Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor. I would like to thank the hon. member for sharing his time with me.
Before I begin to speak about Bill C-13 specifically, I would like to take this opportunity to express my disgust at the current gag orders and reduced debate in the House of Commons. I sometimes get the impression that, for the Conservatives, democracy comes down to 35 days of debate once every four years and that Parliament can be shut down in the interim because there is no real need for it.
In the time I have left, I would like to say that what I find unbelievably disappointing in the Conservative government's policies and decisions is the lack of certain ideas, certain concepts. Earlier an hon. member spoke about science being real. Yet the Conservatives, in their economic decisions, generally ignore other things that are also real, and those things are inequality and poverty. The Minister of Finance accomplished the amazing feat of tabling a budget where the word “poverty”, unfortunately, appears only once. But that does not mean that it is not real.
In 2009, 3.2 million people were living in poverty in Canada. As my colleague and neighbour to my left reminded us, these people are not always unemployed. Sometimes these are people who work. As we know, earning minimum wage amounts to living in poverty. Of the 3.2 million people living in poverty, 634,000 were children.
I find it unacceptable that, in a G8 country, so many people are being abandoned and we cannot take care of one another.
The Conference Board reminded us a few weeks ago that inequality is growing faster in Canada than it is in the United States. Thus, we are moving in the wrong direction. The Americans have a much more unequal society than we do, but at this rate, and with this government's neo-liberal conservative policies, we will catch up with the Americans in no time.
Equity or equality per se is not simply a good and moral objective that we are striving for; it is also more effective.
Last summer, the IMF—which is by no means a socialist organization—released a study on inequality that should be required reading for the Minister of Finance and the entire government. The IMF concluded that more equitable distribution of income translates into longer and more stable economic growth. This is good not only for people trying to get out of poverty, but also for our country as a whole, for the entire country will experience longer periods of growth with fewer upheavals. This is therefore something we should try to achieve.
An inequitable society has more social problems, more crime and more illness. Indeed, poverty has an impact on health, education, productivity, creativity and civic engagement. It is estimated that 20% of health care spending is due to socio-economic factors such as the income gap, for example.
Unfortunately, this government has chosen to give gifts to the banks and the oil companies and cut taxes for the Canadian corporations, which, generally speaking, do not need it. In the first quarters of this year, the six big Canadian banks earned $22 billion in profits. They are not the ones who need help. People who use food banks every month because they are having a hard time paying their bills and making ends meet are the ones who need help. There are solutions and, as New Democrats, we are proposing solutions to truly help workers and their families and truly help people living in poverty.
I want to talk about this government's choices to help those who deserve our respect, those who built the society we live in and to whom we owe everything: seniors.
The previous speaker talked about this. Certain things need to be done with regard to pension plans. I will come back to that. The NDP proposed lifting all seniors in Canada out of poverty by injecting money into the guaranteed income supplement. The answer we got from the Conservative government is woefully inadequate. Its solution was to come up with a parallel system. Indeed, it plans to give an extra $600 a year, or $50 a month to every senior living in poverty, but we must realize that it has created new criteria and new scales: a person is entitled to $50 a month if their income does not exceed $2,000 a year. Once a person has reached that threshold, they do not receive the full $50. They end up with peanuts, maybe an extra $4 or $5. I am not sure who this is going to help. That is not what it means to take concrete measures to help people.
There are so many things to do and so many problems to solve. There are so many people living in difficult situations that have an impact on everything from health to access to post-secondary education.
This government has decided to saw off the very branch on which it is sitting, or to dig the deficit hole. It tells us that it is a real problem that has to be solved. It should stop lowering taxes for banks and oil companies. It has created the problem itself. It is creating a situation where, in Canada, we now have a structural deficit, not a cyclical deficit. Why would they willingly give up revenue? It seems that the Conservatives are governing a state that they basically detest. All their efforts are focused on shrinking government programs, except for those involving the military and corrections, of course.
What could be done with this money that the Conservatives have voluntarily given up, and made us all give up? We could restore investment in social housing. The government's present contribution to affordable social housing is just about nil, and has been for many years. This has created extremely difficult and unacceptable situations for people. In the riding that I have the honour to represent, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, 2,000 people are on a waiting list for social housing and 5,500 households spend more than 50% of their income on shelter.
This is not the way to build a just, strong and equitable society. These people have problems every day. They are unable to pay their bills. This creates a great deal of tension for couples, families and individuals who cannot make ends meet.
What does the Conservative government do? It gives them tax credits that are worthless if they pay no tax. It is just great to say that they provide tax credits for youth, sports associations, access to this and that, but people have to pay tax to be entitled to them. Once again, it will help some people, but not those who need help the most. We must remember this.
Also, why is it that 1.4 million people are officially looking for a job in Canada and do not have one? This number is growing. We saw that another 72,000 jobs were lost last month. Half of the people who pay into the employment insurance fund do not have access to it when they lose their jobs because they did not work a sufficient number of hours. So, they are paying a tax or insurance premium but they are not entitled to receive benefits when they find themselves in a situation when they might claim them. The NDP is arguing in favour of re-establishing greater access to employment insurance benefits. By so doing, the government would truly provide tangible help to Canadians in their everyday lives.
Investment in infrastructure is insufficient. Clearly, the government has not stopped harping about Canada's economic action plan, but it is also important to remember that, without the threat of a coalition government, the government would never have introduced this plan. The ideas came from this side of the House. We then put an end to the plan to form a coalition, but the entire deficit has not been overcome. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that Canada is currently facing a $123 billion infrastructure deficit. As a result, overpasses are collapsing and there are problems with the Champlain Bridge and others. That means that our critical infrastructure has been left to crumble: our bridges, our highways and our water systems. This creates problems and then the price must be paid. We must reinvest in infrastructure.
We must also reinvest in research and development because it is the future and Canada has a terrible record among the OECD countries in this area. By making this investment, we will be able to stimulate the economy and create good jobs.
I can give another example. What else could we do to help people? What direction could we take? Think about the cost of medications. Last year, it was estimated that three million Canadians did not take the medications they needed because they could not afford them. That is unacceptable. That is why people continue to be sick and get sicker. Then, they become a burden on the health care system because they did not have the means to take care of themselves. In Quebec we have a drug insurance plan. The NDP thinks this is a good example. With asymmetrical federalism, Quebec could maintain its public drug insurance plan, and we could still create a Canada-wide one at the federal level.
There are many other things, such as household debt, for example. The government is not doing anything to lower credit card interest rates or ATM fees. Two-thirds of Canadian workers do not have a retirement pension plan through their employers. We must improve public pension plans. We must double them. We agree with this because it is the most effective way of doing things. That is what will help the most people once they retire, when they stop working and leave the workforce. We could also talk about Internet connections in the regions or renewable energy. There are tons of things that the federal government should invest in, such as green transportation, high-speed trains or electric monorails.
There are so many things to do and, unfortunately, the only thing this government does is lower taxes. That does not work. That is not how we will help each other and create a fair and just society.