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View Jagmeet Singh Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jagmeet Singh Profile
2020-04-29 16:10 [p.2256]
Mr. Speaker, from the beginning of this crisis, New Democrats have said there are three things that Canadians need. They need to have the money to be able to pay their bills, the confidence that they will have a job to return to and a safe place to live. Throughout this crisis, we have seen that the government has acted too slowly and, in many cases, with too little to help Canadians get through this crisis.
We have said from the beginning that the simplest and most effective way to ensure that no one is missed or left behind is to send support directly to all Canadians. Absent that, we have said that if the government is not willing to have a universal basic income for Canadians during this crisis, then at least make the CERB universal. Make the CERB universal so that anyone who needs help right now can access that help.
Every step of the way, instead of a simple solution that prioritizes making sure Canadians who need help can get it, the Liberals have preferred a complicated approach, one where they are constantly changing and upgrading it. Contrary to the Deputy Prime Minister, I do not believe that is a strength when there is a clear solution that they have completely avoided. It would have been a strength if we had a universal program and then had to modify it to expand to other things not expected in terms of businesses and other groups. If there is an easy solution to provide help to all Canadians and the Liberals are ignoring that option, only to have to return to Parliament to update and continually change it because we push them to close the gaps, that is not something they should be proud of.
In fact, what the government is doing is making a choice. The government is choosing to deny help to those who need it most. It is choosing to deny help to those desperately in need. The Liberals' position is this. They would rather deny help to those who need it most than risk people getting more help than they need. That is really the choice they are making. They are so afraid there may be some people who do not need help and might end up getting it, that they are willing to risk people in desperate need falling through the cracks. That is a choice they are making.
However, New Democrats have a solution to that. We can easily tax back those who get extra help and do not need it. We have a year until the next tax season. In that time, I am confident that, if it were a priority of the government to ensure Canadians got the help they needed, those who received extra help could be taxed back very easily. We are in a crisis. We are in a pandemic. The priority should not be excluding or denying people in need and then trying to catch up and find solutions. The priority should be that they do not want people falling through the cracks and they will tax back those who did not need the help. That should be the solution. This is not the time to deny help; this is the time to deliver help as rapidly as possible to everyone in need.
This government is making a choice. It is a choice. It is choosing to leave some people behind, to deny help to people desperately in need. It would rather deny help to those who need it most than risk people getting help they do not need.
There is a simple solution. Give everyone the help they need now and if someone does not need the assistance, it can be taxed back.
This is not the time to deny help to people. It is the time to help people as quickly as possible.
Now I want to talk about the approach to students. We have said from the beginning that there were too many people missed by the CERB. Notably, we mentioned students as well as owner-operators, seniors and people living with disabilities, but let us focus on students.
It is clear from the approach that the Liberal government is taking that the Liberals believe that there are some students who are deserving of help and there are others who are not. The Liberals are basing their assumptions on a very privileged view of the world. In his announcement about students, the Prime Minister actually said to the public, when referencing this aid, that maybe students are going to have to go to mom and dad and ask for help and it is going to be harder to do that these days. What the Prime Minister did not really reflect on is that many students are moms and dads.
In their initial proposition, until we pushed them, the Liberals thought they were justified to give students with children and students living with disabilities less help. They thought it was okay to cut the help that went to moms who decided to go back to school to get an education, and that they somehow deserved less help. The government members thought it was okay to tell students living with disabilities, who already face challenges getting jobs, that they deserve less help, as if students living with disabilities have to pay less for rent or less for groceries; as if moms who go back to school have some sort of discount on their groceries or their bills. In case the government does not know this, they do not have a discount. In fact, it might be more costly and more difficult for them. It seems like the government wanted to penalize people for going to school; that it wanted to penalize students living with disabilities and parents who went on to get an education.
I want to give a clear example of what this means for a student, which provides a picture of what this decision meant. Miranda is from Victoria. She is a single mom who was in full-time studies last year. She did not make the $5,000 cut-off to qualify for the CERB. She is now unemployed because she has an eight-year-old daughter and, as a result of COVID-19, has no child care. She has lost her child care. She does not qualify for the CERB. She is wondering how she is going to pay for the rent, food and bills. The government thinks that Miranda deserves less simply because she went to school.
What is the government's response to someone like Miranda? The Liberals initially thought that she did not need help or she did not deserve as much help or that since she was struggling before the pandemic, it was okay that she was struggling. They thought that it was okay that things were tough for her because she was used to it. That logic is simply inexcusable and it is wrong.
What is the government's general response to the students it has left behind? It says they do not need help, that they do not deserve as much help as someone who was working, that they were struggling before the pandemic and they should get used to it. That is inexcusable. It makes no sense.
I just cannot understand why the government thought it was okay to initially leave students with disabilities behind, and that it was okay to offer an arbitrary sum of money and say that it would give these students living with disabilities an arbitrary sum less than anyone else. That, to me, speaks to a callousness around its decision-making when it comes to students and perhaps a privileged world view of what it means to be a student.
When it comes to students living with disabilities, the fact that they were particularly given less funding as well really belies the reality. These are students who probably have to pay far more in costs, such as the cost of transportation for someone living with a disability and health care that is not covered. Their costs are probably higher, not lower.
We know that people living with disabilities face higher rates of unemployment, so it is probably more likely that someone with a disability is not likely to have had a job to qualify for the CERB. As students are trying to improve their lot in life, why would the government discriminate against them in that way?
However, what makes all of this even more hurtful, even more callous, is when we contrast the government's approach to students like Miranda, students living with disabilities, with its approach to wealthy, powerful businesses. Let us contrast the two. The government is not worried about the billions of dollars that we, as a country, we as people, are losing to those companies that choose to cheat our system by using tax havens. The government is not worried about that; it is okay, but Miranda deserves $250 less. A student living with a disability deserves $250 less because this is a student living with a disability. However, a company like Loblaws can use, legally, a tax haven and avoid paying $400 million in taxes, approximately.
It is unreal that the government thinks it is okay to allow a company like Loblaws to use offshore tax havens. Again, it is legal. That is the problem here. That company is legally allowed to do that and not contribute $400 million to our country to help with services and programs, but Miranda deserves $250 less. That is a choice. That is a decision that the government is making. That is not happenstance. It is not a coincidence, but a thoughtful choice that the government is making, and it is wrong.
This government is so worried about people like Miranda getting more money than they deserve that it is willing to give them $250 less per month. Meanwhile, it cannot be bothered to go after the billions of dollars that are lost every year when big corporations cheat the system by using tax havens. It is absolutely crazy. I am sorry, but it is true.
We have asked the government to commit to something really simple, and we have seen other countries do this. Denmark, France and Poland have all committed to the very same thing we are asking this government to do.
If a company in Canada thinks it is okay to cheat our tax system and put its money in an offshore tax haven, to purposefully avoid contributing to our society, contributing to the social programs in our country and paying its fair share, then that company does not deserve public help. We have asked the government to commit to that. Other countries have committed to it clearly. The Canadian government has not. The Prime Minister has not committed to this. It is a simple solution.
If a company thinks it is above contributing its fair share, or if a company thinks it is going to save billions or hundreds of millions of dollars and it is not going to contribute to the public good, then that company does not deserve the public good to help it out when times are tough, yet the government has not committed to that. To date, the government has not committed to doing this.
Again, I asked the Prime Minister earlier today. I asked the government today. There are ministers here. Will they commit to ensuring that a company in Canada that uses offshore tax havens will not get public funding and will not be bailed out during this time? I ask them to commit to that. It is a simple solution. Denmark, France and other countries are doing the same thing. Even Poland is doing this. Why will this country not do it? Why will this government not do it, when there are so many examples of other countries doing it? It is a clear solution. There are billions of dollars that we can recover. I am asking the government to do it.
More than I do, Canadians want the government to do this. People want to know that they are getting a fair share. It does not make sense that the government is going to deny a universal CERB at the same time that there are companies that are stealing, effectively, billions of dollars out of our coffers to contribute to our social good. That does not make any sense. It is beyond time that the Liberal government committed to closing these tax loopholes to ensure that we have the revenue that we can invest in Canadians and to ensure that people are lifted up in this time.
The government should not worry about nickel-and-diming students when wealthy corporations like Loblaws can get away with not paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Single parents like Miranda are not the problem. Company owners like Galen Weston are the problem, and it is not his fault; it is the government's fault that it is allowing offshore tax havens to exist.
I want to talk about another issue that is hurting Canadians and that people are desperately worried about. That is rent. Rent is due again on the first of the month, and that is going to be this Friday. There are far too many Canadians who do not know how they are going to pay their rent. We have urged the government to use the powers and jurisdiction that we have at the federal level over banks to ensure that there is a pause on mortgage, not a deferral. People who use a deferral end up having to pay far more in the long run. It would cost them far more. We are asking the government to use the powers we have expressly in the Constitution, section 91, and in the Bank Act to put a pause on mortgages, and then to negotiate with provinces to ensure there is a pause on rent. We know that mortgage and rent are connected. If we negotiate that pause, we can ensure that people are going to be able to stay in their homes.
We have also heard from small business owners who have said that one of their biggest concerns, one of their biggest fixed costs, is commercial rent. We were pleased that, after a lot of pressure and great work from a lot of activists across the country, small business owners and New Democrats, the government announced some help and relief for rent, when it comes to commercial properties. That is a good thing, but if the government has been able, working with the provinces, to figure out a way to put in place relief on commercial rent, I implore the government that people need that help as well. In the same way it was able to figure out how to work with the provinces to bring in place relief for small businesses, which is much needed, I ask the government to do the same for people who are worried about paying their rent.
There is no reason why we cannot extend that same relief and support to people. If these people cannot find a place to live, we are not just going to have a problem with homelessness or a lack of housing; we are also going to have a public health emergency when people who have been told they need to stay at home are no longer able to, and that would put more risk of infection and spreading the disease into our health care system.
The Prime Minister does not need to wait for a press conference. The Prime Minister can announce today that there will be relief for Canadians who need help when it comes to their rent, and that Canadians who need help with their mortgage can count on help. That can be announced today.
In closing, I want to point out that in every moment of this crisis, the Liberal government's first impulse or first reaction was to leave people behind. The Liberals left workers out of EI, and we pushed them to fix it. They left out workers in general who were not covered by EI. We pushed them, and they brought into place the CERB. They left small businesses behind, and we pushed them to fix that as well. Now they wanted to leave students behind. We pushed them, and they have come some of the way, but we are going to keep pushing them to make sure they go all the way.
The right thing to do now is help people out, not complicate things with different programs that have different criteria and different levels of support. What people need right now is to know that if they need help, they can apply for it and get it. The best way to help people right now is to make it easy to get the help they need, to make it quick and accessible.
I believe that if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: that the House call on the government to make the Canada emergency response benefit a universal benefit, such that students, seniors and anyone in need can apply for and receive $2,000 a month to help them through these difficult times.
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