Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to second the NDP opposition day motion today with regard to the harmful effects of the growing income gap fostered by the government's unbalanced economic agenda.
It is official now that in the Canada of the Conservatives the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The May 1 report from Statistics Canada, a report based on the data from the 2006 census, shows this clearly. The Statistics Canada report shows that earnings of full time, full year earners rose for those at the top of the earnings distribution, stagnated for those in the middle and declined for those at the bottom. It also pointed out that between 1980 and 2005 median earnings among the top 20% of full time, full year earners increased by 16%. In contrast, median earnings among those in the bottom one-fifth of the distribution fell 20%. Median earnings among those in the middle 20% stagnated, increasing by only 0.1%. The report also outlined the very dramatic decline in income levels of recent immigrants to Canada over that same period, which is of great concern to all of us.
In British Columbia, the statistics are particularly noteworthy. In the inflation adjusted median earnings for workers who worked full time between 1980 and 2005 in Canada, there was virtually no change over those 25 years. However, in British Columbia, earnings dropped by 11.3%, a huge loss in purchasing power and a huge decline in the quality of life for B.C. families. It is clear that families in British Columbia are losing ground at an incredible rate.
New Democrats have long proposed measures to deal with the growing prosperity gap, the gap between the rich and poor, the difficulty working middle class Canadians have making ends meet and the unconscionable poverty in a wealthy country like Canada.
We have signed onto the make poverty history campaign. We initiated the child poverty pledge in 1989. We believe that we should be working, as all members of Parliament and government should be working, to close the gap by redistributing income more equitably and more fairly. Sadly, however, it keeps getting worse.
Tax cuts were proposed by the government and the previous government in the belief that they would cause economic benefits to trickle down and put more money in people's pockets, but it has failed and failed miserably. Huge tax cuts to profitable corporations and big polluters have not caused the income gap to change. In fact, it keeps rising. Poverty continues to be a serious problem all across Canada and many Canadians are one paycheque away from homelessness.
Many of our social programs are mere shadows of what they once were. EI, for example, does not serve part time and seasonal workers well. We know that most of the jobs created in recent years have been in those categories. We have lost well-paying jobs with good benefits in manufacturing and forestry all across the country.
At the same time, the Conservatives seem incapable or uninterested in doing anything about this. One example of this is the situation with regard to housing. There are too many homeless people in Canada, some say over 300,000, too many people at risk of homelessness, too many people paying too much of their income for housing and too many people couch surfing across the country.
There is nothing in the recent budget for homelessness or for affordable housing except more study: five more pilot projects on homelessness. There is nothing new to support housing since the NDP convinced the last Liberal government to cancel its final attempt to give the corporate sector yet another huge tax cut. Instead, we convinced it to put that money into housing, post-secondary education, public transit, the environment and international aid.
The Conservatives came in and had the pleasure of being able to spend that money but they have taken no new initiatives of their own in that time.
The Wellesley Institute notes that the fair housing income threshold has gone down for Canadians. It notes that in 2000, 22% of Canadian households were below the income level required to afford a two bedroom apartment and that it rose to 26% in 2005, which means that 3.2 million Canadian households cannot afford a two bedroom apartment.
The Wellesley Institute also reports on home ownership and it notes that over half of all Canadian households no longer qualify for the purchase of even an entry level home. Those are very serious questions of affordability for Canadians, for middle class Canadians and for working Canadians.
The situation with regard to housing in British Columbia is particularly concerning. Housing unaffordability, as reported by the Vancouver Sun in January, is increasing in Vancouver. There is little hope of significant change.
The Vancouver Sun story pointed out that owners of standard two-storey houses needed 71% of their pre-tax income to service their ownership costs, that owners of detached bungalows needed 67% of their pre-tax household income, and condo owners needed 36% of their pre-tax income to service their ownership costs. That is on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
Those are hugely significant numbers. That is a huge part of people's income that is going into housing when those who are spending over 30% of their income on housing are deemed to be spending too much on the housing portion of their living requirement.
Also, in Metro Vancouver the 2008 homelessness count was recently completed and the numbers are up yet again. The number of those living on the street was up 37% over 2005 and up a whopping 131% overall since 2002. It is likely even higher than that given the difficulty of actually taking account of homeless people in our cities. It is estimated that 20% of those folks who are homeless are actually working and homeless.
Today there is new information out about child poverty in British Columbia. According to BC First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, B.C. has the worst record in Canada on child poverty for five consecutive years now. The numbers today are that the number of poor children in B.C. rose to 181,000 in 2006, compared to 175,000 in 2005, giving B.C. a child poverty rate of 21.9%. This is well above the national average of 15.8%. This is another serious indication of what is happening.
In British Columbia recently we have seen in the Vancouver area that the Citywide Housing Coalition has begun to organize silent protests every Saturday, called “STAND for Housing”. People stand on street corners in silent witness to the need and the slogan is “homes for all”.
Last Saturday there were 80-such stands in the province of British Columbia. It organized a province-wide stand; 40 on the Lower Mainland, including 2 in Burnaby, 18 on Vancouver Island and 24 in the interior in the north.
In Burnaby, Kaitlin Burnett organized one with the Burnaby Teachers' Association and students from the Burnaby North Secondary School organized the other. I can say that the number of people, when I was attending these stands who honked their horns in support and who called out from their car windows to explain their situation with regard to affordable housing, was incredibly significant. People know the importance of this issue. They know how hard it is hitting them in the Lower Mainland. The Citywide Housing Coalition says that the number one cause of homelessness in B.C. is:
The federal government pulling out of an annual social housing program that brought as many as 2,000 units of affordable housing to BC.
It is recognized there and in report after report in communities all across Canada and by organizations all across Canada that the federal government needs to be a key player in solving the housing problem in Canada.
What would the NDP do around housing? We have a plan. We call for a national housing program that actually builds homes. It is a 10-year plan to build 200,000 new, affordable and social housing units, 100,000 renovated units, and 40,000 new rent subsidies. It includes a green renovation program. We would immediately reconnect to a continuation of the RRAP program, the housing renovation program, and the homelessness initiative. Both of these programs are set to expire in 10 months and the government still has yet to recommit to their extension.
We would see that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation gets back into creative housing development and reinvests some of its significant profits into housing development. We would pass a housing bill of rights based on Bill C-382, introduced by the member for London—Fanshawe, originally proposed by the member for Vancouver East, to enshrine in law the right to housing and require by law the establishment of a national housing program.
We would take measures such as my Bill C-532 which takes up an idea from the Canadian Real Estate Association to propose changes to taxation law to encourage reinvestment in affordable rental housing.
We cannot have confidence in a government that has no plan and takes no action to address these issues. We cannot have confidence in a government that pursues policies that only increases the gap between the rich and poor and has no policies to end poverty and homelessness. We want to ensure that Canadians have access to safe, secure and affordable housing.