That the House recognize the harmful effects on working and middle-income Canadians of the growing income gap fostered by this government's unbalanced economic agenda, including its failure to reform employment insurance to ensure that people who lose their jobs during economic downturns are protected and trained, and therefore the House has lost confidence in this government.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
Over the last couple of years, I have travelled across this country meeting with and listening to people struggling with income security and poverty. I of course saw many things that I expected to see, including the growing difficulty that many of our most at risk and marginalized citizens are having in keeping their lives together, putting food on the table, finding decent homes and participating in the communities to which they belong.
Their circumstances seem to be getting worse instead of better. They know that a lot of this is due to the damage that has been done to the social safety net that we have woven underneath all of us over a number of years but which over the last 15 years has been literally torn apart and destroyed and is tattered.
However, I have also seen some things that have surprised me, particularly in a time when the economy is good. I went to Calgary, Alberta, where oil is king and where the new economy is obvious from the rising skyscrapers that pop up almost daily in that city of great wealth, only to discover at the foot of those buildings some 3,500 to 4,000 people living on the streets and homeless.
Many of them, as we would expect, are suffering because of the difficulty they are having in accessing government programs. There is mental illness and there is suffering from addictions of various sorts. Even more startling is the reality of young people in particular, who went to Calgary attracted by the new economy, by the new work that was supposedly out there. In fact, they found work, but at jobs that do not pay enough for them to be able to afford the very expensive housing that is available, if they can find it at all.
In my travels, I also went to Toronto, where a report had just been released that studied the effect of income security on working age adults, only to find that in that city, the financial heartland of this country, there were hundreds of thousands of young people, including young men, immigrants, single mothers and single parents, working full time all year long but still living in poverty. Some of them are working at two and three jobs but are still not able to make enough money to pay the rent, feed their children and keep themselves at the standard of life they expected to have if they did that, if they worked hard like that, put in the time and made the effort.
I moved from there to meetings with people in places such as Hamilton and Welland. I also spoke to my colleagues from Windsor, who told me of the terrible impact of the downturn in the manufacturing sector, of the literally thousands of people who, having worked hard all their lives, having brought their skill and knowledge to the table each day as they showed up at the plant, now find themselves without work.
The alternative is to go on EI, which many of them do not qualify for because of the changes to that program. Or if they do qualify, it is for too short a time to bridge the gap between the good jobs they had, which provided a decent income with benefits for them and their families, and looking around but finding that what is left are jobs in the service sector that pay barely minimum wage or a little bit more. However, these jobs do not pay benefits, so there is no way to make sure their families have the dental care, eye care and the different benefits that were available to them when they had those good jobs in the manufacturing sector. Some 55,000 jobs have disappeared in that sector since January.
Then I travelled for some time in my own backyard, in northern Ontario, where community after community is dependent for its livelihood on the forestry sector, on the work in the forests and in the plants and mills. Those plants and mills, which existed for years, were very profitable and provided to the Canadian economy a great stimulus, are now shutting down. We have community after community barely hanging on. People are losing their jobs. Again, some qualify for EI but many do not. For those who do, it is not for very long. They are having to move on.
Those people have spent a large part of their lives working in those industries and it is all they know. They brought their best game to the table every day. They invested in homes, built cottages on the lakes nearby and some built up small businesses. Now they are having to turn their backs on those investments and head out to lands unknown. Some may go to Calgary where they may get a job but they will not have the support to access the kind of housing they will need to support their families.
The same thing goes for a lot of communities in British Columbia where forestry is under attack as well. All this is happening at a time when we are experiencing a good economy, so they say, in this country. Last week Statistics Canada issued a census report that told us yet again, because we have heard it before but this time very definitively, that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are stuck or disappearing.
We have a government here in Ottawa obsessed with the notion that a good economy will lift all the boats. Well, the evidence is in. Many of these boats are taking on water. Many of them, in fact, have gone under and other people are paddling without any boats at all.
Even the government, in its human resources development committee performance report of 2007, has recognized that the gap between the lowest and highest income families and between ones with the lowest and highest net worth, is wider. What the census report of last week told us was that most Canadians are stuck in neutral income while the richest 5% in Canada are dramatically accumulating more wealth.
Canada's rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class stagnates. Between 1980 and 2005, median earnings among Canada's top earners rose more than 16% while those in the bottom fifth saw their wages dip by 20%. Those in the middle are making about a buck a week more than in 1980. Almost 900,000 Canadian children are still poor and more than one-third of these deprived children are in the care of single mothers.
We have a government here in Ottawa supported by the Liberals because they will not stand up to the agenda that the Conservatives keep rolling out in front of us, with substantial tax breaks to people who really do not need it. They are convinced that all we need to do is to cut more taxes and that will fix everything that ails us.
The Conservatives gave a $2 billion tax relief package to the well-off, to corporate financial institutions and oil companies, not understanding that this simply depletes the treasury and reduces government's capacity to deal with some of these alarming realities affecting communities across the country.
This is unsustainable and causing irreversible damage to Canadian families. I detect an uneasiness as I cross the country. People are beginning to realize that they are no more than a paycheque or two away from poverty.
People used to look ahead, to look for the next wrong and understood that if they worked hard, got the training and made investments that they would get ahead. Today, however, more and more people are looking over their shoulder to see what might be there if they should lose their jobs. What they are discovering is that there is not much.
Each day Stephen Harper's Conservatives are allowed--