Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to once again speak about this Conservative budget.
The last time I spoke, I outlined what we see as the government's true agenda, driven by its five priorities: first, help the rich get richer and pretend the prosperity gap does not exist; second, privatize at all costs, including municipalities and infrastructure; third, treat first nations with disdain and ignore their advice; fourth, invest as little as possible in social programs, no matter how high the surplus; and fifth, ignore the crisis situation in the forestry sector.
These Conservative priorities are doing little to address the needs of everyday Canadians, however, they are in the best interests of the corporate sector.
Today I want to talk about the significance of rising inequality in Canada, but I also want to address another important issue facing Canadians that the government failed to address in the budget, and that is the failure to live up to our commitments to the world on foreign aid.
According to a study done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian economy is doing great and we have not seen it this good in over 40 years. We have sustained economic growth, low interest rates, a low inflation rate, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, and years of back to back surpluses in the federal budget.
Yet, there is a growing gap between the richest 10% and the poorest 10% of families raising children. Despite nine fiscal surpluses in a row, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing in this country and it is at its highest that it has ever been in 20 years.
What about those families in between? With this greater polarization of incomes, middle class working families are losing ground. Families today are better educated. They are working more for longer hours, but they are feeling the squeeze of rising housing costs in all our cities and communities, a lack of child care spaces, rising prescription drug costs, no relief from tuition fees for post-secondary education, rising bank fees at a time when bank profits are at an all time high, and rising gas prices when the industry is making record profits, not to mention getting record subsidies.
It is an embarrassing list that impacts hard-working families. Their real incomes are stagnant or decreasing in the face of economic growth. Most Canadians are taking on greater levels of debt for mortgages, tuition fees and child care expenses. They are virtually only a couple of paycheques away from hard times and with all those stresses, everyone working more and earning less, our society is at the breaking point.
With the surplus in the federal government's coffers, the government could have made the choice to address the real concerns of hard-working Canadian families, but it chose a different path. It threw a few crumbs to those hard-working families, but its corporate friends got the biggest pieces of the pie.
What ordinary Canadians wanted was assistance up front, not a refund. Everything in the government's budget is designed to make hard-working Canadians part with their hard-earned cash first, then apply for rebates or tax credits. The problem is that most families are stretched to the limit, making it hard for them to participate in the government's consumption plan. These are just some of the reasons why we in the NDP will not be supporting this budget.
I would like to switch gears now and talk about my second topic, the failure on the part of the government to live up to our commitments to the world, just one more broken promise in a long list.
When we talk today about committing 0.7% of our gross domestic product to foreign aid, we are actually referring to an international agreement made many years ago. In September 1969, Lester B. Pearson, the former prime minister of Canada, unveiled a report for the World Bank entitled “Partners in Development”.
This report reviewed the results of how wealthy nations had distributed development assistance over the past 20 years. The report clearly stated that there was a great need to increase the amount of resources that were going to developing countries. The commission recommended that funds equivalent to 0.7% of the GNP, or gross national product, of developed countries like Canada flow to developing countries.
In October 1970 the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 2626, the international development strategy for the second United Nations development decade.
Through this resolution Canada and other developed countries agreed to increase our foreign aid contributions to developing countries to a level equal to 1% of their GNP and that a minimum of 0.7% of the GNP would be provided by 1975.
This was the commitment that we made in 1970, 0.7% of GNP was the minimum that we had promised to the world and that is our responsibility. However, we are not even coming close to meeting our promises of assistance. The closest that any Canadian government has ever been to meeting our goal was in 1975 when 0.53% of our GNP was committed. Since then, our contributions have gotten smaller.
In 1993, when the previous Liberal government came to power, our contribution went from 0.44% of GNP down to 0.22%, our lowest point since 1970. All of these cuts were in the name of balancing the budget.
The most recent calculations show that our contribution lies at less than 0.33%, better than in 2001 but well below our commitment. In fact, it is not even half.
One might ask if anyone has ever met these commitments. The answer is yes. Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have all met their commitments and they have gone above it. As well, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Spain and Belgium all have timetables to meet their obligations, all before 2015. Many of these countries have almost identical economies to ours, so we know that it can be done.
Canada has no timetable. Neither the previous Liberal government, nor the current Conservative government have committed to meeting our promise. In fact, out of the 22 most developed countries Canada ranks 14th in terms of development aid, an embarrassing fact and one that questions Canada's image as a model of leadership in the world.
Canada must face up to the shameful record the country has had in the last 15 years on foreign aid. The NDP strongly believes that reaching 0.7% must be a priority. With surpluses every year, it is blatantly unfair to deny and turn our backs on the promise that we made to the world.
The NDP's foreign affairs critic, the member for Halifax, described the state of affairs most clearly when she said:
Millions of people are dying unnecessarily of hunger and disease because of the grinding poverty in which they are living. Canada is a contributor to those killer conditions. Instead of the Liberal government moving us forward with a level of overseas development assistance that would allow Canadians to hold their heads up high, it took us from 0.5% of ODA, which was in place under the previous Conservative government, back to where it was at .23%...then in the name of heaven let us agree and commit ourselves to fast track a bill that the government would introduce so we could then get on with taking action.
Canada can afford to do better. In fact, all parties of the House of Commons agreed with the member for Halifax in 2005 that the government should set up a plan and a timetable to achieve the 0.7% target by the year 2015. That included the Conservatives and this Prime Minister.
With a record federal surplus and after promising Canadians and the world that we would live up to our commitments on foreign aid, we see nothing in the budget, no plan and no commitment.
The government knows that its budget falls short on many fronts. In B.C., the province the Conservatives forgot in their speech, I guess they really meant it when they said their Canada goes from the Rockies to New Brunswick. Whatever happened to “from coast to coast to coast”? In B.C. the budget falls short.
In the Atlantic provinces the government chose to turn its back on yet another previous commitment, forcing one of its own members into a corner with no way out except to sit on the other side of the House.
In the north, where it is even more costly to live, the government could have given some relief by changing the northern residence tax deduction, an allowance that has not been changed in almost 20 years. On so many issues where they could have made meaningful contributions, the Conservatives did not.
Some things can be done: a national housing strategy to make sure ordinary families do not have to live in poverty just to put a roof over their head; a national child care program to provide security, stability and affordability to parents when they go to work; and lower tuition fees so young people do not have to start their careers with enormous debt loads.
These are just a few of the ideas that the NDP is happy to share with the government. These are some of the things that the government could have done with the record surpluses. Unfortunately, it did not.