Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish everyone a happy election year.
My colleagues have certainly picked a very important topic for this first opposition day. The economy, the regions, the middle class and intervention: that is how I would sum up this rather troubling and above all disturbing situation. Meanwhile, the Conservative government for its part prefers to let things go, rather than intervene immediately and appropriately.
This approach reminds me of a young person who believes that the budget can balance itself. The invisible hand inevitably interacts with forces in the economy only when economic stimulus is applied and when there is something palpable to activate the economic process. When the main players take their places, they can create wealth and generate growth.
I always make a rather more social analysis of the economy, because I believe the most important thing is to observe how the players react in such situations. First, I would like to commend the subject matter of the excellent motion moved by my colleagues from Skeena—Bulkley Valley and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which clearly demonstrates the inaction, not to say the incompetence, of our current government in response to the vagaries of current economic conditions.
In this motion, the NDP is calling on the Minister of Finance and the Conservative government to get themselves together and immediately present an economic and fiscal update to Parliament outlining the state of the nation's finances in light of the unstable economic situation, including job losses, falling oil prices, declining government revenues and the effect of these factors on one another. In addition, the motion calls on the government to prepare a budget that addresses the economic challenges facing the middle class by creating more good-quality full-time jobs and encouraging economic diversification.
The government brags about creating a lot of jobs, but these are atypical, short-term, part-time jobs at minimum wage. That is not what drives an economy and enables a country to create wealth in order to maintain and improve the legendary quality of life for Canadians from coast to coast.
The middle class—because it is the middle class that has suffered most—has been crucified in recent decades, both by the Liberal Party and by the Conservative Party. The list is so long that I would lose my way before I came to the end of my remarks. Why is that? We could talk about an administrative framework for SMEs in which they can operate properly and prosper, the social fabric for low-income families, social housing, employment insurance as a way of transitioning between jobs, and the jobs cut at Canada Post and the CBC, jobs typically held by members of the middle class that reflected the identity of Canadians from coast to coast.
It is unbelievable what the middle class has been made to endure, with all the drains on their budget, including administrative and other related costs, reduced purchasing power, and especially energy costs—electricity, heating oil and gasoline—and the impact all of those things have on their daily lives.
One example I would like to mention is that of my parents. I come from a modest, working-class family. In my parents’ day, it was possible to save to buy a small house and a small or mid-size car, while providing adequate food and clothing for the family and enjoying some recreation from time to time.
This was possible without drowning in debt, with an available family doctor and plans to send the children to university. Unfortunately, today, all of that has changed: it is no longer the case.
Middle-class families have to make agonizing choices about food and clothing. With regard to clothing, I have teenagers who say that they want the most fashionable brand, which is, of course, the most expensive. The other choice that torments the middle class is going deeper into debt, and thus being at the mercy of the big banks. In a society where so much wealth exists, that is totally unacceptable, particularly when a government does not react to changing economic circumstances that have been in transition since 2008.
Consequently, the government must invest to stimulate growth. It must make major investments in research and development, which are the key to the future. It needs to invest in the SMEs that generate solid jobs and guarantee a viable local economy, and in many cases the existence and even the survival of some regions of Canada.
Investments must also be made in transport infrastructures in general. For example, roads, overpasses, bridges, railroads and public transit are all of capital importance in a country as large as Canada.
When we look at the impact that transportation has on the operating costs of businesses in many industries—with respect to inputs, of course, but above all with respect to its effect on productivity and efficiency—we immediately see beyond any doubt why it is urgent that we take action for the good of our economy as a whole, the good of the sectors that are still competitive—because some still are—and the good of promising sectors that are still developing.
I would like to list a few businesses in my own riding that deserve an appropriate economic framework. There is Enerkem, which is located in Westbury and is one of Canada’s leading producers of biofuel. Soucy Techno in Rock Forest and Waterville TG in Waterville are active in the rubber sector, which is always extremely competitive and dependent on the automobile industry. La Scierie Paul Vallée Inc. in Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton is active in the lumber industry. The granite industry in Stanstead is booming. With regard to transport costs, there is one thing I can say: given the weight of the items they have to ship, they ship them one at a time, and that is expensive. The Cabico Inc. Group in Coaticook makes cabinets.
All of these businesses and many others in my riding are waiting for the government to act and finally produce a framework with an emphasis on prosperity. I forgot to mention the Graymont plant in Marbleton, which is one of the oldest mines in North America, dating from 1840, and one of the world biggest lime production facilities.
An economic update followed by practical measures focused on economic diversification can only be perceived as action properly taken by a responsible minister and government; it is bound to reassure the public. Instead, the Conservatives continue to rely on a single sector of activity, which bears the entire burden of Canada’s economic growth.
It is extremely disappointing that the government is thinking and acting in that way, given all of the communities, regions and municipalities that, in the last century, owed their existence in most cases to a single industrial activity. They were called single-industry towns. Those that did not adapt, did not react and did not make adjustments became virtual ghost towns.
Is that what lies ahead for Canada?