Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today. Canada's economic well-being and ability to harness the benefits of its ambitious trade agenda depend absolutely on our labour force.
It is unusual for us to be debating an issue about raising the minimum wage. The NDP consistently votes against things like WITB, the working income tax benefit, and the decrease in the GST. Our government has taken many measures to support people with low-income cut-off levels, and indeed they are working. We have the lowest number, I believe 8.8%, of people who are working at the low-income cut-off level. That is still not good enough and we continue to support jobs and opportunity. Again, consistently the NDP members vote against them. Whether it is natural resource projects and development, we see a consistent pattern of the NDP voting against things that truly would help people near that low-income cut-off level.
We are debating a motion that strictly looks at the workers in federally regulated workforce. We know the vast majority of them are well above the minimum wage or the planned $15. We have a small number of families that would be impacted, but again the NDP consistently votes against the millions and millions of people who would have been supported with items like the working income tax benefit. However, we are here to discuss minimum wage.
What my hon. colleague is suggesting with the motion is that the federal government should unilaterally push ahead with a substantial increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The logic is that the provinces would have no choice but to follow along. The provinces have very specific systems in place where they look at a number of different measures. They review them regularly. To suggest that the provinces are just going to follow along is perhaps a little naive because the provinces look very carefully and very hard at what they are doing and where we are going.
As all hon. members know, in 1996 the Government of Canada got out of the business of setting a separate minimum wage for workers under the federal jurisdiction. Instead, we pegged the minimum wage for workers under the federal jurisdiction to the provincial minimum wage of the province in which the person worked. Since we have been office, we have seen no reason to change that, and the motion of the hon. member or the debate has not convinced me that we should change it.
We need to remember that it is only a small percentage of the Canadian workforce and enterprises under federal jurisdiction. Most of them are higher income jobs and minimum wages are not very common in federally regulated workplaces. To go back to the federal jurisdiction workplace survey 2008, it was 416 employees. We could argue about how things might have changed a little over time, but it is important to think it probably will be relatively similar. We are talking about 0.05% of all employees under federal jurisdiction.
The provincial governments are much better suited, especially considering the millions of workers under their jurisdiction, to set a minimum wage for them and for the very small percentage of the federally regulated workers. Again, we changed the system 1996. The provinces have not been asking for any changes. We have a system that in past years virtually all provinces and territories have increased the minimum wage rates in many cases after reviews by minimum wage boards or independent experts.
Rather than rewording the Labour Code and encroaching on provincial decisions, our government is taking a better route to ensure the well-being of Canadian workers and their families. We are focusing on what we consider may be the single biggest challenge to our economic health: ensuring that we have people to fill the jobs our growing economy requires both now and into the future. The measures we are taking fit into Canada's economic landscape right now.
Canada's economy is performing soundly in the context of a global economic recovery. We have had 1.1 million jobs created since July 2009 and over 80% of these jobs have been in full-time positions, nearly 80% are in the private sector and over 65% are in high wage industries.
Canada is now the only country in the world to have tariff-free access to the American market of 300 million people and the European market of 500 million people. I love the quote of the B.C. cattlemen when they heard about the Canada-European free trade agreement and the was access to 500 million hungry customers. They are seeing absolute opportunity in these free trade agreements. After going through many years of very difficult times since the BSE crisis, they are happy to see the support our government has provided.
We are seeing a resurgence in industry like mining and oil and gas in Canada, which helps to drive the construction sector. If one were to drive up Highway 5, one would see significant piping heading up to Alberta. With hundreds of resource projects scheduled to come on stream over the next decade, there are a myriad of economic opportunities for Canadians now and in the upcoming years.
We have some challenges, and the problem is that there are not enough people with the skills required for the jobs which are in demand now and into the future. These will be real and potentially dire consequences on our economy and the well-being of Canadians if we do not adequately address this challenge. Many regions and sectors across the country can attest to that.
The mining industry, for instance, says that it will need 145,000 more workers by the year 2020. The petroleum sector estimates it will need up to 150,000 workers by 2022.
Others might suggest that if the opposition wants to support better jobs, it can support the high-wage unionized jobs provided in Canada's oil sands.
BuildForce says that we will need 300,000 workers in the construction trade alone over the next 10 years. At the same time, there will be 550,000 unskilled workers who will be unable to find work by 2016, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. That number could be well over a million by 2021.
It really becomes very clear when the question is asked where we as a government should focus. We have to ensure that the employees will have the right skill sets for both the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.
We are looking at employer-driven solutions, such as the Canada job grant. The foundation of the grant, as we know, is a Canada job grant, an employer-driven approach to help Canadians gain the skills and training they will need to fill available jobs.
We are finalizing agreements with all the provinces and territories, and several of them are now accepting applications from employers with a plan to train people for the jobs. It is a critical step in ensuring Canadians are equipped and prepared for the jobs out there, but it is not enough considering the high demand for skilled trades in the years to come, particularly in the mining and energy sectors.
Over the years, we have had a real focus in the area of skills, trades and apprenticeships and have helped six million young people get the skills and experience needed to find better jobs through different programs.
Our youth unemployment is still stubbornly high and it has nearly doubled the national unemployment rate. Everyone can see why we needed to change our approach. We need to give a message to students that entering a trade is a good move forward. Having a university degree is great, but we need to also look at other opportunities. The trades present enormous opportunities for young people. The opportunities are there if they choose to pursue them.
We have partnered with several colleges and training institutions to try to turn this around and get more businesses directly involved in the process so there is a better match with skills taught and skills needed.
I have to give a quick example. The riding I represent, Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, has a partnership with the university and the local home builders' association. Every year, they have students build a house that ultimately gets auctioned off by the YMCA. The home builders' association gives the students real-life experience. It is an absolutely phenomenal program. Then the YMCA has the benefit of using that home as a major fundraiser.
In addition to the apprenticeship grants, of which we have issued more than 500,000 to help apprentices pursue and complete their training, we have also provided tax credits to the apprentices and the apprentice employers.
The new Canada apprentice loan will also be available in January 2015. That was well received at Thompson Rivers University. This loan would provide apprentices in a Red Seal trade with interest-free loans of up to $4,000 to complete their training. Minister Kenny also received strong agreement from the provincial and territorial governments at the meeting of labour market ministers this summer to move forward aggressively to harmonize apprenticeship training. We want to encourage labour mobility, not to restrict it.
New Canadians, people with disabilities and aboriginal people represent a real untapped potential, and we cannot afford to let any qualified people sit on the sidelines. We need all our talent at work to guarantee our prosperity. That is why we are investing in initiatives that will help underrepresented groups join the workforce. For example, we have this tremendous opportunity to improve economic opportunities for aboriginal people because of the large-scale natural resource projects on the horizons, which are situated where they live. If we work with partners in the first nations communities, we can help many unemployed aboriginal people realize their potential and participate in our country's prosperity.
As members can see, our government is heavily investing in job skills and training of all Canadians so they can secure a better future. This is how we plan to ensure the well-being of families and ultimately the economic health of our country.
Our government is committed to ensuring that workplaces are also fair, safe and productive. We have stuck to our commitment and have taken important steps to improve labour market standards for the protection of employees. A program that comes to mind is the wage earner protection program. Since its coming into force in July 2008, more than 74,000 Canadians have received $174.8 million in WEPP payments. This program was enacted to protect the wages, vacation pay, severance and termination pay owed to workers if their employers go bankrupt or into receivership.
Another important initiative by this government was the Helping Families in Need Act. This act allows employees under federal jurisdiction to take unpaid leave under various circumstances in order to care for their families. For this reason, it is clear that the government has acted in the best interests of Canadians to protect them in their workplace.
Another example of how we are working to improve economic prospects and create more jobs was announced last week by the Minister of Finance. That is the small business job credit, which was very well received by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Over the next two years this would save job creators $550 million, which they can use to hire more Canadians. The plan would effectively lower the EI premiums for small business by 15%. According to the CFIB, this would create 25,000 person-years of employment. That is great news. Therefore, we are strongly supporting Canadian families with these important measures.
Under our government, Canadian families at all income levels have seen increases of about 10% in their real after-tax income. The lowest income Canadians have seen a 14% increase. I mentioned this earlier in some of my questions, noting the number of Canadians living below the low income cut-off is now at its lowest level ever, 8.8%, according to Statistics Canada.
Our low income rates have dropped dramatically under the government. For example, children in female single-parent homes have dropped from 43% of low income families in 2002 to 23% in 2011. Therefore, the measures we have taken are having a huge and important impact on these children and families. Children in two-parent families have dropped from 8.4% of low income families in 2004 to 5.9% in 2011. In other words, we are making steady progress and moving more people up the economic ladder, out of poverty and into better paying jobs and better futures for themselves and their children. For this reason, we do not think that the motion put forward by the opposition would add to our steady progress, and we urge all members not to support it.