Mr. Chair, before I make remarks and comments to my colleague from Parkdale—High Park, I would like to say that the Government of Canada's aspiration, desire and goal for the people of Ukraine is the same as for everywhere else in the world. We want to see peace, prosperity, and most importantly, freedom. These are incredibly important values, Canadian values, that we want to promote around the world.
I just want to make a brief intervention on behalf of the government and on behalf of myself about the Ukraine. They are facing some real and significant challenges.
I listened with great respect to my friend from Parkdale—High Park, the member opposite, to her advice and her intervention. I want to say this. She is a true friend of the people of Ukraine. She should talk more to her friend, my friend, her foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre.
I should say we all seek a peaceful resolution to the current conflict. We want to see the government dial down its rhetoric. We want to see an engagement with the opposition. If we could encourage anything to happen, it would be for the government to engage the opposition to look at the current conflict, to dial back its rhetoric and to look at its association with the European Union. That is exactly what I did on my recent visit to Ukraine.
I would be remiss if I did not say at the outset that I appreciate the strong commitment and leadership of the member for Parkdale—High Park on these issues. I am sure she will use this in her election pamphlets. I do appreciate it. She is a strong advocate for the people of Ukraine, and I want to thank her for her very thoughtful speech.
Mr. Chair, I am honoured to rise this evening to participate in this debate on the situation in Ukraine, which is incredibly troubling and urgent as Ukrainians live through this crisis. The world is clearly engaged and watching what is happening in Ukraine and I am very thankful that we are having this debate tonight.
I want to first say, as firmly as I can, working closely with my colleague from Ottawa Centre who is the NDP official opposition critic on international issues, that New Democrats stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in their hour of need. We are with them, we are here in solidarity and we support them in their struggle.
I want to pick up on what others have said here tonight. I believe all parties in the House are of one mind and one voice when it comes to support for the people of Ukraine in the situation they are in this evening. We are very concerned about the current crisis, the use of force against protesters, the denial of free speech and the increasingly eastward drift of Ukraine, turning away from the west and increasingly, we believe, turning away from democratic engagement.
I am very fortunate, as the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, that I represent a very large Ukrainian Canadian diaspora and I am very proud that this community has stayed together so tightly and has such a strong culture. People have preserved their language, their art, their community and their engagement with what is happening in Ukraine, as well as contributing for generations to the building of our country, Canada.
I am very honoured that I have had the opportunity to work with the Ukrainian Canadian community and have come to understand the difficult, troubled history that Ukrainians have faced in their country, everything from dictatorship and the suppression of rights to the ultimate horror of the Holodomor in 1932-33, the famine genocide. It is absolutely unbelievable what the Ukrainian community has had to suffer and I am very proud that it is our country, Canada, that was the first to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide and has worked so closely with the Ukrainian community.
Because of the experience I have had in Parkdale—High Park, I have used that opportunity to engage with Ukrainian people. I first went to Ukraine as an election observer in 2004 during the Orange Revolution. Yes, I was in the Maidan square and it was this time of year. It was very cold, but the energy, emotion and passion of Ukrainians as they jammed into that square was absolutely palpable.
Of course, we were neutral election observers. We were there to observe, but I was sent to Zaporizhia, which was an all-night train ride into the central eastern part of Ukraine. We arrived exactly at 6 a.m. on December 25. It was an incredible experience. The reason we were there was that the presidential elections were deemed fraudulent and were being rerun. There had been a huge initiative undertaken to train all of those who were participating as staff in the election and the people who volunteered. I saw first-hand how passionately Ukrainians wanted the democratic process to work. I believe in that case it did work, because the results were overturned. They elected a different president and there was so much hope in the aftermath of those elections.
I had the opportunity to return to Ukraine twice after that to be part of subsequent elections, most recently in 2012 for the parliamentary election. There are some re-runoffs of those elections taking place in the near future.
I have seen first-hand the passion of the Ukrainian people, who want what they have described to me as a normal country, a normal society and a normal democracy. Normal means that opposition leaders do not get jailed right before an election. They do not get hauled off to trial on trumped up charges and then thrown in jail so they cannot participate in elections. Normal means the media does not get completely controlled in the months running up to an election. It means that people have the opportunity to freely and peacefully demonstrate and engage in their society.
I want to thank the many colleagues in the House who have been part of these observer missions and who have worked on the Canada-Ukraine parliamentary friendship committee. This is so important. I also want to thank those involved in the internship program. Through this program, I have seen first-hand, in my office here in Ottawa, smart, educated, talented young people from Ukraine, full of hope, who want to learn, who want to build their country.
I have so much hope for the future of Ukraine, yet here we are in these dark times right now debating the situation, all because the Ukraine government turned its back on its negotiations and its long-standing opportunity to form a trade partnership with the EU after years of negotiations. President Yanukovych turned his back on this and instead, when protestors start filling the streets in Kiev, he cracked down on them. He sent in the armed police who threw people in jail and beat people. That is not the way a democracy ought to function. Young people know better and that is why they are standing up against this brutality.
We are all here tonight with Ukraine. We have to ensure that whatever actions we or the international community take, there is engagement. We need not do anything that further isolates Ukraine.
I want to commend the Minister of Foreign Affairs for his recent trip to Ukraine and meeting with the protestors and engaging with the government. I believe we cannot just criticize Ukraine. We have to engage with it, but exert pressure as we engage also with civil society. With all of the work we have done, sending more election observers than any other country, we have the opportunity and we have the obligation to engage with Ukraine and advocate for it on the international stage.
We do have to call on the president of Ukraine to respect the rights of the citizens of Ukraine, to respect democratic assembly, to respect free speech, to respect the right of people to have fair and free elections and to respect their desire when the majority of Ukrainians want to have engagement with the west. We want to urge the government to allow that to happen.
We support the engagement of Ukraine with the European Union. We think that is a positive development. We also need to put pressure on Russia because we believe its undue meddling in Ukraine's affairs is really behind what is happening. We believe this is in violation of treaties that Russia has committed to in terms of submitting Ukraine to economic pressure. It needs to cease and desist from doing that.
There are many other measures that we support. We support the Ukrainian Canadian Congress's demands for a crackdown on money laundering and corrupt business practices. We support the desire of Ukrainians who come to Canada to have greater access to visas and an accelerated process.
I see my time is just about up, but just let me say:
[Member spoke in Ukrainian]
Mr. Speaker, I join my colleague from Toronto—Danforth in submitting a petition on the issue of victims of crime.
In my riding of Parkdale—High Park, there have been instances of gangs and crime. A number of citizens of Toronto have signed a petition calling for a meaningful country-wide system of public support for loved ones of murder victims and victims of crime, but also a long overdue, comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy to deal with the issue of guns and drugs coming across our borders.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate today. I will be sharing my time with the member for Gatineau.
I would like to thank my NDP colleague from Victoria for submitting this motion and his tremendous work on the issue of pensions, which affect so many Canadians. For the benefit of those participating in the debate and for Canadians watching the debate, I will read the motion so that it is clear what we are discussing.
The motion reads as follows:
That the House call on the government to commit to supporting an immediate phase-in of increases to basic public pension benefits under the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans at the upcoming meeting of federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers.
The meeting is to take place this month at Meech Lake.
The motion does not specify exactly what form these increases would take or the rate of increase, but it does say that the ministers should take the opportunity to address this issue without delay at the meeting at Meech Lake.
That is because, as many are now recognizing, Canada is facing a retirement security crisis. Nearly a third of Canadians face a drop of more than 20% in their standard of living by the time they face retirement. I see this frequently in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. Constituents come to my office and say they had no idea how financially strapped they would be when they retired.
They kind of expected there would be enough through the Canada and Quebec pension plans to support them in their retirement years, and let us be very clear that the Canada and Quebec funds are absolutely rock-solid and that this program is the most solid pension base that Canadians could ever want. It is indexed to inflation and it is portable no matter where a person worked. No matter where one goes in the country, people have access to the same benefits. It is a rock-solid investment that Canadians can be confident in for many decades to come. The major problem is that the benefits that it currently pays out are not sufficient to guarantee retirement security for Canadians.
The reason so many Canadians are facing a steep decline in their retirement income is that the vast majority of Canadians do not have a private pension plan, a company pension plan, an employer pension plan, or RRSPs. Canadians who had RRSPs and who became unemployed would often have to take the money out of their RRSPs, and they did not have other investments. The reality is that most Canadians rely on the Canada and Quebec pension plans, but the problem is that it does not replace enough of people's pre-retirement income. That is why so many agree that there is a retirement security crisis looming in this country.
Last year the finance minister agreed with this assessment, and he agreed to move forward to increase CPP and QPP benefits. However, now he does not seem to even want to meet with the provincial finance ministers. He has been ducking and diving on this issue, so New Democrats want to encourage him to address it.
We know that our colleagues in the Liberal Party have proposed a voluntary plan; we believe that what Canadians need is a mandatory plan that will guarantee their retirement income, and that is what we are proposing.
What we are proposing is completely affordable. Let me share with my colleagues some costing that my colleague from Victoria has done.
There are a variety of ways to increase the CPP. One is the plan proposed by the Canadian Labour Congress, which would lead to a doubling of benefits. That would cost about $4 a week, the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a week. That would be the cost to double the retirement benefits for Canadians.
However, there are other proposals that are out there. P.E.I. has a proposal that would cost less than $2 a week. What would that mean for Canadians? It would provide additional pension benefits for Canadians of $3,000 each year. That sounds like a pretty darn good deal. I do not think there is any investment that Canadians could find that would give them that kind of return with the security and surety of the Canada pension plan.
It is not just New Democrats who are saying this makes sense. As we have heard, there was an editorial today in The Globe and Mail, not exactly a radical leftist newspaper, I am told. Let me quote from it. With regard to expanding CPP, it says:
It should be done, and it should be done soon. Conservatives of the large and small-c variety have long been uncomfortable with a bigger national pension plan. It sounds like a tax increase. It's not. It's a savings plan. And it's the best one we've got.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Let us look at some others. We have an expert on payroll taxes, Rhys Kesselman, the Canada Research Chair on Public Finance at the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University. Here is what he has to say:
Since the proposed CPP premium hikes would provide workers correspondingly higher benefits in retirement, they are not like an ordinary payroll tax increase. Rather, they are like an individual's payment for improved insurance coverage.
That is what it is, retirement insurance.
He went on to say:
This premium-benefit linkage means that CPP premiums lack the disincentive effects of most taxes.
In other words, it is not a negative but a positive.
He also said:
Concern over the effects of CPP premium hikes is unwarranted and should not be allowed to block this important policy reform any longer.
We wholeheartedly agree.
Let us hear what the OECD pension team has to say about Canada's pension plan. Edward Whitehouse, leader of the OECD pension team, said:
The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes. ... Long-term projections show that a public retirement-income provision is financially sustainable.
That is what we said earlier: our public pension plan is sound.
He went on to say:
Population ageing will naturally increase public pension spending, but the rate of growth is lower and the starting point better than many OECD countries. Moreover, the earnings-related public schemes (CPP/QPP) have built up substantial reserves to meet these future liabilities.
He is convinced that we have the capacity with our current plan.
Another Globe and Mail article also said:
On the other hand, Canada is different because, unlike most other countries, our public pension commitments are not a substantial threat to our public finances. The Canada Pension Plan is in long-run balance. Old Age Security takes only 2.41 per cent of GDP. Very few OECD countries have lower levels of public pension spending as a share of GDP than Canada.
To take the extreme example, Italy spends more than 14% of GDP on public pensions, up 10% from only a few years ago; we are at 2.41% of GDP.
We have the support for this initiative. As I said, The Globe and Mail, tax experts, and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons just want us to get on with this. Even the CIBC economics report said that the CPP is a good plan, saying, “The CPP has the scale to make big investments and get better returns with relatively low cost.”
Canadians rely on the Canada and Quebec pension plans. We have to make them better and stronger so that they cover more of people's post-retirement income. We can do it.
Let us get together in the House and address this crisis now. Let us make it happen.
Mr. Speaker, Tashi Delek. I rise today to welcome to Ottawa the new representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for North America, Kaydor Aukatsang. I would also like to welcome the 17 Tibetans who arrived over the weekend through the Tibetan resettlement project. They are the first of 1,000 Tibetans who will relocate to Canada through this program.
Tibetans face religious and cultural oppression in their homeland. In Canada they also face unacceptable delays in family reunification. In my riding of Parkdale—High Park, I have seen people wait as long as nine years to reunite with loved ones. This resettlement program shows great promise, but clearly, we do need a fair and more efficient immigration system.
Today I hope all members of the House will join me in wishing a heartfelt welcome to Mr. Aukatsang and the participants of the resettlement program.
The member for Parkdale—High Park has the floor, not the leader of the Green Party. Therefore, I will recognize the member for Parkdale—High Park.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to recognize the solemn occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor. This genocide by famine, perpetrated against the Ukrainian people in the so-called breadbasket of Europe by Stalin's Soviet regime in 1932-1933, took millions of lives and has scarred generations to this day.
I am very proud to have joined in the vote in this House for all-party support for recognition of Holodomor Memorial Day in Canada. The City of Toronto announced a similar proclamation in a moving ceremony at City Hall last Saturday evening. I have also joined with Ukrainian Canadians in my community of Parkdale—High Park, as well as with those across Canada, in pressing for this terrible history to be recognized in our schools and museums.
We salute Ukrainian Canadians for their strong stance in defence of democracy, freedom, and human rights. They will always have a friend in the New Democratic Party, and we stand with them in saying, “Never forget, never again”.
Mr. Chair, as the member for Parkdale—High Park said earlier, this is a time right now to focus on the desperate needs of the people in the Philippines. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with those people.
I appreciate the things my colleague has said. Our DART team is second to none in the world. It has the expertise to be on the ground providing medical assistance, water, and sanitation, which is so desperately needed in times of crisis. It has been absolutely exemplary in this case. We saw the work it did in Haiti, and the people of Haiti were incredibly thankful for that contribution. The people in the Philippines are experiencing the same kind of care, concern, and compassion that our DART team takes with it when it goes. It is the ambassador for Canada in situations like this. We are very grateful for the work it does and applaud all its efforts.
We will take that under consideration and have that conversation at a later date, and I hope that my colleague will be part of that conversation.
Mr. Chair, I am very happy to participate in this important debate this evening on the crisis in the Philippines.
Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda, has had an absolutely devastating effect on Filipinos. As we understand, it has displaced an estimated four million people, which is more than those displaced by the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina combined, with more than half a million homes completely destroyed. It is our understanding that at least 13 million people have been affected throughout the Philippines, with over 4,000 people estimated to have died, 18,000 injured and 16,000 people still missing.
I want to begin my comments this evening by extending my sincere sympathies to all those affected, obviously the Filipino population who have been so devastated by this terrible event, but also the many friends and family members and colleagues around the world who have been affected as well. It has created terrible uncertainty, terrible worry, and it has also mobilized people around the world to act as quickly as possible.
I want to especially extend sympathies to the Filipino community in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I have reached out to the community centre, to Kababayan Multicultural Centre, which is the heart of the Filipino community in Parkdale—High Park. I know it has served many newcomers of Filipino descent to our area, and today continues to work with those Canadians of Filipino descent, including seniors and young people as well as other community members needing assistance. The people at the community centre perform wonderful work in services, language training and job help. I want to specifically offer to the executive director, Flordeliz Dandal, with whom I have worked so often in the community, and all of the staff and volunteers and to Aguido Dela Cruz, the chairperson of the board, and to all the board members and all members of the Filipino community, my sincere sympathies.
I did have the opportunity last week to meet briefly with the ambassador from the Philippines. I asked him what we as members of Parliament can do. He encouraged us to encourage people to donate, to contribute funds so we can get aid as quickly as possible to those affected. I went this week to the embassy here in Ottawa and signed a book of condolences that the ambassador is compiling and will be sent to the Filipino Canadian community.
I note that the international community has pulled together quite quickly to work to provide aid for relief efforts, and the international aid commitment so far has reached nearly $248 million. In addition, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have readied $500 million in loans to help finance the reconstruction, because of course reconstruction will be enormous once the immediate needs of people in terms of water, food, shelter and clothing have been taken care of. Canada's commitment of $20 million so far, including $15 million to match funds that have been donated by Canadians, as well as mobilizing relief efforts and our DART members to provide direct assistance is extremely welcome. We thank the government for this very quick action.
I want to hit home to people who are listening from our community in Parkdale—High Park, or anywhere in the Toronto area, or indeed across Canada. We have an opportunity right now to secure matching funds from the federal government. We applaud this initiative, so the best relief, the best initiative that people can offer is to donate so that the money can get quickly translated into relief and aid on the ground.
There are a number of fundraising initiatives taking place in local communities. People can donate online through organizations such as Migrante Canada, which does such terrific work with caregivers from the Filipino community. They can work through Kababayan in Parkdale—High Park, or people can donate directly to humanitarian organizations, the Humanitarian Coalition, the Canadian Red Cross, World Vision, UNICEF, whatever their preferred recognized charity is that knows how to translate this money quickly into action on the ground.
I also note one specific event in which I am going to be participating in a couple of weeks. It is being organized by Long & McQuade Musical Instruments in Toronto. There is a singing contest with John Santos and we are going to be singing to raise funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. That is Friday, December 6, at Casa Da Madeira Community Centre on Dupont Street in Toronto.
One further point I would like to make is that this typhoon was especially hard-hitting for the Filipino community because so many people of Filipino origin in Canada, and indeed in other countries around the world, are separated from families back home. Many people of Filipino origin have come here to Canada to work as caregivers in people's homes, or in the health care sector. Often these are people who have left their own families and children behind. They have missed milestones in their children's lives because they may be caring for other people's children. That presents its own special hardship, but when they are separated and something disastrous happens such as this typhoon, it is especially gut-wrenching for people separated from their loved ones.
Many who come here to Canada want to sponsor family members. We meet with people from the Filipino community in our constituency office regularly. They are trying to sponsor family members and it is a very long wait. This has an even bigger impact on them.
In addition to urging people to donate so that we can get matching funds from the federal government, I would also urge the federal government to do what it can to speed up family reunification, applications for permanent residence, the immigration process, so that people who are separated from family members can be reunited and be assured that their loved ones are safe and sound.
With that I welcome any questions or comments from my colleagues in the House.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, International Trade; the hon. member for Winnipeg North, Intergovernmental Relations.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
The time for government orders is concluded at this time. The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park will have five minutes remaining in questions and comments after question period.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak to the House today. It is my first opportunity to give a speech after the very long prorogation of the House by the federal government.
I want to begin with a recognition of the earthquake yesterday in the Philippines. A number of members of my community, the riding of Parkdale—High Park, are of Filipino origin. I want to express my condolences to them. We know how worried they and people of Philippine origin around the world must be about the well-being of loved ones there.
On the issue at hand, to begin, I have to say how disappointing the throne speech was for Canadians. It was very long but very thin. It was a bit of a string throne speech. There was not much substance to it. Throne speeches ought to be about vision, about where the government wants to take the country. They should be about what we can do together as a nation in addition to our efforts as individuals, as families and as communities and how the government helps us to do more and to be more than the sum of our parts.
Instead, we keep getting the message from the government that we are on our own and should not count on it, that we will keep paying more taxes and user fees, but services will be consistently fewer and fewer.
Young people growing up in Canada today are receiving the message from the government that they cannot count on it to help them in any way.
What a puny vision for Canada. What a sad vision for Canada. It is part of trying to change the channel after so many scandals and allegations of fraud and economic mismanagement. I dare say it will take a lot more than copying the New Democrats' consumer protection agenda to make Canadians forget about scandals in the Senate and to get them to change the channel that quickly. I have heard from constituents across my community who are infuriated by the misspending of the government and the lack of accountability. What really got on their nerves was the Conservatives spending millions of tax dollars on advertising but falling short of taking any real action to help Canadian families. Their action plan was all about the action of spending Canadian tax dollars.
Governments have announced even more cuts that will hurt services but are putting more money into advertising for themselves. While they like to tout their record, they are only faring middlingly well among the OECD countries. In fact, our economy is underperforming. Growth in Canada is stalling, and other countries are overtaking us in spite of Canada's many advantages and in spite of the government's rather breathless talking points this morning.
The Conservatives have taken Canada from a trade surplus to a $62 billion current account trade deficit in 2012. That is quite a breathtaking record.
When it comes to a new trade deal with Europe, the Conservatives have been very effective at keeping Canadians in the dark throughout these negotiations. When it comes to trade, details matter. Of course we will closely review the text of any agreement before we decide whether to support it, and of course we support trade in general with Europe as long as it is a good deal for Canada. We want to deepen and broaden our economic ties with Europe. It is a partner with high standards, the rule of law and exactly the kind of economy with which we should be strengthening our relationship. I hope we get the opportunity to have a democratic debate and vote on it.
Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals before them, New Democrats support an open and progressive approach to trade, one that is based on promoting our interests as a country, increasing our exports and building a stronger global economy.
What we have seen under the current government is the decline of our manufacturing sector. The sector continues to shed thousands of jobs. Job creation has not kept pace with the population growth, and we still have almost 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than we did before the last recession.
The unemployment rate among young Canadians remains at 13%, and our youth face precarious working conditions and an unprecedented underemployment rate. There are currently 1.3 million unemployed Canadians.
How can the government justify the fact that the number of unemployed workers has increased by more than 200,070 since the Conservatives took power? That is unbelievable.
The unemployment rate fell this month, but only because 20,000 young Canadians gave up searching for work, deciding to accept unpaid internships, going back to school or simply giving up hope of finding a job. In fact, a generation of young Canadians facing double-digit unemployment and precarious low-paying jobs has a very uncertain future.
The Conference Board of Canada and others rank Canada near the bottom, compared with 15 of its peers, in innovation and research and development. As I am sure all my colleagues know and as Canadians know, innovation is essential to a high-performing economy. Given that my colleagues across the way have been fond of quoting supporters of theirs, I quote the Conference Board, which has stated:
Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. It is also critical to environmental protection, a high-performing education system, a well-functioning system of health promotion and health care, and an inclusive society. Without innovation, all of these systems stagnate and Canada's performance deteriorates relative to that of its peers.
That is what has been happening. Canada's performance has been deteriorating relative to that of its peers. This has clearly been another Conservative failure, and its solution has been just silence on innovation.
Household debt for Canadians is at a new record high, a sure sign that Canadian families are being squeezed. Household debt stands at a near-record high of 166% of disposable income. Why would that be? Incomes are stagnating. In fact, the average Canadian is even going backwards when it comes to income, whereas the benefits of economic growth are disproportionately going to those at the very top of the economic scale. That is simply unacceptable. We have based our success as a country in the post-war period on what I would call economic and social solidarity—in other words, the notion that we are all on the same bus heading in the same direction, that we all have to work together as Canadians. The notion is that when we do that and Canadians go to work everyday, work hard and do a good job, supporting themselves and their families, we will all share in the economic benefits of that prosperity and there will in fact be a shared prosperity for Canadians.
That commitment is being broken, and not only under the current government but by previous governments as well. I say that is a tragedy for Canadians and they start to lose faith in their ability to act together when that kind of social solidarity is broken.
I hear the Conservative government talk about families, but I also think about first nations families and how they are facing Third World conditions, and the despair that many young people feel in first nations communities.
The federal government knows that funding for first nations education is 30% less than the funding provided by provincial governments, and yet in the throne speech there was silence, nothing about closing the gap. I speak to business owners across the country, some of whom are crying for more skilled workers. They want to get more first nations youth into skills training programs, but young people need to first pass the hoop of a secondary school education. That is not happening because of the failure of the government to work with first nations as equals and negotiate better funding for first nations education.
Canadians fundamentally believe that we need to work together to build a better tomorrow, and when we do, we count on government to protect us in certain areas. Yes, these are consumer issues, things like rail safety. The fact that the government has failed to implement recommendations to improve rail safety leaves Canadians vulnerable. The fact that food industries are self-regulating when it comes to safety is simply unacceptable and has led to E.coli outbreaks. The fact is that airline passengers are left to their own devices because the government has voted, not once but twice, against an NDP proposal for an airline passenger bill of rights.
The government has a philosophy of leaving people to their own devices. Do not get me wrong; people do not want governments to dictate to them, but they believe that governments have a role in helping to create the economic conditions that can improve their lives. Over the summer and fall, as I have gone door to door in my constituency of Parkdale—High Park, I have heard people say again and again that they are concerned about the same basic things. They are concerned about growing inequality, a lack of environmental protection and the terrible environmental record of the government.
One of the boundaries of my riding is the mighty heritage river, the Humber River. This river has lost its environmental protection because of changes made by the government, and people are very concerned about it. They are concerned that there is no federal funding to make sure that a new infrastructure project, the air-rail link in Parkdale—High Park, is going to be clean electric transportation rather than dirty diesel. We hear silence from the government. They are concerned about the undermining of our scientists and science—the abandonment of the long form census, for example—and they are definitely concerned about good-quality jobs and what the lack of good jobs means for the next generation.
I am increasingly convinced that Canadians believe our economy should deliver some basic things. It should make sure everybody has a place to live. People need homes to go to, roofs over their heads. People need dignity at work. They need decent jobs with a decent standard of living, where they are treated with respect. People should expect from their economy a secure retirement. No senior in this country should live in poverty. What people expect most of all is that the next generation will have at least as much opportunity as the generation that went before.
We did not hear the government address these issues. We did not hear it lay out a vision for the Canada of the future. We hear about mandatory balanced budgets but not the requirement for governments to deliver for seniors or the next generation. Where are their mandatory commitments to Canadians? In fact, the Conservatives have done everything possible to undermine the ability of this or future governments to deliver on many of these fronts. They have cut the GST and took billions out of our budgets every year, when most economists and tax experts agree this was the wrong approach. The Conservatives and the Liberals before them have cut corporate taxes in half, again reducing government's ability to act, but that money is not being reinvested by businesses in the economy and not creating jobs.
New Democrats, like most Canadians, believe we do not get something for nothing. We do not get handed tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts with no strings attached.
New Democrats believe that employers, large and small, should earn a tax benefit. If they invest in innovation, invest in cutting-edge equipment, create new jobs, and train people, then yes, let us offer an incentive. However, they do not just get a big tax cut, put it in their pockets, and then walk away and have a nice day.
What we did hear about were consumer issues. Believe me, it is flattering to have the Conservatives poach some NDP proposals, even if, sadly, they voted against them again and again in the House. Sadly, there is still nothing on airline passenger rights or the crushing credit card fees small businesses pay.
We also cannot ignore the bigger picture. Today Canadian families are squeezed like never before. Under successive federal Conservative and Liberal governments, when the economy has been growing most Canadians have seen relatively little benefit. They are struggling to keep up as the cost of living is rising and middle class jobs are disappearing. Over the past 35 years, our economy has grown by nearly 150%, but the average family has seen its income fall by 7%. Too many students are graduating with a debt the size of a small mortgage, and just as families are forced to carry greater and greater debts, they are saving less and less for retirement. The CIBC estimates that nearly six million are facing a drop-off of 20% or more in their standard of living by retirement.
The Conservatives love tackling crime until it comes to Conservative MPs and senators. They appreciate our natural resources but do not provide good stewardship for our environment. They embrace a few pocketbook issues but do not deliver on creating jobs that put money in people's pockets. They are enthusiastic about patriotism but not very good at nation-building and bringing Canadians together.
New Democrats believe that Canadians deserve better. Canadians need a government that works with them, not against them. At a minimum, we need an employment insurance system that helps working people adjust to the calamity of unemployment. We need Canada and Quebec pension plans that offer better retirement security for more Canadians. We have also proposed a range of measures, from youth job creation and small business hiring tax credits to developing a pan-Canadian energy strategy.
Rather than cutting government services and throwing more Canadians out of work, we need a government that invests in cutting-edge and badly needed infrastructure to prepare our economy for the future and also to create good quality jobs. Rather than silencing our scientists and environmentalists, we support science-based decisions that keep in mind both our short-term and especially our long-term interests. We owe the next generation at least that much.
I see that my time is almost up, but let me say in closing that the vision we were presented with yesterday in the throne speech was very puny. It really was not much of a vision for Canada. Here, on the New Democratic side of the House, we believe that together we can meet the challenges of Canadians head on and reverse and lift the staggering burden of household debt weighing on Canadian families.
We can build an economy that is fairer, greener, cleaner, and more prosperous for all. Give us the chance and we will deliver for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by welcoming back all members of Parliament, except one.
I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about the Conservatives' dismal record on the economy. It has been over 120 days since the House last sat. It has been over 160 days since the Prime Minister showed up for work more than five times. We have some questions for that Prime Minister.
Here in Ottawa, we have a government on its way out that is shirking its responsibilities. Five weeks ago, the Prime Minister locked up Parliament yet again. Since 2006, the Prime Minister has prorogued Parliament for a total of 181 days, which is a record for a prime minister in this day and age. It is even worse than Jean Chrétien's record at the height of the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
This fall, the Conservatives have done nothing for Canadians, nothing to help the unemployed find full-time work, nothing to help families reduce their debt, nothing to reverse the worrying trend of climate change and nothing to improve railway safety.
We all know the reason that the Prime Minister has been avoiding questions. We all know why Parliament was prorogued. We all know why the return of the House was delayed for another five weeks. We all know why he got on Con Air and sneaked off to Brussels. In a word: corruption.
There are now eight senators facing allegations of wrongdoing and in one case already a conviction. Five of those senators are Conservatives and all five named by the current Prime Minister.
Senate corruption is not just a Conservative issue. It really is an issue that involves the two old parties: the Conservatives and the Liberals.
First, there are the Conservative senators: Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Then, there is Liberal senator Mac Harb. They are all being investigated by none other than the RCMP for illegal travel and housing claims.
Conservative senator Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and Liberal senator Rod Zimmer are being investigated by the Senate's board of internal economy. We cannot forget about Conservative senator Leo Housakos who was charged with violating the Canada Elections Act, or Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne who is still having his housing costs paid by Ottawa because he is sitting in jail in the nation's capital.
Canadians have every right to be angry, and not just because of prorogation. Over the past year, they have witnessed a sorry spectacle in which the Prime Minister's Office has tried pitifully and desperately to hide a senator's corruption. The Prime Minister continues to claim that nothing has changed. For once, he is right.
This lack of transparency and culture of entitlement is the Prime Minister's political modus operandi; yet, he promised to put an end to the Liberal way of doing things. Now, in fact, it is worse.
Canadians are sick and tired of corruption and scandal. They are sick and tired of the revolving red and blue doors of Liberal and Conservative entitlement and corruption. Canadians have had enough. The fact is that Ottawa is broken and the NDP is the only party that Canadians can trust to fix it.
Now of course Conservative corruption and scandal does not end with the Senate. The Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary has been formally charged for taking and for making illegal campaign contributions. The Prime Minister's chief of staff is under investigation for paying hush money to a sitting Conservative senator. Three other officials in the Prime Minister's office are refusing to answer questions about their own involvement in that very same payoff. Senator Irving Gerstein, the chief financial officer of the Conservative Party, is not only accused of knowing about that payoff but of approving it as well, at least until he found out just how much money it would take to buy the silence of Mike Duffy.
The list of Conservative scandal and corruption just does not end. In 2012, the Prime Minister's special adviser Bruce Carson was charged with influence peddling. In 2011, four top Conservative Party officials were charged in the in-and-out scandal. In 2006, the party president and the party's national director admitted to making a secret $50,000 payment to get rid of an inconvenient Conservative Party candidate. Finally, who could forget that in 2005, the Prime Minister's top strategist, Tom Flanagan, offered “financial considerations” to a sitting member of Parliament in exchange for his support in Parliament.
All in all, under the Prime Minister 17 senators and top party officials have been accused of ripping off taxpayers, breaking election laws or making secret backroom payoffs. They are not low-level staff or minor functionaries gone rogue. These are senators that the Prime Minister appointed himself. They are members of his chosen inner circle, 17 of them in all.
This all leads to two very simple questions. First, how did so many people so close to the Prime Minister all get the same impression that corrupt behaviour of this sort is acceptable to the Prime Minister? Second, when will the Prime Minister finally take responsibility for the climate of corruption he created?
And on the second day, he went to Brussels. He did not even make it to the seventh day.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister tried to change the channel on all of this. He asked Canadians to forget about the scandals and mismanagement that are plaguing his government. He tried to convince them that he has changed. However, watching the Prime Minister sitting there in the Senate yesterday, at the very scene of the crime, with the perps down the hall watching television, I can understand why he wants to change the channel.
I do not think that Canadians are going to forget that easily. In this case, the elephant is the room. If the Prime Minister wants to convince Canadians that he has changed course, if the Prime Minister wants to convince Canadians that he is ready to clean up Ottawa and clean up the corruption in his own caucus, in his own party and in his own office, it will take more than words. It is going to take action.
After each election, a new batch of MPs and staff from all parties arrive here in Ottawa. They all come with the best of intentions, with hope and optimism for the future. However, the old parties have lost something along the way, and things have changed. Their leaders have forgotten whom they came here to serve.
While the old parties fight to protect their well-connected friends, Canadian families are struggling more than ever to get by. From Kamloops to Cape Breton, from Churchill to Chicoutimi, income inequality has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. We are losing the balanced economy that we have built since the Second World War. Canadian household debt has reached record highs. As my hon. colleague just said, hundreds of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing, and for the first time in Canadian history, middle-class wages are declining steadily. This is the first time that has ever happened.
Over the past 35 years, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, incomes have increased for the top 20%, but have decreased for everyone else; 80% of Canadians have seen in a drop in their income. Our economy has grown by 147%, yet the real income of the average Canadian family has dropped by 7%.
The Liberals can always hope that Canadians will forget their poor record. They can always hope that time will erase those memories, but it will not be that easy. Listen to this, Mr. Speaker: over the same 35 years, 94% of the rise in income inequality in Canada, in our society, happened under Liberal governments. The House heard correctly: the Liberal Party of Canada is responsible for 94% of that growing gap. Because of Liberal neglect, an entire generation of middle-class families is on the verge of bankruptcy, crushed under the weight of their household debt.
At the end of last year, Canadians' household debt reached 166% of disposable income. It may be hard to believe, but this record high is all too real. Canada's total household debt is dangerously close to the peak levels prevailing in the United States just before the 2008 economic crisis. Indeed, the Bank of Canada is now referring to this debt as the “biggest domestic risk" to the Canadian economy.
This is more than a burden on Canadian families; it is a threat to our entire economy. However, all the Conservatives have to say to the millions of families struggling to make ends meet is that they have to make do with less—their children have to make do with less.
A tiny minority of Canadians are getting ahead while more and more people are falling behind. The cost of living keeps rising while good jobs continue to vanish.
Our party can do better, and we will do better, because Canadians deserve better.
What has the Conservative response been? Tinkering with a mortgage rule here and saying that they will adjust a lending practice there: too little, too late.
Conservatives have done nothing to rein in the high cost of living for families. They have done nothing to guarantee retirement security for our seniors. They have watched a generation of middle-class jobs disappear, but they have done nothing to create the next generation of middle-class jobs.
We can do better and we will do better because Canadians deserve better.
We are going to rise to meet this challenge. If we are going to start to close the growing gap created by successive Liberal and Conservative governments, we will have to address all sides of the ledger. That means making life more affordable for families. It means helping workers save and invest for their retirement. It means creating high-quality middle-class jobs.
Yesterday, in the throne speech, Conservatives pretended to adopt some parts of the NDP's consumer-first agenda. Unfortunately, we have heard these words before from Conservatives with nothing to show for it but more broken promises.
Were Conservatives putting the consumers first when they let credit card companies regulate themselves with a voluntary code of conduct? Or when they enacted a wireless code that did nothing to create new competition or lower cellphone rates?
Were Conservatives protecting airline passengers when they voted, twice, against the NDP's airline passenger bill of rights?
Were they protecting families when they let meat packing plants perform their own safety inspections? Or when they allowed one-person crews to operate freight trains carrying highly dangerous materials?
This selective enforcement of the law is not just applied in the private sector either. Conservatives have cut $250 million and 3,000 staff from the Canada Revenue Agency. They have eliminated the special team of tax auditors at the CRA who were responsible for investigating organized crime. Little wonder that they sent a $400,000 cheque to a mafia boss, while he was in prison, who owed $1.5 million. That is the Conservative record. Maybe it is because they are planning to make him a senator.
The Conservatives have actually opposed international efforts to crack down on tax havens at the G8. Not surprisingly, today, Canada is losing as much as $5 billion to $8 billion a year in government revenue to international tax havens alone.
The fact is whether it is food inspection and rail safety or consumer protection and cracking down on tax cheats, the leadership role that governments once took to protect public interests now takes a back seat to private interests.
The Conservatives, much like the Liberals before them, heeded the siren call of what is called deregulation.
They dismantled the measures in place to protect the public interest, relying instead on the industries to regulate themselves. They applied this approach across the board.
Budget cuts of $46 million to food security were followed by the largest recall of contaminated meat in Canada's history. In aviation safety, airline standards for the number of flight attendants required on board WestJet flights were lowered against the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, jeopardizing passenger safety.
I can mention another tragic event that could have been prevented. This summer, 47 people died after a train loaded with highly volatile shale oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic. Experts from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the TSB, and Transport Canada are studying what part decades of deregulation might have played in this tragedy.
Where governments once took a leadership role in protecting the public interest, now they protect only private interests. In so doing, they have sacrificed our long-term prosperity for their own short-term political gain.
The New Democrats have laid out a clear plan to protect consumers and to make life more affordable for Canadian families. That means limiting ATM fees, cracking down on payday lenders and giving every Canadian access to at least one no-frills, low-rate credit card. It means protecting small businesses by creating clear rules that prevent credit card companies from using their monopoly power to hit retailers with exorbitant merchant fees. It means protecting drivers from price gouging at the gas pumps. And it means protecting the millions of travellers who are sick and tired of being stuck with the bill for delays and cancellations by passing a real airline passengers bill of rights. Unfortunately, despite their talk, Conservatives have voted against these measures every step of the way. That is their real track record.
Now the Prime Minister stands before Canadians, a man who has run out of ideas, maybe not today standing before Canadians but members understand the notion. He has been reduced to stealing our ideas, a practice he stole from the Liberals. Not only that, he has been reduced to stealing ideas that he has already voted against. Quite frankly, all this is a desperate last-ditch effort to regain the confidence of Canadians. However, it is just too little, it is just too late and it just will not work.
Just to remind our Conservative friends so they are not confused this time, if they want a bill to pass, they actually have to vote for it, not against it.
Just as families across Canada are facing a steep rise in the cost of living, too many are facing a financial cliff as they near retirement. As many as 5.8 million Canadians, nearly a third of our workforce, will see a sharp drop in their standard of living once they retire. For young Canadians, the situation is even more dramatic. By retirement, as many as 60% of young Canadians will face a drop of 20% or more in their quality of life. Without action now, Canada is facing a retirement security crisis. That is a social debt that we are leaving on the backs of future generations, in addition to the financial and ecological debt that the current government is already leaving them.
Yet, instead of action to strengthen pensions, Conservatives are planning to cut $11 billion out of old age security by increasing the retirement age to 67 from 65. I can guarantee that the NDP government in 2015 will put it back to 65.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported just two weeks ago that far from putting our financial house in order, the Conservative cuts to old age security had simply downloaded costs to provinces and individuals.
The Minister of Finance promised to meet with his provincial counterparts this summer in order to work on the plan to improve Canada's and Quebec's public pension plans. The Minister of Finance made a formal commitment on behalf of the Canadian government. He made a promise and gave his word. However, even though he had an extra month, the minister did not keep his word. He did not come up with a plan and he did not meet with anyone.
The provincial governments, unions and the largest seniors' organization in Canada all asked the government to move forward with improvements to public pension plans, but the government did nothing. Even the president and CEO of CIBC said that the government must do its part to find a solution to the retirement security crisis. Many people are convinced that the improvement of public pensions cannot be avoided. By dragging their feet, the Conservatives are creating uncertainty for businesses, governments and individuals.
For that reason, my colleagues from Parkdale—High Park and Victoria, our finance and pension critics, wrote to the Minister of Finance last month to ask him why he did not keep his word, why he did not hold this meeting and why he broke his promises to Canadian seniors. They asked him to hold a meeting and cover the shortfall created by years of Liberal and Conservative cuts so that Canadians can retire with dignity.
What was the Minister of Finance's response? Absolute silence, nothing. Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve answers and here, in Parliament, the NDP will go after those answers.
Today, in 2013, there are still nearly 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than before the recession. Of the 280,000 jobs that young people lost during that recession, only 50,000 have been recovered. In Toronto alone this is an incredible statistic. In Toronto alone, a staggering 50% of workers cannot find a stable full-time job. Instead, they are forced to rely on part-time jobs, split shifts and precarious contract work. Parents are seeing less and less of each other and children and families are paying the price.
Conservatives have repeatedly missed their own targets for economic growth and on the heels of hitting a new record for household debt reported just last month, the International Monetary Fund has now just downgraded its projections for Canadian economic growth once again. The Conservative's solution to all this: spend $100 million of taxpayer money on economic action plan advertising. That is their solution. Canadians deserve better.
Canadians deserve a government with a plan to create jobs for our young people instead of one that accepts a youth unemployment rate that is double the national average.
Canadians deserve a government that understands the key role that cities play in economic growth and job creation instead of one that cuts $6 billion in local infrastructure funding, as Conservatives did in their last budget despite their promises to the contrary.
Canadians deserve a government that understands that the only way to increase wealth in a society is to increase knowledge instead of one that slashes tax credits for research and development, hampering innovation.
Canadians deserve a government that works together with the provinces to strengthen skills instead of one that tries to impose its will on the provinces from Ottawa.
They deserve a government that has a long-term vision for developing our natural resources instead of a government with a reckless rip and ship approach to resource development, an approach that does nothing to protect our own energy security or help create value-added jobs.
Canadians deserve a government that is focused on creating the next generation of middle-class jobs in every region, in every sector, a government that will create a fairer, greener, more prosperous Canada for all. An NDP government will do that in 2015.
However, clearly this is not a government focused on building a Canada that is more prosperous for everyone, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the government's approach to first nations, Inuit, and Metis people. It has been five years since the historic residential school apology on the floor of the House of Commons, five years since the Prime Minister promised to renew our nation-to-nation relationship with first nations, Inuit, and Metis people, but what we have seen since that day is, unfortunately, more of the same: more broken promises, more delays, more cheap talk.
For far too long Liberal and Conservative governments have failed indigenous peoples in Canada. There has been no partnership, no real consultation, no recognition, and no respect, even though our Constitution and international law require them. Instead, all we have seen from Liberal and Conservative governments to this day is the same old paternalistic father-knows-best approach.
This summer I visited with aboriginal leaders at the First Nations Summit in British Columbia. These are first nations leaders who have tried to take a constructive approach to treaty negotiations with this Conservative government, but who simply do not have a willing partner sitting at the table across from them.
They have seen government representatives sent to negotiate with a take-it-or-leave-it proposal rather than a real mandate for dialogue. They have seen the federal government threaten to simply walk away from the table if its demands are not met. They have seen demands to renounce and extinguish their inherent rights as the price of reaching a deal, a practice so egregious that it has been denounced by the United Nations itself. All of this has resulted in a treaty process that has become so slow that it sometimes seems as if it has ground to a halt.
As BC Treaty Commission chair Sophie Pierre has said, this failed approach has not only produced delays and distrust but has left a growing number of B.C. first nations drowning in debt. First nations are being asked to mortgage their children's future just to protect their children's inherent rights. This is not just wrong, it is shameful.
We are living in an era of innovation that is unlike anything we have seen in Canadian history. Human capacity is greater than ever and the potential to maximize that capacity is unprecedented. Our capacity and potential are not lacking. What is lacking is political will.
The NDP believes in a Canada where people who work hard and play by the rules will succeed. We believe in a government in Ottawa that puts the public interest ahead of its own interests.
I can guarantee that the only powerful interest any member of an NDP government will ever serve is that of the people.
We in the NDP believe that we must give Canadians the support they need and are entitled to receive not only to survive, but also to prosper in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy.
What does that mean? It means targeted tax relief for companies that create jobs and train young workers, rather than across-the-board tax breaks for companies that are shipping our jobs overseas.
Throughout the summer, I met with young people who, instead of having found the type of full-time, stable employment that our generation had, are being forced to take low-paying jobs and precarious contract work. It is shameful.
Today's young people are better educated and more dynamic than ever, but can we honestly say that we are giving them the same opportunities our parents gave us? I doubt it.
As a generation of middle-class jobs disappeared, what did we do to create the next generation of middle-class jobs?
This fall, New Democrats will continue to focus on protecting Canadians from the unfair practices of credit card companies and payday lenders, as well as from excessive ATM fees.
New Democrats will keep fighting for a Canadian energy strategy that will create value-added jobs, contribute to our energy security and protect the environment.
Government after government, whether Liberal or Conservative, failed to take action on climate change. That is endangering not only our environment but also our entire economy. It is time to come up with a new plan, a new way of doing things, a new direction forward.
It is true that the challenges before us sometimes seem too great. To rise to these challenges, we need more than words, more than the Conservatives' constant cheap talk. New Democrats know that we are up to the task and that, unlike the old-guard parties, we will get it done.
I move, seconded by the member for Parkdale—High Park:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after “job creation; and” and replacing them with the following:
(b) condemn the Conservatives' economic record, which has resulted in over 1.3 million unemployed Canadians, drastic cuts to employment insurance, growing inequality and the downloading of billions of dollars of costs to individuals and other levels of government; and
(c) call on the government to introduce a real plan to create high-quality jobs and combat stagnating wages, provide tax incentives targeted to hire young Canadians, improve retirement security through increased Canada pension plan/Quebec pension plan benefits, and reduce credit card fees charged to small businesses and Canadian families.
Together, we will get it done.
Mr. Speaker, I know Canadians are riveted with what is happening in Ottawa with all the scandals around the federal government. Nevertheless, in spite of Conservative scandals, there is important business that is continuing in Parliament.
I rise today to speak, once again, on Bill C-60, which is yet another Conservative omnibus budget bill. It was only weeks ago that the Conservatives brought Bill C-60 to the floor of the House and very quickly constrained debate with time allocation. They pushed it through the finance committee, allowing a total of only four meetings to discuss and study this bill. Here we are with a record number of debate limits due to time allocation by the secretive Conservative government. We are back with this omnibus budget bill and, again, it will receive only two and a half hours of debate.
While this is not the biggest budget bill ever, it is 115 pages and changes almost 50 pieces of legislation. This will have wide-ranging impacts on government departments, crown corporations, international trade, and foreign investment. It will affect the prices of basic household goods for Canadians. All the while, the Conservatives themselves are very secretive. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer cannot find out what the government is cutting, and these cuts to programs and services and austerity measures continue.
This omnibus bill would make changes to the temporary foreign workers program and the Investment Canada Act. It merges the Department of Foreign Affairs with the Canadian International Development Agency. It also introduces significant tax hikes on credit unions, small businesses and tariff hikes on thousands of products. The Conservatives are raising the prices on more than 1,200 consumer goods, from over 70 countries, by increasing tariffs $333 million.
Bill C-60 also undermines the collective bargaining process at crown agencies, such as the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, VIA Rail, Canada Post, and many more crown corporations. It also raises serious concerns about the independence of institutions, including the CBC, where we prize journalistic independence and integrity, and also the Bank of Canada.
Canadians across the country have been writing to MPs to share their concerns about this omni-budget 3.0. If they are to be considered, these are changes that merit more debate, more time, and certainly due process. In year three of Conservative omni-budgets, Canadians should not accept this skirting of the democratic process and democratic oversight as the new normal.
Allow me to quote what National Post columnist Andrew Coyne said about omnibus budget bills. He stated:
Not only does this make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill, which is not: It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the [omnibus] legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.
...there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.
It was last year that Mr. Coyne wrote that opinion, and of course the government continues with its omnibus legislation, blind and determined as ever.
The Conservatives do not trust Canadians, and Bill C-60, like the omnibus bills of years past, is evidence of their disdain for parliamentary process, the democratic process, and ultimately for Canadians. If they had been listening to Canadians, the Conservatives would be hearing the kinds of things I have been hearing from my constituents. Thousands of Canadians are writing to parliamentarians, telling us that sections related to the CBC alone are reason to stop this omnibus bill.
Respected members of the Canadian media are telling Parliament that this omnibus bill needs to be intercepted. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, the Canadian Media Guild, the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada and ACTRA are urging all of the Conservatives to use common sense.
The Canadian Association of Journalists has said that the provisions of Bill C-60 show the Conservatives' total lack of confidence in the ability of the CBC's board of directors and president to properly manage public broadcasting.
This bill is also the worst case of government interference in the CBC and its mandate as an independent broadcaster funded by taxpayers.
My office certainly has received countless letters, emails and phone calls from constituents concerned about how Bill C-60 will impact the CBC. Of course, Conservatives would have to talk to Canadians if they wanted to know this. Clearly, they are not.
Bill C-60 also phases out the credit union tax deduction that has helped foster diversity in our financial system in Canada. There is a great deal of concern from credit unions from coast to coast about the long-term effects of these changes. Fostering diversity in the banking and financial sector is a necessary element of a modern economy.
At the finance committee, we heard from credit union representatives about the concerns that this measure has raised in communities across the country. I would like to quote a couple of them.
Mr. David Phillips, president and CEO of Credit Union Central of Canada, told us:
The provision as it is now is pro-competitive. So when you take the provision away, when you increase the tax rate, what you're really doing is supporting greater concentration in the Canadian financial services industry. It's really a tax on the growth of credit unions.
Mr. David Phillips is saying that as it stands now it fosters competition. What the Conservatives are doing will eliminate competition, or greatly reduce competition. That was what Mr. Phillips said to the finance committee last month.
Mr. Garth Manness, CEO of Credit Union Central of Manitoba, notes that:
Now credit unions alone face the possibility of having to pay more of their net income in federal tax. Just as the banks did before, it is no exaggeration to say that some may begin to question the future viability of credit unions in many communities in rural Canada.
In some cases, they are the only financial institution.
Not only could people be left without access to a nearby financial institution, valuable and stable jobs at the credit union could be lost.
Again, that is from Mr. Manness when he appeared at the finance committee last month.
As the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I know these measures will have a direct impact on my community. In my riding, the Ukrainian credit unions invest nearly $1 million annually in community programming, projects and educational initiatives that could simply disappear as a result of these tax changes. It makes no sense.
I recently met with representatives from the Council Of Ukrainian Credit Unions Of Canada which have a combined membership of over 63,000 people across Canada. The representatives I met with in Parkdale—High Park were shocked at the unexpected tax code changes for credit unions in Bill C-60. There was no consultation.
I share the concerns of my constituents, and many Canadians, that these new risk-reducing financial tools available to communities across the country threaten the overall diversity of the financial sector in Canada.
Bill C-60 is not what Canadians want. If the Conservatives were listening to Canadians, they would know that. If the Conservatives were listening to Canadians, they would be considering the advice of the very experts who appeared before the finance committee as witnesses on this bill.
For instance, labour relations expert George Smith told the finance committee that the changes in Bill C-60 fundamentally contradict the Canada Labour Code.
Now, Smith is not a union representative. For four decades, Smith was chief management negotiator for many businesses and crown corporations, such as Air Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway, and CBC. He was part of the privatization of Air Canada, the revitalization of the Canadian railway industry, including CN as a crown corporation, and the modernization of CBC's collective agreement.
George Smith, formerly in management at CBC, Air Canada and CPR, and now adjunct professor at Queen's University, stated:
Collective bargaining is messy. Sometimes it causes inconvenience. Labour disputes, I would argue, are short-term pain for long-term gain. But the product of a freely negotiated collective agreement is an agreement that both sides agree to and both sides then commit to implement. That gives management the certainty, and it gives the employees and the unions certainty in the business environment. It doesn't mean that those negotiations aren't difficult. But mandated change, in my experience, wherever it comes from, doesn't work.
Mr. Smith appeared at the finance committee last month. It is clear that his comments fell on deaf ears on the part of the government.
If the government were listening, it would hear the concerns of Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, on the changes that would allow Treasury Board interference in labour relations at crown corporations. He said:
These changes are problematic because it essentially gives Treasury Board unfettered authority to interfere in [collective] bargaining with Crown corporations, removing effective control from the parties most directly affected. This is not a recipe for healthy labour relations.
These are the experts who are telling us this, and the government refuses to listen.
The message from Canadians on process for this bill and on the content is clear. It is, “stop this omnibus budget bill”. However, the Conservatives will not take their fingers out of their ears long enough to hear what Canadians are saying.
The changes proposed to Bill C-60 regarding Treasury Board interference with crown corporations do not stop at the CBC. There is also concern that they could impact the independence of the Bank of Canada.
I recently tabled a motion at the finance committee to study the impact of this bill on the Bank of Canada, but, of course, like every other motion that the NDP or other parties put forward, and every other single amendment, the Conservatives rejected it, voted against it, and refused to listen.
In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, Kevin Carmichael described the potential scenario that could arise following the Bill C-60 measures:
Say the governor wanted to hire a talented banker who worked at an investment bank that had become the focus of public vitriol for its role in the global financial crisis. Would cabinet interfere with the appointment if there were a public outcry? Or to prevent one?
Carmichael goes on to say:
It is impossible to rule out the possibility. Yet such a scenario hardly is far-fetched. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney hired Tim Hodgson, the former head of Goldman Sachs's Canadian operations, as a special advisor in 2010. Would Mr. Carney have thought twice if he knew his internal appointments risked political censure? Again, there's reason to wonder. And suddenly, we're on a slippery slope: a simple “accountability” measure risks hurting the central bank's reputation as an independent actor.
Again, this is from an expert financial journalist at The Globe and Mail. The Conservatives are willing to risk the independence of the central bank if it means giving more power to the Prime Minister's Office.
Bill C-60 would also make the temporary foreign workers program correct some measures. However, they would be a band-aid solution and would not get to the heart of the government's mismanagement of the temporary foreign workers program. While the Conservatives like to crow about their record on job creation, there are still almost 1.4 million Canadians out of work. At the same time, the number of temporary foreign workers have tripled over the last decade. There are now hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers working here in Canada.
Experts and community groups across the country are speaking out against the band-aid solutions offered in Bill C-60. Gil McGowan, president of Alberta Federation of Labour, where many of these workers work, said:
The bottom line is that Canadians are being displaced by temporary foreign workers, wages are being suppressed and employers are being allowed to abdicate their responsibility for training Canadians.
Miles Corak, professor of economics, has said:
Flooding the market with workers from elsewhere year in and year out—even during a major recession—is not about an acute labour shortage. It is nothing more than a wage subsidy to low-paying firms, a subsidy that stunts the reallocation of goods, capital and labour that is the basis for efficient markets.
What do the Conservatives have against free markets?
David Gray, a labour economist and professor at the University of Ottawa, said:
The temporary foreign worker program has become a convenient “out” for employers unwilling to pay higher wages. It should just address only acute labour shortages.
The Canadian Council of Refugees said:
[T]he CCR regrets the [temporary foreign workers] announcement did not address the rights abuses suffered by migrant workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation because of their precarious status.
Again, this testimony was all ignored. Canadians told us about serious concerns about Bill C-60, and we in the New Democratic Party stand with Canadians in saying that we do not support this omnibus bill. We will be voting against it.
Despite what Conservatives claim, this budget will actually hold back the Canadian economy, instead of accelerating it. It is eliminating thousands of jobs, cutting direct program spending and weakening GDP growth. It does nothing to address unemployment, record levels of household debt or rising inequality.
Putting people to work is clearly the best way to reduce our deficit, but instead, this budget is recklessly pursuing an austerity agenda that has made major cuts to services on which Canadian families rely. Now is the time, instead, to invest in the next generation that will lead the country. It is the time to meet the challenges facing Canadians head-on, but this budget shirks these responsibilities.
There is no need to risk journalistic freedom at the CBC. There is no need to trample on collective bargaining rights and processes that have served us well for decades. New Democrats know that investing in communities, pursuing sustainable economic development and supporting small and medium-size businesses is critical in creating high-paying jobs and in building a vibrant economy for generations to come.
Canadians are counting on us to listen, to understand the concerns of communities across the country and to put the public interest first.
In that regard, I want to propose a reasoned amendment, and I will read the reasoned amendment now. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-60, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, because it:
(a) weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of Parliament, decreases transparency and erodes democratic process by amending 49 different pieces of legislation, many of which are not related to budgetary measures;
(b) raises taxes on Canadians by introducing tax hikes on credit unions and small businesses;
(c) gives the Treasury Board sweeping powers to interfere in collective bargaining and impose employment conditions on non-union employees;
(d) amends the Investment Canada Act to triple review thresholds and dramatically reduces the number of foreign takeovers subject to review;
(e) proposes an inadequate band-aid fix for the flawed approach to labour market opinions in the temporary foreign worker program;
(f) proposes to increase fees for visitor visas for friends and family coming to visit Canada; and
(g) fails to provide substantive measures to create good Canadian jobs and stimulate meaningful long-term growth and recovery.
I will add that this reasoned amendment is being seconded by the member of Parliament for Saint-Lambert.
The electoral district of Parkdale--High Park (Ontario) has a population of 102,142 with 74,899 registered voters and 186 polling divisions.
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