Mr. Speaker, my colleague made an excellent presentation and put out some examples of the issues that affected his constituents. I think quite often that is when people can really relate. Paycheques do not lie. If person is receiving $100 less today than he or she did a year ago then, clearly, the changes the Conservatives are making under the premise that they are helping people certainly are not helping that group of people. I guess they refer to them as “those people”.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak today about a very important motion, our opposition day motion on income inequality. What that means, quite simply, is the difference between those who have and those who do not have. The Liberals have always tried to eliminate that, so everybody has to some degree. Some have more, some have less, but we do not have the difference between those who have next to nothing and the others who continue to get richer.
The motion is important because it urges parliamentarians to consider the kind of Canada we all want. Do we, as parliamentarians, want a country where only the strong survive, or a country where we all work together to build and maintain communities where everyone has an equal place? I have a hard time believing that is not a goal of all parliamentarians, regardless of their party flavour.
The motion today calls upon the government to take several simple and immediate steps to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada. The measures are simple things. They are not complex and they are not going to cost millions of dollars. They include a rollback on the employment insurance premium hikes, which inflict a relatively higher burden, again, on low to modest-income workers, and end the punitive new clawback from employment insurance that are clearly discouraging people from working.
I think the goal of us all is to have those who are on employment insurance working a few extra days or a few extra hours because maybe it will lead to a full-time job, eventually. It improves their skill sets and provides more opportunities for them.
Another measure is to make tax credits, such as the family caregiver tax credit, refundable. It makes no sense giving tax credits if the only people who will benefit are those in the high-income bracket. We are talking about many people in the lower-income bracket who need these, but they are of absolutely no use because they do not make enough money.
Another measure is to make the registered disability savings plan available to sufferers of serious chronic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. My colleague from Etobicoke North has done a huge amount of work on the whole issue of MS. We have heard from many of them in the House and the difficulties they face. I use MS as one of the chronic disease. Let us make the registered disability savings plan available to them as well.
Interest from federal students loans should be removed. We hear from students all across Canada about the massive amount of student debt they carry. Why can we not forgo the interest as a good measure? It is not going to be millions of dollars. A lot of it gets written off because the students cannot find jobs. Why not do the right thing and eliminate it?
We are calling upon the government to set aside its “might is right” agenda just for a moment. Let us seriously look at this whole income inequality issue. We ask the government to vote for our opposition day motion and help those who are unemployed as well as employers, those who are in the lowest income bracket, the elderly, families, the disabled, those suffering from chronic diseases and those students who are struggling to get their education.
This motion is about helping those who sometimes fall between the cracks, and we all know of many of them.
In simple terms, in a country like Canada, it is unacceptable that these people would be subjected to the poverty and squalor and the suffering out there. Not everybody is happy. Not everybody is doing really well and has two or three cars. There is a lot of suffering and struggling out there.
As parliamentarians, we can, and we must, do more to help those who struggle to make ends meet. Who knows what a difference these small measures might make in the lives of many who need the most.
For example, last night my office received a call from a man in southern Ontario named Dan. Dan came to Canada with his family 47 years ago, with absolutely nothing in his pockets, like many new immigrants.
Over the years, Dan and his family struggled, had two jobs, three sometimes and they often had difficulty making ends meet. However, they were able to access a variety of government programming and supports when it was available. As a result of their work and an occasional hand up, today Dan is the CEO of a successful and growing multimedia business.
If those programs had not been available, where would Dan be today? Dan would probably be still living on welfare and who knows the impact that would have had on his quality of life, on his family and on his children. Today Dan gives back to his community by operating a food bank and by helping, on a voluntary basis, other fledgling businesses to grow because he had a hand up, not a handout. He is a father and a grandfather and he has helped other members of his family to grow and expand in their own lives. That was a great investment in Dan.
Who would have been better off had we as a country opted not to help Dan? Sadly, I remember when the Prime Minister said these words, and I shuddered thinking surely he would never get a majority, he would never have that opportunity. Well that day is here. The Prime Minister once said that if he was given a chance, he would change the face of Canada forever. Step by step, that is exactly what is happening. Even though only 39% of Canadians voted for him, he has the votes to do whatever he wants in the House.
Many of the programs that once helped people like Dan have fallen by the wayside under the watch of the government. I referred to them in question period. Leaving people behind seems to be an emerging policy of the current government. Inflation is driving up the price of everything from education to groceries to home heating. With median family income stagnating or declining, Canadians are being hit from both sides.
However, instead of taking the steps to reduce income inequality, the government is sticking its head in the sand by refusing a committee to do a study on it. Let us look into the issue of what is happening. We hear “income inequality” used a lot. To get an understanding of what it was, we tried to do that through the good work of our finance critic at committee and that was voted down because the government would rather stick its head in the sand and ignore these kinds of issues than truly move forward.
Earlier today, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills asked what these measures would cost. The bigger question is, what is the cost of doing nothing? If nobody did anything, Dan would not be where he is today as a very successful business person, helping other people. If we can find billions of dollars for new fighter jets, for high-priced orange juice and for fake lakes, why can we not find a few bucks for someone who is struggling with MS or a student struggling with high tuition? It is all about priorities.
Liberal priorities are people. For me, this debate shows the philosophical difference between Liberals and Conservatives. Whether we are referencing the old age pensions delivered by Mackenzie King's government, or the Old Age Security Act delivered by the Louis St. Laurent government or the Canadian pension plan and guaranteed income supplement, both delivered by Lester Pearson, all of these were delivered by the Liberal Party of Canada, while we continued on a fiscally responsible government and left a $14 billion surplus in the bank for the Conservatives when they came into power. Surely we can find some common ground on this issue. It does not have to be an issue of Conservative versus NDP versus Liberal. It is something that we could all vote for. Let us look into it because it affects all of our families.
The parliamentary secretary admitted today that poverty was still a problem in Canada, and I agree with her. However, when one finds oneself in a hole, why would one continue to dig down further and further? Why not say, “Yes, we have these issues but let us work together with all parliamentarians to make that difference?” The cost of inaction is very high and blaming people is not the way to go. Let us all vote for the motion and move forward Canada's agenda.