Mr. Speaker, I thank members from all parties who have expressed support for Motion No. 315.
Canadians do believe that the growing income inequality in Canada is an incredibly important issue. In fact, they believe that members of Parliament ought to be serious about studying it and addressing it.
The motion simply asks that the finance committee study the issue, make recommendations and report back to the House. During the study, we will have the opportunity to review Canada's system of income taxes and income support in order to understand how they may be contributing, inadvertently and unintentionally, to income inequality. We will be able to identify some of the gaps in the systems. We will be able to look at some best practices across Canada in terms of provincial governments that may be doing things well, in some cases, and look at other countries that have been able to combine innovative economic policy with progressive social policy. Finally, we would be able to propose solutions to help combat this growing issue of income inequality and equality of opportunity in Canada.
During my first intervention on the motion, I discussed our moral responsibility as parliamentarians to address the issue of income inequality and equality of opportunity. Today, I would like to lay out the business case and why it is good for business to address income inequality.
We have heard from economic voices, including the Conference Board of Canada, the Rotman School of Management dean, Roger Martin, and the Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney. All have warned us that income inequality could limit Canada's economic growth and threaten sustainable prosperity.
While inequality can be bad for society, it can also be bad for business as it comes with great economic and social costs. The real threat to the economy and to society is when income inequality becomes so great that it starts to threaten equality of opportunity.
As American Nobel Prize winning economist, Joe Stiglitz, has said, “growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity”.
Canada benefits from good public education, public health care and a strong society safety net. These essential foundation blocks of equality of opportunity are key to why we are doing better than some other countries. Along with our natural resource sector, our natural wealth, it is our people and giving our people a good start with good education and good opportunities are the keys to economic growth and sustainable prosperity.
However, not all Canadians have access to the tools they need to prosper. For instance, aboriginal and first nations communities have the fastest growing and youngest population in Canada but they are also Canada's most economically disadvantage and socially disenfranchised population. If we fail to address this issue faced by our aboriginal peoples, this is a demographic, social and economic time bomb.
All Canadians have a responsibility and a vested interest to narrow and eliminate the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. The long-term social costs of inequality and loss of opportunity are far more costly than the measures to address it.
I will put it another way. Looking out for the other guy is not just good for the soul, it is good for business. Business should also be concerned that the public could lose faith in a market-based economy if they no longer have hope for economic and social success. When people lose faith in the system, they can be drawn to class warfare and to economically dangerous anti-market policies, and that could be really bad for business.
The issue here is too serious a problem and too important an issue to allow partisan politics to get in the way of finding solutions. The fact is that this is a problem that has grown under federal governments and provincial governments of all party stripes. No one party has all the answers and no one party is to blame.
I am not naive enough to believe that a study of this issue will fix the problem, but it is a start because we need to understand the issue better and we need to move forward toward building public policy that will address growing income inequality.
In contemplating how to vote on Motion No. 315, I hope that members will be guided by their hearts, their heads and their desire for good public policy.
Earlier tonight, a Conservative member spoke of the working income tax benefit. That actually was introduced in the last Liberal budget in the fall 2005 by the then finance minister, the member for Wascana.
We are pleased with the working income tax benefit that the Conservatives continued to maintain in their fall budget. That is a case where two parties, two governments, worked together on an issue to address inequality.
We can work together across party lines in the House. The start will be on the vote for Motion No. 315. I will appreciate the support and Canadians will appreciate the support for this first step toward addressing this important issue.