Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Davenport.
I am proud to say that as many Canadians know, Newfoundland and Labrador is a have province. This is not a news flash. In 2008, for the first time since Confederation in 1949, almost 60 years ago, we hit a milestone in that we stopped receiving equalization.
For years we were seen as a drain, a poor cousin of Canada, although that is most definitely debatable, and I would say it was never the case. Today we officially contribute more to the Confederation than we get back.
Our confidence, our self-esteem in our identity as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians has improved. We are not cocky, though. We are not uppity. We look down on no one. The memory of hard times is not that far off and it never seems to be that far away. There are still far too many people who are not benefiting from the have status. It feels good to be a have province.
We were always known across Canada as hard workers who were proud of where we come from, but now we are just a little bit prouder. But, and here is the but, in the wise words of one of my constituents, there are still too many have-not people. There are too many have-not families in a have province.
Former Premier Brian Peckford once famously said that “one day the sun will shine and have-not will be no more.” The economic sun is finally shining in Newfoundland and Labrador, but there will always be have-nots. That is why I stand today in support of the motion by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie:
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.
At $10 an hour, the minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador is tied for lowest in the country, and we still have the highest unemployment rate of all provinces. There has not been an increase in the minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2010. That will change next month when the minimum wage in my province will increase by 25¢ an hour. For a full-time minimum wage worker, that 25¢ extra an hour will work out over the course of a week to $10, which will roughly buy four litres of milk and a couple of loaves of bread. It is not a lot. An increase of 25¢ an hour will not make much of a difference in the lives our have-nots.
The New Democratic Party of Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for a greater increase in the minimum wage. In August 2012, a report commissioned by the Progressive Conservative government recommended increasing the minimum wage and tying it to inflation and the consumer price index. The Progressive Conservative government of Newfoundland and Labrador ignored that report.
So much for the Prime Minister's comment in question period today about how he would leave it to the provinces to set their own minimum wage. Provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador set a minimum wage and then ignore it.
Newfoundland and Labrador New Democrats held a minimum wage town hall in St. John's earlier this month, coincidentally. It was an event that drew too many stories of poverty.
Let me quote Russell Cochrane. He is a St. John's resident in his twenties who has worked several minimum wage jobs. He said:
It's degrading when you work a full-time job, you come out of it with only enough money to pay your rent and then have one week of groceries, wondering where you're going to eat for the second. That hunger sticks, and it's a hunger that doesn't only degrade your body—it wears at your soul, it wears at your sense of self-worth.
The motion before the House today is a starting point to address that degradation, to address that hunger, to address income inequality. By boosting standards for workers under federal jurisdiction, such as those who work in banks and financial services, telecommunications, and broadcasting, the federal government can show leadership, set an example for provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, and improve wages across the country.
Speaking of my home province, it has one of the highest percentages of minimum wage earners in Canada. In 2011, 9.7% of workers, or 19,700 workers, earned minimum wage. In Canada, as a whole, only 6.8% earned minimum wage. New Democrats believe that Canadians who work hard and play by the rules should be able to make a decent living. Is that asking for too much? It is not. Is that asking for too much here in Canada, one of the richest countries in the world?
We are not reinventing the wheel. There was a national federal minimum wage until 1996. What happened then? The Liberals eliminated it. Instead of doing the right thing and raising the federal minimum wage that had stagnated for a decade, the Liberals washed their hands of the problems and killed the national minimum wage altogether.
In real terms, between 1975 and 2013, the average minimum wage increased by just one penny. That means that workers earning the average minimum wage have only received a 1¢ raise over the past 40 years, even though the Canadian economy has grown by leaps and bounds.
The motion to reinstate the federal minimum wage and increase it incrementally to $15 an hour over five years will have little impact on federal finances as most federal employees already earn above the minimum wage. Most private sector workers under federal jurisdiction also make above the $15-an-hour mark, but the reinstatement of a federal minimum wage will show—and here is that word again—leadership. It will show leadership and send a message to all provinces to follow suit. Income inequality in our country is spiralling out of control. The incomes of the top 1% are surging while the typical Canadian family has seen its income fall over the last 35 years of mostly federal Liberal governments.
Let me summarize. No full-time worker in Canada should live in poverty. I repeat, no full-time worker in Canada should live in poverty. I challenge every member across the floor of the commons to stand and disagree with that point. In the words of Linda McQuaig, an author and journalist and recent New Democrat candidate, a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage would be a bold step toward establishing the principle that no full-time worker should live in poverty.
Minimum wage jobs are not just for teenagers, a way to occupy them after school and put spending money in their pockets. Minimum wage jobs are real jobs. They are real incomes that too many families depend on. Women, for example, are disproportionately minimum wage earners. In Newfoundland and Labrador, women make up 60.4% of minimum wage earners. Other minimum wage earners include immigrants, recent graduates, and too many others who can only find part-time work and need to hold down two or three jobs to survive.
Let me bring this speech home with another quote from the minimum wage town hall in St. John's earlier this month. Let me quote Ellen. She is a Memorial University engineering student. She stated, “We need to stop being cheerleaders for the most wealthy interests in our society and stick up for someone who needs it”.
More and more people in this country need sticking up for. More and more, the gap between the rich and the poor in this country is widening. From the world's perspective, Canada is a have country. Few countries have what we have, but it is the have-nots that we have to look out for. If the measure of a great country is how well it looks after its most vulnerable, then we have fallen short under successive Conservative and Liberal administrations before it.