That, in the opinion of this House, the government should set targets for the elimination of poverty and unemployment, and should pursue those targets with the same zeal it has demonstrated for targets to reduce the deficit.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion I have introduced in the House. I would like to spend a moment to tell the House why I introduced this motion.
The reason for bringing this motion forward is to open up debate and critical thinking on this issue. If we are truly serious about poverty and unemployment in this country then we have to set a real plan and we have to set real targets in order to ensure that we do actually reduce and finally eliminate poverty in this very wealthy country.
I represent the riding of Vancouver East which has the lowest income community in Canada. My riding has been particularly hard hit by poverty and by unemployment.
For the last two decades Canadians have heard many promises about reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty in ridings such as mine and right across this country. The reality is that none of these promises has been fulfilled, not by a Conservative government and certainly not by the current Liberal government. Instead, the number of people living in poverty in this country has increased and unemployment has remained unconscionably high.
I would like to go back into history for a moment to the year 1989 when the House of Commons unanimously supported former NDP leader Ed Broadbent's motion to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. That was in 1989.
Now here we are in 1998 and despite what might have been at the time very good intentions of all the members of the House from all parties represented, nothing has changed. In fact, the situation has worsened.
Since 1989 there are now 538,000 more children living in poverty. The number of poor children has grown by 47%. We must recognize that children are poor because their parents are poor. Their parents are usually poor because they are unemployed or they are in a low wage ghetto because our minimum wages are so low or because the jobs that have been created have been part time jobs that cannot support a family at any decent standard of living.
As a result of this, the reality faced by a growing number of Canadian families is that the number of food banks in Canada has tripled and the proportion of the population relying on food banks has doubled. The number of Canadians filing for personal bankruptcy has tripled, which is something that affects small businesses as well as lone business operators. The number of low income persons in 1996 was 40% higher than it was in 1989. That is the tragic record of what has happened in our country since the motion was passed in the House of Commons in 1989.
We must ask ourselves what the root of the question is. At the root of the growing number of people living in poverty is the high level of unemployment. We have heard statistics many times that unemployment is at 9% or higher for 86 consecutive months. We talk about it a lot but it in no way describes the tragedy that is faced by individuals and families, by working people when they feel the devastation of unemployment. This is felt in the family, in the local community, by business, in the school yard, in our community centres, and on and on it goes.
There are 1.4 million unemployed Canadians and 5 million Canadians who live below the poverty line as established by the low income cut-offs. Of those who are employed, 18.5% have only been able to find part time work.
When it comes to youth the situation is even worse. The official unemployment rate for youth is 16.5%. That does not include young people who have given up looking for work. Even if we use the official statistics, youth unemployment is almost double the unemployment rate for adults. The reality is many young people who manage to find work are trapped in part time jobs that pay minimum wage.
I believe, as do all members of the New Democratic Party, that Canadians who are living in poverty or coping with unemployment should be able to expect support and assistance from the federal government and provincial governments. Instead, we have seen a growing trend of inequality and poverty in Canada. The most disturbing growing trend is poor bashing where government policies zero in and target certain sectors of the community. These policies say in effect you are undeserving, you are going to be put on a work fare program, you are going to be put back on the unemployment roll. That is the kind of mentality that has developed through policies we have seen from the Liberal government.
We have seen cuts to transfer payments for health care, education and social support. The programs announced by the government have only been skin deep and have done little to alleviate high unemployment especially among young people.
Many of the government's own policies contribute to growing inequality, poverty and unemployment in our country. The Bank of Canada's obsession with fighting inflation ahead of all other social issues has cost us thousands of jobs. We have lost something like 100,000 jobs in health care, environmental protection, education and public services as a result of the slash and burn approach of the Liberal government.
This government has gutted our employment insurance system. Unemployed people have a right to expect they can receive a decent income while unemployed.
The reality is that our current unemployment insurance system is now pushing more and more people into poverty. Eight years ago 87% of Canadians who lost their jobs and had paid into UI received benefits. Reports have been tabled in the House and the stories are horrific and shocking that now only approximately 37% of those people who pay into UI will actually receive a benefit.
People who are no longer eligible for employment insurance must now depend on social assistance. Unfortunately that too is becoming more and more of a tragedy. Social assistance as well has not been immune to the savage and violent cuts that have been perpetrated by the Liberal government in terms of transfers to the provinces.
The Conservative government's cap on the Canada assistance plan payments cost B.C. and Ontario alone $9.7 billion. While in opposition, the Liberals criticized the cuts as penalizing the poorest of the poor. Now that the Liberals are in office, they have simply continued the same old story with the same old policies that served to harm and penalize the poorest of the poor.
Between 1995 and 1997, the Liberals used the introduction of the Canada health and social transfer to slash federal funding for social programs by $2.8 billion.
Let us turn to education for a moment as another example of the growing inequality we face. We have heard a lot of debate in the House today about the announced millennium fund. However, the amount of money that is being cut from post-secondary education, more than $2.29 billion by the Liberal government in transfer payments, has had an incredible impact and is a growing crisis within our post-secondary educational facilities.
Under the Liberals post-secondary education has become a debt trap for students. The average student debt is now $25,000. Even the prime minister, in speaking to the Canadian Club, acknowledged that too many young people cannot afford to attend university or college anymore. Tuition fees have increased by 45% since the Liberals took power. Again, much of this is due to the cuts in federal funding.
Mr. Martin and his so-called fiscal responsibility has been carried out—