Mr. Speaker, those who watch French-language television have probably seen the commercial for the 6/49 lottery where unusual things happen to people, who then feel the need to go out and buy a lottery ticket, thinking that this is their lucky day. That is exactly how I feel today, since I have the opportunity to express my thoughts about Bill C-63. I am one of those rare fortunate ones in the House who will not be cut off by a Liberal time allocation motion.
That we are once again being subjected to a time allocation motion is ridiculous in a House where 338 members have been elected to share the comments, opinions, and visions of the people they represent.
I would have thought it impossible, but it appears that we are going to set an absolutely extraordinary record. After two years in power, the Liberals have managed to put forward 25% more time allocation motions than the Conservatives did over the same time. I find it unbelievable, but it is true.
I will stop here, because I only have 10 minutes, and there are probably only nine left. There are so many subjects I would like to address, that I tried to find a quote to open with that would summarize everything I would like to say, since I will not have the time to say it all. David Macdonald, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said, and I quote, “Economic growth is meaningless if it’s enjoyed only by a lucky few. The measures in today’s budget will do little to address the big issues facing Canadians [and Quebecers]”. I admit that I added “and Quebecers” to be sure to remain faithful to Mr. Macdonald’s intent.
I will throw out a few numbers to show that this economic growth, this wealth we are creating, appears to be benefiting the wealthiest Canadians, not the middle class that we have been hearing so much about in the past two years. I should mention that the notion was never defined, other than indirectly, by the tax breaks they were given, among other things. To be eligible for these tax breaks, you need to earn at least $45,000 a year, while the median salary in a riding like mine is around $31,000. It is obvious that the Liberals’ notion of the middle class is not rooted in reality. Either that, or this is just more window dressing from an image-obsessed government.
Over the past 30 years, workers have helped grow our economy by more than 50%, and yet, their wages have stagnated, and raises are so negligible as to barely cover the increase in the cost of living. At the same time, these workers’ pension plans are becoming less and less secure. Consider the most recent case of Sears, where, once again, the preferred creditors are certainly not the workers, many of whom devoted several years or even decades of their lives to the company. As they retire or look for other employment, these workers will not be collecting the benefits they were hoping for.
Not to mention the Liberals’ plan to modify defined benefit pension plans, where workers know exactly what they will be getting when they retire so that they can make the best choices. Workers can plan, choose their fields and decide when they want to retire. No, these defined benefit pension plans are quietly being replaced by target benefit pension plans, where corporations on Bay Street say they will try to secure a certain return for your retirement. Imagine the insecurity experienced by people who are preparing for their retirement or, worse yet, who are on the verge of retiring.
Here is another interesting statistic. The gap between the wealthiest and the majority is growing wider and faster in Canada than in other developed countries. As an example, the total income of the wealthiest 100 Canadians is equivalent to the total income of the 10 million most disadvantaged Canadians.
With such a clear picture, there is something wrong if people cannot fully comprehend the growing gap between the rich and the poor, or the fact that the key measures put forward by the Liberal government do nothing to help close that gap.
I mentioned EI benefits earlier in my questions and I have a bit more I want to say on that. Despite nine years under the Conservatives and two years under the Liberals, still today, fewer than four out of 10 workers who pay premiums end up being eligible when misfortune strikes and they lose their jobs. This is a disaster. I would remind the House that only employers and employees contribute to the plan, since the government pulled out several years ago, except to reap the benefits.
The Liberal government did propose a few measures that we cannot argue with. No one is going to oppose the measure to reduce the wait time by one week. No one is going to oppose the measure to expand EI benefits to caregivers. Accessibility to EI continues to be the main problem. How is it that the government still has not introduced a measure to make this plan more accessible to the workers and employers who pay into it themselves?
The government is telling workers it will deduct money from their paycheques to fund an insurance program for them. However, that insurance money goes back into the consolidated revenue fund instead of going to workers when they need it. We must fight this travesty with all our might.
With statistics like these, how can we stay positive when addressing Bill C-63? How can we keep things in perspective and square them with the Liberals' promise to cap wealthy CEOs' stock options, among other things? The Liberals said they would close this loophole that helped the richest get even richer, widening the gap. At the same time, absolutely nothing is being done for people at the other end of the spectrum, if only to ensure that minimum-wage workers get a decent wage that goes up to $15 an hour, either immediately or over the coming years. Once again, we see that many of the measures put forward by the Liberals are not intended to help the middle class, but rather to help the well-off and the extremely well-off.
What about our motion on tax havens? The Liberals voted in favour of it. It is false to say that tax havens are such a massive and complicated problem that Canada cannot do anything about them unless it is part of a vast international community of like-minded countries. There are simple measures that we can start taking now. It is true that being part of an international coalition would help us go much further, but why wait until a coalition is formed? Why not take the lead?
This motion, which the Liberals voted for but did nothing about, included strong measures to tackle tax havens, such as tightening tax rules for shell companies. Instead, the Liberals attacked SMEs. There was also the proposed renegotiation of tax agreements that allowed corporations to repatriate profits from tax havens to Canada without paying tax. Instead, new tax havens were created under the Liberals. There was a proposal to put an end to penalty-free amnesty deals for individuals suspected of tax evasion. Those are simple measures that can be implemented here that produce results, perhaps not the next day, but in the short term. These measures would put money into the government's coffers that it could use to support the middle class that they always talk about, but have not defined.
What can we say about all this window dressing? Amending the Labour Code to provide a certain number of days of leave in cases of domestic violence, among others, makes the Liberals look good. This is unpaid leave, however. How can a victim of domestic violence take three days off if she cannot afford to do so? How can she take time off without raising suspicions and when she is already in a very delicate situation? This move looks good, but it will never solve the problem.
The same could be said of changes with respect to the environment. We welcome the geothermal credit, but an average family with a single-family home does not really have the means to invest in geothermal. That family might, however, appreciate incentives to help change their windows or upgrade their home's insulation. There are no accessible programs for middle-class people in this budget. The government has thrown some ideas at the wall, but none of them really stick.