Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating all members of the House for their election to this chamber and congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your appointment to your post.
I want to say how honoured and humbled I am to be the member of Parliament for York South—Weston. I must thank all of my campaign volunteers who helped me talk to thousands of residents in every corner of my riding.
I intend to be a strong advocate for all 114,000 residents of York South—Weston. It is where I live. It is my community. Let me tell hon. members a bit about it.
York South—Weston is a working class riding in the northwest of the city of Toronto, an area of declining manufacturing. York South—Weston is the second poorest riding in Ontario. Over a quarter, maybe 32,000 men, women and children in the riding, live below the poverty line. Nearly a third lack a basic high school diploma. Nearly half the population rent; they do not own their homes. Over 57,000 people are visible minorities. Many constituent are disabled and, as deputy critic for disabilities, I hope to make their lives easier and more affordable. One in seven residents is a senior. Many are living in poverty too.
I live in the riding and have raised a family there. Unfortunately, I have watched as the jobs have left, which has added more stress to the community. It was not always this way. York South—Weston is the former home of manufacturers such as CCM, Moffat Stove, Massey-Harris, MacMillan Bloedel, Dominion Bridge, Ferranti-Packard and Kodak, and the list goes on and on. They have all left. Tens of thousands of jobs are gone.
The people who worked here earned family-supporting wages, lived in modest, comfortable homes and shopped locally, building the local economy; but now with the jobs all gone, unemployment is the major concern in my community. The unemployment rate in York South—Weston is habitually 25% higher than the national norm. Youth unemployment is even higher still, and the few jobs that remain tend to be low-wage, precarious service sector jobs.
When the Conservative government took office in April 2006, Toronto's unemployment rate was 6.4%. Now, after five years of whatever the government has provided, it is 8.4%, or almost 25% higher. The unemployment rate of York South—Weston is higher still. Thus, the economic action plan has clearly not worked. Actually, it is better called the economic fraction plan because it will only help a small fraction of Canadians.
Decent jobs with decent family-supporting wages and benefits and permanence are the top priority for me and my community, but even those who do find jobs must find them outside the riding and must use public transit, which, in my riding, is city buses, to get to work. Some have told me at the door that they spend as many as four hours every day commuting, which is time taken away from their families. That is why I am so disappointed by the government's budget. It does so little to meet the needs of these people.
The government's budget, the economic fraction plan, part two, does not improve the financial security of the residents of York South—Weston, as the finance minister claimed in his budget speech. Previous tax cuts for wealthy corporations have done nothing for my riding. The next wave of tax cuts for these big corporations will not help us here. Manufacturers have continued to close and no new jobs have been created.
The government's previous efforts in fighting the effects of the global recession had little impact in York South—Weston. Its vaunted infrastructure renewal did not touch York South—Weston at all, but passed by. Today, the budget leaves it even further behind.
However, if one travels north a couple of hours to the riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka, one will be able to smell the pork on the barbecues there, where the average income is $75,000 a year and $50 million was spent on border protection. I do not think it is anywhere near the border. Yes, I suspect that part of the economic fraction plan did what the government intended, but it did not help us in York South—Weston.
We in the NDP proposed and recommended to the government a job creation plan to would provide strategic investment in small business, not the giveaways to profitable corporations that this budget favours.
We in the NDP proposed a national infrastructure renewal strategy to draw investment and jobs into our communities. Instead, the government is closing down its infrastructure program.
We in the NDP proposed investing in education and training for high-tech, clean energy and conservation jobs for the workforce that we need in the 21st century economy. This is a missed opportunity in this budget. Residents in my riding want to create a green centre of excellence on the 53 acre former Kodak site, for good jobs in the 21st century economy. However, without a federal job creation strategy, without federal investment and a clear environmental plan, we will probably get the planned shopping centre and parking lot, which we need like a hole in the head.
We in the NDP proposed a national public transit strategy that would maintain and expand public transit across the country with a clear mechanism for sustainable, predictable long-term funding. Such a strategy would create jobs, increase productivity, clean the air and give working people more time with their families.
Instead, we get an elite business class train to the airport with fares of $50 being talked about. It seems the business elite do not want to have to rub shoulders with ordinary York South—Weston residents going to work.
This budget does little to help the average Canadian family deal with the cost of living. We in the NDP believe that Canadian families should get a break from the HST on home heating and hydro costs. However, the government's budget fails to do that.
I spoke to one senior during the campaign who had just received her heating bill for the month of March. It was $600 for one month, and tears were flowing because she could not pay it. A lot of that bill was the HST, and some of her tears were tears of anger over the unnecessary tax grab.
I heard the finance minister say yesterday that the HST was the province's problem. So I suppose he would have no issue with foregoing the 5% federal portion of her bill.
We in the NDP believe that seniors should not have to live in poverty. We proposed pension reform and significant increases to the guaranteed income supplement, but the government's budget measures fail to achieve these goals.
Seniors in York South—Weston are suffering the double whammy of pensions that do not rise and skyrocketing fuel and food costs. The rise in their pensions was $3 last year. How do they pay a $600 heating bill when their pensions go up by $3, or even $53 with the $50 the government is proposing that they get?
We in the NDP want to meet the needs of Canadian families by providing funding for more family doctors and nurses, by proposing measures to make prescription drugs and home care more affordable. The government budget does not meet these goals.
Many residents of York South—Weston do not have family doctors and use the over-crowded emergency room instead, and there is only one, as the previous provincial Conservative government closed the other hospital as its legacy to York South—Weston.
The token gestures to families with kids in arts or sports programs do not help the parents who cannot afford to enrol them in the first place, and the thousands who cannot find affordable daycare have no help whatsoever in the government's budget.
We in the NDP want to work with the provinces and territories to establish and fund a Canada-wide child care program and an early learning program that would create new child care spaces, improve community infrastructure to support the growth in child care and promote a one-stop shop approach for family services.
When their kids get out of daycare and want to go to university or college, the burdens of skyrocketing tuition and crushing debt loads are making that impossible. We in the NDP proposed a special education transfer to help ease the burden, particularly on low income families, but the government's budget is silent on that.
While there are many things we in the NDP would do differently in the budget, I see the government has taken our family caregiver tax benefit proposal. This will help families caring for people with disabilities, a subject that I have a personal interest in. However, we must do more. We should be implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accompanied by strategies for providing disabilities supports, poverty alleviation, labour market participation and access and inclusion. I hope all members of this House will support this initiative.
We in the NDP are asking the government to rethink its priorities in the budget. As York South—Weston residents will clearly attest, the budget is of little or no help on the real issues facing tens of thousands who live in poverty in Canada's richest city. The budget will not create jobs here, will not provide more daycare, will not lift our seniors out of poverty, will not make higher education affordable and will not make ordinary living more affordable.
The government makes quite gleeful pronouncements about its majority. Whatever the government, it should be concerned about all Canadians, not merely the wealthy in Parry Sound—Muskoka, but even the folks in York South—Weston.
Its economic fraction plan aims at only a fraction of Canadians, and certainly not those living in poverty.
I urge the government to rethink its priorities and establish priorities that can assist all Canadians, not merely a small fraction of the population.