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House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was families.

Topics

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim restitution).

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has a very comprehensive crime fighting strategy. We believe the most effective crime fighting strategy is to ensure the crimes are not committed in the first place.

One of the components that we have talked about as well is ensuring victims are adequately compensated. My bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code for victim restitution, would change the word “may” to “shall” in subsection 738.1 of the Criminal Code. In other words, this would direct judges, as opposed to allowing them leeway, to order that offenders make restitution to victims of their crimes.

By ensuring that direction is provided to judges, rather than leaving it as an option, would help to fast track compensation for crime victims. We believe this is very important.

We will continue to fight to ensure that crimes are not committed and that resources are available in the community but when there are victims of crime we believe that restitution should be provided and that is the intention of this private member's bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, there is a growing prosperity gap in Canada that is making it harder for working and middle-class families to make ends meet and sees more and more Canadians, including women, children, seniors, aboriginal people and people with disabilities, slipping into poverty and therefore calls on the government, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, to implement a national anti-poverty strategy beginning with the reinstatement of the federal minimum wage to be initially set at $10 per hour.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House today to move our party's motion that calls for a national anti-poverty strategy beginning with the reinstatement of the $10 minimum wage.

I will be sharing my time with the member for Parkdale—High Park.

Over the course of today, my party will lay out what we see as the elements of a national anti-poverty plan.

Before I got into politics in 1990, I was a soup kitchen director. I got into politics to fight poverty and, 17 years later, I am still fighting. I wish I could say the fight was over.

As I travelled across Canada over the past two years, first on a tour looking at early learning for children and, more recently, talking with people about poverty and the growing prosperity gap, I was struck by the deep level of compassion and caring that exists. However, people are increasingly uneasy about the disparity they see around them and their own tenuous grip on some security for themselves and their families.

They remember a time when community mattered and government could and did make a difference. Canada has a rich tradition and history of gathering together as a community against geography, distance and weather to ensure that no one got left behind or was forgotten.

People are looking for a vision consistent with the Canadian story, where we wove a safety net of basic income, health care, education, unemployment insurance and pensions for all, the kind of vision that Canadians still remember. It was no accident that Tommy Douglas was voted the greatest Canadian.

Today there is a competing vision, one vision playing itself out over the last 15 years, rooted in the Margaret Thatcher thesis that there really is no such thing as society, rather a world of individuals who see money and the market as the driving force behind all human activity. The result is a growing uneasiness and dissatisfaction. There is a poverty and inequality that are symptoms of a structural dysfunction affecting more and more of our citizens and newcomers to our land.

Thomas Walkom wrote recently in the Toronto Star:

--the poor are the canaries in the coal mine. The deliberate attempts to reconfigure Canada over the past 30 years—by gutting social programs, dismantling national institutions and insisting that market forces alone can solve every problem—have affected everyone. But they've hit the poor first and hardest.

Mr. Walkom goes on to say:

We shouldn't care about poverty just to be nice. We should care about poverty because, in the end, this story isn't just about the 11 per cent or 16 per cent of the population...officially designated as low-income. It is about the deliberate erosion of middle-class Canada. It's about us, too.

Over the past nine months, I have travelled across the country to communities big and small. I have seen and heard the stories of misery and hurt and the tremendous effort of good people with little resource trying to make a difference. It is what I call a bad news-good news and yet even more bad news story.

The bad news is that the statistics flowing from institutions like the National Council of Welfare indicate that poverty is more pervasive and deeper than ever. The good news is that we are hearing about it again. For too long, it has been hidden and invisible. National newspapers are writing about poverty. People are willing to come to meetings to talk about it.

However, the even more bad news is why we are hearing about poverty again. The number of homeless is estimated to be as high as 250,000 and in places that we would never expect. Studies are showing alarmingly high numbers of people working full time all year and yet not earning enough to make ends meet.

I have been travelling on an anti-poverty campaign to learn first-hand about its reality in our country. I made a commitment to bring those stories, hopes and recommendations back to Parliament.

In Calgary and Victoria, two communities where the economy is booming, there is no affordable housing. Alarming numbers of people are living on the street as shelters, church halls and warehouses prove insufficient. The homeless are in the very shadows of the prosperous oil companies with their tax breaks.

In Calgary, I visited a shelter that beds down on floormats 1,000 to 1,200 of the 3,500-plus homeless living in that city. I watched as two city buses took another 100 or so to the suburbs to be bedded down on mats in warehouses. The rest find refuge where they can, most under bridges and in parks, while city hall passes laws making it criminal behaviour to do so.

A few will turn to crack and crystal meth, since, as I was told by street workers, it takes away any feeling of hunger, cold and fear. However, that lasts only five to ten minutes and they need another hit, which, in turn, leaves our streets dangerous places.

Other stories emerge. In Halifax, I was told of the disproportionate number of women facing poverty; women who go hungry to feed their children; the disappearance of good, well paying jobs in the manufacturing sector in the Niagara-Hamilton corridor of Ontario; the overwhelming aboriginal face of truly destitute poverty in Thunder Bay; the huge increases in health issues for people living in the poorer neighbourhoods of Saskatoon; whole families living in motel rooms through the winter in the Penticton area of B.C., then disappearing, with children gone from school when the tourists arrive in the spring. It is thought that they live in the mountains and campgrounds while picking fruit and working on farms to make a living. I was also told about the more than 50 disabled people living on the streets of Victoria, and the deteriorating and diseased stock of affordable housing in Toronto and Vancouver.

Canada has not had a national affordable housing program in over 15 years and what does exist is being torn down and replaced with expensive condos at an alarming rate.

About 175 people gathered in Castlegar, B.C. and told me of their struggles to get ahead, the roadblocks, the lack of resources and the cutbacks, in particular to early learning and child care.

Students at Brock University in St. Catharines told me about the challenges they face trying to access post-secondary education, the ever-increasing tuition and ancillary fees and the cost of housing and living expenses, while summer work is harder to get and pays only minimum wage that does not keep pace with inflation.

Poverty is debilitating and mind numbing. Poverty can paralyze and kill the spirit. Combined with thoughtless, harmful public policy, poverty can rip out our hearts and souls. Poverty can actually kill.

I remember the summer of 2001 and the story of Kimberly Rogers. Kimberly lived on social assistance and decided to go to college to better her situation. She was in her third year, soon to graduate, when she successfully applied for a student loan. What she did not know was that the Mike Harris government in Ontario at that time had passed legislation to make it illegal, criminal behaviour, to be in receipt of social assistance and also collect a student loan. She was charged, pleaded guilty and sentenced to house arrest. On the hottest day of August, in the summer of 2001, Kimberly Rogers and her unborn child died in that apartment living out her sentence. That should never happen in this country and we should never let it happen again.

Today we are calling for a national anti-poverty strategy, starting with the reinstatement of a federal minimum wage of $10 an hour. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Jurisdictions in the European Union and elsewhere are proposing national plans to combat poverty. They are doing this with noticeably early success and have now been joined by a couple of our own provinces, with an anti-poverty law in Quebec and a poverty reducing strategy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The National Council of Welfare has presented a framework for action, a poverty plan with targets and timelines, a budget, accountability, and the establishment of official poverty indicators. Groups across the country are doing some very creative things. They are looking for national leadership. Let us take advantage of this opportunity with this minority government to do the right thing for families, for our neighbours, for working men and women, and for the at risk and marginalized.

We have an economic boom in many parts of our country. Sadly, we also have a poverty boom. We can do better. We must do better for each and every Canadian and newcomer, for our poor on assistance, for the 650,000 working poor in our country, for women, children, seniors, veterans and persons with disabilities, who all struggle with unacceptable levels of poverty.

We must fundamentally right the wrongs and honour the obligations we have to our first nations, Métis and Inuit. It is all about human rights, justice and fairness.

People are watching us today to see if we can find the political will to win this fight. For their sake, for our sake and for Canada's sake, we must.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for moving the motion, which will be supported by the Liberal Party because we also stand for social justice and fair income distribution.

The member spent a lot of time talking about homelessness as an element of poverty. He is quite right, but our federal government also funded, some years ago, the Anne Golden report on homelessness in Toronto. It was interesting to note that of the homeless in Toronto, 35% suffered from mental illness and 27% were youth alienated from their families, of which 75% of those youth had experienced physical or mental abuse, and 12% represented aboriginals off reserve.

It is clear that poverty is not just an economic problem. It is not just a matter of throwing money at it and pretending it will go away. Real social elements are involved in terms of developing a national strategy on the alleviation of poverty.

The member will also know that the media has somehow picked up that the federal minimum wage being reinstated would somehow override the provincial minimum wage, which is certainly not the case. There is no jurisdiction. The provinces can deal with their own minimum wage scenarios. We are talking only about 18,000 workers under the federal labour code who are currently subject to the minimum wage.

Does the member agree that more than economic tools are necessary to deal with poverty alleviation in Canada?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his commitment on behalf of his party that its members will support this motion. This is certainly a non-partisan issue. There is tremendous poverty out there and we need to get at it and address it.

He is indeed right that it is going to require the efforts of all of us. It is going to require a very comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, such as is happening in other jurisdictions around the world.

It is a very complicated issue. However, we must start somewhere. When we talk to the poor, one of the first things they say is that they do not have enough money. They do not have enough money to pay their rent. They do not have enough money to buy food to feed their kids.

That is why today we think the federal government should set the tone. We should set a benchmark. Even though poverty does not affect large numbers of people across the country, it does affect a few. It sends a message to the provinces, as the member has suggested, which do indeed control the minimum wage for the most part, that the minimum wage actually should go up to a livable level, a level that would allow people who are working full time to actually make ends meet and take care of themselves and their families.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the honourable member for Sault Ste. Marie on his analysis and the speech he made this morning. I see him as a person who is always striving to improve the lot of the most vulnerable members of our society. That is commendable. We completely agree with his analysis.

That said, I do have certain reservations with respect to his approach to solving the problem. He himself said in his speech that the Canadian government failed to fulfill its responsibility to young people—children—despite its commitments to fight poverty. It also failed to come through on social housing and employment insurance.

These are all measures that, if they are not implemented or if they are inadequately implemented, make people poorer. It is not just about minimum wage. We have reservations about this approach, because it is a national strategy that attempts to influence the provinces, including Quebec. It seems to me that many of the responsibilities our colleague identified should now fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces because Canada—the federal government—has shown that it is incompetent, regardless of which major party is in power.

Would it not make more sense for the motion to include this approach: that the resources currently held by the federal government be transferred to the provinces so they can take on the responsibility that Canada is shirking?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his kind remarks and also compliment him on the work that we do together at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to help those most at risk and marginalized in our country.

I agree with him that the federal government has failed. Not only has it failed by what it has not done, but it has also failed in what it has actually done. It has failed, for example, by getting rid of the Canada assistance plan, which was a framework within which we were actually holding the provinces accountable in terms of the money that we transferred and then would be spent on social assistance, housing, education and health care.

However, I suggest to him that I was very careful in the motion to say that we would do it in cooperation with the provinces, that we would work with the provinces, because we know that a lot of this is in fact in their jurisdiction. We need to challenge them, we need to be flowing enough money for them to actually get the job done, and we need to hold them accountable.

There are some really wonderful things happening across the country in provinces such as Quebec, and now in Newfoundland and Labrador, which has brought in a poverty reduction strategy. We need to get that happening at the national level so more people can benefit.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to second the motion by my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie. He has very eloquently described the terribly desperate situation that so many Canadians across the country find themselves in. Many of us have read the statistics, often published in the newspapers, about how almost five million Canadians are living in poverty, 1.2 million children are living in poverty, and one in seven full time workers is working for less than $10 an hour.

As my colleague described, the real impact is on the day to day lives of so many Canadians. I see it in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I see it in the community kitchens, the breakfast programs and the Sunday dinner programs, where so many people are so desperate and so grateful for the smallest of generosities from their communities. What hits especially hard is to see the children with their parents. I wonder what kind of hopes and dreams those kids have when they live in such desperate circumstances.

We live in a time when our economy is doing very well. Our corporations are earning profits at an all time high. Our CEOs are earning wildly extravagant wages. A report came out first thing at the beginning of 2007 and stated that the average CEO of one of the major companies has earned, by 9:45 in the morning on new year's day, the equivalent of the annual salary of a person working at minimum wage. That gives us some comparison and an idea of the extremes and the growing gap in our society. We clearly have a lot of money in our society. The issue that we are struggling with, I think, is the equitable distribution of this money so that we do not have such extremes of wealth and poverty.

I have a private member's bill on the issue of reinstating the federal minimum wage at $10 an hour. We know that most low wage workers are women. Many of them are newcomers to Canada. I see that in my community because it is one where many people settle when they first arrive in Canada.

Average minimum wages across Canada have declined in their real value by about 20% since 1976. Over the last 30 years, the value of our average minimum wage across the country has declined by 20%. I think that has contributed enormously to the problems of hopelessness and desperation for people living in poverty.

For a government that places such a high priority on a law and order agenda, one of the best ways to prevent crime is to pay people a decent income so they do not feel that desperation and hopelessness, so they do not feel that nothing matters and they have nothing to lose.

We used to have a federal minimum wage. It had not been increased since 1986 and was abolished by the Chrétien government in 1996. We now have no federal minimum wage. I believe that the federal government has really abandoned its leadership role in setting a standard for a minimum wage for Canadians.

Only about 10% of workers in Canada fall under the federal minimum wage. Most workers in the country fall under provincial legislation, but the federal government has the ability to set a standard, to set a goal for the rest of the country, and certainly having a federal minimum wage is very important for people who work under the federal jurisdiction.

There are those who ask, “What about the economy?” People say that doing this will be terrible for the economy. They say that whether something is done federally or the provinces take up the issue of the minimum wage it will have a negative impact on the economy.

I challenge that notion. There is a report by 80 economists in Ontario that states the contrary. Rather than undermining jobs or undermining the economy it states that increasing the minimum wage has a positive impact. It increases labour market participation. More people are able to spend money, unlike the very wealthy who when they get fabulous salaries can salt them away in a trust in the Bahamas or some place. Low income people spend what they get and if they get an increase in pay it goes for food on the table, it goes to rent, it goes to their kids' clothes and school books. It also means that people are paying more in taxes and we have less in social spending, so there is a positive impact all around.

We know that in places where there has been a significant increase in the minimum wage in cities like San Francisco, Washington, and in the U.K., there was a positive impact, not a negative impact, on the economy.

Some people say this is going to be detrimental to small business. Again, most small businesses fall under provincial jurisdiction, but only about 29% of low wage jobs are in the small business sector. There are many small business owners who pay decent wages because they know they get what they pay for. They want people who are going to be loyal. When they train them, they are going to stay there. They are going to be good with the customers. They believe it is an investment that pays off in the long run. Those who overwhelmingly are paying low wages are the major businesses in fast foods, the retail giants and the temporary agencies. These are the ones that overwhelmingly are keeping low wages in their workplaces.

There is a federal study that did not receive a lot of attention when it was released, but on October 30 there was a study by Harry Arthurs, the former dean of Osgoode Law School, called “Fairness at Work: Federal Labour Standards for the 21st Century” which was reporting on part III of the Labour Code. He made the point that no one should work full time all year and have to live in poverty. That is fundamental and it is a study that the government should heed.

I believe that this is a challenge we can meet. So many Canadians are disaffected by politics. They disengage from the political process because they do not believe their politicians are speaking out for them. If we want to show people that truly we are listening to those who today feel they have no voice, then I believe this is an issue whose time has come. The federal government can show leadership by reinstituting the minimum wage as part of an overall national anti-poverty strategy.

My caucus and I are not alone on this. There are many organizations which have been campaigning on this issue. Campaign 2000, most notably, took up the challenge from the motion that this House passed unanimously in 1989 introduced by my colleague, Ed Broadbent, who said that by the year 2000 we should eliminate child poverty, and of course the opposite happened. More children are living in poverty.

Campaign 2000 believes in this as do the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Labour Congress, Make Poverty History, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Toronto Star, the Community Social Planning Council, and KAIROS, which is an interfaith organization. Many thousands of Canadians all believe as well that working men and women deserve a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

I want to close with a quote from Dr. Charles Hastings. He was Toronto's first medical officer of health. Almost 100 years ago, in 1918, he wrote the following:

Every nation that permits people to remain under the fetters of preventable disease and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness; and, who endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible the development of a sound mind and body, is trampling on a primary principle of democracy.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, if we take a look at who would be covered by this motion, we are talking about people who would be making a $10 an hour minimum wage and who fall under the auspices of the Canada Labour Code. If we take a look at the facts, that is only about 700,000 people across Canada, of which about 50% are actually covered by collective bargaining agreements. I do not know of anybody in those collective bargaining agreements who are paid less than $10 an hour.

In other industry sectors, such as interprovincial companies, rail companies, transportation and telecommunications, I do not know of anybody in those industries who is making less than $10 an hour. Maybe the member could enlighten me on that.

From the banking perspective, the banking industry would also be covered under the Canada Labour Code and I do not know of anybody in the banking industry who is making less than $10 an hour.

It seems to me that the only people who would really be affected by this are people on first nations reserves or people in the territories. We have economic development going on in a lot of first nations reserves, where these small companies are starting up and they are trying to pay employees. If we are going to suddenly raise the minimum wage limit far beyond what is currently accepted in a lot of provinces, does the member not think that would shut down a lot of these businesses and actually exacerbate the problem of poverty?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member says that there are about 700,000 workers who would be covered by this legislation. That says to me that there are 700,000 individuals with families who deserve the basic standard of a decent minimum wage.

As I said earlier, about 10% of the workforce falls under federal jurisdiction. He is right, many of these workers are covered by collective agreements. However, certainly, there are some people who fall below the federal minimum wage.

We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that it is not doable and, on the other hand, say that nobody is going to be affected.

I believe that, in fact, it is absolutely achievable and that while the numbers are not astronomical of those who work below $10 a hour, certainly there will be people who will be helped by this. I think our federal government should show leadership on this issue and lead the way and, hopefully, many of the provinces will follow.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, during her speech, said people should not be living in poverty. However, she must concede that one of the problems we have in Canada is that we have not established real poverty lines. We do not know what they are. The low income cutoff is one chart that treats every province, every region and every community identically, which is really not reflective of the economic reality.

I wonder if the member would agree that part of a national strategy should be in fact to establish what level of poverty we are prepared to tolerate in Canada and to establish that level province to province and community to community, so that Canadians understand what value we place on the contribution of all who want to work and contribute to Canada.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the low income cutoff is one measure that, today, is generally accepted as a measure of determining poverty levels.

I am always concerned when people want to study definitions, and I am sure this is not what the hon. member means by this, but there is always the danger that then there is a delay in actually taking action because there is a delay in establishing a definition.

I think we see the definition by the numbers of people in all our communities who, by anyone's measure, are living in poverty. Certainly, in Mr. Arthurs' report on part III of the Labour Code, he referred to the low income cutoff level. That was a standard that he took.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am intrigued by the question that was asked from the opposite side with respect to the negative impact that this approach, suggested by my colleague in terms of the minimum wage, would have on small business.

I would like to ask the member, if that premise were true, and I would dispute it, what about taking the approach that would more broadly tax large corporations and then applying that to a national income supplement to those who have very low disposable income?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not buy the argument that we cannot afford to pay $10 an hour. As I said, the majority of low wage jobs are with large employers, most of whom are extremely profitable. In fact, profits have never been higher. In small businesses, it is not like one small business will be disadvantaged versus another, it will be the same floor for everyone.

I believe it is a question of basic respect for people. We cannot have a minimum wage today worth 20% less than it was 30 years ago, and believe that somehow we live in a fair and democratic society.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing forward the motion today. I know the hon. member has a lot of interest and concern for this issue.

I would also like to remind everyone who is watching this debate that we all care very much. This is an issue that crosses all party lines. I think every member in the House, all 308 of us care very much. It does not matter which party we represent. We care and we are trying to address this very important issue. Therefore, I am hoping that out of these debates we can come to some solutions.

Some good questions have already been asked about trying to establish a poverty line. We look forward to a lot of good speeches and good questions today which will, hopefully, lead to some solutions.

I am taking this opportunity to address some of the many measures that the government is taking to promote the economic well-being of Canadians.

The Conservative Party members share the hon. member's dedication to helping eliminate poverty in Canada. We believe that to do this the government must invest in the financial security of Canada and its citizens. The government is doing that.

The measures the government has introduced are designed to promote today's economy and build a prosperous tomorrow for the benefit of all Canadians.

Before examining these measures, let us take a brief look at Canada's economy as a whole and the state of its labour market.

The economy is booming and with that comes higher employment rates. According to the latest Statistics Canada labour force survey, employment rose by an estimated 22,000 in April and is up almost 1% this year, or double the pace of growth observed over the first four months of last year.

Unemployment is hovering at a 30 year low. More Canadians than ever are at work. This translates into greater employment opportunities across the country, and I know of no greater anti-poverty measure than a job.

The government recognizes, though, that not everyone is equipped to participate in this booming economy, and that is why our new government has made a number of investments that recognize the importance of supporting skills development.

The government recognizes the importance of learning, from apprenticeship to post-secondary education, from academic infrastructure to research and development, from child care to youth programs, and to programs for older workers and new Canadians. These are measures that will help to ensure Canadians keep up with the ever growing knowledge economy, the best means of securing a well paying job.

The government also recognizes, however, that there are vulnerable members of society that do need additional support. Even in times of prosperity there are those who need temporary financial assistance when they are between jobs and employment insurance is there for them.

Employment insurance also offers support to workers who must be absent from work owing to sickness or caring for a gravely ill relative. Maternity and parental benefits are available for parents to take an absence from work for up to a year to care for their newborn child.

I was remiss, Mr. Speaker. I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.

I would like to go and speak about older workers. As I said, in times of prosperity there are those who do need temporary financial assistance. Again, the government is addressing this with older workers. In the work world, older workers are often the most vulnerable. This is why the government is taking action through the employment insurance program to provide a total of $1.4 billion to support some 230,000 unemployed older workers annually.

In employment programs funded through EI part II, more than 80,000 unemployed workers age 50 and over were helped to obtain and maintain employment through training, work experience and aid in starting a new business. This figure represents 12% of all workers assisted by these programs. These are tangible supports, supports for older workers who want to stay active and who want to be contributing members of the workforce.

We continue to examine ways to assist older workers. We are undertaking a targeted older workers strategy to help older workers with training. Changes in the global economy can affect us here at home and we understand that. The need is to be ready for this.

The shame of the last decade was that the Liberals did nothing for the older workers but talk about studying a problem everyone knew was coming. It is telling that the Liberal member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor recently came out against older worker programs and the Liberal leader has said nothing about it.

Turning to foreign credentials recognition for workers new to Canada, too often newcomers to Canada have difficulty finding employment especially in their field of expertise. Canada's new government is working on the foreign credentials recognition process to speed up their ability to integrate into the labour market and society.

While the Liberals talked about the issue and the NDP holds press conferences, the new government is acting. To give just one example, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Campus Canada and United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society will receive funding to forge the partnerships necessary to deliver overseas information services, assessment services, skills upgrading, Canadian workplace experience opportunities and enhanced settlement support to skilled immigrants. This support will be offered both prior to and upon arrival in Canada. Projects such as these help not only to combat poverty among immigrants but they also help all Canadians to benefit and all Canadians to prosper from their expertise.

The NDP's motion does not address immigrants, but the Conservatives know that immigrants were falling behind. It took real leadership by the Prime Minister and the government to see the problem and to act on it.

We have reduced in half the right of permanent residence fees that the Liberals had imposed on the newcomers. We have ended the decade long freeze the Liberals imposed on funding to community based agencies that help newcomers adapt and integrate into Canada.

The NDP and the Liberals were against immigration measures in our budget but Canadians and immigrants were not. They know that the Conservatives not only support immigration but we want to give immigrants the tools they need to succeed and take full part in Canada's prosperity.

The new government is also taking action to ensure that seniors can enjoy their retirement in financial security. The new government listens to seniors. They support us.

The fact is the NDP's motion misstates the success Canada has been making for seniors. Over the past 25 years poverty has been going down for seniors in Canada and the percentage of seniors living below Statistics Canada's low income cutoff has gone from 21.3% in 1980 to 5.6% in 2004, an all-time low. The trend is due in large part to our income security programs, the old age security program and the Canada pension plan.

We have introduced a bill to amend those programs to simplify access to and delivery of benefits. One of the amendments would enable Canadians who file tax returns to apply for the guaranteed income supplement only once. After their initial application their annual tax filings would largely determine whether or not they received the guaranteed income supplement from year to year. They would never need to reapply. We are also continuing our extensive efforts to reach out to those seniors who may be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but who do not file tax returns.

We have been working with the homeless. We have been working with the provinces and territories on how best to address the needs of particular regions and communities. More important, we have been working with them on building more affordable housing.

Finally, we realize that worker-management relations and workplace conditions are critical to productivity and successful functioning of private and public sector organizations. They are equally important to the personal and family lives of a vast number of individuals who go to work every day.

We are committed to supporting vulnerable Canadians and all Canadians in achieving economic security. The measures I have outlined are only a few examples. I believe our approach is the right one. The evidence of our economy backs this up. Therefore, as much as I appreciate the hon. member's sentiments, I cannot support the motion.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments made by the member. One would think that with all the glowing accomplishments by the government that it would be supporting a national strategy to fight poverty in our country. The real problem is that she was just speaking about dealing with the symptoms, not with the root causes that we are confronting here in our country every single day.

The parliamentary secretary talked about older worker adjustment. What she failed to address is the policies of her government that have made these kinds of programs more and more necessary.

This country's manufacturing sector is in decline. Where is the auto strategy? Where is the steel sector strategy? What about the softwood sellout that has decimated our forestry sector? That is why we are talking about older worker adjustment. Those policies were put in place by the Conservative government.

The parliamentary secretary also talked about immigrants, the problems they face and the often higher rates of poverty that are confronting immigrants in our country. Of course, she is absolutely right about that, but the reason for that is that the government actually goes abroad advertising decent jobs for newcomers right here in Canada. It makes a comprehensive false advertising campaign luring people over here and when they get here they cannot get accredited. That is why immigrants are facing higher rates of poverty.

The government is not dealing with the root causes of the issues that she speaks about.

There is hypocrisy is terms of what is happening for seniors in the country. I have spoken a number of times on the issue of the consumer price index and the miscalculated rate of inflation. Seniors have been shortchanged by the government for the last five years. Clearly, seniors are not benefiting from the policies of the government.

I wonder if the member could read our motion again, look at the absolute need in the country for a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy and not just recognize that it is not good enough just to deal with the symptoms but rather that we need to get to the root causes of poverty in our country. I would urge her and her caucus to get behind the NDP motion.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for inviting me to join her in her goals. That is what I have spoken about. I would say that I have answered all of her questions through actions, not just through talking and press conferences. As I said earlier, we walk the walk.

We are working on recognizing foreign credentials so that indeed the immigrants who come to this country can in fact practise in the profession they had succeeded in in the country from which they came. We are working on foreign credentials recognition, but we have to have the cooperation of the provinces and the professionals to make sure that the credentials are indeed recognized correctly. Foreign credentials recognition is well in place.

We introduced Bill C-36 for the seniors and I hope that the member will encourage everyone to fast track this bill so that this will not be another burden for the seniors who soon will be trying to access the guaranteed income supplement to top off their low incomes.

Those are just two immediate goals, but I could perhaps refer to our child care initiative which I think really helps--

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I do not think the member could go on because there is another question to be asked by the hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the wildebeest is a dumb animal, and when I hear members talk about the new government I am pretty sure that new is spelled g-n-u.

The member has spent all her time totally ignoring the elements of the motion before the House. We are talking about a national strategy to alleviate poverty. The member has no idea of what the motion is about. She did not talk about the implications of mental illness, about spousal abuse, about aboriginals off reserve and their challenges in the aboriginal communities, and about youth alienated from their families. She just talked about people who have jobs and maybe have to get EI benefits or people who have finished their careers and need to get some social assistance.

When will the gnu government get it and get on side with poverty alleviation?

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not think I should have to answer that question.

We are acting. We are not just talking. We are walking the walk with some of the policies we have implemented and some of the things we have done most recently. We have made announcements on--

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The parliamentary secretary does not have long to answer because the time has expired.

Resuming debate with the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I want to say that I have the pleasure of serving on the human resources committee with the member for Sault Ste. Marie and I appreciate his contribution in this area. However, I need to point out that the concern for the welfare of low income Canadians is not restricted to card carrying members of the New Democratic Party.

Since taking office, Canada's new government has taken significant steps to help low income Canadians. However, unlike the NDP, we believe that the most effective way to help low income families is through vibrant and sustained economic growth. This represents a fundamental truth that even the official opposition Liberal Party would concur with, or did when it was in government.

The former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of human resources and social development, Eleni Bakopanos, once noted, “The best economic and social program is job creation”. The former Liberal minister of human resources, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, stated, “In my opinion, the best employment insurance is a job, employment”.

Furthermore, we understand that the best way to spur economic growth is through the cutting of excessive taxes and unnecessary regulations that suffocate the innovation and entrepreneurship needed for a strong economy.

I am happy to report that Canada's new government has accomplished a great deal in pursuit of these objectives. Within the first 100 days of taking office, we moved swiftly to help create the right conditions and opportunities for all Canadians to succeed.

In budget 2006 we moved to deliver more tax relief for individuals than the last four federal budgets combined. We reduced the GST by one percentage point. This is a tax reduction for all Canadians, including those whose incomes are too low to pay any income tax. As the newly minted Liberal member for Halton remarked, “families who make less money benefit more than wealthier ones from the GST cut”.

Budget 2006 also permanently reduced the lowest personal income tax rate from its previously legislated rate of 16% to 15.5%. Moreover, we increased the basic personal exemption amount, which will reach at least $10,000 by 2009, and we introduced the new Canada employment credit. Taken together, these measures will increase the amount of income that can be earned without paying income tax to almost $10,000 in 2007 and over $11,000 in 2009. Indeed, as a result of such measures in the 2006 budget, about 655,000 low income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls altogether.

While these important measures may not seem significant to the members opposite, they have improved the lives of hard-working families, putting a little extra money in their pockets or allowing parents to give their kids a little extra money for what they need. But again, the notion of letting Canadians keep more of their hard-earned paycheque may seem foreign to an increasingly out of touch NDP.

Not content to stop there, we have also committed to further tax relief by reducing the GST by another percentage point.

Budget 2006 also addressed the needs of Canada's seniors by doubling the maximum amount of tax free pension income that can be claimed under the pension income credit to $2,000. This measure, effective for the 2006 and subsequent taxation years, will benefit nearly three million taxpayers receiving eligible pension income. What is more, it will remove approximately 85,000 pensioners from the tax rolls.

Likewise, the tax fairness plan announced last October went even further for Canada's seniors. We proposed to increase the age credit amount by $1,000 and introduced income splitting for pensions to increase the rewards from retirement savings. Such measures will result in substantial savings for our seniors. As Canada's Association for the Fifty-Plus noted, “the new measures should play to the advantage of a significant number of pensioners in Canada”.

We and, more importantly, seniors from coast to coast look forward to the support of the opposition as we table legislation for these measures in the near future. As Dan Braniff of the Common Front for Pension Splitting recently declared:

We have not let up in our struggle... We're writing letters to the opposition to let them know that seniors are counting on the pension-splitting.

I plead with the member for Sault Ste. Marie and his opposition colleagues not to turn their backs on seniors and to support Canada's new government.

While we have redoubled our efforts at helping our seniors, we have done so while simultaneously recognizing that one of the most important investments we can make is to support families as they raise their children, the next generation of Canadians. That is why budget 2006 provided the kind of investments that will make a real difference to parents by providing more choice in child care for families with young children.

The universal child care benefit introduced in last year's budget provides all families with $100 per month for each child under the age of six. In addition to this benefit, income support is also provided to families with children through the two main components of the Canada child tax benefit: the base benefit, which is targeted to low and middle income families; and the national child benefit supplement, which provides additional assistance to low income families.

With the introduction of the universal child care benefit in budget 2006, total direct federal support to families will be almost $12 billion in 2007. The universal child care benefit helps all families, including those who are new to our country. The government also helped new Canadians by cutting the rate of permanent residence fee in half, reducing the economic burden the Liberals imposed on those who tried to establish a new life in Canada.

Unfortunately, the NDP wants to take some of these benefits away. Both the NDP member for Sault Ste. Marie and the NDP member for Trinity—Spadina attempted to bring forward motions at committee that would have gutted the operational funding for the universal child care benefit, preventing Canadian parents from getting support. Luckily for Canadian families, the new Conservative government will not allow that to happen.

Our government will also not turn a deaf ear to the plight of our fellow Canadians in our aboriginal communities and we will not comfort these Canadians with the false hope of empty promises. Indeed, Canada's new government recognizes that our first nations people face unique challenges and we are committed to support these communities as they address these needs.

With that goal in mind, budget 2006 provided $450 million to take action in areas such as ensuring a safe water supply, providing adequate housing on reserves and improving education outcomes and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families. In addition, the budget confirmed up to $300 million to provinces to address immediate pressures in off reserve aboriginal housing. These initiatives represent concrete action, not vacant promises.

Budget 2006 and our tax fairness plan took significant steps to get Canada back on track and created the advantages that would in turn create the prosperity, which would lift all Canadians. I am pleased to report that the state of the Canadian labour market under this Conservative government is strong and robust. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly 32 years, but we need to go further. We need to build an economy that will help produce better jobs for even more Canadians over the coming years.

That is why the Minister of Finance introduced “Advantage Canada”, a bold new economic plan for Canada. A key component of this plan is our promise to deliver a working income tax benefit in budget 2007 to help low and modest income Canadians get ahead. I will take a moment to expand on this important initiative.

For too many low income Canadians, working can mean being financially worse off. For example, a typical single parent, with one child, who takes a low income job could lose almost 80¢ of each dollar earned to taxes and reduced income from government programs. In addition, he or she could also lose in kind benefits, such as subsidized housing and prescription drugs, and could often take on work related expenses as well. Some people refer to this situation as the welfare wall, a situation that discourages many low and modest income Canadians from getting the jobs they and their families need to have.

This benefit would increase income support while at the same time strengthen work incentives. With labour shortages emerging throughout the country and an aging population, action to improve work incentives for low and modest income Canadians must be an imperative for all governments.

Today's motion calls for the government to address the issues facing low income Canadians. That is exactly what Canada's new government is doing. We made it a priority in our inaugural budget by providing much needed assistance to low income Canadians and the Conservative government will continue to build on that action.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed at the number of shots the member took at our party. We brought this motion forward in a non-partisan way in the hope that the House would find in its political will the leadership to begin tackling the terrible reality of poverty in many of our communities. I spoke to his minister about this when I met with him last Thursday. I also met with the member for York Centre. We had a chat about poverty and perhaps an anti-poverty strategy flowing out of this place.

Today's motion was presented in a non-partisan way to see if we could find common will. People, particularly those marginalized and at risk, expect us to take some action. The member's suggestion that somehow a good economy lifts all hopes just does not play out.

Calgary has a terrible homelessness situation. Over 3,500 people are living on the streets at night or are in shelters. I visited those shelters. Has the member taken the time to visit those shelters and meet with the people to find out just exactly why this has happened? Has he seen what is going on? What answer might he have for them in terms of some relief?