Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for moving this motion today. It is a very simple, very specific and very fair motion for Canadian workers.
This proposal will help the workers of this country, especially the younger generation of workers, whose salary has not increased, as well as the middle class and the poor. The statistics are also very clear. There is a very serious problem for the government, society and the economy when the poorest workers' wages have gone up by only 1¢ over the past 40 years. That is unbelievable to anyone who thinks that a society should be more fair and that there should not be such a large gap between the very rich and the poor.
This is a proposal the Conservatives have been arguing all day is not important because it would not impact many people but is terrible and must be opposed because it would have such an enormous impact on our economy. Never to let contradiction get in the way of a Conservative argument, it has to be one or the other. If they are going to get back to their talking points, I suggest that they pick one of those criticisms and then go with that, because they have offered up both. The Conservatives say that it would only apply to a couple of people but if it were to actually exist in reality it would destroy the economy. It is quite incredible that so few workers could affect so many millions of people. Of course, it is neither of those things.
This is a very moderate proposal to reinstate the minimum wage that was taken out after it had been stagnant for many years at $4 an hour. It is to reinstate that federal minimum wage and to gradually, over five years, increase it to a level that, at $15 an hour, most Canadians, with the cost of living today, in 2014, would suggest is not getting anyone rich. We are seeking to apply this to those who fall under federal jurisdiction and is absolutely respecting provincial jurisdiction, another criticism; for some reason the Conservatives suddenly are new-found lovers of the provinces' rights and jurisdiction. This is an amazing moment for me to watch Conservatives who have imposed so much on our provincial cousins, mostly in downloading many of the health and transfer costs onto the backs of the provinces, which then download it onto the backs of our cities and municipalities.
Take that other contradiction aside. What this proposal suggests we do in 2014, in a modern society and a progressive economy, which is what New Democrats will be proposing come the next election and now, is to very moderately increase that minimum wage, reinstate that federal condition, and bring it from where it is presently, which is ridiculously ineffectual and non-existent at $4 an hour, up to $15 an hour. This might not immediately impact more than 40,000 or upwards of 100,000 workers in Canada, but for someone on the Conservative benches to say that this is meaningless is to suggest that those 100,000-plus workers and their families are of no meaning to them. That is insulting, and I hope that is not what my Conservative colleagues mean.
If we can start to suggest it for those employees who are regulated in the banking and transportation sectors, jurisdictions regulated by the federal government, we have some leadership role to play. We have seen the stagnation of the middle class and the lower economic classes in Canadian society, even as our economy overall has grown in the last 30 to 40 years. If we see that it is not being shared at all equally and has in fact been concentrating up in that higher 5% and 1% of income earners, with the haves having more, then we should take a step back and understand that there may be some role for government and business to play in this.
As a former small-business owner myself, one of the things I know small-business owners need is not a government obsessed with one tool in the tool box. Whether their taxation level is this or is that, they need fairness, but they also need customers. One thing we know about measures like this, and it has been studied extensively across academia and by those who work in the business community, is that a slight raise in the minimum wage often offers enormous economic benefits to small and medium businesses. It just makes common sense that those who are earning $12, $14, and $15 an hour are much more likely to spend those dollars locally than those making $150 and $200 an hour. That only makes sense for those small and medium businesses that exist within Canada.
Mr. Speaker, as an aside, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from Joliette. I apologize for not mentioning it earlier.
This can help small and medium local economies, something that is of great interest to New Democrats.
We have put forward a number of proposals. We put forward a proposal in the last election that the Conservatives lambasted then picked up and put into their budget. That proposal was to connect a tax credit for people who are doing the hiring to an actual hire. This is a radical notion, I know. It suggests that the government is going to give small or medium businesses a break on their taxes when they hire someone as opposed to the largesse that has been showered on some of the wealthiest corporations in Canada for the last 25 years, and I am talking in the order of tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts with no strings attached whatsoever.
The Conservatives and before them the Liberal government simply trusted the largest companies, the banks, and the oil and gas companies, those companies that were making the most profit and that stood to gain the most from those corporate tax cuts. The idea was that they would reinvest and hire more, but that was not the case. We know that was not the case, because our dear friend, the former finance minister, Jim Flaherty, stood in front of that same business community not a year and a half ago and chastised them, as did the former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, for all of this “dead money” that was sitting in corporate Canada's coffers. All of the tax cuts that had been given to the largest companies in corporate Canada had not been reinvested in research and development or in hiring more employees, for various reasons. Corporate Canada can answer those questions.
We as New Democrats feel that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If we are going to aid individual businesses in certain sectors, that should be somehow a quid pro quo with the larger society and they are going to hire someone with that help.
What we are offering today is a very clear and concise proposal that would not only help working families but would help those small and medium businesses that are, as the parliamentary secretary said, the job creators of today.
There is also, of course, a ripple effect. Some provinces are lagging behind and are racing to the bottom to try to attract business by suggesting that there is no opportunity or duty on behalf of business to pay taxes for all those schools and bridges that we are constantly referencing in our taxes and tax policy. Those provinces that have lagged behind and have said that $8, $9, or $10 an hour is fine for people to make a living on feel that Canadians can feed their families on that amount as electricity and utility prices go up, as the cost of education does nothing but go up, and as the basic cost of living goes up. Clearly, that creates an unfair society, which, by the way, we know both anecdotally and empirically leads to a much more expensive society. When the gap between the have and the have-nots widens to a greater extent, all of those social services bear more. There is more crime. There is more cost to society at large, and there is less peace.
We should all seek to remember our guiding light: peace, order, and good government. That is meant to show the way for all governments in Canada, regardless of their political stripe. The Conservative government would not know that if it came up and smacked it on the nose.
The Conservatives have often quoted here today that the CFIB has been a great proponent of the finance minister's latest proposal, another that is essentially carte blanche, with his strange dividing line on EI premiums. He drew two strange lines in the sand on lowering EI premiums for Canadian companies. One was for employers that hit below a certain annual amount in contributions in EI premiums. If an employer paid $1 more in EI premiums, that employer would get zero benefit from this new program. A bunch of employers have now entered into the public discussion. They are saying that if they were $10 over in EI premiums and they would get no benefit from this new tax break, then there would be an incentive for them to let somebody go to get below the line.
The second line the government chose, and we see this as fundamental unfairness by the government, is that it excluded workers from any of that benefit. Workers will continue to pay into an EI program that only 35% of them can actually access. The government is going to give the break to employers exclusively. Why would the government do something like that unless it had a particular hate on for working people? That makes no sense at all, because they are the ones who pay the taxes. They are the ones who voted for us and put us here to make sure that we have a thriving and surviving country.
Income inequality is something we all need to address, whatever our political persuasion. We want programs that work and that are moderate and fair. We think that today we have proposed just that. We are proposing to move the federal minimum wage over time up to $15 an hour. It seems like basic fairness, basic economic common sense, and something that I am surprised the Conservatives cannot find their twisted logical way through to support to help Canadian workers out for once.