Mr. Speaker, before I start my speech I want to say that I will share my time with the member for Beauport—Limoilou. I look forward to hearing his speech.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to what will the the last budget from this Conservative government.
After a decade under this government, families are working harder than ever, but they can barely keep their heads above water. Unfortunately, this budget is no different and does nothing to help them. Middle-class families continue to feel overburdened.
Instead of proposing a real plan to help those who need it the most, the government insists on imposing measures, like income splitting, that primarily help the people who need it the least, and it insists on giving tax breaks to the big CEOs.
The average household debt has reached record highs, but the Conservatives have no plan to help families make ends meet. There is nothing to make life more affordable, such as measures to protect Canadians from unreasonable ATM fees and exceptionally high credit card interest rates.
Balancing the budget has mainly been achieved at the expense of all Canadians, with cuts to social services and public sector jobs. Household debt is on the increase and provincial government debt has reached a new record. The Conservatives have succeeded in balancing their budget, after the deficit they created themselves, but Canada is in much worse shape.
The Conservatives have made access to services very difficult, and since 2011 this new reality has had an impact on people in my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. Six out of ten Canadians are ineligible for employment insurance and that is not acceptable. This budget does nothing to improve their access. In my constituency offices we have helped hundreds of constituents trying to get access to employment insurance, immigration documents, small-business consulting—with the Business Development Bank—and other services to which they are entitled. They have already paid for their pensions and employment insurance. This government always prefers to give its gifts to the wealthiest among us.
These austerity measures do not stimulate growth and are a burden on many people in Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. I will do everything in my power to ensure that this is the final Conservative budget, because my constituents truly deserve much better.
The budget restates the government's commitment to reducing employment insurance contribution rates, which means that the government will continue to harvest a surplus from contributions while refusing to make employment insurance more accessible to the workers who contribute but who cannot receive benefits when they need them.
While Canadians are facing more and more inequality, instead of tackling the problem, Conservatives are encouraging it with appalling measures like income splitting, which will cost us more than $2 billion per year while 49% of all qualifying families will receive nothing.
We must also remember that single-parent households, low-income and equal-income parents are not eligible. They will not get a single penny from this measure. In fact, 89% of Canadian households will receive absolutely no benefit from income splitting at all.
For those who can receive benefits, though, according to Dr. Kathleen Lahey at the CCPA, 30% of families will receive 78% of the benefits, which leaves less than a total of a half a million dollars for 70% of the eligible Canadian families to share.
These changes give nothing to the families who need the government support and leadership the most, those who bear the brunt of the slashed spending and cuts to services that the current government has implemented since it has been in power. However, in every single jurisdiction in the world where income splitting has been implemented, women's participation in the workforce has declined. Why this proposal would seem like a good policy measure for a government to have is completely inconceivable to me.
The government's inexplicable income splitting plan will have a direct, negative effect on the equality of men and women in this country. This is not surprising, since there is nothing in this budget that would serve to advance equality of the sexes, nothing for pay equity, nothing for child care and nothing to end violence against women.
Gender inequality means that women do not have economic security, and that fits right into the government's agenda. Women make up 59% of minimum-wage workers. Even working full time, women in these jobs do not have enough money to meet all their family's needs. Women who work full time earn an average of 23% less than men; 20 years ago they earned 28% less. At this rate, we will reach wage parity in 95 years.
Women are often the lower income earner in a dual-income family. Who has to give up work because they cannot afford child care? Women. Who works part-time, in unstable jobs as well? That is women.
In a country failing to create good jobs and insisting on tax giveaways to corporations and the highest earners, what demographic receives the least support when they need it the most? It is single moms, senior women, women living in poverty, women living with disabilities, racialized women and indigenous women.
This budget and, simply put, the government has left women behind. Rather than providing choices for the most affluent, the federal government could reduce discrimination and inequality, and it should.
Few workers saw their wages increased by more than 2% to 3% last year, but 32% of working women actually saw the gap between their wages and those of their male peers widen. Closing the wage gap could boost GDP growth by as much as 10%.
That is why we must have a women's labour strategy, along with mechanisms to ensure that government investments in programs are targeted at both men and women.
However, the Conservatives idea of including women in the budget is to make a few superficial announcements, like supporting women in business through the action plan for women entrepreneurs and changes to the Canada Business Corporations Act to promote gender diversity among public companies.
While I do look forward to looking at the details of these proposals, no new funding was announced for these initiatives.
Meanwhile, we are far from achieving pay equity in Canada. Canada’s wage gap puts us in eighth place among all the OECD countries. More women than ever before in Canada are educated and have careers, but they still do not receive equal pay for work of equal value performed by men.
For every dollar earned by a man with a post-secondary education, a woman with the same education earns only 82¢ in the public sector and only 77¢ in the private sector. This gap is even greater for women in a visible minority group and for aboriginal women.
Any progress made by the generations of women who fought for pay equity cannot be attributed to the generosity of employers. In fact, often employers do not even know that there is a problem. Progress on this issue is recognized by experts as resulting from pay equity legislation and other legislative measures. Since 2004, we have seen not just a lack of action on pay equity, but real setbacks.
As I mentioned earlier, income splitting will do nothing to help 85% of families and will do nothing to help the shortage of affordable child care in this country. In fact, the 2015 budget completely fails to provide child care spaces for Canadian families. We know that creating spaces in high-quality and affordable child care centres is central to reaching gender equality.
Even 44 years after the Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended a national child care program, only 22.5% of children under five have a space in a regulated child care centre. There is a shortage of spaces right across Canada. This is why the NDP has a plan to ensure access to child care for no more than $15 per day. Experts agree that this plan is a key element for women’s equality.
Canadian families are struggling like never before, and yet the government is doing nothing to help them.
Even worse, the budget does not tackle the issue of violence against women. This is really disappointing. It is also a shame that they have refused to launch a national public inquiry, which has the unanimous support of people across Canada.
There are a few good proposals in this budget, primarily the ones that were stolen from the NDP, such as lowering the tax rate for SMEs, which will drop from 11% to 9%, as well as extending employment insurance benefits from six weeks to six months.
However, the fact is that most of the measures in this budget fail Canadians, and especially Quebeckers. The budget fails to create good jobs and fails to invest in those who need it the most. I will not be supporting this budget.