Mr. Speaker, today I would like to take this opportunity to speak to the House about the concept of privilege. As everyone knows, members of Parliament are afforded more privileges than other citizens.
We all function in a world of privilege. I, for one, have not always been privy to that reality. I have been an entrepreneur and a farmer; I have been wealthy and I have been poor. I know what money means to the middle class and the poor. It always upsets me when I talk to women on the telephone who tell me that they do not have enough money for their children to live comfortably.
I know that the workers who get up early each morning deserve every dollar they earn, and that is why we need to recognize that a $15 minimum wage for federal employees is not too much to ask. We know that women continue to earn less, yet we are still asking them to set money aside for retirement. How will they manage to do that on $10 an hour? Then they will be told that they do not know how to budget.
For me, $15 an hour is about decency. Housing costs are on the rise and Canadians families also have to deal with skyrocketing gas prices. We know what that means: it costs more to get to work. In an area such as Joliette, work is sometimes 30 minutes or an hour away. Some people will tell you that they travel three hours to Montreal. When the price of gas goes up, the cost of food goes up, too. Buying groceries is very expensive.
I have children. One has four girls between the ages of 12 and 24. Two of them are working. Imagine how much it costs to feed that family.
The Liberals abolished the federal minimum wage in 1996. Perhaps those who are sitting here today have never known what it was like to earn less than $15 an hour. Meanwhile, the GDP is going up and the government is bragging about strong economic growth, but salaries are stagnating.
In the past 35 years, 94% of the increase in income inequality has occurred under Liberal governments. This speaks volumes about that party's respect for the middle class. During that time, workers got up early and continued to slave away for every dollar they earned. However, between 1975 and 2013, the average minimum wage increased by only 1¢, and pennies are not even being made anymore.
In 2006, the Federal Labour Standards Review Commission recommended that the government reinstate the federal minimum wage and set it based on Statistics Canada's low-income cutoffs. This is not just any agency. The commission recommended that the minimum wage be established so that a person working full time would not be living below the poverty line.
Despite all the admiration that some members of this House have for the Chinese model, I think it is appalling to have to work full time and yet remain below the poverty line. Perhaps if people earned more, they would not need to use food banks at the end of the month.
Canada is a rich country, rich in resources, in brain power and in businesses. No one is going to convince me that we cannot pay full-time employees $15 an hour.
Job creation is a hot topic in politics these days. However, the government is not creating jobs directly outside the public service. We can encourage job creation by ensuring that our businesses grow and pay their fair share in society. We can also decide that, to set an example, we will now pay federally regulated employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour. That sets a good example and makes families more stable and happier.
The business community will get that money back because people who earn more will make more purchases.
As a result, I hope that everyone in the House who respects workers will join me in supporting my colleague's motion. In my opinion, it is really just common sense.
This motion deals with a serious problem: the distribution of wealth. The creation of wealth is important, but in my opinion, its redistribution is even more so. Consequently, supporting this motion is an affordable and responsible solution.
Very careful studies have shown that a slight increase in minimum wage does not have a major impact on employment. A moderate and incremental approach will therefore allow companies that do business with the federal government to adapt to this situation.
In terms of other benefits, an increase in the minimum wage can reduce staff turnover and thereby stabilize the operations of companies that do business with the government.
This is clearly important when we consider the fact that 820,000 people worked in federally regulated industries in 2008. Of these employees, over 40,000 were earning less than $12.49 an hour. These people are not rich. Finally, approximately 100,000 people were earning less than $15 an hour.
Women and young people are often among those who earn the least. Let us take young people for example. They need money to pay for rising tuition costs. Otherwise, they will accumulate debt that will force them to delay purchasing a home and starting a family. When all is said and done, helping these individuals supports the entire economy. It could even be profitable for the government since these people would pay more taxes.
The same could be said of women, immigrants and new graduates since the federal minimum wage affects many people who have a lot to offer and who work really hard.
Income inequality is growing at a worrisome rate, and I believe that we must take this crisis seriously. We owe it to our constituents to discuss issues that affect their lives here in the House.
For 35 years, without pause, the income of the top 1% of high earners has been skyrocketing, while the income of the average Canadian household has fallen. Such a significant inequality slows growth because people no longer have the means to stimulate the economy. It also prevents many people from contributing all that they could to our country.
The NDP believes that growth should be real, profitable, sustainable and beneficial to Canadians. In short, we are fighting for growth worthy of the 21st century.
When the gap between the wealthiest and the vast majority of Canadians began to widen in the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Liberal and Conservative governments did nothing to fix the problem. Maybe to them it was not a problem at all.
To the NDP, the growing inequality between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population is a real danger and we want to address it swiftly. That is what we will do in 2015.
I am joining my colleagues in calling on the Conservative government to shoulder its responsibilities towards hardworking Canadians and increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
In closing, I invite the House to admit that it is not just a privilege to represent our constituents, but a responsibility and that comes with its share of duties. Among those duties, we must recognize the seriousness of the problem of the growing gap between the rich and the poor and do something about it.