As my colleague says, other people will get hurt in this game of chicken. It is like two teenagers on a road race down a dark country road, hell-bent and determined to get more reckless and careless than the other. However, there is a lot of collateral damage with that kind of irresponsible behaviour.
Clearly the Conservatives are trying to impress corporate Canada. One thing we should keep in mind is the Conservatives do not have to deliver wheelbarrows of guilt to corporate Canada any more. We have changed the election financing laws. There is no reciprocity any more. Corporate Canada cannot buy the government. It does not have to be bought. The Conservative government can break this pattern. It can cast off the shackles of its obligations to corporate Canada. Corporate Canada can no longer sponsor the Conservative Party, not legally at least.
What is frustrating for me is the irresponsible recklessness that is embodied in Bill C-28. The government has undermined and left behind the fiscal capacity to do anything to build Canada. Cutting, hacking and slashing will not build a great nation. That seemed to be the ideology throughout the 1990s and creeping into this decade as well.
We cannot build a great nation by letting our infrastructure suffer, by letting our social infrastructure deteriorate to the point where education and housing and all those basic fundamentals are falling by the wayside. It is more apparent in areas of low income and poverty. I know members are well aware of the inner city of Winnipeg. In my riding 47% of the families live below the poverty line, 52% of all children.
When economic and social policy ignore these basic needs, it is felt more acutely by those who are already at the margins and, by negligence, if they are already struggling, they are pushed over the edge into abject poverty.
This is not unique to the Conservative budgets that we have seen to date. I have been here since 1997. This pattern developed since 1993 when the Liberals took over. Most of the years I have been here, I have been under the Liberal regime. I really cannot blame the Conservatives for the social conditions in my riding. They have not had time to undermine and destroy anything in my riding yet, although they seem hell-bent and determined to match the Liberals in their record.
When the Liberals took over, they embarked on the most neo-Conservative, right wing agenda that our country had ever seen, possibly in the world. Their fiscal policy was completely in keeping with the Thatcherism, the Reaganism and the neo-Conservatism that the country had just rejected. It was an outdated ideology that bordered on cruelty, when we look at how it manifested itself in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.
I once heard the Reverend Jesse Jackson speak. He told an audience of trade unionists that if there were five children but only three pork chops, the solution would not be to kill two of the children. He went on to say that neither was the solution to carve those three pork chops into five equal pieces because then all the children would go to bed hungry and no one would get everything they needed.
The social democratic or trade union point of view to that scenario is to challenge the whole notion that there are only three pork chops, to challenge the absolute lie that we do not have the wealth in this country to provide the basic needs for a family to survive. Those who are saying that are lying. We live in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world.
He said not to ever let anybody say that we cannot afford to provide the basic needs for a family to survive, and not just survive, but to flourish, to prosper and to develop themselves to their true potential, instead of the terrible loss of human potential we see when 52% of children in my riding live below the poverty line. That is the urgent need that we bring to the House. That is the message that we bring.
My colleague from Sault Ste. Marie has tirelessly tried to remind Canadians that, yes, we are in a bubble of economic prosperity, and yes, it is a boom time for Canada, that regionally we are doing very well and productivity and profits are way up, but we are leaving so many people behind. Among those are kids who are living in poverty and not realizing their true potential. There are so many stories to be told and opportunities that might be told.
The only real measurement of how we are doing as MPs, as elected representatives, is to ask whether we are showing any tangible benefits in terms of elevating the standard of living of the people we represent. Surely that is why people send us here. They say to me, “You are one of us. Go to Ottawa and do your best to make my life better”. That is summing it up in very simple terms. That is our goal and objective.
One of the most effective economic policy instruments we have to redistribute wealth in an equitable way, if that is still one of our goals as a nation, is a fair taxation policy. Fair taxation is a way of levelling the playing field. We encourage good behaviour by the way we tax businesses and we discourage bad behaviour by making sure that individual Canadians are not overtaxed and that taxes are used to provide public services so that everyone has access to them equally. That is one of the basic tenets on which our country was founded and built.
We can measure that by something put out by Statistics Canada from time to time, the income quintile distribution. It divides the economic spectrum into earnings, average family income, the bottom quintile 20% to the top 20%. I argue that this might be the only meaningful statistical measurement that we need to pay any attention to. The results are shocking.
We have lived through 10 or 11 surplus budgets now and we have set records every time. There have been billions and billions of dollars in surplus, which I remind everyone came from our pockets. That is our money. Rather than put it toward the needs that we have identified, in a very reckless and spend free way, first the Liberals and then the Conservatives decided that the best use for that money was not to address the pressing social deficit but to provide more and more tax breaks for their buddies on Bay Street.
The income quintiles that I am talking about are in a chart, which I would be happy to table for the edification of any members who may not be able to see this far away at this end of the House. The bottom quintile, the lowest earning Canadian families, in the period of 1985 to 2005, in constant 2005 dollars actually went down 11%. In a period of unprecedented economic growth and fabulous economic opportunities for the top quintile, the highest earners in the country, it rose 16%. That is a 27% spread between the lowest earners and the highest earners.
Surely it would be our goal through a fair taxation policy to elevate the standards of the lowest to perhaps get into the medium. Their average family earning actually dropped in 2005 constant dollars by 11%.
For the second quintile, usually working families making around $30,000 a year, their actual earnings dropped by 4%. We are not making this stuff up; this is Statistics Canada information. For the third quintile, probably tradespeople, nurses, teachers, bus drivers around the $45,000 a year average family income, their real purchasing power dropped by 2%. Then when we get up to the top quintile, families making $118,000 to $147,000 per year, they rose 16%.
The rich are doing a lot better. The poor will have slipped even further behind. It is a tired cliché that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. People get tired of hearing that, but in Canada it is true.
In spite of having a Liberal government, a government that ran from the left and governed from the right, after 13 years of Liberal government, the Liberals will not even stand and oppose this bill now. They sit on their hands even though they claim they are ideologically opposed to this bill.
Coming from the core area of Winnipeg, some of the social policies that the Liberals made, the cutting and hacking and slashing that they did on every social policy by which we define ourselves as Canadians had a profound impact on the quality of life of the people I represent, in fact a deleterious impact. We went backward in that period of time. There were surplus budgets, but relentless constant cutbacks to social programs. Let me give one example.
The former prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, was very proud that he announced $100 billion in tax cuts. Again the Liberals were in some kind of a competition with the Conservatives as to who could cut and hack and slash taxes more deeply. Where did he get that $100 billion?
Well, $30 billion came from the surplus in the EI fund, of all places, taking it--my colleague used the term “steal”, but I do not know if I can get away with that--but certainly that is like another tax on working people. If we deduct something from people's paycheques and promise them a benefit if they become unemployed and then deny them that benefit, that is not the government's money, it is an insurance fund and it should have gone to benefit the unemployed. That is where $30 billion came from.
Another $30 billion of the $100 billion the Liberals gave away in tax cuts came from the surplus in the public service pension plan. People forget that. Marcel Masse's last move as the president of the Treasury Board before retiring was to change the law so that any surplus in the public service pension plan is not the property of the employees. It is not even to be shared between management and labour. It is the exclusive property of management. They scooped $30 billion out of the benefits from public service pensioners, most of whom are women and whose average pension is $9,000 a year. The Liberals could have doubled the average pension of those seniors living in poverty who had worked their whole career, instead of giving it to their friends.
The third $30 billion out of that $100 billion the Liberals gave away to their corporate buddies was from cuts and hacks and slashing to the Canada health and social transfer, the social programs.
That is where the Liberals scooped up $100 billion to give away. That is their idea of redistributing wealth. They take it from low income seniors through the pension plan, from unemployed people through the EI fund and from cuts and hacks to social spending. That was their idea. They were the most right-wing ideological neo-conservatives this country has ever seen. The current government has a long way to go before it ever gets as right-wing as the Liberals were because we have never seen a finance minister like that and certainly not a prime minister like that.
Let me get to the Conservatives. These guys are about to squander wastefully $190 billion of fiscal capacity. That is a Conservative trait I have come to know on the Prairies because I watched the Saskatchewan government experience. I have seen waste by Conservatives the likes of which no one will ever see again. People would not believe how wasteful and irresponsible they are.
Somehow they try to sell themselves as fiscally responsible, that because they are from the business community they are businesslike and responsible. Since Enron, nobody thinks that being businesslike is being responsible. The two do not go hand in hand.
We watched the Blakeney government with nine or ten years of balanced budgets. Before that, there was the Tommy Douglas government in Saskatchewan with 17 years of balanced budgets and responsible social program development. Then the Grant Devine government came in and eight years in a row--