Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to stand today and speak to the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
I would like to thank my colleagues for their work on this. I would like to thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, a hard-working MP, full of energy and passion, who is very devoted to this file and really does an amazing job back in his riding as well. I would also like to thank the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques and the member for Victoria.
I would also like to thank the witnesses who participated in this study. It has led to some important recommendations. Although we are pleased to support the report as a whole, we would be remiss if we did not focus on some of the major challenges youth in Canada are facing in today's labour market, points to which I worry my colleagues across the way are not paying enough mind. We have the words; we need the action.
Since the Conservative government came to power, and over time, it has become apparent that youth employment is not a priority for the government.
I door-knock in my riding almost every weekend. Let me tell members that our youth are hurting. Young people in Surrey and their parents and grandparents all tell the same story. I am sure that MPs from coast to coast are hearing similar stories. It is our youth looking for work and parents and grandparents wanting them to have decent paying jobs so they are not helping to subsidize them. They want to see their children on their feet.
As the official opposition critic for employment and social development, I am deeply troubled when I meet youth who have good grades, who have studied hard, and who are passing out resumes left, right, and centre yet cannot get jobs at all, or at least cannot get decent hours or decent pay.
To this day, as stated in the committee's main report, Canadian youth still suffer from the effects of the economic crisis. While employment growth for Canadians as a whole was not sufficient to recover lost jobs during the crisis, young people have been particularly affected. More than 455,000 jobs for people under 25 have been lost since before the recession, and the youth unemployment rate is now double that of the population aged 25 years and older.
As Amy Huziak, from the Canadian Labour Congress, said:
Recessions are always harder on young workers, but we are nearly five years past the end of the last recession and there's still no recovery in sight for young workers.
There has not been any pick-up with respect to jobs for the cohort aged15 to 25 in this country. It does not seem right that we have missed an opportunity to get youth back into the labour market. This is where we need to focus right now.
My New Democrat colleagues and I are deeply concerned about the current labour market situation for young Canadians, and we refuse to accept soaring levels of youth unemployment as normal. It is not enough to say to our youth to just go volunteer more and work for nothing. The federal government has a responsibility to help create jobs for young people. It requires collaborating with the provinces on training, apprenticeships, and education. Why is the government not showing leadership and doing just that?
Of course, education is a major factor in social mobility. About five hours ago, I met with students from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Vancouver Island University in my beautiful home province of British Columbia. They are very concerned. Youth are accepting unpaid internships in the hopes of eventually securing employment with that employer. However, unpaid internships do not pay off student debt, and they do not allow young people to move forward out of their parents' homes into homes of their own to live modestly but independently.
The pursuit of post-secondary education means that young people are able to increase their opportunities in the labour market as well as their conditions of employment. However, an increasing number of students have trouble repaying their loans, and so many are deterred from furthering their education for fear that it may result in insurmountable debt.
We have all heard stories of the growing debt students have after graduating from post-secondary institutions, in many cases, much higher than the price of the first house I bought when I graduated. Too many young workers are unemployed. The unemployment rate for youth was estimated at 27.7% last year.
There are also troubling gaps between the graduation rates of aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, so we need to establish some programs to address these issues. The post-secondary graduation rate on reserves is about 14.4% compared to 39.1% for the non-aboriginal population. Even more troubling is the fact that high school graduation rates are just 36.8% on reserves compared with 66.8% for the broader population.
The first nations population is young and growing fast. Fully half of the population of 930,000 is under the age of 25 and, as it stands, the majority of first nations youth have not graduated high school. Unfortunately, the government consistently underfunds first nations education and schools. In my previous life, I had the privilege to visit some of the schools in these communities and I was outraged at the standards of the buildings, which appeared to me more like what one would expect in third world countries rather than in a developed wealthy nation like Canada.
Youth face competition in the labour market with the growth of the temporary foreign worker program. As we know, the government opened up the floodgates without too much regulation and when it got caught, it tried to do a bit of damage control. Temporary foreign workers admitted under the low-skilled occupation stream are actually competing directly with young people. All year long, case upon case has been highlighted in the media from coast to coast to coast. We are all familiar with the infamous example of the McDonald's in Victoria ignoring local students, not hiring them and giving them reduced hours in favour of paying lower wages to foreign workers. Heartbreakingly, this was one example of a countrywide crisis.
One of the issues brought forward in the material provided by the students who came to see me earlier this afternoon was that of data or, rather, the lack of it. There is a serious data shortage in Canada right now. As I have said tongue in cheek many times in the House, it is as if the government is allergic to data and evidence-based decision making. It does not seem to want to have that kind of information get in the way of its own agenda.
I want to spend a bit of time expressing my particular support for recommendation 9 of this report, which states:
That the federal government collect data on unpaid internships in Canada and work with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections under relevant labour codes. Moreover, the government should study the impacts of unpaid internships.
I grew up in England and in school we were encouraged to volunteer and get involved in the community. I was involved with Meals on Wheels. I would read at a local hospital. I got involved with the Duke of Edinburgh program. I did a variety of volunteer work, but that was on the side. Surely we should not tell young people, who have finished their university and have huge debt loads, that they need about a year's worth of experience and they should work for nothing for a year somewhere. We really have to pay attention. I do not think we have enough data to even begin to understand how serious this situation is, so data collection becomes important.
Logic alone suggests that if people are doing jobs and not being paid for them, they are not going to have money. If they are devoting their time to unpaid internships in the hopes of gaining experience that would lead to eventual employment, they do not also have time to work interim jobs to earn meagre salaries, even enough to pay the interest on their student loans. This is the conundrum for many young people right now.
However, without data, we are unable to assess just how bad the situation is. We can merely speculate and go to the stories we hear, but speculation does not good policy make. Nor does guesswork. Furthermore, we need to find out what is actually resulting from unpaid internships. Are youth ultimately gaining? Are our youth being exploited? Do they work the year and then the employer looks for another freebie for a year? All that information needs to be gathered.
In order to work effectively at the federal level and with the provinces to remedy this problem, we need to know the exact size of the problem so we can deduce the size of the solution needed. Make no mistake that I and my NDP colleagues agree that there are good internship programs associated with academic institutions and that help young Canadians benefit from a first work experience. We have many co-op programs and ones that will be relevant to and even improve their career prospect as another part of their learning package. However, the increasingly frequent use of unpaid internships by employers also poses a particular challenge for young Canadians, and it is the data associated with that challenge that we desperately need to analyze.
Unfortunately, some employers do not use unpaid internships as a prerequisite to employment and as a way to fill positions that would otherwise be paid, so for them it is just a revolving door. Unpaid internships do not necessarily lead to the acquisition of relevant experience for the career of a young worker. Sometimes what interns end up doing has very little to do with their expertise or with their background. Amendments to the Canada Labour Code could ensure better working conditions for our young people and protect them from exploitation.
Next I want to emphasize the importance of recommendation 16 of the report, which states, “That the federal government explore ways to promote youth hiring in Canada, such as”, and the NDP has been suggesting this, “tax credits for businesses that hire Canadians aged 18 to 30”. That is a positive step the government could take tomorrow. The Conservatives are really fond of making announcements in all kinds of locations. Here is one they should make, and they should stand here and make it today or make it tomorrow. This would actually benefit our youth.
A youth hiring tax credit is a practical step to creating new jobs for young people. I have spoken to business people in Surrey and to the Surrey Board of Trade, and they agree that kind of policy is a win-win. The New Democrats have proposed a $1,000 incentive that would be available to businesses that hire young Canadians aged 18 to 25. That credit would double in areas of dire unemployment. Businesses would also be able to access matching federal funds to help train newly hired employees.
The time is now. Let us do this and show today's young people that we are paying attention and that we are not leaving them behind. By ignoring youth unemployment, or only paying lip service to it, the government is actually threatening Canada's long-term economic prosperity.
Members may be aware that Germany just announced a few months ago that all post-secondary education fees in Germany would now be waived. No matter what post-secondary program people take, there are no fees in Germany. The Germans are not just doing it because they woke up one day and said they needed a new announcement. They did their research. They looked at how much common sense it made to do that, and how investment in their youth was really about the future and that their country was willing to make those sacrifices. They like it and they can see the economic and social benefits.
If the Canadian government does not act now, we risk becoming the first generation in history to leave less to our children than we inherited from our parents. As a mother and a grandmother, I cannot say how much that breaks my heart. I always tell people that I do what I do because I want a better world for my grandchildren, the students I have taught over the years and all young people in our country. I want to give them that promise of hope and of engagement, but right now many youth are feeling disenchantment.
Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve smart investment in today's youth and tomorrow's economy. The New Democrats recognize that smaller enterprises are the job creating backbone of Canada's economy. In that vein, we launched a Canada-wide campaign to engage small businesses. We are talking to business owners about practical ideas to help them expand, and the feedback we are getting is very positive.
I would be remiss not to discuss the fact that youth with disabilities face particular challenges in the labour market. They face a more difficult transition from school to work, reduced support services to meet their individual needs, job opportunities and ignorance of their actual capabilities. Youth with disabilities are more educated than ever. However, as indicated by one witness, the employment rate of youth with disabilities in Canada was 45.7% in 2011.
When I learned that, I was shocked. The government must take action immediately to enable young people with disabilities to benefit from better opportunities to enter the labour market permanently.
Last and very dear to my heart, is that I recently have learned that 60% of students will postpone buying a house because of their debt and 40% will postpone their plan to start a family. This highlights another issue of pressing importance for young professionals, the work-family balance.
With that, I will state again in the House, and as many times I am able, that a national child care system is vital for women to enter the labour force when their children are younger. When a woman first starts out in the labour force, in the 25 to 29 year old range, the gap is not very large. It is after a few years when they have had to take leave to care for young children that the gap grows. Women hit that glass ceiling, but they also hit many other barriers and end up having to make very difficult choices, choices that not only impact their career aspirations but also impact the economic base for families.
Improving our child care system is fundamental to improving employment opportunities for both men and women. If we are to tackle poverty in a serious way and tackle the growing gap between the rich and poor, one of the key pillars in that platform to do that is a universal, accessible, affordable, regulated child care system. That is what the NDP stands for.
We are talking about youth unemployment. Recently, when I was at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, I met with a group of students. They told me that their challenges were the high costs. Education is incredibly expensive these days, but they are willing to take on that burden. The difficulty is that once they leave those institutions, it is going to be between one to seven years before they can get a full-time job in the field in which they have qualified. That just does not seem right. This is the kind of thing we need to address.
I talk to my constituents in Newton—North Delta all the time. Of the three top issues, education and young unemployment are an integral part. Honestly, the lack of a national child care system in Canada right now is a marked failure. We need affordable, accessible, safe child care in our country, and we need it now.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that we are only one election away from having child care that will be no more than $15 a day per child. That is music to the ears of people from coast to coast to coast.
I am happy to have had the opportunity to speak to this report today. I thank my colleagues for their good work and I look forward to seeing these recommendations come to fruition.
I would like to end with an appeal. Words on paper are meaningless. Let us have action.