Madam Speaker, I appreciate the chance this morning to follow the comments of my colleague from Outremont and to challenge the government on some of the initiatives we find ourselves having to deal with these days in the House, particularly at a time when hundreds of thousands of people across the country still do not feel the recession is over.
The finance minister stands regularly in this place, particularly in response to questions from some of us who are concerned that the impact of this recession is not only not stopping, but continues to grow in both breadth and depth. We continue to discuss and move forward on trade agreements with other countries when we have not righted our own domestic economy. If we, at the end of the day, decide that it is in the best interests of Canada to do those trade agreements, we can negotiate from a position of understanding what is best for us and from a position of strength.
A number of reports done in the last week or two have given me cause to pause with regard to where we need to go in light of our economy. The recession has created situations and conditions for people in the country that we have not seen for a long. It is important, in the context and in light of some of the discussions we are having on free trade agreements, taxation and trading with Colombia, that people know what is going on.
Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have lost their jobs. Around 50% have been able to qualify for employment insurance, but that 50%, now that the recession continues to roll on, are either falling off EI or are at a point where they will no longer qualify for EI. The jobs are not out there to give them back the income they had before the recession started. Some of them are finding jobs, but they primarily tend to be jobs in the service sector. Those jobs pay minimum wage or maybe a couple of dollars above that. It is simply not enough to pay the mortgage, to continue to pay for the cost of education for their children, to feed themselves in a way that speaks to good nutrition and health and to participate in a fulsome way, in a healthy way, in their communities.
For example, the Citizens for Public Justice released a study that it did over the last couple of months called “Bearing the Brunt”. I am talking exactly about this reality. People who do not qualify for EI cannot find jobs or take on jobs that do not pay them enough to reach the cost of living. People have fallen off EI and cannot find jobs. People who never qualified for EI in the first place and those who were poor before the recession every began find themselves relying on the good graces of their municipalities or provinces under the social assistance programs. More and more they are losing hope in being able to cope. The Citizens for Public Justice was very clear about some of the facts and statistics. We should look to that group and consider it in the light of anything that we do these days where the economy is concerned.
The poverty rate, for example, was 11.7% in 2009, an increase of over 900,000 Canadians from 3 million in 2007. That is 3.9 million Canadians living in poverty, while we discuss trade agreements and the ramifications for us in terms of taxation in our country.
The child poverty rate likely increased to 12% in 2009, an increase of 160,000 children compared to 2007. The number of poor children has thus risen from 637,000 children in 2007 to at least 797,000 children in 2009.
The unemployment rate rose from 6.3% in October 2008 to 8.6% in October 2009, and 153,600 jobs were lost by parents of small children during the recession.
This report goes on to say, in its analysis, that after the last recession, it took eight years to get us back to the unemployment rate that was present before the recession started, and that it took us 12 years to get the poverty rate back down to the rate that it was before the recession started.
The question that we have to ask, how long is it going to take us to get to a place where some of our fellow citizens, our neighbours and family members who are out there looking for jobs, who want to do nothing else but simply take care of themselves and their families, can comfortably do that again? Why is it that we are not focusing on that here as we discuss this with each other in this House?
The report also goes on to give a very alarming statistic, particularly when we consider the impact that it will have, not only on individual persons and families but on the financial system as a whole. Consumer bankruptcies increased by 36.4% between the end of the third quarter of 2008 and the end of the third quarter of 2009.
A few months ago, as the recession was in full swing, I listened to an economist in my own community talk about trade and the economy. He said that the recession would come at us in waves and that the last wave would be when those people who have lost their jobs, who fall off EI or no longer qualify for EI, find themselves on welfare and begin to use all of the credit available to them, if they have not already used it up, maxing out their credit cards and lines of credit, and selling off all their assets, because that is the only way to qualify for social assistance in this country, and then they begin to default on those loans.
That will have a big impact on the families themselves, as their credit ratings disappear, as they no longer have access to any discretionary money that might be available to them, even if they have to borrow it, as they no longer are able to even rely upon the good graces of their families because they find themselves in the same situation. When we put that together with the impact that it will have on the financial system, as these hundreds of thousands of people begin to struggle and to default on their loans, it will also have an impact on the economy of this country.
Again, I put this to the House. The government brings forward pieces of legislation into this House that talk about further trade with other countries that we are probably, according to the treasurer, in better shape than, but who are struggling with the same kinds of issues in their own jurisdictions. Why we are so aggressively chasing free trade agreements and all that goes with them at a time when we should actually be circling the wagons, taking a look at what has gone wrong with our own economy, and trying to do something about that?
Anybody who thinks that there is not something wrong with our own economy is not listening to some of those who are reporting these days on the impact that it is having on those among us who are most at risk and most marginalized.