Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment. I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough Southwest.
The Speech from the Throne has hit the nail on the head in that it told us that we are in a crisis. I have heard the word “recession“ being used in speeches made by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, and that we are theoretically in a recession.
What all of us need to do, therefore, is to come together. We all agree that the political parties should come together for the benefit of all Canadians. We must pull together in difficult times. This is not a time for political partisanship; it is a time for political parties to work together, to develop a clear plan and decide where we are going. I am making a positive statement. I think we would all like to work with the government to deal with this problem.
Many Canadians are going to be affected. Jobs are going to be lost. One of my colleagues mentioned housing. There are many people who still do not have housing. Middle-income families cannot find housing. People in rental housing are finding that as their landlords fix up their houses, their rent increases and suddenly they cannot afford to pay the rent and they are thrown out into the streets. There is a need. When jobs are lost, people lose their homes. An increased number of people need housing.
Some of the social needs will have to be discussed as we talk about what we are going to do in this crisis, the needs of people who lose their jobs, how they are going to get their kids to school, how they are going to put food on the table, and how they are going to put a roof over their heads. That is an important piece, and that linkage was missing in the Speech from the Throne.
I do not want to say that I told them so, but I think we told members of the government about two years ago that this was going to happen. Everyone saw the writing on the wall. One does not have to be an economics professor to see the writing on the wall that the manufacturing sector is going down.
As of January 2007 in my own province of British Columbia 45 mills had closed in the forestry industry. That means that whole towns like Mackenzie, where 4,500 people live and were totally dependent on the 1,500 people who worked in that mill, now have nothing. People have walked away from their homes because they cannot sell them. They cannot give their homes away. Ghost towns are being created in my part of the world. We saw this happening way back in 2007.
Questions were asked in the House about what we would do for the automobile sector and the loss of jobs in that sector and the loss of jobs in forestry. No one is blaming anyone for the loss of jobs in forestry. The pine beetle has created a great deal of the problem, and it is not something we can fix. It will take about 75 to 100 years to rebuild the forest that has been decimated by the pine beetle. It is not as if we could sell any prop-up to the forestry sector in British Columbia.
We might be able to assist the automobile sector. I think we should seriously consider what we do, because we cannot afford the loss of jobs. When people lose jobs, the government has to spend money, through employment insurance and social assistance to help them with all of their needs. It is not in anyone's best interest to see jobs being lost in this country, never mind the human tragedy of people not having work and not being able to take care of themselves and their families.
This was known. It was known that job losses were happening. Questions were asked over and over again. We were told, “Don't worry, be happy. It is not a big problem. It will look after itself. Things are fine”.
We also saw much spending. The government's actual income was going down, but the spending was increasing. Anyone over 10 years old knows that if we spend more money than we have in our hands, we are going to get into a deficit. We have seen this happen.
Having said I told them so, I think we need to talk about what we do. The government cannot continue to blame this solely on the collapse of global markets and on the problems that are going on around the world. There was a lack of foresight, a lack of vision and a lack of ability to strike when we saw things happening so that this would not come to pass.
This country was lucky. We had strong economic fundamentals. Before the Conservative government came into power, we had had nine balanced budgets. There was a $3 billion contingency fund that was set aside for a rainy day. Why did the Liberal government set aside money for a rainy day? We had seen the peso crisis. We had seen the Asian flu occur. We had watched SARS. We had seen 9/11. The government had to find money suddenly to deal with these emergencies.
That taught us to put aside some money. We all know we need to put aside money for a rainy day. If we have spent the money that we had put aside for a rainy day and then it rains, we get very wet. The problem when a government mismanages the economy is that it is not government that gets into trouble, it is Canadians.
Government coffers can be written on a piece of paper, and there can be talk about deficits and balance sheets, et cetera. For ordinary Canadians, however, the reality is that they lose their jobs, they have no money, they cannot find work, and they do not know what to do. These are the hardships we are talking about. There is a need to be not only fiscally responsible and to manage the economy well for reasons of suggesting that the government is a good manager, but also to protect citizens.
We need to talk about where we go from here. Unfortunately the Speech from the Throne was short on a plan. Those of us on this side of the House would like to see a plan. We would like to see a comprehensive, integrated, immediate medium- and long-term plan that says that we are going to move forward. We cannot go back and do some of the same old things that were done in the past.
We are moving into a new industrial revolution, a different kind of revolution. Canada is a small nation of only 32 million people. There is absolutely no way we can compete with huge populations such as those in the European Union, Asia, India and China. We cannot compete. We do not have enough workforce to do the kinds of manufacturing jobs that are going to those areas, because in some countries people can still be paid $5 an hour and make a living, have a home and feed their families. That cannot be done here.
We have to think about where we must go. We have to think about how we can become smart. We are moving, as most countries such as ours have, passed the industrial revolution and into the 21st century. We need to move into what is known as the new, creative, innovative economies. It is the new, creative, innovative revolution. To do that, we have to consider what we must spend on in order to build for tomorrow. As everyone knows, we need to have emergency money to prevent people from falling through the cracks and to invest in new economies. The question is how we can do that.
We need to look at things such as arts and culture. The Conference Board has said that last year, the creative economy, and arts, culture and film are part of that, directly and indirectly put $84.6 billion into the gross domestic product of this country. That is a little over 7.4% of the GDP. It created 1.1 million jobs, not only directly in the arts and culture industries themselves, but in the spinoffs of tourism, restaurants and other service and retail industries that help people generate more income and more jobs.
Yet we saw the short-sightedness of the government in cutting this economy, and economy which a country such as Canada is going to have to look at moving forward into. Today the arts and culture industries are not merely about acting on a stage, making music, creating CDs or creating films. It is also about the technology that comes with that. We all know that digitization, iPods and everything that we look at in the new technologies have been spun out of the creative economy. They have been developed and spun out of arts and culture.
The important thing about arts and culture is that at a time when we need to band together, it is an important tool for social networking. We heard today that people must come together and that Canadians will rise to the occasion. Yes, we know that Canadians will rise to the occasion, but in order to rise to the occasion, spend money, buy more cars, and keep the economy afloat, people have to have money to spend. If they do not have jobs, they do not have money to spend.
We are prepared, on this side of the House, to work to make sure that we create the necessary safety net and a long-term plan, but we would like to see a plan. We are asking for a plan, a real plan, a substantive plan that we can look at, that we can critique, that we can agree with or disagree with. However, there needs to be some scaffolding to hang our hats on, to be able to build something new.
We cannot wait any longer. We now have the problem. We could have prevented the problem, or at least buffeted it better. We did not, so let us not cry over spilled milk, but I would ask the government to please give us a plan that we can work with and see where we go for the benefit of all Canadians.