Mr. Speaker, before statements by members and question period, I briefly explained why Bill C-38 is antidemocratic. There are several reasons. As I explained, we were given very little time to debate it despite the government's claim that 70 hours of study in committee was plenty of time. The bill amends, adds or repeals 70 acts, which would take some 350 hours—four to five hours per act—based on the committees' traditional practices. That is not what happened.
In addition, the scope of this bill is immense. In 2009, the budget implementation bill was over 500 pages long—552 pages to be exact. However, every clause in the 2009 budget implementation bill related to the budget. There were amendments to the Income Tax Act, sales and excise taxes, the customs tariff, employment insurance, financial system efficiency and so on. Every item in the bill was related to the budget. That is not the case with Bill C-38.
Not only did we not have enough time to deal with such a vast bill, but we also had to deal with a number of provisions that had absolutely nothing to do with the budget, which causes a specific problem.
If I have time at the end of my speech, I will add some interesting quotes.
However, it is interesting to note—and I insist on doing so—that the way the government proceeded has really created a consensus that crosses party lines. Both left and right are against the way the government presented the budget in an omnibus bill, a kitchen sink bill.
Let us come back to the economy. In fact, as we know, the bill is called the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. However, when you get right down to it, it is exactly the opposite. It is important to understand that the 2012 budget tabled in March, which has already been passed, even though the government does not seem to remember that, talked about $5.2 billion in cuts and the elimination of 19,000 jobs. This will have major repercussions. It is an austerity bill that will have recessionary consequences. That is why the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act is ill-advised, or at least the title is.
Let us talk about growth. The Parliamentary Budget Officer made an estimate using the same model as the Minister of Finance did. He did not pull it out of his hat. There is nothing new about it. For his projections, he uses the same methods as those used by the Department of Finance and the Minister of Finance. By adding in the elements of the 2012 budget, the Parliamentary Budget Officer came to the conclusion that we could expect 0.9% less growth than the potential we might have expected. So that means that if we had been expecting an increase of 2.5% in the GDP, for example, we will get an increase of only 1.6% in the GDP instead. That will be a problem in the future because a reduction in growth like the one the Conservative budget will entail will also have an effect on the number of jobs. In that context, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, still using the same model as the Minister of Finance, estimates that, in 2014, 102,00 jobs that could have been created will likely not be, and will therefore potentially be lost.
In that sense, the government's bill does not promote jobs. It does not promote economic growth. The effect will be the opposite.
A number of provisions in Bill C-38 will result in downward pressure on salaries and will have terrible consequences for jobs. I will describe four in particular. We all know that the bill contains many provisions. It has 753 clauses, after all. In the time I have, I will focus on four aspects that will have harmful effects on the economy.
The first is employment insurance. There is nothing much about it in Bill C-38. Two items that define suitable employment are being eliminated, specifically the reasons for which a claimant may refuse a job without fear of losing his benefits. Two specific aspects are being eliminated. The first is that he can refuse work if it is not in his profession. The second is that he can refuse work if it is of lower quality than his previous employment.
Why are we eliminating those two clauses? It is to give the minister the discretion to draw up regulations that will make up the rules of the game. By giving the minister this discretion, we end up with a situation where the rules of the game can change without the consent of Parliament and its elected members. That will be in the hands of the minister.
Actually, I think she was feeling the heat because she had to justify those regulations. She refused to explain, and so did the Minister of Finance. She had to justify herself and explain what the provisions would be at a news conference. Those provisions kill jobs. The Conservatives are going to, or are likely to, force unemployed workers, who are laid off and are entitled to employment insurance—be they seasonal or other workers—to take a job at 70% of their previous salary or risk losing their benefits.
That in itself is an incentive for companies to lower salaries. A negative effect could very well be that companies will let employees go, in order to be able to rehire them perhaps by offering them 70% of their previous salary.
There are also other negative effects.
The question was put to the member for Madawaska—Restigouche in the Rimouski media. The journalist’s question was very simple and very enlightening. The hon. member was asked to imagine a situation where someone loses his job and is forced to take a job at 70% of his salary and is then laid off again. Does that mean that the bill would force that person to potentially accept employment at 70% of the 70% he had before? The answer from the minister of ACOA, who is also the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, was very clear: if we follow the logic of the bill, yes. That is why we have minimum wage laws.
We already see that this particular provision of the bill is going to drive down wages. Another consequence of this bill is that employers who hire people for seasonal jobs for various reasons—and there is still seasonal employment in my riding, in my region, as is particularly common in eastern Canada—risk losing the workforce they trained, because they will want greater stability, because they will not be interested in hiring people for two or three months, even at 70% of their wages. Generally, employers want to have a permanent workforce.
Another component of the bill is the elimination of the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. This act allowed construction employees working on government contracts to enjoy standards comparable to the rest of the industry. We know that in the construction industry, federal contracts are tendered. So the fact that wages had to be protected ensured that all companies were on a more even playing field. Now, with the disappearance of this act, companies will be able to arrange it so their employees are paid quite a bit less in order to meet the specific conditions and successfully bid on government construction contracts.
This means that there is no more real incentive for companies to ensure that their employees are well paid and that working conditions are respectable. This is yet another part of Bill C-38 that will end up driving down the wages and living conditions of Canadians.
Another element raised by my colleague during a question is the elimination of the Employment Equity Act provision, which obviously ensures that for the same work, women and men can be paid the same. What we need to realize is that with the bill, companies doing business with the federal government and subcontractors will no longer have to comply with the act.
Now, the government tells us that it will be in the form they will have to fill out. They will have to put in provisions; nothing is going to force them. What the government is being asked to do is allow companies to regulate themselves. We know very well that a company’s main motive is to maximize profits. This will be done on the backs of women working in these companies that will potentially receive federal government contracts. This is just another example of wages being driven down.
Lastly, a measure that will occur later on, something that has been talked a lot about and something the government has never given a crystal clear justification for, and that is increasing the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67 in 2023.
With this measure, anyone 53 years of age and under will end up paying the equivalent of $12,000 per person per year for the two missing years. We are talking about approximately $25,000 per couple.
It will be the middle class and less fortunate Canadians who will end up paying for these measures. This is serious. If we look at the evolution of salaries in Canada—people watching at home will probably be very interested to know—employees these days earn an average salary. But the average salary is not necessarily a good indicator. Large salaries will often bring that figure up, but that is not necessarily reflected in the standard of living.
The best indicator to assess salary levels is the median salary, which is the point at which 50% of Canadians earn more and 50% of Canadians earn less. In 2010, the median salary for all Canadians was lower than the median salary in 1981. The median salary is calculated in inflation-adjusted dollars. The country has grown richer since 1981, but not all Canadians have benefited from that.
The government loves to pat itself on the back for our economic performance. But we are headed in the wrong direction. This has been acknowledged by the International Monetary Fund, which estimates that in 2012—the current fiscal year—the Canadian economy is headed for 152nd place in the world. There will thus already be implications for Canada's performance and its competitiveness in the future.
We have an income inequality problem, and this is where I was going with the question of median salary. It was stated that the top 1% of salaries now make up 24% of income in Canada. This has been mentioned often over the past two years. Concentrating income in such a narrow band has quite a negative impact on investment and the real economy. Up to a certain point, people with that much money can consume. They will even consume luxury goods.
However, ultimately, everything they do not consume will mainly go toward trying to generate a return by investing in capital markets. We are not talking about investing in capital markets to support the real economy; they will invest in the casino financial market, the one that creates its own bubbles, either real estate bubbles or stock market bubbles. In this respect, the real economy is left behind. What matters now is the financial economy.
The federal government budget is set to grow this bubble. Since wages are shrinking, Canadians as a whole will not benefit. This will cause problems with the growth of the GDP, which is measured in part by consumption.
What we are doing today is really forgetting the lessons that we learned during the Great Depression. We are moving in that direction once again. What is interesting is that the difference between our salaries today, the gap between rich and poor, is almost the same as it was before the Great Depression, so before the 1930s. The government does not seem to be aware of that.
As a result, the government is ignoring all the indicators that should be pushing it in the right direction so that it can develop policies for all Canadians. However, that is not what the government is doing at the moment. It is creating policies that will stand in the way of the poorest, most disadvantaged and, in many cases, the unluckiest Canadians. Bill C-38 is a good indication of that.
I would like to quickly come back to another key element of our opposition to this bill. I spoke briefly about it: it is the undemocratic nature of a bill that is 435 pages long, includes 753 clauses, and modifies, amends, adds or eliminates close to 70 laws in a single vote, which will take place this week.
When I said that it created a consensus among policy analysts and commentators, I meant among everyone, from left to right. A number of columnists in Quebec and across Canada have spoken out against the way that the federal government is operating.
I would like to quote Andrew Coyne who made the following comments in a Postmedia article right after the budget implementation bill was introduced:
Not only does this make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill, which is not: It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We've no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.
This was written at the end of April. He was back on the attack to comment further on the consequences of the direction the Conservatives are taking at this time.
On June 13, so just last week, he had this to say:
...we can look forward to a future in which Parliament would be reduced to two votes of consequence per year — one to rubber-stamp the government’s spring agenda, a second to cover the fall. This is how it happens. This is how it has happened: the more powers government acquires at the expense of Parliament, the harder it is for Parliament to resist still further encroachments, or even to recall why it might. And if somebody doesn’t stop it, somewhere, this is how it will continue.
These extremely wise words clearly explain the problems we are facing right now.
Another journalist, Dan Gardner, summed up the fundamental danger of the Conservatives' approach with this bill—and he did it really well in under 140 characters on Twitter. He said:
“I'm prepared to say it's no longer a parliamentary system. It's a presidential system, minus checks and balances”.
That is what we are seeing here now, with the anti-jobs, anti-growth, anti-prosperity bill that has been presented as a package for us to vote on in its entirety without sufficient time to study the consequences of each of its provisions.
As I was saying, although we have studied the bill for 70 hours in committee and in subcommittees, if we had spent five hours on each of these bills, as is customary in the House of Commons, we would have spent 350 hours.
Thus, the government is trying to keep us in line. We must—of course—oppose that, not only because we are opposed to the bill and its provisions, which are, as I said, anti-jobs, anti-growth and anti-prosperity, but also because of the way the government is doing this. That is why we stood up and presented the amendments in the House. That is why we voted for 22 hours.
In conclusion, I will quickly say that many of my colleagues think this is a bill that will change the face of Canada for a generation. I do not subscribe to that view, because in 2015 we will take the place of the current government and we will do away with most of these measures.