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.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will have the genuine honour of sharing my time with my colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I would also like to say hello to all of the British Columbians who have woken up to listen to this memorable speech.
I am honoured to rise in the House as the first to speak in favour of raising the federal minimum wage. Actually, we are talking about restoring the federal minimum wage, which, sadly, was abolished by the Liberals in 1996. That was one of the factors that led to increasing inequality in Canada and Quebec over the past 20 years.
There is currently no federal minimum wage. All we have is a mechanism to ensure that people working in federally regulated jobs get paid the provincial minimum wage, which is now between $9 and $11 per hour. The highest minimum wage is in Ontario.
This explains the absurd and tragic situation we find ourselves in, where some Canadians can get up every morning and work 40 hours a week, yet still live below the poverty line. This is unbelievable and unacceptable in a society as rich as ours, in a G7 country. For people to have to work full time and still live below the poverty line is an affront to human dignity and to the efforts made by these men and women every day in going to work.
We in the NDP have come up with this concrete proposal to help people get out of poverty and ensure that no one who works full time ever has to live in poverty or be forced to go to a food bank to put food on the table. Under the LIberals and Conservatives, the number of people forced to turn to food banks to put food on the table has skyrocketed.
The unemployed are not the only ones turning to social assistance; people who work are also doing so. In fact, working full time no longer automatically means being able to feed your family and your children. We have people in Canada who work and still go without food themselves in order to feed their children so they do not go to school in the morning on an empty stomach.
There are pockets of poverty in some areas of our cities and towns that need to be addressed. Those people deserve our help.
We are seeing, in the last couple of years in Canada, a downward spiral of wages and revenues. We in the NDP believe that we should lift up everybody, lift up our communities and make better lives for everybody in Canada.
We have to put an end to the continuing downward spiral of people's purchasing power and salaries. The Conservative government has pushed hard to reduce the salaries and incomes of Canadians and Quebeckers.
Consider the temporary foreign worker program, which allows employers to import cheap labour year after year. Under the Conservatives, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased from some 100,000 per year to approximately 400,000. These people are working at Tim Hortons and McDonald's.
Then there are the cuts to employment insurance. People are being forced to accept lower and lower salaries, perhaps 90% or 80% of their former salary. According to the Conservatives, if people have received too much help from this program, they must accept 70% of their former salary. We feel that is unacceptable.
The measure we are proposing today is reasonable. The majority of studies demonstrate that a gradual, reasonable and moderate increase in the minimum wage would not result in job losses. The studies and documentation are clear on this. It will help the fight against inequality but will not adversely impact job creation. This course of action is fully justified.
Of course, it will be said that this will affect only federally regulated employees. There are nearly 820,000 federally regulated workers in the private sector, and approximately 100,000 of them earn less than $15 an hour.
This measure will therefore provide tangible help to 100,000 families in Canada. That is not insignificant. It will have a considerable impact on our communities. It will set the bar and send a message to the provinces that they must increase their minimum wages and follow the federal government's lead so that workers can live in dignity.
That is very important to us. A total of 80% of the poorest Canadians have seen their incomes stagnate. Take away the richest 20%, and the remaining 80% of the poorest Canadians have seen their incomes stagnate over the past 35 years. If we compare the average minimum wages from 1975 and 2013, there was a 1¢ real increase in the average minimum wage, and that is in constant dollars, not current dollars. We find that unacceptable. We need to take action to correct the situation.
One thing is not well known: Canada is perceived as having a more egalitarian society than our neighbours to the south, the Americans, who live in a society fraught with rampant, unbridled capitalism. In Canada we are proud of our social safety net. Our system is different from the American system. We have a public health system—which was created by the NDP, and we are very proud of it-—that means there is less inequality in Canada than in the United States. However, we are noticing that the gap is now growing faster here than in the United States.