Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure and privilege of sharing my time with the talented and passionate member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
From the outset, I would like to say that I am biased. I love young people. I love their energy, their curiosity and their enthusiasm. I love their ideals, their desire to build a more just society and a greener planet where they can achieve their full potential, a society in keeping with their aspirations. I love young people because I was young once and I identify with their desire to build a fair society where no one is left behind.
I am rising in the House today to speak to budget 2015, which was presented with great fanfare last week. Nevertheless, this budget does not include an overall vision to mitigate the ills of our society, transform our economy into a successful economy worthy of 21st century or deal with climate change and the growing inequality in our society.
While greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are increasing and inequality is growing, an OECD report indicates that the gap between Canada's rich and poor is continuing to grow. According to the OECD's analysis, Canada had the fourth-largest increase in inequality over the past two decades. Budget 2015 and the budget before that will only make matters worse.
The OECD report is not the only analysis of Canada's growing income gap. A study published in September 2014 by The Conference Board of Canada found that income inequality has been rising more rapidly in Canada than in the U.S. since the mid-nineties. This research in 18 countries found that Canada had the fourth largest increase in inequality between the mid-nineties and late 2000s.
In July, I organized an informal meeting with young leaders in LaSalle—Émard. They shared their concerns about their future, the challenge of balancing work and school, limited job options, and especially the instability of those jobs. They talked about the big issues, such as protecting the environment, inequality, the international situation and the need for electoral reform. They admitted to having little interest in politics because the message does not resonate with them. The recently tabled 2015 budget will do nothing to spark their interest. I hope that it will arouse their indignation.
Let us look at what our young people are facing. According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, the unemployment rate among youth aged 15 to 24 was 13.7%. That puts Canada behind other developed nations and is double the unemployment rate among workers aged 25 to 54, which is 5.4%.
In 2014, we had 387,000 young people who could not find jobs. That situation represents only part of the problem, particularly if we consider the fact that these statistics do not include people who are underemployed or young people who have become discouraged and stopped looking for work.
In my riding, LaSalle—Émard, the numbers are even more disturbing. In 2013, the youth unemployment rate was 15%, well above the national average of 8.2%.
The high rate of unemployment and underemployment is the result of a complex social problem that has to do with things like the lack of training to meet labour market needs, mobility challenges, the lack of subsidy programs for employers, the shortage of paid training, and the lack of high-quality, well-paying jobs, among other things.
Some of the measures in the budget reflect the NDP's wishes, but far too few. For example, we support the renewed funding for young entrepreneurs through the Futurpreneur Canada program, even though that funding has been reduced.
We are pleased that the government listened to the NDP and extended basic workplace protection to unpaid interns, and we look forward to finding out more about that.
Some other measures are a step in the right direction, but do not go far enough to alleviate student debt or give students the opportunity to be debt-free.
We are seeing a growing gap between the generations, and as the NDP leader said, we are leaving a growing economic, ecological and social debt to future generations.
The budget does not respond to the request by student associations, which called on the government to take action to reduce the massive increase in student debt, except for the announced reduction in the expected parental contribution under the Canada Student Loans needs assessment process. This does not provide any direct help to students, and no details have been provided.
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the federal budget will “put nearly 200,000 students into deeper debt”. An article in Maclean's magazine says, “measures will mean larger Canada Student Loan amounts awarded to borrowers. For kids in lower income families...it’s unlikely this change will do much to encourage them to think about higher education”.
Faced with a mortgaged future, young people between the ages of 18 and 35 are looking for ways to fully participate in society in keeping with their aspirations.
The role of the federal government is to create favourable conditions by making strategic investments to diversify the economy and create 21st century jobs in growth sectors, such as the green technology, high-tech and research sectors.
Young people must also be able to count on public policy to reduce intergenerational inequality so that they can be assured of a dignified retirement and accessible, universal health care. If we do nothing to change the situation, future generations will have huge challenges to address, including the aging population, climate change and increased inequality.
Budget 2015 and the austerity budgets of the past 20 years have only served to reduce the public sphere's ability to mitigate the negative effects of an unbridled market economy. Canada's young people will need all of their imagination and creativity to clean up that mess.
The NDP is the only party that is proposing practical solutions to make life more affordable and reduce inequality through progressive public policies. We believe that the government has a role to play in building a more just, greener and more prosperous Canada where no one is left behind and future generations can thrive.