Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to discuss an issue that is now a primary concern for Canadians: growing income inequality in our country. My Liberal Party colleague moved Motion M-315 to instruct the Standing Committee on Finance to undertake an in-depth study on income inequality in our country. When I hear a speech like the one by the member for Lethbridge, it is clear to me that we need just such a study. Statements such as those we were just subjected to are appalling.
This situation is alarming. A few weeks ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food was in Canada and made the following remarks:
What I've seen in Canada is a system that presents barriers for the poor to access nutritious diets and that tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor, and Aboriginal [and] non-Aboriginal peoples...Canada has redistributed to the rich. Maybe it’s now time for Canada to redistribute to the poor.
He could have added that income inequality between men and women, between generations and between Canadians and newcomers is also growing steadily.
In the wake of the occupy movement, inequality is now ranked as one of Canada's main problems, and the polls show that it has become Canadians' number one concern.
Although the Conservatives cannot stop telling us that they care about Canadians' welfare, the statistics paint quite a different picture.
Although often cited as an example of an open, tolerant and welcoming society, attracting thousands of newcomers every year, Canada lags behind other OECD countries and is ranked 12th out of 17 countries in terms of equality, far behind many European countries.
Canada is experiencing economic growth and yet Canadians' standard of living has not increased. In fact, it has even gone down in the poorest segment of the population. Here are a few statistics: the real income of 60% of Canadians has stagnated over the past 33 years. Sixty percent! At the same time, the richest 1% of Canadians have seen their income climb steadily. They now possess 14% of the nation's wealth, whereas in the 1970s, this figure was only 8%. It has almost doubled. Yet the Conservatives say there is no need for a study.
According to Statistics Canada, there are 61 billionaires in Canada. They alone possess 6% of the private wealth in Canada. Together, those 61 people have twice as much wealth as 17 million Canadians. It is quite absurd. But it does not stop there: whereas the average billionaire got $100,000 richer in 2010, the average Canadian only earned $524 more. Statistics show that the taxes of the wealthiest Canadians have gone down. That is exactly what my colleague wants to discuss, in committee, with experts who will be able to confirm this trend. We represent the public and the issues. We make decisions based on facts, even if the party in power does not like the facts. I think that if a committee were to consider the issue, the facts, and perhaps solutions, might come to light.
From 1980 to 2005, the income of the wealthiest segments of the population has risen by 16.4%, whereas the income of those at the bottom of the ladder has dropped by 20%.
What is even more worrying is the speed at which these gaps are growing. Canada has always been more egalitarian than its American neighbour, and yet now, income inequality is rising twice as fast here as it is in the United States.
The government claims to be building a fair and egalitarian society, but it would rather help the oil companies than help Canadians. The Conservatives are cutting social programs and employment insurance, aggravating the problem instead of tackling it head-on. Thousands of workers will be forced to accept very low-paying jobs, which will only exacerbate the income inequality problem and reinforce the economic disparity between the have and have-not provinces.
Across Europe we are seeing that austerity policies lead to a dead end. But austerity programs are exactly what the government is proposing. Furthermore, the public has clearly rejected these policies in recent elections in a number of countries. We cannot wait for 2015. In some European countries, youth unemployment has reached alarming, huge, never-before-seen proportions. Up to 46% of young people have been hung out to dry.
Is that the kind of society the government wants to leave for our children? Way to go.
Today's new generation carries more debt than the previous generation did at the same age, and job prospects for young people have considerably deteriorated compared to those that existed 10 years ago. Today, a student finishes school with $30,000 in debt. This means that a couple starts their new life together with $60,000 in debt. How is it possible to start a family with $60,000 in debt? My parents did not have $60,000 in debt when they finished their schooling. They were able to buy a little house in the suburbs and have a family life. When we were young, my sisters and I would play in the yard and have a lot of fun.
I am a member of Parliament. I have been fortunate in life and I have come through all right. But I have friends who finished university two years ago and who are still trying to pay their debts. Couples are living in three-bedroom apartments and working very hard to pay their debts. Maybe in 10 years, when they are 37 and it is a bit late to raise children, they will think about putting money aside to buy a house.
That is what is going on right now. These are the kinds of inequalities that are being created.
Today more than ever, having a post-secondary education is key to getting a job. The numbers speak for themselves: the income and wealth gaps between people with a university degree and people who have only a secondary school education continue to grow. That is why the NDP has always come out in favour of higher education being affordable and accessible to everyone. That is why we are talking about education transfers these days.
Canadians are borrowing more and more and going into debt to make ends meet. At this time, Canadians owe more than $1.50 for every dollar of annual income. In these circumstances, more and more Canadian families are having to make sacrifices. When nearly 10% of the population in a developed country like ours has to go to food banks, and three million Canadians are living in poverty, including 600,000 children, that is not acceptable. In this country, 600,000 children are living in poverty. And yet we have a Conservative member telling us that there is no inequality. We have a special rapporteur telling us there is famine in Canada and the Conservatives tell us there is no famine. That is why it is important to have a study, so they can be enlightened a little.
In conclusion, income disparities are not the only kind of inequality. We are talking about inequality in health care, in education and in access to food. People cannot even eat because the disparities are so great. Amartya Sen, the recipient of a Nobel Prize in economics, called this “capabilities”: being able to do things like read, write, choose where to live, eat properly and enjoy good health.
By doing nothing here in Canada, we are widening the gulf in this regard and telling certain people, telling the 61 billionaires in this country, that they are entitled to all of that. But we are telling the others they were not born in the right place, they were not born into the right family, and they have to stay the way they are: they will have to eat poorly and they will get less health care and fewer educational opportunities.
To summarize, there are income inequalities between men and women. Women have always been poorer than men, and this means that a more egalitarian society will improve the welfare of women more, proportionally speaking. The same is true for young people. And yet here we are, leaving the most enormous environmental, economic and social debt to our future generations, while we continue to widen that gulf.
I will close by talking about the occupy movement that we see everywhere. I think that society is starting to wake up and I am quite pleased. The purpose of the occupy movement, which began a little over a year ago, was to criticize the fact that there are people in our societies who have a great deal of wealth. The question is, what do they do with that money? I, personally, earn a good salary. I earn $150,000 a year. I do not necessarily need all that money. To me it is only proper that I should pay a bit more tax than someone who earns $35,000 and yet I hear people say that they do not want their taxes to increase. We are not talking about taking an arm and a leg. We just want to make sure that people pay their fair share so that we can have a fair and egalitarian society where everyone's basic needs can be met.
I support Motion M-315, moved by the hon. Liberal member, and I commend him for it. I hope that by the time we vote, the Conservatives will agree to study the matter. I think it is very important.