Madam Speaker, I would like to speak today about the increasingly obvious issue of poverty as well as the growing gap between the rich and the poor in this country. I agree with my colleagues, who are outraged at this government's lack of action. It is not taking concrete measures to deal with an alarming economic situation that is affecting Canada and all of its communities.
I think it is time for the government to take its head out of the sand. While it brags to potential foreign investors and the media about how strong and safe our economy is in these tumultuous times, it needs to understand that Canadians are not stupid and they know how fragile the country's economy really is. Numerous recent reports paint a very different picture of the reality all Canadians will have to face, if they have not faced it already.
A recent Conference Board report says that the gap between the rich and poor in Canada is widening, even more than in the United States. What is worse, Canada had the fourth largest increase in that gap among the 17 most industrialized countries. Obviously this is an unacceptable situation and urgent measures must be taken to strengthen the country's economic policy and provide more fair and equal distribution for everyone.
In light of this, it is quite understandable that Canadians wonder why the government is choosing to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
When a country is going through difficult times that could jeopardize its economic health, every second counts. Although other countries around the world seem to be experiencing even greater difficulties than we are, globalization means that our economy is very dependent on events beyond our borders. Therefore, the government must make a commitment to the voters and implement appropriate and equitable initiatives that will protect our economy, create jobs and ensure a well-deserved retirement for our seniors and a prosperous future for our youth. The government must be accountable for its actions and ensure the economic protection of the people. The solution to poverty is to be proactive and not passively implement reactive measures that come too late and are often inadequate.
In the National Council of Welfare's fall 2011 report, the chairperson indicates that readers will see a disturbing picture of poverty in Canada. He also confirms that the toll of poverty on the Canadian economy is too high, and I share that sentiment. To back up what I am saying, here are a few examples.
In 2007, the public cost of poverty, that is, government expenditures—and we have not even mentioned the private cost of poverty—totalled $24.4 billion. This figure is twice the poverty gap, which is the amount of money required to bring all Canadians out of poverty. Can Canadians afford to carry this fiscal burden when studies prove that investments in well-being are more profitable in the long term? The answer is no.
The annual cost of housing an offender in a prison cell is up to 10 times greater than the cost of supervised housing. We know very well that thousands of prisoners are incarcerated for minor crimes, that they have mental health issues, and that they do not receive adequate care for their conditions because of a lack of resources.
Twenty per cent of health care costs are directly related to socio-economic gaps. If the population that is in a precarious financial situation was not in that position, it would be healthier and more able to work.
At this point in time, the Canadian economy is losing between $3.5 billion and $5 billion dollars a year because the skills and experience of immigrant workers are not recognized. These are just a few examples of what poverty costs all Canadians every day.
Other troubling figures also confirm the concerns of Canadians, including the people of my riding who have trusted me to represent them. While poverty among families and seniors is becoming a major source of concern, which the government must pay more attention to, the unemployment rate among young people, even though they are healthy and well qualified, continues to rise.
If the government still believes that Canada's economy will survive the global economic turmoil, why is Canada's labour market so stagnant? Why are Canadian families finding it harder and harder to make ends meet and why are they being forced to drastically lower their standard of living in order to survive?
At this time, we all know that the labour market is weaker than it was even before the financial crisis in 2008. Canada has recorded a net job loss for the first time since last March. In question period, the government boasts about the fact that it has created 600,000 net jobs. We cannot help but wonder about the beginning and end dates of that job creation.
According to Statistics Canada, in August 2011 employment was little changed for the second consecutive month and the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 7.3%. In the past 12 months, employment has grown by 1.3% and 223,000 jobs were created, primarily in Ontario and Alberta, and in the private sector. That is nowhere near 600,000 jobs. Where do those 600,000 net jobs come from, the ones several ministers, including the Prime Minister, keep talking about in question period?
Economists everywhere and the major banks have had to lower their growth forecasts.
Canadians are worried about their retirement and their savings for when they are older.
Madam Speaker, I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I apologize for not mentioning it earlier.
The overall debt of the average Canadian family has now reached a record level—previously established at 150%. Families with two parents working full-time who used to be middle class are now on the low end of the income scale. Canadian families are suffocating and in debt. They do not have enough money and they do not have time to work more because they are already working as many hours as they can.
The unemployment rate among students reached 17.2% this summer, an increase of over 3% as compared to the rate before the 2008 recession. Students represent the workforce of the future; if they manage to graduate, they are the ones who will be actively participating in our collective growth by paying taxes. Without jobs, the cost of living is too high for students to be able to make ends meet, which leads them to drop out of school.
Is this the dark and difficult future that the government wants to offer these people? It seems clear to me that the government is completely out of touch with the everyday lives of voters and is not taking their situations into account when it implements strict measures and makes drastic budget cuts. Just when Canadians need the government—when they need support and resources to get their heads above water—the government is letting them down.
The numbers speak for themselves. If the government is bragging about keeping the Canadian economy healthy, it needs to redo its calculations. There are good economic strategies and there are optimal strategies. There is a huge difference between spending and investing and the government must recognize that once and for all. Why does the government not see spending to combat poverty as an investment in society?
Maximizing our collective wealth potential depends on full employment. That is why the government must act now to develop a clear and optimal national strategy that will attack poverty directly at the source of the problem rather than adopting strategies that only treat the symptoms.
If Canada is trying to help people survive poverty, I will admit that we are having some success. However, what the government is doing now has significant social costs. If, on the other hand, we want to work together to eliminate poverty and its costly effects, we must adopt a different approach.
What the NDP is proposing in its motion is a true investment strategy in order to optimize Canadian resources, a strategy whose benefits will be seen and felt in the long term. This is a strategy that puts more emphasis on preventing poverty than on spending once the harm has already been done.