House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my NDP colleague for providing us with a very interesting and informative overview of other models.

Canada's situation is often compared to the situation in the U.S., but there are some very clear differences between the two countries. We are always inclined to want to imitate the U.S. model, even though it is not in line with Canadian values.

The hon. member touched on the issue of the growing gap between the wealth of a few and the impoverishment of many in Canada. I would like him to elaborate on that point and explain the societal cost of this growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her question.

I do not have enough time to sum up all the consequences major disparities have on a society. To take the U.S. example, in comparison with other more egalitarian societies in the world, many problems of all kinds are related to the low standard of living and low incomes, including health problems and problems entering the workforce. The larger the gap gets, the more we see the middle class disappear. It is a problem that is only going to get worse. It is currently not being addressed, even though it should be a priority for the future.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP and this government are far apart on a lot of issues, but maybe no other issue as greatly as taxes.

In 2006 we promised the Canadian people that we would reduce the GST. We reduced the GST from 7% to 6%, and then to 5%, fulfilling our promise. However, the NDP actually voted against that reduction. Not only did it vote against it, but it said it was proud of the fact that it stood against it. Recently, the finance critic said, “Cuts to the GST...They take us in the wrong direction. I am very proud that our caucus stood opposed to that direction”.

I would like to ask the member this. Does he still take the position that New Democrats are proud that they stood against a tax reduction for ordinary Canadians to give them some relief?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for asking that question, because reducing the GST and corporate taxes at the same time was a serious problem. It is taking us down the same path as the Diefenbaker and Mulroney governments and, to borrow an American example, the government of President Ronald Reagan.

We must remember that taxes are a way to gather the means to achieve certain goals. Obviously, some people do not believe in that.

By reducing taxes, the government lost out on a huge amount of tax income. Now the government has an enormous amount of catching up to do and I believe that this is a questionable way to justify cuts that would not be justifiable under other circumstances. It will lead to the loss of services and it will hurt ordinary people, not to mention the other long-term consequences for our economy.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to take part in this debate today. I have been listening to a lot of it this afternoon and it has been quite an interesting discussion between two sides of the House.

In defence of my colleagues in the NDP, it was interesting to hear the member for Markham—Unionville saying that the NDP had changed its position and had come to his side. In fact, the NDP has consistently held its view, but the Liberals have completely changed their position. The member for Markham—Unionville used to be in favour of lowering taxes as a way to stimulate jobs and create investments. Therefore, I think we should say that the NDP has been consistent and the Liberals have changed. The NDP may not be consistently right, in my point of view, but it has been consistent and I appreciate that.

As we all know, this is a time of global economic turbulence. We are following the markets every day and, certainly in Europe, nations are in severe trouble because of their debt situations. There are countries like Greece that have taken on unsustainable levels of debt and are having a very difficult time dealing with it. We see the situation in the United States, which has not experienced the level of job creation that we have here in Canada, unfortunately, and it is obviously causing some real hardship for the world economy as well.

We understand that, the finance minister understands that, and so does the Prime Minister. That is why the finance minister has been very active with his counterparts across the globe in terms of finance ministers and central bank governors. He and the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, were recently in Washington for IMF, World Bank and OECD meetings.

It has been necessary to respond to this global challenging time, especially to the global recession in 2008-09. There was a concerted response from OECD countries from the G20 both in terms of monetary policy and fiscal stimulus. That is certainly one reason why we argue that the situation here in Canada has been relatively better than the situation in most industrialized countries.

To look at promoting job growth and job creation, which is what this motion talks about, we argue that we have a very strong record in that sense. We have created approximately 600,000 jobs. I should not say “we”. The private sector has created 600,000 jobs since July 2009. In fact, if we look at the past year, there has been extraordinary job creation growth, especially in terms of full-time employment. There has been some very good numbers in terms of job creation.

The member opposite was saying that it is not the government that creates jobs. However, it is the government that puts in place the policies that enable job creation to occur. It was the government, in November 2007, that introduced a long-term plan to reduce taxes for small and medium-sized businesses that enabled job creation to go forward. Actually, it was pressing in terms of timing because it enabled some measures to take place before we were hit by the fiscal crisis in 2008.

We are very much focused on the economy. We are very much focused on growth. We are also focused on the prudent management of taxpayers' dollars.

It is interesting to hear the opposition talk about being in a period of austerity now; we were in a period of stimulus and now we are in a period of austerity. I would encourage them to reread the budget that was passed in June of this year. There are increases in this budget: 6% per annum to 2014 and beyond for health care; 3% per year for education and social assistance; research and development, which was praised by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada; clean energy research; and things like neurological research. There are some strategic investments going forward and there are many other measures that I will touch upon as well, especially with respect to small businesses.

We understand that small businesses generate a lot of the growth in this country. We understand that they are the primary employers of people in this country and that is exactly why we have put in place certain policies. I would like to emphasize these policies, such as: reducing the small business tax rate from 12% to 11%; and raising the amount of business income eligible for that rate from $300,000 to $400,000 to $500,000.

We did that for small businesses to enable them to create more jobs. It enables them to keep more of their own revenues and to invest more for themselves, their business and their employees. As small businesses grow, they will also benefit from the reduction in the general corporate income tax rate, which will be 15% in 2012.

There has been a lot of talk in the chamber about how these tax reductions only benefit certain types of companies, and we hear banks and oil companies mentioned all the time.

It is important to note that if a business has an income above $500,000, that business will pay the higher federal corporate tax rate right now of 16.5%. A business with an income of $600,000 is not a massive enterprise in Canada.

People need to understand it is not just about reducing tax rates for certain industries, whether it is oil and gas or the financial sector; it is about reducing it for every single business in this country that has business income above that $500,000 rate. I would hope all members would recognize that that includes a lot of small- and medium-size enterprises that we all admit are the primary generators of jobs in this country. That needs to be recognized.

In terms of lowering business taxes, as I mentioned, the economic update in the fall of 2007, which basically laid out this five year plan for reducing taxes, was to ensure that we were competitive on a global basis.

I would encourage members to go to the OECD website and look at the general corporate tax rates of certain countries. Countries like Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands, countries that we are competing with, have tax rates very similar to ours. If we combine our federal tax rate of 16.5% generally with a provincial rate of about 10%, that totals 26.5%. We hope it will be 25% combined in January 2012. This makes us very competitive with a lot of these countries. Members should go to the OECD site to see where Canada fits in that.

A lot of people across the aisle will say that the Americans have higher taxes on businesses than we do. Yes, they do, but in our view that is the wrong approach. They have a lot more loopholes and they have a higher overall tax rate. What we are doing as a government is lowering the overall rate but aggressively going after some of the loopholes, which I think some members on the other side of the aisle do support. If we want more jobs, if we want higher wages, if we want this business tax advantage, then we have to follow this approach.

I did refer to the OECD in terms of where we fit in, but I would like to quote the OECD. It recently declared that Canada's corporate income tax reductions “should lower the cost of capital and buttress investment intentions. These advances...drive productivity gains and enhance employment prospects.” The fact is that the OECD has recognized what Canada has done and continues to do.

I would like to return to what I was saying about what was in the budget that we passed in June.

The first thing I would like to talk about is the hiring credit for small business. It is a hiring credit of up to $1,000 against an employer's increase in 2011 for EI premiums over those paid in 2010. This is a very important point. I suspect frankly that there are members on the other side of the House who support this initiative. It was brought forward by some very responsible groups, like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, in terms of what we can do to assist these small businesses.

This temporary hiring credit for small business will be available to approximately 525,000 employers whose total EI premiums were at or below $10,000 in 2010, which will reduce their 2011 payroll costs by about $165 million. This is very important. I would challenge members on the other side to indicate whether or not they support this initiative, and if not, why not. If they do support it, then they should consider supporting the economic action plan that we are putting forward.

We have also taken a lot of action in terms of small business through business financing programs. I would like to highlight some of those initiatives.

The Canada small business financing program supports about $1 billion in loans to approximately 7,500 small businesses each year to either help them get started or to expand. Our government increased the maximum loan amount under this program from $250,000 to $500,000, of which up to $350,000 can be used for equipment and leasehold improvements. This is part of our economic action plan.

This is important as well, because one of the main points small businesses will make is the challenge they face in terms of access and capital. They have raised it with all of us as their members of Parliament. They will often go to a financial institution and have a tough time either accessing capital or accessing it at a cost they can afford in order to expand their business or hire more people. This obviously helps those small businesses address that problem directly.

We are doing more especially for small- and medium-size businesses. We are cutting red tape.

As of 2009, we have eliminated almost 80,000 red tape requirements for small- and medium-size businesses. To build on that, earlier this year we launched the Red Tape Reduction Commission to find even more ways to reduce the burden of federal regulatory requirements on Canadian enterprises.

In the next phase of the economic action plan, we have also included a number of additional initiatives, including support to make our BizPaL initiative permanent. This initiative enables businesses to go online to complete all their requirements. This online service significantly reduces the red tape burden on small business owners by allowing them to quickly and efficiently access the necessary permits and licences from all levels of government to operate their specific businesses.

Finally in this area, we committed that the Canada Revenue Agency will consult with the business community and key stakeholders to identify opportunities to further improve its services and reduce the administrative burden while respecting the overall integrity of the tax system.

With all of these initiatives recognizing the importance of small business within the Canadian economy, it is no wonder that the president of the CFIB, Catherine Swift, has said:

In this Year of the Entrepreneur, we give credit to the government for continuing to work to balance its books while finding important, low-cost ways to help small firms grow the economy. With measures focusing on reducing red tape, the introduction of an Employment Insurance (EI) tax credit and better transparency and accountability at Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), government took some important steps to enhance job creation and recognize the economic contributions of small businesses in Canada

Our government has done this because we believe the best way to build a more competitive economy is to create a business environment that allows the large and small private sector businesses and employers who employ the vast majority of Canadians to succeed and to expand, not stand in the way of their success with high taxes and needless red tape. It is working and we should continue down that road.

The IMF was mentioned by my friend across the way earlier. I would like to quote the IMF as well:

Canada is actually matching up quite well on a relative basis....[T]he recession was not too deep, they haven't had a financial crisis to the extent that the US has had or the Europeans are having it. And so all in all Canada is actually doing quite well.

We continue to encourage the spark of entrepreneurial creativity in Canada with a number of important initiatives which we target at small business entrepreneurship. Another example is we provided the Canadian Youth Business Foundation with support, giving young entrepreneurs access to business loans and mentoring services as they start up and operate new businesses. That mentoring aspect is very important. There is an initiative in Alberta called Productivity Alberta which is about people with a lot of experience, particularly in the manufacturing sector, mentoring some younger people in the manufacturing sector. That mentoring of the next generation of business leaders is as important as or even more important than access to financing.

In terms of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, this is on top of the federal small business internship program that each year helps about 400 students across Canada gain valuable experience and helps entrepreneurs adopt competitive e-business practices. This was obviously well received. The Canadian Youth Business Foundation said this:

This contribution will allow CYBF to continue to support the ideas, the innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit of Canada's youth, ultimately creating jobs and strengthening our economy.

In this same spirit, the government is also providing $15 million on an annual basis to support the Canada business network. This provides essential information to help business owners start up and grow their businesses, all available through a national website, a national toll-free telephone line, and 13 regional service centres.

In terms of some EI measures that are directly targeted toward job creators, especially toward smaller businesses, our plan that we announced in March and then in June, which was passed, is going to provide $420 million to renew two special EI measures for a year. First, the working while on claim measure will allow EI claimants to earn additional money while receiving income support. This will be renewed until August 2012. Second, the best 14 weeks measure allows claimants in 25 regions of higher unemployment to have their EI benefits calculated based on the highest 14 weeks of earnings over the year preceding a claim. This will be renewed until June 2012.

There obviously is a number of initiatives that are designed to help especially people in some very challenging areas. We have certain regions which are experiencing very high economic activity and certain regions which are not. We are very cognizant of that fact and we are responding to it.

As an aside, at some of the round tables I have been doing with some of the small businesses in my area, when I ask what the greatest challenge is, many will say that their biggest challenge is access to people, finding enough people who will work in their enterprises. It goes across all sizes of business.

There was an individual in my office recently. He is my age. He is a very young CEO. He said that he could hire 75 people for his service business today, but he simply could not find them. Perry at the Denham Inn in Leduc said that he needs about six people. He put out the notice, received replies from 38 people who had an interest, but all 38 people turned him down. He looked at me and asked what he should do because he needs people. This is one of our challenges going forward. Even as we have a relatively high unemployment rate, there are going to be businesses that increasingly find it a challenge to find people, whether it is skilled or unskilled labour.

I also want to highlight the initiative that dealt with rural physicians. It was in the budget and it was mentioned in the last election campaign as well. Starting in 2012-13, practising family physicians will be eligible for federal Canada student loan forgiveness of up to $8,000 per year to a maximum of $40,000. Nurse practitioners and nurses will be eligible for federal Canada student loan forgiveness of up to $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000.

By getting doctors and nurses into our rural communities, and my riding certainly has a rural part, we are helping all Canadians access essential health care services no matter where they live in this country.

Another aspect of our program that I would like to highlight is the whole trading agenda. It is interesting. An economist from a bank was talking about the response to the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover and all of this. I find it quite farcical, frankly. If we look at what the response was in the 1930s, it was one of raising tariffs, shutting down trade, and raising taxes.

What our government has been doing, especially two budgets ago, is eliminating tariffs. We are now eliminating tariffs especially as inputs for the manufacturing sector. The other thing we are doing is embarking on a very aggressive trade agenda. We realize that we have to diversify our trade. We are obviously very closely linked to the United States, with 85% or so of our trade linked to the United States. We need to expand and diversify our markets. That is why the Prime Minister did his southern tour this summer, to really work on those markets to expand and diversify our trade opportunities. Countries like Colombia and Brazil are prime opportunities for us.

It is interesting, even when asking companies in my riding how they are doing on their exports, a lot of them will say that in terms of their U.S. exports, they are down about 25% or 30%, but their exports to Brazil have taken almost all of that up. If we focus on diversifying trade, we are obviously going to be helping many of these companies.

I want to talk about our response on the innovation side. Again, I would return to the rhetoric. Many opposition members are saying that we are now in an austerity period. We are not in an austerity period. We are still in a fiscal period of stimulus where we are strategically investing.

One of the areas we are investing in is research and development and innovation. We obviously did that through programs like the knowledge infrastructure program in terms of actual infrastructure at universities and colleges across the country. We are also investing in people through the three federal research granting councils which received increased funding. We are addressing things like the indirect cost of research, which universities and colleges have raised with us for years.

I would like to quote the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada:

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada strongly welcomes the Government of Canada’s continued support for university research and international engagement as announced in Budget 2011.

“We're pleased with the strengthened investment in university research and innovation in this budget”.... “This support will increase Canada's capacity for discovery and innovation, and enhance the university learning experience for all students.”

“This budget represents tremendous progress for the university sector: more funding for the research councils, promotion of international educational marketing, additional support for students, and a range of measures to foster innovation and research.

The president of the University of Alberta, of which I am an alma mater, praised it in terms of our response on the innovation and research agenda.

In closing, I want to emphasize it is a time of global economic uncertainty, but the government is on the right path in terms of continuing to strategically invest while continuing to respect taxpayer dollars and moving towards a position where we can balance our budget by 2014-15.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my Conservative colleague for his interest in small business. I hope that the next time the NDP proposes a 2 percentage point drop in the small business tax rate, to bring it from 11% to 9%, that he will vote in favour.

To get back to the debate, the Conference Board of Canada indicated last week that the gap between the wealthy and the middle class is growing rapidly. I would like to know whether the Conservative government is committed to reversing course and closing the gap between the wealthy and the middle class.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the NDP proposal to reduce it to 9%. However, I would point out for the member that when we reduced it from 12% to 11%, the NDP opposed that measure. It also opposed the measure with respect to the overall business tax reductions.

He raises a valid question with respect to what we do in terms of a gap between people who are wealthier and people who are struggling.

One of the measures I am most proud of, in terms of what this government has done, is the working income tax benefit. This measure was introduced a number of years ago to assist people who were moving from social assistance into the workforce. When they do that, they often lose an awful lot of benefits. When they get into the workforce and start working, they find it harder to make ends meet because they have an awful lot more expenses. The working income tax benefit is designed to help people at that level so, as they move up, they can move up much more quickly and they do not face that real hardship at the point where they move from social assistance to the workforce.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to let members in on a little secret. The hon. member is quite fond of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but he cannot say so publicly, otherwise he would be run out of his caucus.

I want to get the hon. member's comments on the paragraph with respect to fiscal sustainability in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's reported dated today. It states:

PBO’s debt-to-GDP projection indicates that the current federal and provincial-territorial fiscal structure is not sustainable over the long term given projected demographic and economic trends. PBO estimates that permanent and immediate fiscal actions – either through increased taxes or reduced program spending, or some combination of both – amounting to 2.7 per cent of GDP annually would be required to ensure that the net debt-to-GDP ratio does not ultimately rise above its current level.

In other words, in English, it is debt to the horizon for as long as can be projected unless something changes, either by raising the taxes, or reducing program spending, or some combination thereof.

Given that in the last sentence in his presentation he said that we were on track to be balanced by 2015, does he not think the PBO has it right, that this is debt to the horizon for the foreseeable future?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, the confession I would have is I am fond of that member. I am not sure how that affects my standing in my own caucus, but I have served on the finance committee with him and he is an excellent parliamentarian.

He raises a valid question. I would point out, though, that the PBO combined both provincial and federal debt. In fact, if we read the report carefully, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is much more critical of provinces in general, and specific provinces. We are having an election in Ontario. I am not supposed to delve into this, but I think he is quite critical of the provincial Liberal government in Ontario with respect to what it is doing with its finances.

I know he respects the IMF very much, but the IMF forecasted that Canada would continue to have, by far, the lowest total government net debt-to-GDP ratio in the entire G7, 33% in 2016 compared with the G7 average of 92%.

In terms of provincial governments, that is obviously something the federal government does not control. We as Conservatives are very respectful of provincial autonomy. Therefore, as a citizen of Ontario, that is something he will have to address on October 6.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member for Edmonton—Leduc and I have great respect for him. He served on the industry committee as chair. Now he serves as the finance chair. There are very few members in the House who have a handle on the file that my friend from Edmonton—Leduc does.

The question was raised a number of times about raising the taxes. We hear in the House so often that we have to get those oil companies and get those banks.

As the member comes from the area with the world's third largest oil reserves, the oil sands, could he tell us why the policies that we advocate on this side of the House are the right policies? Maybe he could just touch on the huge demand for employment and tie that into it as well.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Madam Speaker, the member for Chatham-Kent—Essex, whom I sit with on the finance committee, is exactly right.

What we have to understand in this place is what David Emerson said to me shortly after he left office. He said, “The fundamental fact about economic life is that it is a supply chain”.

For anyone who comes to northern Alberta or to my constituency, if they go to the Nisku Industrial Park and go into a plant and asked where their materials come from, they will be told they are from Ontario, New Brunswick or Quebec. If they asked who the company is partnering with, it will name companies across the country.

If individuals were to come down to Ponoka, they would see Almita Piling inc. It recently did the pilings for the solar farm in Renfrew, Ontario, but it got the materials in Ontario and a lot of the engineering work there.

That is the way the economy works. That is why, when we play these regional games where we target certain areas, and Alberta unfortunately tends to be targeted quite a lot, we hurt ourselves. We are so integrated as an economy, not only within Canada but within North America. Everything is a supply chain. We have to keep in mind what David Emerson said.

I want to acknowledge the member's work. I see the member for Oshawa and the other member whose exact riding I forget. The four of us and as well as members on the opposite side worked on something called accelerated capital cost allowance for the manufacturing sector. We had that in a February 2007 committee report. It was in the March 2007 budget. It is extended in this budget. That was adopted unanimously in a parliamentary report in 2007.

That is one big reason why every member of the House should support the budgets and the economic action plan of the government.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, during the hon. member's speech, he mentioned a couple of companies in his area that could not find workers. This morning I met with the first nations in my office. One of their biggest complaints is they cannot get enough money for education and for training their youth so they can go out into the workforce and be employed.

Would the hon. member agree with me that the government should give INAC more money so it can educate and train their young people so they can go work to places looking for workers?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Madam Speaker, the member raises a valid question on how to specifically address this. There is obviously increased payments to all the provinces in terms of funding for education, but one of the challenges is a lot of the provincial education money does not get to first nations people who are on reserves.

In terms of education and training, I absolutely agree it is essential. On present labour and future labour, our first nations communities should be the first places we should look at for training and education.

I point out that there are some excellent programs. Eric Newell, the former chancellor of the University of Alberta and the former president of Syncrude, has an outstanding record in that sector and across Canada in terms of employing aboriginals, in partnership with the program pathways to education, and encouraging aboriginal people to finish high school.

That is the first step. A key period on which we should focus is having students finish high school and then going on to a trade school or university. This should be our primary source of finding young people to work in all of our communities.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak today about the increasingly obvious issue of poverty as well as the growing gap between the rich and the poor in this country. I agree with my colleagues, who are outraged at this government's lack of action. It is not taking concrete measures to deal with an alarming economic situation that is affecting Canada and all of its communities.

I think it is time for the government to take its head out of the sand. While it brags to potential foreign investors and the media about how strong and safe our economy is in these tumultuous times, it needs to understand that Canadians are not stupid and they know how fragile the country's economy really is. Numerous recent reports paint a very different picture of the reality all Canadians will have to face, if they have not faced it already.

A recent Conference Board report says that the gap between the rich and poor in Canada is widening, even more than in the United States. What is worse, Canada had the fourth largest increase in that gap among the 17 most industrialized countries. Obviously this is an unacceptable situation and urgent measures must be taken to strengthen the country's economic policy and provide more fair and equal distribution for everyone.

In light of this, it is quite understandable that Canadians wonder why the government is choosing to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

When a country is going through difficult times that could jeopardize its economic health, every second counts. Although other countries around the world seem to be experiencing even greater difficulties than we are, globalization means that our economy is very dependent on events beyond our borders. Therefore, the government must make a commitment to the voters and implement appropriate and equitable initiatives that will protect our economy, create jobs and ensure a well-deserved retirement for our seniors and a prosperous future for our youth. The government must be accountable for its actions and ensure the economic protection of the people. The solution to poverty is to be proactive and not passively implement reactive measures that come too late and are often inadequate.

In the National Council of Welfare's fall 2011 report, the chairperson indicates that readers will see a disturbing picture of poverty in Canada. He also confirms that the toll of poverty on the Canadian economy is too high, and I share that sentiment. To back up what I am saying, here are a few examples.

In 2007, the public cost of poverty, that is, government expenditures—and we have not even mentioned the private cost of poverty—totalled $24.4 billion. This figure is twice the poverty gap, which is the amount of money required to bring all Canadians out of poverty. Can Canadians afford to carry this fiscal burden when studies prove that investments in well-being are more profitable in the long term? The answer is no.

The annual cost of housing an offender in a prison cell is up to 10 times greater than the cost of supervised housing. We know very well that thousands of prisoners are incarcerated for minor crimes, that they have mental health issues, and that they do not receive adequate care for their conditions because of a lack of resources.

Twenty per cent of health care costs are directly related to socio-economic gaps. If the population that is in a precarious financial situation was not in that position, it would be healthier and more able to work.

At this point in time, the Canadian economy is losing between $3.5 billion and $5 billion dollars a year because the skills and experience of immigrant workers are not recognized. These are just a few examples of what poverty costs all Canadians every day.

Other troubling figures also confirm the concerns of Canadians, including the people of my riding who have trusted me to represent them. While poverty among families and seniors is becoming a major source of concern, which the government must pay more attention to, the unemployment rate among young people, even though they are healthy and well qualified, continues to rise.

If the government still believes that Canada's economy will survive the global economic turmoil, why is Canada's labour market so stagnant? Why are Canadian families finding it harder and harder to make ends meet and why are they being forced to drastically lower their standard of living in order to survive?

At this time, we all know that the labour market is weaker than it was even before the financial crisis in 2008. Canada has recorded a net job loss for the first time since last March. In question period, the government boasts about the fact that it has created 600,000 net jobs. We cannot help but wonder about the beginning and end dates of that job creation.

According to Statistics Canada, in August 2011 employment was little changed for the second consecutive month and the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 7.3%. In the past 12 months, employment has grown by 1.3% and 223,000 jobs were created, primarily in Ontario and Alberta, and in the private sector. That is nowhere near 600,000 jobs. Where do those 600,000 net jobs come from, the ones several ministers, including the Prime Minister, keep talking about in question period?

Economists everywhere and the major banks have had to lower their growth forecasts.

Canadians are worried about their retirement and their savings for when they are older.

Madam Speaker, I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I apologize for not mentioning it earlier.

The overall debt of the average Canadian family has now reached a record level—previously established at 150%. Families with two parents working full-time who used to be middle class are now on the low end of the income scale. Canadian families are suffocating and in debt. They do not have enough money and they do not have time to work more because they are already working as many hours as they can.

The unemployment rate among students reached 17.2% this summer, an increase of over 3% as compared to the rate before the 2008 recession. Students represent the workforce of the future; if they manage to graduate, they are the ones who will be actively participating in our collective growth by paying taxes. Without jobs, the cost of living is too high for students to be able to make ends meet, which leads them to drop out of school.

Is this the dark and difficult future that the government wants to offer these people? It seems clear to me that the government is completely out of touch with the everyday lives of voters and is not taking their situations into account when it implements strict measures and makes drastic budget cuts. Just when Canadians need the government—when they need support and resources to get their heads above water—the government is letting them down.

The numbers speak for themselves. If the government is bragging about keeping the Canadian economy healthy, it needs to redo its calculations. There are good economic strategies and there are optimal strategies. There is a huge difference between spending and investing and the government must recognize that once and for all. Why does the government not see spending to combat poverty as an investment in society?

Maximizing our collective wealth potential depends on full employment. That is why the government must act now to develop a clear and optimal national strategy that will attack poverty directly at the source of the problem rather than adopting strategies that only treat the symptoms.

If Canada is trying to help people survive poverty, I will admit that we are having some success. However, what the government is doing now has significant social costs. If, on the other hand, we want to work together to eliminate poverty and its costly effects, we must adopt a different approach.

What the NDP is proposing in its motion is a true investment strategy in order to optimize Canadian resources, a strategy whose benefits will be seen and felt in the long term. This is a strategy that puts more emphasis on preventing poverty than on spending once the harm has already been done.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the points that the NDP member has made regarding poverty, income inequality, some of the government's failures on the economy, and youth unemployment.

I have a different angle. There is no such thing as a general case. There are areas where unemployment is the biggest problem. However, according to the business community and the individuals I have talked to, there are parts of the country where there are simply no skilled people to fill the jobs there. I heard this in rural Canada and I heard it today at a skilled trades councils conference. What they are looking for from the government is a job creation program. That is what is missing. It is not in the motion.

Is it not important to the member and the NDP that there be a jobs plan that actually addresses the gap in skilled workers, which will be huge within the next 10 years, and gets rid of the barriers to mobility, apprenticeship and training?