Mr. Speaker, first of all, I congratulate my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber for his hard work on this subject, which is very important to Canadians from coast to coast to coast and in my riding of Davenport, where we have one of the highest concentrations of artists in the country.
No doubt every one of them who is listening has taken offence to the speech we just heard from the other side. When we are talking about favouring some taxpayers over others, those guys on the other side of the aisle wrote the book on it. The Conservatives dole out heaps and heaps of delicious tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in Canadian history, and then turn around and display once again how much they do not understand arts and culture in this country. They are still in that frame, where they think that artists go to galas and sip champagne.
I would point out to the Conservative members who represent ridings in the greater Toronto area, in Vancouver, and on the East Coast that artists are significant contributors to the local economy. They are engaged in their communities. In many communities across this country, when communities are grappling with issues such as violence, unemployment or youth disengagement, they often turn to the arts and culture sector, and the expertise that has been developed over many years in their communities by artists, for solutions to some of the more difficult community issues that we need to grapple with in our society.
I want to start there because it is clear that if the government misses this opportunity, it is just one more wasted opportunity to actually nurture this sector, which even by the most conservative accounts—and their numbers are lower than the Conference Board of Canada's numbers, and in fact about half of the latter's—has a significant economic footprint in this country.
What we need to be doing is crafting policy that nurtures and supports an emerging, stable, vibrant, middle-class of artists in Canadian society. That is not what is happening right now. I think the government likes the situation as it is right now, because it fits its neoconservative, neoliberal frame, which is either feast or famine. In the arts and culture sector, that is exactly the situation. That is one of the things this bill seeks to address.
I have sat on the heritage committee since I got here in May 2011. It is clear that many parliamentarians, and certainly many members on the government side, do not understand how artists make a living in Canada and the fact that by and large most artists live below the poverty line and yet contribute in a very robust and muscular way to the economy. It is a construct that is completely skewed against them.
One of the reasons it is skewed against them is that much of our employment policy, much of our policy around our social safety net, is predicated on stable employment over a stable, consecutive period of time. Well, that is just not how artists work.
In fact right now we are studying the video game industry at the heritage committee. This is an emerging industry that employs artists, actors, and musicians. It is a new and vibrant industry, and we are looking at ways in which we can nurture it, because the industry could potentially be an even bigger job creator. It creates jobs for artists, and it creates jobs for other people too.
That is another point, because artists create jobs for other people. If we look at the Conference Board of Canada's numbers, artists are significant economic engines. Oftentimes, they are really individual, sole proprietorship, freelance operators. They almost always have no access to employment insurance during those periods they cannot find work. They are rarely able to access CPP. They do not get sick leave. They do not get bereavement leave. They do not get parental leave of any sort. They basically have to work every day. Even if they do not have work, they are out hustling other work.
What a measure like this would do is take a realistic look at how an artist makes a living.
We are not in the 1950s any more, folks on the other side. We are just not. I know that is a hard message for some of them to get. However, we are not. We are not in an economic reality now where people get jobs when they leave school, work for the same company for 40 years and retire with a decent pension that allows them to live in dignity. We are not in that situation any more, in part because of the policies of the government on the other side.
Artists, on some levels, are the canary in the coal mine when we look at the way the economy is going, when we look at the employment that is out there. When we look at the latter, we see serial contract employment. We see young people who are working in multiple part-time jobs, we see young people who are working as contractors for a couple of months, then looking for other work. We see people who are classed as freelance employers or self-employed, whereas maybe even as recently as a couple of years ago, they would have been classed as employed. However, their employers have now deemed them to be self-employed in order to cut down on their own costs, which is something that the government turns a blind eye to.
We are not going to turn a blind eye to the realities of work today, especially in our urban centres, and we are not going to turn a blind eye to artists. In fact, I am very proud to speak in support of my colleague's bill today because it would deliver on a promise that we made, a promise that Jack Layton and the whole team made in the 2011 election around income averaging. This is an expression of how we view tax fairness in our society.
The Conservatives' idea of tax fairness is to give taxpayer dollars to the wealthiest corporations, which then turn around and close factories and go somewhere else. I am sorry, but that is not what we are here to do. That is not what this party, the NDP, stands for. This bill underlines part of the policy that we are building toward in this party. This bill represents a larger vision, but is also something that has very much been supported in the arts and culture sector in Canada.
I do want to say that the concept that many people have about the arts and culture sector is that people just sit around, sip champagne, get grants from government and produce nothing. However, what we are talking about today are workers, arts workers, in a milieu that is difficult for many of us to understand because we have not taken the time to understand it. I think one of the things I am most proud of is that my hon. friend from Jeanne-Le Ber has taken the time to craft a well-thought-out bill that has been costed. I am very proud to speak on its behalf and on behalf of the artists's who live in my riding of Davenport and right across the country.