Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-28. I know that a Conservative member earlier talked about the fact that there has been sufficient debate and it is incumbent upon the House to pass the bill.
It is fortunate that New Democrats are in the House talking about some of the very serious issues that are facing Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It is the New Democrats who are talking about the lack of a national child care strategy, the increasing homelessness in the country, poverty, education, and the number of children who are now living in poverty.
When New Democrats look at Bill C-28, we see a government that is simply taking Canada in the wrong direction. It is not a balanced approach because it is not addressing the prosperity gap.
The prosperity gap is talking about the fact that there are many Canadian working middle-class families who are simply working more and more hours and are not getting ahead. This was an opportunity to take the surplus which was available to the government and invest it in Canadians.
The other thing we heard Conservatives talk about is the fact that New Democrats never support tax cuts. The reality is that we are asking for targeted tax cuts, not tax cuts that benefit certain corporate sectors like banks and resource sectors.
When we talk about banks and resource sectors, the financial sector makes up one-third of Canadian corporate pre-tax profits and the oil and gas and mining sectors make up one-sixth of Canadian corporate pre-tax profits. This accounts for roughly half of corporate income.
Therefore, when we talk about targeted tax cuts, we mean tax cuts that benefit a growing green jobs economy, research and development, and supporting our manufacturing and forestry sectors. Certainly in the riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan the forestry sector is struggling.
Previously, the Bloc member spoke about that party's motion supporting the manufacturing and forestry industries. There was an opportunity for all members of the House to come to the plate and vote in favour of a motion that outlined support for manufacturing and forestry. Instead, we saw the Conservatives and the Liberals not supporting that motion.
In the forestry sector in my riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan we have one pulp and paper mill that has filed for bankruptcy protection. We are seeing some of the sawmills lay off shifts. We are continuing to see raw log exports. Youbou Timberless Society continuous to raise the matter of raw log exports taking jobs from the riding, from Vancouver Island and from the province of British Columbia to somewhere else. Yet, this particular economic statement and this bill did not address that.
In the minister's own remarks, he acknowledged the fact that manufacturing and forestry were in a crisis in the country but took no action. I wonder where the leadership is when one acknowledges there is a problem but does not do anything about it. It does not magically fix itself overnight.
The other matter regarding Bill C-28 and the economic statement is the concern raised around fiscal capacity in the coming years. The estimate is that by 2012 or 2013 the annual revenue cost on full implementation will be $6.1 billion, but many progressive economists feel that the actual figure of forgone revenue will likely be around $12 billion.
When we are taking that much out of the government coffers, one wonders what programs and services will need to be cut. If we reduce the money that the government is taking in, it is very simple math. If the government decreases the money that is coming in, it has to cut somewhere. That has not entered into the debate.
We hear that personal tax cuts will mean more money in people's pockets, yet when we look at people who are making under $30,000, they will end up with $180 a year more. That will not pay for child care spaces, affordable housing, or tuition fees for post-secondary education.
If the government is not going to demonstrate some leadership in these very critical areas for the health of our economy, then who will? That is why it has been very important that New Democrats stand in the House and raise these very important issues, so that Canadians know that at least someone in the House is speaking up for middle income and working class families.
I want to come back for a moment to a couple of matters. I will start with child care. In September 2007 the Social Planning Council of Cowichan developed a report on child care in the Cowichan region. There has been much debate in the House about how important early learning and child care is and how it contributes to the overall health and well-being of families. It also has a direct economic impact as well. In the report's executive summary, it says:
Quality early education and child care is crucial to the welfare of the Cowichan region. The successful development of our children has a long term impact on the economic and social stability of our region.
The Cowichan Region, like many communities in British Columbia, and indeed most of Canada, is under stress to provide adequate, affordable, quality child care for children and their families. This situation is being exacerbated by the current labour shortage and the increasing cost of housing which requires that most families need two incomes to afford a home.
I believe that roughly 70% of women with children under the age of six work outside the home. Sometimes it is a choice to work outside the home and sometimes it is a necessity. The report goes on to talk about the economic benefits of child care. It says:
The benefits from quality early learning and child care go beyond the family: there are also social and economic benefits to the community at large. Child care is important for cohesion in rural and remote communities because it draws young families to rural areas and is essential for economic development.
The lack of available child care is being recognized as a critical issue by the business community in British Columbia, as the following quote from a resolution passed unanimously at the B.C. Chamber of Commerce convention in May 2007 demonstrates.
I will not read the full text of it, but this is the gist of it. It says:
Recent cuts from the federal government to the child care industry in B.C. are having a domino affect on the workforce in B.C. due to the lack of commitment and responsibility from the provincial government to compensate for those federal losses. B.C. has chosen not to prioritize child care. The costs of this decision are having an enormous negative impact on the ability of B.C. businesses to attract women, young families and skilled workers in general to the workforce.
With the current skills shortages, challenges to attract and retain employees are critical to business. The provincial breakdown of business shows that of the 371,000 businesses in B.C., 364,000 have fewer than 50 employees. For small business, it is difficult to attract new workers, or to retain people as larger firms are able to offer higher pay or flexible work hours.
Many younger families find the challenge of balancing family life with work. These men and women find entry and lower level wages, and the cost of child care are such that it is not in their financial interests to work. This is a limitation to the B.C. economy when a worker that desires to contribute to the GDP is forced to look at other options to working, or working for a small firm with limited access to benefit options.
When we are talking about child care, it is such an important part of our economy, yet we are not making that kind of investment. The report goes on to talk about local impacts on employers and job seekers. It says:
The inability to find child care to recognize as: a barrier to attracting employees to the Cowichan Region, a barrier to employment, contributing to work absenteeism, a reason parent-employees will leave the work force or will not take jobs, a barrier to immigrant families, particularly those with multiple children and immigrant workers seeking employment.
We can see that in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, and I know in other ridings across this country as well, quality, affordable, regulated, not for profit child care is an important aspect of making sure that our economies continue to grow.
I now wish to address homelessness. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, on October 22 released a preliminary report. He covers many aspects of what he calls the housing crisis in Canada. I want to focus specifically on homelessness at this particular time. The report says:
Homelessness is one of the most visible and most severe signs of the lack of respect for the right to adequate housing. It is even more shocking to see the number of homeless people in such a developed and wealthy country as Canada. Unfortunately the Government of Canada could not provide reliable statistics on the number of homeless in the country (something that many other countries are doing).
The National Homelessness Secretariat has suggested that there might be 150,000 homeless people, but notes that its number is not reliable. Experts and academic institutions have suggested that the actual number of homeless people may be at least double that amount.
There are 150,000 people in Canada who do not have a place to live.
A survey was done in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan a couple of years back on people who lived on the street. Roughly half the people who were surveyed and who lived on the street were women, and a significant number of those women had children.
We also know from other studies that some people living on the streets have jobs. They simply cannot find adequate affordable housing that is safe. If this is not something that should be debated in the House of Commons, then I do not know what is.
People talk about the fact that there is a $14 billion surplus. They talk about the throne speech and the economic statement. Bill C-28 does not address the crisis in homelessness and housing in our country.
Mr. Kothari says in his report:
The Federal Government needs a comprehensive and properly-funded poverty reduction strategy based on its human rights obligation, and complementary plans should be implemented in the provinces and territories—linked to a comprehensive national housing strategy.
Once again, we are on the international stage. We are being cited for what should be to all Canadians a shocking statement. A minimum of 150,000 people are homeless and that number is under dispute. It could be significantly higher, and in some parts of our country it is.
A recent report came out on women and housing in the north. It talks about the risky situations in which many women in the north find themselves, yet there is little relief for them.
While we are talking about poverty, I want to briefly touch on child and family poverty. Somebody in the House mentioned earlier that Ed Broadbent had worked on a motion in 1989, which called for the elimination of child poverty by the year 2000. An organization called Campaign 2000 recently issued a report card. It said that we wee not tackling the very serious problem of child poverty. Children are not in poverty unless families are in poverty.
Different groups are overrepresented. One in four aboriginal children is considered poor. That is 25%. Yet Bill C-28 and the economic statement do not adequately address children and families living in poverty.
UNICEF Canada issued a statement recently that said “too many children are still being left out 18 years after a children rights convention was adopted”. In its press release of November 20, it said:
Compared with other industrialized countries, our children are suffering from unacceptable rates of poverty, obesity, mental illness and violence that have persisted or increased since Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991.
The press release goes on to state:
Aboriginal children are one of the most vulnerable populations in Canada, facing enormous challenges. Overall, the poverty rate for Aboriginal children is close to three times that of other Canadian children. As well, children in some remote Aboriginal communities lack access to adequate housing, clean water and quality education. In addition, Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
That is another shocking statement, yet Canada is turning its back on what is often described as Third World conditions on many reserves across the country. We have an opportunity, again, with the surplus to do something about this. The government has failed to take meaningful action to close the poverty gap.
UNICEF Canada also talked about aboriginal children being disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. In fact, the Assembly of First Nations and other partners have filed a human rights complaint on the fact that more aboriginal children are in care now than there ever were in the residential school days. There is roughly a 22% gap between what aboriginal children on reserve are entitled to under the child welfare system versus what provinces will pay. There is also no funding in least disruptive measures.
Instead of the government seizing an opportunity to support and work with families to ensure children can stay with families, in its wisdom the government is removing the child, which is far more expensive. If it took some of the funds that it provides for children who have been removed from their families and supported them, it could probably save a lot of money in the long run, not to mention support quality of life for them. In this instance, we have found that first nations simply are not included in conversations in a meaningful way in order to address this very serious issue.
Earlier today we talked about education. Whether it is for first nations, Métis and Inuit or for other Canadians, it is an important aspect of closing a poverty gap. It is also an essential factor in our economic prosperity and efficiency.
Today the Canadian Council on Learning released its second annual report on post-secondary education. It is dated December 11 and the headline states:
The Canadian Council on Learning, with support from organizations across the country, says that without the development of a national post-secondary education strategy-such as those adopted by many other nations around the world-Canada's prosperity will be at risk and its competitive edge compromised.
In the release, the president and CEO of the council says:
By 2015, it is expected that 70% of all new jobs created in Canada will require some post-secondary education or training....For this reason, and many others, we strongly believe that national action on a PSE strategy is crucial to Canada's ongoing competitiveness in the global marketplace, and to our continued high quality of life.
A PSE strategy would offer a pragmatic approach that would promote mobility, efficiency, effectiveness and equity across the country, while providing benefits to all levels of our society.
Further on it states:
“It is both lamentable and irresponsible that Canada, among all OECD countries, has the weakest data on education and has developed neither a pan-Canadian skills agenda, nor goals and measures for post-secondary education,” Jim Knight, President of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, said on behalf of Canadian colleges across the country.
Bill C-28 and this economic statement was a chance to take some national leadership on post-secondary education. There has been a lot of conversation around skills shortages in Canada and this was an opportunity to address them.
In light of other matters that could be taken on around education, the Canadian Federation of Students in October 2007 prepared some background documentation for all parliamentarians. It talked about the importance of education and what was needed to improve our post-secondary education system. The introduction says:
One of the greatest tragedies in Canadian higher education is that there has never been a joint federal-provincial strategy for improving this critical social program.
We are starting to see a theme. The earlier report talked about the need for a national strategy. The Canadian Federation of Students has been calling for exactly the same thing. It goes on to say:
As a direct result, provinces have developed wildly different tuition fee and student financial aid policies that reflect short-term partisan or ideological priorities more than specific regional needs. On the federal side, a lack of coordinated inter-jurisdictional planning has led to circular discussions about designing a better Canada Student Loans Program...
It goes on to talk about the fact that Canada has been cited under the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights about education.
There are many matters facing our country, which the economic statement could have addressed. The government could have demonstrated some leadership both on the domestic scene and the international stage. It could have reinvested in our working and middle class families, post-secondary education, housing and child care. This was a missed opportunity.
It is unfortunate because some of these decisions will play out on our economic productivity and the quality of life for Canadians. It is important that New Democrats are standing in the House to raise these very important issues and concerns so Canadians know that somebody is speaking up for working and middle class families.