Mr. Speaker, over the past 35 years, 94% of the increase in income inequality happened under Liberal governments.
While that number is shocking, it is not surprising, considering that it was the Liberals who decided to get rid of the federal minimum wage.
Our southern neighbours have already set the path with the fight for the $15 movement that started back in 2012. Last summer, thousands of workers took to the streets to demand a decent salary. What came to light with these protests was that the people who earned minimum wage were not solely students who wanted extra money.
Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, stipulates that these jobs are also a step into the workforce for immigrants, recent graduates, and many other people who can only find employment in these types of jobs. That situation was acknowledged by religious leaders, politicians, and community leaders. So far, the movement led a few cities, such as Seattle, to accept the race.
What the NDP is asking for is completely reasonable. We simply want people who work full time to earn a decent living.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
I would like to read today's opposition motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should reinstate the federal minimum wage and increase it incrementally to $15 per hour over five years.
A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but we believe that numbers speak for themselves, and there is no shortage of numbers to support the NDP's position. According to Statistics Canada, the weighted average minimum wage of all the provinces is $10.14 per hour. Accordingly, after working 40 hours a week, every week, an employee will earn the amazing annual salary of $21,000—before taxes, of course.
In 2013, in the province of Quebec, the average rent was about $700 a month. It will actually reach near $920 for the rest of the country. As for groceries, the average Canadian family spends approximately $400 a month, which is the equivalent of a weekly salary for a minimum wage paid employee, not to mention the cost of clothing, transportation, and electricity. I would also mention leisure, but at this point it is very improbable that there is any money left for enjoyment.
The poverty line in Quebec is $22,000 per year. What the Conservatives are telling us right now is that it is okay, it is normal even, for someone who works 40 hours every week to live below the poverty line. According to the Conservatives, it is normal for someone to have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.
In my riding, the problem is very serious. Food banks can no longer keep up with the demand. I hosted my annual barbecue last Sunday and many young people came out to eat hot dogs. What really saddened me was that at 3 or 4 p.m., at the end of the event, there was a line of young people asking for the leftover sausages and buns. What we are asking for is not for all Canadians. We are talking about employees under federal jurisdiction. Those people at least should be entitled to earn a decent living. This would affect private sectors under federal jurisdiction. This includes the transportation, broadcasting, banking and telecommunications sectors.
At this time, one-eighth of employees in these sectors under federal jurisdiction earn less than $15 an hour. A large proportion of them therefore live very close the poverty line. For a country like Canada, it is not too much to ask for a full-time worker to be able to live well above the poverty line.
The last years have not been painted with austerity. The government is constantly, or at least claims it is constantly, looking for ways to boost the economy. Here is one: correct the mistakes made by the past Liberal government and reinstate the federal minimum wage. The math simply needs to be done. An average day at work is about eight hours. That would be approximately $200 more per week in the pockets of employees, more money to spend on clothes, food, and activities. More purchasing power is good for the economy.
The NDP's position is in fact strongly supported by leading economists, many of whom are actually examining the impact of the minimum wage on employment. Nothing seems to indicate that an increase could have a negative impact on the labour market, especially if it is just a slight increase. We can therefore be reassured. A $5-increase over five years will not disrupt the Canadian economy, as the Conservatives are trying to claim today.
Employees who are very familiar with their company, with its policies, products and services, are knowledgeable employees. Training new workers takes time and costs money. In this light, raising the minimum wage can even improve productivity since it can help reduce the turnover rate. Along the same lines, employees who manage to provide for themselves with only one job have more energy for that job than those who need to have two or three other jobs.
The Conservatives will probably say that many small companies will go bankrupt or will face enormous difficulties if the minimum wage is increased because they will not be able to cope with employees' salaries. However, if we proceed on an incremental and moderate basis, these companies will have time to plan and adapt to that situation. Furthermore, most businesses that deal with federally regulated sectors are large businesses that can benefit from a degree of regulatory protection therefore they will be able to adjust to a gradual increase.
Canadians have spoken. They are opposed to blatant social inequalities, and they want people who work full time and pay taxes to be able to make a decent living.
One way to achieve this objective is to reinstate the federal minimum wage and to gradually bring it up to $15 per hour. The NDP has listened to Canadians; it is time the government did the same.
I would like to end my speech by once again quoting those who have supported us since we made this announcement. Sheila Block, an economist at Wellesley Institute, said: “Regular and predictable increases in the minimum wage will be good for workers and employers. Wages will no longer be eroded by inflation and increases will not be left to the uncertainty of political decisions”. Economists Nicole Fortin, David Green, Thomas Lemieux, Kevin Milligan and Craig Riddell also said that “minimum wages are particularly important as a wage floor for women and young workers.”
We are standing up for the people who have the hardest time finding work. In my riding, many people come to see me. I am fortunate to have an office in a building that also houses the local employment centre, the youth employment centre and the CEDC, which helps people write their resumés and get into the job market. The people who come to my office to ask for help are women and young people who cannot get a first job. Even if they do get one, they are being asked to work for ridiculously low wages.
Here is how the NDP sees it: people who get jobs will earn an income that is above the poverty line. These people will be able to reinvest in the economy. They will be able to work a single job. Instead of having two or three jobs and working weekdays, evenings and weekends, they will be able to look after their kids. These people will be able to get involved in their community and have a decent lifestyle.
It might be fine for a twenty-year-old student to earn a low hourly wage, but at 30, 40 or 50, people want a certain degree of comfort. That is what we are offering. I am very proud of my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who moved this motion in the House today. It would be nice if all of the parties could see what this would bring to the Canadian economy and Canadians' quality of life.
I hope that we will have enough time to persuade our colleagues. This is the right thing to do, and I hope that we will succeed. There is no doubt that, when the NDP is in power, this is the kind of measure it will bring in.