Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by welcoming back all members of Parliament, except one.
I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about the Conservatives' dismal record on the economy. It has been over 120 days since the House last sat. It has been over 160 days since the Prime Minister showed up for work more than five times. We have some questions for that Prime Minister.
Here in Ottawa, we have a government on its way out that is shirking its responsibilities. Five weeks ago, the Prime Minister locked up Parliament yet again. Since 2006, the Prime Minister has prorogued Parliament for a total of 181 days, which is a record for a prime minister in this day and age. It is even worse than Jean Chrétien's record at the height of the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
This fall, the Conservatives have done nothing for Canadians, nothing to help the unemployed find full-time work, nothing to help families reduce their debt, nothing to reverse the worrying trend of climate change and nothing to improve railway safety.
We all know the reason that the Prime Minister has been avoiding questions. We all know why Parliament was prorogued. We all know why the return of the House was delayed for another five weeks. We all know why he got on Con Air and sneaked off to Brussels. In a word: corruption.
There are now eight senators facing allegations of wrongdoing and in one case already a conviction. Five of those senators are Conservatives and all five named by the current Prime Minister.
Senate corruption is not just a Conservative issue. It really is an issue that involves the two old parties: the Conservatives and the Liberals.
First, there are the Conservative senators: Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Then, there is Liberal senator Mac Harb. They are all being investigated by none other than the RCMP for illegal travel and housing claims.
Conservative senator Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and Liberal senator Rod Zimmer are being investigated by the Senate's board of internal economy. We cannot forget about Conservative senator Leo Housakos who was charged with violating the Canada Elections Act, or Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne who is still having his housing costs paid by Ottawa because he is sitting in jail in the nation's capital.
Canadians have every right to be angry, and not just because of prorogation. Over the past year, they have witnessed a sorry spectacle in which the Prime Minister's Office has tried pitifully and desperately to hide a senator's corruption. The Prime Minister continues to claim that nothing has changed. For once, he is right.
This lack of transparency and culture of entitlement is the Prime Minister's political modus operandi; yet, he promised to put an end to the Liberal way of doing things. Now, in fact, it is worse.
Canadians are sick and tired of corruption and scandal. They are sick and tired of the revolving red and blue doors of Liberal and Conservative entitlement and corruption. Canadians have had enough. The fact is that Ottawa is broken and the NDP is the only party that Canadians can trust to fix it.
Now of course Conservative corruption and scandal does not end with the Senate. The Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary has been formally charged for taking and for making illegal campaign contributions. The Prime Minister's chief of staff is under investigation for paying hush money to a sitting Conservative senator. Three other officials in the Prime Minister's office are refusing to answer questions about their own involvement in that very same payoff. Senator Irving Gerstein, the chief financial officer of the Conservative Party, is not only accused of knowing about that payoff but of approving it as well, at least until he found out just how much money it would take to buy the silence of Mike Duffy.
The list of Conservative scandal and corruption just does not end. In 2012, the Prime Minister's special adviser Bruce Carson was charged with influence peddling. In 2011, four top Conservative Party officials were charged in the in-and-out scandal. In 2006, the party president and the party's national director admitted to making a secret $50,000 payment to get rid of an inconvenient Conservative Party candidate. Finally, who could forget that in 2005, the Prime Minister's top strategist, Tom Flanagan, offered “financial considerations” to a sitting member of Parliament in exchange for his support in Parliament.
All in all, under the Prime Minister 17 senators and top party officials have been accused of ripping off taxpayers, breaking election laws or making secret backroom payoffs. They are not low-level staff or minor functionaries gone rogue. These are senators that the Prime Minister appointed himself. They are members of his chosen inner circle, 17 of them in all.
This all leads to two very simple questions. First, how did so many people so close to the Prime Minister all get the same impression that corrupt behaviour of this sort is acceptable to the Prime Minister? Second, when will the Prime Minister finally take responsibility for the climate of corruption he created?
And on the second day, he went to Brussels. He did not even make it to the seventh day.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister tried to change the channel on all of this. He asked Canadians to forget about the scandals and mismanagement that are plaguing his government. He tried to convince them that he has changed. However, watching the Prime Minister sitting there in the Senate yesterday, at the very scene of the crime, with the perps down the hall watching television, I can understand why he wants to change the channel.
I do not think that Canadians are going to forget that easily. In this case, the elephant is the room. If the Prime Minister wants to convince Canadians that he has changed course, if the Prime Minister wants to convince Canadians that he is ready to clean up Ottawa and clean up the corruption in his own caucus, in his own party and in his own office, it will take more than words. It is going to take action.
After each election, a new batch of MPs and staff from all parties arrive here in Ottawa. They all come with the best of intentions, with hope and optimism for the future. However, the old parties have lost something along the way, and things have changed. Their leaders have forgotten whom they came here to serve.
While the old parties fight to protect their well-connected friends, Canadian families are struggling more than ever to get by. From Kamloops to Cape Breton, from Churchill to Chicoutimi, income inequality has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. We are losing the balanced economy that we have built since the Second World War. Canadian household debt has reached record highs. As my hon. colleague just said, hundreds of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing, and for the first time in Canadian history, middle-class wages are declining steadily. This is the first time that has ever happened.
Over the past 35 years, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, incomes have increased for the top 20%, but have decreased for everyone else; 80% of Canadians have seen in a drop in their income. Our economy has grown by 147%, yet the real income of the average Canadian family has dropped by 7%.
The Liberals can always hope that Canadians will forget their poor record. They can always hope that time will erase those memories, but it will not be that easy. Listen to this, Mr. Speaker: over the same 35 years, 94% of the rise in income inequality in Canada, in our society, happened under Liberal governments. The House heard correctly: the Liberal Party of Canada is responsible for 94% of that growing gap. Because of Liberal neglect, an entire generation of middle-class families is on the verge of bankruptcy, crushed under the weight of their household debt.
At the end of last year, Canadians' household debt reached 166% of disposable income. It may be hard to believe, but this record high is all too real. Canada's total household debt is dangerously close to the peak levels prevailing in the United States just before the 2008 economic crisis. Indeed, the Bank of Canada is now referring to this debt as the “biggest domestic risk" to the Canadian economy.
This is more than a burden on Canadian families; it is a threat to our entire economy. However, all the Conservatives have to say to the millions of families struggling to make ends meet is that they have to make do with less—their children have to make do with less.
A tiny minority of Canadians are getting ahead while more and more people are falling behind. The cost of living keeps rising while good jobs continue to vanish.
Our party can do better, and we will do better, because Canadians deserve better.
What has the Conservative response been? Tinkering with a mortgage rule here and saying that they will adjust a lending practice there: too little, too late.
Conservatives have done nothing to rein in the high cost of living for families. They have done nothing to guarantee retirement security for our seniors. They have watched a generation of middle-class jobs disappear, but they have done nothing to create the next generation of middle-class jobs.
We can do better and we will do better because Canadians deserve better.
We are going to rise to meet this challenge. If we are going to start to close the growing gap created by successive Liberal and Conservative governments, we will have to address all sides of the ledger. That means making life more affordable for families. It means helping workers save and invest for their retirement. It means creating high-quality middle-class jobs.
Yesterday, in the throne speech, Conservatives pretended to adopt some parts of the NDP's consumer-first agenda. Unfortunately, we have heard these words before from Conservatives with nothing to show for it but more broken promises.
Were Conservatives putting the consumers first when they let credit card companies regulate themselves with a voluntary code of conduct? Or when they enacted a wireless code that did nothing to create new competition or lower cellphone rates?
Were Conservatives protecting airline passengers when they voted, twice, against the NDP's airline passenger bill of rights?
Were they protecting families when they let meat packing plants perform their own safety inspections? Or when they allowed one-person crews to operate freight trains carrying highly dangerous materials?
This selective enforcement of the law is not just applied in the private sector either. Conservatives have cut $250 million and 3,000 staff from the Canada Revenue Agency. They have eliminated the special team of tax auditors at the CRA who were responsible for investigating organized crime. Little wonder that they sent a $400,000 cheque to a mafia boss, while he was in prison, who owed $1.5 million. That is the Conservative record. Maybe it is because they are planning to make him a senator.
The Conservatives have actually opposed international efforts to crack down on tax havens at the G8. Not surprisingly, today, Canada is losing as much as $5 billion to $8 billion a year in government revenue to international tax havens alone.
The fact is whether it is food inspection and rail safety or consumer protection and cracking down on tax cheats, the leadership role that governments once took to protect public interests now takes a back seat to private interests.
The Conservatives, much like the Liberals before them, heeded the siren call of what is called deregulation.
They dismantled the measures in place to protect the public interest, relying instead on the industries to regulate themselves. They applied this approach across the board.
Budget cuts of $46 million to food security were followed by the largest recall of contaminated meat in Canada's history. In aviation safety, airline standards for the number of flight attendants required on board WestJet flights were lowered against the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, jeopardizing passenger safety.
I can mention another tragic event that could have been prevented. This summer, 47 people died after a train loaded with highly volatile shale oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic. Experts from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the TSB, and Transport Canada are studying what part decades of deregulation might have played in this tragedy.
Where governments once took a leadership role in protecting the public interest, now they protect only private interests. In so doing, they have sacrificed our long-term prosperity for their own short-term political gain.
The New Democrats have laid out a clear plan to protect consumers and to make life more affordable for Canadian families. That means limiting ATM fees, cracking down on payday lenders and giving every Canadian access to at least one no-frills, low-rate credit card. It means protecting small businesses by creating clear rules that prevent credit card companies from using their monopoly power to hit retailers with exorbitant merchant fees. It means protecting drivers from price gouging at the gas pumps. And it means protecting the millions of travellers who are sick and tired of being stuck with the bill for delays and cancellations by passing a real airline passengers bill of rights. Unfortunately, despite their talk, Conservatives have voted against these measures every step of the way. That is their real track record.
Now the Prime Minister stands before Canadians, a man who has run out of ideas, maybe not today standing before Canadians but members understand the notion. He has been reduced to stealing our ideas, a practice he stole from the Liberals. Not only that, he has been reduced to stealing ideas that he has already voted against. Quite frankly, all this is a desperate last-ditch effort to regain the confidence of Canadians. However, it is just too little, it is just too late and it just will not work.
Just to remind our Conservative friends so they are not confused this time, if they want a bill to pass, they actually have to vote for it, not against it.
Just as families across Canada are facing a steep rise in the cost of living, too many are facing a financial cliff as they near retirement. As many as 5.8 million Canadians, nearly a third of our workforce, will see a sharp drop in their standard of living once they retire. For young Canadians, the situation is even more dramatic. By retirement, as many as 60% of young Canadians will face a drop of 20% or more in their quality of life. Without action now, Canada is facing a retirement security crisis. That is a social debt that we are leaving on the backs of future generations, in addition to the financial and ecological debt that the current government is already leaving them.
Yet, instead of action to strengthen pensions, Conservatives are planning to cut $11 billion out of old age security by increasing the retirement age to 67 from 65. I can guarantee that the NDP government in 2015 will put it back to 65.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported just two weeks ago that far from putting our financial house in order, the Conservative cuts to old age security had simply downloaded costs to provinces and individuals.
The Minister of Finance promised to meet with his provincial counterparts this summer in order to work on the plan to improve Canada's and Quebec's public pension plans. The Minister of Finance made a formal commitment on behalf of the Canadian government. He made a promise and gave his word. However, even though he had an extra month, the minister did not keep his word. He did not come up with a plan and he did not meet with anyone.
The provincial governments, unions and the largest seniors' organization in Canada all asked the government to move forward with improvements to public pension plans, but the government did nothing. Even the president and CEO of CIBC said that the government must do its part to find a solution to the retirement security crisis. Many people are convinced that the improvement of public pensions cannot be avoided. By dragging their feet, the Conservatives are creating uncertainty for businesses, governments and individuals.
For that reason, my colleagues from Parkdale—High Park and Victoria, our finance and pension critics, wrote to the Minister of Finance last month to ask him why he did not keep his word, why he did not hold this meeting and why he broke his promises to Canadian seniors. They asked him to hold a meeting and cover the shortfall created by years of Liberal and Conservative cuts so that Canadians can retire with dignity.
What was the Minister of Finance's response? Absolute silence, nothing. Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve answers and here, in Parliament, the NDP will go after those answers.
Today, in 2013, there are still nearly 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than before the recession. Of the 280,000 jobs that young people lost during that recession, only 50,000 have been recovered. In Toronto alone this is an incredible statistic. In Toronto alone, a staggering 50% of workers cannot find a stable full-time job. Instead, they are forced to rely on part-time jobs, split shifts and precarious contract work. Parents are seeing less and less of each other and children and families are paying the price.
Conservatives have repeatedly missed their own targets for economic growth and on the heels of hitting a new record for household debt reported just last month, the International Monetary Fund has now just downgraded its projections for Canadian economic growth once again. The Conservative's solution to all this: spend $100 million of taxpayer money on economic action plan advertising. That is their solution. Canadians deserve better.
Canadians deserve a government with a plan to create jobs for our young people instead of one that accepts a youth unemployment rate that is double the national average.
Canadians deserve a government that understands the key role that cities play in economic growth and job creation instead of one that cuts $6 billion in local infrastructure funding, as Conservatives did in their last budget despite their promises to the contrary.
Canadians deserve a government that understands that the only way to increase wealth in a society is to increase knowledge instead of one that slashes tax credits for research and development, hampering innovation.
Canadians deserve a government that works together with the provinces to strengthen skills instead of one that tries to impose its will on the provinces from Ottawa.
They deserve a government that has a long-term vision for developing our natural resources instead of a government with a reckless rip and ship approach to resource development, an approach that does nothing to protect our own energy security or help create value-added jobs.
Canadians deserve a government that is focused on creating the next generation of middle-class jobs in every region, in every sector, a government that will create a fairer, greener, more prosperous Canada for all. An NDP government will do that in 2015.
However, clearly this is not a government focused on building a Canada that is more prosperous for everyone, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the government's approach to first nations, Inuit, and Metis people. It has been five years since the historic residential school apology on the floor of the House of Commons, five years since the Prime Minister promised to renew our nation-to-nation relationship with first nations, Inuit, and Metis people, but what we have seen since that day is, unfortunately, more of the same: more broken promises, more delays, more cheap talk.
For far too long Liberal and Conservative governments have failed indigenous peoples in Canada. There has been no partnership, no real consultation, no recognition, and no respect, even though our Constitution and international law require them. Instead, all we have seen from Liberal and Conservative governments to this day is the same old paternalistic father-knows-best approach.
This summer I visited with aboriginal leaders at the First Nations Summit in British Columbia. These are first nations leaders who have tried to take a constructive approach to treaty negotiations with this Conservative government, but who simply do not have a willing partner sitting at the table across from them.
They have seen government representatives sent to negotiate with a take-it-or-leave-it proposal rather than a real mandate for dialogue. They have seen the federal government threaten to simply walk away from the table if its demands are not met. They have seen demands to renounce and extinguish their inherent rights as the price of reaching a deal, a practice so egregious that it has been denounced by the United Nations itself. All of this has resulted in a treaty process that has become so slow that it sometimes seems as if it has ground to a halt.
As BC Treaty Commission chair Sophie Pierre has said, this failed approach has not only produced delays and distrust but has left a growing number of B.C. first nations drowning in debt. First nations are being asked to mortgage their children's future just to protect their children's inherent rights. This is not just wrong, it is shameful.
We are living in an era of innovation that is unlike anything we have seen in Canadian history. Human capacity is greater than ever and the potential to maximize that capacity is unprecedented. Our capacity and potential are not lacking. What is lacking is political will.
The NDP believes in a Canada where people who work hard and play by the rules will succeed. We believe in a government in Ottawa that puts the public interest ahead of its own interests.
I can guarantee that the only powerful interest any member of an NDP government will ever serve is that of the people.
We in the NDP believe that we must give Canadians the support they need and are entitled to receive not only to survive, but also to prosper in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy.
What does that mean? It means targeted tax relief for companies that create jobs and train young workers, rather than across-the-board tax breaks for companies that are shipping our jobs overseas.
Throughout the summer, I met with young people who, instead of having found the type of full-time, stable employment that our generation had, are being forced to take low-paying jobs and precarious contract work. It is shameful.
Today's young people are better educated and more dynamic than ever, but can we honestly say that we are giving them the same opportunities our parents gave us? I doubt it.
As a generation of middle-class jobs disappeared, what did we do to create the next generation of middle-class jobs?
This fall, New Democrats will continue to focus on protecting Canadians from the unfair practices of credit card companies and payday lenders, as well as from excessive ATM fees.
New Democrats will keep fighting for a Canadian energy strategy that will create value-added jobs, contribute to our energy security and protect the environment.
Government after government, whether Liberal or Conservative, failed to take action on climate change. That is endangering not only our environment but also our entire economy. It is time to come up with a new plan, a new way of doing things, a new direction forward.
It is true that the challenges before us sometimes seem too great. To rise to these challenges, we need more than words, more than the Conservatives' constant cheap talk. New Democrats know that we are up to the task and that, unlike the old-guard parties, we will get it done.
I move, seconded by the member for Parkdale—High Park:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after “job creation; and” and replacing them with the following:
(b) condemn the Conservatives' economic record, which has resulted in over 1.3 million unemployed Canadians, drastic cuts to employment insurance, growing inequality and the downloading of billions of dollars of costs to individuals and other levels of government; and
(c) call on the government to introduce a real plan to create high-quality jobs and combat stagnating wages, provide tax incentives targeted to hire young Canadians, improve retirement security through increased Canada pension plan/Quebec pension plan benefits, and reduce credit card fees charged to small businesses and Canadian families.
Together, we will get it done.