Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to report stage of Bill C-51, which, ironically, is called the economic recovery act (stimulus).
The NDP has been supporting the bill because it does contain some significant measures that were in the budget that we approved last spring but were never actually implemented. They are now included in this bill, and I will go into that later. I did want to reflect on the fact that this is called the economic recovery act and, as we heard today, there was not good news for Canadians, in terms of the number of people who are unemployed.
We know that over the last year we have had a net loss of about 400,000 jobs in Canada. That is very significant. However, the numbers today show us that there has been a further increase of 43,000 to 44,000 people who are unemployed and the heaviest losses were in B.C. and Alberta, being 13,000 and 15,000, respectively.
I raised this today in question period because I guess the one thing that really bothers us is that we have seen the so-called economic action plan and the stimulus program from the current government and yet, we continue to see these heavy losses and erosion of jobs. From the numbers that we saw released today, it is particularly difficult for women and young people. Many of the jobs that were lost were part-time jobs. That means that they were people who were already having a really hard time dealing with this economic crisis. They may be people who will not qualify for EI.
The NDP has spent a lot of time in this House bringing forward very substantive proposals. In fact, we have 12 bills concerning reform of the EI. That just shows how bad the program is. This is a program that was designed to help unemployed people and yet, we have 12 different bills on different aspects of the program because we think it so badly needs to be fixed.
So, for those unemployed folks who, over the last month, lost their jobs, just think about the impact that would mean. They might have had a part-time job in the first place or maybe they were a young person, or a woman contributing to the family's income, or a lone parent, and they have to face the fact that they cannot even rely on employment insurance.
I think it is a very serious and dire situation for so many Canadians. Juxtapose that against all of the rhetoric that we hear from the government side. We are told that the worst of the recession is over. We are told that its economic stimulus plan is working. We are told not to worry about it, that the government is going to take care of things. Yet, these jobless numbers keep rising and the impact on our local communities keep mounting. I think that we are facing a very serious situation.
I know that yesterday in question period my colleague from Winnipeg Centre had one of the doorknocker propaganda pieces that the government has been distributing, we understand, to 3.5 million households, concerning the home renovation tax credit.
That is one of the measures that is contained in this bill and is actually one of the reasons we are supporting this bill. It was a measure announced in the last budget, but it was not actually in the budget implementation bill. For some strange reason, it was left behind and then had to be introduced later through a ways and means motion, and now it is in this bill. There is no doubt that it is a very popular program. We see it advertised on TV by home improvement centres and there is probably very good awareness about that program.
There are two things here to note.
First, why is it that the Conservative government would then spend, presumably, millions of dollars on further propaganda messaging and advertising about the program when it is already very well known? In fact, people can receive information at building improvement and home improvement centres.
There has been so much emphasis on the politicization of the economic stimulus program, whether it is the oversized cheques that had the Conservative logo or individual MPs signing these cheques. These things are pretty outrageous and I think people feel pretty cynical about it.
The question from the member for Winnipeg Centre really highlighted that the government will leave no stone unturned when it comes to promoting itself and its political message, but when it comes to really, truly helping people, really digging in and finding out what is wrong or what needs to be done, the government kind of shuffles it along and says it is doing a good job.
On the home renovation tax credit, we do support it. As far as it goes, we do support it and there is no doubt that there has been a lot of pickup on the program, but we ask the question, why does it not go further? Why was it not linked to a broader green energy retrofit program, particularly for low income Canadians? There are many Canadians right across the country who live in housing that is substandard. Their heating systems are very poor. They are not energy efficient.
These are the people who need help. These are the people who would have welcomed a broader program that would have helped them maybe with some other kinds of incentives beyond a tax credit. The fact is that many people cannot take advantage of this program because they may not have the money to actually spend on that home renovation.
I know, for example, that there was some money in the economic stimulus program to help housing co-operatives. Many co-ops that were built in the seventies and eighties are facing envelope failures. Some of them were not well constructed. They are certainly not energy efficient, and although there was some money earmarked in that budget to assist those co-ops, we do know that the demand and the applications that have gone in have far exceeded what is actually available. There is a very good example of where this home renovation tax credit program actually could have been part of a much broader program that would really tackle this major question of energy efficiency and housing affordability in this country.
Yesterday at the HRSD committee, I appeared as a witness before that committee in support of my bill, Bill C-304, which calls for a national housing strategy, something that we do not have in Canada, which is really quite unbelievable. We are the only industrialized country that does not have a national housing strategy.
In putting forward this idea for a framework and a strategy for housing and leadership from the federal government, we come back again to this question of needing to have a coordinated and comprehensive approach to housing in this country. There are something like four million Canadians who are in housing insecurity. They are either paying too much for their housing, living in very substandard housing, facing eviction or one paycheque away from being on the street, or it might be all of the above. They might be in housing that is overcrowded and very inappropriate for a family situation. Certainly, that is a huge issue for remote aboriginal communities on reserve, where we have seen the most appalling conditions for aboriginal people in this country.
There is no question that we need a national housing strategy, that we need leadership from the federal government, but it is not only a question of good public policy. It is also a question of very sound economic policy, and in my mind, if we had a really good housing supply program in this country, something that we have talked about for years and that we have suffered from because we do not have it, it would be a huge economic stimulus. Generally, building housing creates good jobs for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, drywallers, architects, landscapers, and the list goes on.
The question of housing affordability and generating the comprehensive program with leadership from the federal government would be something that would be a really significant economic and social investment in the future of our country. We would actually be helping people. There is no question that having housing security and knowing that one's housing is affordable, accessible, safe and appropriate is one of the most basic things in our lives. If we do not have that, we know how hard it is to do anything else such as going to school, going to work, raising kids, and knowing what is going to happen at the end of the month.
That is one of the reasons I wanted to focus on that. It really bugs the hell out of me that there is this very small home renovation tax program that is popular and yet so much more could have been done, if we only had a government that was seriously focused on a substantive economic stimulus program that would actually help people.
There are other provisions in Bill C-51 that we are supportive of. The home renovation tax credit is one. The first-time home buyers' tax credit is another. The revenue sharing agreement with Nova Scotia is another one. Members have already raised the issue of drought relief for livestock owners.
There are also some provisions around pensions and some fairly minor adjustments in terms of pension changes. I want to spend a few minutes on this. This has been the other key substantive proposal advanced by the NDP.
We are very worried about what is happening to seniors in Canada. There are seniors who are living below the poverty line. They depend on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Even those seniors are still living below the poverty line, particularly if they live in urban areas where they do not have good housing. One can see how it relates back to affordable housing again.
I am very proud of the fact that the NDP has made very substantive proposals to reform the pension program just as we have done for EI. We see these as the basic foundations of what quality of life is about in Canada, and what human dignity means in this country. As Canadians, we tell ourselves that we live in a fair-minded country; we live in a country where there is equal opportunity, where there is no discrimination and where everybody has the right to use their own human potential, yet, we have seen so much over the last couple of decades.
We have seen a growing gap between wealth and poverty. We have seen the incomes of CEOs rise and rise, sometimes in an utterly obscene way. Just look at the pension investment board and the millions of dollars in bonuses that are being paid out. It is unbelievable. I am sure that those people are doing their jobs, although one could argue that the pension programs have not been well managed. They get these massive bonuses and yet, on the other side, there are people who are really hurting and are having a tough time getting by every month.
The pension system itself is something that I think more and more people are understanding is in serious trouble, whether it is a private pension program, or whether it is a senior who is dependent on OAS and GIS. We have seen the situation with Nortel here in Ottawa and what has happened to those people who paid in good faith into their pension plan only to now be terribly worried about whether or not they will ever be able to collect their pension or, if they were on long-term disability, only to find out that their support for that may be in jeopardy.
The proposals we have put forward are very substantive in terms of significant increases to the guaranteed income supplement and say up front that no senior in this country should be living in poverty. When one has worked for decades, whether it is in paid work or unpaid work, when people have contributed to this country, they should at least be assured that they have enough money in their retirement years to live in a decent way. Nobody here is talking about luxury or affluence. We are talking about the basic necessities of life.
The NDP did have a motion that was approved in the House last June. We did a lot of research on the proposals that we have advanced. Our member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek travelled across the country, talked to seniors and got tons of feedback. He heard and did wonderful things.
It is unfortunate that this so-called economic recovery act that we are debating today is so minuscule. It does not do the job in terms of where people need to get that support from programs, services and investment in our economy. There are other provisions in the bill. One of the provisions concerns the CBC.
How many times have there been questions, at least from our side, on the future of the CBC? This is an iconic institution in this country. It was fighting for its life in terms of financing and asking for bridge financing. We raised that issue over and over again in the House. The reply from the heritage minister was more of a brush off. We are glad to see in the bill some recognition of the financial situation facing CBC and that it will be able to have some of that bridge financing, which we called for and which it was seeking. It is obviously something that is very important to the financial stability of the institution.
I would like to speak about what the Conservative government is doing with respect to economic recovery. I am from British Columbia. I represent the riding of Vancouver East, which by and large is a low income riding. People really do struggle. They do not actually ask for a lot.
I am always amazed when I go out in the community. I hold travelling community offices. People come forward to tell me what is going on in their lives. I am always amazed at how resourceful people are. People are struggling to survive with very few resources, whether it is their housing situation, a work situation, trying to find affordable child care, or a student going to post-secondary education who is struggling with student loans and tuition fees. I am really amazed at how people get it together and keep going, but we can see how hard it is and how stressful it makes people's lives.
It has been pretty rough in B.C. We have seen the re-election of the Liberal government under Gordon Campbell who promised so many things but all he has done is attack workers, rip up collective agreements, allow privatization of health care and has not done anything to support a better child care program. Then kind of the worst happened. After the election, we suddenly learned that B.C. was going to be hit with the HST. The firestorm that has created in my province has just been unbelievable. It has crossed the political spectrum. Former premiers, such as Bill Vander Zalm, business people, small business people, the restaurant association, the labour movement, certainly the provincial NDP and hundreds of thousands of regular folks in B.C. are signing petitions.
Some of the polls that have been done show there is 80% opposition to the imposition of the HST. It is not just the HST itself, which is really a tax shift, but it is a shift from what corporations have paid on to consumers. I do not have the full list of things that it covers in front of me, but I know it includes newspapers, magazines, movie theatre tickets, haircuts, funerals, vitamins, baby diapers, food and clothing. The restaurant association has estimated that for restaurant meals alone the extra cost will be $694 million in B.C.
One issue is the tax itself. It is a regressive tax. It is a shift from corporations on to individual consumers. It is also the manner in which it was done. People are really outraged that during the provincial election there was no discussion of it. In fact, people were told there would be no more tax increases. Yet somehow after the election this issue suddenly started to appear.
We have been asking questions every day. We have been trying to find out when the negotiations took place and what negotiations took place between the federal and provincial governments. We are still trying to find that out. I think people in B.C. would be very interested to know when it was that those negotiations began to take place.
It is sort of ironic that on the one hand we have this bill before us today that promises economic recovery and yet on the other hand we have a Conservative government that is slapping people in B.C. with the HST. In fact, the Conservatives are running from it. They are trying to claim that it is not their problem, that the decision is up to B.C.
We know it originated with the Conservative government. We know it was in the federal budget. We know that the finance minister has actually been campaigning and advocating for this. We know that the Liberal members have been lining up with it as well. It feels like a slap in the face to people in B.C. who are going to feel the impact of this increased tax on the everyday items that they need to purchase.
It is the most terrible timing to think about bringing in this tax during an economic recession. The NDP has been saying loud and clear that this HST proposal must stop. My guess is that the opposition to it will continue to grow in B.C.