House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was families.

Topics

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim restitution).

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has a very comprehensive crime fighting strategy. We believe the most effective crime fighting strategy is to ensure the crimes are not committed in the first place.

One of the components that we have talked about as well is ensuring victims are adequately compensated. My bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code for victim restitution, would change the word “may” to “shall” in subsection 738.1 of the Criminal Code. In other words, this would direct judges, as opposed to allowing them leeway, to order that offenders make restitution to victims of their crimes.

By ensuring that direction is provided to judges, rather than leaving it as an option, would help to fast track compensation for crime victims. We believe this is very important.

We will continue to fight to ensure that crimes are not committed and that resources are available in the community but when there are victims of crime we believe that restitution should be provided and that is the intention of this private member's bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, there is a growing prosperity gap in Canada that is making it harder for working and middle-class families to make ends meet and sees more and more Canadians, including women, children, seniors, aboriginal people and people with disabilities, slipping into poverty and therefore calls on the government, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, to implement a national anti-poverty strategy beginning with the reinstatement of the federal minimum wage to be initially set at $10 per hour.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House today to move our party's motion that calls for a national anti-poverty strategy beginning with the reinstatement of the $10 minimum wage.

I will be sharing my time with the member for Parkdale—High Park.

Over the course of today, my party will lay out what we see as the elements of a national anti-poverty plan.

Before I got into politics in 1990, I was a soup kitchen director. I got into politics to fight poverty and, 17 years later, I am still fighting. I wish I could say the fight was over.

As I travelled across Canada over the past two years, first on a tour looking at early learning for children and, more recently, talking with people about poverty and the growing prosperity gap, I was struck by the deep level of compassion and caring that exists. However, people are increasingly uneasy about the disparity they see around them and their own tenuous grip on some security for themselves and their families.

They remember a time when community mattered and government could and did make a difference. Canada has a rich tradition and history of gathering together as a community against geography, distance and weather to ensure that no one got left behind or was forgotten.

People are looking for a vision consistent with the Canadian story, where we wove a safety net of basic income, health care, education, unemployment insurance and pensions for all, the kind of vision that Canadians still remember. It was no accident that Tommy Douglas was voted the greatest Canadian.

Today there is a competing vision, one vision playing itself out over the last 15 years, rooted in the Margaret Thatcher thesis that there really is no such thing as society, rather a world of individuals who see money and the market as the driving force behind all human activity. The result is a growing uneasiness and dissatisfaction. There is a poverty and inequality that are symptoms of a structural dysfunction affecting more and more of our citizens and newcomers to our land.

Thomas Walkom wrote recently in the Toronto Star:

--the poor are the canaries in the coal mine. The deliberate attempts to reconfigure Canada over the past 30 years—by gutting social programs, dismantling national institutions and insisting that market forces alone can solve every problem—have affected everyone. But they've hit the poor first and hardest.

Mr. Walkom goes on to say:

We shouldn't care about poverty just to be nice. We should care about poverty because, in the end, this story isn't just about the 11 per cent or 16 per cent of the population...officially designated as low-income. It is about the deliberate erosion of middle-class Canada. It's about us, too.

Over the past nine months, I have travelled across the country to communities big and small. I have seen and heard the stories of misery and hurt and the tremendous effort of good people with little resource trying to make a difference. It is what I call a bad news-good news and yet even more bad news story.

The bad news is that the statistics flowing from institutions like the National Council of Welfare indicate that poverty is more pervasive and deeper than ever. The good news is that we are hearing about it again. For too long, it has been hidden and invisible. National newspapers are writing about poverty. People are willing to come to meetings to talk about it.

However, the even more bad news is why we are hearing about poverty again. The number of homeless is estimated to be as high as 250,000 and in places that we would never expect. Studies are showing alarmingly high numbers of people working full time all year and yet not earning enough to make ends meet.

I have been travelling on an anti-poverty campaign to learn first-hand about its reality in our country. I made a commitment to bring those stories, hopes and recommendations back to Parliament.

In Calgary and Victoria, two communities where the economy is booming, there is no affordable housing. Alarming numbers of people are living on the street as shelters, church halls and warehouses prove insufficient. The homeless are in the very shadows of the prosperous oil companies with their tax breaks.

In Calgary, I visited a shelter that beds down on floormats 1,000 to 1,200 of the 3,500-plus homeless living in that city. I watched as two city buses took another 100 or so to the suburbs to be bedded down on mats in warehouses. The rest find refuge where they can, most under bridges and in parks, while city hall passes laws making it criminal behaviour to do so.

A few will turn to crack and crystal meth, since, as I was told by street workers, it takes away any feeling of hunger, cold and fear. However, that lasts only five to ten minutes and they need another hit, which, in turn, leaves our streets dangerous places.

Other stories emerge. In Halifax, I was told of the disproportionate number of women facing poverty; women who go hungry to feed their children; the disappearance of good, well paying jobs in the manufacturing sector in the Niagara-Hamilton corridor of Ontario; the overwhelming aboriginal face of truly destitute poverty in Thunder Bay; the huge increases in health issues for people living in the poorer neighbourhoods of Saskatoon; whole families living in motel rooms through the winter in the Penticton area of B.C., then disappearing, with children gone from school when the tourists arrive in the spring. It is thought that they live in the mountains and campgrounds while picking fruit and working on farms to make a living. I was also told about the more than 50 disabled people living on the streets of Victoria, and the deteriorating and diseased stock of affordable housing in Toronto and Vancouver.

Canada has not had a national affordable housing program in over 15 years and what does exist is being torn down and replaced with expensive condos at an alarming rate.

About 175 people gathered in Castlegar, B.C. and told me of their struggles to get ahead, the roadblocks, the lack of resources and the cutbacks, in particular to early learning and child care.

Students at Brock University in St. Catharines told me about the challenges they face trying to access post-secondary education, the ever-increasing tuition and ancillary fees and the cost of housing and living expenses, while summer work is harder to get and pays only minimum wage that does not keep pace with inflation.

Poverty is debilitating and mind numbing. Poverty can paralyze and kill the spirit. Combined with thoughtless, harmful public policy, poverty can rip out our hearts and souls. Poverty can actually kill.

I remember the summer of 2001 and the story of Kimberly Rogers. Kimberly lived on social assistance and decided to go to college to better her situation. She was in her third year, soon to graduate, when she successfully applied for a student loan. What she did not know was that the Mike Harris government in Ontario at that time had passed legislation to make it illegal, criminal behaviour, to be in receipt of social assistance and also collect a student loan. She was charged, pleaded guilty and sentenced to house arrest. On the hottest day of August, in the summer of 2001, Kimberly Rogers and her unborn child died in that apartment living out her sentence. That should never happen in this country and we should never let it happen again.

Today we are calling for a national anti-poverty strategy, starting with the reinstatement of a federal minimum wage of $10 an hour. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Jurisdictions in the European Union and elsewhere are proposing national plans to combat poverty. They are doing this with noticeably early success and have now been joined by a couple of our own provinces, with an anti-poverty law in Quebec and a poverty reducing strategy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The National Council of Welfare has presented a framework for action, a poverty plan with targets and timelines, a budget, accountability, and the establishment of official poverty indicators. Groups across the country are doing some very creative things. They are looking for national leadership. Let us take advantage of this opportunity with this minority government to do the right thing for families, for our neighbours, for working men and women, and for the at risk and marginalized.

We have an economic boom in many parts of our country. Sadly, we also have a poverty boom. We can do better. We must do better for each and every Canadian and newcomer, for our poor on assistance, for the 650,000 working poor in our country, for women, children, seniors, veterans and persons with disabilities, who all struggle with unacceptable levels of poverty.

We must fundamentally right the wrongs and honour the obligations we have to our first nations, Métis and Inuit. It is all about human rights, justice and fairness.

People are watching us today to see if we can find the political will to win this fight. For their sake, for our sake and for Canada's sake, we must.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for moving the motion, which will be supported by the Liberal Party because we also stand for social justice and fair income distribution.

The member spent a lot of time talking about homelessness as an element of poverty. He is quite right, but our federal government also funded, some years ago, the Anne Golden report on homelessness in Toronto. It was interesting to note that of the homeless in Toronto, 35% suffered from mental illness and 27% were youth alienated from their families, of which 75% of those youth had experienced physical or mental abuse, and 12% represented aboriginals off reserve.

It is clear that poverty is not just an economic problem. It is not just a matter of throwing money at it and pretending it will go away. Real social elements are involved in terms of developing a national strategy on the alleviation of poverty.

The member will also know that the media has somehow picked up that the federal minimum wage being reinstated would somehow override the provincial minimum wage, which is certainly not the case. There is no jurisdiction. The provinces can deal with their own minimum wage scenarios. We are talking only about 18,000 workers under the federal labour code who are currently subject to the minimum wage.

Does the member agree that more than economic tools are necessary to deal with poverty alleviation in Canada?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his commitment on behalf of his party that its members will support this motion. This is certainly a non-partisan issue. There is tremendous poverty out there and we need to get at it and address it.

He is indeed right that it is going to require the efforts of all of us. It is going to require a very comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, such as is happening in other jurisdictions around the world.

It is a very complicated issue. However, we must start somewhere. When we talk to the poor, one of the first things they say is that they do not have enough money. They do not have enough money to pay their rent. They do not have enough money to buy food to feed their kids.

That is why today we think the federal government should set the tone. We should set a benchmark. Even though poverty does not affect large numbers of people across the country, it does affect a few. It sends a message to the provinces, as the member has suggested, which do indeed control the minimum wage for the most part, that the minimum wage actually should go up to a livable level, a level that would allow people who are working full time to actually make ends meet and take care of themselves and their families.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the honourable member for Sault Ste. Marie on his analysis and the speech he made this morning. I see him as a person who is always striving to improve the lot of the most vulnerable members of our society. That is commendable. We completely agree with his analysis.

That said, I do have certain reservations with respect to his approach to solving the problem. He himself said in his speech that the Canadian government failed to fulfill its responsibility to young people—children—despite its commitments to fight poverty. It also failed to come through on social housing and employment insurance.

These are all measures that, if they are not implemented or if they are inadequately implemented, make people poorer. It is not just about minimum wage. We have reservations about this approach, because it is a national strategy that attempts to influence the provinces, including Quebec. It seems to me that many of the responsibilities our colleague identified should now fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces because Canada—the federal government—has shown that it is incompetent, regardless of which major party is in power.

Would it not make more sense for the motion to include this approach: that the resources currently held by the federal government be transferred to the provinces so they can take on the responsibility that Canada is shirking?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his kind remarks and also compliment him on the work that we do together at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to help those most at risk and marginalized in our country.

I agree with him that the federal government has failed. Not only has it failed by what it has not done, but it has also failed in what it has actually done. It has failed, for example, by getting rid of the Canada assistance plan, which was a framework within which we were actually holding the provinces accountable in terms of the money that we transferred and then would be spent on social assistance, housing, education and health care.

However, I suggest to him that I was very careful in the motion to say that we would do it in cooperation with the provinces, that we would work with the provinces, because we know that a lot of this is in fact in their jurisdiction. We need to challenge them, we need to be flowing enough money for them to actually get the job done, and we need to hold them accountable.

There are some really wonderful things happening across the country in provinces such as Quebec, and now in Newfoundland and Labrador, which has brought in a poverty reduction strategy. We need to get that happening at the national level so more people can benefit.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to second the motion by my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie. He has very eloquently described the terribly desperate situation that so many Canadians across the country find themselves in. Many of us have read the statistics, often published in the newspapers, about how almost five million Canadians are living in poverty, 1.2 million children are living in poverty, and one in seven full time workers is working for less than $10 an hour.

As my colleague described, the real impact is on the day to day lives of so many Canadians. I see it in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I see it in the community kitchens, the breakfast programs and the Sunday dinner programs, where so many people are so desperate and so grateful for the smallest of generosities from their communities. What hits especially hard is to see the children with their parents. I wonder what kind of hopes and dreams those kids have when they live in such desperate circumstances.

We live in a time when our economy is doing very well. Our corporations are earning profits at an all time high. Our CEOs are earning wildly extravagant wages. A report came out first thing at the beginning of 2007 and stated that the average CEO of one of the major companies has earned, by 9:45 in the morning on new year's day, the equivalent of the annual salary of a person working at minimum wage. That gives us some comparison and an idea of the extremes and the growing gap in our society. We clearly have a lot of money in our society. The issue that we are struggling with, I think, is the equitable distribution of this money so that we do not have such extremes of wealth and poverty.

I have a private member's bill on the issue of reinstating the federal minimum wage at $10 an hour. We know that most low wage workers are women. Many of them are newcomers to Canada. I see that in my community because it is one where many people settle when they first arrive in Canada.

Average minimum wages across Canada have declined in their real value by about 20% since 1976. Over the last 30 years, the value of our average minimum wage across the country has declined by 20%. I think that has contributed enormously to the problems of hopelessness and desperation for people living in poverty.

For a government that places such a high priority on a law and order agenda, one of the best ways to prevent crime is to pay people a decent income so they do not feel that desperation and hopelessness, so they do not feel that nothing matters and they have nothing to lose.

We used to have a federal minimum wage. It had not been increased since 1986 and was abolished by the Chrétien government in 1996. We now have no federal minimum wage. I believe that the federal government has really abandoned its leadership role in setting a standard for a minimum wage for Canadians.

Only about 10% of workers in Canada fall under the federal minimum wage. Most workers in the country fall under provincial legislation, but the federal government has the ability to set a standard, to set a goal for the rest of the country, and certainly having a federal minimum wage is very important for people who work under the federal jurisdiction.

There are those who ask, “What about the economy?” People say that doing this will be terrible for the economy. They say that whether something is done federally or the provinces take up the issue of the minimum wage it will have a negative impact on the economy.

I challenge that notion. There is a report by 80 economists in Ontario that states the contrary. Rather than undermining jobs or undermining the economy it states that increasing the minimum wage has a positive impact. It increases labour market participation. More people are able to spend money, unlike the very wealthy who when they get fabulous salaries can salt them away in a trust in the Bahamas or some place. Low income people spend what they get and if they get an increase in pay it goes for food on the table, it goes to rent, it goes to their kids' clothes and school books. It also means that people are paying more in taxes and we have less in social spending, so there is a positive impact all around.

We know that in places where there has been a significant increase in the minimum wage in cities like San Francisco, Washington, and in the U.K., there was a positive impact, not a negative impact, on the economy.

Some people say this is going to be detrimental to small business. Again, most small businesses fall under provincial jurisdiction, but only about 29% of low wage jobs are in the small business sector. There are many small business owners who pay decent wages because they know they get what they pay for. They want people who are going to be loyal. When they train them, they are going to stay there. They are going to be good with the customers. They believe it is an investment that pays off in the long run. Those who overwhelmingly are paying low wages are the major businesses in fast foods, the retail giants and the temporary agencies. These are the ones that overwhelmingly are keeping low wages in their workplaces.

There is a federal study that did not receive a lot of attention when it was released, but on October 30 there was a study by Harry Arthurs, the former dean of Osgoode Law School, called “Fairness at Work: Federal Labour Standards for the 21st Century” which was reporting on part III of the Labour Code. He made the point that no one should work full time all year and have to live in poverty. That is fundamental and it is a study that the government should heed.

I believe that this is a challenge we can meet. So many Canadians are disaffected by politics. They disengage from the political process because they do not believe their politicians are speaking out for them. If we want to show people that truly we are listening to those who today feel they have no voice, then I believe this is an issue whose time has come. The federal government can show leadership by reinstituting the minimum wage as part of an overall national anti-poverty strategy.

My caucus and I are not alone on this. There are many organizations which have been campaigning on this issue. Campaign 2000, most notably, took up the challenge from the motion that this House passed unanimously in 1989 introduced by my colleague, Ed Broadbent, who said that by the year 2000 we should eliminate child poverty, and of course the opposite happened. More children are living in poverty.

Campaign 2000 believes in this as do the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Labour Congress, Make Poverty History, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Toronto Star, the Community Social Planning Council, and KAIROS, which is an interfaith organization. Many thousands of Canadians all believe as well that working men and women deserve a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

I want to close with a quote from Dr. Charles Hastings. He was Toronto's first medical officer of health. Almost 100 years ago, in 1918, he wrote the following:

Every nation that permits people to remain under the fetters of preventable disease and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness; and, who endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible the development of a sound mind and body, is trampling on a primary principle of democracy.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, if we take a look at who would be covered by this motion, we are talking about people who would be making a $10 an hour minimum wage and who fall under the auspices of the Canada Labour Code. If we take a look at the facts, that is only about 700,000 people across Canada, of which about 50% are actually covered by collective bargaining agreements. I do not know of anybody in those collective bargaining agreements who are paid less than $10 an hour.

In other industry sectors, such as interprovincial companies, rail companies, transportation and telecommunications, I do not know of anybody in those industries who is making less than $10 an hour. Maybe the member could enlighten me on that.

From the banking perspective, the banking industry would also be covered under the Canada Labour Code and I do not know of anybody in the banking industry who is making less than $10 an hour.

It seems to me that the only people who would really be affected by this are people on first nations reserves or people in the territories. We have economic development going on in a lot of first nations reserves, where these small companies are starting up and they are trying to pay employees. If we are going to suddenly raise the minimum wage limit far beyond what is currently accepted in a lot of provinces, does the member not think that would shut down a lot of these businesses and actually exacerbate the problem of poverty?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member says that there are about 700,000 workers who would be covered by this legislation. That says to me that there are 700,000 individuals with families who deserve the basic standard of a decent minimum wage.

As I said earlier, about 10% of the workforce falls under federal jurisdiction. He is right, many of these workers are covered by collective agreements. However, certainly, there are some people who fall below the federal minimum wage.

We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that it is not doable and, on the other hand, say that nobody is going to be affected.

I believe that, in fact, it is absolutely achievable and that while the numbers are not astronomical of those who work below $10 a hour, certainly there will be people who will be helped by this. I think our federal government should show leadership on this issue and lead the way and, hopefully, many of the provinces will follow.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, during her speech, said people should not be living in poverty. However, she must concede that one of the problems we have in Canada is that we have not established real poverty lines. We do not know what they are. The low income cutoff is one chart that treats every province, every region and every community identically, which is really not reflective of the economic reality.

I wonder if the member would agree that part of a national strategy should be in fact to establish what level of poverty we are prepared to tolerate in Canada and to establish that level province to province and community to community, so that Canadians understand what value we place on the contribution of all who want to work and contribute to Canada.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the low income cutoff is one measure that, today, is generally accepted as a measure of determining poverty levels.

I am always concerned when people want to study definitions, and I am sure this is not what the hon. member means by this, but there is always the danger that then there is a delay in actually taking action because there is a delay in establishing a definition.

I think we see the definition by the numbers of people in all our communities who, by anyone's measure, are living in poverty. Certainly, in Mr. Arthurs' report on part III of the Labour Code, he referred to the low income cutoff level. That was a standard that he took.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am intrigued by the question that was asked from the opposite side with respect to the negative impact that this approach, suggested by my colleague in terms of the minimum wage, would have on small business.

I would like to ask the member, if that premise were true, and I would dispute it, what about taking the approach that would more broadly tax large corporations and then applying that to a national income supplement to those who have very low disposable income?