Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brandon—Souris.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the discussion of the motion put forward by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, proposing that the federal minimum wage be raised. For a number of very good reasons already mentioned, I do not support the motion. Not the least of those reasons is the simple fact that since 1996, the federal minimum wage has been paid to the provincial and territorial minimum wage in which the employee is working, so why should we change it now so that employees in the federal jurisdiction can have a higher minimum rate of pay than those in the provincial areas of jurisdiction?
The opposition's argument is that increasing the rate on the federal side will make the provincial governments fall into line and raise their rates to catch up, but the federal government cannot just tell the provincial governments to raise their minimum rates, nor can we be certain that the provinces would follow suit if the federal rate were raised. That is an area of provincial jurisdiction.
Perhaps more important is the fact that the greater expertise in the area, particularly with respect to knowledge and understanding of local and regional conditions, lies with the provincial governments. In fact, provincial governments, for the most part, closely study and analyze the whole range of local and regional issues, including poverty levels, unemployment rates, job opportunities, average wage levels, and so on, before making changes to the minimum wage level.
Hon. members may know that over the past few years all provinces and territories have increased their minimum wage rates, in many cases after reviews by minimum wage boards or independent experts. In fact, several provinces have legislation stating that minimum wages must be reviewed every one or two years. Even those provinces without legislative requirements tend to adjust their minimum wage rates on a regular basis. In fact, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have all announced that they will increase their minimum wage on October 1, 2014. A recent Statistics Canada study has shown that the average growth in the minimum wage across Canada in the past decade has outstripped the rate of inflation.
I also want to point out that increasing minimum wage levels is not the only tool, and not a particularly sharp one, that governments can use to help low-income individuals and families to improve earnings and their standards of living. On the federal government side, these tools include billions of dollars in benefits given to individuals and families every year. I am referring to programs like the Canada child tax benefit; the Canada pension plan; the guaranteed income supplement; the EI program; maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits; the GST/HST credit for those with low incomes, and many more.
I list these few examples just to make the point that there is a great deal more to how we support and protect Canadian workers and families than just a band-aid short-term stunt adjusting the minimum wage. Economic growth and job creation, the top priorities of this government, are what have helped us build a strong and growing economy. They are what will continue to sustain us in the years ahead. Indeed, we are doing much better in that regard than many of our trading partners.
Since the recession a few years ago, we have had steady job growth, low interest rates, and growth rates that are the envy of many other countries. We believe that getting the economic essentials right will continue to keep us on the right track for even greater levels of prosperity and growth in the years to come.
As we all know, the best way to help improve Canadian workers' income is through the creation of good, well-paying jobs. One good example of how we can make adjustments to improve economic prospects is the recent announcement by the Minister of Finance of the small business job credit. This new credit will effectively lower EI premiums for small businesses by 15% over the next two years. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the credit will create 25,000 person-years of employment.
The minister also confirmed that in 2017, EI premiums would go down from the current $1.88 per $100 of earnings to $1.47 per $100 of earnings. This is excellent news for both workers and small business employers.
Our government will also continue to make specific changes and adjustments to a variety of programs to support workers and their families. Chief among them is making sure that all workers who come under federal jurisdiction have a safe and healthy workplace, equal opportunity for hiring and advancement, and the right to engage in a fair and balanced bargaining process.
Since being sworn in, our government has steadily increased occupational health and safety protections and improved working conditions for all employees under federal jurisdiction. This government implemented the wage earners protection program that protects the wages, vacation pay, severance pay and termination pay owing to workers whose employers go bankrupt or into receivership. This government brought in the Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act, which changed the Canada Labour Code to ensure employees who lose their jobs cannot be deprived of severance pay just because they happen to be entitled to a pension. This government brought in the Helping Families in Need Act that allows employees under federal jurisdiction to take unpaid leave in many different circumstances to care for their families. It also provides for flexibility for parents who need to interrupt their maternity and paternity leave for different reasons.
All of this is to say that we have offered assistance to low-income Canadians as a topic that is broader and much larger than just a discussion of minimum wage levels. Therefore, I urge all members to consider this and all of the other issues that I have mentioned and vote against the motion.