Mr. Speaker, it is an honour but a disappointment in a way that we have to stand in the House to debate this motion that our hon. leader has presented.
I do not know the time that is permitted, but if there is extra time beyond my 10 minutes, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.
I would like to start with a news item that was on CBC Newsworld this morning. It was stating what wonderful shape Canada is in, compared to all the other countries. We are number two as far as standard of living goes or the happiest people in the world. We are only number two. Number one is Denmark, so it is a pretty good standing.
When we look at other rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, we are way above them. One might ask why we are so far ahead as far as standard of living goes. Of course there is health, education, the cost of our food and many reasons. However, one of the biggest reasons, similar to some of the Scandinavian countries that are in the same league as us, is how we take care of each other. We have an economy that prospers; we have all the tools to keep a good economic engine. Also we have good social programs that take care of the people who are in need, who may be going through stages in their lives that are disruptive.
We often talk about the individuals, and that is key. However, we also have to look at the bigger picture, how some of these changes help the local economies and local small businesses. Some news articles are saying that in Canada the gap between the rich and poor is growing. Canadian families have watched their incomes stagnate and decline even though their cost of living has been driven up, the cost of everyday goods like groceries, education and pharmacare.
Over the past year, the Conference Board of Canada; the dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin; and the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, have all warned us that income inequality could limit Canada's growth and threaten a sustainable prosperity.
As was mentioned by the late President Kennedy, the tide has to bring everybody up. If we start separating those different gaps, we will slip back in time. I remember a time in Cape Breton when the people who ran the coal mines were the rich people in the community and the people who were working in the coal mines could barely make ends meet. I hope we are not, as a society and as a country, slipping back to that era where we are going to have that gap. The OECD noted that the average income for the top 10% of Canadian earners in 2008 was $130,000, 10 times more than the bottom 10%. That gap is widening.
One would question what the Conservative agenda is. Is it to increase that gap? According to the June 2012 Statistics Canada report, the median family income did not increase in 2010 and it has been falling from 2008 and 2009. This was the first drop of the median family income since the 1990s. We are a prosperous country and we are letting people fall through the cracks. We are not taking care of them. I could give examples in my riding.
There are things we have established over the years, not just the Liberal Party, but all parties. We talked about education and health, but take even our agriculture system, with supply management, for example when we had the Wheat Board. Those were things that made farmers prosperous. Take the policies that the fishermen have in my community alone, with small fleet owner-operators. They own the fishing licences. They have the resources of themselves to reap the profits, and the EI system helps fill the gaps.
Even in the United States, how well are the fishermen in Maine doing? They are doing very poorly with their system, because the government allows a free-for-all. The same is true for agriculture. Dairy farms in Vermont and across the U.S. border are not doing as well as our farmers.
Therefore, when we look at different segments of our society and compare them with other countries, even south of the border, there is a reason why we are number two. It is that we have good social programs and good economic drivers.
Getting back to my riding and some of these changes in EI, for instance, my riding is an urban and rural split. Most of my rural area is over a mountain range, away from the urban area. We have a county called Victoria County. That is where I get the Sydney—Victoria name, because I have the Sydney area and Victoria County.
Victoria County has a lot of fishing and tourism. Communities like Neils Harbour and Ingonish rely on fisheries and Parks Canada, but in the wintertime these industries are shut down. People might get a job at the Legion, sweeping up, or help somebody down the road make traps, or get a day here and there doing something else just to make ends meet. If they are lucky, they might get one day a week.
The changes to the EI system that the Conservatives are doing tells them to get another job. Where are they going to get another job? How are they going to travel in the snowy winter conditions over the mountain? These policies are just driving people right out of these rural areas and they are a detriment to the businesses.
These are seasonal workers I am talking about. It has been brought up many times today that not only will seasonal workers in forestry, fishing, farming or tourism be affected, but substitute teachers will be affected as well. Some of them travel a long distance just to do one day in school. They are going to be penalized.
We are also looking at health care workers who might have been laid off. They sometimes fill in on the weekend when there is a shortage of nurses. They will come all the way in for what? They will have to get a babysitter. They will need to have a car available and pay for gas. Clawing people's EI back by half will be a real cut.
Probably 30% to 40% of many regions in Atlantic Canada rely on the resource industries out west. The NDP has taken a shot at that, calling it the Dutch disease. Resource industries are key to the economy of Cape Breton and Atlantic Canada. However, a lot of those industries have shutdowns because it could be too muddy to put a pipeline in or it could be too cold.
Therefore, sometimes many of my fellow Cape Bretoners have to take time off, and they are going to be penalized by the government for doing just that. The Conservatives think people should be able to work 52 weeks a year. If the work is not there, where are they going to work? Mines could be shut down. Commodity prices sometimes go down in nickel or gold, resulting in layoffs. All of these people will be penalized, and my riding of Sydney—Victoria is going to feel the Conservative government's hits. More than 150 people have already been fired from the federal job bank.
These changes are even more stringent.
I have a letter from Sandra McPherson. It takes quite a bit to write a letter and put one's name out there. She received the famous notification letter from Service Canada on the pending changes to new EI recipients. She says the letter was extremely misleading. When one starts to look at the numbers and ratchet it down to what was going to happen, it might be true under the comparison they used. The comparison that the department used involved three or four days a week. If someone gets to work three or four days a week, they consider that like being back to full-time work. That is not the case. Most people are lucky to get one day of work a week.
Ms. McPherson is a mother with dependent children. She works an eight-hour shift for $10.50 an hour, thereby earning $84. With the EI clawback $42 will come right off of that. She has to pay for a child care provider, which is at least $25, leaving her $17 for that one day of employment. Ms. McPherson made a comment that is so true. She said some of the Conservatives buy orange juice for $17 a glass. That is not going to help this lady.
The Conservatives have an attitude. They can spend money on their buddies in corporations, yet look at what they are going to do with the fishery. They are going to sell the fishery to big corporations, yet they turn around and pick on the little guy.
Ms. McPherson is a taxpayer. She went on to say that, while she is certainly in favour of saving federal coffers, this pilot project takes from the poor and gives to the rich. If people are called in for one day of work a week, they will suffer financially. If someone is called in for four days a week, that individual considers it a full-time job. That does not happen.
We get many cases.
Another lady did seasonal work for the same employer for 25 years. She always had the opportunity to pick up a few hours a week in the off-season. This made her life a little easier while trying to survive on EI. Now it will cost her. She will lose $112 every two weeks.
Another lady has been working 40 years in an office. She works six months full-time as a bookkeeper around income tax time, and the other six months she works part-time helping some people with books, during which she has collected EI. With the new changes, she is going to lose $400 a month.
I have more examples here, but my time has run out.