Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this motion on the minimum wage.
People who know me know that I have a lot of experience in labour relations, negotiations and all those sorts of things. I was also a member of a committee set up by the New Brunswick government to study the minimum wage.
I would like to respond right away to the member for Cape Breton—Canso. He rose and asked where the NDP members were in 1996, and he mentioned that they voted with the Liberals. The story there is that in 1996, the federal minimum wage was $4 an hour. It was higher in all the provinces. The federal government was lagging behind. Rather than keeping its minimum wage at $4 an hour and introducing a bill to make the federal minimum wage higher than that of all the provinces and thereby showing leadership to workers by ensuring that they would be treated well, it decided to do what the provinces were doing. The federal government would apply the provinces' minimum wage, which at the time was higher than the federal wage. It was a winning formula. To put it bluntly, it was better than nothing.
If we look at the situation between 1996 and the present, I think that that had a negative effect. The federal government should have come up with a formula to increase the minimum wage in order to set an example for the rest of the provinces and show respect for workers. Instead, the federal government said that it was not generous, that it would align itself with the provinces and do as they did.
The problem is that companies under federal jurisdiction act in the following manner. Instead of creating jobs in their province, they move from one province to another, wherever the minimum wage is the lowest. They want to exploit workers in Canada. This does not just happen in the third world; it also happens here in Canada.
I will come back to this issue because, back in New Brunswick, I was part of the team advising the minister on the minimum wage. I remember I went before the committee saying that they should raise the minimum wage in New Brunswick by $1. I remember that the rest of the committee said that it would not work like that. The minister was prepared to raise the hourly wage by 25¢. Had the recommendation not been for 25¢, there would have been no increase. I for one was not there to say what the minister wanted to hear; I was there to advise him that the increase should be $1 instead of 25¢. That was my position on the issue.
These wages resemble slavery. Today, people have minimum wage jobs. Most of these people are women and they need to have one, two or three jobs. I am sure that the people back home understand what I am saying because that is what they tell me in their community. There is not a member here, in the House of Commons, who can tell me that, when they met with their constituents, they were told that the minimum wage was too high. Not a single member, whether Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Bloc, Green Party or whichever other party, went to their constituency and met with workers who said that the minimum wage was too high and needed to be cut. It is quite the opposite.
The cost of living has gone up. The increases to the minimum wage have led to a completely unacceptable level of poverty. That is why I say that the federal government has a responsibility to show leadership and set a minimum wage that is higher than that of any of the provinces.
It has to step up and tell the provinces that this is unacceptable.
New Brunswickers are not second-class Canadians. Our minimum wage should not be lower than Ontario's, which is $11 per hour. People in New Brunswick work just as hard as people elsewhere in the country. They can do the same work, so they deserve to have the same minimum wage. Just because people are from the Maritimes does not mean they should be the poorest people in the country.
The government has an opportunity to show leadership. The NDP wants to take the lead so it can help workers. I have never seen the Conservatives come to the House of Commons with a bill to protect working men and women. Quite the contrary. They pass bills to kill unions and undermine workers' strength. That is what the government is doing.
When the time comes to vote on minimum wage, I hope they will take the workers' side for once. That is something they have never done since coming to power in 2006. They would rather talk about how the NDP voted against their budgets and how they wanted to lower the GST from 7% to 5%.
When we suggest raising workers' wages, they say no right away. They would not touch that with a 10-foot pole. They legislated Canada Post and Air Canada employees back to work. They introduce private members' bills to get rid of unions, the very unions that worked so hard to negotiate pay increases, pension funds and health care for workers. The Conservatives are working against that.
For once, they have the opportunity to stand up and say that the federal government will establish a federal minimum wage. It is not normal for a federal government not to have a minimum wage set in its legislation. The reason the previous federal Liberal government got rid of it is that the government did not have the courage to increase the minimum wage. Instead it shifted the responsibility to the provinces. It is too bad, but that was not the right move.
Under the current circumstances, the right thing for the government to do for workers would be to show leadership and prove that it is taking care of them. These men and women get up in the morning and work hard to build our country. It takes more than money. They need money to feed their families and we owe them respect.
As legislators, out of respect for the workers, we must legislate an increase in their salaries to ensure they are not being left in poverty as it is happening now.
I would like to see a Conservative stand up and deny the fact that there are workers living below the poverty line because of minimum wages. They are forced to take on two or three jobs. These men and women have to work for one employer in the morning, another in the afternoon and a third one on the weekend.
That is what the people of Acadie—Bathurst back home tell me. I challenge anyone here to stand up and tell me it is not true that workers are living below the poverty line. For example, fish plant workers earn minimum wage their entire lives instead of a decent salary.
I am proud of this motion and I hope the other political parties are too. If they vote against it, their true colours will show, as they did during the vote on the cuts to employment insurance.
The Liberals took $57 billion from the EI fund and the Conservatives made it legal to steal from the EI fund. Today, they are still not prepared to support workers. It is not right. Out of respect for the men and women who have built this country and continue to do so, we have a responsibility to legislate in order to provide them the best working conditions, not take them away.
This motion gives us the chance to do that. It gives us the chance to show national leadership, across the country, and show what Canada is made of and what we want to do. This will then give the provinces the chance to follow suit.