I want to thank the member for Hamilton Centre for that.
Bill C-3 is an important piece of legislation. New Democrats have indicated that they will support the bill at second reading and get it to committee and then we will determine whether we will continue to support it.
I want to spend my time today focusing on what is not in the bill.
An article from the Star in a report today by Stats Canada says that:
The recession stopped progress on poverty in its tracks, according to new data from Statistics Canada that indicates almost one in 10 Canadians is considered poor...the agency says the poverty rate edged up in 2009 to 9.6 per cent--the second straight year that poverty has grown after more than a decade of steady declines. About 3.2 million people now live in low income, including 634,000 children.
Today in question period we heard from the minister who agreed that poverty had edged up.
There are no significant measures in the budget to address poverty in this country, whether it is families living in poverty, whether it is children living in poverty or whether it is seniors living in poverty.
People would argue that there is an increase in the GIS, but that increase does not go nearly as far as what New Democrats had asked for prior to the election. We recognize that doubling the GIS for seniors would have some impact on the poverty they face.
New Democrats have done some significant work on suggesting what we can do to address poverty. I want to mention Bill C-545 from the previous sitting of the House, which was introduced by Tony Martin, the former member for Sault Ste. Marie. Anybody who knows Tony knows it has been his life's work to raise the consciousness in Canada around poverty and the impact that it has on our communities and our families. He worked with a number of organizations to introduce his bill called an act to eliminate poverty in Canada. We have a template here for the government. It does not have to go out and reinvent it.
I will not read the whole bill of course into the record, but I am going to talk about a couple of things.
What is poverty? As described in this act:
--poverty is the condition of a human being who does not have the resources, means, choices and power necessary to acquire and maintain economic self-reliance and to facilitate their integration into and participation in society--
It also says:
--the federal government, through constitutional and legislative amendments has direct involvement in the reduction of poverty and plays a central role in programs providing social protection and income security, including pensions, the Canada Social Transfer, the Old Age Security Program, child benefits and employment insurance benefits--
It also talks about the fact that there are many provincial governments and municipalities that either have poverty reduction strategies in place or are working toward implementing them.
The purpose of this act is to impose on the federal government the obligation to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion by establishing and implementing a strategy for poverty elimination and consultation with the provincial, territorial, municipal and aboriginal governments and civil society organizations. It was specific.
Then it outlined what this poverty and promotional social inclusion strategy would include. I am not going to read them all but there are a couple of key points. It includes the measures necessary to prevent people from falling into poverty, reduce the incidence, depth and duration of poverty and improve the situation of all people currently living in poverty, including those living in deep poverty or poverty of long duration and those who have multiple needs.
It says it includes measures to provide income security and access to housing, includes measures to promote the involvement of Canadians in determining and implementing the solutions to poverty, determine an acceptable measurement of poverty for Canada and sets out targets to eliminate poverty in Canada in the short term of 1 to 3 years, the medium term of 4 to 7 years and in the long term of 8 years or more. There are many more points under this.
It is distressing when we hear members talking about the fact that the 634,000 children in Canada are living in poverty. I have to remind us all that when we are talking about children, we are talking about children and their families. It is not just children. They do not live in isolation. They live with mothers, or fathers, or brothers, or sisters. So it is important.
In 1989, we had Ed Broadbent's motion in this House to eliminate child and family poverty by the year 2000, and many of us of course have worked with campaign 2000 around the fact that we have missed that target consistently since 2000.
Once again, this budget implementation act and the budget that was introduced by the government was an opportunity to take some steps, some measurable steps, toward eliminating child and family poverty in this country and the government has failed to do that.
Just in case people think that there has not been substantial work done on this, I want to refer to the “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”, produced by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I only wish I had the time to read in all of the good works that are in this report. The report is the accumulation of numerous committee meetings, numerous testimonies by organizations that worked with people living in poverty, by people in poverty themselves, by aboriginal organizations. Many organizations came forward to talk about what the reality is for Canadians who simply do not have enough resources to pay their rent, to feed their children, to clothe their children, to even dream of being able to save money so that their children could have a university or a college education. Many of those stories were heartbreaking.
In my former role as aboriginal affairs critic, I am very familiar with the poverty that is facing first nations, Métis and Inuit in this country.
Sadly, I cannot read all of the recommendations in the report, but I will mention two. Recommendation 3.1.1 says:
...the federal government immediately commit to a federal action plan to reduce poverty in Canada that would see, during its first phase, the implementation of the recommendations in this report.
This action plan should incorporate a human rights framework and provide for consultations with the provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal governments and organizations, the public and private sector, and people living in poverty, as needed, to ensure an improvement in the lives of impoverished people.
I specifically want to cite Recommendation 6.2.5, which could have been included in the budget and in the Budget Implementation Act, which states:
The Committee recommends that the federal government increase the budget for social economy initiatives and that this increased funding be used to promote job creation among low-income individuals, especially those who face serious barriers finding and securing a job.
The work has been done. The studies have been done. In fact, the legislation has been written under the old Bill C-545 . It is troubling when we see a lack of response to the serious poverty issues in this country.
I want to turn to a report by the Citizens for Public Justice because this puts some numbers to it. I know sometimes numbers put people to sleep, but I think these are important numbers.
In this report, called “Bearing the Brunt: How the 2008-2009 Recession Created Poverty for Canadian Families”. It says, under the heading “Poverty and child poverty rate”: “After the last recession, it took 14 years for the poverty rate to return to its pre-recession level”.
We are not only dealing with the current poverty in this country, but we are looking toward many years of this playing out.
It also states: “Without a poverty elimination strategy, the poverty rate in Canada will continue to rise and fall with the economic cycle. It will take a concerted effort to eradicate poverty in Canada”.
I know many on the New Democrat side come from social justice backgrounds and we think it is important, that Canada has the resources and it should have the political will to develop a poverty reduction strategy.
Let me just touch on the heading “Unemployment and Employment Insurance” for a moment. Under the subheading “Unemployment”, it states: “Job losses during the recession disproportionately affected those most economically vulnerable, as 1 in 4 workers making $10 an hour or less lost their job”.
It went on to talk about the erosion of the social safety net, how:
The recession revealed the inadequacy of EI as a social safety net.
Despite a rise in EI coverage, almost half of the unemployed did not receive benefits.
Canadians who did receive EI benefits were living in poverty unless they had another household source of income.
As many as 500,000 Canadians have exhausted their EI benefits without finding new work.
Of course we hear the job creation numbers touted in this House. What people fail to talk about is many of those jobs created were part-time, seasonal contract jobs.
Although we will be supporting this to go to second reading, it is a sad comment that we did not take this opportunity to address the poverty issues and develop a national poverty reduction strategy in this country.