House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.


Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, to an extent, I will echo the comments of the hon. Conservative member by asking a question to the hon. member, who was, in fact, a member of the Liberal government some years ago.

It is a little ironic to hear them talk about inequality today, knowing that the Liberals like to present themselves as the defenders of equality. But instead the motion highlights the weaknesses of the Liberal approach because we know that, from 1989 to 2009, the Gini coefficient increased substantially, from 0.28 to 0.32. This index is widely used in the field to calculate income inequality in every country in the world.

Can she explain why their approach did not work when the Liberals formed the government and why the inequality continued to increase for all those years?

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is really a shame to hear my colleague attack the Liberal Party instead of the Conservative Party. Progressive thinkers have to work together in the interest of all Canadians. I think that, just like in England, this is not a partisan approach; it is an approach that all parties can adopt to help this country's most vulnerable people.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased when the hon. member for St. Paul's mentioned a book that I think is critical to this debate: The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, by British researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It is a substantial body of work and its data shows a wide variety of indicators such as rates of violence, successful child rearing, infant mortality, crime and health outcomes.

In every one of the indicators that they checked, wealthy countries like the U.S., U.K. or Canada, where income disparity is wide, they found that people were less well off than in those countries where, relatively speaking, people were more equal. The strength of the middle-class then is a key to our health as a society.

I would like to ask my hon. member what other insight she took from that book.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the other piece that comes from The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone is the issue of social inclusion, that we are all in this together and it does not pit one level of society against another, as our leader said this morning. This is actually about being all in the same boat and people coming together with their neighbours.

We know that social inclusion is important just as not smoking is to health outcomes. The fact is that inequality begets division and jealousies.

We are calling on the government today to admit the problem of the diminishing middle-class, the bigger gap between the rich and the poor, and the damage that does to our country and to its spirit of getting along.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue. In fact, in a recent survey around three-quarters of Canadians indicated that income inequality is one of the top economic issues that we have to deal with as governments and politicians.

This is not a partisan issue. Income inequality has grown in Canada on a secular basis over the last 30 years. It has grown under Progressive Conservative governments, Liberal governments and Conservative governments. It has grown under New Democrat provincial governments. It has grown under Liberal and Parti Québécois provincial governments in Canada.

While this is not a partisan issue, it is an important one. It is one that we should have a debate about and talk about what we as federal leaders can do, working in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments and leaders in Canada.

The reality is that there has been an acceleration in the gap between the rich and the poor in recent years in Canada and throughout the industrialized world. This is not an ordinary economic downturn and recovery cycle; it is a global economic restructuring. It is one where resource rich countries like Canada benefit disproportionately from the global demand for their natural resources.

However, within Canada, there will be growth in the gap between have and have-not provinces exacerbated by the provinces that have those natural resources versus those that do not.

The reality is that this is not something that the federal government or provincial governments can do alone. We need to work together.

The reality is that there are some types of government programs that can help with issues of income inequality. The working income tax benefit, which was introduced in the last fall economic statement of the Liberal government and embraced and continued under the current Conservative government, is a measure that both governments can claim responsibility for. It is a good policy. It is the kind of policy that can help break down the welfare wall, that barrier to those people who want to work but lack the economic incentives to do so.

If we believe in that kind of public policy, we ought also recognize that tax credits for disability, or for children in sports or music or cultural activities or for caregivers, ought to be refundable. Because of the perverse nature of non-refundable tax credits, it the poorest of the poor, the people who need these benefits the most, who do not qualify for them.

The changes to OAS, again, are an example. If we evaluate who receives OAS, 40% of the people receiving OAS make less than $20,000 per year and 53% make less than $25,000 per year. There is a disproportionate hit to those with the lowest incomes. We all have to consider that when we are making decisions in Parliament.

I believe that the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, said it best when he remarked in regard to inequality that, “The people who say it's not an issue are wrong, and the people who say it's an issue and who want to create class warfare are wrong. The focus needs to be on ensuring equality of opportunity.... It's a massive issue; fundamental to society. It's not right that big swaths of society become discouraged and marginalized.”

I think Governor Carney has nailed it, frankly. We have to focus on equality of opportunity. We cannot guarantee equality of outcome. However, we can work together to ensure equality of opportunity.

If we look at this, I believe one of the successes of the U.S. economy multi-generationally was the sense of hope, that one could be born into any station in the United States and have a shot at success.

I think one of the reasons why the U.S. economy is, and probably will continue to be, stagnant for some time is that people have lost that sense of hope, that capacity to grow and develop and for their children and someone else's children to succeed.

If we think of the drivers of equality of opportunity, where are the best opportunities to break multi-generational poverty?

I was just at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives' conference at the convention centre here in Ottawa. There was session focused on education and learning. They were talking about lifelong learning. They were talking about restoring the honour of trades. They were talking about early learning and child care.

These are CEOs of the biggest companies in Canada who were talking about how to address some of the issues, the drivers of equality of opportunity, and they were talking about early learning and child care and how important they are.

A federal government cannot act on early learning and child care alone, but there is no constitutional barrier to a federal government working in partnership with the provinces on that issue. I served in a cabinet where we signed agreements with every province and territory on early learning and child care. We committed federal funds and we worked co-operatively, because it is a national imperative. Quebec has a good system and I congratulate it and several Quebec governments for having implemented a program that has helped to strengthen equality of opportunity and upward mobility.

It is not just good social policy; it is good economic policy. The reality is that there is no area of educational investment that will yield more bang for the buck in its impact on people's success in the future and their growth economically and socially than in the years before they even get to grade 1 or the primary grade in the public education system.

These are the issues we should be talking about in this House, not pithy partisanship. We should be talking about ideas on how we can work together across party lines and with provincial governments to address these issues.

Let us look at the issues of aboriginal and first nations. It is not economically or socially sustainable to have the fastest growing and youngest population in the country as the most economically and socially disenfranchised at the same time. In the House, as politicians we have to develop the kinds of ideas and solutions, the head start programs, the early intervention programs, that can help save a generation of young aboriginal and first nations youth.

We also have to engage non-aboriginal Canadians in this discussion. Part of responsible politics is pedagogy. We have to engage non-aboriginals and we have to tell them that they in fact have as much interest in seeing young aboriginals and first nations members succeed as the members of those first nations communities themselves. If we do not address the issues of what is going on in aboriginal and first nations reserves, it is not only a social time bomb but also an economic time bomb for our country.

These are the kinds of issues we should be talking about when we talk about equality of opportunity. What we now see in Canada is a resource-driven recovery and a gap between resource provinces and non-resource provinces.

Alberta is investing massively in education, and I congratulate it, as that is exactly the right thing to do. Alberta has a progressive premier in Premier Redford out there.

At the same time, my province of Nova Scotia is cutting investment in public education by about 30%, because of budget issues.

One of the things that came out of the meeting of Canadian Council of CEOs today was that one of the CEOs was saying that an Alberta CEO has as much interest in the education system in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland as he does in the Alberta education system. The future workforce in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan could very well come from places like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

In fact, there is a vested economic interest, not just in those provinces but across the country, in strong education and in working with the provinces to ensure that they can afford to invest in that fundamental underpinning of equality of opportunity: strong public education.

One area we should be looking at, whether we are talking about learning and lifelong learning or restoring the honour of the trades, is the German model of apprenticeship and skilled trades. Germany has a robust economy, and they have not had the same growth in income inequality that we have had in Canada. One of the reasons is that in Germany they have never lost the honour of skilled trades.

Over the last 30 years in Canada, we have lost the honour of skilled trades. We need to restore that. We have to work with apprenticeship programs. The federal government and provincial governments need to work hand in hand to deal with this issue.

The economic and social returns of dealing with income inequality and equality of opportunity issues today is one that can yield huge benefits for future generations of Canadians, and that is why this is an important issue that we should be engaged with in Parliament.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it seems that the Liberal Party and my colleague across the way tend to be slipping back and forth between talking about equality of opportunity and government trying to guarantee equality of results, which government cannot do. Everyone in the House would be wise to acknowledge that.

When the member talked about creating opportunity, he talked about restoring the pride in skilled trades, on which so much has been done over the last six or seven years in that specific regard. The member does not have a good record in voting in support of that, whether it was tax credits for skilled trades people or the investments we made through the economic action plan with provincial governments to build new skilled trades learning centres right across this country. These are the types of investments that the government has been leading on, which perhaps the member has missed.

I have great concern when I hear the member speaking about some of his concerns when at the same time his voting record indicates that when those very ideas and principles are championed by the government, he votes against them.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledged in my remarks that no party has a monopoly on the solutions and the responsibility for this issue. Income inequality and inequality of opportunity have grown over 30 years under successive provincial and federal governments of all stripes. If the hon. member wants us to consider individual measures, his government ought to stop putting them and everything but the kitchen sink in omnibus bills that force members of the opposition in some cases to vote against measures that we may agree with.

I acknowledge that the working income tax benefit is actually helping people get over the welfare wall. It is one that was introduced by the member for Wascana when he was finance minister. It was embraced by the Conservatives. That is a good thing.

This is not a partisan debate. The member has trouble participating in non-partisan debates. This is a serious debate about the future of our country and whether or not we are going to continue to be the kind of country where people have a shot at success regardless of where they are born and that we continue to be a country where equality of opportunity is an underpinning of our social network and values.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on a speech that I really enjoyed listening to. The issue of inequality is an important one that we do not hear enough about.

This summer, I reread John Rawls. He invites us to reflect on what we would want to do if we did not know where or how we would be born, whether into a poor family or a wealthier one, a rural community or an urban one, or with a mental or physical disability. What kind of society would we want to build if we did not know where we came from? What if we could all start from the same place? Most of us would want to create a society in which everyone has equal opportunity because we would all want every possible opportunity even if we were not favoured or privileged.

A public daycare program to help children and youth get a good start in life is something that all governments—federal and provincial—should be able to create by working together.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the question raised by my colleague from Quebec.

It is interesting to hear a member from Quebec recognize the role of the federal government and the opportunity for that government to work with provincial governments to develop progressive policies, such as a national daycare system. This is another example of how we do not see the Constitution as a barrier to productive discussions leading to progressive policies.

It is possible to work with each provincial government to develop such programs. I hope that we will be able to do that in the House, that we will be able to discuss innovative ideas and develop progressive policies no matter which party we belong to.

I really appreciate the member's question.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be splitting my time with the very affable and capable member of Mississauga—Streetsville.

I am pleased to respond to the motion put forward by the member for Toronto Centre, as I always welcome an opportunity to compare our record to that of other governments.

For instance, in the 2003-04 year in which the Liberal government was in power, it presided over a 28% default rate for student loans. In the 2009-10 our Conservative government reduced this to a 13.8% rate.

In 1996 the poverty rate was 15.2%. In 2010, under our Conservative government, it was 9%. In 1996, under the previous Liberal government, 18.4% of children lived in poverty. This is a troubling number. In 2010, under our Conservative government, this number has been cut in half to 8.2%. Since 2006, 225,000 less children are in poverty than under the previous government.

It is not about national strategies and glamorous meetings. Rather, it is about getting the job done for Canadians with real action and a real plan.

Here are the facts.

The Liberals gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering, unprecedented cuts, totalling tens of billions of dollars annually in the mid-1990s, downloading that cost and responsibility on to the provinces and the municipalities.

Our Conservative government has increased them back beyond the 1990s levels to record levels. In fact, in my home province, by simply treating this in a principled, fair manner, we are treating all Canadians equally. Per capita funding has actually increased the amount of transfers to Alberta to record levels.

In 2012-13 the federal government will provide provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06.

As a result of the actions of our government, the typical family in Canada pays $3,100 a year less in taxes than under the previous government. We have increased transfer payments, there is less child poverty and lower taxes.

Unlike previous governments that just needed four more years, we have taken real action for all Canadians, especially middle-class and low-income families.

However, tax cuts and direct financial support can only go so far. We have been clear. The best way to fight poverty is to connect Canadians with jobs. Acquiring skills is crucial to securing a good job and a promising career in today's knowledge-based economy.

A post-secondary education is especially important when it comes to an individual's pocketbook. Research by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada indicates that a university graduate makes up to $1.3 million more over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate.

I am proud to be part of a government that is ensuring more young Canadians can take full advantage of what higher education has to offer for themselves as individuals, but also for our country and our society as a whole.

As all members of the House are aware, job creation and economic recovery continues to be our government's top priority. Thanks to the strong, capable leadership of the Prime Minister, Canada has created 770,000 net new jobs since the worst of the recession.

We have been clear. We are committed to creating more education opportunities for Canadians that will lead to better jobs and a sustainable and competitive economy.

We have invested $10 billion annually in support to students and their families, research and infrastructure funding and transfers to provinces and territories to create post-secondary education opportunities for all Canadians. Much of that money goes directly to supporting students. In 2010-11 over 500,000 students received $2.2 billion in Canada student loans. Since its introduction, 4.7 million students have received $38 billion from the Canada student loan program to achieve their educational goals.

This investment has yielded impressive dividends. In 2011 Canada ranked first in overall post-secondary education attainment among OECD countries, with 50% of adults aged 25 to 64 having some form of higher education. That compares to the OECD average of 30%. Even more remarkable, this share rises to 56% for younger Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34.

In addition to loans, there are the Canada student grants that provide extra non-repayable financial support. The grants reduce the amount students need to borrow, putting a post-secondary education within reach of families that would otherwise struggle to help their children attend college or university.

In my riding, working fathers and mothers realize that education is the key to their children's future and they often tell me they just need a little more help to ensure that every child has the opportunity for an education.

Over 320,000 students from low and middle-income families, along with students with permanent disabilities and those with dependents, have benefited from these grants in 2010 and 2011 alone. That is 25,000 more than benefited from these grants the year before. We also paid out $703 million in Canada education savings grants, which provide a 20% top-up on parents' savings for their children's post-secondary education.

We have worked hard to make these important programs more accessible to all Canadians. We have made numerous improvements to them in recent years. They are helping more students than ever before pursue higher studies.

For example, income thresholds have been raised for part-time student loans. As of the 2012-2013 school year, that means students can earn more money but still qualify for loans and grants. The maximum amount part-time students can receive has recently been increased from $4,000 to $10,000.

It is projected that over 2,500 additional part-time students will be eligible for a Canada student loan in 2012-13, rising to just under 8,000 in year five and on an ongoing basis. Nearly 500 additional part-time students will receive a Canada student grant in year one, rising to about 1,500 in year five and continuing to rise after that.

Another major improvement is our decision to no longer charge interest on part-time loans. While a student is in school, this amounts to roughly $350 in savings each year for the average student. These changes to part-time loans enable people who may be working full-time to achieve their educational goals for themselves and their families.

We have also made it easier to pay off student loans. The repayment assistance plan allows borrowers to make affordable payments based on their family income and family size. In this way we help ensure student loan repayments are kept affordable. One hundred and sixty-five thousand students benefited from the repayment assistance plan just last year.

We also announced earlier this summer that we would be delivering on our commitment to forgive loans for new doctors and nurses who chose to practice in rural areas. In rural communities, such as mine, this is one of the most significant social enhancements we can do to help enable more of our young people to come back to our communities and practice medicine in our communities, and not just doctors, but nurses as well.

Our government has set aside $9 million a year to forgive a portion of Canada student loans for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners and nurses who work in underserved rural or remote areas, such as first nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

From new online services for students to streamlined processes for applications and loan payments, often in partnership with the provinces and territories, we are taking major steps to increase accessibility to higher education.

Our government's mandate is to help the economy grow and create jobs, which means more employment opportunities for students. We are committed to having the most skilled and most educated workforce in the world.

What we need now is not a national strategy to tell us what is important. What we need is to continue with the plan that we have set forward, the plan for economic recovery and economic success.

It is time the opposition do more than just talk about poverty, equality and opportunity. It is one thing to talk about creating hope; it is another thing to actually provide hope and equality for all Canadians.

I urge all members to join our Prime Minister in implementing a real plan, which has already demonstrated impressive results.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must also thank the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party for expressing just how much Canadians want a different government in Canada. They want a New Democrat government.

There is a back-and-forth going on here: “it is the Conservatives' fault”, “it is the Liberals' fault”, “we did that because the Conservatives left a deficit”, or “no, it was the Liberals”. “My dad is stronger than your dad.”

Governments have long used various ways to take money that belonged to workers, and today is no different because of poor decisions made by the Conservative Party. Currently, in Charlevoix, on the upper north shore, and in many other regions of Canada and Quebec, people are relying on seasonal industry because it is the last industry left for them. They will unfortunately have to make a choice.

Allow me to paraphrase a mayor in Charlevoix who wrote a letter to the Prime Minister: their choice is going away or going hungry. In either case, less money will circulate in the regions. These will be dark years for those regions. Why has the government forgotten the regions?

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the premise of the member's question. The speech I gave and the speech by the member for Kings—Hants were not partisan rants. We talked about the things we had done, the real strategy we had implemented to help low-income and middle-class Canadians and increase opportunities for a better education and better jobs once they complete their education.

One thing I talk about, and think it was very important, was transfer payments, not only the increase in transfer payments but the principal change we made to treat all Canadians equal in the per capita mechanism we used to give out transfer payments. It not only increases them, but ensures the regions get per capita payments so every Canadian is treated equally. That is of the utmost importance.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when we think of inequality, there is a serious argument to be put forward in terms of the role government has to play to ensure there are good quality jobs. Good quality jobs will often pay decent rates of return for the exchange of labour. We have seen a good example of that.

My friend from the New Democratic Party likes to blame the Liberals and Conservatives. I will use the example of Air Canada in Manitoba. The provincial government, which happens to be NDP, did not say a word in terms of defending the good quality jobs for Air Canada. When Air Canada was getting rid of those jobs, the legislation said that those jobs had to be maintained. The Government of Manitoba was definitely quiet. It was unfortunate that the Government of Canada did not recognize the good quality jobs that provided good living wages.

Does the member recognize the valuable role that governments play, whether it is Ottawa or provincial governments, in ensuring that certain industries grow and prosper and are able to provide the good quality jobs well into the future? I used Air Canada because that was a good example of aerospace industry jobs that Manitoba wanted to retain, but, for whatever reasons, they started to disappear, which caused a great deal of concern.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was worried that I would not get to hear from the member for Winnipeg North during my time in the House this afternoon.

He talks about having to respect the decisions of the provinces and then immediately criticizes the decision made by his province. Our government believes in a more decentralized decision-making process, which is why we are increasing transfer payments so more money can go into social, education and health transfers to the province.

He talked about preserving good-paying jobs. I believe it is not necessarily the government's role to decide who will get which jobs. Our role is to provide for the equality of opportunity, to ensure every Canadian child has the opportunity to get an education. We can only do that by decreasing child poverty rates, increasing student loans and their ability to get post-secondary educations, and that is exactly what our government has been doing.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to stand and discuss the record of the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader, who we know as the failed former NDP premier of my home province of Ontario, when it comes to improving the lives of Canadians in need.

How can the Liberal Party, which slashed transfers for health care and social services to the bone in the 1990s when it was in government, stand here and pretend to make such a claim?

How can the Liberal Party, which, when relegated to the opposition benches, voted against every measure our government brought in to help Canadians in need, now claim that it is concerned somehow about income inequality?

What matters in life and in Parliament is not what we say and the flowery motions that we bring forward in Parliament, it is the actions we take and how we vote. Let us discuss the real record of the Liberal Party. I will start from when the Liberal government was in power.

For 13 years, the Liberals held a majority government. When they had the votes to pass any piece of legislation or to enact any program, what did the mighty defenders of those Canadians in need do? They launched an attack on the poor, the sick and the needy like no government had ever done before or has done since. They gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering unprecedented cuts totalling tens of billions of dollars annually. When they cut money to the provinces on health care, do members know what happened? Hospitals closed, nurses were fired and doctors saw their working conditions deteriorate like never before. When they cut money to social services, schools closed, colleges and universities crumbled, and community services were scaled back like never before.

This is not rhetoric and I am not exaggerating for effect. That is what happened. That is their record. I know the Liberals do not want to believe it and they may not believe me but they should listen to what one of their own, their current finance critic, had to say. The member for Kings—Hants described the Liberal Party of Canada's proud record of helping those in need by stating:

...the [Liberal] government balanced its books by slashing transfers to the provinces by forcing the deficits, and health care systems and education systems in a crisis as a result of its inability and irresponsibility to actually tighten its own belt more significantly.

I have another quote from the member for Kings—Hants. He states:

Shifting the burden to the provinces...was the easy but cowardly way to accelerate deficit reduction. ... The Chrétien-Martin cuts sent the health and education systems into crisis in every Canadian province.

What a record. What an achievement.

We should not just take the Liberals' current finance critic's word for it. We should also listen to what the current Liberal leader said. When he was bankrupting Ontario, and I was there and saw it, and killing Ontario jobs with his reckless NDP tax-and-spend schemes, he had to face the brunt of the then Liberal government's slashing of transfers in the nineties when he was premier of Ontario. At that time he said:

...when the federal [Liberal] government decided in its wisdom that it would cut back unilaterally, particularly in the area of social assistance, it had a major and devastating effect on the people of this province.

Is that what the Liberal Party of Canada wants our Conservative government to emulate? Are those the lessons we have to learn from them, that those slash-and-burn actions of gutting hospitals and schools help combat income equality? As several of my colleagues noted earlier, the answer is obviously no.

The Liberals drove income inequality to its highest levels in over 40 years. For the good of Canada, I am happy that this Conservative government is taking no lessons from them, especially on transfers for health care and social services.

While the Liberal government slashed and cut, we actually increased transfers to record levels. In 2012-13, the federal government will provide the provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06 under the previous Liberal government.

Unlike the Liberals, we have a commitment and have cemented it in law that those transfers under our government will never be cut and will always continue to grow each and every year.

In the words of the noted economist Jack Mintz, earlier this year in the National Post, “...the federal government has been more than generous with transfers to the provinces continuing to rise to levels not seen this past half century”. We should think about that. Our approach to transfers, the most significant means by which the provinces help those in need, has been called “more than generous” by respected third party observers. The Liberals' approach to transfers, by the Liberals themselves, was called devastating, cowardly and crisis-inducing.

I think Canadians would be pretty quick to tell us which approach is the right approach for Canadian families and those Canadians in need. Yet, the Liberal Party today has the audacity to stand here and pretend that none of this ever happened. Sadly, I believe it has been so long since the Liberals were in government that they have simply forgotten the reality of the time and started to believe their own talking points.

Perhaps knowing the shame of the Liberal record and wanting to atone, a senior Liberal member recently made a startling admission. In a recent interview, the member for Markham—Unionville said, “ hindsight, the Chretien government--even though I'm a Liberal--cut perhaps too deeply, too much offloading...there were some negative effects”. I applaud the member for Markham—Unionville for his admission of Liberal culpability as a first small step, but the Liberals need more than words.

The Liberals need to stop voting against every constructive step our Conservative government has taken since 2006 in Parliament to help Canadians in need. They need to stop voting against policies like the refundable working income tax benefit. This benefit makes it more attractive for low-income Canadians to stay in the workforce by removing the disincentives for them to work. It was a landmark achievement and it has been recognized as such by observers on all sides. The Caledon Institute of Social Policy called it “a welcome addition to Canadian social policy. It fulfills a long-recognized gap in Canada's income security system”. The United Way of greater Toronto heralded it as “...positive changes that will help to improve the situations of low-income families”.

It is clear that we deliver and the Liberals talk. We make things happen and they pretend. We invest in provinces and social services and they download. Our record is clear. We will take no advice from the record of the Liberal regime when it was government. We will continue to lead and we will continue to show Canadians the leadership they need, regardless of where they live in this country and regardless of their family situation. We will always be with Canadian families.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has obviously been in the Conservative glass bubble for far too long. I think he is starting to believe what it is that he is saying. There are so many bad aspects to that speech, I do not know where to begin.

If the Liberal government had not attempted to address the Mulroney years of deficit financing and so forth, the country would have gone bankrupt in the early 1990s.

The fear that provinces like Manitoba had for health care back in the early 1990s was that the Conservatives were on the way, through tax point shifts, to no longer finance health care. It was the Chrétien government that reassured Canadians by coming up with the Canada Health Act to reinforce the federal government's commitment to finance health care, which takes people out of poverty and tries to narrow the gap.

I would suggest that the member might want to reflect on issues such as narrowing the gap by having legitimate day care, by addressing the aboriginal issues and by remembering the Kelowna accord. These are initiatives on which the Conservative government was to act upon taking government. Why would it have done that?

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, actions speak louder than words. They download, we invest. They cut, we give more. We work with the provinces, they rip them off. It is as simple as that.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been fascinating listening to my hon. colleague, although I do admit that when it comes to reality it is a bit like looking in a funhouse mirror and, with those guys over in the corner, it is like falling down the rabbit hole. I do not want to go there at all.

On February 27, 2011, my colleague and every member of this House stood and voted to close the funding gap for first nation children under the Shannen's Dream principle. Our first nation children are the greatest resource that we have but the lack of education opportunities has been abysmal. Closing that funding gap is essential for developing this new economy.

My hon. colleague is talking about transfers to the provinces but the federal government has the responsibility for the welfare of and the schools for first nations children. What steps are the Conservatives taking to actually close the funding gap to have comparable levels to that of every provincial system in this country?

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is always more we can do when it comes to providing programs, services and support to our aboriginal communities. However, this government has invested millions and millions of more dollars each and every year into our aboriginal communities. We have been working in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and other organizations across the country to ensure it is a true partnership. The federal government provides funding and works with the native communities because they are the ones who are running their communities and making important local decisions. We need to continue to do that.

I am proud of the record we have as a government on our relationship and funding for services in aboriginal communities. However, I am sure there is more to do. We will keep on with the job but we need the support of the opposition to keep moving the puck down the ice.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, what a hard act to follow. It is hard to believe someone in the House gets $160,000 a year to repeat the talking points of a minister, but I guess that is the type of path we are going down here. A reasoned debate would be nice, probably one that is full of bluster and full of a lot of things.

Nonetheless, we can have a reasoned debate here on the motion we are bringing forward today, based on inequalities of income, on lifting those out of poverty, on policy requirements in order for people to get themselves from a position of feeling downtrodden to a position of bettering themselves. It does not take a lot of debate and a great deal of expense to fill the gaps in some of these cracks people are falling through.

There are several policies that came out in the last budget bill that really were disappointing in many ways. They were easily fixable.

One thing my colleague talked about earlier was the non-refundable tax credit. Let us take the example of the volunteer tax credit for firefighters. It is non-refundable. Therefore, if one falls below a certain income, one does not get any benefit whatsoever. As a result, it becomes an income tested tax incentive, an incentive for people to protect their family and communities through volunteer firefighter work.

The average income in my riding is quite low compared to other ridings. Therefore there is a substantial number of volunteer firefighters unable to receive any benefit. What does it take to convert this non-refundable tax credit into a refundable tax credit? It does not take that long. It certainly is helping out the most needy in this particular case.

When we look at the situation we have here, we have volunteer firefighters, caregivers, all these people who have these small incomes, which may seem insignificant to many of us but are actually significant to them. If there is someone who is making $20,000 a year, obviously this tax credit can become a significant portion of money throughout the year. Yet people in that income bracket or below it cannot receive the benefit. That is unfortunate. This is the type of policy, misgiving of policy, misappropriation of debate and policy, we need to look at in order for people to better themselves and get out of the situation they are in if they are receiving that kind of money.

Before I go on, I would like to add that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for York West.

If one considers what we are debating today and its many aspects, the narrative is important. The narrative deals with people who are certainly receiving benefits from the government as a stopgap measure to get them to full-time positions. Employment insurance is something that has been discussed quite a bit in the House and certainly over the past few days.

Here is what is happening when one seeks out the devil that lies in the details. The budget states we are going to give people an increase for working while on claim. That means that if a person receives a certain amount of money, let us say $200 per week in employment insurance, under the old system that person could earn up to 40% of that amount and would still have EI. That is the incentive to work, because even though people are keeping that money, they are also getting work experience. Perhaps they could get a full-time position at the place where they are working, when it becomes available. That happens quite a bit.

The government said it was going to increase that from 40% to 50%, yet I hear no applause. There is no applause because the devil is in the details. At 40%, a person could keep that money and nothing would happen to it. Now when the government said 50%, it meant the money would be clawed back 50% on every dollar made. There again is the devil in the details.

That is like going to a store and seeing the price of the shirt we want to buy is $30. Then on the shirt itself there is a sticker that says “half price”. Naturally, we get out the $15 to pay and the clerk says, “I am sorry, but actually that is half price of the original price, which was $60”. That is what the government is doing. The devil is in that particular detail. That is why we have these debates so that we can talk about the people who fall through the cracks.

There are people right now who work two days a week while on EI in order to get a car or to move into their own home, but they cannot do that because the disincentive is built in.

I do not doubt in any way, shape or form that when people set out to do this, whether they were members of the Conservative Party or whether they were bureaucrats, they were principled in saying that they needed to provide a benefit for people to better themselves. However, it almost seems like every time we do this, we always find a way to recede from what we promise.

In this particular case, we would be going from 40% to 50%, but not really, so less people get to qualify on this. It seems that is the magic number. The magic number is that the government needs to get those numbers down so people cannot avail themselves of that money, and therefore the government's cash on hand is better. It has a deficit to fight. We are aware of that. We, in this corner of the House, fought one. We succeeded.

We fought many things. We fought poverty. We fought for principles such as the Canada pension plan. Right now in my riding I have two offices, one in Gander and one in Grand Falls-Windsor. Both offices now get more calls about seniors' poverty than any other issue.

I have a lot of fishermen in my riding. Imagine how grave the situation can become for someone, let us say, who is a widower, for example, a gentleman I met whose income is now half of what it was because his wife passed away. He owns his own home and heating prices have gone sky high. What is built into this does not keep pace with the rising costs. What is he looking for? He is looking for targeted initiatives that allow him to bridge that gap, for that person to lift himself out of poverty.

In 2005, the Liberal government delivered a 2005 energy rebate. It was the guaranteed income supplement. What a fabulous idea, specifically for people who have rising costs for heating their own homes. The man I spoke of is now planning to move out of his house, not because he wants to but because he has to. He feels he cannot better himself in any way, shape or form, and the benefits that were there for him, small as they may have been, are not there any longer.

We just need a reasoned debate to study this, whether it is a large bill or a small bill, to look at this piece by piece and figure out what the ramifications are for someone like that gentleman who cannot make ends meet.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to inequality. Let us talk about youth. Right now, youth unemployment is skyrocketing in my area. People are moving, not because they want to but because they have to.

The government wants young people to invest in RRSPs. How can they do that when any cash they get on hand has to pay for things like groceries. If they manage to get a mortgage, they have to keep all their money for that. Retirement savings do not even factor in. Retirement savings goes down the list for someone in their twenties, and that is unfortunate because we have the ability to make life better for these individuals by seeking out the devil that lies in the details.

It is unfortunate for youth, for seniors and for a woman I know, a single mom with two kids who works two days a week and who has now been told that she will get less.

The middle class folks, the 47%, that number that is used in the American media these days, thanks to Mr. Romney, are very frustrated. The worst part about it is not only are they frustrated but they are giving up, and that is where we fail.

Opposition Motion—Income InequalityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time for government orders has expired. The question and answer period for the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor will occur when the House returns to this matter after question period.

Statements by members, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Anniversary CelebrationsStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise today to celebrate two events that occurred this last weekend in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands.

The first was the celebration of the 100th birthday of our local newspaper. The Peninsula News Review has been published since 1912, when it was first called the Sidney Review. It is now published by Black Press. It covers communities for the Saanich Peninsula, and after 100 years it is doing a great job.

The second celebration, and I had the great honour of participating in this, was the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the town where I live. We call it Sidney by the Sea. It is absolutely fantastic. I invite members to come visit. This was the 60th anniversary of its incorporation as a village. Everybody came out. We had a fantastic time at Beacon Park. We cut the cake and served it up for everyone.

I wish a happy birthday to the Peninsula News Review and a happy birthday to Sidney.

London Paralympic GamesStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the achievement of the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team for their gold medal win at the 2012 London Summer Paralympic Games.

These first-rate athletes displayed passion and hard work that highlighted their abilities and proved that they are the best in the world.

It is important to know that the game was played on regular International Basketball Federation courts, with all the regulation dimensions, net heights and timing rules. The team plays basketball at a high level that leaves spectators seeing nothing more than pure athleticism.

In the past four Paralympic Games, the Canadian team has won three gold meals and one silver medal, proving that anything is possible for anyone. The team, which includes two athletes from the greater Toronto area, Abdi Dini and Adam Lancia, competed against Australia in the final game, winning 64 to 58.

I know that all Canadians join me in congratulating all members of the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team and head coach, Jerry Tonello, for this exceptional achievement. Their commitment on and off the court has been nothing short of outstanding and has shown Canadians, and the world, that success is within us all.

I ask all members of the House to join me in asking the team to accept our heartfelt congratulations.

Right to Know WeekLondon Paralympic GamesStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to draw attention to Right to Know Week, which is intended to make Canadians aware of their right to access information, a fundamental right, and the government's responsibility to improve its transparency. In 2005, the Prime Minister said:

Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions....

The Access to Information Act is 30 years old. Although it was ahead of its time in 1983, it has not been updated since then. Today, Canada is ranked 51st in the world, behind many developing countries. Although the Conservatives claim to be improving transparency, the reality has become much cloudier since the election of the Prime Minister.

Let us work together to bring the Access to Information Act into the 21st century. That is what the NDP is committed to doing, and we invite the government to do so as well.

2012 eTown AwardLondon Paralympic GamesStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, for receiving the 2012 Google eTown award, which recognizes communities where local businesses have a strong online presence.

Recipient communities are not only keeping up with the evolution of online business, they are leading their respective regions through this ever-changing medium.

Monctonians are resourceful, forward-looking and adaptable to new trends. This is demonstrated by the considerable online presence of Moncton's local businesses.

This award is a testament to Moncton's web-savvy businesses, which continue to grow by taking advantage of the enormous opportunities offered by the digital economy.

I congratulate Moncton for receiving the 2012 Google eTown award.