Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House this morning, after two long months of being shut out. The doors were locked. While Canadians were being inspired by their Olympic heroes, they were being abandoned by their government.
Members of Parliament could not hold this government accountable for its actions, accountable to the quarter-million seniors who are living in poverty; accountable to the 1.5 million Canadians who are looking for jobs that do not exist; accountable to the 34 million people who deserve to know the truth about the accusations of torture and cover-ups; accountable to a whole new generation, a generation that is calling on us to combat climate change.
While we were shut out of this place, Parliament could not do its work. However, while the doors were locked, something positive did happen. Suddenly millions of Canadians were talking about their democracy. They were talking about taking back their democracy. One might say that the camel's back finally broke on this question.
After all, people have been shut out, not just from their Parliament, but from a quarter century of prosperity that has flowed only to the wealthy. They have been shut out from 15 budgets in a row that put big business first. They have been shut out from an economic recovery that somehow comes along without good jobs. They have been shut out from the old way of doing politics.
That sound that has been rising from those big grassroots rallies is people calling for something new, a new way of governing that invites people in instead of shutting them out.
It was a very long throne speech and a voluminous budget followed along after it. If we look hard we can find some positive moments, such as a commitment to Quebeckers on the language of work. There are some new commitments to skills training. But overwhelmingly, the government has answered the call for something new by serving up more of the same. That is the problem. There are more unconditional giveaways to big banks and oil companies, and there is no hope at all for the victims of the recession. That is not an approach the New Democrats can support.
The stories that Canadians tell really put it in pretty clear relief. I met one fellow who worked in an auto parts plant for 18 years. It closed down. He was earning a decent middle-class wage and had a health plan. He had to go into a job competition which it turns out was with his daughter for a part-time position at Tim Hortons. His daughter got the job. He was glad for her, but he did not know how he was going to pay the mortgage on the family home.
When his EI runs out this spring, his family could be headed for the welfare rolls. Of course, before he does that, he will have to cash in all his retirement savings. To qualify for social assistance the family will have to divest many of its assets that have been built up after all those years of working hard and playing by the rules. That family is going to risk falling into the poverty trap. His daughter, who dreams of becoming an engineer, may be working at Tim Hortons for an awfully long time to come because her dad has no money to put into any education fund that might give him a tax break. Meanwhile, tuition fees are rising rapidly out of reach for families like that one.
That is how the poverty trap works. There are 1.5 million jobless Canadians who know firsthand what that family is facing because they are facing the same kind of situation. Economists say that 800,000 of those people could exhaust their employment insurance this year and literally have nowhere to go.
Eight hundred thousand Canadians are looking for jobs that this government has been unable to create.
What hope does this throne speech offer? Instead of offering hope, the government is promising the same old thing, the same old thing with a weak economic recovery plan. This plan focuses more on photo ops for the ministers than on the creation of full-time jobs for Canadians. This plan allows for even more deregulation. This plan opens the door even wider to speculators, the ones who started this economic crisis we are still dealing with. This plan has even more gifts for the country's most profitable major companies.
What the throne speech offers is not hope. It offers barely a hope and a prayer that big business will somehow use its handouts to build the kind of country that we want, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The scale of the government's corporate giveaways is quite startling. Fifteen billion dollars each and every year, fully phased in is what the corporate tax rates for big corporations are going to cost us; $15 billion taken away from Canadians' real priorities, and for what?
Why? The Conservatives will say it is to increase our competiveness. After 10 years of consecutive tax cuts, corporate tax rates are much lower than those in the United States and other G8 countries. The Conservatives will say it is to stimulate the economy. After 10 years of tax breaks, we know that investing in infrastructure yields 10 times more in terms of economic stimulus and job creation. The Conservatives will say it is to improve innovation, that it is to improve productivity. Despite 10 years of tax breaks, large corporations are investing less in research, technology and equipment. The Conservatives will say it is to save jobs, even though 100 years of tax cuts will not help employers in the manufacturing or forestry sector, sectors in which businesses are not generating any taxable profits.
It is not economic sense that keeps these corporate handouts flowing; it is ideology. They are flowing into the bottom lines of Canada's most profitable corporations, an increasing percentage of which are foreign owned, like the oil companies mining the tar sands that the government wants to deregulate, like Canada's five biggest banks and their $15.9 billion of profits last year, built on the backs of families who are literally heaving under household debt averaging $96,000. And to whom are they paying interest most of the time? Those same banks, the same banks that doled out more than $8 billion in executive bonuses alone so soon after Canadians came to their assistance to backstop all of their interbank loans to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.
It is time for something new. Markets can create wealth and prosperity, but they cannot do it alone. Sometimes the government needs to get off the sidelines and be part of the solution. We cannot wait for the invisible hand of the market to solve things.
The NDP believes that productivity and an enterprising spirit are what drive our economy, and not almost non-existent tax rates. We believe we must fight for workers, their jobs and their communities. We believe we need to make this Parliament work for them.
I want to emphasize a few pragmatic measures that this government would have to take before the NDP could even begin to think about supporting it.
Earning our support starts with closing the doors on corporate giveaways, so let us shelve the next two planned corporate rate cuts, which would alone as a measure save $6 billion every year. That is $6 billion to invest in better priorities. It is time to make those better choices. What are those priorities?
First, let us get Canadians working again. Instead of renewing a failing stimulus, retool it with a razor-sharp focus on job creation, creating good full-time jobs. Instead of criticizing provincial red tape, let us share another cent of the gas tax with municipalities for green public transit.
For a government that is ready to foster enterprise and small business that does most of the job creation, there is no shortage of ideas to spark employment. As we develop those, instead of watching thousands fall out of the productive workforce, let us extend their employment insurance. That money would go right back into the local economy to create local jobs, support small business, put food on the table. Those are the choices we could support.
Second, let us build a greener economy for our future prosperity.
The throne speech resurrected the long-discredited idea that environmental assessments slow economic development. We do not have to choose between the economy and the planet. Instead, we can choose a new, sustainable economy, a productive economy based on solar, wind and hydraulic power, along with biomass. Canadian innovations can make us leaders in job creation in the renewable technology sector. We can get started today. We can extend the tax credit for home renovations with emphasis on making Canadians' homes more energy efficient. That will promote energy efficiency while stimulating the economy. It will support job creation. That is a choice the NDP can support.
Third, let us shore up Canada's retirement savings system and help those who built this country to live in dignity in their retirement. Its vulnerabilities were certainly laid bare by the recession. One just had to talk to any senior.
The throne speech did voice concern for workers hurt by bankruptcies, but why did we not see action on that issue in the budget? We need action to put workers first, not just words. So let us put workers' pensions first, as we have proposed, ahead of the banks when it comes to creditors.
Let us take action to strengthen public pensions too, like empowering families to save more through the very best tools available, the Canada and Quebec pension plans. Before we hand one more dollar to the banks, let us bring dignity and respect to the quarter of a million Canadian seniors who are living below the poverty line and lift them out of poverty in one step. We could do that with a $700 million investment through the guaranteed income supplement. That is one-twentieth of what the government would hand to corporations each year. That is a choice that I think Canadians would feel very good about making.
Fourth, let us build our social infrastructure. We can create jobs in child care and in aged care. We can build affordable housing and create opportunities for first nations, the Métis and Inuit. We can improve services that help the vulnerable, that make life more livable for the struggling middle class and that attracts business investments much more reliably than tax cuts do, which is why the throne speech's silence on health care is, frankly, deafening.
With our aging population, we have reached a tipping point. We need to fight for the health care system that we want, public, modern, accessible, and that means leadership on drug therapy, prevention, human resources and seniors care. Simply promising not to cut transfers on health care does not a health care policy make for the future of our country.
Lastly, let us keep the doors of democracy open. Rather than fill the Senate with party cronies, the government should put an end to all questionable and partisan appointments, whether to commissions, boards or Rights & Democracy.
Rather than complicating the access to information process, it is time for government to be more open and transparent to Canadians. That means coming clean about the harm done in the torture cases in Afghanistan, not defying the legal opinions that recommend making the information available. By refusing to release the information, the government is closing the door on democracy.
We also recommend taking steps to keep the doors of the House open by limiting a prime minister's power to prorogue Parliament.
This Parliament has been asked to overcome the old partisan battles. We would do well to honour that call each time we pass through these doors, but that does not mean giving the government the majority that Canadians refuse to. The government needs to compromise. The opposition must be constructive.
New Democrats are challenging the government to make better choices and we are advancing new ideas that will make this Parliament work for Canadians, such as our Nortel bill, a bill that would protect workers' pensions in bankruptcies; our employment insurance bill to make EI accessible to workers again; our language of work bill to respect the rights of Quebeckers; our climate change bill to build hope for a new generation; our early learning bill that would finally create child care spaces; and our affordable housing bill, because having a roof over one's head should be a right in this country. We have not forgotten who we are or who we represent and what we are here to do.
We have not forgotten who we are or who we represent. We must always keep people and families in mind because they are the reason we are here.
We hold firm to our conviction that together we can achieve a green and prosperous future and a better world, with doors wide open to all Canadians.