Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak on the legislation before the House.
In the limited time available to me I want to raise three or four issues that are not in the legislation and that in my opinion are not being discussed in the House in the manner they ought to be. They are issues that in my opinion are near and dear to the hearts and lives of every Canadian living from coast to coast to coast.
I am not going to suggest for a minute that these are easy issues. These are issues that require a plan and require courage.
The first issue I want to talk about is the issue of poverty among Canadians. There is no mention of that issue in this legislation, no mention in the budget speech, no mention in the previous Speech from the Throne or any Speech from the Throne for that matter, or basically in any statement by the Prime Minister or his cabinet.
During the past 12 months there have been two what I refer to as massive reports from committees. The first one was tabled last December from the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. It was entitled, “In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness”.
The second committee report was a massive report. It took a lot of time and energy and effort. It came from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The title of the study was the “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”.
These studies and a lot of other opinions and articles certainly identify the extent of poverty that we see across Canada. They talk about the groups, the cohorts, who suffer the most: the disabled, single parents, unattached individuals, aboriginals and new immigrants. They talk about some of the reasons. They talk about where.
One important aspect that should be made very clear is that very close interrelationship between poverty and future health care costs, between poverty and future educational achievement, between poverty and future interactions with the criminal justice system and between poverty and the future productivity of the Canadian nation.
It leads to what I suggest is a democratic deficit where people are not contributing in the way they should.
Last week we had the unfortunate statistic reported that senior poverty over the last three or four years has increased by 25% under the watch of the Conservative government. There are in excess of 600,000 children living in poverty, one in nine.
On November 24 the House debated a motion basically calling upon the government to develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty for all. The motion was debated, discussed, deliberated upon and was passed by a majority of the members of Parliament representing a majority of Canadians.
I remember when the Prime Minister was the leader of the opposition. I remember the statements that he used to make, that we cannot ignore the will of Parliament speaking on behalf of Canadians. What did he do? He totally ignored it.
This is an issue I submit that we ignore at our own peril. It is an issue that perhaps transcends the next election cycle but it is an issue that all members of Parliament should be looking at for the better future, not of ourselves but of our children and generations to come.
The second issue I want to identify that is certainly not in this budget, nor in any other budget, Speech from the Throne nor statements by cabinet ministers, is the whole issue of the environment, and specifically our inability to take any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Our record is appalling. It is embarrassing. The history over the last five years is really appalling. Back when the Conservatives were first elected in January 2006, they eliminated any reference to climate change, they ignored any international agreements, and they basically abandoned any concept of greenhouse gas emissions or climate change.
The first environment minister, now the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, immediately announced in the House that the government would come forward with a made in Canada approach to deal with climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. She did nothing, and after three months, six months, nine months, twelve months, nothing was done. There was no initiative, no program, absolutely nothing.
After 18 months she was replaced with the second environment minister, now the present Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. He abandoned any talk of a made in Canada approach, but his initiative was that we would come forward with a turning the corner initiative, which would regulate the emissions from Canada's 500 largest emitters. It was very forcefully spoken about. It was to be a great plan with much fanfare. That minister did nothing, despite his statements, after three months, nine months, 16 months. After 22 months, unfortunately, he had to be replaced.
The government's third environment minister, Mr. Jim Prentice, stated that Canada would not have a made in Canada approach and certainly would not have anything to do with this turning the corner initiative, whatever that was, and he basically stated in the House that the government would do nothing until it saw what the United States was doing.
Unfortunately, the United States did have good intentions with the election of President Obama but now the Republicans have control of the Congress and any thought about cap and trade or anything grandiose will probably not happen. That has given that minister cover to do nothing, and after a couple of years in that portfolio he did nothing. Of course, he had the Cancun meeting coming up this week. About a month ago, he resigned both from his position as the environment minister and his seat in the House.
Now we have the fourth environment minister , the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, which is probably an instance where perhaps recycling ought not to have been used. He is there for a temporary period and there does not seem to be anything at all moving.
Unfortunately, the previous minister attended the Copenhagen conference a year ago. That was a large international conference for which there was the hope that we would reach a very good agreement. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, that did not happen. Canada went there with the obvious intention not to reach an agreement, but to scuttle any agreement from being reached. As a result it received four Fossil of the Year awards, and then it became the Colossal Fossil.
I cannot overstate how embarrassing that is to Canadians. We as Canadians want to consider ourselves citizens of the world, but when we see that going on in foreign fora, it is certainly embarrassing to this Canadian and I would suggest to the majority of other Canadians watching that spectacle.
Right now as we speak there is the next international forum going on in Cancun, Mexico. I do not believe the Minister of the Environment is there although he may attend the closing ceremonies. And this is probably a good thing for us, because I think it will avoid a certain amount of embarrassment to this country when we see our ministers going there trying to scuttle any agreement being reached.
That issue is unfortunate. It is embarrassing, but again, we are not going to hear talk about it. We are not going to hear of any initiatives. We are not going to hear of any movement. The government is just kicking the can down the road and letting the next generation deal with that particular issue.
The third issue that is not addressed in this bill or in the budget, which is disappointing, is this whole issue of pensions, which is fast becoming a very serious issue for a great majority of Canadians. Approximately 60% of Canadians are not saving enough for their retirements and this is going to cause real problems in the future.
We do have a three-pronged post-retirement income plan. The first prong, of course, is the government-funded old age security and guaranteed income supplement, which work well. The second prong of that plan is the Canada pension plan, a compulsory government plan that is employer-employee funded. It is inadequate but the structure is acceptable. It is certainly actuarially sound and will be for the next 75 years. However, the third prong, which requires government action, is the private savings part, and that is course the private plans, whether they be defined benefit or defined contribution, and the RRSPs.
What has happened, which does require our attention from the federal government, is that many of the companies have either eliminated their private, defined benefit plans altogether and moved to a defined contribution plan, or alternatively, have just abandoned any kind of a pension whatsoever. Coupled with that, we have basically seen what I consider to be the failure of the RRSP program. It has been with us many years now but the costs are twice what they are in the United States for similar types of plans. The returns just are not there and this really has failed Canadians. If a person put in $4,000 or $5,000, or 10% of his or her income for a middle-income earner, in an RRSP, basically the plan failed that particular person.
It does need a legislative solution. I am not suggesting for a minute that I have all the answers and I know it does require discussion with the provincial premiers. I know that the Minister of Finance now has started some discussion because the provincial premiers are demanding that, but again, it is a very serious issue. It is not an issue that is talked about in this House. It is not an issue that is being addressed and this is very unfortunate.
On these issues and many others, there is an overarching theme, and that is the whole issue of intergenerational equity, or intergenerational inequity. Intergenerational equity means that each generation is treated fairly and that no generation should piggyback off the next. In other words, our children should not bear our debt load, and that is playing itself out in many aspects of Canadian life right now, no more so than in the deficit.
We presently are incurring deficits in excess of $50 billion per year and these debts have to be paid off. In the last four budgets of the government, spending has increased by 39.7%. We have seen tax cuts to the wealthiest of companies, which in Canada and in a Canadian context, would most likely mean the banks, the mining companies and the oil companies.
This debt is going to be paid for by the future generation of Canadians, probably by those three pages who are sitting in front of you, Madam Speaker. We are facing a country with unique demographic circumstances. We are entering an era where there are going to be fewer workers and many more retired Canadians. These retired Canadians will rely more and more on our younger workers to pay for increased health care costs, increased costs for caring for the elderly and pension costs.
On top of that, spending is out of control. There are examples upon examples of out of control spending. Members have heard it all before. There is the $16 billion for planes through an untendered contract; $13 billion allocated for prisons; $1.3 billion for the G8 and G20 summits; $130 million for partisan Conservative advertising, some of which is showing up on sex sites; and $1.3 million for cabs to ferry ministers, who have chauffeurs, and their staff around Ottawa.
Spending is out of control and the deficit is very large, but these issues are not spoken about. The government will leave the deficit and all the other issues to the next generation. This manifests itself in many ways, and I will go over them briefly.
I have already talked about the deficit.
The environment will have to be dealt with. Some generation will have to deal with it. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be able to deal with it. That does not mean the problem is going to go away. We have serious problems not only with our greenhouse gas emissions but with other aspects of our environment that are not being dealt with by the government.
Pensions is a big issue. We are facing an aging society. The pension problem has to be dealt with. We cannot force these costs on the next generation.
There is a notion that affordable post-secondary education is a right of citizenship. That, in my day, was the great equalizer. That seems to be gone because of the downloading of the costs onto students.
The plight of our aboriginal communities, especially post-secondary support for our first nations youth, should be a big priority for the government.
A lot of this will really affect the productivity of our nation. As a result, crime rates will probably increase in the years to come. Health costs will increase in the years to come.
Another issue is unemployment. Youth unemployment is reaching record levels. Students have been particularly hit. People leaving the educational system, younger workers in particular have been hit because of the recent recession. Their future looks bleak, and I see no action on the part of the government. Again, it is an example of just kicking the problem on to the next generation. This is going to have real cogent effects on the future productivity of Canada.
If Canada's youth are not acquiring necessary skills in the workplace now, and when post-secondary costs are getting more expensive, it leaves fewer alternatives for younger people. This will have very serious consequences, especially for young men, who seem to be getting hit worse. This will lead to higher crime rates and a greater burden on all taxpayers.
These challenges are not mentioned in the bill. Nobody is talking about them in the debates in the House.
As I see it, the Conservative agenda comes down to the 3Ps, which used to stand for public-private partnership. In my opinion, the 3Ps now stand for planes, prisons and pistols. In other words, every Canadian should have the right to own a gun if he or she so chooses.
It is disheartening to see the direction in which we are heading. It is disappointing. A whole host of issues that should be dealt with are not being dealt with. The whole Conservative agenda is laden with intergenerational inequity that is going to cause great harm to this country. It is showing up these days with the trade balance and everything else. It is very disappointing.