Madam Speaker, I want to take the opportunity to talk a little about respect and what it means, because I think we are living in a time when people are finding it hard to be respected.
People are working hard at full-time jobs while interest rates are going up. If the conversation they are having around their table is whether they are going to continue to be able to afford their home, whether that is because of mortgage payments or rent that continues to climb much faster than any possible justification for it, I think they would feel like they cannot get respect.
Young people who are working four or five different jobs in the gig economy, trying to make a go, are giving up on the dream of home ownership. They are wondering if they are going to be able to afford to buy their food as they try to figure out a time to eat between the different jobs and the places they have to get to in order to work them, and they do not feel the effort they are putting in is respected right now.
People facing layoffs know there is not a decent employment insurance system to count on, because some of the improvements that were there for the last couple of years during the pandemic were taken away by the government in September, even as it begins to talk about the possibility of recession. They are feeling like they are not getting any respect, that the government is not there to put in place the kinds of things they need in order to weather the storm.
There are people living with disabilities, who cannot work at all or who can work only part-time, and I think there are many people who, due to COVID, either have had the experience of not being able to work for reasons beyond their control or have not been able to get enough work. A lot of Canadians now know that pain, and it is one that people living with disabilities in Canada have known for far too long. They cannot get respect. When they see that the meagre disability pensions various levels of government offer, which have been legislating people living with disabilities into poverty for years, even before the pandemic, are not going up in the context of inflation, it is hard for them to feel respected.
Seniors have worked their whole lives and are now trying to make it on a fixed income that does not really grow and certainly does not grow at the pace of the extraordinary level of inflation we have seen in essentials. They do not feel like the career they had, to fight for and earn that pension over time, is being respected when it gets burned up so companies like Loblaws can make another million dollars a day of profit.
Indigenous people in Canada are part of generations of people who have not been able to access good economic opportunities and services at home. When they move to the city and find that systemic racism and jurisdictional disputes get in the way of their ability to access those opportunities and services, that is not respect, and that is a long and ongoing disrespect that Canada has paid far too often to indigenous people.
For sick Canadians right now, who just need to go to the hospital or need to get their kid or parent to the hospital, it is hard to feel respected when they walk in and see the incredible need that is there and the fact that governments have not risen to the occasion to invest in the training, employees and infrastructure we need in order to be able to deliver good health services.
Therefore, on top of all the real financial distress that people are experiencing, I think there is also this tremendous feeling of disrespect, of working really hard doing the things people can in order to make it, and of more and more not being enough. There is a feeling that the people who should be there to have their back, to try to create structures and systems that allow people who are working hard in their own way to succeed, are not doing that job.
Respect requires a few things. I do not pretend to have a comprehensive list today, but I want to offer up some of the things I think are particularly pertinent to debate in this place and some of the policies that we could adopt here in order to make life a little easier for Canadians.
Certainly one thing that respect requires is civility. We have to treat each other well. Respect also requires that we be honest with each other, and there is certainly a lack of that in this place, far too often. The third thing it requires, which speaks to some of the problems I opened this speech with, is results. We can talk at people all we like, but if at the end of the day things do not actually get better, if there is not actual material improvement that they can feel in their household budget, then it does not matter what we say in this place.
At the end of the day, we are not respecting people if we are not coming to the table and working together to implement real solutions that are going to make a difference in their lives.
I want to talk about civility, which is something we have talked a lot about this year, unfortunately, because there is such a pronounced lack of it. Even though we have some strong disagreements in this place, that is okay, because that is what this place is for. However, we need to do that in a way that respects other people with a different opinion and we need to understand that it does not make them demons, monsters, traitors, treasonous or whatever other word people want to substitute in. Just because somebody disagrees with us does not mean we should adopt a conspiracy theory that they are part of some kind of world movement to undermine everybody. Just because somebody disagrees with us does not mean it is okay to promote the use of violence or attack them physically.
That is not okay. We have seen too much of that in Canada. We have seen too much of it encouraged, frankly, in the kind of irresponsible rhetoric that too often finds its way to the floor of the House of Commons.
I am going to disagree with some people today, and I am going to be harsh in my criticism. That is okay. It is when it gets taken to the next level that it is a real problem, and it is a problem that is too present and is undermining Canadian democracy.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when that is not an alarmist thing to say. It is a truth that needs to be spoken. It is in that spirit that I am going to engage in what I hope is some meaningful and constructive criticism here today.
We have to be honest with each other if we want to show respect to ourselves and to each other in this place, but also to Canadians. I want to highlight some issues on which I think there is a pronounced lack of honesty about what is really going on. That is important, not just from the point of view of respect, but in the sense of being honest for its own sake. It is important because, if we want to get to that other part, the results, we have to be honest about what the problems are. If we cannot be honest about what the problems are and where they come from, or if certain political agendas are allowed to obscure what the real causes of the problems are, then we will not get to the solutions and we will not get the results we need.
We talk a lot about inflation in this place, and inflation is a real problem. That much is true. That is honest, and we will hear that from all sides. If we want to tackle the problem of inflation, then I think some of the narratives around here are quite unhelpful.
As much as I think it is true that the liquidity that was offered to banks right at the beginning of the pandemic, just as it was under the previous Conservative government when the great recession of 2008 hit, poured more gasoline on the fire in our housing market, I do not think it is plausible to try to pretend that moment in 2020 caused the housing crisis in Canada.
How do we know that is true? Anyone with a memory that extends back past 2020, which I hope is anyone serving in this place, will know that housing was getting more and more unaffordable then. It was breaking household budgets then. We have been on a trajectory for the last 20 years that has seen housing prices skyrocket.
In the case of inflation in the housing market alone, it is simply not true to say this is a new problem since 2020 and it has all been fuelled by government dollars. In fact, the people buying up these properties are private actors in the housing market, and they were sitting on tons of cash before the pandemic.
They are finding ways to buy properties in the housing market and make housing more unaffordable for people who do not have a lot of means, so they can rent those same places out to renters. One of the places this started was when the Harper government refused to renew the operating grants of affordable housing that was built in the sixties and seventies.
That was not even the starting place; it was just another place. We can go back to 2015 and a bit earlier to see when real estate investment trusts started slobbering all over formerly affordable buildings that they could pay for with the money they already had in hand, mostly due to corporate tax cuts that were initiated in 2000 by the Chrétien Liberals and continued by the Harper Conservatives. Jim Flaherty himself complained that businesses were not spending and reinvesting in real capital that enhanced Canadian productivity. Those piles of cash were being used to get into real estate.
Let us not pretend somehow that public spending alone manufactured a housing crisis in Canada. It is not true. We will not fix the problem until everybody in this place, including the leader of the Conservatives, acknowledges that. Let us have a little honesty about the root causes of that.
Let us also have some honesty and recognize that we are in a time of serious global supply chain shortage. That is driving a lot of inflation when it comes to the price of many things. People who have been fortunate in this time to purchase automobiles have complained about the long wait. It is because they cannot get the chips from China, because China has a zero tolerance COVID policy so they often do not have workers in the factories that make the chips.
It is partly because of the free trade agenda of Liberals and Conservatives alike that outsourced that work at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s instead of building that stuff here. It is a little rich to hear Conservatives these days talking about restoring and free trade out of both sides of their mouths at the same time.
Let us talk a little about the role that corporate greed is playing in inflation. We have seen reports that say as much as 25% of the current inflation that we are experiencing comes from price increases that go above and beyond the cost increases that companies are experiencing. That is a real thing.
When we look at the report about Loblaws today, and we see that mad money is being made by a number of companies, when we see that profit happening in the oil and gas sector, and we saw it with big box stores in the pandemic, we know that these price increases are being charged on the very market principles that Conservatives and Liberals alike love to defend, which is charge what the market can bear. It is why the government does not want to implement a windfall profit tax, because it thinks if someone is in the right place at the right time and they own something that they can charge a lot for, that that is good and that is what they should be doing. It does not matter if it is food. It does not matter if it is socks. It does not matter if it is rent. It does not matter if it is a Nintendo. To them, it is all the same.
What New Democrats have been trying to say in this place for a long time is that not all goods in the market are the same. There are goods that people cannot do without. They are not just goods. They are not wants. They are not desires. They are needs. We should have a government that structures our economy to make sure that people can access the things they need and leave to the market the things they simply want. That is a meaningful difference.
We need a little honesty in this place when it comes to what it means to defend the rights of workers. We have a Leader of the Opposition who gets up all the time and pretends that he is defending workers. I remember that he was part of the government with Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 that were a direct attack on workers' ability to organize. I have noticed his pathetic silence when it comes to the Conservative government in Ontario right now pre-emptively using the notwithstanding clause in order to deny the collective bargaining rights of workers.
I find it difficult to see the Prime Minister pretend to be a champion for those same rights when I watched in this place as his government introduced and railroaded through, with the help of the Conservatives, back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers and workers at the port of Montreal.
If he is upset at the Ford government pre-emptively using the notwithstanding clause, we can be sure he does not have an objection to taking away collective bargaining rights by legislating people back to work. Let us have some honesty about that in this place as well.
One of the ways we could help people is by removing the GST on home heating. That is a long-standing NDP position. I thought maybe we would find some help from the Conservatives, but they are obsessed with the carbon tax. Let us have a little honesty about the facts.
First of all, the carbon tax does not apply everywhere in the country. B.C., Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories all have their own carbon pricing system. Removing the federal carbon tax from home heating would not do a whit for people who are concerned about the cost of home heating in those provinces. Maybe the provincial or territorial government would do that, but it sure as heck is not going to happen here.
What would help everyone across the country is if we removed the GST on home heating, because that does apply all across the country. That is why it is a better solution. That is why we proposed it in an amendment to a Conservative opposition day motion that presumably was about affordability and helping people, and they said no. Why? I am not going to take that as their permanent answer, because I believe, and we have to believe here, that people can come to their senses and make better decisions.
It is why I asked the leader of the Conservative Party earlier today after his remarks on the fall economic statement if he would join with us to work to get rid of the GST on home heating. He dodged the question. He never once mentioned the GST in his answer. I found that passing strange. The Liberals are inadequate on this. They should have done something about this in the fall economic statement. It was a clear opportunity to get something done.
Yes, they have done some things to help. I am going to give them that. What have they done to help? Well, they talk about dental care, so that children can get access to dental services. For some of them, it will be the first time in their life. They talk about the Canada housing benefit, another $500 a month for low-income renters. They talk about the doubling of the GST rebate that is going to be rolling out tomorrow for the next six months. They talk about investments in child care.
Those are all good things. I remember those things. I remember when we first raised those things and got laughed at by the Liberals, whether it was on the GST rebate, because, “Oh, we did not need that. The economy is roaring. Everything is fine. This inflation is just transitory.”
I remember running in 2015 on a national child care strategy. I remember the Liberals running against it. We kept up the pressure. We kept talking about it. We went out and talked to Canadians who need child care in order to be able to go to work. We knew we were not going to drop the file. We kept pushing it until the Liberals came to their senses.
I remember just about 18 months ago when the Liberals stood up with the Conservatives in this place in a previous Parliament to vote against dental care. It was through the power of our 25 votes in this Parliament that we held them over the barrel and are getting them to actually get it done.
Yes, I am quite aware of some of the things that the Liberal government is doing in order to bring help to Canadians. I am also quite aware of the extent to which those things would not be happening if Canadians, in their wisdom, had not elected a minority Parliament and given New Democrats the opportunity to fight for the things that we have always said we would fight for. That is exactly why we are fighting for those things.
One of the things that is in the fall economic statement, which again is something that is in the supply and confidence agreement, is a pandemic dividend. What is that? This time it is actually a dividend that comes back to Canadians, instead of Canadians paying for the dividends that go to shareholders. It is on banks and insurance companies that made record profits during the pandemic. It is a one-time payment of some of those enormous profits going back into the coffers of the Canadian government, not so that it is in the pocket of the government, but so that it goes out in the form of the GST rebate and the dental benefit and the Canada housing benefit. That is something that we fought for, including a permanent 1.5% hike on the corporate tax rate for those very same financial institutions.
I was glad to see the elimination of student loan interest permanently in this economic statement. That is something that I have watched New Democrat MPs get up for the last seven years that I have been here and talk about and, again, get laughed at by folks on the government benches. It is because we are here and it is because we are pushing that we see things like that in the fall economic statement.
I want to talk a little about housing again. There are a few initiatives here. There is an anti-flipping tax. There is a doubling of the first-time homebuyers' tax credit, which is something that New Democrats have advocated for. I will say that these measures are still part of that market-based approach to housing that I believe we really need to move past if we are going to find a solution to the crisis in housing.
We have to invest a lot more in non-market housing. That has to be the priority if the government is not going to challenge the culture of housing as a commodity, which it could do by moving on real estate investment trusts and which it could do by buttressing the position of non-profits that want to build non-market housing.
Unfortunately, one of the needs there now is just to cover the difference that interest rates have made for projects that are on the books that now cannot go ahead because interest rates have changed the math. If the government would come to the table to help them acquire buildings and lands quickly when they are having to compete with these rates, that would be helpful. If it would come to the table to say that it is going to cover the difference in their business plan for their non-profit housing, that they are suffering because of higher interest rates, that would be something that would help.
They also need to get serious on urban indigenous housing as a part of that. I want to give a shout-out to my colleague from Vancouver East. In question period earlier today, she was talking about the need for a meaningful and well-funded urban indigenous housing strategy. The government talks a big game. It wants to say that a $300-million investment is a record investment. I think that if that is true, what a shameful testament to Canadian history that indigenous peoples living in urban centres have not been able to access more funding for affordable housing far sooner.
That is the kind of thing that we need, but that again is outside the market framework that largely dominates Liberal thinking about the housing space. If we cannot break out of that, we are never going to make the difference that we need to make for Canadians in these challenging times.
I have talked a little bit about some of what is in the fall economic statement, but I want to spend some time talking about what is not in it.
As I said earlier, we are in a very challenging moment as a country. There are all of the things that New Democrats have fought for, some of which the government is doing and some extra things the government is doing. There is the 2% tax on share buybacks, which I think is a positive measure. I am glad to see it, but I do not think it is going to make all the difference. It has to be a part of a bigger package. In addition to those things, there are many other things that really ought to have been here and that an NDP government would have been keen to put in our own fall economic statement.
Consider the question of employment insurance. The government just today is starting to talk about a recession in the offing. Just a couple of months ago, we had an employment insurance system that had been made better, not perfect but better, during the pandemic as it was easier to qualify for benefits. There was actually a benefit floor. For a part-time worker or somebody working a couple of part-time jobs who is having a hard time getting all their hours and 55% of their income from those jobs that have been cobbled together is not enough to live on, we actually had an income floor so that when they were laid off, they could hope to be able to pay the rent. All of that went by the wayside on September 24. It is just gone.
We have been saying for years during the pandemic that when those rules expired, when the government was ready to let them expire, they had to be replaced with meaningful structural reform to the employment insurance system and that in no way should the government let the new rules lapse because those rules were a lot more on the way to a functional employment insurance system than anything that we had before. At the very least, the Liberals could have kept that in place until they came up with a new fix.
We still have not seen what that new fix will be. There are rumours about maybe them acting on it this fall. I sure as heck hope so, because if the rumours about a recession in early 2023 are true, people are going to need that employment insurance to be there for them.
Only about four in 10 working Canadians before the pandemic qualified for employment insurance. That is why it was such a broken system. We have to find fixes to that. I had hoped at least there might have been a reference or a hint as to what the government has in mind on how to fix that system.
I was also disappointed to see that the only reference to health care in the fall economic statement was dental care. I am glad that dental care is there but, man, is there ever a lot more that we need to do.
The provinces need more funding for health care and I believe, as New Democrats do, that the federal government can play a positive role in convening provinces to talk about best practices to develop a human resources strategy that is not based on some provinces poaching people that other provinces train, but to have a truly national training strategy where the provinces participate on their own terms. However, somebody has to bring them together in order to have those conversations and make that happen. There is a role for the federal government to play there.
We need to acknowledge that a big problem in our health care system right now is that just not enough trained people are available to do the job. That is a national problem right now and it requires a response with every part of the country working together, arm in arm, to figure out how we meet that challenge. It is going to require federal funding, to be sure.
There was not a word about that. However, that is the reality that so many Canadians are living when they go to the hospital. This includes the 350 people who are dying from COVID every week in Canada, who are going to the hospital before their death to seek help and find they have to wait for hours if they are lucky, and days if they are not, to get service.
How do we pay for many of these things? I talked earlier about a windfall profit tax. We know there are companies that can afford to pay more and ought to be paying more. This is not a time when we should be tolerating exceptional profits, which are well above prepandemic levels, without asking those same companies to pay a bit more on that extra profit. It does not make sense because that is some of the money that Canadians are giving up due to higher prices, and we need that money in order to bring the cost of those essential things down.
I would like to think, and I hope others will agree, that mine was a pretty honest talk about some of the problems we are facing. I do not expect that everyone is going to agree on some of the solutions the New Democrats are putting on the table, which is fair enough, but that is what we are here to do, to put ideas out there and debate them. I hope we are here to find common ground as best we can in the course of debates like this to be able to move ahead on important measures, such as removing the GST from home heating, for instance, as we prepare to go into another cold Canadian winter.
Therefore, I offer what I hope is an honest analysis of the problems we face. I have tried to offer some solutions that I think would behoove the government to take up. We stand ready to work with anyone in the House who wants to talk about these solutions, or propose other good ones that we have not thought of yet, to make life better for Canadians as they stare down a very difficult fall and beyond.