That this House comdemns the Government's use of high unemployment to meet targets on the deficit and inflation, its refusal to set targets and timetables for reducing unemployment, its failure to make adequate investments in health care, education, training, culture and the environment, and its pursuit of a monetary policy obsessed with future inflation and blind to the immediate human tragedy of 1.4 million unemployed Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to enter this debate on the first NDP opposition day not just of this parliamentary session but the first NDP opposition day in four years since the New Democratic Party was re-established as an official party in the Parliament of Canada.
The motion has been read into the record. A short version of the motion is simply that this house condemns the government for its failure to make jobs the number one priority, to make jobs the real priority of its economic policy.
The essence of the argument is quite simple. It is quite straightforward. It will not be the first time that members have heard me say this and it will not be the last time they will hear New Democrat members of this Parliament say it.
If the government can set and meet targets to reduce inflation, to reduce the deficit, then the government can set and meet targets to reduce unemployment. It is such a straightforward argument that it is of increasing concern and an increasing puzzle to Canadians why the federal government just does not get it.
For 84 consecutive months unemployment in Canada has been at or above 9%. Yet a couple of weeks ago when inflation reached 1.8% the government decided that this called for decisive action. The government rushed to support the Bank of Canada in its decision to hike interest rates to prevent the boom and bust effect of economic growth.
One Canadian said something to me which I think expressed the sentiment of a lot of Canadians: “Doesn't the federal government get it that for a lot of people in this country the economy has been a bust-bust economy for a good many years?” They do not recognize any signs at all or any threat of a boom and bust economy.
Canadians are asking themselves if the government feels compelled to act decisively when inflation reaches 1.8%, what level would unemployment have to reach before the government would finally act decisively on the unemployment crisis? With inflation at 1.8% and unemployment above 9% it does not take an accountant or a statistician to see which is the bigger problem.
Last week the Minister of Finance took time out from his hectic schedule of meetings with the business community to tell Canadians that the books are in the best financial shape they have been in in 26 years and that Canadians should be grateful. The Halifax Herald , the daily newspaper in my city, said it all in the headlines: “`The books are fine”, says Martin, but the real question is whether the lives of Canadians are fine”. If we look at the Liberal rhetoric and set it aside and look at the actual Liberal record, it is a very different picture.
Since the beginning of this decade 320,000 more Canadians are unemployed. The average family income has dropped by $3,000 and 52,000 more Canadians every year are declaring bankruptcy, and child poverty increased by 25%. That is not only a national disgrace, it is a national tragedy.
While the minister's friends at the BCNI applaud his slavish devotion to deinvesting in health care and education, he is not winning applause from Canadians who are battered and bruised by the single minded obsession with inflation, or from Canadians who are enduring the pain of the reduction of health care services, or from Canadians whose access to education is being blocked because of the government's withdrawal of support to education funding.
It is perverse that this government continues to use high unemployment as a deliberate strategy as a specific means to meet its targets on deficit and inflation.
The government's policy of choking off economic growth, which is why the Minister of Finance says we need to hike interest rates, is surely madness and shortsighted.
It is time once again to reinvest in our important health and education programs which after all are the key to a highly productive economy and a healthy workforce. It also is one of the most important, most efficient, most effective ways we can produce jobs.
There is no shortage of ideas on how we can produce jobs in this country. There is a severe absence of the political will to make jobs the number one priority, which Canadians desperately need this government to finally do.
What would be wrong with working together with the managers of worker pension plans to invest in environmental retrofit of both public and private buildings? The energy savings that would be effected would repay the loans from such a pension fund, enjoying a fair return to the fund. The use of fossil fuels would be reduced to protect our environment.
What would be wrong with eliminating the GST from a selection of essentials and increasing the tax credit? Such tax relief of just over $1 billion would result in the creation of 19,000 jobs, a far more effective way to achieve jobs than any proposal that has come from either the Reform Party or the Conservative Party.
What would be wrong with requiring banks to reinvest a reasonable share of their deposits in the communities where they originated? More investment in our communities means more small and medium size businesses and more jobs for unemployed Canadians.
What would be wrong with a community reinvestment act similar to that in the United States which could create as many as 60,000 jobs a year without the government's having to spend one red cent of public money?
What would be wrong with the government's recommitting itself to support social housing, co-op and non-profit housing?
We heard the Minister of Finance say last week in his statement to the finance committee that there are some things the government can and must do. Surely addressing the need for Housing when it is particularly job intensive is one thing the government must and can do.
Mr. Speaker, I want to share my time with my colleague from Qu'Appelle so I will wrap up at this point in this very important debate by referring to a forum that took place in my riding last week. It was sponsored by students at Saint Mary's University in consultation with students from throughout the Halifax metropolitan area. The forum's theme was “you have the power to make the difference, now use it”.
It is extremely gratifying that more and more students, more and more young people and their families, more of the 1.4 million unemployed Canadians, more of those who are underemployed, and there are more underemployed than unemployed, that all of these Canadians increasingly are understanding that they do have the power to make a difference and they are going to use it. We look forward to working in collaboration and in consultation with them to ensure that we make a difference in forcing this government to finally make jobs the number one priority in its economic policies.