saying that they needed to provide a benefit for people to better themselves. However, it almost seems like every time we do this, we always find a way to recede from what we promise.
In this particular case, we would be going from 40% to 50%, but not really, so less people get to qualify on this. It seems that is the magic number. The magic number is that the government needs to get those numbers down so people cannot avail themselves of that money, and therefore the government's cash on hand is better. It has a deficit to fight. We are aware of that. We, in this corner of the House, fought one. We succeeded.
We fought many things. We fought poverty. We fought for principles such as the Canada pension plan. Right now in my riding I have two offices, one in Gander and one in Grand Falls-Windsor. Both offices now get more calls about seniors' poverty than any other issue.
I have a lot of fishermen in my riding. Imagine how grave the situation can become for someone, let us say, who is a widower, for example, a gentleman I met whose income is now half of what it was because his wife passed away. He owns his own home and heating prices have gone sky high. What is built into this does not keep pace with the rising costs. What is he looking for? He is looking for targeted initiatives that allow him to bridge that gap, for that person to lift himself out of poverty.
In 2005, the Liberal government delivered a 2005 energy rebate. It was the guaranteed income supplement. What a fabulous idea, specifically for people who have rising costs for heating their own homes. The man I spoke of is now planning to move out of his house, not because he wants to but because he has to. He feels he cannot better himself in any way, shape or form, and the benefits that were there for him, small as they may have been, are not there any longer.
We just need a reasoned debate to study this, whether it is a large bill or a small bill, to look at this piece by piece and figure out what the ramifications are for someone like that gentleman who cannot make ends meet.
There is so much to talk about when it comes to inequality. Let us talk about youth. Right now, youth unemployment is skyrocketing in my area. People are moving, not because they want to but because they have to.
The government wants young people to invest in RRSPs. How can they do that when any cash they get on hand has to pay for things like groceries. If they manage to get a mortgage, they have to keep all their money for that. Retirement savings do not even factor in. Retirement savings goes down the list for someone in their twenties, and that is unfortunate because we have the ability to make life better for these individuals by seeking out the devil that lies in the details.
It is unfortunate for youth, for seniors and for a woman I know, a single mom with two kids who works two days a week and who has now been told that she will get less.
The middle class folks, the 47%, that number that is used in the American media these days, thanks to Mr. Romney, are very frustrated. The worst part about it is not only are they frustrated but they are giving up, and that is where we fail.