Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-52, the government's bill to implement its budget.
I had the privilege of speaking to the budget itself when it was first tabled in the House and was pleased to represent the concerns of people in my riding of Hamilton Mountain during that debate.
Unfortunately, there was little time to explore any one issue in greater detail so I am pleased to use this opportunity today to focus on just one specific area, and that is the budget's appalling silence on the decline of Canada's manufacturing sector and its failure to create either a steel or an auto sector strategy.
With the government's fiscal capacity, the budget was a huge opportunity to invest and yet the government chose instead to squander this important opportunity. It is no wonder that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
Workers are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet as the prosperity gap in the country grows. While we are seeing stagnating wages for average workers, folks at the high end are doing better and better. The top 100 CEOs in this country make in a few hours what the average Canadian worker makes in an entire year. The earnings of the richest 10% of Canadian families now stand at 82 times of those of the poorest 10%.
The rich are making more while working families are working harder and longer, 200 hours longer on average, just to make ends meet. At the same time, we are experiencing a crisis in the manufacturing sector. Over the last five years we have lost 4,300 jobs in the steel sector in Hamilton alone with another 300 jobs in jeopardy once Stelco's hot strip mill is closed. Some of the losses were from bankruptcies and plant closures while others are the result of continuous downsizing where there are still more losses to come as the nature of the industrial marketplace changes in the global economy.
The job losses did not begin and end with the steel industry. We lost Studebaker, International Harvester, Westinghouse, Proctor & Gamble, J.I. Case, Firestone and hundreds of smaller plants. Those are just some of the big names from Hamilton's past, and the list of losses continues to grow.
More recent ones that pop to mind, again from just the past five years, are Siemens Westinghouse with 332 layoffs and Camco where 716 lost their jobs when the plant closed and 284 more workers ended up on temporary layoff. The Tiercon plant closure saw another 700 jobs lost. There were bankruptcies and plant closures at Rheem, Philip Environmental, Hercules, Mak Steel, Frost Fence, Dominion Castings, Cold Metal Products and ACI Automotives. New permanent layoffs are happening every month in the industrial manufacturing sector in Hamilton and there is no end in sight.
Across Canada, a quarter of a million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2002; more than one in ten jobs due to layoffs, plant closures and the non-replacement of retiring workers.
I have seen the impacts of these job losses first-hand. In Hamilton I have been meeting regularly with the workers and retirees at Hamilton Specialty Bar who are once again uncertain about their futures and pensions because the company that runs the plant is under bankruptcy protection for a second time. The first time the Hamilton Specialty Bar plant went into bankruptcy protection it was the United Steelworkers, not the government, that did the work to find a new buyer for the plant to save both jobs and the pension plan.
This time the Steelworkers are working just as hard but there is no investor or buyer in sight. Once again, the government is doing nothing to help them. If no buyer is found the plant will shut down for good in May, which means that 380 workers will be out of jobs and 500 retirees will lose up to 20% of their pensions.
These are good jobs we are losing. Manufacturing jobs pay 28% higher wages than the national average. More often they come with decent pension and benefit packages.
Some analysts and politicians will tell us that there is no reason to worry, that these jobs are being replaced by jobs in other sectors. However, all jobs are not created equal.
Statistics Canada recently found that workers displaced by firm closures and mass layoffs who find other jobs suffer an average decline of 25% in annual earnings. That is a loss of $10,000 for a typical manufacturing worker. That is devastating for ordinary workers and their families but it also has a huge impact on our communities.
With a loss of one-quarter of a million manufacturing jobs, the total loss of Canadian earnings is estimated at around $2.5 billion annually. Just think of what that means in terms of spending and revenues for other sectors of our economy.
Workers are losing their jobs but the government's budget is doing nothing to address the growing crisis in the manufacturing sector. Workers are finding it harder and harder to get by but the budget is doing nothing to close the growing prosperity gap.
How did we get here? First, through downloading, funding cuts and trade deals the Liberals and the Conservatives have drastically reduced the capacity for the federal government to play a positive and helpful role in ensuring that the fundamentals are in place so that economic and social assistance can adjust, innovate and change at the same time as ensure a cushion for the blows of the unchecked market.
Second, with the limited capacity they do have, successive governments in Canada have had no vision and no plan to get right those things that we as a society expect from our federal government.
In their recent budget, the Conservatives simply stuck to the same old tried and failed path. Rather than working to close the prosperity gap with their budget, the Conservatives actually widened it. They maintained over $8 billion in corporate tax cuts, tax cuts brought in by the Liberals.
The budget provided no money for the things that would make life more fair and affordable for everyday Canadians, things like child care, pharmacare, transit, housing and student debt. Of course, the Conservatives, like the Liberals, have not put forward a plan to deal with the loss of manufacturing jobs.
New Democrats, on the other hand, have consistently fought for justice for all workers in their workplace. For too long workers have been left behind while Conservative and Liberal governments give handouts to their corporate friends.
It is time for fairness. I would urge the government to amend its budget bill to include initiatives that will make life more fair and more affordable for workers and their families. At a minimum these should include: secure pensions, by putting workers' pensions at the front of the line when employers go bankrupt; adequate employment insurance, by overhauling the EI system which denies two-thirds of workers any benefits; a reliable safety net, by reforming the social assistance programs that have become an ineffective, unaccountable patchwork since the Liberals abolished the Canada assistance plan; the protection of workers' rights, by protecting collective bargaining rights with progressive measures like outlawing replacement workers that prolong labour disputes; and a fair trade policy, by making workers and the environment a priority.
We in the NDP have a different vision of the kind of economy that we should be creating in the 21st century. I believe that the economy ultimately must be judged on how well it meets the needs and aspirations of the people it serves.
I believe that in a market economy the federal government has an obligation to ensure that the social and physical infrastructures are in place to ensure individual goals and collective needs are met. That is why we are working to strengthen the public service and health care and why we are working to get results on climate change, on labour rights and on real equality. Getting results on these issues will make life more secure and affordable for ordinary Canadians but they will also create a competitive advantage for our economy.
The budget exhorted Canadians to “aspire”. All Canadians had hoped for in the budget was a little bit of fairness. Their hopes were dashed when the finance minister rose to read the budget.
Canadians deserve more. They deserve better. They deserve the fairness they have been asking for.