Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the wonderful member for Churchill.
I want to reference what the last speaker from the Liberal Party was saying about changing the retirement age from 67 back to 65. I was thrilled when our leader, in one of his first speeches in the House four years ago, was talking about reversing the mistake made by the Conservatives. I am glad to see the Liberals have finally caught up.
I have a couple of quotes here. One is from The Economist, January 31, 2015. It says the minister of finance:
....promised a balanced budget as recently as January 26th, despite the expected drop in revenues from the energy industry. The government had pledged a raft of tax reductions once that was achieved, but imprudently enacted them late last year. The delay in presenting the budget adds to the impression of fiscal disarray.
The former parliamentary budget officer put in place by the government, Kevin Page, said, “In the last 10 years, we have virtually made no progress on all of our big issues, long-term economic challenges. We have not closed innovation gaps in our country, dealt with an aging demographic that will put pressure on health care, nor dealt with environmental sustainability. We have not even had the discussions or proposals from this government”.
Let us think about the significance of that, in terms of where Canada finds itself today. Prior to coming to this place 9 years ago, I had spent 28 years in the labour movement in the Hamilton area. In Hamilton, I saw hundreds upon hundreds of businesses close. The first wave was following 1988, when we had the first free trade agreement. In Ontario alone, 500,000-plus manufacturing jobs were lost. That was in 1988 to 1990.
Then we had NAFTA and more jobs were lost. We have had decades of Conservative and Liberal leadership during which the quality of employment for hard-working Canadians has also dropped. It is not just that many of the jobs are not there anymore.
If we talk to young people today, who are 30 years of age, who are trying to raise a family, and who have maybe had the good fortune of having gone to university, we learn that they have come out $30,000 in debt, which means they cannot contribute that to the economy. They are working in what we refer to as McJobs. Some of them are working two and three jobs.
I sit in our local Tim Hortons regularly, hearing from people who are literally working three jobs. They are not even working at Tim Hortons; they are sitting and having a coffee in between jobs.
In the last while, since just before we had a change of finance ministers, we have heard about this income-splitting plan. Some call it a scheme, but I will refer to it as a plan, to be somewhat respectful. The past finance minister was a man with whom I was pleased to work, an honourable man. I sat on the finance committee for two years with him.
He cautioned this government very directly about the fallacy in this income-splitting plan that favours the top 14% or 15% of Canadians over the hard-working Canadians, the middle-class and lower-class Canadians. By lower class, I mean the people who are disadvantaged in our society. My community of Hamilton has a 20% rate of people living below the poverty line. What does income splitting do for them?
New Democrats understand that to put Canada on track, and for the middle class, we need to have concrete steps to diversify our economy. It seems to me, watching the last number of years, that all I have seen is the rip and strip of our resources off to other countries. Where is the value-added manufacturing? Hamilton was the core of value-added manufacturing in this country. We are known as Steel Town. The steel production there was supporting other industries.
Today there are still about 65 industries attached to steel in Hamilton, a mere shadow of what it once was.
We took resources and developed them. Value-added manufacturing put us in a place where we have one of the vibrant middle classes of the world. We have had that for several generations, primarily after the Second World War.
The homes in Hamilton that are 40, 50, and 60 years old were built and purchased by hard-working people who had a fair and decent income because of that value-added manufacturing in our community.
I recall, 20 years ago, a report came out for the City of Hamilton called “Vision 2000”. When I read it I was in shock, as a labour activist, because it talked about the decline of value-added manufacturing. That decline was under the Liberals. The report said that decline was going to continue. The value-added manufacturing jobs were going to be replaced by service sector jobs.
There is an obvious question. If we are now moving from a manufacturing base to service sector jobs, who is going to buy the services of the people who no longer have the other well-paying jobs? Is it only that 15% at the top that is going to get all this extra money from income splitting? It makes one wonder.
I can recall our leader, Jack Layton, two elections ago in our caucus meetings talking about small business and the importance of taking care of small business. We hear that from the government side, in fairness to it. However, Jack said there was nothing being done for them. He talked to our caucus and I remember him saying that these are the real job creators. These are the backbone of our country. We have to do something for them. We have to do something to spur innovation, to give them that entrepreneurial spirit and to turn some of it toward manufacturing.
The NDP currently has a plan. More of it will roll out over the next number of months before the election, but it is to do exactly that: to spur the next generation of middle class.
After a decade of Conservative economic mismanagement, middle-class families are working harder and longer, and yet they feel they are falling further and further behind.
We hear the talk about the 1.2 million net new jobs, to use the Conservatives' own language. It leaves out the 400,000 people who no longer have the jobs that went under during their time.
In the city of Hamilton, where the failed manufacturing is, the government has failed them. It has failed them on research and development funding. It has failed them in several areas. It has failed them in long-term planning. As I said earlier in my remarks, the rip and strip of our resources became the focus of the government and nothing else. As an end result of that, we have Canadians unemployed today at levels we have not seen in decades.
I was sadly visiting a food bank in my home lately. I walked into it and took a step back. I am of an age where I could be retired, and a friend of mine who had a plant job was at the food bank. One stops and considers: we were on a similar path at one point in the work we were doing, and his company went under.
The government has done nothing to protect these jobs. We allowed the Chinese to buy $15 billion into Canada and we allowed for future investments on their part. That company, CNOOC, has a horrendous reputation around the world. What are we doing for our own investment, for our own remanufacturing?
I am kind of losing words. I guess it is appropriate. I am at the end of my time, but it is so very frustrating.