(for the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons)
|| That this House take note of the Canadian economy, and
||(a) recognize that Canadians' top priority remains economic growth and job creation; and
||(b) commend the government's economic record which includes the creation of more than one million net new jobs since July 2009, a banking system recognized as the safest and soundest in the world for the past six years, and the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio among G7 countries.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all parties for the speeches that have just been given in congratulations of the birth of Prince George.
It was an important moment to sit here and listen to all parties being on the same page. I am optimistic. We are moving into debate on the throne speech, and maybe it will carry on and we will all be able to support this very good throne speech.
I am very pleased to rise in the House on this day and take part in today's debate. Two and a half years ago, Canadians elected our government with clear instructions: navigate the global economy; create jobs; create growth; keep taxes low.
Canada has faced challenging times, and we have made some tough decisions. I am pleased to say that we have made the right decisions, the right choices, for Canadian employees, businesses, families and communities.
The results of these choices are clear. Debt is low and deficits are falling. Businesses are creating new jobs, new opportunities for Canadians, and Canadians are working today more than ever before. Under the strong leadership of the , and as we all know, the world's greatest finance minister, Canada has weathered the economic storm well, and the world has noticed.
Both the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development expect Canada to be among the strongest growing economies in the G7 over this year and next year. For the sixth year in a row, the World Economic Forum has rated Canada's banking system as being the world's soundest. Real gross domestic product is significantly above pre-recession levels, the best performance in the G7. In addition, three credit rating agencies—Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's—have reaffirmed their top rating for Canada, and it is expected that Canada will maintain its triple A rating in the years ahead.
Since the depth of the recession, over one million net new jobs have been created, an outstanding achievement for Canada and the best record in the G7. In fact, we are not only leading the G7 in job creation but also on the strength of our balance sheet and in political stability. However, as we all know, and are too often reminded, the global economic recovery is fragile, and global economic turbulence remains. Our largest trading partners, the United States and Europe, continue to wrestle with serious challenges and are struggling to find lasting, effective solutions. Not only is the global economy uncertain, it is also increasingly competitive. Canada faces increasing competition from a host of rising powers.
In addition to the threats to the Canadian economy that lie beyond our borders and beyond our shores, I am concerned about the potential threats to the Canadian economy from within our own nation, such as the threats we hear from the leader of the New Democratic Party. As if imposing a $20-billion carbon tax was not enough, the leader of the New Democratic Party has another multibillion dollar tax hike that he would love to impose on Canadians. Last week, the New Democratic Party leader reaffirmed his plan to take over $10 billion each year out of the pockets of Canadian entrepreneurs, out of the pockets of Canadian business, to fund big, bloated government schemes.
As I traveled throughout my constituency this summer, I did not hear anyone suggest that Ottawa needed more money and that they needed less. Everyone wanted just the opposite. The New Democratic Party tax hike would target job creators, especially small and medium-sized companies, with a nearly 50% increase in their tax bill.
This NDP tax scheme would kill jobs and stall the Canadian economy, all of this during a time of global economic uncertainty.
Canadians know better. That is why Canadians gave our Conservative government a mandate to keep their taxes low. I am pleased to report that this is exactly what we have done and continue to do.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said:
|| At a time when the economic recovery is still quite fragile, it’s important that governments focus on balancing their budgets and not hitting entrepreneurs with payroll tax hikes.
We agree with him.
Year after year we have lowered taxes not just for business but for families and indeed for all Canadians. For example, we have cut the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. We have established a $5,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers. We have reduced the lowest personal income tax rate and have increased the basic personal exemption. We have introduced income splitting and pension splitting for seniors. Overall, the federal tax burden is at its lowest level in 50 years. As a result of our government's low tax plan, in 2013 the average family now pays $3,200 less in taxes than it paid in the past.
Not only are we delivering on our promise to keep taxes low, we are also delivering on our commitment to balance the budget. Last year's deficit was less than forecast. Our government will balance the budget in 2015.
Unlike the opposition members, who support reckless tax-and-spend policies, our government knows that Canada needs responsible fiscal management. Responsible fiscal management ensures the sustainability of public services and lowers the tax rate for future generations. In an uncertain global economy, the most important contribution our government can make to bolster confidence and growth is to maintain a sound fiscal position.
I will quote Denis Mahoney, chair of St. John's Board of Trade, who said:
|| We are pleased that the federal government is staying the course of their long-term plan. There is still much volatility in the global economy and a prudent course of action is a safe course of action for our federal economy.
We agree with him.
Just as our government manages debt, we are also tackling spending. We are reducing the size and cost of government to ensure that tax payers get value for their money. Through economic action plan 2013, we announced further savings in government spending totalling $2 billion through numerous common-sense improvements. These include reducing wasteful departmental spending, reducing travel costs through the use of videoconferencing and other technology, and eliminating tax loopholes.
Economic action plan 2013 announced a number of measures to close tax loopholes to address aggressive tax planning, to clarify tax rules, to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, and to improve tax fairness. Ensuring that everyone pays their fair share helps to keep taxes low for Canadian families and businesses, thereby improving the incentive to work, improving the incentive to save, and improving the incentive to invest back in Canada.
By 2017-18, both program expenses as a share of gross domestic product and the federal debt-to-GDP ratio are expected to fall to pre-recession levels.
Our government's commitment to sound public finances will help to ensure that Canada will by far maintain the lowest debt burden among the G7 countries. This is just one of the many ways we are leading the G7. I mentioned earlier that we lead the G7 in job creation.
In regard to economic action plan 2013, Lori Mathison, chair of the Government Budget and Finance Committee of the Vancouver Board of Trade, commented that our government is “...demonstrating a commitment to returning to a balanced budget in the short term, but at the same time, supporting economic growth and job creation”.
Ms. Mathison is correct. Since we introduced the economic action plan to respond to the global recession, Canada has recovered more than all of the output and all of the jobs lost during the recession. Since July 2009, employment has increased by over one million and is now 605,000 above its pre-recession peak, the strongest job growth among the G7 countries over the recovery. Almost 90% of all jobs created since July 2009 have been in full-time positions. Close to 85% of those jobs are in the private sector, and about 60% of those jobs are in high-wage industries.
These statistics are just a few of the many examples that demonstrate our strong record on job creation, but they also demonstrate that we have not been willing just to stay there, just to stop there.
Economic action plan 2013 also helps connect more Canadians with available jobs. This includes the creation of the Canada job grant, providing $15,000 more per person in combined federal, provincial or territorial and employer funding to help Canadians get the skills they need for real jobs that are in demand. We have strengthened the apprenticeship program, making it easier to get needed experience for journeyman status. We are supporting job opportunities by providing tools to persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginals and recent immigrants to help them find a job. Economic action plan 2013 will not only help individuals to find employment, but it will help all business, small, medium and large alike. It will help them to succeed.
For example, the hiring credit for small business will be expanded and extended for one year, allowing Canadian small business to reinvest $225 million in job creation. Our plan will increase support for small-business owners, farmers and fishermen by raising the lifetime capital gains exemption to $800,000 in 2014 and indexing the new limit to inflation, thereby providing federal tax relief of $110 million over five years.
In the forestry sector, we will provide $92 million over two years, starting in 2014-2015, to continue to support the industry's ongoing transformation to higher value activities and its expansion into new export markets.
Our government is also announcing economic and security initiatives that will implement Canada's commitments under the Canada–U.S. beyond the border action plan, with a view to ensuring the secure and efficient flow of legitimate goods and people across the border.
I could go on, but I also want to say a few words about our government's investments in world-class research and innovation. Since 2006, our government has provided more than $9 billion in new resources to support science, technology and the growth of innovative firms, helping to foster a world-class research and innovation system that supports Canadian businesses and economic growth. Canada's entrepreneurs and risk takers are confronted with the many challenges of a globally competitive marketplace. As the global economy becomes more competitive, Canada must continue to break through with new ideas, so our businesses can become more competitive and create and sustain high-paying, value-added jobs. By supporting advanced research and technology, our government is choosing to invest in the current and future prosperity of Canadians.
To ensure that Canada remains a global research and innovation leader, economic action plan 2013 announced a number of investments, including $225 million to support advanced research infrastructure and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation long-term operations.
In addition, there will be $37 million annually to strengthen partnerships between industry and researchers, to help transform knowledge into innovative new products and services; $20 million over three years to help small and medium-sized enterprises access research and business development services at a not-for-profit research institution of their choice; and $325 million over eight years to Sustainable Development Technology Canada to support the development and demonstration of new clean technologies, which can save businesses money, create high-paying jobs and drive innovation. By consistently supporting advanced research and technology, our government is choosing to invest in the current and future prosperity of Canadians.
We are also choosing to invest in infrastructure. That is no secret. We have been doing that over the period of the global downturn. Infrastructure investment creates jobs, supports trade, drives productivity, and contributes to economic growth and prosperity. For Canadians, our government's infrastructure investments will mean less pressure on daily work life, less congestion and shorter commutes, which mean more time at home with their families.
That is why this year our government launched the new building Canada plan, the largest long-term federal commitment to job-creating infrastructure in our nation's history. Over the next decade, we will invest $70 billion in federal, provincial, territorial and community infrastructure. This includes projects such as making improvements to Highway 63 in Fort McMurray, Alberta; building subways in the Greater Toronto Area; replacing Montreal's Champlain Bridge; building a new Windsor-Detroit crossing; and the twinning of Highway 11 in Saskatchewan. All of these projects will create jobs and are welcomed by communities across Canada.
Let me quote the mayor of Regina, who said he is “glad there's a long-term, predictable, sustainable infrastructure investment in Saskatchewan, in Regina, and right around the country”. The Toronto Region Board of Trade “commends the federal government for making important, long term enhancements to infrastructure development while supporting economic growth”. It agrees that “Long-term, predictable and sustainable infrastructure financing is imperative to helping build the Toronto region transportation plan...”. The board stated that it is “pleased the federal government has renewed its commitment to helping meet this objective”. Mark Gerretsen, Mayor of Kingston, said he is “pleased to see infrastructure spending“ and that our government's long-term commitment to infrastructure investment allows Kingston to better plan for infrastructure priorities.
Of course, there are many other steps we are taking to create jobs, many other steps that are promoting growth and many other steps that are helping to realize long-term prosperity for Canada and for Canadians. I have only had time this morning to highlight a few. Thanks to our strong leadership, Canada is universally recognized for its resilience through the global recession and recovery, its low-tax environment, its highly educated and skilled labour force, its natural resource endowments and a financial sector that is the envy of the world.
By staying the course, the Government of Canada will continue to promote economic growth, continue to work toward job creation and continue to plan for the prosperity of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by welcoming back all members of Parliament, except one.
I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about the Conservatives' dismal record on the economy. It has been over 120 days since the House last sat. It has been over 160 days since the showed up for work more than five times. We have some questions for that Prime Minister.
Here in Ottawa, we have a government on its way out that is shirking its responsibilities. Five weeks ago, the locked up Parliament yet again. Since 2006, the Prime Minister has prorogued Parliament for a total of 181 days, which is a record for a prime minister in this day and age. It is even worse than Jean Chrétien's record at the height of the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
This fall, the Conservatives have done nothing for Canadians, nothing to help the unemployed find full-time work, nothing to help families reduce their debt, nothing to reverse the worrying trend of climate change and nothing to improve railway safety.
We all know the reason that the has been avoiding questions. We all know why Parliament was prorogued. We all know why the return of the House was delayed for another five weeks. We all know why he got on Con Air and sneaked off to Brussels--in a word, corruption.
There are now eight senators facing allegations of wrongdoing and in one case already a conviction. Five of those senators are Conservatives and all five were named by the current .
Senate corruption is not just a Conservative issue. It really is an issue that involves the two old parties: the Conservatives and the Liberals.
First, there are the Conservative senators: Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Then there is Liberals senator Mac Harb. They are all being investigated by none other than the RCMP for illegal travel and housing claims.
Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer are being investigated by the Senate's board of internal economy. We cannot forget about Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, who was charged with violating the Canada Elections Act, or Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne, who is still having his housing costs paid by Ottawa because he is sitting in jail in the nation's capital.
Canadians have every right to be angry, and not just because of prorogation. Over the past year, they have witnessed a sorry spectacle in which the 's Office has tried pitifully and desperately to hide a senator's corruption. The Prime Minister continues to claim that nothing has changed. For once, he is right.
This lack of transparency and culture of entitlement is the 's political modus operandi. He promised to put an end to the Liberal way of doing things. Now, in fact, it is worse.
Canadians are sick and tired of corruption and scandal. They are sick and tired of the revolving red and blue doors of Liberal and Conservative entitlement and corruption. Canadians have had enough. The fact is that Ottawa is broken and the NDP is the only party that Canadians can trust to fix it.
Now of course Conservative corruption and scandal does not end with the Senate. The 's parliamentary secretary has been formally charged for taking and for making illegal campaign contributions. The Prime Minister's chief of staff is under investigation for paying hush money to a sitting Conservative senator. Three other officials in the Prime Minister's Office are refusing to answer questions about their own involvement in that very same payoff. Senator Irving Gerstein, the chief financial officer of the Conservative Party, is not only accused of knowing about that payoff but of approving it as well, at least until he found out just how much money it would take to buy the silence of Mike Duffy.
The list of Conservative scandal and corruption just does not end. In 2012, the 's special adviser, Bruce Carson, was charged with influence peddling. In 2011, four top Conservative Party officials were charged in the in-and-out scandal. In 2006, the party president and the party's national director admitted to making a secret $50,000 payment to get rid of an inconvenient Conservative Party candidate. Finally, who could forget that in 2005, the Prime Minister's top strategist, Tom Flanagan, offered “financial considerations” to a sitting member of Parliament in exchange for his support in Parliament.
All in all, under the 17 senators and top party officials have been accused of ripping off taxpayers, breaking election laws or making secret backroom payoffs. They are not low-level staff or minor functionaries gone rogue. These are senators that the Prime Minister appointed himself. They are members of his chosen inner circle, 17 of them in all.
This all leads to two very simple questions. First, how did so many people so close to the all get the same impression that corrupt behaviour of this sort is acceptable to the Prime Minister? Second, when will the Prime Minister finally take responsibility for the climate of corruption he created?
And on the second day, he went to Brussels. He did not even make it to the seventh day.
Yesterday, the tried to change the channel on all of this. He asked Canadians to forget about the scandals and mismanagement that are plaguing his government. He tried to convince them that he has changed. However, watching the Prime Minister sitting there in the Senate yesterday, at the very scene of the crime, with the perps down the hall watching television, I can understand why he wants to change the channel.
I do not think that Canadians are going to forget that easily. In this case, the elephant is the room. If the wants to convince Canadians that he has changed course, if the Prime Minister wants to convince Canadians that he is ready to clean up Ottawa and clean up the corruption in his own caucus, in his own party and in his own office, it will take more than words. It is going to take action.
After each election, a new batch of MPs and staff from all parties arrive here in Ottawa. They all come with the best of intentions, with hope and optimism for the future. However, the old parties have lost something along the way, and things have changed. Their leaders have forgotten whom they came here to serve.
While the old parties fight to protect their well-connected friends, Canadian families are struggling more than ever to get by. From Kamloops to Cape Breton, from Churchill to Chicoutimi, income inequality has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. We are losing the balanced economy that we have built since the Second World War. Canadian household debt has reached record highs. As my hon. colleague just said, hundreds of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing, and for the first time in Canadian history, middle-class wages are declining steadily. This is the first time that has ever happened.
Over the past 35 years, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, incomes have increased for the top 20%, but have decreased for everyone else; 80% of Canadians have seen in a drop in their income. Our economy has grown by 147%, yet the real income of the average Canadian family has dropped by 7%.
The Liberals can always hope that Canadians will forget their poor record. They can always hope that time will erase those memories, but it will not be that easy. Listen to this, Mr. Speaker: over the same 35 years, 94% of the rise in income inequality in Canada, in our society, happened under Liberal governments. The House heard correctly: the Liberal Party of Canada is responsible for 94% of that growing gap. Because of Liberal neglect, an entire generation of middle-class families is on the verge of bankruptcy, crushed under the weight of their household debt.
At the end of last year, Canadians' household debt reached 166% of disposable income. It may be hard to believe, but this record high is all too real. Canada's total household debt is dangerously close to the peak levels prevailing in the United States just before the 2008 economic crisis. Indeed, the Bank of Canada is now referring to this debt as the “biggest domestic risk" to the Canadian economy.
This is more than a burden on Canadian families; it is a threat to our entire economy. However, all the Conservatives have to say to the millions of families struggling to make ends meet is that they have to make do with less—their children have to make do with less.
A tiny minority of Canadians are getting ahead while more and more people are falling behind. The cost of living keeps rising while good jobs continue to vanish.
Our party can do better, and we will do better, because Canadians deserve better.
What has the Conservative response been? Tinkering with a mortgage rule here and saying that they will adjust a lending practice there: too little, too late.
Conservatives have done nothing to rein in the high cost of living for families. They have done nothing to guarantee retirement security for our seniors. They have watched a generation of middle-class jobs disappear, but they have done nothing to create the next generation of middle-class jobs.
We can do better and we will do better because Canadians deserve better.
We are going to rise to meet this challenge. If we are going to start to close the growing gap created by successive Liberal and Conservative governments, we will have to address all sides of the ledger. That means making life more affordable for families. It means helping workers save and invest for their retirement. It means creating high-quality middle-class jobs.
Yesterday, in the throne speech, Conservatives pretended to adopt some parts of the NDP's consumer-first agenda. Unfortunately, we have heard these words before from Conservatives with nothing to show for it but more broken promises.
Were Conservatives putting the consumers first when they let credit card companies regulate themselves with a voluntary code of conduct? Or when they enacted a wireless code that did nothing to create new competition or lower cellphone rates?
Were Conservatives protecting airline passengers when they voted, twice, against the NDP's airline passenger bill of rights?
Were they protecting families when they let meat packing plants perform their own safety inspections? Or when they allowed one-person crews to operate freight trains carrying highly dangerous materials?
This selective enforcement of the law is not just applied in the private sector either. Conservatives have cut $250 million and 3,000 staff from the Canada Revenue Agency. They have eliminated the special team of tax auditors at the CRA who were responsible for investigating organized crime. Little wonder that they sent a $400,000 cheque to a mafia boss, while he was in prison, who owed $1.5 million. That is the Conservative record. Maybe it is because they are planning to make him a senator.
The Conservatives have actually opposed international efforts to crack down on tax havens at the G8. Not surprisingly, today, Canada is losing as much as $5 billion to $8 billion a year in government revenue to international tax havens alone.
The fact is whether it is food inspection and rail safety or consumer protection and cracking down on tax cheats, the leadership role that governments once took to protect public interests now takes a back seat to private interests.
The Conservatives, much like the Liberals before them, heeded the siren call of what is called deregulation.
They dismantled the measures in place to protect the public interest, relying instead on the industries to regulate themselves. They applied this approach across the board.
Budget cuts of $46 million to food security were followed by the largest recall of contaminated meat in Canada's history. In aviation safety, airline standards for the number of flight attendants required on board WestJet flights were lowered against the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, jeopardizing passenger safety.
I can mention another tragic event that could have been prevented. This summer, 47 people died after a train loaded with highly volatile shale oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic. Experts from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the TSB, and Transport Canada are studying what part decades of deregulation might have played in this tragedy.
Where governments once took a leadership role in protecting the public interest, now they protect only private interests. In so doing, they have sacrificed our long-term prosperity for their own short-term political gain.
The New Democrats have laid out a clear plan to protect consumers and to make life more affordable for Canadian families. That means limiting ATM fees, cracking down on payday lenders and giving every Canadian access to at least one no-frills, low-rate credit card. It means protecting small businesses by creating clear rules that prevent credit card companies from using their monopoly power to hit retailers with exorbitant merchant fees. It means protecting drivers from price gouging at the gas pumps. And it means protecting the millions of travellers who are sick and tired of being stuck with the bill for delays and cancellations by passing a real airline passengers bill of rights. Unfortunately, despite their talk, Conservatives have voted against these measures every step of the way. That is their real track record.
Now the stands before Canadians, a man who has run out of ideas, maybe not today standing before Canadians but members understand the notion. He has been reduced to stealing our ideas, a practice he stole from the Liberals. Not only that, he has been reduced to stealing ideas that he has already voted against. Quite frankly, all this is a desperate last-ditch effort to regain the confidence of Canadians. However, it is just too little, it is just too late and it just will not work.
Just to remind our Conservative friends so they are not confused this time, if they want a bill to pass, they actually have to vote for it, not against it.
Just as families across Canada are facing a steep rise in the cost of living, too many are facing a financial cliff as they near retirement. As many as 5.8 million Canadians, nearly a third of our workforce, will see a sharp drop in their standard of living once they retire. For young Canadians, the situation is even more dramatic. By retirement, as many as 60% of young Canadians will face a drop of 20% or more in their quality of life. Without action now, Canada is facing a retirement security crisis. That is a social debt that we are leaving on the backs of future generations, in addition to the financial and ecological debt that the current government is already leaving them.
Yet, instead of action to strengthen pensions, Conservatives are planning to cut $11 billion out of old age security by increasing the retirement age to 67 from 65. I can guarantee that the NDP government in 2015 will put it back to 65.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported just two weeks ago that far from putting our financial house in order, the Conservative cuts to old age security had simply downloaded costs to provinces and individuals.
The promised to meet with his provincial counterparts this summer in order to work on the plan to improve Canada's and Quebec's public pension plans. The Minister of Finance made a formal commitment on behalf of the Canadian government. He made a promise and gave his word. However, even though he had an extra month, the minister did not keep his word. He did not come up with a plan and he did not meet with anyone.
The provincial governments, unions and the largest seniors' organization in Canada all asked the government to move forward with improvements to public pension plans, but the government did nothing. Even the president and CEO of CIBC said that the government must do its part to find a solution to the retirement security crisis. Many people are convinced that the improvement of public pensions cannot be avoided. By dragging their feet, the Conservatives are creating uncertainty for businesses, governments and individuals.
For that reason, my colleagues from and , our finance and pension critics, wrote to the last month to ask him why he did not keep his word, why he did not hold this meeting and why he broke his promises to Canadian seniors. They asked him to hold a meeting and cover the shortfall created by years of Liberal and Conservative cuts so that Canadians can retire with dignity.
What was the 's response? Absolute silence, nothing. Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve answers and here, in Parliament, the NDP will go after those answers.
Today, in 2013, there are still nearly 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than before the recession. Of the 280,000 jobs that young people lost during that recession, only 50,000 have been recovered. In Toronto alone this is an incredible statistic. In Toronto alone, a staggering 50% of workers cannot find a stable full-time job. Instead, they are forced to rely on part-time jobs, split shifts and precarious contract work. Parents are seeing less and less of each other and children and families are paying the price.
Conservatives have repeatedly missed their own targets for economic growth and on the heels of hitting a new record for household debt reported just last month, the International Monetary Fund has now just downgraded its projections for Canadian economic growth once again. The Conservatives' solution to all this: spend $100 million of taxpayer money on economic action plan advertising. That is their solution. Canadians deserve better.
Canadians deserve a government with a plan to create jobs for our young people instead of one that accepts a youth unemployment rate that is double the national average.
Canadians deserve a government that understands the key role that cities play in economic growth and job creation instead of one that cuts $6 billion in local infrastructure funding, as Conservatives did in their last budget despite their promises to the contrary.
Canadians deserve a government that understands that the only way to increase wealth in a society is to increase knowledge instead of one that slashes tax credits for research and development, hampering innovation.
Canadians deserve a government that works together with the provinces to strengthen skills instead of one that tries to impose its will on the provinces from Ottawa.
They deserve a government that has a long-term vision for developing our natural resources instead of a government with a reckless rip and ship approach to resource development, an approach that does nothing to protect our own energy security or help create value-added jobs.
Canadians deserve a government that is focused on creating the next generation of middle-class jobs in every region, in every sector, a government that will create a fairer, greener, more prosperous Canada for all. An NDP government will do that in 2015.
However, clearly this is not a government focused on building a Canada that is more prosperous for everyone, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the government's approach to first nations, Inuit, and Metis people. It has been five years since the historic residential school apology on the floor of the House of Commons, five years since the promised to renew our nation-to-nation relationship with first nations, Inuit, and Metis people, but what we have seen since that day is, unfortunately, more of the same: more broken promises, more delays, more cheap talk.
For far too long Liberal and Conservative governments have failed indigenous peoples in Canada. There has been no partnership, no real consultation, no recognition, and no respect, even though our Constitution and international law require them. Instead, all we have seen from Liberal and Conservative governments to this day is the same old paternalistic father-knows-best approach.
This summer I visited with aboriginal leaders at the First Nations Summit in British Columbia. These are first nations leaders who have tried to take a constructive approach to treaty negotiations with this Conservative government, but who simply do not have a willing partner sitting at the table across from them.
They have seen government representatives sent to negotiate with a take-it-or-leave-it proposal rather than a real mandate for dialogue. They have seen the federal government threaten to simply walk away from the table if its demands are not met. They have seen demands to renounce and extinguish their inherent rights as the price of reaching a deal, a practice so egregious that it has been denounced by the United Nations itself. All of this has resulted in a treaty process that has become so slow that it sometimes seems as if it has ground to a halt.
As BC Treaty Commission chair Sophie Pierre has said, this failed approach has not only produced delays and distrust but has left a growing number of B.C. first nations drowning in debt. First nations are being asked to mortgage their children's future just to protect their children's inherent rights. This is not just wrong, it is shameful.
We are living in an era of innovation that is unlike anything we have seen in Canadian history. Human capacity is greater than ever and the potential to maximize that capacity is unprecedented. Our capacity and potential are not lacking. What is lacking is political will.
The NDP believes in a Canada where people who work hard and play by the rules will succeed. We believe in a government in Ottawa that puts the public interest ahead of its own interests.
I can guarantee that the only powerful interest any member of an NDP government will ever serve is that of the people.
We in the NDP believe that we must give Canadians the support they need and are entitled to receive not only to survive, but also to prosper in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy.
What does that mean? It means targeted tax relief for companies that create jobs and train young workers, rather than across-the-board tax breaks for companies that are shipping our jobs overseas.
Throughout the summer, I met with young people who, instead of having found the type of full-time, stable employment that our generation had, are being forced to take low-paying jobs and precarious contract work. It is shameful.
Today's young people are better educated and more dynamic than ever, but can we honestly say that we are giving them the same opportunities our parents gave us? I doubt it.
As a generation of middle-class jobs disappeared, what did we do to create the next generation of middle-class jobs?
This fall, New Democrats will continue to focus on protecting Canadians from the unfair practices of credit card companies and payday lenders, as well as from excessive ATM fees.
New Democrats will keep fighting for a Canadian energy strategy that will create value-added jobs, contribute to our energy security and protect the environment.
Government after government, whether Liberal or Conservative, failed to take action on climate change. That is endangering not only our environment but also our entire economy. It is time to come up with a new plan, a new way of doing things, a new direction forward.
It is true that the challenges before us sometimes seem too great. To rise to these challenges, we need more than words, more than the Conservatives' constant cheap talk. New Democrats know that we are up to the task and that, unlike the old-guard parties, we will get it done.
I move, seconded by the member for :
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after “job creation; and” and replacing them with the following:
||(b) condemn the Conservatives' economic record, which has resulted in over 1.3 million unemployed Canadians, drastic cuts to employment insurance, growing inequality and the downloading of billions of dollars of costs to individuals and other levels of government; and
||(c) call on the government to introduce a real plan to create high-quality jobs and combat stagnating wages, provide tax incentives targeted to hire young Canadians, improve retirement security through increased Canada pension plan/Quebec pension plan benefits, and reduce credit card fees charged to small businesses and Canadian families.
Together, we will get it done.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to take part in this debate. Let me start by stating my disappointment that we are not actually debating the Speech from the Throne.
Instead, we are having a short debate on the self-congratulatory motion from the government. After eight years, we have grown used to that tone. More troubling, it is again limiting the opportunity for members of all parties to participate in a debate on the government's agenda.
One of the things I have seen across the country is disappointment that the government does not even respect its own members of Parliament. Canadians elected MPs to represent their voice in Ottawa. Instead, what they got is the 's voice in their constituencies.
That the government is denying the traditional role for its own back bench to speak on the throne speech is only the latest example.
That is not what Canadians expect from MPs. Like many of my colleagues, I spent the summer meeting with Canadians. I spent time with my family at home in Montreal and with my constituents in Papineau. I visited over 60 major centres, cities and towns, where I spoke with teachers, truckers, farmers and small-business owners about their concerns.
It is wonderful to have the opportunity to meet with Canadians, speak with them, listen to them and learn more about the challenges they face. It is a privilege that we share here and I hope to be able to do them justice today.
A recurring theme of the hundreds of in-person discussions I had with people is that Canadians feel as though they have been abandoned by this government. Although it is great to get out there and hear honest feedback, that feedback is hard to hear for anyone who cares about public service.
The more I listened, the more it became obvious that it was not easy for Canadians to talk about either. There is cynicism now, but it is not what we Canadians like to feel. It is not who we are, when we are engaged and connected with people. These stirrings of mistrust and suspicion just do not sit well with Canadians. However, at the same time, I get it. It is hard not to feel disappointed in one's government when every day there is a new scandal, another lapse in judgment.
Canadians are being led by a government that says it is committed to accountability and transparency, but that same government has lost five caucus members to scandal. The 's Office remains under RCMP criminal investigation for a $90,000 cheque written to a sitting legislator. The former chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee is charged with fraud, abuse of trust and money laundering. The member for , until this past summer the Prime Minister's own parliamentary secretary, has been charged with four counts of breaking election laws. Those are just the ones we know about.
The individuals in question can resign from the 's Office or be told to leave caucus; they can even flee extradition in Panama. However, the Prime Minister put them there. He gave them an opportunity to abuse the public trust. He thought they were worthy and, one by one, they are proving him wrong. What does that say about the Prime Minister's judgment?
I understand that Canadians are disappointed and that they feel abandoned. It is only natural when, day after day, people realize that their trust is being broken and that their hopes have been misplaced.
The Speech from the Throne that we heard yesterday was an opportunity for the government to get back on track and regain the confidence of Canadians. What the government told us yesterday can be grouped into two categories: hot air and background noise.
The priorities they identified are fine as far as they go, but they do not go very far. Canadians need more job opportunities, better job opportunities, not a jobs grant that has been rejected by all 10 provinces because it demands extra funding from stretched provincial budgets. Canadians need to feel that their priorities are the government's priorities, that their interests get more attention and air time than the government's desperate attempts at self-preservation. Where is the plan to attract investment to this country, to create good middle-class jobs? Instead, the government turns investment away with its Keystone Kops approach to policy.
Where is the plan for our youth when this so-called economic recovery is practically non-existent for them? Where is the plan for middle-class Canadians who are being crushed under a record level of debt, debt they acquired to keep this country afloat during the economic crisis? All they are seeing from this government is a crass attempt to take credit for their work, their entrepreneurial spirit, and their willingness to take risks.
These are difficult problems to solve. The government has grown so long in the tooth, so tired, that it seems it cannot even be bothered to try. Instead, we get policies focused on bringing the CRTC firmly into the 1990s. Instead of a forward-looking approach to data and telecom, we get a smattering of policies that the government itself rejected in the past. In a world of Apple TV, YouTube, Netflix and big data, the Conservative government is still looking under the couch for the remote control. No wonder it is having such trouble changing the channel.
To Canadians, I say there is much more to the government's agenda than what they heard yesterday afternoon. As Conservatives approach their party's Halloween convention in the great city of Calgary, they are once again putting on a costume, but really just revealing how out of touch they are with Canadians. Their environment minister doubts climate change, questioning evidence about melting summer sea ice in her own constituency.
Their indicated that the government will not provide funding for any more projects to help war rape victims or young girls who are forced into marriage.
Their is opposing the decisions of her own department's doctors and health care professionals.
Their anglophone ministers are criticizing the PQ government's plan to legislate minority rights, while the is saying that there is nothing that upsets him in that plan.
These are not rogue members of Parliament. These are cabinet ministers, the most senior elected officials, hand-picked by the . Their positions—climate change denial, a crackdown on reproductive rights, denying Canadians medical treatment, finding no fault with an attack on individual rights and freedoms—are an affront to Canadian values.
Canadians elected the government to represent their interests, but one thing has become perfectly clear: the Conservative government serves only its own interests. It has only one goal, and its goal is not to serve Canadians. The Conservative government is a political government staring down an unending series of political problems, and it is responding the only way it knows how, with political solutions, and none of it is helping our struggling middle class.
Our economy has more than doubled in size in the past 30 years. Who has benefited from that growth? Not the middle class. Despite all of our economic progress as a country, middle-class families have not had a real raise in decades.
As incomes have stagnated and costs of key items like post-secondary education and transportation have risen far faster than inflation, Canadian households have had to shoulder more and more debt. As a share of disposable income, our households are now more in debt than even those in the United States.
Members of the middle class are now worried—and rightly so—about the fact that no matter how hard they work, they will not be able to give their children the same opportunities their parents gave them.
Canadians struggling to get by on lower incomes are also worried about this. They are watching the dream of hard work being rewarded by upward mobility go up in smoke.
The success of the middle class is vital even to more fortunate Canadians. Until the government recognizes that a strong economy is one that provides the greatest number of quality jobs to the greatest number of Canadians, economic growth policies are likely to lose popular support.
Canadians were promised by those guys, above all else, leadership when it came to the economy. It is what many voted for, but what are the results?
First, growth has been particularly stagnant under the Conservative government. Now in his eighth year in office, the right hon. member for has the worst record on growth of any prime minister since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the Great Depression.
Under the Conservative government's self-proclaimed steady hand, we have seen ten consecutive federal budget surpluses turn into seven consecutive deficits.
The government has ballooned our national debt at an unprecedented rate. By the next election, it will have added more than $150 billion in just eight years, according to its own numbers.
The unemployment rate remains unwaveringly higher than it was before the recession hit five years ago, with the youth unemployment rate nearly twice the national average. Unfortunately, our unemployment rate seems to improve only when workers give up and leave the labour market.
We saw this in our own families and in the communities we live in and represent from coast to coast. Meanwhile, the government kept telling us not to worry, that the economy was its priority and that everything was fine.
I think we could handle the hypocrisy if it did not come packaged in a slick marketing campaign that we ourselves, as Canadians, paid for. Do members know what always drives home the government's economic record for me? It is that economic action plan logo. Every time I see it, with three arrows pointed heavenward, I think to myself, “Yup, that's exactly what the economic action plan has delivered: rising debt, rising unemployment, and rising disappointment for Canadians”. That is the economic legacy of the current government.
As I listened to the Speech from the Throne, one word came to mind. It is one I have used to describe the government before. Not surprisingly, it still fits today. That word is “unambitious”.
As I said back in April, this is a government whose primary economic message is, “Well, it could be worse. Be happy you don't live in Spain”.
That attitude is completely out of step with the values of Canadians. The Canadians I spent time with this summer are ambitious. They are not complacent. They are not willing to settle for good enough when they know that better is possible.
That is the profound difference between this government and the people it is supposed to serve. Session after session, this government does everything it can to convince itself that it is impossible to do any better and that expecting more from our leaders and ourselves is a waste of time—naive, even. That may be true of those who have been in power for too long and who are out of touch with reality. They might start to believe that making special, rigged appointments and secret agreements and denying the facts in no uncertain terms is the norm. If so, that kind of vision of the world might very well start making sense.
However, to tell Canadians that their political engagement is futile, that their occupy-activism is empty, that their 1,600-kilometre Idle No More walk, through a Canadian winter, makes no difference, well that kind of defeatism has no place in this House. It has no place in the Canada I know and serve. It has no place in this country whose future we determine together. Canadians expect more, and so they should. They have every right to.
We look forward to having even more conversations with Canadians, to doing our part to restore hope where it is fading. It is time—actually, it is well past time—to return to these great stone buildings the respect, the dignity, the public trust that they deserve.
On top of all that, it is good to be back here.
Mr. Speaker, in fact, CIBC World Markets stated in a report in December 2012 that 30% of businesses in Canada were facing a skilled labour shortage.
Furthermore, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce also pointed out that the skills shortage was the primary issue for its members.
Therefore, to help Canadians connect with available jobs, economic action plan 2013 sets out a three-point plan to address these challenges.
First, it introduces the new Canada job grant, which provides $15,000 or more per person, combining federal, provincial, territorial and employer funding. Once fully implemented, it is expected to provide nearly 130,000 Canadians each year with access to training at eligible institutions, including community colleges, career colleges and trade union training centres.
The CEO of the National Association of Career Colleges recognized the importance of these efforts when he said:
|| Thanks to the reforms proposed in this budget, including the new Canada Job Grant, an increased number of unemployed and underemployed Canadians will be able to obtain the training that they need to access jobs that are in demand now, and will be in the future
Second, our plan will create opportunities for apprentices. Supporting apprenticeships is a critical component in addressing Canada's work shortage because they allow students to learn skilled trades while gaining paid on-the-job work experience. Our government recognizes the value of apprentices, which is why we have invested nearly $2.7 billion per year since 2006 to support skills and training programs and have made support for apprentices and the employers that hire them a priority. It is evident in programs like the apprenticeship and incentive grant, the tradesperson's tools deduction and the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, to name a few.
In order to reduce the obstacles to the recognition of skilled trades and to improve the opportunities available to apprentices, our government will work with the provinces and territories in order to harmonize the requirements for apprentices and examine the use of practical tests as an evaluation method in targeted skilled trades.
This will ensure more apprentices complete their training and encourage mobility across the country. In addition, economic action plan 2013 announces that our government will support the use of apprentices in federal construction and maintenance contracts. We will also ensure that funds transferred to provinces and territories through the investment and affordable housing program support the use of apprentices. As part of the new building Canada plan for infrastructure, the government will encourage provinces, territories and municipalities to support the use of apprentices in infrastructure projects receiving federal funding.
Finally, economic action plan 2013 will also support labour market participation and a more inclusive skilled workforce with a range of measures that provide support to groups that are under-represented in the job market, such as persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal people and newcomers, to help them find good new jobs.
I will give a few specific examples of some of the initiatives that will help make this three-point plan a reality.
To begin, our Conservative government recognizes the contributions persons with disabilities can and do make to the economy. That is why economic action plan 2013 will enhance skills training opportunities for Canadians with disabilities through a new generation of labour market agreements for persons with disabilities. These agreements will be introduced by 2014 and are designed to better meet the employment needs of Canadian businesses and improve the employment prospects for persons with disabilities.
Economic action plan 2013 also recognizes the importance of engaging with employers that are committed to promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace. That is why it provides an investment to support the creation of the Canadian employers disability forum as recommended by the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.
The forum, an initiative led by a number of Canadian businesses, including Loblaw Companies Limited, will be managed by employers for employers to facilitate education, training and sharing of resources and best practices concerning the hiring and retention of persons with disabilities. Under the leadership of the forum, employers will help to promote and further the invaluable contributions that persons with disabilities can make to business.
In addition, in order to help more persons with disabilities acquire the experience they need to participate fully in the labour force, we are going to modernize and expand the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities in order to find demand-driven training solutions for these Canadians and to make it more responsive to labour market needs.
However, there is still more to come.
Economic action plan 2013 also extends the enabling accessibility fund on an ongoing basis at a level of $15 million per year to support capital costs of construction and renovations related to improving physical accessibility for persons with disabilities through projects with demonstrated community support, including workplace accommodation.
However, we are not the only ones who think these initiatives will help persons with disabilities find employment. In fact, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, CCD, also agrees. According to the CCD, it was pleased to see that economic action plan 2013, “continued support for Canadians with disabilities through extension of the Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities, and the fact that the Enabling Accessibility Fund and the Opportunities Fund have been made permanent programs”. It goes on to say that it is “pleased to see the creation of a Canadian Employers’ Disability Forum that will seek greater engagement of the private sector in expanding employment opportunities for Canadians with disabilities”.
The praise does not end there. I think the Canadian Association for Community Living has it right when it openly supported our government's plans, saying:
|| Budget 2013 sets the right tone and target for people with disabilities...We know the tremendous potential that exists throughout this country to enable the 500,000 working-age Canadians with intellectual disabilities to join and help build Canada’s labour force.
Economic action plan 2013 also proposes strategic investments that target youth at different stages of their educational and early labour market careers. Providing young Canadians with the information and opportunities to make smart education and employment choices is essential in securing Canada's long-term economic prosperity. Indeed, economic action plan 2013 promotes education in high-demand fields by reallocating $19 million over two years to inform young people about fields of study that will help them get in-demand jobs, including science and engineering, mathematics and the skilled trades.
This also confirms our government’s commitment to Pathways to Education, a non-profit agency that provides a wide range of types of support to students from low-income communities, including tutoring and mentoring, in partnership with the private sector, other levels of government and community organizations.
Early support for high school students has been shown to drastically increase post-secondary education prospects for young people and ultimately employment. Since 2001, more than 1,000 students have graduated from the program, with 73% pursuing further studies. Because the transition to a first job can be challenging, economic action plan 2013 also provides support for an additional 5,000 paid internships for recent post-secondary graduates, ensuring they get valuable hands-on work experience to ease this transition.
Our investments in Canada's youth are also evident in the $330 million per year for the youth employment strategy to help young Canadians get the skills and work experience they need to transition to the workplace and the ongoing summer jobs program, which is an extremely popular program in my home riding of North Vancouver.
In addition to providing support for Canadians with disabilities and today's youth, our government is providing support to Canada's young aboriginal population as well. While young aboriginals are under-represented in both the labour market and in post-secondary institutions, there is tremendous potential for long-term success and economic prosperity.
That is why economic action plan 2013 invests $241 million over five years to improve the on-reserve income assistance program to help make it easier for first nations youth to find the skills and training needed to secure employment.
We are also going to work with the first nations to improve this program in order to ensure that young recipients who are in a position to work are encouraged to take the training required to find a job.
The new first nations job fund, totalling $109 million over five years, will fund the provision of personalized job training to these recipients. Economic action plan 2013 also confirms our government's commitment to consult with first nations across Canada on the development of a first nations education act.
At the same time, it proposes $10 million over two years to Indspire to provide post-secondary scholarships and bursaries for first nations and Inuit students. Led by Roberta Jamieson, Indspire has a proven record of success, providing scholarships to over 2,200 aboriginal students annually and raising significant support from a range of corporate donors to help support student success.
Indeed, Jamieson herself recognized the significance of this investment by saying:
|With the federal government’s commitment of $10 million and its endorsement of Indspire's plan to match the funding with investment from the private sector, we'll be able to provide a total of $20 million in new funding for students.
Through this new investment, Indspire can provide scholarships to thousands of young people from first nations and Inuit communities, helping them to achieve their full potential and strengthening aboriginal communities throughout the country.
However, there is still more. Economic action plan 2013 also proposes $5 million over five years for Cape Breton University's Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies to encourage business studies by aboriginal students. This initiative will help build a brighter future for aboriginal youth and help to promote independence and economic self-reliance for aboriginal communities.
Every one of the initiatives that I have outlined so far will help connect Canadians with high quality jobs, improving not just their personal circumstances but also supporting their families, communities and the Canadian economy.
There is something else that our government has been doing since 2006 that helps to keep our economy strong as well, and that is keeping taxes low. The opposition might be interested to know that since 2006 we have cut taxes over 160 times, reducing the overall tax burden to its lowest level in 50 years. In fact, we have cut taxes in every way government collects them: personal taxes, consumption taxes, business taxes, excise taxes and much more. Overall our strong record of tax relief has meant savings for a typical family of four totalling over $3,200. This includes cutting the lowest personal income tax rate to 15%; introducing pension income splitting for seniors; reducing the GST from 7% to 5%; introducing and enhancing the working income tax benefit; introducing the tax-free savings account, the most important savings vehicle since RRSPs; reducing the small-business tax rate from 12% to 11%; and more.
It does not stop there. In economic action plan 2013, we extended and expanded the hiring credit for small business, helping an estimated 560,000 employers and saving them about $225 million in 2013 alone.
It is clear that our government has a plan to keep Canada's economy strong. Indeed, it is our economic leadership that helped Canada emerge from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression better than most other countries in the world. Not only does Canada have the best job creation record since the depth of the global recession, with over one million net new jobs created, but the IMF and the OECD project that Canada will have among the strongest economic growth in the G7 in the years ahead.
The primary responsibility of all nations is to balance efforts made in support of job creation and economic growth, while fulfilling their commitments to reduce the deficit and return to a balanced budget in the medium term.
Indeed, this is what Canada has done and what we will continue to do. In fact, the Vancouver Board of Trade recognized this balance by saying:
|| The government is demonstrating a commitment to returning to a balanced budget in the short term, but at the same time, supporting economic growth and job creation.... Given the state of the global economy—where we are seeing recessions, drops in national and sub-national credit ratings, and out-of-control deficits—we are truly fortunate in Canada to be contemplating balanced budgets, receiving AAA credit ratings, and growing our GDP.
It is unfortunate that the NDP and the Liberals do not share this view. While we are building a stronger Canadian economy and returning to balanced budgets, the Liberal leader openly admits he does not have a single idea on the economy and the NDP leader keeps pushing higher taxes and big spending schemes. We have a different route and we are going to take that route.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak to the House today. It is my first opportunity to give a speech after the very long prorogation of the House by the federal government.
I want to begin with a recognition of the earthquake yesterday in the Philippines. A number of members of my community, the riding of Parkdale—High Park, are of Filipino origin. I want to express my condolences to them. We know how worried they and people of Philippine origin around the world must be about the well-being of loved ones there.
On the issue at hand, to begin, I have to say how disappointing the throne speech was for Canadians. It was very long but very thin. It was a bit of a string throne speech. There was not much substance to it. Throne speeches ought to be about vision, about where the government wants to take the country. They should be about what we can do together as a nation in addition to our efforts as individuals, as families and as communities and how the government helps us to do more and to be more than the sum of our parts.
Instead, we keep getting the message from the government that we are on our own and should not count on it, that we will keep paying more taxes and user fees, but services will be consistently fewer and fewer.
Young people growing up in Canada today are receiving the message from the government that they cannot count on it to help them in any way.
What a puny vision for Canada. What a sad vision for Canada. It is part of trying to change the channel after so many scandals and allegations of fraud and economic mismanagement. I dare say it will take a lot more than copying the New Democrats' consumer protection agenda to make Canadians forget about scandals in the Senate and to get them to change the channel that quickly. I have heard from constituents across my community who are infuriated by the misspending of the government and the lack of accountability. What really got on their nerves was the Conservatives spending millions of tax dollars on advertising but falling short of taking any real action to help Canadian families. Their action plan was all about the action of spending Canadian tax dollars.
Governments have announced even more cuts that will hurt services but are putting more money into advertising for themselves. While they like to tout their record, they are only faring middlingly well among the OECD countries. In fact, our economy is underperforming. Growth in Canada is stalling, and other countries are overtaking us in spite of Canada's many advantages and in spite of the government's rather breathless talking points this morning.
The Conservatives have taken Canada from a trade surplus to a $62 billion current account trade deficit in 2012. That is quite a breathtaking record.
When it comes to a new trade deal with Europe, the Conservatives have been very effective at keeping Canadians in the dark throughout these negotiations. When it comes to trade, details matter. Of course we will closely review the text of any agreement before we decide whether to support it, and of course we support trade in general with Europe as long as it is a good deal for Canada. We want to deepen and broaden our economic ties with Europe. It is a partner with high standards, the rule of law and exactly the kind of economy with which we should be strengthening our relationship. I hope we get the opportunity to have a democratic debate and vote on it.
Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals before them, New Democrats support an open and progressive approach to trade, one that is based on promoting our interests as a country, increasing our exports and building a stronger global economy.
What we have seen under the current government is the decline of our manufacturing sector. The sector continues to shed thousands of jobs. Job creation has not kept pace with the population growth, and we still have almost 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than we did before the last recession.
The unemployment rate among young Canadians remains at 13%, and our youth face precarious working conditions and an unprecedented underemployment rate. There are currently 1.3 million unemployed Canadians.
How can the government justify the fact that the number of unemployed workers has increased by more than 200,070 since the Conservatives took power? That is unbelievable.
The unemployment rate fell this month, but only because 20,000 young Canadians gave up searching for work, deciding to accept unpaid internships, going back to school or simply giving up hope of finding a job. In fact, a generation of young Canadians facing double-digit unemployment and precarious low-paying jobs has a very uncertain future.
The Conference Board of Canada and others rank Canada near the bottom, compared with 15 of its peers, in innovation and research and development. As I am sure all my colleagues know and as Canadians know, innovation is essential to a high-performing economy. Given that my colleagues across the way have been fond of quoting supporters of theirs, I quote the Conference Board, which has stated:
|| Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. It is also critical to environmental protection, a high-performing education system, a well-functioning system of health promotion and health care, and an inclusive society. Without innovation, all of these systems stagnate and Canada's performance deteriorates relative to that of its peers.
That is what has been happening. Canada's performance has been deteriorating relative to that of its peers. This has clearly been another Conservative failure, and its solution has been just silence on innovation.
Household debt for Canadians is at a new record high, a sure sign that Canadian families are being squeezed. Household debt stands at a near-record high of 166% of disposable income. Why would that be? Incomes are stagnating. In fact, the average Canadian is even going backwards when it comes to income, whereas the benefits of economic growth are disproportionately going to those at the very top of the economic scale. That is simply unacceptable. We have based our success as a country in the post-war period on what I would call economic and social solidarity—in other words, the notion that we are all on the same bus heading in the same direction, that we all have to work together as Canadians. The notion is that when we do that and Canadians go to work everyday, work hard and do a good job, supporting themselves and their families, we will all share in the economic benefits of that prosperity and there will in fact be a shared prosperity for Canadians.
That commitment is being broken, and not only under the current government but by previous governments as well. I say that is a tragedy for Canadians and they start to lose faith in their ability to act together when that kind of social solidarity is broken.
I hear the Conservative government talk about families, but I also think about first nations families and how they are facing Third World conditions, and the despair that many young people feel in first nations communities.
The federal government knows that funding for first nations education is 30% less than the funding provided by provincial governments, and yet in the throne speech there was silence, nothing about closing the gap. I speak to business owners across the country, some of whom are crying for more skilled workers. They want to get more first nations youth into skills training programs, but young people need to first pass the hoop of a secondary school education. That is not happening because of the failure of the government to work with first nations as equals and negotiate better funding for first nations education.
Canadians fundamentally believe that we need to work together to build a better tomorrow, and when we do, we count on government to protect us in certain areas. Yes, these are consumer issues, things like rail safety. The fact that the government has failed to implement recommendations to improve rail safety leaves Canadians vulnerable. The fact that food industries are self-regulating when it comes to safety is simply unacceptable and has led to E.coli outbreaks. The fact is that airline passengers are left to their own devices because the government has voted, not once but twice, against an NDP proposal for an airline passenger bill of rights.
The government has a philosophy of leaving people to their own devices. Do not get me wrong; people do not want governments to dictate to them, but they believe that governments have a role in helping to create the economic conditions that can improve their lives. Over the summer and fall, as I have gone door to door in my constituency of Parkdale—High Park, I have heard people say again and again that they are concerned about the same basic things. They are concerned about growing inequality, a lack of environmental protection and the terrible environmental record of the government.
One of the boundaries of my riding is the mighty heritage river, the Humber River. This river has lost its environmental protection because of changes made by the government, and people are very concerned about it. They are concerned that there is no federal funding to make sure that a new infrastructure project, the air-rail link in Parkdale—High Park, is going to be clean electric transportation rather than dirty diesel. We hear silence from the government. They are concerned about the undermining of our scientists and science—the abandonment of the long form census, for example—and they are definitely concerned about good-quality jobs and what the lack of good jobs means for the next generation.
I am increasingly convinced that Canadians believe our economy should deliver some basic things. It should make sure everybody has a place to live. People need homes to go to, roofs over their heads. People need dignity at work. They need decent jobs with a decent standard of living, where they are treated with respect. People should expect from their economy a secure retirement. No senior in this country should live in poverty. What people expect most of all is that the next generation will have at least as much opportunity as the generation that went before.
We did not hear the government address these issues. We did not hear it lay out a vision for the Canada of the future. We hear about mandatory balanced budgets but not the requirement for governments to deliver for seniors or the next generation. Where are their mandatory commitments to Canadians? In fact, the Conservatives have done everything possible to undermine the ability of this or future governments to deliver on many of these fronts. They have cut the GST and took billions out of our budgets every year, when most economists and tax experts agree this was the wrong approach. The Conservatives and the Liberals before them have cut corporate taxes in half, again reducing government's ability to act, but that money is not being reinvested by businesses in the economy and not creating jobs.
New Democrats, like most Canadians, believe we do not get something for nothing. We do not get handed tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts with no strings attached.
New Democrats believe that employers, large and small, should earn a tax benefit. If they invest in innovation, invest in cutting-edge equipment, create new jobs, and train people, then yes, let us offer an incentive. However, they do not just get a big tax cut, put it in their pockets, and then walk away and have a nice day.
What we did hear about were consumer issues. Believe me, it is flattering to have the Conservatives poach some NDP proposals, even if, sadly, they voted against them again and again in the House. Sadly, there is still nothing on airline passenger rights or the crushing credit card fees small businesses pay.
We also cannot ignore the bigger picture. Today Canadian families are squeezed like never before. Under successive federal Conservative and Liberal governments, when the economy has been growing most Canadians have seen relatively little benefit. They are struggling to keep up as the cost of living is rising and middle class jobs are disappearing. Over the past 35 years, our economy has grown by nearly 150%, but the average family has seen its income fall by 7%. Too many students are graduating with a debt the size of a small mortgage, and just as families are forced to carry greater and greater debts, they are saving less and less for retirement. The CIBC estimates that nearly six million are facing a drop-off of 20% or more in their standard of living by retirement.
The Conservatives love tackling crime until it comes to Conservative MPs and senators. They appreciate our natural resources but do not provide good stewardship for our environment. They embrace a few pocketbook issues but do not deliver on creating jobs that put money in people's pockets. They are enthusiastic about patriotism but not very good at nation-building and bringing Canadians together.
New Democrats believe that Canadians deserve better. Canadians need a government that works with them, not against them. At a minimum, we need an employment insurance system that helps working people adjust to the calamity of unemployment. We need Canada and Quebec pension plans that offer better retirement security for more Canadians. We have also proposed a range of measures, from youth job creation and small business hiring tax credits to developing a pan-Canadian energy strategy.
Rather than cutting government services and throwing more Canadians out of work, we need a government that invests in cutting-edge and badly needed infrastructure to prepare our economy for the future and also to create good quality jobs. Rather than silencing our scientists and environmentalists, we support science-based decisions that keep in mind both our short-term and especially our long-term interests. We owe the next generation at least that much.
I see that my time is almost up, but let me say in closing that the vision we were presented with yesterday in the throne speech was very puny. It really was not much of a vision for Canada. Here, on the New Democratic side of the House, we believe that together we can meet the challenges of Canadians head on and reverse and lift the staggering burden of household debt weighing on Canadian families.
We can build an economy that is fairer, greener, cleaner, and more prosperous for all. Give us the chance and we will deliver for all Canadians.