Mr. Speaker, as a woman and the chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I am pleased to rise in the House today to support this NDP motion decrying the increase in income inequality in Canada under successive Conservative and Liberal governments and stating the NDP’s position on the Conservatives’ income splitting proposal.
Pardon the pun, but there is a split between the perspectives of the Conservatives and the New Democrats. The Conservatives seem to want to return to the 1950s, as evidenced by the many retrograde initiatives they bring in. They are nostalgic for an era when the traditional family—as portrayed in the famous U.S. television series Leave It To Beaver—cast women in the role of housewife.
I was born in the 1950s, but I must admit that, as a woman, I am in not at all nostalgic for that period. Not only am I proud that, over the years, women have been liberated through numerous struggles, I am also proud of women’s participation in the labour force, their financial autonomy, and their political and economic leadership.
However, we must not become complacent: although Canada ranked first in the area of gender equality according to the United Nations Human Development Report for the decade from 1990 to 2000, since 2001 Canada’s ranking has plummeted to 20th and 31st, respectively.
How is it that a progressive and modern nation like Canada could become a global laughingstock in the area of gender equality? Successive austerity budgets, starting in the mid-1990s, and recent fiscal policies have only widened the gap between the rich and the poor and deepened economic disparities between men and women.
Even though about 70% of mothers with children under the age of five work, their employment rate is still far lower than that of fathers, according to Statistics Canada. In my opinion, it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to introduce policies to restore balance and establish working conditions that make it possible for parents—not only women—to balance work and family.
In Quebec, the child care program has led to the creation of good jobs, and a 9% rise in mothers’ labour force participation. The program has also benefited the economy because every dollar invested has boosted the GDP by $2.30, according to a study by the Université de Sherbrooke.
Since the Conservatives announced their intention to fulfill their pledge to institute income splitting, as a former coach of the Canadiens would say, a lot of ink has gone under the bridge.
I would like to quote a number of newspaper headlines. Le Devoir published two articles: “Income splitting: The wrong track” and “Federal taxation: Income splitting lines the pockets of the wealthy”. The Globe and Mail ran a article with the following headline:
“Probing the pledge: The Tories' flawed tax break for families”.
One recent report states:
“The Big Split: Income Splitting's Unequal Distribution of Benefits Across Canada”. From the Progressive Economics Forum, we have “Income Splitting: A Bad Idea Returns”. Then there is “Income Inequalities in Canada: Fiscal and Gender Dimensions”, a briefing paper to the finance committee, and “Income Splitting in Canada: Inequality by Design”, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Even the C.D. Howe Institute came out against this measure.
Barrie McKenna stated in The Globe and Mail that this measure was seriously flawed because it would mainly benefit the wealthy.
A recent Broadbent Institute study, based on Statistics Canada data, shows interesting regional disparities. In particular, the study shows that most of the couples who would benefit from this measure are in Alberta and Saskatchewan. If I may say so, that is fertile territory for the Conservatives. It comes as no surprise that these measures would be less beneficial to provinces like Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
The C.D. Howe Institute's comments on this are as follows:
The measure would:
...fail to achieve its particular notion of horizontal equity, likely by overtaxing dual-earner couples. It would also distribute gains disproportionately to a small share of all households (mostly at the highest incomes), fail to assist families that most need help..., and create new distortions to work incentives.
I must pause to announce some good news, which is that I will share my time with the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.
I will continue with quotes that denounce income splitting. Economist Erin Weir pointed out the significant impact that this measure would have on the federal government's revenues:
Another aspect of the proposal that should be questioned is its likely impact on provincial governments, whose taxes generally apply to income as defined by federal tax rules. If it would reduce annual federal revenues by $2.5 billion, it could also reduce combined provincial revenues by about a billion dollars.
Mr. Weir then continued by asking:
The Conservatives have promised to wait until the federal budget is balanced. Would they also wait until provincial budgets are balanced?
It seems to us that these revenues could be judiciously used to promote increased labour market participation by parents and greater recognition of work that is currently unpaid.
These revenues could also be used to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, a gap that is growing very rapidly in Canada, where 86 Canadians have the wealth of the 11.4 million poorest Canadians and where 14% of the country's total revenues go into the pockets of the richest 1%.
The Conference Board of Canada stated:
Do government taxes and transfers help to reduce inequality?
Yes. Personal income taxes and government transfers (such as social assistance, employment insurance, child benefits, and old age security) have helped to reduce income inequality.
No one can say that the Conference Board of Canada is leftist.
To conclude, the federal government has the means at its disposal to reduce inequalities and propose measures that will benefit all taxpayers, not just a narrow group of Conservatives. We believe in a sustainable and equitable economy, which includes a fairer, simpler and more progressive tax system.
Canadians are social democrats. They recognize the importance of the fair sharing of wealth, the value of work and fair compensation.
They recognize the importance of creating a climate conducive to full employment for everyone. They also want to be able to look after their families and loved ones, whether as parents or caregivers. It is therefore the moral responsibility of the government of a prosperous country such as Canada to foster a climate that will help our country become a country without inequalities, a country where prosperity will be accessible to all.