That, in the opinion of the House, the government should reinstate the federal minimum wage and increase it incrementally to $15 per hour over five years.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will have the genuine honour of sharing my time with my colleague from . I would also like to say hello to all of the British Columbians who have woken up to listen to this memorable speech.
I am honoured to rise in the House as the first to speak in favour of raising the federal minimum wage. Actually, we are talking about restoring the federal minimum wage, which, sadly, was abolished by the Liberals in 1996. That was one of the factors that led to increasing inequality in Canada and Quebec over the past 20 years.
There is currently no federal minimum wage. All we have is a mechanism to ensure that people working in federally regulated jobs get paid the provincial minimum wage, which is now between $9 and $11 per hour. The highest minimum wage is in Ontario.
This explains the absurd and tragic situation we find ourselves in, where some Canadians can get up every morning and work 40 hours a week, yet still live below the poverty line. This is unbelievable and unacceptable in a society as rich as ours, in a G7 country. For people to have to work full time and still live below the poverty line is an affront to human dignity and to the efforts made by these men and women every day in going to work.
We in the NDP have come up with this concrete proposal to help people get out of poverty and ensure that no one who works full time ever has to live in poverty or be forced to go to a food bank to put food on the table. Under the LIberals and Conservatives, the number of people forced to turn to food banks to put food on the table has skyrocketed.
The unemployed are not the only ones turning to social assistance; people who work are also doing so. In fact, working full time no longer automatically means being able to feed your family and your children. We have people in Canada who work and still go without food themselves in order to feed their children so they do not go to school in the morning on an empty stomach.
There are pockets of poverty in some areas of our cities and towns that need to be addressed. Those people deserve our help.
We are seeing, in the last couple of years in Canada, a downward spiral of wages and revenues. We in the NDP believe that we should lift up everybody, lift up our communities and make better lives for everybody in Canada.
We have to put an end to the continuing downward spiral of people's purchasing power and salaries. The Conservative government has pushed hard to reduce the salaries and incomes of Canadians and Quebeckers.
Consider the temporary foreign worker program, which allows employers to import cheap labour year after year. Under the Conservatives, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased from some 100,000 per year to approximately 400,000. These people are working at Tim Hortons and McDonald's.
Then there are the cuts to employment insurance. People are being forced to accept lower and lower salaries, perhaps 90% or 80% of their former salary. According to the Conservatives, if people have received too much help from this program, they must accept 70% of their former salary. We feel that is unacceptable.
The measure we are proposing today is reasonable. The majority of studies demonstrate that a gradual, reasonable and moderate increase in the minimum wage would not result in job losses. The studies and documentation are clear on this. It will help the fight against inequality but will not adversely impact job creation. This course of action is fully justified.
Of course, it will be said that this will affect only federally regulated employees. There are nearly 820,000 federally regulated workers in the private sector, and approximately 100,000 of them earn less than $15 an hour.
This measure will therefore provide tangible help to 100,000 families in Canada. That is not insignificant. It will have a considerable impact on our communities. It will set the bar and send a message to the provinces that they must increase their minimum wages and follow the federal government's lead so that workers can live in dignity.
That is very important to us. A total of 80% of the poorest Canadians have seen their incomes stagnate. Take away the richest 20%, and the remaining 80% of the poorest Canadians have seen their incomes stagnate over the past 35 years. If we compare the average minimum wages from 1975 and 2013, there was a 1¢ real increase in the average minimum wage, and that is in constant dollars, not current dollars. We find that unacceptable. We need to take action to correct the situation.
One thing is not well known: Canada is perceived as having a more egalitarian society than our neighbours to the south, the Americans, who live in a society fraught with rampant, unbridled capitalism. In Canada we are proud of our social safety net. Our system is different from the American system. We have a public health system—which was created by the NDP, and we are very proud of it-—that means there is less inequality in Canada than in the United States. However, we are noticing that the gap is now growing faster here than in the United States.
An hon. member: That is a fact.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice: Yes, Mr. Speaker, that is a fact and it is alarming. We also have a government that just does not care.
There is something called the Gini coefficient. I am going to seem smart, but I only learned abut it two years ago. It is a number between 0 and 1. If everyone in Canada has the same income, the Gini coefficient is 0. If someone has all the wealth in Canada, the Gini coefficient is 1. For the first time, the Gini coefficient in Canada is greater than 0.3. We have reached 0.32. At 0.4 we become a society where there is great inequality. We are headed in that direction very quickly. Never before in Canada's history have we had a Gini coefficient greater than 0.3. Thanks to the Conservatives, we can say that we have now achieved that not very commendable objective.
We believe that we must turn things around. We have to reverse the trend because it is not acceptable for the richest people in our society to continue getting richer while others watch as their income stagnates or decreases.
A study by the Broadbent Institute indicates that since 1999, the top 10% of wealthiest Canadians have accounted for half the wealth in our country. The top 10% own half of all the wealth in Canada. The bottom 50% control less than 6% of the wealth in Canada. This creates dangerous situations. It is not good for the social climate. This creates social tension and problems because people are being left behind. We are failing some people in our society as though they no longer count. It is as though all the policies were written so that the top 1% or 10% can get richer. It is as though the government does not care about the middle class or the least fortunate in our society.
The NDP has a different vision. It is a vision of social justice, progress and sharing wealth so that everyone here in Canada can live in dignity. Reinstating the federal minimum wage and increasing it incrementally to $15 per hour over five years is a start. It is what the NDP is proposing. We are extremely proud of that. I invite all my House of Commons colleagues in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party to support this NDP motion.
That way, finally, in Canada, no one is left behind and everybody can live in dignity.
Mr. Speaker, I am so in the habit of talking to my good friend here. Thank you for the guidance. I appreciate it.
The other thing is that people who are working for $10 an hour are not getting benefits, so they have other things they are paying for over and above. It is so disgusting to think about where we are leading Canadians. This should be a country of equals, at least to the point of living in dignity.
Over the summer I heard from Canadians, as I am sure others did, who said that they are not earning enough, that the country has been turned upside down. I am sure that they would agree with an increase in the minimum wage federally and across the board. I can assure the House, and Canadian workers who might be listening today, that the next federal government, an NDP government, will make this happen.
I would add again that our friends, the Liberals, most assuredly erred when they cancelled the federal minimum wage. Now it is up to the NDP to start to undo the damage that was started with the Liberal Party.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner: You guys voted for it.
Mr. Wayne Marston: Mr. Speaker, it is a well-understood economic fact that improving the minimum wage is a key step in reducing income inequality and building a fair economy.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: You voted for it.
Mr. Wayne Marston: Mr. Speaker, I hear noise from the Liberal side of the House. I guess they cannot get enough attention these days.
Over the summer, we saw fast food workers protesting across the United States. That is an example Canadian workers could follow. It is a shame that workers have to go to that extent to just get a decent wage. Tens of thousands of low-wage American workers took to the streets with strikes and rallies. I was going to say it was to push for higher salaries but I should really say that it was for at least fair salaries. Organizations like the Service Employees International Union called on the U.S. government to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. It did so because it is even worse in the U.S. The U.S. minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. Think about that. How far will that get someone? How far will it take a family?
Income inequality around the world has started to generate a similar debate in other countries. It has actually led to some governments making change. Germany introduced its first minimum wage. It is slated to start in 2015. German companies are the economic powerhouse, really, of the world today, especially in Europe.
In Switzerland, people are asking that a Swiss adult earn a basic income. Members will recall that NDP policy for years talked about a guaranteed annual income. In Switzerland it works out to $2,800 on a monthly basis. Compare that to $10 an hour and we would understand how much more people could do for their families if they had that.
Australia has one of the highest minimum wages in the world at $17.45 an hour. People who are under 18 years of age earn somewhat less than that.
New Democrats, along with workers across Canada, believe that federal workers in Canada should have their own minimum wage. The Liberals, when in government, removed the federal minimum wage, as we have said repeatedly. Hopefully they have seen the error of that decision and will support the motion here today, although with the noise we hear from that end it is hard to decide which way they are going on this.
Experts believe that Canada's income inequality is at an all-time high, with approximately three million Canadians living below the low-income cut-off. There about one million Canadians earning minimum wage, 28% of whom are over the age of 35. They build their lives and into their 40s or 50s are still earning that. Also, 3.8 million workers in the U.S. earn wages at or below the federal minimum. What we are seeing in North America is a trend to drive workers' wages low or to keep them low.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has in the past suggested that Ontario's minimum wage drags people into poverty. In fairness to the Government of Ontario, it just made a modest increase to $11 an hour, but the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has suggested that should have been $14.50 an hour in order to even begin to address poverty.
Our friends on the other side have an opportunity to reinstate a federal minimum wage. Our suggestion is to do it incrementally, to achieve it by 2015. They have the opportunity to do this, so why wait for an NDP government? Why not do it now?
The Conservatives have their views about law and order and people doing things right and following the rules. Canadians have followed the rules and they continue to do so, but when the rules hold them back in the manner that this does, we have to shake our heads. We have to ask why in the world the federal government would not institute at least a reasonable minimum wage of $15 an hour. What possible justification does it have for not doing that?
Commerce tells us that if the minimum wage is increased and people are given more disposable income they will spend it, which causes the economy to grow. The rest of us may have to pay a bit more in order to ensure that our fellow citizens live in dignity, but I am sure that if members on the other side stop to really consider that, they would be prepared to do that. They are not totally unreasonable people, although at times I wonder.
More than 94% of the increase in income inequity over the past 35 years occurred under the Liberal government. The reality is that statistics do not matter. What matters is what is happening in people's lives. We can argue statistics, and we heard that from the government side when it asked how many people this would affect. The government's figure is extremely low and some may find ours a bit high.
The reality is that some Canadians are living in poverty, unable to raise their children, unable to get their children educated in university or anywhere else. They have no chance in life to move ahead and they are looking to the federal government to give them a decent wage and $15 would just be the beginning. More has to be done for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has asked the House to agree to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Let me begin by asking this. Is this really the best way to help low-income Canadians?
There are a number of reasons why the government does not support the motion and I welcome the opportunity to set some of them out.
At first glance, the motion may seem like a great idea, but as we look at it very carefully, we see that it actually is not. As I am sure the hon. member knows, the minimum wage applicable to employees who are in the federally regulated industries is the same as the minimum wage in the provinces where the individuals are usually employed. This is because for years now the Canada Labour Code has set minimum wages to replicate those of the provinces, provincial labour markets having an idea of where wages should be focused. This has been the case since 1996.
We know that we need to focus on some important tasks. Those are tasks like creating jobs, balancing our budget, helping seniors and people with disabilities, supporting skills training, and generally establishing the conditions to ensure that Canada's long-term prosperity is reached. However, for some reason we are obliged to debate federal minimum wages today.
Let us look at the actual situation.
First, according to the federal jurisdiction workplace survey, only 416 federally regulated employees were earning just the minimum wage in 2008. Let me put this in perspective. These people represent 0.05% of all the employees in the federal jurisdiction, and that was in 2008. I wonder if this is actually what we should be using our debate time for. After all, the vast majority of federally regulated employees have higher-income jobs. Why are we spending an entire day talking about this wage rate, which the provinces have been focused on in their direct labour markets? There is nothing unusual or unfair about federal minimum wage rates.
For nearly 20 years, the federal minimum wage has varied, in accordance with the provincial minimum wage.
In fact, for nearly the last two decades the federal minimum wage has moved in lockstep with the applicable provincial minimum wages. It is still the best way to set the federal minimum wage. Let us keep in mind that labour markets vary across the country. We have a very large country, and thus we see variability. Our government believes that the provinces and territories are best placed to assess and respond to the needs in their local labour markets.
The provinces and territories are free to establish an appropriate minimum wage that takes their economic situation into account.
Some people have expressed concerns that some provinces are slow to adjust their minimum wage rates to match inflation and increase the average wages, but that is simply not true. Let us look at the facts.
Provincial minimum wage rates have evolved rapidly in recent years to reflect changing labour market conditions. The existing system is fair and well adapted to provincial needs when it comes to labour market assessments. Provincial governments carefully analyze the labour markets and their economic conditions before they make adjustments to their minimum wage rates. Several provinces have legislation stipulating that their minimum wage rates must be reviewed on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. Even those that do not have legislative requirements tend to adjust their minimum wage rates regularly.
Another point is that the motion asks us to make a significant change without appropriate reflection on what the effects might be on the job markets.
For example, it would make sense to look at the effects such a change would have on small businesses.
The current system is fair. It ensures that employees under federal jurisdiction are never paid less than their provincial counterparts. The way that we help low-income Canadians is not by hiking the minimum wage, but by bringing in measures that foster a strong economy and the creation of well-paying jobs. Economic growth and job creation are priorities of this government and we are leading the way in the G7, doing much more and, in that regard, focusing and making sure that we are ahead of our trading partners.
Since the economic downturn we have had a steady increase in employment, low interest rates, and the kind of economic growth that makes us the envy of the world. We believe that getting the economic essentials rights will keep us on the right track for greater levels of prosperity.
For example, the recently announced the small business job credit that will lower EI premiums for small businesses by 15%. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that the credit will create 25,000 person-years of employment over the next two to three years. The minister also confirmed that in 2017, EI premiums will be cut from the current $1.88 per $100 of earnings to $1.47. Employers will have more money to invest in training and increased wages, and workers will have more money in their wallets at the end of the day so they can afford things like hockey and other items their families would like them to invest in.
It is clear that we are on the right track.
Evidence alone is that more than 1.1 million jobs have been created since July 2009 and more than 80% of these jobs have been full-time positions. The vast majority of these jobs are in the private sector in high-wage industries and Canada is currently the only country in the world with tariff-free access to the American market. This represents over 300 million individuals.
We have also signed an agreement in principle with the European Union that will give us access to markets of over 500 million people. What about our recent free trade agreement in principle with South Korea, which again opens up additional Asian markets to Canadian products? It is another significant market for Canadian firms.
We have also had a series of major resource projects on our economic agenda that will ensure Canada's prosperity for the next decade. At the same time, the government will continue to take concrete steps to support Canadian workers at all income levels and that means, for example, making sure that workers in the federal jurisdiction have healthy and safe work environments. Since our government was elected we have increased occupational health and safety protections for employees in federally regulated industries.
It means making sure that we have equal opportunities for hiring and for advancement. It means investing in preventive mediation to help workplace parties resolve their differences and create collective agreements that benefit both workers and employers. It also means implementing the wage earner protection program, which protects the wages, vacation pay, severance pay and termination owed to workers who lose their jobs when their employers go bankrupt or into receivership.
We all know that Canadian workers often experience significant challenges when their employers go bankrupt.
It is hard enough to lose a job for reasons beyond our control, but it is quite unfair to be deprived of wages that were worked for and that were counted on. It is especially distressing when we see other creditors being paid off first. That is why, in the interests in fairness, we brought in the wage earner protection program, which makes the payment of wages owed to workers in this situation a superpriority.
What does the program do and how does it work? The trustee or receiver assigned to manage the bankruptcy or receivership is required to provide information to the workers on any amounts that they are owed. Workers can then file a proof of claim with the trustee or receiver, and the next step is to submit the application for payment to Service Canada.
The eligibility period starts six months before restructuring and ends on the day of bankruptcy or receivership. Under the rules of the program, these workers can receive an amount equal to four weeks of maximum insurable earnings as defined by the Employment Insurance Act.
The government has expanded the WEPP twice. It was expanded in 2009 to include unpaid termination and severance pay as eligible wages and in 2011 to improve coverage under the program in cases where the employer undergoes restructuring before going bankrupt or entering receivership. Workers in this situation can apply, as I said before, to Service Canada online. If they have all of the relevant information, they can usually get their payments within a few weeks.
The WEPP was established in July 2008. Between that date and July 31, 2014, more than 74,000 Canadians received payments that total $174.8 million, with an average WEPP payment to a worker for wages owed by employers who are bankrupt or subject to receivership of just over $2,500. This is a very successful and needed program, and for this fiscal year, our government has budgeted just over $49 million for it.
We have also amended the Canada Labour Code to ensure that employees who lose their jobs cannot be deprived of severance just because they happen to be entitled to a pension.
That is not all. We have also adopted the Helping Families in Need Act, which gives federally regulated employees the right to take unpaid leave in special circumstances. It allows for up to 37 weeks of leave for an employee whose child under the age of 18 is critically ill.
I can tell members from personal experience that this is something that families need. Having been a physician, I have witnessed situations in which a parent was unable to be at a child's bedside to make sure that care was managed appropriately. As a physician, I know that having a parent there to help organize care for the child and provide emotional support for the child and the family is essential, and we moved forward with this measure last year.
The act also provides up to 104 weeks of leave for an employee whose child has died because of a probable Criminal Code offence. It also offers up to 52 weeks of leave for an employee whose child is missing as a result of a crime. Canadians who take these leaves can now count on benefits through the federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children grant, as well as the employment insurance program.
We extended the duration of sick leave to 17 weeks. This gives a lot more flexibility to parents who must, for various reasons, put an end to their maternity or paternity leave.
This government is supporting Canadian families in many ways. Most significantly among them, Canadian families have seen an increase of about 10% of their real after-tax incomes under our administration. For a family of four, on average we are putting over $3,400 back in their pockets so that they can make decisions on where they would like to invest it in the things that matter to them, whether it is a family vacation or making sure that their child can attend hockey or ballet.
These are just some of the host of reasonable and well-thought-out measures that the government is taking every day to support and protect workers in our country. However, if we want to continue improving the standard of living of Canadian families, we need to continue acting responsibly. The motion before us is political grandstanding by the NDP.
Our Conservative government is proud of the initiatives that it has brought forward to lower taxes and put more money in the pockets of hard-working families. With sound fiscal policy, we worked hand in glove with employers, employees, and the provinces. Reckless changes to the Canada Labour Code create disruption, as has been very clearly outlined by many of our stakeholders.
We know that the Canada Labour Code is something that everyone respects. I would encourage the opposition not to focus on making reckless changes to sound fiscal policy but to focus on what matters, which is making sure that Canadians have opportunities for great jobs.
While it is important that workers earn decent wages and while the sponsor of the motion may have good intentions, I hope that my hon. colleague will recognize that the proposal as it reads simply cannot be supported.