Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak to the House today. It is my first opportunity to give a speech after the very long prorogation of the House by the federal government.
I want to begin with a recognition of the earthquake yesterday in the Philippines. A number of members of my community, the riding of Parkdale—High Park, are of Filipino origin. I want to express my condolences to them. We know how worried they and people of Philippine origin around the world must be about the well-being of loved ones there.
On the issue at hand, to begin, I have to say how disappointing the throne speech was for Canadians. It was very long but very thin. It was a bit of a string throne speech. There was not much substance to it. Throne speeches ought to be about vision, about where the government wants to take the country. They should be about what we can do together as a nation in addition to our efforts as individuals, as families and as communities and how the government helps us to do more and to be more than the sum of our parts.
Instead, we keep getting the message from the government that we are on our own and should not count on it, that we will keep paying more taxes and user fees, but services will be consistently fewer and fewer.
Young people growing up in Canada today are receiving the message from the government that they cannot count on it to help them in any way.
What a puny vision for Canada. What a sad vision for Canada. It is part of trying to change the channel after so many scandals and allegations of fraud and economic mismanagement. I dare say it will take a lot more than copying the New Democrats' consumer protection agenda to make Canadians forget about scandals in the Senate and to get them to change the channel that quickly. I have heard from constituents across my community who are infuriated by the misspending of the government and the lack of accountability. What really got on their nerves was the Conservatives spending millions of tax dollars on advertising but falling short of taking any real action to help Canadian families. Their action plan was all about the action of spending Canadian tax dollars.
Governments have announced even more cuts that will hurt services but are putting more money into advertising for themselves. While they like to tout their record, they are only faring middlingly well among the OECD countries. In fact, our economy is underperforming. Growth in Canada is stalling, and other countries are overtaking us in spite of Canada's many advantages and in spite of the government's rather breathless talking points this morning.
The Conservatives have taken Canada from a trade surplus to a $62 billion current account trade deficit in 2012. That is quite a breathtaking record.
When it comes to a new trade deal with Europe, the Conservatives have been very effective at keeping Canadians in the dark throughout these negotiations. When it comes to trade, details matter. Of course we will closely review the text of any agreement before we decide whether to support it, and of course we support trade in general with Europe as long as it is a good deal for Canada. We want to deepen and broaden our economic ties with Europe. It is a partner with high standards, the rule of law and exactly the kind of economy with which we should be strengthening our relationship. I hope we get the opportunity to have a democratic debate and vote on it.
Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals before them, New Democrats support an open and progressive approach to trade, one that is based on promoting our interests as a country, increasing our exports and building a stronger global economy.
What we have seen under the current government is the decline of our manufacturing sector. The sector continues to shed thousands of jobs. Job creation has not kept pace with the population growth, and we still have almost 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than we did before the last recession.
The unemployment rate among young Canadians remains at 13%, and our youth face precarious working conditions and an unprecedented underemployment rate. There are currently 1.3 million unemployed Canadians.
How can the government justify the fact that the number of unemployed workers has increased by more than 200,070 since the Conservatives took power? That is unbelievable.
The unemployment rate fell this month, but only because 20,000 young Canadians gave up searching for work, deciding to accept unpaid internships, going back to school or simply giving up hope of finding a job. In fact, a generation of young Canadians facing double-digit unemployment and precarious low-paying jobs has a very uncertain future.
The Conference Board of Canada and others rank Canada near the bottom, compared with 15 of its peers, in innovation and research and development. As I am sure all my colleagues know and as Canadians know, innovation is essential to a high-performing economy. Given that my colleagues across the way have been fond of quoting supporters of theirs, I quote the Conference Board, which has stated:
Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. It is also critical to environmental protection, a high-performing education system, a well-functioning system of health promotion and health care, and an inclusive society. Without innovation, all of these systems stagnate and Canada's performance deteriorates relative to that of its peers.
That is what has been happening. Canada's performance has been deteriorating relative to that of its peers. This has clearly been another Conservative failure, and its solution has been just silence on innovation.
Household debt for Canadians is at a new record high, a sure sign that Canadian families are being squeezed. Household debt stands at a near-record high of 166% of disposable income. Why would that be? Incomes are stagnating. In fact, the average Canadian is even going backwards when it comes to income, whereas the benefits of economic growth are disproportionately going to those at the very top of the economic scale. That is simply unacceptable. We have based our success as a country in the post-war period on what I would call economic and social solidarity—in other words, the notion that we are all on the same bus heading in the same direction, that we all have to work together as Canadians. The notion is that when we do that and Canadians go to work everyday, work hard and do a good job, supporting themselves and their families, we will all share in the economic benefits of that prosperity and there will in fact be a shared prosperity for Canadians.
That commitment is being broken, and not only under the current government but by previous governments as well. I say that is a tragedy for Canadians and they start to lose faith in their ability to act together when that kind of social solidarity is broken.
I hear the Conservative government talk about families, but I also think about first nations families and how they are facing Third World conditions, and the despair that many young people feel in first nations communities.
The federal government knows that funding for first nations education is 30% less than the funding provided by provincial governments, and yet in the throne speech there was silence, nothing about closing the gap. I speak to business owners across the country, some of whom are crying for more skilled workers. They want to get more first nations youth into skills training programs, but young people need to first pass the hoop of a secondary school education. That is not happening because of the failure of the government to work with first nations as equals and negotiate better funding for first nations education.
Canadians fundamentally believe that we need to work together to build a better tomorrow, and when we do, we count on government to protect us in certain areas. Yes, these are consumer issues, things like rail safety. The fact that the government has failed to implement recommendations to improve rail safety leaves Canadians vulnerable. The fact that food industries are self-regulating when it comes to safety is simply unacceptable and has led to E.coli outbreaks. The fact is that airline passengers are left to their own devices because the government has voted, not once but twice, against an NDP proposal for an airline passenger bill of rights.
The government has a philosophy of leaving people to their own devices. Do not get me wrong; people do not want governments to dictate to them, but they believe that governments have a role in helping to create the economic conditions that can improve their lives. Over the summer and fall, as I have gone door to door in my constituency of Parkdale—High Park, I have heard people say again and again that they are concerned about the same basic things. They are concerned about growing inequality, a lack of environmental protection and the terrible environmental record of the government.
One of the boundaries of my riding is the mighty heritage river, the Humber River. This river has lost its environmental protection because of changes made by the government, and people are very concerned about it. They are concerned that there is no federal funding to make sure that a new infrastructure project, the air-rail link in Parkdale—High Park, is going to be clean electric transportation rather than dirty diesel. We hear silence from the government. They are concerned about the undermining of our scientists and science—the abandonment of the long form census, for example—and they are definitely concerned about good-quality jobs and what the lack of good jobs means for the next generation.
I am increasingly convinced that Canadians believe our economy should deliver some basic things. It should make sure everybody has a place to live. People need homes to go to, roofs over their heads. People need dignity at work. They need decent jobs with a decent standard of living, where they are treated with respect. People should expect from their economy a secure retirement. No senior in this country should live in poverty. What people expect most of all is that the next generation will have at least as much opportunity as the generation that went before.
We did not hear the government address these issues. We did not hear it lay out a vision for the Canada of the future. We hear about mandatory balanced budgets but not the requirement for governments to deliver for seniors or the next generation. Where are their mandatory commitments to Canadians? In fact, the Conservatives have done everything possible to undermine the ability of this or future governments to deliver on many of these fronts. They have cut the GST and took billions out of our budgets every year, when most economists and tax experts agree this was the wrong approach. The Conservatives and the Liberals before them have cut corporate taxes in half, again reducing government's ability to act, but that money is not being reinvested by businesses in the economy and not creating jobs.
New Democrats, like most Canadians, believe we do not get something for nothing. We do not get handed tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts with no strings attached.
New Democrats believe that employers, large and small, should earn a tax benefit. If they invest in innovation, invest in cutting-edge equipment, create new jobs, and train people, then yes, let us offer an incentive. However, they do not just get a big tax cut, put it in their pockets, and then walk away and have a nice day.
What we did hear about were consumer issues. Believe me, it is flattering to have the Conservatives poach some NDP proposals, even if, sadly, they voted against them again and again in the House. Sadly, there is still nothing on airline passenger rights or the crushing credit card fees small businesses pay.
We also cannot ignore the bigger picture. Today Canadian families are squeezed like never before. Under successive federal Conservative and Liberal governments, when the economy has been growing most Canadians have seen relatively little benefit. They are struggling to keep up as the cost of living is rising and middle class jobs are disappearing. Over the past 35 years, our economy has grown by nearly 150%, but the average family has seen its income fall by 7%. Too many students are graduating with a debt the size of a small mortgage, and just as families are forced to carry greater and greater debts, they are saving less and less for retirement. The CIBC estimates that nearly six million are facing a drop-off of 20% or more in their standard of living by retirement.
The Conservatives love tackling crime until it comes to Conservative MPs and senators. They appreciate our natural resources but do not provide good stewardship for our environment. They embrace a few pocketbook issues but do not deliver on creating jobs that put money in people's pockets. They are enthusiastic about patriotism but not very good at nation-building and bringing Canadians together.
New Democrats believe that Canadians deserve better. Canadians need a government that works with them, not against them. At a minimum, we need an employment insurance system that helps working people adjust to the calamity of unemployment. We need Canada and Quebec pension plans that offer better retirement security for more Canadians. We have also proposed a range of measures, from youth job creation and small business hiring tax credits to developing a pan-Canadian energy strategy.
Rather than cutting government services and throwing more Canadians out of work, we need a government that invests in cutting-edge and badly needed infrastructure to prepare our economy for the future and also to create good quality jobs. Rather than silencing our scientists and environmentalists, we support science-based decisions that keep in mind both our short-term and especially our long-term interests. We owe the next generation at least that much.
I see that my time is almost up, but let me say in closing that the vision we were presented with yesterday in the throne speech was very puny. It really was not much of a vision for Canada. Here, on the New Democratic side of the House, we believe that together we can meet the challenges of Canadians head on and reverse and lift the staggering burden of household debt weighing on Canadian families.
We can build an economy that is fairer, greener, cleaner, and more prosperous for all. Give us the chance and we will deliver for all Canadians.