Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this opposition day motion.
Just this week economists before the finance committee commented on the situation that Canada faces during this current economic turmoil. They were nearly unanimous in their view that due to the lack of investment by the business community combined with Canadians' personal debt burden neither would be likely to stimulate our economy in this time of need. We were told there are some $500 billion that corporations are holding onto. In fairness to corporations, when we consider the experience they had in the recent lending crunch in the last recession it is quite understandable that they would want to protect their cash assets not knowing what the next months and years might bring.
The economists were united in stating that it was time for the government to take up the slack in our economy and invest in our infrastructure. Today in Canada there is a 7.3% unemployment rate. New Democrats believe that it is closer to 11% when we include the people in society who have given up and lost hope. Really we are saying that one in ten Canadians is not working or contributing to our economy and, in many cases, he or she is sadly nosediving into poverty.
Last week the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton released a report about seniors poverty. As members will know, in the last session I was the critic for seniors and pensions, but the member for London—Fanshawe has taken over the seniors part of it. This report was very striking. It reported that 7.5% of seniors in Hamilton live in poverty and the rate of poverty among senior women is double that of senior men.
During the last session, I stood in this place month after month calling for the government to dramatically increase the guaranteed income supplement to deal with this untenable situation of seniors poverty. The government responded and in its budget gave them $50 a month as an increase to the guaranteed income supplement. That is a pittance. We need to understand that seniors are living on about $15,200 a year. The poverty line is above $22,000 a year. When I say that $50 is a pittance, I am glad we no longer hear it being trumpeted in the House because it was very troubling to hear that day in and day out.
New Democrats know what is needed. The government needs to stop talking about its record and stop trumpeting its recent electoral victory. Conservatives are the government of the day. It is a victory that cannot be used to once again justify putting on the blinders when it comes to dealing with the needs of Canadians across our country who are facing a crisis. Conservatives continually repeat in this place that they have a clear majority. A clear majority of 61% of Canadians did not vote for the Conservatives or their agenda.
We need spending that is targeted to: real job creators; the $130 billion deficit in our infrastructure, as identified by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities; construction and the repair of roads and bridges, like the bridge in Montreal; and, public transit. Discussions are taking place regarding a Quebec to Chicago high-speed rail link. There are examples of things that we could be doing.
We also need to target the training and retraining of Canada's workforce. When I was a school board trustee in Hamilton there was a dropout rate of about 28%. In so doing, those people were isolating themselves from being part of the economy. We all understand the need for education and retraining. In my community of roughly 500,000 there are over 112,000 people living in poverty. We need to find a way to bridge the gap between these people and work. Over the next five to eight years employers are going to be crying out for skilled workers.
One of the presenters at our committee today was from a community college. That individual talked about the gap that is going to be there even with our new immigration policy. The gap figure that we will not be able to fill was 30% I believe. Yet, we have people living in poverty who have the capacity to work, if we can find a way to bridge them to that work.
I want to quote Glen Hodgson, the chief economist for the Conference Board of Canada, who was one of the presenters at committee. He said, “We believe that we're severely under-invested as a country in infrastructure. We haven't got the numbers, but others have, engineers have, the federation of municipalities has, and I think their number of going back five years was a deficit of about $130 billion in terms of infrastructure investment”.
He further commented, “This tells me there is huge scope for realigning government spending priorities and making sure we're making adequate investments in roads, in ports, in bridges to ensure that--”, and I am paraphrasing, he said economies like that of Montreal function well. If we lost the bridge in Montreal, what would that do to the economy of that community and the economy of our country? It cannot be allowed to happen.
There are other things that he went on to talk about, such as social infrastructure. Again, he was commenting on the facing of an aging population. We would like to see more Canadians working, and he stressed more women and aboriginals working.
There are programs such as childcare that we could put in place to allow more women to go back to work and improve our labour force participation and make sure companies have the workers they need.
Another presenter at committee was Marc Lavoie. He is a professor with the department of economics at the University of Ottawa. To paraphrase, he said that the Canadian government already in his opinion should abandon this goal of balancing the budget that has been set for 2014-15. It should give up its budget cuts already announced. It must establish a new stimulus package on infrastructure.
We need to put what is being proposed into perspective. The government is proposing to cut services in this country that Canadians need. It is proposing to take some of the workers who work for the government in various programs and put them on the street. We should find a way to move forward.
I know we have great debates in this place over taxes. I keep hearing commentary from the other side stating that the NDP wants to raise taxes. The corporate tax rate in this country in 2000 was 38% and the American rate was 36%. The finance minister to the previous prime minister lowered the Canadian tax rate to 20%, right in the middle of the G20. It was a more than reasonable move, but it took billions of dollars out of the economy, billions of dollars out of this place that we could have used to help Canadians.
What did the present Conservative government do? It took that corporate tax rate of 20%, which was already well below the American 36% rate, and dropped it to 15%. It is on its way to 15%. That takes $16 billion a year out of the government's ability to do things for Canadians in this time of crisis. We had a report of a $12 billion deficit a year ago. Is it not interesting how that matched up very closely with the changes that the government had made? This was a planned deficit that was put in place by the Conservative government.
I recall a minister of education in the government of Ontario talking about causing a crisis in education so the government could address it. We have a government here that has not caused the economic crisis, but it is not responding to it properly. It is exacerbating the crisis and making it much worse than it needs to be.