Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have a second opportunity to respond to the budgetary policies of the Conservative government.
Much has been said in this House about whether this budget is adequate in terms of providing the economic stimulus necessary to lift our country out of this deep recession. Members on all sides of the House have evaluated whether we have done enough to stabilize our banking industry, to free up credit, to assist corporations, to fight the unprecedented trade deficit, and to live up to the Prime Minister's international commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on stimulating our economy.
Many of the speeches, particularly on the government side of the House, have focused on whether the budget in the end will help those who in many cases actually contributed to creating the crisis. Much less has been said about whether and how this budget addresses those who are the innocent victims of this crisis. To a large extent, that is due to a fundamentally different view of what the economy is in the first place.
To the Conservatives, the economy is an almost supernatural construct that is and ought to be controlled by some invisible hand rather than by the government. From that perspective, it is the role of individuals simply to serve the economy. For me though, it should be the other way around. Our economy must serve Canadians. The economy is a man-made construct and the rules and regulations we put in place to guide it play a crucial role in determining its winners and losers. In that way, the economy becomes a moral issue. It must be judged by how many people it leaves behind. Since this budget was designed to stimulate our economy, it too must be judged by who it leaves behind. From that perspective, this budget is an abject failure.
We can do better for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have lost and who will lose their jobs because of what has happened to our economy. They did not cause the economic crisis that has robbed them of their livelihoods. Neither did the thousands who have seen their life savings and their dreams for a comfortable retirement taken away because of the rampant greed that right-wing governments unleashed and let run wild in the financial markets. We can do more for them and we must do more for them, so let me spend a few minutes this morning talking about these unwitting victims of the recession.
In January alone, 129,000 Canadians lost their jobs, and as many as half will not qualify for employment insurance benefits, yet the Prime Minister has pushed through another budget that leaves laid-off workers out in the cold. With this budget, not one additional unemployed worker becomes eligible for EI. Unfair waiting periods are kept in place and modest EI extensions only apply to those who already qualify but do nothing for those who do not. As Ken Georgetti, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress put it so succinctly, 60% of the unemployed were not getting benefits prior to this budget, and they will not get benefits now.
Here is what the government should have done in this budget. It should have improved eligibility. It should fix the rules so more workers who pay into EI can get benefits when they need them no matter what region or sector they work in. It should have ended unfair wait times. If most families are only two missed paycheques away from poverty, it is cruel to make people wait weeks for EI benefits to kick in.
Economists say that improving EI will help spark our economy, generating $1.60 worth of economic growth for each dollar that is disbursed in benefits. At the same time, that helps families find new work instead of falling into poverty and onto the welfare rolls. That is a win-win solution for tough times and yet it is nowhere to be found in the budget.
What about younger workers in this country? The deepening economic crisis is dimming the hopes of hundreds of thousands of young workers, but they are not getting any help from the Prime Minister's government. The numbers speak for themselves. In just three months, a jaw-dropping 75,000 Canadians aged 15 to 24 have lost their jobs. In January alone, 28,000 young Canadians lost their jobs, pushing their jobless rate to 12.7%. What the numbers do not show are untold thousands of young people who have given up hope or who are still looking for their very first jobs.
The recent Conservative budget provides nowhere near the economic stimulus needed to safeguard jobs in these troubled times. On youth joblessness, it has no strategy at all. That is not good enough. Today's young people will build tomorrow's Canada. They deserve the same chances that earlier generations enjoyed. By ignoring their hardship today, the government is creating bigger problems for the future.
But the victims of this recession are not just the young and working Canadians. Seniors were devastated when they saw their life savings and their dreams disappear in the stock market crash. They were being hit on all sides. For those who had workplace pensions, their sustainability was suddenly thrown into question. For those who had RRSPs, the value of their retirement nest egg plummeted. And for those who were already in RRIFs, they were doubly disadvantaged because the minimum withdrawal requirements meant that they would be eating deeply into their capital. For seniors, the crisis is perhaps even more impactful than it is for the hundreds of thousands of other Canadians who are also suffering.
When the Prime Minister takes his wait and see approach to providing further stimulus, he is suggesting that Canadians just need to hang in there and wait out the storm. However, seniors, by definition, do not have a lifetime to wait. They have spent their whole lives working hard and playing by the rules but now, everywhere they turn, every bill they open, they are paying more and getting less. That is hardly a retirement with dignity and respect. At a minimum, this budget should have increased the old age security so that seniors would not have to choose between paying for food to eat or for fuel for heat.
Seniors built our country and they paid taxes all of their lives. Now that they need those tax dollars to work for them, the government is abandoning them. They deserve so much better from this budget.
There is one group that is also predominantly made up of seniors who deserve special mention here, and that is our veterans. These men and women were willing to sacrifice their lives for our country and this budget could not even sacrifice a few dollars to live up to the commitments that the Prime Minister made to them.
The Conservatives made very specific promises to our veterans. They promised allied veterans that they could receive the Canadian war veterans allowance. They promised all widows of second world war and Korean war veterans access to the veterans independence program. They promised full compensation to veterans and civilians exposed to agent orange. They promised to redress the issue of reducing the SISIP LTD payments for medically released Canadian Forces personnel when they receive other disability pensions under the pension act. And they promised the so-called atomic veterans compensation for their nuclear exposure during trials in the South Pacific and during decontamination efforts at Chalk River after two accidents. Not a single one of those promises has been kept. The government should be embarrassed and ashamed. It is time to put veterans first; in fact, it is long past time.
Mr. Speaker, you are indicating that I am almost out of time, so I will not get the chance to talk about one more group that this budget failed.
I have talked about young Canadians, workers, seniors and veterans, but I very much wanted to talk about children as well. This budget has had a profoundly negative impact on their future.
The Prime Minister's decision to “get out of the child care business” means that his budget fails to renew an annual $63.5 million transfer that funds 22,000 child care spaces in Ontario alone. This approach is painfully short-sighted. We know that quality early learning builds better futures for young people and a stronger economy for all of us. Each dollar invested in child care would inject at least two into our economy, a vital stimulus in times like these. It locks Canada into last place among industrialized nations on early learning. I wish I had just a little more time to expand on this very important issue, but I want to get one last issue on the record.
We are failing our children by not acting seriously on climate change. We did not inherit the earth from our grandparents; we have borrowed it from our kids. Yet, instead of investing seriously in the green economy, the government is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into unsafe nuclear energy, coal and the unproven technology of carbon capture and storage. Anything green in this budget is purely cosmetic.
We had an opportunity to do the right thing for the environment, for jobs and for our children, but we failed to turn over a new green leaf. This is a decision that likely will haunt us for decades to come.
On behalf of all of the victims of this recession who this budget leaves behind, I cannot do anything other than vote against Bill C-10.