Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Halifax.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion presented by the member for Sault Ste. Marie. I know other members have talked about it, but I want to talk specifically about what this motion says. It states:
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 it's 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.
I simply do not have time to talk about the number of impacts, whether it is the fact that between 1980 and 2005, according to Statistics Canada, median earnings of individuals working full time on a full year basis fell 11.3% in British Columbia, or that First Call has said that British Columbia holds the dubious record of having the worst child poverty rate in the country for five consecutive years, from 2002 to 2006, and that record translates into over 100,000 children living in poverty.
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and everybody talks about the beauty of the city, which is all true, but it also has one of the highest rates of children living in poverty, at 26.6%. In addition, at least 1,500 people are homeless and on the streets of Victoria, and that is a shame in the capital city of British Columbia.
We also have the sad legacy that has been left by the current government and the previous Liberal government on the forestry sector in British Columbia. In a recent news article, in one of the local papers from Friday, April 4, it says:
Valley forest industry workers, already shell-shocked by the bankruptcy of Munns Lumber, and waiting for news on hard-pressed Ted LeRoy Trucking, woke Wednesday to discover that Vancouver Island industry stalwart, Madill Equipment of Nanaimo is also shutting its doors.
Then, related stories talk about a cascading effect on Vancouver Island, whether it is Campbell River, where Elk Falls and TimberWest has closed down a couple of its operations, or these following headlines: “Workers prepare for the worst at Harmac”, Nanaimo News Bulletin; “Crofton pulp mill faces summer of uncertainty”, Ladysmith Chronicle; “Ladysmith mill closes indefinitely”, Ladysmith Chronicle; “Black Tuesday for mill workers”, Cowichan News Leader and Pictorial; or the latest, on May 5, “Nanaimo mill on 48-hour life support”.
For a government that argues our country is just doing fine, tell that to the forestry workers on Vancouver Island. Tell that to the forestry workers, many of whom had filed for their employment insurance claims a number of months ago and are now running out of employment insurance.
I have spoken about this in the House before. We have forestry workers who, after a very few short weeks, are out of employment insurance. Our market is tied to the Vancouver Lower Mainland unemployment rate, and that unemployment rate simply does not reflect what is happening on Vancouver Island. Therefore, we have workers who have paid into the employment insurance fund year after year and they will be unable to collect their full entitlement because of this anomaly.
I encourage the government to take a look at what it can truly do for forestry workers on Vancouver Island, whether it is in Campbell River, Nanaimo or Duncan, and talk to those working families about what it is going to mean to them as their income runs out.
I also want to talk about aboriginals, because I am also the aboriginal critic for the NDP. I want to turn just for one moment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Article 21(1) states:
Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including...in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
What we have seen consistently from the government, with its unbalanced economic agenda and its neglect of the working and middle class families, is a continuing neglect of first nations, Métis and Inuit in our country.
In the last budget we saw no commitment to defining the federal responsibility for post-secondary education, which leaves institutions such as the First Nations Technical Institute lurching from crisis to crisis.
We have seen no end to the 2% cap on social spending. I will address that a little further on when I talk about the recent Auditor General's report.
We have seen no dollars to implement Jordan's principle, which was passed unanimously in the House in December. It would mean that we would put children first and stop the quibbling that says children go without while provincial and federal governments argue about who should pay.
There was an opportunity in the budget to put some real meat on aboriginal policy in this country, but once again the government failed to do that.
If we want to talk about statistics, sadly, we are not talking just about numbers but about people's lives. In the 2007 report card on child and family poverty in Canada, we saw that 41% of aboriginal children under 14 were living in poverty nationally in 2001. That rose to 51% in Manitoba and 52% in Saskatchewan.
These are children under the age of 14. This means that these children do not have access to adequate housing. They do not have access to clean water. They do not have access to schools. The member for Timmins—James Bay has been leading the fight on trying to get a school in Attawapiskat. A generation of children is going through substandard schools in that community and many other communities in this country.
We are also talking about the fact that one in four first nations children live in poverty in this country. We live in a country that prides itself on human rights, compassion, dignity and integrity, and yet we say it is okay in this country for children to go hungry at night.
More than one-third of first nations households with children are in houses that are overcrowded. The high school completion rate among first nations youth is half the Canadian rate. We know that poverty plays a significant factor in children completing high school.
Let us talk about income. Again, this is from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which did a detailed analysis in its alternative federal budget. In the year 2000 the median income of aboriginal women was $12,300 and the median income for aboriginal men was $15,500. I want someone to tell me how to support a family on those kinds of numbers. It simply cannot be done.
On May 6 the Auditor General presented a report: “First Nations Child and Family Services Program”. It was a scathing indictment of both the current government's record and the previous government's record.
Whether we are talking about the fact that aboriginal children are eight times more likely in Canada to end up in care, or the fact that provincial governments fund foster children in care at one rate and the federal government at a substantially different rate, that difference has led to the Assembly of First Nations filing a human rights complaint because of the 22% differential in the funding provided for first nations children who are in care.
I want to quote from section 4.72 of this report. This is an important factor. What we often hear from first nations on reserve is that they simply do not have enough money for housing. They do not have enough money to deal with clean drinking water. They do not have enough money to pay their teachers a decent salary. They do not have enough money to take a look at medical care. This report says that money is diverted “from programs such as community infrastructure and housing to other programs such as child welfare”, because they simply do not have enough money to look after their children in their communities.
We know the answers are there. Whether it is putting money into the employment insurance fund so all workers have adequate access, whether it is removing the 2% cap that the Liberals have put in place and the Conservatives have continued for funding for aboriginals, or whether it is just looking at what is reasonable in terms of housing and access to education, we have the answers, but we simply do not have the political will from the government to move forward on some of these critical issues.