Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for London—Fanshawe.
I rise today in the House to voice my strong support for the motion at hand. I also want to thank our leader for introducing this motion, which speaks to the top concern of so many Canadians, the future of our economy.
The Canadian economy is indeed facing unprecedented risk and uncertainty. A country as small and economically open as Canada, of course, is not immune to the problems of those around us. The weakness of the American economy and the ongoing crisis in Europe are serious concerns.
Already Canada's export of value-added products is steadily shrinking and our overall trade deficit is growing dramatically. In July, Canada ran the worst merchandise trade deficit in history. In fact, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada's trade balance has gone from a $26 billion surplus to a $50 billion deficit.
We are aware of how weak the American economy is and of the ongoing crisis in Europe. Canada's exports of value-added products are steadily declining, and our trade deficit is skyrocketing. In July, Canada experienced the worst trade deficit in its history. Actually, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada's trade balance has gone from a $26 billion surplus to a $50 billion deficit.
The high value of the Canadian dollar is further hampering demand, rendering many of our exports uncompetitive and making imports more attractive to consumers. New Democrats believe in trade that works for Canadians and Canadian business, and the Conservative trade agenda clearly is not fitting the bill. At the same time, the record high level of household debt is suppressing demand and hurting our economic growth.
Over the summer I took the opportunity to travel the country and met with Canadian businesses, finance ministers and chambers of commerce. I heard from them about the difficulties they face and saw clearly that while the Conservatives use a lot of rhetoric on the economy, the facts tell a very different story.
The Conservative plan to stimulate the economy through corporate tax cuts has failed to stimulate economic growth. Corporations have not reinvested their excess cash into their businesses and instead they are now sitting on more than $500 billion.
Unfortunately, it is Canadians who have to deal with the negative effects of weak Conservative leadership, including the job losses that have already plagued many regions and industries across Canada. Some 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed, and this number has remained virtually unchanged over the last year.
Unemployment and economic growth has been highly divergent across the country. For example, over 43% of Canada's unemployed live in Ontario alone. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, there are 10 unemployed people for every vacant job compared to 2 unemployed people for every vacant job in Saskatchewan.
As Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, recently noted:
These broad shifts in demand for and supply of labour are contributing to rising inequality. Over the past 20-plus years, incomes in Canada have increased nearly twice as fast for earners in the top 10 per cent as for those in the lowest 10 per cent. The share of the top 1 per cent is now the third highest among member-countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development after the United States and the United Kingdom.
That level of inequality is growing. Just to put it in comparison, the last time inequality in the U.S. was as severe was during the 1920s. Moreover, labour's share of the national income is now at its lowest level in half a century across most advanced economies, including Canada.
Peter Jarrett, Head of Division for Canada in the OECD economics department, argues that:
Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources. But it needs to do more to develop other sectors of the economy if it is to maintain a high level of employment and an equitable distribution of the fruits of growth.
The major drivers of GDP are not spending in Canada. Canadian households are facing record high debt levels, significantly hampering consumer spending.
Businesses are not reinvesting their profits in the economy, and government is pursuing austerity, which economists have told us will have contractionary effects on the size of our economy.
What all this means is that more and more Canadians are struggling from paycheque to paycheque while the Conservatives cut services they rely on and corporations sit on half a trillion dollars in cash. Yet rather than taking action to correct these imbalances, the Conservatives are stubbornly pursuing an austerity agenda that has only exacerbated them.
Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC, recently argued for infrastructure investment, noting that:
...if growth falters, Canada's Plan B can't depend on monetary policy, given how low rates [in Canada] already are. Trying to squeeze more growth out of housing and debt-financed consumer spending might not be the best option given longer term risks associated with excesses on both those fronts. Instead, the push to growth should come on the fiscal side...
Canada's premiers have agreed that maintaining a strong and growing economy is their top priority. They are concerned about weak economic growth among our traditional trading partners and recognize the need to adapt to the growing economic strength of several emerging economies.
However, the premiers understand that intergovernmental cooperation between provincial, territorial, and federal governments is essential to these concerns. They themselves have argued that to fully engage all the economic forces in the country, the two orders of government must be working together. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's approach to federal-provincial relations is marked by disengagement, division, and lack of negotiation.
Jennifer Wallner of the University of Ottawa's school of political studies has noted, “Despite the call for open federalism...the government has developed a policy agenda with considerable implications for the provinces and territories without bringing them to the table”.
In fact, it has now been three years since the last meeting between the Prime Minister and Canada's premiers, and despite his rhetoric about focusing on the economy, the Prime Minister has refused to join our premiers at the Council of the Federation's National Economic Summit in Halifax this November. Especially at a time of economic fragility and unbalance, the Prime Minister should be meeting with our premiers on a regular basis, not refusing to meet with them even once in three years.
Canadians should be wary of a government that prefers unilateral action over intergovernmental cooperation, that prefers ramming legislation through Parliament over proper due diligence, and that prefers stubbornly pushing forward with failed corporate tax giveaways over making strategic investments in programs that will help Canadians and promote growth.
A strong, balanced economy will not be created by a small group of hardline Conservatives in Ottawa. Canada's most prolonged period of sustained growth was marked by investment in innovation and an influx of value-added jobs.
New Democrats believe that the federal government has a commonsense role to play in making strategic investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure to provide an economic climate where business and households can thrive. We believe that the government should ensure that Canada remains a country with a well-balanced economy that does not leave any part of our country behind. That is why we are asking our colleagues here in the House of Commons to support this motion and to get this country moving on the right track.