Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-13, which is awkwardly titled keeping Canada's economy and jobs growing act.
I will focus my remarks on jobs. I want to first touch briefly on the general failure of the government and this bill in particular to address what is the most important challenge to this country and indeed to the world at this time, and that is climate change.
Whether it is the increased frequency and intensity of severe weather events, be that storms or flooding, whether it is the rapid shrinkage of the Arctic ice shelves, evidence of climate change is all around us.
The government seems not to understand that threat to our entire economy and indeed our way of life. In this bill we have a much more specific failure. We have a very specific threat here to cut our capacity to even understand and respond to climate change.
With the levels of reductions in expenditures by the government that are needed to reach its financial targets, the climate scientists at Environment Canada have been receiving layoff notices, the very people who might help us design a way out of this crisis and to limit the effects on our economy.
I do want to be alarmist on this issue because to state the obvious, ultimately there are no jobs on a dead planet.
Let me come back to the main topic that I want to talk about today, and that is the topic of jobs. Just like climate change, the warning signs are all around us here. We have instability in the international financial markets, the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone, stagnant growth projections for Canada, all-time high levels of household debt, an increasing balance of payment deficits for this country, and low levels of private investment here at home.
Low levels of corporate investment, despite a 43% tax cut for the big corporations, yet their business investment levels as a share of the GDP have not increased one iota despite those tax cuts.
What do we hear from the government? We hear a very familiar message. We hear, “Stay the course. Continue with corporate tax cuts. Continue to slash public expenditures”.
When did we last hear this? We heard this in the election campaign of 2008 and we heard this from the new Conservative government after that election. The government continued on that path and only brought in its much discussed economic action plan after the threat of defeat in this House of Commons by its failure to act on the economic crisis at that time.
Here we are again, staring another recession in the face with a government that continues its plan of inaction rather than an action plan that would truly benefit Canadian families. I am afraid this time, because we have a majority government, we will continue down this path and leave Canadians at the mercy of these unstable markets.
Conservatives like to trumpet their record on job creation, but when we take into account labour force growth, the new jobs created fall 250,000 jobs short of what we would need just to keep employment levels steady in this country.
When we look at unemployed workers and discouraged workers, they amount to nearly two million in this country. When we look at youth unemployment rates, we have reached a high this summer of more than 17% of youth unemployed. The Conservative response was, “Well, let us continue to cut those corporate taxes.”
As I said, there is no evidence, in fact the evidence is to the contrary, that these corporate tax cuts will do anything to create jobs.
Now the Conservatives, in this bill, are talking about a small business tax credit of $1,000, but it is very clear that this is too small to have any major impact. The NDP has talked about a much larger credit available over a much larger period of time.
Rather than getting stuck in the details of this bill, I want to return to that question of broader economic policy, though these radical spending cuts that we are facing in the budget bill will only make the situation worse. On top of the direct hits these will cause for public services, it will mean a decline in jobs in our economy as economic growth is slowed by the cutting of public sector spending.
One of the things that we know is key to an economic recovery is demand. In order to have sufficient demand in our economy, employees need to earn a living wage. When they go to work every day, work hard, come to the end of the month, there has to be a little bit left over to spend. What we are finding, increasingly, that for families this is not the case.
In 1996 the Liberals eliminated the federal minimum wage and instead adopted the provincial wage rates. These rates have continually fallen behind inflation. Now in my own province of British Columbia, the minimum wage is $8.75 an hour. When the social service agencies in Victoria got together and calculated what it takes in my community to actually earn enough to pay for basic food, clothing and shelter, and transportation to get to a job, the answer was $18.03 an hour.
There is a gap of $10 an hour here for families. When they get to the end of the month, it is no surprise that they are choosing between putting away a little for retirement, putting away a little for their kids' education and actually paying the bills that are coming due.
The major contributor to our economic crisis in the long term is inequality. This is a concern not just of New Democrats, but of business leaders in this country.
In September the Conference Board of Canada, not a noted left-wing organization, put out a report that discussed the increase in poverty rates in this country. After 10 years of some modest progress up to 2009, these rates began to increase once again, and that gap continues to grow.
The Conference Board of Canada pointed out that the gap between the rich and the poor in this country is now growing at a much faster rate than it is in the United States and that very soon we will catch up to them as among the developed countries with the largest gaps between the rich and the poor in the entire world.
Why are we having this increase in inequality? The Conference Board said it is a result of globalization and other market forces. When the government says market forces will fix the recession, it is also saying that market forces will fix inequality, and we have seen that simply is not true.
The Conference Board of Canada also points to dwindling unionization of the Canadian workforce and the stagnation of minimum wages as two key contributors, yet we have seen a constant attack from the government on trade unions as the representatives of workers in the attempt to get a living wage, a family-supporting wage and a wage that will actually promote economic growth and development in this country.
As a spokesperson for the NDP on the Asia-Pacific region, I have also spoken in the House about the lack of investment in this key area, an area in which we can make great progress. We should listen to the president of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, Yuen Pau Woo, who spoke at the Asia-Pacific conference sponsored by the B.C. council of business about two weeks ago in Vancouver. He said that yes, we have made some progress in exporting resources like forestry resources, and yes, the government has done some good work on infrastructure around the ports, but we are missing the boat when it comes to the key factor in expanding our trade with the Asia-Pacific region because we are failing to invest in human capacity.
He said that we need increasing investments in language training, cross-cultural communication and international business education, but there is nothing in the government's Asia-Pacific strategy that speaks to any of those fundamental needs that would help forge more ties with the Asia-Pacific region and help build the basis for strong trade in the future.
When it comes to equality, I read a book over the last year called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, two demographers who looked at the actual evidence. I know the government does not like evidence, but they looked in 11 areas of health and social services challenges, everything from physical health to mental health to child health to obesity to crime rates to violence. What they found was that in every case, a society that is more equal does better on every indicator.
Unexpectedly, it also shows that the rich in those countries also do better than the rich in the less equal countries, so this is not just a matter of benefiting the poor but a matter of benefiting all parts of our society by increasing equality.
I see nothing at all in the budget that would move us in that direction of more fundamental equality.
Despite a few crumbs and gestures toward small business and health care and a few non-refundable tax credits that will not help those really in need, there is nothing in the bill to promote jobs. There is nothing here to promote retirement security. There is no action to help the most vulnerable.
As we head into this Thanksgiving weekend, I wish all members of the House and all Canadians a happy Thanksgiving, but like others who have spoken today, I ask them to think about those less fortunate, those who will be going to food banks for their Thanksgiving dinner and those who are in even more dire situations: those who are homeless and who will be going to the soup kitchens for their Thanksgiving dinner.
I would much like to see the government take action that would decrease the inequalities in our society so that veterans, seniors and families with children do not end up in these dire situations on the next Thanksgiving.