moved for leave to introduce Bill .
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
moved for leave to introduce Bill .
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
moved for leave to introduce Bill .
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce legislation that would amend the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for catastrophic illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 to 52 weeks.
This bill was inspired by Natalie Thomas, a cancer survivor from Coquitlam, whose story touched me personally and made me realize the importance and necessity of changing the Employment Insurance Act. Another cancer survivor, Marie-Hélène Dubé from Montreal, has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures for a petition that calls for these changes.
Canadians who are struck with a catastrophic illness should be focusing on recovery, not on how they survive financially. For families throughout the country who have been touched with illnesses, such as cancer, that is difficult enough to cope with without worrying about their medical benefits expiring. This is why I am introducing this bill today and I encourage all members of the House to support it.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 161, 162 and 163 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.
The Speaker: Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Question No. 161--Mr. Mike Sullivan
With regard to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada funding in the riding of York South—Weston for the last five fiscal years: (a) what is the total amount of spending by (i) year, (ii) program; and (b) what is the amount of each spending item by (i) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP), (ii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, (iii) Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund, (iv) Adult Learning Literacy and Essential Skills Program, (v) Apprenticeship Completion Grant, (vi) Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, (vii) Career Development Services Research (Employment Programs), (viii) Canada--European Union Program for Cooperation in Higher Education, Training and Youth (International Academic Mobility Program), (ix) Canada Summer Jobs (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (x) Career Focus (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (xi) Children and Families (Social Development Partnerships Program), (xii) Contributions for Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (xiii) Disability Component (Social Development Partnerships Program), (xiv) Employment Programs--Career Development Services Research, (xv) Enabling Accessibility Fund, (xvi) Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities, (xvii) Federal Public Service Youth Internship Program (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (xviii) Fire Prevention Grants, (xix) Fire Safety Organizations, (xx) Foreign Credential Recognition Program, (xxi) Homelessness Partnering Strategy, (xxii) International Academic Mobility--Canada--European Union Program for Cooperation in Higher Education, Training and Youth, (xxiii) International Academic Mobility--North American Mobility in Higher Education, (xxiv) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates Grants (International Trade and Labour Program), (xxv) International Trade and Labour Program (ITLP) Contributions for Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxvi) International Trade and Labour Program (ITLP) Grants for Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxvii) International Trade and Labour Program (ITLP) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates Grants, (xxviii) Labour-Management Partnership Program, (xxix) Labour Market Agreements, (xxx) Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities, (xxxi) Labour Market Development Agreements, (xxxii) Labour Mobility, (xxxiii) New Horizons for Seniors Program, (xxxiv) Occupational Health and Safety, (xxxv) Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, (xxxvi) Organizations that Write Occupational Health and Safety Standards, (xxxvii) Sector Council Program, (xxxviii) Skills and Partnership Fund--Aboriginal, (xxxix) Skills Link (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (xl) Small Project Component (Enabling Accessibility Fund), (xli) Social Development Partnerships Program--Children and Families, (xlii) Social Development Partnerships Program--Disability Component, (xliii) Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, (xliv) Targeted Initiative for Older Workers, (xv) Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities Grants (International Trade and Labour Program), (xlvi) Work-Sharing, (xlvii) Youth Awareness, (xlviii) Youth Employment Strategy--Canada Summer Jobs, (xlix) Youth Employment Strategy--Career Focus, (l) Youth Employment Strategy--Federal Public Service Youth Internship Program, (li) Youth Employment Strategy--Skills Link?
(Return tabled)Question No. 162--Mr. Rodger Cuzner
With respect to Employment Insurance (EI) processing centres and EI call centres: (a) how many EI processing centres were there at the beginning of fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, and where were they located; (b) what was the volume of EI applications processed at each EI processing centre for fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (c) what was the average EI applications processing time for each processing centre for fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (d) broken down by permanent and term, how many positions were there at each EI processing centre at the beginning of fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011; (e) how many employees in temporary term positions were hired at each EI processing centre to manage the anticipated increase in EI applications resulting from job losses during the 2008-2009 recession and the resulting Economic Action Plan; (f) how many permanent position and term positions will be eliminated at each EI processing site between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2014; (g) what was the staff turnover rate per EI processing centre for fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (h) what was the cost to train an EI processing agent at the end of fiscal year 2011; (i) what was the per foot leasing cost per EI processing centre at the end of fiscal year 2011; (j) which EI processing sites have dedicated staff recruiters; (k) what is the cost per EI processing location of staff recruitment; (l) how many EI call centres were there at the beginning of fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, and where were they located; (m) what was the volume of calls at each EI call centre for fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (n) how many positions, broken down by permanent and term, were there at each EI call centre at the beginning of fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011; (o) how many temporary term positions at each EI call centre were hired to manage the anticipated increase in EI inquiries resulting from job losses during the 2008-2009 recession and the resulting Economic Action Plan; (p) how many permanent positions and term positions will be eliminated at each EI call site between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2014; (q) what was the staff turnover per EI call centre for fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (r) what was the cost to train an EI call agent at the end of fiscal year 2011; (s) what was the per foot leasing costs per EI call centre at the end of fiscal year 2011; (t) which EI call centre sites have dedicated staff recruiters; (u) what is the cost per location of staff recruitment; (v) what were the national Service Level standards for calls answered by an agent for EI call centres for fiscal years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (w) what was the actual Service Level for calls answered by an agent, achieved nationally and per EI call centre site, for fiscal years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2008, 2010, and 2011, to date; (x) what was the annual percentage of EI calls made to EI call centres that received a high volume message for fiscal years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, to date; (y) what is the percentage of EI benefit payment notifications issued within 28 days of filing; (z) what are age breakdowns of each EI applicant at each EI processing site during fiscal years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011?
(Return tabled)Question No. 163--Mrs. Carol Hughes
With regard to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada funding in the riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing for the last five fiscal years: (a) what is the total amount of spending by (i) year, (ii) program; and (b) what is the amount of each spending item by (i) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP), (ii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, (iii) Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund, (iv) Adult Learning Literacy and Essential Skills Program, (v) Apprenticeship Completion Grant, (vi) Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, (vii) Career Development Services Research (Employment Programs), (viii) Canada--European Union Program for Cooperation in Higher Education, Training and Youth (International Academic Mobility Program), (ix) Canada Summer Jobs (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (x) Career Focus (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (xi) Children and Families (Social Development Partnerships Program), (xii) Contributions for Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (xiii) Disability Component (Social Development Partnerships Program), (xiv) Employment Programs--Career Development Services Research, (xv) Enabling Accessibility Fund, (xvi) Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities, (xvii) Federal Public Service Youth Internship Program (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (xviii) Fire Prevention Grants, (xix) Fire Safety Organizations, (xx) Foreign Credential Recognition Program, (xxi) Homelessness Partnering Strategy, (xxii) International Academic Mobility--Canada--European Union Program for Cooperation in Higher Education, Training and Youth, (xxiii) International Academic Mobility--North American Mobility in Higher Education, (xxiv) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates Grants (International Trade and Labour Program), (xxv) International Trade and Labour Program (ITLP) Contributions for Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxvi) International Trade and Labour Program (ITLP) Grants for Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxvii) International Trade and Labour Program (ITLP) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates Grants, (xxviii) Labour-Management Partnership Program, (xxix) Labour Market Agreements, (xxx) Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities, (xxxi) Labour Market Development Agreements, (xxxii) Labour Mobility, (xxxiii) New Horizons for Seniors Program, (xxxiv) Occupational Health and Safety, (xxxv) Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, (xxxvi) Organizations that Write Occupational Health and Safety Standards, (xxxvii) Sector Council Program, (xxxviii) Skills and Partnership Fund--Aboriginal, (xxxix) Skills Link (Youth Employment Strategy Program), (xl) Small Project Component (Enabling Accessibility Fund), (xli) Social Development Partnerships Program--Children and Families, (xlii) Social Development Partnerships Program--Disability Component, (xliii) Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, (xliv) Targeted Initiative for Older Workers, (xv) Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities Grants (International Trade and Labour Program), (xlvi) Work-Sharing, (xlvii) Youth Awareness, (xlviii) Youth Employment Strategy--Canada Summer Jobs, (xlix) Youth Employment Strategy--Career Focus, (l) Youth Employment Strategy--Federal Public Service Youth Internship Program, (li) Youth Employment Strategy--Skills Link?
Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.
The Speaker: Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported without amendment from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP calls for increased stimulus spending and yet it voted against the stimulus package when it was introduced. It is clear what the opposition plan is for Canada. We only need look at Ontario from 1990 to 1995 for a sneak preview. The NDP's failed tax and spend philosophy continues today with demands for more freewheeling deficit spending and higher taxes that would kill jobs.
Budget 2011 is the right plan for the right time. This government has taken all the right steps and we must build on that advantage, the Canadian advantage. While our plan is working, the opposition suggests that we need to raise taxes and increase spending.
I listened with great interest recently to the member for when he addressed the Economic Club of Canada. I can tell members that we have seen this movie before and it does not end pretty. The member for Toronto Centre wants to take us back to the future. As we all know, when that member became premier of Ontario, he inherited a $20 billion deficit. When he left office it was $60 billion. His first budget had a $670 million shortfall, his second $1 billion and his third $1.6 billion. From his time as the NDP premier of Ontario, Canadians know about his government's dreadful economic record: higher debt, higher taxes and higher unemployment. By the time he left office, he had raised taxes for every income bracket. People making more than $67,000 faced the highest marginal tax rates in North America and the rating agencies had downgraded Ontario's credit worthiness.
This is exactly what we could expect from an NDP government. Clearly, it is not fit to govern. We cannot afford to listen to the opposition, the “nattering nabobs of negativism”. We would rather listen to those who have some experience with such matters, such as the IMF, Forbes, the World Economic Forum, the OECD, the Economic Intelligence Unit and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs' Alliance, all of whom recognize that Canada possesses something that many countries around the world today consider a precious and rare commodity, stability.
I call on the opposition to do the right thing for Canada and support this budget.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the negative nabob caucus, I will ask a question, and God forbid I delve into the world of negativism.
I want to ask about the tax credits that the member has been talking about. When the Conservatives talk about these non-refundable tax credits, they talk about them in the sense that they will benefit all Canadians, when, as our leader, the member for , the one who the member picked on, quite rightly pointed out that many of the vulnerable members of our society will not be able to benefit from this credit because it will be non-refundable.
Why can the government not make these non-refundable tax credits to caregivers, firefighters and so forth, refundable? It is a specific question. It is just about that.
Mr. Speaker, I am on the finance committee and we had just finished pre-budget consultations and we travelled across the country. From firefighters to child care providers to business groups, they all supported our government's economic action plan to create jobs with a low tax plan.
It is clear that the member's party is totally out of touch. The speech that his leader gave last week would clearly taking us back to the future. The people of Ontario have the dreaded experience of living under that kind of leadership once and he wants to bring to Canada what he brought to Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, I was also on the finance committee with the member and it is not true that everyone agreed that the way the government was going forward was the right way. The proposed tax credits would not benefit everyone. They would not benefit people who do not have enough money to actually benefit from a tax credit. Many people and many organizations ask that the tax credits be made refundable.
Would my hon. colleague just confirm whether he believes that everyone really agrees with what was proposed?
Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend has done an absolutely fine job as vice-chair of the finance committee.
On May 2, the people of Canada gave us a very strong mandate. We ran on a plan and the people of Canada accepted that plan and gave us a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government to implement it. Tax credits were part of that whole plan. The people of Canada spoke and gave us the opportunity implement that plan.
Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member a question because we have had so many questions on these tax credits.
We have the workers' tax benefit, often called WITB, introduced by the . We have also raised the personal exemption multiple times to ensure that lower income people do not pay any tax. We have tried to do the best we can to target those initiatives to lower income people.
There was never a tax credit in previous governments for physical fitness or for the arts and now we are offering that.
Combined with these other benefits, would the member not agree that these cover the whole gamut and that all of our initiatives, collectively, are moving forward, not only to address issues of middle-class families but also of lower income families, with different programs?
Mr. Speaker, yes, my hon. friend is absolutely right. We looked at the whole budget in its totality and people. We stand with average Canadian families who have kids or who have grandparents they need to look after and these tax credits would help in that effort.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill .
This bill does not give us what we need. When the Standing Committee on Finance travelled and heard from witnesses, we saw that this bill is out of touch with reality.
For example, last month, we lost 72,000 jobs. The government continues to say that everything is fine.
This bill came out a long time ago. It does not take into account everything that is going on now. It does not take into account that 1,400,000 people are currently unemployed. If we include people who are discouraged and who have stopped looking for work, that number is nearly 2 million. That is huge.
Yet the government says that everything is fine, that it is carrying on as planned and that it will not make any changes to what it put forward, even though some economists have suggested investing in infrastructure and helping seniors by increasing their pensions. The government is still doing none of that.
Last summer the youth unemployment rate was 17.2%. That is much higher than before the recession, when it was 14%.
Once again, the government is not really looking at the numbers or at reality. It is completely out of touch with reality and with the people. And that is what we are seeing with those who are outraged as well as with the Occupy Montreal and Occupy Ottawa movements. People do not understand why this government is not listening to them. They protest, yet the government is still not listening.
And when it comes to household debt, for every dollar earned, a person owes $1.49. That is a ratio of 150%. How can the average family find a way out?
And what is the government's solution? It lowers taxes on big business. We have seen that lowering taxes on big business does not help those without an income.
Instead of moving in that direction, the government should listen to certain economists and even the Conference Board of Canada, who are saying that the gap between rich and poor is growing. And we have seen it.
Quebec's consumer protection bureau is also saying that lowering taxes on big business is contributing to this wealth gap. The government is sticking its head in the sand and refusing to budge.
If we look at the OECD figures, economic growth over the past 20 years has benefited the rich more than the poor. Bill C-13 is inadequate.
We want leadership and a vision for the economy. Why not invest in a green economy that is geared toward the future?
We can offer projects and research and development programs that could help Canada get ready for the future, for an economy that will not only bring us wealth and economic growth, but also provide wealth for our children and protect the environment.
The government has nothing for that.
We want concrete results.
To get back to the bill and the amendments we are proposing, the government tends not to want to debate or discuss the issues. We see that in the case of Bill C-10, and as far as Bill C-13 is concerned, everything is mixed together. All sorts of things are combined and we are told to just deal with it.
I sit on the Standing Committee on Finance, and we got an explanation for Bill C-13 while we were on a pre-budget tour. This illustrates the government's bad faith.
In this bill, one part addresses the $2 per vote subsidy.
Part 18 of the bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to phase out quarterly allowances to registered parties.
At a time when the government is completely out of touch with reality and people no longer trust certain politicians—especially on the other side of the House—the government is now eliminating a tool linked to the fact that people vote. It is an important tool. The reason why we are in the House today is because people voted for us. If we do not belong to a big political party, or if we have ideas but not the financial backing, things can be very difficult. We know that those on the other side of the House who stand for election already have a great deal of money because they are in government. They have their friends. There is a lot of payback.
The reason for the $2 per vote allowance was to prevent big business from funding election campaigns. It was to create a separation and give a voice to the people. This government is doing the opposite.
The $2 per vote allowance is an important equalizer that gives all parties, regardless of their presence in Parliament, a fair chance at equal participation in a general election and campaign. It is also a tool that rolls back the power of big money in influencing the outcome of elections and the policy agenda. It reflects also the support of voters and increases their motivation to vote. What we are doing right now is going against that. It rewards parties for convincing people to vote for them, therefore ensuring that parties have a message that is meaningful to all voters. It is also a way of facilitating a campaign donation.
The government says that if people have money and believe in the party, then give money to that party. Not everyone has money, but everyone has a right to vote and their vote should count. If people are poor or unable to pay their bills at the end of the month, they do not think of sending contributions to a political party. However, if they go out and vote and they know their vote helps the party, even though it does not win, even though it is not in government or even not sitting in the House, at least people feel it is something they have done and it helps someone else, without having to take the money out of their wallet, if they do not have any, and having to help the party.
Again, the Conservatives are successful in raising money because they are in government, so it is helping their friends and their friends helping them. That is why there is a policy right now. With this budget, the Conservatives are helping the big corporations, which are already profitable, by giving big corporate tax cuts.
There is a lack of understanding of what is happening with the population. There is a disconnect between the government and the population. For people who want their voice to be heard, the government is shutting them down and telling them their vote does not really count.
One thing is really disturbing. I stood for election in 2008. People told me that they voted for me. It was important to them that their vote count. It was also important to them that this advance democracy in some way. Now, this government is making us take a step backward.
With the votes that I garnered I was able to continue. It helped my party and moved things forward. This bill is anti-democratic for people with new ideas who do not yet have a party. This government's bill is a setback for democracy. For that reason, I will be voting against the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech and regrettably he has it wrong. When it comes to the economy, Canada is doing better relative to other nations.
What I found particularly interesting were his comments on the per vote subsidy. People are forced to make this subsidy. The government is getting rid of that subsidy because people should voluntarily choose which party they want to support financially.
The member does not seem to understand that the taxpayers pay for the subsidy, and the taxpayers are all Canadians. Canadians are forced to support parties they do not want to support.
The fact is the Conservative Party will be hit the hardest, because we get the most votes of any party, but we are doing it on principle.
Will the member realize that people should not be paid or go to the ballot box for money reasons? The member has suggested that people vote to get money for a party? People should vote because it is the right thing to do. They should vote because people have made tremendous sacrifice, including with their own lives, so that we have the right to vote. People should vote because they believe in policy issues.
Will the member change his opinion on the per vote subsidy?
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his question. I disagree with his position that Canada must pay and that, here, this is unfair.
Tax credits for donations to political parties are another way to subsidize.
It is a subsidy. If the government gives a tax credit for donations, it is the same thing. Canadians are also paying for that.
We are saying it is important for people who do not have money, for the poor, who actually want to contribute and who know that their vote will help the party and the person for whom they vote. That is worth defending. We are saying it is democratic. This helps democracy move forward.
Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member for , whom I would like to thank for his very interesting speech. I also found the $2 per vote issue very interesting. I think that perhaps the minister of state does not understand the system. In fact, as the member for said, corporate donations were replaced by a simple public process with funding allocated based on the number of votes at the polls.
This system is exactly based on the voter choosing where the $2 goes, whereas the larger amount of tax dollars that the government does not seem to want to touch come from all of us. Whether we like or not, if someone donates $400 to a political party, we as taxpayers will give them back $300.
I would like the hon. member's thoughts on how we can persuade the government that it is removing the exact part of the system that works best and is keeping tax dollars going to political parties that are far less democratic.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question.
We are trying to convince the government. We have pushed for an amendment to the bill. We have explained to the government why it is important.
I totally agree with my hon. colleague in terms of the $2 per vote subsidy helping the party. It is more democratic, it helps in terms of money and it costs less than all the tax credits.
Basically, it is very important for our democracy. It is very important for us who are here and who are elected that the votes we get are translated into something that makes Canada move forward.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss Bill and point out that it clearly illustrates how the government is keeping its promise to Canadians.
As we all know, Canadians have weathered some difficult economic times over the last several years. The government has taken unprecedented action to help them through this challenging world environment. Indeed, we are seeing reassuring signs throughout the economy, though the international economy is still fragile.
The next phase of Canada's economic action plan builds on the government's record by announcing new measures for families and additional support for communities. This includes encouraging hiring by providing a temporary hiring credit for small business of up to $1,000 against a small firm's increase in its 2011 EI premiums, or those paid in 2010. The plan also includes an extension of active or recently terminated work-sharing agreements by up to 16 weeks so companies can avoid layoffs by offering EI benefits to workers willing to work a reduced work week while their company recovers.
Our government is focused on supporting Canadian families with a range of targeted measures that will help Canadians find and hold on to good, high paying jobs, while improving the quality of the lives of Canadians in big and small communities across the country.
Other areas that we are working on include assistance for remote communities that often lack the same level of services as larger centres. Our government is taking measures to address this unfortunate reality. For example, we propose to strengthen the health care in rural communities by supporting family physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses who make the choice to practise in underserved or remote communities. Today's bill proposes to forgive a portion of the federal share of the Canada student loans for new family physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses who practise in underserved rural or remote communities, including communities that provide health services to first nations and Inuit populations.
Starting in 2012-13, practising family physicians will be eligible for federal Canada student loan forgiveness of up to $8,000 per year to a maximum of $40,000. Nurse practitioners and nurses will be eligible for federal Canada student loan forgiveness of up to $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000. By bringing doctors and nurses into our rural communities, we are helping all Canadians access essential health services no matter where they live.
The other part of the action plan deals with firefighters. The next phase of Canada's economic action plan recognizes the invaluable contribution that volunteer firefighters make every day to the safety and security of their communities. Specifically, Bill proposes a volunteer firefighter tax credit, a non-refundable tax credit on an amount of $3,000, for volunteer firefighters who perform at least 200 hours of service in their communities during the year. This credit will provide up to $450 in tax relief to eligible firefighters who volunteer in this often thankless task. Eligible volunteer firefighters who currently receive honorariums in respect to their duties as a firefighter will be able to choose between the new tax credit or existing tax exemptions of up to $1,000 for the honorarium.
The president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, Martin Bell, called the tax credit “wonderful news” and said that the tax credit would contribute significantly to the capacity of volunteer fire departments to protect lives and property.
Budget 2011 also keeps our commitments for the future of the gas tax fund.
In 2007 we extended the gas tax fund by four years, delivering $11.8 billion in gas tax funding from 2007 to 2014 for infrastructure in cities and communities.
In 2008 we committed to making the gas tax fund permanent.
In 2009 we doubled the gas tax fund to $2 billion a year.
In 2010, despite challenging economic circumstances, we pledged to protect the gas tax fund.
In 2011, this legislation, Bill , contains a permanent annual investment of $2 billion in municipal infrastructure through the gas tax fund.
The gas tax fund provides predictable, long-term infrastructure funding for municipalities, allowing them to better protect their future infrastructure investments.
Given the current environment, the number one issue for this government is to get people back to work which will help grow our economy.
Temporary measures in support of the economic recovery were included in the economic action plan to reinforce the substantial support the government already provides to job creators. The measures in this bill will build on that momentum, laying the foundation for long-term prosperity by encouraging business investments that are necessary to sustain economic growth. This includes extending the accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for investments, manufacturing, and processing machinery and equipment for two years to support the manufacturing and processing sector.
As members are aware, providing support for families and communities helps to ensure Canadians benefit from the opportunities and wealth that long-term growth creates no matter where they live.
The government is showing its commitment to help families and communities. It has stood up for all Canadians to help ensure that their needs are addressed through a wide variety of tax reliefs and targeted investments.
Canadians should be proud of how the government has responded to these challenges today. We are far better off today than we were even a few years ago, and we are well-positioned to deal with the issues that are ahead.
Canadians need the skills to participate fully in society and to secure Canada's position as a leader in the global economy. Further action is required and we are taking that action.
Canada is the best country in the world to live. We are living at the best time in human history. We are doing far better than most in the world. The government will ensure that in the future we remain the best country to live. A strong economy is key to that and to the quality of life for Canadians to ensure that every Canadian can reach their full potential as human beings.
May God keep our land glorious and free.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government member a question.
He keeps telling us that tax credits are important and that there are a number of them. I would like to know what he thinks about the fact that the poorest people in the country will not have access to these tax credits. I would like to know what he would say to them. In fact, they are the ones who need the most help and they are the ones who are unable to take advantage of these tax credits.
What is the government's exact position? Is the government thinking of changing its position? It is quite important to allow these people to have access to tax credits. They would be very useful to these people who really need them.
Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, this is an area that the NDP has had historic challenges understanding. When we reduce the tax burden on middle-class Canadians, job creators and corporations, that helps grow the economy. It empowers individuals financially and allows them to make the best decisions for themselves.
The less tax that people pay to the government, the more the economy will grow. The faster the economy grows, the strength of that growth helps people in low income situations. It helps the government invest in priority social programs that benefit all Canadians, including those with low incomes. It helps Canadians deal with the socio-economic challenges the member alluded to.
It is important to have a strong economy to protect Canadians and our environment. That is what tax credits do.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue with that question.
The Conservatives have, for a while now, talked about how much they care about firefighters. One of the things they wanted to do was to provide this tax credit.
The problem as we see it with the tax credit is that they are being very selective in terms of the volunteer firefighters they are helping. The equipment and the energies, along with the resources that our volunteer firefighters put in is quite significant.
The question is, why would we not be providing some benefit for low income firefighters? The government is doing it for the higher income, why not the lower income? By having a tax credit, the government is not allowing them to have any benefit.
Why is there different treatment for those who are more well off than others?
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my remarks, the tax credit has been described by members of the firefighters association as wonderful. They have been very complimentary. It is what volunteer firefighters have asked for.
The previous Liberal government had that opportunity, to bring forward some sort of financial recognition to firefighters. It chose not to. This Conservative government chose to recognize the contribution volunteer firefighters make in our communities.
I would also point out that if the member was serious about the financial recognition for firefighters, he would support this budget instead of voting against it.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to compliment our minister on his response to that hypocritical question by a member of the Liberal Party.
We met, several times, with volunteer firefighters and with chiefs of fire departments across this country who stated very clearly that they were begging the former Liberal government when it was in power for 13 long years to do something to help them. What did the former Liberal government do? Nothing.
I want to compliment the minister, and I want him to explain how the new family caregiver tax credit will benefit people regardless of whether the Liberal Party or the NDP vote for it.
Mr. Speaker, I accept with humility the comments from the parliamentary secretary.
It is really the parliamentary secretary who should be praised for her excellent work in pre-budget consultations, and her work as a police officer. This parliamentary secretary knows very well the needs of Canadians right across the board, particularly firefighters and police officers, the very people who keep our communities safe.
I appreciate the question regarding the caregiver tax credit. Caregivers help make our society better, and certainly help individuals and their families. Some financial recognition of that will go a long way to helping families.
Again, I just want to say that the parliamentary secretary has done an outstanding job in pre-budget consultations, and that is why—
Order. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Etobicoke North.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , particularly because it affects low income Canadians and fails to address health problems, including chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency and rare disorders.
Specifically, Bill deliberately excludes low income Canadians from programs such as the family caregiver tax credit. If people quit their job to take care of a sick loved one at home, they likely would not qualify for any benefits as the Conservatives have put in place a minimum threshold to qualify. I think it is unconscionable to deliberately exclude the very people who are most in need of help. It important to remember that one of Canadians' most deeply held values is fairness.
How then can Canada be one of the few developed countries without a national student nutrition program? Sadly, one in five Canadian children lives below the poverty line which may lead to poor nutritional status and poor child health outcomes. Canadian children from all income brackets are vulnerable to inadequate nutrition. Many children go to class hungry as 40% of elementary students and 62% of secondary school students do not eat a nutritious breakfast.
Hungry children cannot learn. Their learning capabilities are affected by how recently they have eaten. Malnutrition in early life can limit long-term intellectual development. Moreover, Canadian children and youth experience unprecedented rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity because they do not have the knowledge to make healthy food choices and do not have access to the healthy food they need for health and learning.
The Toronto Foundation for Student Success has more than 600 schools in Toronto, 142,000 children and youth, and 3,000 community volunteers with a total of 20,350,000 meals served annually. Toronto research has found that student nutrition programs reduce absenteeism, suspensions and expulsions by 50%; improve performance on standardized literacy and numeracy tests; dramatically impact credit accumulation in secondary school, which is a key indicator of graduation; create a sense of belonging and improve the morale of schools. Toronto research showed that the health impacts include: increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grain foods, and healthy eating habits which prevents diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
Student nutrition programs are needed in aboriginal, remote and rural communities, and the same behavioural learning and health impacts are found in all communities.
Feeding Our Future showed that 78% of grade 10 students, who reported eating morning meals most days, were on track to complete their diploma, meaning they earned 15 or more credits versus 61% who went without food.
The Boston Consulting Group, BCG, has shown that on average each high school graduate contributes an extra $75,000 annually to the economy. If providing food at school increases graduation rates by just 3%, based on the BCG figures, a national school meal program implemented in Canada's high schools at a cost of just $1.25 a day would result in a net payback of more than $500 million annually.
Outside Canada school meals are viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Improving child and youth nutrition, health and social development feeds regional economic development.
For example, in Brazil food is a constitutional right. A massive national program feeds 47 million students at 190,000 schools each day. Access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of every individual. Therefore, I think it is incumbent upon each of us to fight for a national school nutrition program for all of our children.
I would like to address a second item missing from the budget: funding for clinical trials for chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI.
After much resistance, the federal government announced this summer that it would fund clinical trials for CCSVI. This was welcome news for Canadians with MS and for their families. However, this decision took far too long to arrive at, and, since the announcement, no plan has been provided describing how the government plans to establish these trials.
I want to be very clear: right now, all we have is announcements; what we need is action. Canadians with MS cannot afford to wait, as any delay possibly means more damage.
Mr. Speaker, 30%-50% of MS patients who are untreated worsen by one EDSS score in one year, and 50% with relapsing-remitting MS later develop a progressive form of the disease for which there are no drugs. The reality is that one month can mean the difference between walking and not walking, or between living independently and living in care.
CIHR has recommended a phase I/II clinical trial, which is usually undertaken to assess safety. However, angioplasty is an accepted standard of care practice and routinely used for many conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted the basic safety information for angioplasty, since it has already approved three double-blind phase II clinical trials, which are already being conducted in the United States. There is no need for a phase I trial in Canada. It will waste time and money and would provide nothing beyond what is already known worldwide about this procedure.
What is needed is an adaptive phase II/III trial, which would permit a rapid and seamless transition from the phase II trial--subject, of course, to interim assessments of safety and efficacy--to a full phase III trial. This approach would still address all the regulatory requirements and answer all the key safety and efficacy questions, but it would also save time and cost.
Moreover, we need experts who are actively engaged in diagnosis and treatment of CCSVI on the CIHR's expert working group.
I would like to address a third omission from the budget.
Some 2.7 million Canadians are affected by rare disorders such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Most rare disorders are difficult to diagnose and are chronic, degenerative, progressive and life-threatening.
Families who face rare disorders lack access to scientific knowledge of their disease and to quality health care. They face difficulties and inequities in accessing treatment and care.
Canada is one of the only developed countries without a policy for rare disorders. As a result, Canadian patients are frequently excluded from many clinical trials and often have delayed access to treatment. Moreover, Canadian patients cannot always access drugs available to patients elsewhere. Only a fraction of the drugs approved in Europe and the U.S. are brought to Canada. Going forward, let us all commit to working together to develop a national policy for rare disorders.
I wish there were more time. I wish there were time to address the cuts that have decimated Environment Canada, particularly its adaptation group. Eight were fired in June, and twelve of 17 have received workforce adjustment letters. Many of these scientists share part of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for climate change.
Adaptation science is the bridge between climate predictions and practical applications. Why, then, would the minister cut climate impact and adaptation scientists? Does he really think an investment of $149 million will truly counter the problem? When will the restore activities in the Environment Canada adaptation group so that the economic well-being, health and safety of Canadians will be protected?
Mr. Speaker, the member spoke a lot about medical issues, and I know those are close to her heart.
I met recently with officials of the MS Society in my office here in Ottawa. They thanked the government for the family caregiver tax credit and said it was a step in the right direction.
I want to ask my colleague specifically about the enhanced medical expense tax credit, which would remove the $10,000 limit on the amount of eligible medical expenses that may be claimed on behalf of a financially dependent relative. As a result of her concerns about the medical system, will she vote in favour of the bill, since it would provide an excellent enhanced medical expense tax credit that would benefit thousands of Canadians?
Mr. Speaker, at first the hon. member mentioned the family caregiver tax credit, and I will pick up on that.
I represent one of the most diverse ridings in the country. We rank about fifth. Many of my families are newcomers. They face many challenges in coming to Canada. They face the challenge of learning a new language, of adapting to a new culture and particularly of finding a job.
My families often work two to three jobs just to put food on the table for their children. If the choice is between buying a $5 litre of orange juice and a $2 double litre of orange pop, the choice is clear to a family trying to stretch each dollar.
The reality is that many of these families will never meet the requirement that the government has put in place to receive that caregiver tax credit.
Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member for . She has a fine brain and a warm heart and she is always worth listening to, so I thank her for her excellent speech.
She talked about two things, children and medicine, things she cares about and knows about, and there is a sense of urgency. She mentioned that time is running out; it is not the eleventh hour, it is the hour.
I wonder if the hon. member is aware of the book The Spirit Level, by Wilkinson and Pickett, which uses scientific data to show why the Scandinavian countries and Japan are far ahead of us in health and welfare for children and adults, why the United States is the worst of the developed countries and why we are sliding toward that model. If she has not read it, I recommend it to her, to every Canadian and to every member in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, for whom I also have great respect.
To bring in the international perspective, and I will do it regarding food, in Sweden children between the ages of six and 16 receive a hot meal each day under laws set by the national food administration. Pupils choose from three entrees, a vegetarian dish and a salad bar with at least five fresh choices. Milk and bread are also served.
In Japan children aged six to 15 receive school meals. A government initiative aims to ensure 50% of the meals are made with local ingredients. The UN world food program and school feeding programs encourage hungry children to attend school.
Feeding these children helps them concentrate on their studies. Food attracts hungry children to school, and an education broadens their options, helping lift them out of poverty.
Canada has provided $25 million a year since 2003 in support of the world food program. We need to fight for a national nutrition program here.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her very interesting speech on health, among other things.
Five million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor and 73% of Canadians without a family doctor depend on emergency rooms or walk-in clinics for front-line health care. Canada is ranked 26th out of 30 industrialized countries when it comes to the number of doctors per capita. Could the hon. member tell us about their plan to address this situation?
Mr. Speaker, health care has to be an absolute priority. Going forward, I would like to see a vision for health care in this country coming from the government. In the last few years, government members have hardly uttered the word “health”.
The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and honour for me to stand to speak about the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. When I was preparing my notes for these comments, I could not help but realize that many things have already been done prior to part two of this action plan, and I want to touch on them as I move through my comments.
It is not unknown to anyone in Canada that our government believes in lowering taxes. It believes that leaving more money in the pockets of people who work, raise families, and create and live in and participate in communities is better than having the government take it from them and reinvest it in their communities. Often when governments do that, they tend not to hear or understand the needs of the communities, and therefore, although the investment was well intentioned, the money is quite often misspent.
It is interesting to note that since 2006 our government has cut taxes 120 times. If it is not a record, it is a darn good average. Canadians are recognizing that and are benefiting from the removal of the tax burdens that were in place before. We have removed over one million low-income families, individuals and seniors, from the tax rolls. These are the same low-income people we hear members opposite talking about and being concerned about. By changing thresholds for offering tax benefits, we have removed that many people from the tax rolls. That is something everyone in Canada should be very proud of.
We have cut personal taxes, consumption taxes, business taxes and excise taxes, and the list goes on. We have reduced personal income tax, we have increased the amount Canadians can earn tax free, we have introduced the landmark tax-free savings account--one of the most important personal savings vehicles since the RRSP--and we continue to reduce the small business tax rate from 12% to 11%. Due to our government's low-tax plan, the average typical Canadian family's tax saving is now over $3,000.
Where do we go from here? What is the next step, and what are we presenting to Canadians to provide the security they need to continue to invest in their homes, families and communities? We have introduced a new family caregiver tax credit and a new hiring credit for small businesses.
I want to mention one measure in particular, because it has a huge impact on job creation and on opportunities for the future.
We have extended the accelerated capital cost allowance that allows businesses to invest in new technology and industrial benefits for their businesses and create efficiencies not only in production but on the environmental side. Since they will be able to write that off at a faster pace, they will be more interested in making that investment and writing it down as quickly as possible.
In my previous life, those types of investments would sometimes take 20 years to write off, so businesses were always carrying them. Whether they were using it or whether it was obsolete, they still had to show it. This is one area of support that business communities and manufacturers have told us has been tremendous.
We talk about supporting families. This is probably one of the most important issues we deal with. We have introduced a family caregiver tax credit that caregivers of all types of infirm, dependent relatives--including, for the first time, spouses, common-law partners and minor children--can utilize. We have introduced an enhanced medical expense tax credit, removing the $10,000 limit on the amount of eligible medical expenses that can be claimed on behalf of financially dependent relatives.
We are continuing the eco-energy retrofit program, one of the most successful programs we introduced in previous budgets, and I hope the opposition recognizes it as a milestone. It allows people with lower incomes to find ways to create more efficiencies in their homes by reducing their electricity and heating bills, thus making their homes more efficient and allowing them to have more money in their pockets.
Another part of the budget that is very important to me and to many of the members is the support that we are offering for seniors. Since 2006 when we became government, we have offered $2.3 billion in annual tax relief for seniors and pensioners. That equates to removing over 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls. We have introduced pension income splitting so people can split their incomes and pay lower taxes and have more money in their pockets to do the things they want to do, to do the things they saved for and worked all their lives for.
We have increased the age credit by $2,000. We have doubled the pension income credit to $2,000. We have increased the amount that guaranteed income supplement recipients can earn through employment without a reduction of their GIS benefits. Where does the next step take us? Where does phase two of this action plan go?
We recognize that Canada's seniors not only helped build and make our country great, but they continue to do so. Part of our new plan is going to enhance the GIS for eligible low income seniors who will receive additional benefits up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. That will have an impact for over 680,000 seniors across Canada. These are important numbers because they reflect the number of people who will benefit from this directly. We are doing things to help people move forward.
We have enhanced the new horizons for seniors program. The uptake in this program in my constituency of has been phenomenal. Seniors are reaching out to other seniors to create opportunities and learning environments. They are doing things together to create a better and healthier lifestyle. We certainly support that.
I mentioned previously about helping families. Extending the eco-energy retrofit program definitely will help seniors particularly those with a low income. That I have no trouble supporting and I would hope that members opposite would support it too.
One of the great things that has been accomplished by this government is that we established the tax-free savings account. That has been a tremendous benefit to seniors.
We talked about volunteer firefighters. I have heard some of the debate today. Volunteer firefighters play a huge role in our rural communities. They are the people who work in our communities, but at the sound of a bell, they leave their work to go and help a neighbour, friend, relative, anyone in the community. They often put themselves at great risk. They do it for one reason. They do it because of their neighbours and families and the communities in which they live. Nearly 85,000 volunteer firefighters provide their services to protect our lives and property in Canada's urban and rural communities, but rural communities in particular rely on volunteer firefighters and their professionalism.
There are many things I want to touch on, but I will finish by touching on the government's support for farmers. Farmers are the backbone of the country. They have fed the world for many years. In this budget we are introducing a new agricultural innovation initiative of $50 million to keep us on the cutting edge of agricultural innovations. We talk about strengthening the food safety system which is very important. We have invested $100 million for new training and additional science capacity. We are helping producers by extending the accelerated capital cost allowance.
There are many reasons in the budget for everyone to support it. I would ask members to do so. I will be supporting it.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the eco-energy retrofit program for homes which my hon. colleague brought up twice in his remarks. There is a problem with it. Let us look at the program from the point of view of small businesses which are in the business of retrofitting homes. These are businesses that are hiring people and there are many of them in my riding. A one-year program is not something that businesses can use for planning, hiring and training.
We put forward a proposal that this program go for five years so that small businesses could take advantage of the supposed stability of the majority government to actually grow their businesses. At the end of five years we could have a viable industry doing energy retrofits for homes and helping people save energy and money.
Is the hon. member disappointed that in this budget bill no thought has been given to having a longer period, say five years, for the eco-energy retrofit program so that small businesses could count on that kind of stability?
Mr. Speaker, if I understand it correctly, the program has been around since 2007. It was introduced by the government at that time in a budget. We have seen the benefits of it. It has worked tremendously well in many parts of the country. Therefore, we thought it was desirable to continue with the program.
Many people benefited from this. Not only did people have the work done, but there was training and job creation in the last four years as well. Those people, particularly young people, were able to stay in their communities and continue in the profession they chose. They are now prepared to face the future.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to get back to the question my colleague asked. I do not think his question was answered, because I have heard the same concerns about the eco-energy retrofit program. The problem is not who created it, when it was created or whether it will be renewed. The problem is that contractors and voters in general do not know whether the program will survive for a year, two years, three, four or even five years. The program would be much more effective if people could be certain that it will be around for more years. This way, contractors and the public could plan renovations over a longer period of time.
I would like to know whether the government member could tell us whether he is satisfied or dissatisfied with the fact that these measures are decided on year by year and whether he thinks they would be more effective if they were more long-term to allow people to plan over a longer period of time.
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure how more clear I can be. This was introduced in 2007. It is now 2011. The program is continuing to operate. The benefits that we have seen in our communities have been tremendous not only for the people who are utilizing the services, but it has helped keep trained people in those new jobs, particularly in the housing industry. It has been a tremendous boon. We now have accredited professionals in our communities carrying on in the jobs of the future and the opportunities that they present.
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from , which is a rural riding. Obviously, it is one of our fine western ridings.
Would the member comment on how this budget, the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, speaks to the needs of rural Canadians and rural Canada?
Mr. Speaker, as important as it is when we talk about introducing and implementing programs and policies that would impact Canadians, I think we all would recognize there are differences between the rural and remote parts of Canada and the urban parts of Canada and that we have to always be sensitive to those differences.
Many of the things that we have introduced in the budget have been things which the rural caucus has brought forward to the and to the government, and they have listened to us. That is the most important part. We get things done by working together, by listening to our constituents and, at the end of the day, producing a product that I hope all members will support.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to stand up for New Democrats’ ideals when it comes to the economy. With Bill , the Conservatives have supported the NDP motion calling for immediate economic action. Unfortunately, however, this bill is very simply not enough.
A lot more has to be done to respond to the legitimate concerns that Canadian families have about the economy. The Canadian public wants to see real action taken to stimulate the economy, create jobs and combat the social inequalities we are facing. And today I would like to stress that last point, because, in my opinion, it is crucial to understand the economic benefits that are produced by a more equal society.
Income inequality is an important indicator of fairness in an economy and has repercussions on other areas, such as crime and social exclusion. A study done by the Conference Board of Canada shows that Canada ranks 12th out of 17 comparable countries when it comes to inequality. In other words, the income gap is wider in Canada than in 11 comparable countries. Although Canada’s wealth is distributed more equitably than in the United States, Canada’s 12th place ranking suggests that it is doing a mediocre job of guaranteeing income equality, according to the Conference Board.
A significant widening of the income gap occurred in Canada between 2000 and 2006. Canada is the only country in the Conference Board study whose relative score fell between the mid-1990s and the middle of the next decade because of its significant increase in income inequality. Statistics Canada recently released some income figures. Incomes from the 2006 census show an increase in inequality. That study was based on full-time workers’ median earnings between 1980 and 2005. The figures show that earnings grew by 16.4% for people with the top incomes, while they stagnated for people in the middle income group and fell by 20.6% for people in the bottom income group.
To summarize, from 1980 to 2005, earnings for the top group rose by 16.4%, while middle-income Canadians saw their incomes stagnate and earnings for the bottom group declined sharply. In the richest group of Canadians, the big winners were the super-rich, the top 1%. That increase is not attributable solely to wise investments; it also stems from the base salaries paid to bank presidents and corporate CEOs, which have exploded in recent years. So we should not be surprised to see that in recent weeks, income inequality has been in the media spotlight.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, for example, and the movements that followed it are a signal that the public is rejecting the income gap between the richest 1% and the other 99%. There is a widespread fear now being felt around the world that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And that fear certainly does not seem to be unfounded. For example, a recent study by a professor at Berkeley found that income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, even exceeding the levels observed during the Great Depression. The example he gives is that the top 10% of earners in 2007 accounted for nearly 50% of total income in the United States.
In contrast, Denmark and Sweden, which have the lowest levels of poverty among children and the working age population, are also undisputed leaders in terms of income equality. The relationship between social spending and poverty rates has become clearer over time. Thus, it is not surprising that these countries have strong traditions of redistributing wealth. They have been able to keep poverty rates down thanks to a universal welfare policy that has been effectively combined with job creation strategies that support gender equality and accessibility. That is the example the NDP would like to follow, because it appears that the model that this government insists on copying is producing extremely disappointing results.
According to the Conference Board, one reason for the growing inequality in Canada is globalization, which rewards highly qualified workers while leaving everyone else behind. This situation is also largely the result of the interaction between family factors and economic factors. The gap is widening considerably between families with two highly educated spouses and those that have only one breadwinner or those with no one who can work.
In addition, government transfer programs meant to address some of these inequalities are not as effective as they were 20 years ago. For instance, fewer workers are receiving employment insurance benefits, and social assistance rates do not always mimic the cost of living. To date, many of the tax breaks granted by this government have disproportionately benefited the wealthy, because they have not been applied based on income. They have instead centred mainly around lowering the GST and around tax credit programs.
Speaking of inequality, we must also address the issue of poverty in Canada. Once again according to the Conference Board of Canada, more than 12% of adult Canadians live in relative poverty. That is twice as high as the rates found in Denmark and Sweden. Canada ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries in terms of the working age poverty rate. Canada's working-age poverty rate increased from 9.4% in the mid-1990s to 12.2% in the mid-2000s.
While the NDP has been asking this government to rethink its plan to promote employment, a recent OECD report states that poverty rates are directly dependent on the ability of household members to be gainfully employed. The OECD concludes that the failure to tackle the poverty and exclusion facing millions of families and their children is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on countries’ capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come.
The relationship between social spending and poverty rates is striking. Among working-age adults, the relative poverty rate is lower in countries with higher social spending.
Why so much talk about income inequality and poverty? Because there are direct links between inequality and a country's economic growth. It is reasonable for there to be a compromise between equality and effectiveness so that wealth redistribution does not impede productivity. A recent OECD study on income inequality notes:
|| A society in which income was distributed perfectly equally would not be a desirable place either. People who work harder, or are more talented than others, should have more income. What matters, in fact, is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.
However, the idea that income inequality reduces the potential for growth is real. Income inequality undermines social cohesion, leading to social conflicts. A study done by Michael Forster highlights new research showing that a society should be concerned about income inequality. He says that a number of authors have produced evidence that poor income distribution could ultimately have a negative effect on economic growth through education, health and access to the labour market.
In a letter published in Le Devoir, Paul Bernard, a professor at the Université de Montréal, showed that social investment is a key to economic development. To support his position, he cited numerous studies that show that social spending does not operate to slow growth. In fact, it actually operates to provide everyone with the prerequisites that enable them to participate in the labour market in large numbers and on the best terms. This strong participation helps to increase the productivity of the economy and means that the taxes needed for maintaining those services can be raised intelligently.
In other words, economic development can be achieved through social investment, with the bonus of a healthy additional dose of social justice. So we have to look at combating income inequality not just as a matter of principle, but also as a practical contribution, what social development can and must do for economic development. Providing all Canadians with access to adequate health care services, a quality education and social and family services appropriate to their situation is what will ensure the long-term development of our economy. In other words, we have to redistribute wealth in order to create wealth.
So it seems there is an alternative to this government’s economic plan, which is an attempt to stimulate the economy by cutting social programs and the services provided to the public under the false pretext of contributing to economic growth and helping Canadians find jobs.
This plan does not do enough for the Canadian economy. We need a government that demonstrates leadership, today even more than in previous years. Canada is not immune to a new recession. That is why we cannot stop there. We have to be proactive and redistribute wealth in order to create wealth.