That this House condemns the government for promoting an economy where the gap between the superrich and ordinary Canadian families is widening, risking the future of our youth, and strongly urges the government to introduce in the coming budget measures ensuring every Canadian an opportunity to share in a new prosperity.
Mr. Speaker, we have introduced a topic in the House for debate today which is a very important and growing issue right across the country, the issue of increasing inequality.
For many years in the sixties and seventies the gap between the rich and the poor was narrowing in this country and we were proud of some of the progress we had made. New social programs like the Canada pension plan and universal health care had narrowed the gap between the wealthy people and the poor people of this country. It was a legacy that we were all proud of as Canadians.
I remember very well back in 1968 when the then leader of the Liberal Party and the prime minister of the country, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, campaigned across this country about a just society and decreasing these disparities. That went on for a while, but in the last 10 years or so, and in particular since this Liberal government came to power, we have seen the creation of what I call the unjust society where the gap is widening once again between the wealthier people and the poorer people in Canada.
As we are only two weeks away from the budget, it is important that we start putting some of these issues into the public record and debate what I think is a big issue in this country, two classes of Canadians, the wealthy Canadians, the very wealthy Canadians and the rest of Canadians, particularly the poorer side of the spectrum.
What I want to do this morning very briefly is put some information into the House and hopefully put some parameters on the debate we are having today.
Since 1989, which I am going to use as our base year, average family incomes in Canada have fallen by roughly 5%. They have gone down, not up. This is despite the fact the Minister of Finance says the economic fundamentals are right, unemployment is finally starting to go down, inflation is below 1%, that the budget is going to be balanced and there will be a fiscal dividend.
Despite all that and despite the fact the economy, as the minister says, is doing better, the question is better for whom. It is certainly not better for the average Canadian family whose income has gone down by 5% in the last seven or eight years.
Since 1989 we have 538,000 more children living in poverty in this country, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The number of food banks has tripled in Canada since 1989. The number of people filing for bankruptcy has tripled since 1989.
We also see that the number of low income persons in 1996 was 40% higher than in 1989. What we are seeing now, I maintain, is the creation of an unjust society that is going to be the legacy of this Minister of Finance unless he changes his priorities and starts to redistribute income and opportunities in Canada. That is what this debate is all about this morning.
What are the reasons for this? I think there are four or five very obvious reasons. One has been the determination of the Bank of Canada over the last number of years, with the support of this finance minister and previous finance ministers, to fight inflation and put inflation ahead of the creation of jobs and economic growth. That has slowed down the economy, created unemployment, made the borrowing of money more expensive and slowed down the expansion of small businesses and the farm economy right across the board.
Second, there is no priority in this country to create jobs. There are no targets for reducing unemployment and poverty like we have had targets for reducing inflation in Canada. The big one has been the cutback by this Minister of Finance in the transfers to the provinces on health and education. This has increased disparities right across the country.
In addition to that, we have had the gutting of the unemployment insurance system by the Minister of Finance in an effort to save money to balance the budget.
Finally, I suppose the symbolism of what is happening where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer was the announced proposed merger of the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank about two weeks ago. I predict that unless the Canadian people and the Liberal backbenchers in Parliament get up and speak about this, the Minister of Finance will acquiesce to this demand of his friends in the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank come about October or November of next year.
These are some of the reasons why the disparity is growing. I have had a chance to look at focus groups over the last couple of months and a major concern has been the growing gap between the rich and the poor, growing inequities which have created despair and poverty and crime and the social unrest we are starting to see not only in our big cities but right across the country.
When we talk about income disparity, this is something we should all be concerned about. Last year the top 20% of the Canadian people saw their incomes go up by almost 2%. The bottom 20% had a decrease in their incomes of around 3%. The disparity widens and it widens under the tutelage of the Minister of Finance. We see tremendous disparities.
Chief executive officers had a 14% increase in salaries in the last year while their workers had an increase in salary in those same factories and same companies of some 2.1%. CEOs received 14% and workers received 2.1%.
The CEOs of the Toronto stock exchange 300, those companies in TSE 300, who exercised their stock options in 1996 enjoyed an average increase of $653,700 in the last year, up from $238,000 in the previous year. In contrast, the wages of the CEOs' employees were raised by an average of 2.1 % in 1996, again a tremendous disparity that all Canadians should be concerned about; once again, the creation of what I call the unjust society.
Another good example is the whole question of some of the salaries of some of the leading CEOs in the country. I can mention Matthew Barrett, the president of the Bank of Montreal or John Cleghorn, the head of the Royal Bank in Canada. Both of them, with stock options and salaries and bonuses, enjoy salaries of well over several millions of dollars each and every year.
Then of course there is our good old friend Frank Stronach, the president and CEO of Magna International. I want to tell a little about Frank Stronach, the friend of the minister across the way of financial institutions. Frank Stronach had compensation last year of $43.2 million. Frank Stronach said: “If I add up all the hours I've spent working over the last 40 years, I probably haven't made much more than the minimum wage”. That salary is $43.2 million.
Let us do a little calculation. At $7 an hour, minimum wage, it would take Stronach, even if he worked 24 hours a day each and every day of the year, some 688 years to make some $43.2 million. And the ministers across the way just smile and they say that is fine, they contribute to our party. That does not matter. We are friends of Frank Stronach, we are friends of John Cleghorn, friends of Matthew Barrett. Whatever they want they will get.
These growing disparities in our country ought to be of great concern to us. It is not just Frank Stronach or the Cleghorns or the Matthew Barretts, but wealthy 2% or 3% of the people in this country are increasing their salaries, increasing their compensation, increasing their bonuses month after month and year after year and the disparity is widening. That is not a very good legacy to leave to the next generation.
I want to close, because I want to share my time with the member for Vancouver East, by pointing out some international statistics that we should take note of in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor. This is based on household income. We will find here that Canada has the second largest gap of the seven or eight countries in the OECD.
In the United States the gap between the rich and the poor is over $54,000. In Canada it is $42,500. It is the eighth largest gap of these nine countries. We are the second worst in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor.
I plead with the minister who is going to respond today on behalf of the Minister of Finance, the minister of financial institutions, to get up and tell us how they are going to create in this country more equality and more fairness between the rich and the poor. It is an extremely important issue. It is a sad commentary on our country, a country of great prosperity, with great potential, to see that out of the nine leading countries like France and Britain and Germany and the United States, we have the second largest gap between the rich and the poor.
What we are seeing now is the creation of the unjust society, the legacy of this Minister of Finance and the legacy of this Prime Minister.