Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-4, the second federal budget implementation bill in 2013, and the fourth omnibus bill introduced in the House in the past two years. This time, the Conservatives have pushed the urgency to new levels to get their files through the House.
Bill C-4 was introduced yesterday morning and we have already started debate on a bill that is over 300 pages and that amends or repeals 70 legislative measures. This is yet more proof of the Conservatives' absolute contempt for the democratic process.
Once again, the NDP must express its opposition to these heavy-handed tactics. Canadians deserve better.
Canadians were asked to wait for an extra month for their MPs to come back to work here in Ottawa. The Conservatives said the prorogation was necessary and that it was time to reset the government's policy agenda. I certainly agree that the government's policy needs a serious redo, but that is not what Canadians heard last week in the Speech from the Throne.
Instead, despite soaring youth unemployment and nearly 300,000 more people unemployed today than before the recession, the Conservatives failed to lay out a jobs plan or take concrete action that would create good middle-class jobs.
Just today, the Bank of Canada issued a report. It said that it had significantly overestimated growth in its last report and has now lowered GDP growth projections for 2013, 2014 and 2015. That is the kind of job the government is doing. The Bank of Canada is now predicting that in 2013, GDP growth will be a meagre 1.6%. Clearly, the government's economic agenda is failing. The Prime Minister has failed miserably. I will say it again. The Prime Minister's economic agenda has failed miserably.
In fact, the government is pushing ahead with its plan to claw back $300 million from skills funding for the most vulnerable workers, even in the face of united opposition from the premiers. Bill C-4 focuses more on gutting Canadians' right to a safe and healthy workplace and prompting conflict with civil servants than it does on job creation.
Despite all the Conservative spin, Canadians know that only New Democrats can be trusted to put their needs first and to give middle-class Canadians a fair break. Canadians need a government committed to genuine consultation to get to the bottom of this. Only by working together and pulling in the same direction can we have an economy performing to meet the needs of all Canadians and Canadian businesses.
The NDP vision for the economy is one where we maximize the opportunities we have, based on our enormous advantages as a country, to deliver the best we can for Canadians.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, the economy has been at the heart of Canadians' concerns. We have faced an endless number of foreign economic threats. Our recovery was marked by fear of a debt spiral in Europe and political impasses in the United States.
Today, the Canadian economy is facing new challenges. We still face threats abroad, but we are also facing threats that originate much closer to home.
Canadian families are struggling like never before. They are caught between a rising cost of living on the one hand and disappearing middle-class jobs on the other. Over the last 35 years, income is up for the top 20% of wage earners, but down for the bottom 80%. Our economy has grown nearly 150% over that 35-year period of time and yet median household income has declined by 7%.
Professor Miles Corak at the University of Ottawa said:
Over the last couple of decades or more the median wage rate has hardly changed, and wage rates below the halfway point have fallen by five to as much as 10 percentage points....
This means that many families who face lower wage rates have to run harder just to stand still....
In my own city of Toronto, a recent report by the Daily Bread Food Bank found that almost one-quarter of the people accessing food banks have someone in their households who is working. In the 905 region, that number is almost 40%. Therefore, paid employment, even a full-time job, is clearly not always a ticket out of hunger and poverty. That is shocking. That is simply unacceptable.
In September, Statistics Canada announced that household debt had reached a whopping 166% of disposable income. More than one in eight households has a debt-to-income ratio higher than 250%; that is one in eight. Mortgage debt alone now stands at roughly one trillion dollars. In many communities the cost of housing is squeezing household budgets.
A report by the Toronto Community Foundation found that according to 2001 figures, almost one-third of Toronto region households are spending 30% or more of their total income just on housing. Among the city's renters, the number was even higher, at over 43%. According to the OECD, the Canadian housing market is now among the most overvalued in the world. Taken as a whole, Canadian household debt is now dangerously close to American debt levels just prior to the financial crisis of 2008.
Before leaving his post as governor, Mark Carney warned that mounting household debt may force the Bank of Canada to pull back on economic stimulus. While the rate of growth of household debt has slowed somewhat since Mr. Carney's departure, the Bank of Canada says that household debt is still the “biggest domestic risk” facing our economy.
All of this, the rising cost of living, coupled with stagnating wages, has major implications for domestic demands. After all, if a consumer-driven economy is to succeed, consumers need money in their pockets to spend. This is, of course, what every business knows, especially small businesses.
Earlier this year, The Economist magazine remarked on Canada's economy:
...five years on, consumers are showing signs of flagging. ...So the authorities are casting around for another source of growth. The trouble is they cannot seem to find one.
The Conservatives promised to focus on affordability in their throne speech with a so-called “consumer first” agenda for the new session of Parliament, but Bill C-4 makes no progress for Canadian consumers. The Conservatives have made big promises about protecting consumers for seven years, but have failed time and time again to help consumers in need and consistently vote against consumer-friendly provisions put forward by the opposition.
Consumers are failed by the government. The Conservatives have been big on talk and very small on follow-through. By contrast, New Democrats have led the way on consumer protection and will be looking to hold the government members to account to ensure their actions match their words. We know that any serious attempt to tackle this complex issue has to start with an honest look at the economic conditions facing business and labour markets as well as families.
The Canadian labour market is facing significant challenges, in both the short and medium terms. Today, our unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. There is only one position available for every 6.5 Canadians looking for a job.
Even worse, youth unemployment is now over 14%, which means that the next generation of workers cannot gain the experience they will need to replace the older generation.
In my city of Toronto, one in five youth is unemployed. With households and workers facing such challenges, it is no wonder our business sector is struggling as well. We have heard the statistics, $600 billion in private money sitting on the sidelines. The former governor of the Bank of Canada has spoken about this.
While the Minister of Finance admonishes business to just step up and invest, New Democrats are more interested in working with business leaders, listening to them and finding out what the barriers are to them investing in the current climate. While Liberal and Conservative governments sat back and watched a generation of middle-class jobs disappear in Canada, pausing occasionally to wag their fingers at business for not doing better, we are more interested in working together, pulling together to create the next generation of middle-class jobs here in Canada.
Let us talk about those jobs, an area that the Conservatives have continually failed to take any action on, even in four omnibus budget bills. The real question is this. What kind of jobs are we creating?
Simply put, we want Canada to own the most profitable and productive slice of the global supply chain, 21st century knowledge economy jobs, in the most modern, innovative and energy-efficient industries, instead of falling further behind under the current government. I know that is easier said than done. However, the fact is that with as many challenges as we have ahead of us we have opportunities too. Canada has many advantages. Canada is among the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. Even through the worst of the recession, Canadian small businesses continued to thrive and multiply.
Yet one of the most disturbing trends in Canadian business development is that alarmingly few of those small businesses are growing into medium businesses and beyond. From 2006 to 2010, Canada lost more than 1,500 medium-size businesses, even as the number of small and large businesses grew. During that period, mid-size businesses were 10 times as likely to shrink or shut down as they were to grow.
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz told the Vancouver Board of Trade:
A characteristic of a naturally growing economy is a steady increase in the population of companies. However, for five years after the start of the crisis, we saw virtually no increase in the population of Canadian companies.
This matters, a lot.
To maximize our potential we need effective education and skills training programs so that we have innovative companies ready to adapt to a changing global economy. This means doing the best job possible to tap into first nation communities so that they can develop to their full potential, while providing a badly needed skilled workforce, especially in remote areas.
Under the current government, a generation of young Canadians is facing double-digit unemployment; precarious, uncertain, low-paid jobs; and an equally uncertain future. The unemployment rate fell in September, but only because 20,000 young Canadians gave up searching for work. Yet Bill C-4 has only deafening silence to offer on youth employment. Instead, the Conservatives are focused on ensuring that Canadian workplaces will be less healthy, less safe and less secure for workers in the future. It makes no sense.
Canadians know that the NDP is the party most focused on the next generation. New Democrats have proposed a job creation tax credit for small and medium-sized businesses as well as large corporations. Therefore, the NDP is targeting businesses that create new jobs and contribute to economic growth.
Under the NDP proposal, companies could receive up to $1,000 for hiring a young employee and an additional $1,000 in compensation for the training of that employee. The tax credit would be doubled in the regions with particularly high youth unemployment rates.
The NDP tax credit for hiring young people would benefit both young workers and the companies that hire them. Canadians do not want to be left behind or told that they have to settle for less.
We want to do better, improve the situation and show leadership. These are our objectives.
In the 21st-century global economy, Canadian cities will be the engines of economic growth. Cities are the economic hub that brings together the mix of investment, technology and talent that allows our economy to thrive. There is a growing body of research that highlights the key cluster effect that cities play in our larger, macroeconomic picture, and the role that government can play in bringing these elements together. In my own city of Toronto, we have a film and television industry that is growing at the rate of 25%, more than double the economic growth rate of China, vastly outpacing the industry as a whole because of a partnership between industry, labour and government that has delivered these results. We need more models like that. Unfortunately, we are faced with a government that does not focus on the vital role that cities play as engines of economic growth.
Bill C-4 offers nothing for cities to address the massive infrastructure deficit that is a drag on our economy. In fact the PBO revealed that under the guise of a long-term infrastructure funding plan of $50 billion over 10 years, the Conservatives had actually cut infrastructure funding in budget 2013 by $5.8 billion. This is over the next few years. It is easy to make promises for years when they will not even be in government, I suppose.
What is needed is a serious commitment to sustainable and predictable funding in our urban centres. There are some things we can just do better when we work together. Investing in our future is one of them.
We should be asking ourselves what we can do better as a nation, what we can do together in addition to our efforts as families and communities. The Conservative government keeps telling Canadians, “We'll cut your taxes, but you're on your own. Don't count on us”. Services are being cut back. Programs are being cut back. Conservatives, again in this bill, are telling Canadians that they are on their own to ensure safe and healthy workplaces. When it comes to the needs of the country's veterans, when it comes to EI financing and taking real action for a more prosperous Canada for all Canadians, they say, “you are on your own”.
Speaking to Canadians across this country, I know that people still believe we need to work together to build for a better tomorrow.
Canadians understand governments have a role to play in supporting the economic conditions that improve their lives. In dealing with broad economic problems, we need solutions that address all sides of the ledger: creating good, high-quality jobs; making life more affordable for families; encouraging Canadians to save and invest for retirement; fostering the conditions for businesses and communities to succeed; ensuring all Canadians have a place to live; investing in needed infrastructure such as transit; taking a co-operative approach with the provinces on education and training; building a future full of opportunities for Canada's youth.
We need a balanced approach that will help us succeed. New Democrats can do better. We know that Canadians deserve better and New Democrats will stand up for Canadians every day until they get better.
In my time remaining, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-4, A second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, because it:
(a) decreases transparency and erodes democratic process by amending 70 different pieces of legislation, many of which are not related to budgetary measures;
(b) dismantles health and safety protections for Canadian workers, affecting their right to refuse unsafe work;
(c) increases the likelihood of strikes by eliminating binding arbitration as an option for public sector workers; and
(d) eliminates the independent Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, allowing the government to continue playing politics with employment insurance rate setting.