Madam Speaker, I am quite pleased to rise today to speak to this latest budget implementation act by the government.
I have been listening closely to the debate, so I would like to start by offering some comments on it so far. Then I am going to talk a bit more about the bill.
I had occasion to ask the Conservative leader not long ago here in the House about the problem of inflation that Canadians are experiencing. We know they are experiencing it, as we all are. When we go into a grocery store, we see the rising prices. We know people are struggling to stay in their homes. We see it on the street in our communities. We see more people pitching tents in order to have a roof over their head at night, such as it is. We hear stories, unfortunately, of cities focusing their energy on clearing out encampments of people with nowhere to go instead of trying to figure out how to create better homes that provide more warmth and support in a challenging winter. We are hearing about it from constituents, for instance, who are having to choose to cut pills or pay the rent. There are all sorts of ways in which this really difficult economic time is affecting Canadians, so the question for us here in Parliament is what to do about it.
Certainly, the Conservative leader has a lot of opinions on that. My question earlier was why, when he talks about inflation and the hardship that Canadians are experiencing, he does not mention whether it is just in Canada. There have been some incredible studies here in Canada saying that price increases over and above the increase in costs for large corporations are responsible for 25% or more of the inflation that Canadians have experienced, so I want to be really clear that those are not price increases. We know that, particularly, a lot of small and medium-sized businesses in our communities are experiencing higher costs and have to pass them on to their consumers. Even some big corporations are experiencing higher input costs, and some of that gets passed on to consumers. However, we are talking about price increases that go above and beyond that increase in costs.
It is no excuse to say that they are simply passing on those costs, because they are not. If 25% or so of inflation is attributable to price increases above the additional costs, it means corporations are taking that 25% home in profits. When we look at the profits of oil and gas companies, which increased by 1000% from 2019 to 2021, as an example, those were not increases of passing on costs. Some increases contributed to inflation by being additional price increases just for the purpose of paying higher dividends to corporate shareholders and bigger wages to corporate executives. Therefore, how can the Conservative leader pretend to be serious about addressing the problem of inflation when he is completely silent about the corporate greed that is driving a quarter or more of that very inflation? I would submit that it is not possible. It is not credible.
I am proud to be part of an NDP caucus in which the leader is willing to name that problem here in the House of Commons and acknowledge that we will not have a solution to the inflation problem in Canada if big corporations continue to feel they can increase prices with impunity. That is a major driver of inflation and hardship for Canadians. I think it speaks to the electoral choices that Canadians have. We have a Conservative opposition here that would frame itself as an alternative to the Liberals. However, if we actually look at this blind spot, the corporate-controlled Conservatives are not willing to acknowledge it, or do not see it, whichever it is. I will not speak to the question of intention here, but I will just say that it is a blind spot, whether wilful or not. What this means is that, if they were in government themselves, they would continue to do what the current government does. They would be prone to saying that the problems will go away if we just trust the market to deal with them. They would refuse to acknowledge the role that unbridled corporate greed is playing in creating the economic problem that Canadians are facing today.
One example of the ways this has manifested with the current government is with respect to housing. The real meat of its housing proposal in the fall was all about “creating more room for the market to solve the housing crisis”.
I do not really think we are going to get market solutions to the housing crisis. I do not think that is a revelation. I do not think that is particularly controversial. I know that the market, since the federal government, in the mid-90s, stepped away from producing non-market housing, has had 30 years to solve our housing problems. Instead of solving them, it has created a crisis that is accelerating and getting worse.
Simply freeing up Crown land and handing it off to developers to do what they will is not going to solve the problem. The same motive of corporate greed has been driving this housing crisis for decades now and has become particularly acute in the last few years, and nothing about that basic structure will have changed if we are still just expecting market players to solve this crisis.
We heard at the finance committee, from home developers, financiers and real estate people, that the market is not going to solve this problem. That is not to say that we do not need more market housing. It is not to say that there would not be more housing built by the market; of course there will be. That is not where we need the attention of government, though. The attention of government has to be on the part that the market will not do and has not been doing, and that is non-market housing.
To say that we want to see the government focus specifically on non-market housing is not to discount the role of the market and market housing; it is just to say that the public policy attention of the government does not have to be there. In fact, the virtue of the market is supposed to be that the government does not have to get involved, so let them do their thing, but let us have the attention and the investment focus of our federal government be on addressing the very real problem of non-market housing, which has been neglected for 30 years and absolutely must return, in a significant way, in order for us to solve the housing crisis. It is a problem with the current government, and it will be a problem with any future Conservative government, because they share the same blind spot.
What are some of the other things we could do if we acknowledge the role that corporate greed is playing? That is where I think the NDP has played an important role in twisting the arm of the Liberal government to do some things, like a 2% share buyback fee, so that companies cannot just go ahead and, for various kinds of maximization of profit strategies for their shareholders or for the corporation itself, buy back shares as a way of transferring wealth to their shareholders without paying any tax at all.
It is of note, and something that New Democrats have been arguing for for a long time, well before this Parliament, that this legislation creates the possibility of implementing a digital services tax, which means a tax on the revenue of large, Internet-based companies, like Netflix and others, who, right now, are paying no tax in Canada at all. This does not make sense. They are not paying any corporate tax on the revenue that they raise in Canada. They get to walk it all out of the country for free.
That does not make sense, and it puts traditional broadcasters at a disadvantage. We are seeing the effects that is having on our media market and the ability to hire journalists and pay them to do the work that they do, which plays an important part. However much we may disagree sometimes with the way that news media outlets frame certain issues, their work is, nevertheless, important to a well-functioning democracy. The fact that their competitors have not had to pay any tax at all does a disservice not just to them but to Canadians, who rely on news content for the functioning of our democracy.
We have been pushing the government already in Bill C-56, and now again in the budget implementation bill, to make meaningful changes to the Competition Act that would allow for the Competition Bureau to play a greater and more effective role in ensuring that big corporations are not using their market power and their market position to pull one over on Canadians, to make the economy less competitive, and to have those outsized, excess price increases that I was talking about earlier, which are a significant factor in driving inflation.
Another thing we can do is to be willing to let corporations know, to the extent that they want to invest in Canada and create jobs in Canada, particularly in the natural resources sector, that there is an expectation that they are going to create good union jobs here in Canada in order to do it. That is why I am very proud of the labour conditions that are attached to the investment tax credits. This legislation would implement those labour conditions for the companies that are investing, with the use of this tax credit in clean technology, in carbon capture and storage. I am not actually that happy to hear about that technology, because I do not think that is the basket we should be putting our eggs in when it comes to emissions reduction; it's technology that has not been proven at scale. However, this government is determined to move ahead, and we hear a lot of positive comments about carbon capture and storage from Conservatives as well. Again, it is another shared blind spot of these two parties, the Liberals and Conservatives.
Nevertheless, if that investment is going to be taking place in Canada, I want it to create good union jobs, and I want companies to know that they have to be paying the prevailing wage of the collective agreements in the trade union sector. That means those companies are not going to come in competing on who can pay Canadians the least to do that work. They are going to come in and have to compete on the things we want them to be competing on: How efficient is the technology? How efficient are they at building it? What are their production techniques? That is the way they should be competing. When they are earning a contract, it should be on that basis and not on the basis of how little they are prepared to pay their workers.
Too often, in Canada, we have accepted a situation where we are happy to have companies come in and compete on the cost of labour and have a competition about who can pay Canadians the least to do a job that deserves a fair wage, good benefits and a proper pension. I am very proud that with this legislation we are going to be implementing, for the first time ever, conditions on an investment tax break that centres workers in the middle of it and has an apprenticeship requirement. Sometimes it can be a challenge to employers to hire apprentices. I have been an apprentice myself, and when I walked on the job site the first day, I did not know what I was doing. That is what an apprenticeship is like; it is meant to teach people. It is not always a profit maximization strategy for the employer in the short term.
In the long term, employers with foresight see the value of passing on that training and knowledge and creating a workforce they can avail themselves of, but we know there are employers for whom that is not their strategy. They have a short-term focus and want to bring on the journeypeople. They want someone else to train apprentices, and then they want to poach them later.
However, these tax credits will say that we, as a country, value training the trades workforce of tomorrow, and that if companies want a tax break on the investment, they have to be part of a culture of building that workforce and creating good jobs for Canadians, not just for today but also into the future, giving them the tools they need in order to be able to do that.
We saw a Conservative government in Ontario use bankruptcy laws to shut down a post-secondary education institution. My colleague for Timmins—James Bay did a lot of work on raising awareness about what was wrong with that; it should never be done again. New Democrats have spearheaded the effort to get that done, and in this budget bill what we see is a provision that says that the bankruptcy and insolvency laws of Canada and the CCAA will not be able to be used again in the future to perpetrate that kind of nasty closure on a public institution. I am very proud of the work my colleagues have done on that, and it is something that I think ought to go forward.
I want to come back to the housing question, because it is an important one. I said earlier that I thought in the fall that the Liberals' focus was on market solutions and that that is not where the focus of the government really needs to be, certainly not to the exclusion of working on non-market solutions. In this bill, what do we see? Well, the only thing that is really happening on the housing front is the creation of a new department of housing infrastructure and communities, which is just merging two departments that already exist. This is not what we do in the face of a crisis. This is not an administrative crisis; it is not that people are not pushing enough paper. It is that there is not enough housing getting built, and changing the name of the department without prioritizing things like recapitalizing the coinvestment fund, one of the few federal funds that is actually building non-market housing, does not make sense. It does not make sense to prioritize shuffling the words in the department name around over advancing that funding.
In the fall economic statement, the recapitalization that was much touted by the government as its action on the urgent housing crisis was back-loaded in the budget tables, meaning it will not be coming for another two years. This is particularly shameful when we consider that the territory of Nunavut alone has been asking, on an urgent basis, for $250 million to address the housing crisis that it is seeing and to meet the needs that the territorial government is being asked to respond to.
We did not see a mention in the fall economic statement, and there is nothing in the bill, around the Kivalliq hydro link, which is a project that will help deliver power into parts of Nunavut. I hope it will also be accompanied with more broadband access in order to set the stage for more economic development in parts of Nunavut, as well as to try to reduce the reliance in Nunavut on diesel in order to power communities instead of bringing hydro up or, in the long term, perhaps, being able to produce enough electricity in a sustainable way that it could become a seller and bring own-source revenues to Inuit communities in Nunavut. That is the kind of long-term infrastructure investment that would make a lot of sense and that we do not see.
Another important investment would be to upgrade the Cambridge Bay airport, which is an important hub for Nunavut. When we talk about Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic, we know that the best way to enhance it is to invest in the people who live there and provide them the tools and resources they need in order to have a strong economy, live in appropriate housing and have access to the services that people rightly expect in the 21st century.
Instead, the rumour we have been faced with now for at least a month on Parliament Hill, a little longer if we go back to early December, is that the government is contemplating deep cuts at Indigenous Services Canada. New Democrats certainly want to know more about what the government is contemplating and the effects it will have on first nations, Inuit and Métis communities across the country. It is an area of significant concern for us and something that is not addressed here but that we expect to see addressed in the budget in terms of what the government's plan is and how we are going to ensure that indigenous communities are not once again left holding the bag when a government decides it wants to save money and continue a culture of corporate tax cuts.
I want to come back to the question of the role that large corporations are playing in driving inflation. A report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer as recently as December 2021 said that just 1% of Canada's population owns and controls 25% of all of the wealth of the country, and the bottom 40% of income earners in Canada share just 1% of all of the wealth that is produced in Canada. If we think about it, that 25% number is 5% higher than it was at the turn of the century.
What has happened since the year 2000 is that the proportion of wealth controlled by the top 1% increased by those five percentage points. I do not mean it increased by 5%; I mean that it went from 20% of overall wealth to 25% of overall wealth. In the same time, the corporate tax rate came down from 28% to just 15% today.
We talk about Canadians feeling the squeeze and about the middle class being expected to pay more in taxes to make up for government spending, but the big hole in government revenue comes from the people in that 1%, who are walking away with that much more of Canada's overall wealth than they used to because they pay significantly less tax than they used to.
That is why people wonder why it is that government cannot have a robust housing strategy. We used to be able to do it, and we did it coming out of the war. Well, yes, the marginal tax rate that the richest Canadians paid coming out of the war was way higher than it is today, and the corporate tax rate was way higher than it is today. Those things provided the revenue to invest in the middle class that then became the foundation for economic prosperity that lasted for decades. The reason that economic prosperity is drying up and the middle class is feeling the heat so much is that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have let the people at the top off from having to pay their fair share.
That is what is making the difference in Canada. The fact that the Conservative leader will not name it means he will not fix it, and that is what Canadians need to know heading into the next election.