Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion. I think it is one that clarifies the differences here in this House.
We have had the Liberal Leader saying that he thinks it is a decent idea. We have the Green Party, which has it in its party platform, and we have the Conservatives going on about everything else except the topic of this motion today.
I think there is a reason for that. If someone in this House said they had a great proposal, to write an average cheque of $7,128 to 147,000 of the richest families in the country, we would all think they were crazy. An average benefit of $7,000 to 147,000 of the richest; that is what this policy would do. That is why, on this side of the House, we are fundamentally against it.
When we look at the total expenditure of $5 billion, which is $3 billion federal and $1.9 billion provincial, we think about how we could spend $5 billion. How about a universal child care program that would actually help families who cannot find a place to put their kid in quality care? How about a national pharmacare program that would help seniors living in poverty and struggling with choices between keeping a roof over their heads or buying pharmaceutical drugs. There are lots of things we could do with $5 billion.
Instead, the Conservatives are saying let us write a cheque for $7,128 to 147,000 of the richest families. It is beyond belief that they would say that this is a policy about fairness and tax relief for families. This is about aiding their richest friends.
I am amazed that some of the Liberals have gone against what the federal Liberal leader said at the beginning. We do not often see that in the Liberal Party. However, I would like to hear from the federal Liberal leader about whether he still thinks it is a decent idea. It seems like an indecent proposal to me.
I will be sharing my time with the member for York South—Weston, though I do have a lot to say on this.
Who actually benefits from this? We talk about the 14% of families who will benefit. For people in my riding making under $44,000 a year, there is no benefit. For a couple who make above $44,000 a year but are both in the same tax bracket, there is no benefit. For single parents, there is no benefit. For couples with no kids, there is no benefit. For couples with kids who have grown up, there is no benefit. For parents who are divorced, my favourite in terms of irony, there is no benefit.
In my riding, we have a pretty high percentage. I think 86% might actually underestimate the people who would be excluded. When we go through that list, it is just about everybody who I talk to on a daily basis who would get nothing out of this federal income splitting program.
What we have seen is growing income inequality, and this measure would simply fuel that inequality. The incomes of the top 1% or 5% have been skyrocketing, while the average family struggles to make ends meet at the end of the month. The gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us in Canada continues to grow. Liberal and Conservative governments have done nothing to attack this problem.
I would rather that we were discussing a proposal like a living wage. When I was on city council in Esquimalt, before I came here, we had a long debate about the failure of the minimum wage to provide an income that people could actually live on, that could support a family in dignity. Instead of talking about income splitting that benefits the rich, I wish the Conservatives were proposing to talk about a living wage.
It was the Liberals who eliminated the separate federal minimum wage, in 1996. Now we have a situation where minimum wages continue to erode. In real dollars, we are probably still somewhere below where we were in 1976 when it comes to the minimum wage.
Who earns that minimum wage? The people who would not be benefiting from income splitting for sure, 41% of whom are women and young people. In British Columbia, 32% of minimum wage earners are between the ages of 25 and 54, and 9% of them are aged 55 and over. We are not just talking about teenagers going to school and living in their parents' basement. We are talking about people trying to build a family for themselves, support themselves in dignity, and even support themselves when their retirement income fails. Remember, almost 10% of those aged 55 and over are still working at a minimum wage, and most of them are women.
What would a living wage do? A living wage is the idea that we would pay an amount that two parents, both working full time, with two children, could provide the basic necessities. It does not include paying back debt, savings, trips to Hawaii, which is what I suspect many of the people who would benefit from this income splitting would use this extra income for. Instead, let us pay them a wage that allows them to live in dignity.
In April 2014 in greater Victoria, which I represent, that required a wage of $18.93 an hour. The minimum wage is $10.25, so people who are on the minimum wage are living well below what it takes to live a life of dignity.
Whenever we talk about raising the minimum wage, there are those on the other side who talk about it as a job-killing proposal. If there is any job-killing proposal, it is the income-splitting proposal. That is because it would take money out of the economy in Canada and give it to people who will spend it abroad, either investing or travelling, whereas if we put money toward raising the minimum wage up to a living wage level, those people just might have enough to buy a pizza for their kids at the end of the month. They just might have enough money to make repairs on their house. They just might have enough money to do things that stimulate the local economy.
When we are talking about income splitting, I cannot for the life of me see how any of that is going to put money back into job creation and small business in my riding. It is actually going to take money out of circulation, most probably money that will end up being invested abroad or spent abroad on things like travel, or else money that will be spent on luxuries. Most of those luxuries are not produced in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
There was a statement in 2006 that I found very interesting. It was cited by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This statement was signed by 650 economists, including five Nobel laureates. Let me quote a sentence from it:
...a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed.
It would not have adverse effects, so if we are talking about spending $5 billion of tax money, let us put it into something that alleviates poverty rather than something that aids those who are already doing well in our society. Let us put it toward incentives to create jobs at the entry or basic level. Let us put it toward training programs. Let us put it toward child care, and then let us put our efforts in the House toward making sure that people actually get paid a living wage in this country.
Earlier one of the Liberal members talked about making this a non-partisan issue. I guess what he means is that the Greens, Liberals, and Conservatives agreeing would somehow make it a non-partisan issue.
At the fundamental nature of politics is what kind of Canada we believe in. I find this proposal for income splitting not the kind of Canada that I believe in, not the kind of Canada I want to live in.
Some of the residents of my riding might benefit from such a proposal, but when they actually see its huge cost and the vast majority of its benefit going only to the wealthiest and most successful, even those people who might benefit in my riding would have cause to think about it again.
Why am I so sure of that? Because even the former federal minister of finance, Jim Flaherty, said he had serious concerns about this proposal. If the Conservatives were not prepared to listen to Jim Flaherty at that time, I am not sure who they will listen to, but hopefully they will get a chance to listen to Canadians. When it comes time for the next election, I hope they put forward policies like this one, policies that clearly state their agenda, which is a devotion to trickle-down economics. Their idea is that if we give money to those who are doing the best, somehow they will invest it or spend it in such a way that the other 86% of Canadians can eventually benefit from it. We all know that this kind of economics simply does not work.
It is interesting to look at the people who have talked about income splitting and expressed their doubts. They range from the C.D. Howe Institute on the right to the Broadbent Institute on the left. Both found that the proposal would, as we have argued on this side, cost the federal treasury $3 billion. Both found it would cost the provinces, yet the provinces have nothing to say about it, because Conservatives never talk to the provinces. It would cost them $1.9 billion out of their tax revenues. Where are they supposed to find that?
Very interestingly, in terms of the percentage of people who would not benefit from this measure, both the C.D. Howe Institute and the Broadbent Institute found that between 86%, in the case of the C.D. Howe Institute, and 90%, in the case of the Broadbent Institute, of the population would not benefit from this income-splitting proposal.
I wish we were talking about a living wage for Canadians who go to work every day, work hard to put a roof over their heads and support their families, and maybe put a little away for their kids' education or for their retirement. This policy of income splitting does nothing to favour those people. It benefits only the 147,000 richest Canadian families, and it would give them, as I said, a cheque for an average of $7,128. I do not think anyone would really want to go back and talk to their constituents about what a great idea that is.