Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP)
|| That, in the opinion of the House, there is a growing prosperity gap in Canada that is making it harder for working and middle-class families to make ends meet and sees more and more Canadians, including women, children, seniors, aboriginal people and people with disabilities, slipping into poverty and therefore calls on the government, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, to implement a national anti-poverty strategy beginning with the reinstatement of the federal minimum wage to be initially set at $10 per hour.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House today to move our party's motion that calls for a national anti-poverty strategy beginning with the reinstatement of the $10 minimum wage.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Parkdale—High Park.
Over the course of today, my party will lay out what we see as the elements of a national anti-poverty plan.
Before I got into politics in 1990, I was a soup kitchen director. I got into politics to fight poverty and, 17 years later, I am still fighting. I wish I could say the fight was over.
As I travelled across Canada over the past two years, first on a tour looking at early learning for children and, more recently, talking with people about poverty and the growing prosperity gap, I was struck by the deep level of compassion and caring that exists. However, people are increasingly uneasy about the disparity they see around them and their own tenuous grip on some security for themselves and their families.
They remember a time when community mattered and government could and did make a difference. Canada has a rich tradition and history of gathering together as a community against geography, distance and weather to ensure that no one got left behind or was forgotten.
People are looking for a vision consistent with the Canadian story, where we wove a safety net of basic income, health care, education, unemployment insurance and pensions for all, the kind of vision that Canadians still remember. It was no accident that Tommy Douglas was voted the greatest Canadian.
Today there is a competing vision, one vision playing itself out over the last 15 years, rooted in the Margaret Thatcher thesis that there really is no such thing as society, rather a world of individuals who see money and the market as the driving force behind all human activity. The result is a growing uneasiness and dissatisfaction. There is a poverty and inequality that are symptoms of a structural dysfunction affecting more and more of our citizens and newcomers to our land.
Thomas Walkom wrote recently in the Toronto Star:
||--the poor are the canaries in the coal mine. The deliberate attempts to reconfigure Canada over the past 30 years—by gutting social programs, dismantling national institutions and insisting that market forces alone can solve every problem—have affected everyone. But they've hit the poor first and hardest.
Mr. Walkom goes on to say:
|| We shouldn't care about poverty just to be nice. We should care about poverty because, in the end, this story isn't just about the 11 per cent or 16 per cent of the population...officially designated as low-income. It is about the deliberate erosion of middle-class Canada. It's about us, too.
Over the past nine months, I have travelled across the country to communities big and small. I have seen and heard the stories of misery and hurt and the tremendous effort of good people with little resource trying to make a difference. It is what I call a bad news-good news and yet even more bad news story.
The bad news is that the statistics flowing from institutions like the National Council of Welfare indicate that poverty is more pervasive and deeper than ever. The good news is that we are hearing about it again. For too long, it has been hidden and invisible. National newspapers are writing about poverty. People are willing to come to meetings to talk about it.
However, the even more bad news is why we are hearing about poverty again. The number of homeless is estimated to be as high as 250,000 and in places that we would never expect. Studies are showing alarmingly high numbers of people working full time all year and yet not earning enough to make ends meet.
I have been travelling on an anti-poverty campaign to learn first-hand about its reality in our country. I made a commitment to bring those stories, hopes and recommendations back to Parliament.
In Calgary and Victoria, two communities where the economy is booming, there is no affordable housing. Alarming numbers of people are living on the street as shelters, church halls and warehouses prove insufficient. The homeless are in the very shadows of the prosperous oil companies with their tax breaks.
In Calgary, I visited a shelter that beds down on floormats 1,000 to 1,200 of the 3,500-plus homeless living in that city. I watched as two city buses took another 100 or so to the suburbs to be bedded down on mats in warehouses. The rest find refuge where they can, most under bridges and in parks, while city hall passes laws making it criminal behaviour to do so.
A few will turn to crack and crystal meth, since, as I was told by street workers, it takes away any feeling of hunger, cold and fear. However, that lasts only five to ten minutes and they need another hit, which, in turn, leaves our streets dangerous places.
Other stories emerge. In Halifax, I was told of the disproportionate number of women facing poverty; women who go hungry to feed their children; the disappearance of good, well paying jobs in the manufacturing sector in the Niagara-Hamilton corridor of Ontario; the overwhelming aboriginal face of truly destitute poverty in Thunder Bay; the huge increases in health issues for people living in the poorer neighbourhoods of Saskatoon; whole families living in motel rooms through the winter in the Penticton area of B.C., then disappearing, with children gone from school when the tourists arrive in the spring. It is thought that they live in the mountains and campgrounds while picking fruit and working on farms to make a living. I was also told about the more than 50 disabled people living on the streets of Victoria, and the deteriorating and diseased stock of affordable housing in Toronto and Vancouver.
Canada has not had a national affordable housing program in over 15 years and what does exist is being torn down and replaced with expensive condos at an alarming rate.
About 175 people gathered in Castlegar, B.C. and told me of their struggles to get ahead, the roadblocks, the lack of resources and the cutbacks, in particular to early learning and child care.
Students at Brock University in St. Catharines told me about the challenges they face trying to access post-secondary education, the ever-increasing tuition and ancillary fees and the cost of housing and living expenses, while summer work is harder to get and pays only minimum wage that does not keep pace with inflation.
Poverty is debilitating and mind numbing. Poverty can paralyze and kill the spirit. Combined with thoughtless, harmful public policy, poverty can rip out our hearts and souls. Poverty can actually kill.
I remember the summer of 2001 and the story of Kimberly Rogers. Kimberly lived on social assistance and decided to go to college to better her situation. She was in her third year, soon to graduate, when she successfully applied for a student loan. What she did not know was that the Mike Harris government in Ontario at that time had passed legislation to make it illegal, criminal behaviour, to be in receipt of social assistance and also collect a student loan. She was charged, pleaded guilty and sentenced to house arrest. On the hottest day of August, in the summer of 2001, Kimberly Rogers and her unborn child died in that apartment living out her sentence. That should never happen in this country and we should never let it happen again.
Today we are calling for a national anti-poverty strategy, starting with the reinstatement of a federal minimum wage of $10 an hour. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Jurisdictions in the European Union and elsewhere are proposing national plans to combat poverty. They are doing this with noticeably early success and have now been joined by a couple of our own provinces, with an anti-poverty law in Quebec and a poverty reducing strategy in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The National Council of Welfare has presented a framework for action, a poverty plan with targets and timelines, a budget, accountability, and the establishment of official poverty indicators. Groups across the country are doing some very creative things. They are looking for national leadership. Let us take advantage of this opportunity with this minority government to do the right thing for families, for our neighbours, for working men and women, and for the at risk and marginalized.
We have an economic boom in many parts of our country. Sadly, we also have a poverty boom. We can do better. We must do better for each and every Canadian and newcomer, for our poor on assistance, for the 650,000 working poor in our country, for women, children, seniors, veterans and persons with disabilities, who all struggle with unacceptable levels of poverty.
We must fundamentally right the wrongs and honour the obligations we have to our first nations, Métis and Inuit. It is all about human rights, justice and fairness.
People are watching us today to see if we can find the political will to win this fight. For their sake, for our sake and for Canada's sake, we must.
Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to second the motion by my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie. He has very eloquently described the terribly desperate situation that so many Canadians across the country find themselves in. Many of us have read the statistics, often published in the newspapers, about how almost five million Canadians are living in poverty, 1.2 million children are living in poverty, and one in seven full time workers is working for less than $10 an hour.
As my colleague described, the real impact is on the day to day lives of so many Canadians. I see it in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I see it in the community kitchens, the breakfast programs and the Sunday dinner programs, where so many people are so desperate and so grateful for the smallest of generosities from their communities. What hits especially hard is to see the children with their parents. I wonder what kind of hopes and dreams those kids have when they live in such desperate circumstances.
We live in a time when our economy is doing very well. Our corporations are earning profits at an all time high. Our CEOs are earning wildly extravagant wages. A report came out first thing at the beginning of 2007 and stated that the average CEO of one of the major companies has earned, by 9:45 in the morning on new year's day, the equivalent of the annual salary of a person working at minimum wage. That gives us some comparison and an idea of the extremes and the growing gap in our society. We clearly have a lot of money in our society. The issue that we are struggling with, I think, is the equitable distribution of this money so that we do not have such extremes of wealth and poverty.
I have a private member's bill on the issue of reinstating the federal minimum wage at $10 an hour. We know that most low wage workers are women. Many of them are newcomers to Canada. I see that in my community because it is one where many people settle when they first arrive in Canada.
Average minimum wages across Canada have declined in their real value by about 20% since 1976. Over the last 30 years, the value of our average minimum wage across the country has declined by 20%. I think that has contributed enormously to the problems of hopelessness and desperation for people living in poverty.
For a government that places such a high priority on a law and order agenda, one of the best ways to prevent crime is to pay people a decent income so they do not feel that desperation and hopelessness, so they do not feel that nothing matters and they have nothing to lose.
We used to have a federal minimum wage. It had not been increased since 1986 and was abolished by the Chrétien government in 1996. We now have no federal minimum wage. I believe that the federal government has really abandoned its leadership role in setting a standard for a minimum wage for Canadians.
Only about 10% of workers in Canada fall under the federal minimum wage. Most workers in the country fall under provincial legislation, but the federal government has the ability to set a standard, to set a goal for the rest of the country, and certainly having a federal minimum wage is very important for people who work under the federal jurisdiction.
There are those who ask, “What about the economy?” People say that doing this will be terrible for the economy. They say that whether something is done federally or the provinces take up the issue of the minimum wage it will have a negative impact on the economy.
I challenge that notion. There is a report by 80 economists in Ontario that states the contrary. Rather than undermining jobs or undermining the economy it states that increasing the minimum wage has a positive impact. It increases labour market participation. More people are able to spend money, unlike the very wealthy who when they get fabulous salaries can salt them away in a trust in the Bahamas or some place. Low income people spend what they get and if they get an increase in pay it goes for food on the table, it goes to rent, it goes to their kids' clothes and school books. It also means that people are paying more in taxes and we have less in social spending, so there is a positive impact all around.
We know that in places where there has been a significant increase in the minimum wage in cities like San Francisco, Washington, and in the U.K., there was a positive impact, not a negative impact, on the economy.
Some people say this is going to be detrimental to small business. Again, most small businesses fall under provincial jurisdiction, but only about 29% of low wage jobs are in the small business sector. There are many small business owners who pay decent wages because they know they get what they pay for. They want people who are going to be loyal. When they train them, they are going to stay there. They are going to be good with the customers. They believe it is an investment that pays off in the long run. Those who overwhelmingly are paying low wages are the major businesses in fast foods, the retail giants and the temporary agencies. These are the ones that overwhelmingly are keeping low wages in their workplaces.
There is a federal study that did not receive a lot of attention when it was released, but on October 30 there was a study by Harry Arthurs, the former dean of Osgoode Law School, called “Fairness at Work: Federal Labour Standards for the 21st Century” which was reporting on part III of the Labour Code. He made the point that no one should work full time all year and have to live in poverty. That is fundamental and it is a study that the government should heed.
I believe that this is a challenge we can meet. So many Canadians are disaffected by politics. They disengage from the political process because they do not believe their politicians are speaking out for them. If we want to show people that truly we are listening to those who today feel they have no voice, then I believe this is an issue whose time has come. The federal government can show leadership by reinstituting the minimum wage as part of an overall national anti-poverty strategy.
My caucus and I are not alone on this. There are many organizations which have been campaigning on this issue. Campaign 2000, most notably, took up the challenge from the motion that this House passed unanimously in 1989 introduced by my colleague, Ed Broadbent, who said that by the year 2000 we should eliminate child poverty, and of course the opposite happened. More children are living in poverty.
Campaign 2000 believes in this as do the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Labour Congress, Make Poverty History, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Toronto Star, the Community Social Planning Council, and KAIROS, which is an interfaith organization. Many thousands of Canadians all believe as well that working men and women deserve a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
I want to close with a quote from Dr. Charles Hastings. He was Toronto's first medical officer of health. Almost 100 years ago, in 1918, he wrote the following:
|| Every nation that permits people to remain under the fetters of preventable disease and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness; and, who endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible the development of a sound mind and body, is trampling on a primary principle of democracy.
Mrs. Lynne Yelich (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing forward the motion today. I know the hon. member has a lot of interest and concern for this issue.
I would also like to remind everyone who is watching this debate that we all care very much. This is an issue that crosses all party lines. I think every member in the House, all 308 of us care very much. It does not matter which party we represent. We care and we are trying to address this very important issue. Therefore, I am hoping that out of these debates we can come to some solutions.
Some good questions have already been asked about trying to establish a poverty line. We look forward to a lot of good speeches and good questions today which will, hopefully, lead to some solutions.
I am taking this opportunity to address some of the many measures that the government is taking to promote the economic well-being of Canadians.
The Conservative Party members share the hon. member's dedication to helping eliminate poverty in Canada. We believe that to do this the government must invest in the financial security of Canada and its citizens. The government is doing that.
The measures the government has introduced are designed to promote today's economy and build a prosperous tomorrow for the benefit of all Canadians.
Before examining these measures, let us take a brief look at Canada's economy as a whole and the state of its labour market.
The economy is booming and with that comes higher employment rates. According to the latest Statistics Canada labour force survey, employment rose by an estimated 22,000 in April and is up almost 1% this year, or double the pace of growth observed over the first four months of last year.
Unemployment is hovering at a 30 year low. More Canadians than ever are at work. This translates into greater employment opportunities across the country, and I know of no greater anti-poverty measure than a job.
The government recognizes, though, that not everyone is equipped to participate in this booming economy, and that is why our new government has made a number of investments that recognize the importance of supporting skills development.
The government recognizes the importance of learning, from apprenticeship to post-secondary education, from academic infrastructure to research and development, from child care to youth programs, and to programs for older workers and new Canadians. These are measures that will help to ensure Canadians keep up with the ever growing knowledge economy, the best means of securing a well paying job.
The government also recognizes, however, that there are vulnerable members of society that do need additional support. Even in times of prosperity there are those who need temporary financial assistance when they are between jobs and employment insurance is there for them.
Employment insurance also offers support to workers who must be absent from work owing to sickness or caring for a gravely ill relative. Maternity and parental benefits are available for parents to take an absence from work for up to a year to care for their newborn child.
I was remiss, Mr. Speaker. I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.
I would like to go and speak about older workers. As I said, in times of prosperity there are those who do need temporary financial assistance. Again, the government is addressing this with older workers. In the work world, older workers are often the most vulnerable. This is why the government is taking action through the employment insurance program to provide a total of $1.4 billion to support some 230,000 unemployed older workers annually.
In employment programs funded through EI part II, more than 80,000 unemployed workers age 50 and over were helped to obtain and maintain employment through training, work experience and aid in starting a new business. This figure represents 12% of all workers assisted by these programs. These are tangible supports, supports for older workers who want to stay active and who want to be contributing members of the workforce.
We continue to examine ways to assist older workers. We are undertaking a targeted older workers strategy to help older workers with training. Changes in the global economy can affect us here at home and we understand that. The need is to be ready for this.
The shame of the last decade was that the Liberals did nothing for the older workers but talk about studying a problem everyone knew was coming. It is telling that the Liberal member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor recently came out against older worker programs and the Liberal leader has said nothing about it.
Turning to foreign credentials recognition for workers new to Canada, too often newcomers to Canada have difficulty finding employment especially in their field of expertise. Canada's new government is working on the foreign credentials recognition process to speed up their ability to integrate into the labour market and society.
While the Liberals talked about the issue and the NDP holds press conferences, the new government is acting. To give just one example, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Campus Canada and United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society will receive funding to forge the partnerships necessary to deliver overseas information services, assessment services, skills upgrading, Canadian workplace experience opportunities and enhanced settlement support to skilled immigrants. This support will be offered both prior to and upon arrival in Canada. Projects such as these help not only to combat poverty among immigrants but they also help all Canadians to benefit and all Canadians to prosper from their expertise.
The NDP's motion does not address immigrants, but the Conservatives know that immigrants were falling behind. It took real leadership by the Prime Minister and the government to see the problem and to act on it.
We have reduced in half the right of permanent residence fees that the Liberals had imposed on the newcomers. We have ended the decade long freeze the Liberals imposed on funding to community based agencies that help newcomers adapt and integrate into Canada.
The NDP and the Liberals were against immigration measures in our budget but Canadians and immigrants were not. They know that the Conservatives not only support immigration but we want to give immigrants the tools they need to succeed and take full part in Canada's prosperity.
The new government is also taking action to ensure that seniors can enjoy their retirement in financial security. The new government listens to seniors. They support us.
The fact is the NDP's motion misstates the success Canada has been making for seniors. Over the past 25 years poverty has been going down for seniors in Canada and the percentage of seniors living below Statistics Canada's low income cutoff has gone from 21.3% in 1980 to 5.6% in 2004, an all-time low. The trend is due in large part to our income security programs, the old age security program and the Canada pension plan.
We have introduced a bill to amend those programs to simplify access to and delivery of benefits. One of the amendments would enable Canadians who file tax returns to apply for the guaranteed income supplement only once. After their initial application their annual tax filings would largely determine whether or not they received the guaranteed income supplement from year to year. They would never need to reapply. We are also continuing our extensive efforts to reach out to those seniors who may be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but who do not file tax returns.
We have been working with the homeless. We have been working with the provinces and territories on how best to address the needs of particular regions and communities. More important, we have been working with them on building more affordable housing.
Finally, we realize that worker-management relations and workplace conditions are critical to productivity and successful functioning of private and public sector organizations. They are equally important to the personal and family lives of a vast number of individuals who go to work every day.
We are committed to supporting vulnerable Canadians and all Canadians in achieving economic security. The measures I have outlined are only a few examples. I believe our approach is the right one. The evidence of our economy backs this up. Therefore, as much as I appreciate the hon. member's sentiments, I cannot support the motion.
Mr. Mike Lake (Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, at the outset I want to say that I have the pleasure of serving on the human resources committee with the member for Sault Ste. Marie and I appreciate his contribution in this area. However, I need to point out that the concern for the welfare of low income Canadians is not restricted to card carrying members of the New Democratic Party.
Since taking office, Canada's new government has taken significant steps to help low income Canadians. However, unlike the NDP, we believe that the most effective way to help low income families is through vibrant and sustained economic growth. This represents a fundamental truth that even the official opposition Liberal Party would concur with, or did when it was in government.
The former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of human resources and social development, Eleni Bakopanos, once noted, “The best economic and social program is job creation”. The former Liberal minister of human resources, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, stated, “In my opinion, the best employment insurance is a job, employment”.
Furthermore, we understand that the best way to spur economic growth is through the cutting of excessive taxes and unnecessary regulations that suffocate the innovation and entrepreneurship needed for a strong economy.
I am happy to report that Canada's new government has accomplished a great deal in pursuit of these objectives. Within the first 100 days of taking office, we moved swiftly to help create the right conditions and opportunities for all Canadians to succeed.
In budget 2006 we moved to deliver more tax relief for individuals than the last four federal budgets combined. We reduced the GST by one percentage point. This is a tax reduction for all Canadians, including those whose incomes are too low to pay any income tax. As the newly minted Liberal member for Halton remarked, “families who make less money benefit more than wealthier ones from the GST cut”.
Budget 2006 also permanently reduced the lowest personal income tax rate from its previously legislated rate of 16% to 15.5%. Moreover, we increased the basic personal exemption amount, which will reach at least $10,000 by 2009, and we introduced the new Canada employment credit. Taken together, these measures will increase the amount of income that can be earned without paying income tax to almost $10,000 in 2007 and over $11,000 in 2009. Indeed, as a result of such measures in the 2006 budget, about 655,000 low income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls altogether.
While these important measures may not seem significant to the members opposite, they have improved the lives of hard-working families, putting a little extra money in their pockets or allowing parents to give their kids a little extra money for what they need. But again, the notion of letting Canadians keep more of their hard-earned paycheque may seem foreign to an increasingly out of touch NDP.
Not content to stop there, we have also committed to further tax relief by reducing the GST by another percentage point.
Budget 2006 also addressed the needs of Canada's seniors by doubling the maximum amount of tax free pension income that can be claimed under the pension income credit to $2,000. This measure, effective for the 2006 and subsequent taxation years, will benefit nearly three million taxpayers receiving eligible pension income. What is more, it will remove approximately 85,000 pensioners from the tax rolls.
Likewise, the tax fairness plan announced last October went even further for Canada's seniors. We proposed to increase the age credit amount by $1,000 and introduced income splitting for pensions to increase the rewards from retirement savings. Such measures will result in substantial savings for our seniors. As Canada's Association for the Fifty-Plus noted, “the new measures should play to the advantage of a significant number of pensioners in Canada”.
We and, more importantly, seniors from coast to coast look forward to the support of the opposition as we table legislation for these measures in the near future. As Dan Braniff of the Common Front for Pension Splitting recently declared:
|| We have not let up in our struggle... We're writing letters to the opposition to let them know that seniors are counting on the pension-splitting.
I plead with the member for Sault Ste. Marie and his opposition colleagues not to turn their backs on seniors and to support Canada's new government.
While we have redoubled our efforts at helping our seniors, we have done so while simultaneously recognizing that one of the most important investments we can make is to support families as they raise their children, the next generation of Canadians. That is why budget 2006 provided the kind of investments that will make a real difference to parents by providing more choice in child care for families with young children.
The universal child care benefit introduced in last year's budget provides all families with $100 per month for each child under the age of six. In addition to this benefit, income support is also provided to families with children through the two main components of the Canada child tax benefit: the base benefit, which is targeted to low and middle income families; and the national child benefit supplement, which provides additional assistance to low income families.
With the introduction of the universal child care benefit in budget 2006, total direct federal support to families will be almost $12 billion in 2007. The universal child care benefit helps all families, including those who are new to our country. The government also helped new Canadians by cutting the rate of permanent residence fee in half, reducing the economic burden the Liberals imposed on those who tried to establish a new life in Canada.
Unfortunately, the NDP wants to take some of these benefits away. Both the NDP member for Sault Ste. Marie and the NDP member for Trinity—Spadina attempted to bring forward motions at committee that would have gutted the operational funding for the universal child care benefit, preventing Canadian parents from getting support. Luckily for Canadian families, the new Conservative government will not allow that to happen.
Our government will also not turn a deaf ear to the plight of our fellow Canadians in our aboriginal communities and we will not comfort these Canadians with the false hope of empty promises. Indeed, Canada's new government recognizes that our first nations people face unique challenges and we are committed to support these communities as they address these needs.
With that goal in mind, budget 2006 provided $450 million to take action in areas such as ensuring a safe water supply, providing adequate housing on reserves and improving education outcomes and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families. In addition, the budget confirmed up to $300 million to provinces to address immediate pressures in off reserve aboriginal housing. These initiatives represent concrete action, not vacant promises.
Budget 2006 and our tax fairness plan took significant steps to get Canada back on track and created the advantages that would in turn create the prosperity, which would lift all Canadians. I am pleased to report that the state of the Canadian labour market under this Conservative government is strong and robust. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly 32 years, but we need to go further. We need to build an economy that will help produce better jobs for even more Canadians over the coming years.
That is why the Minister of Finance introduced “Advantage Canada”, a bold new economic plan for Canada. A key component of this plan is our promise to deliver a working income tax benefit in budget 2007 to help low and modest income Canadians get ahead. I will take a moment to expand on this important initiative.
For too many low income Canadians, working can mean being financially worse off. For example, a typical single parent, with one child, who takes a low income job could lose almost 80¢ of each dollar earned to taxes and reduced income from government programs. In addition, he or she could also lose in kind benefits, such as subsidized housing and prescription drugs, and could often take on work related expenses as well. Some people refer to this situation as the welfare wall, a situation that discourages many low and modest income Canadians from getting the jobs they and their families need to have.
This benefit would increase income support while at the same time strengthen work incentives. With labour shortages emerging throughout the country and an aging population, action to improve work incentives for low and modest income Canadians must be an imperative for all governments.
Today's motion calls for the government to address the issues facing low income Canadians. That is exactly what Canada's new government is doing. We made it a priority in our inaugural budget by providing much needed assistance to low income Canadians and the Conservative government will continue to build on that action.
Hon. Ken Dryden (York Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brampton—Springdale.
As Canadians, we expect certain things of and for ourselves. We expect certain things of and for others. We know that historically, living in a climate that was harsh and unpredictable in a land that could be inhospitable and demanding, we could not make it on our own. We needed our neighbours and our neighbours needed us. We still do.
We also know that economic policy and social policy are really part of the same thing. A strong economy is our best instrument of social policy. It not only generates more money that can go into social programs, it means more people are able to support themselves without the assistance of social programs, leaving more for people who cannot. Economic policy and social policy need each other.
We usually think of social programs as safety nets, as something passive, but in a trapeze act in a circus, a safety net encourages people to try what they cannot be certain of doing, to fall into the net when they fail, then to get back up and try again, to learn, to improve, to become good at something. A safety net is not passive. It is an improver, an enabler, an instrument that encourages bigger and bigger ambitions. It allows us to take risks. It makes us better.
As Canadians, we think of ourselves as a country of inclusion, where differences are both celebrated and considered not to be significant and where the less fortunate are given a chance. We have done well, but we must do better.
When kids see something that is unjust, not having lived long lives of explanation and excuse, they say that it is not fair. No amount of explanation or excuse will diminish their sense of outrage. It is in this spirit that we look to implement a national anti-poverty strategy.
To do so, we need to set targets and the target is not eradication. Eradication means zero. We will not get to zero. Nobody has ever got to zero, no country has ever got to zero. When we set a target that we cannot achieve, we set ourselves up for a feeling of failure, for the criticism of failure, to an absence of energy that comes with failure, and we need all the energy we can get.
To set targets, we need to agree on a common definition, one that the public accepts and believes is a fair representation of poverty. Currently we have three or four definitions, ones that all of us use selectively to benefit ourselves and to disadvantage others when the time seems right to us, and they are definitions that the public does not necessarily accept or believe as true representation of poverty.
I think we are at a point now where we are ready to find that common definition and with that common definition, a target. Then we need to go after hitting this target in a whole lot of different ways, supporting, giving a boost to those in greatest need, single mothers, people with disabilities, new immigrants, seniors, children and aboriginals.
In terms of studying that kind of specific target, in our last leadership campaign I proposed, as a target to reduce child poverty, 25% over the next five years, 50% over the next ten years. They are difficult targets, but they are achievable by supporting and giving a boost to those in greatest need, by enhancing the Canada child tax benefit, recreating a real system of early learning and child care across the country, re-implementing the Kelowna accord and making life for Canadians with disabilities truly accessible and inclusive.
Increasing the minimum wage, as the motion proposes, can only help but it is a very limited instrument. The motion applies only to workers in federally regulated sectors, such as banking, telecommunications and railways, which make up only about 5% of Canada's workforce and, of this 5%, only 2% make less than $10 an hour. The motion would affect only one-tenth of 1% of Canada's workforce.
Indeed, something is disingenuous about this motion brought forward by the NDP. In the time of the last government we were absolutely on our way to a national system of early learning and child care. The stakeholders knew it, the public knew it and the parents knew it. We were on our way with the Kelowna accord. The public knew it and the aboriginal peoples knew it. Then the NDP helped to bring the government down and with it child care and Kelowna, critical elements in the fight against poverty gone, gone until the government is gone. The NDP can bring forward 100 or 1,000 motions like this and none can hide this fact and none will get the NDP off the hook.
We, the Canadian people, have a problem. To have a real national anti-poverty strategy, we need to believe in it. It is the same with climate change, with aboriginal issues and with child care. It is hard. It will take a long time. It requires the deep in the bones belief that politics is about people. It is for people. When things go wrong in a person's life, as anyone else would do, governments need to pitch in and do what it takes, not look for any and every way to get out, not play the jurisdictional blame game and not play the ideological card. This is hard. There will be moments of disappointment and frustration.
Real results on poverty will only happen if the government of the day truly believes in the fight of it, if the Prime Minister believes that the real purpose of politics is not politics, if the Prime Minister is a real believer and if the prime minister is a real leader.
How do we get it done? The problem is there is no “it” in it, just stuff. No pretending, no wishful thinking and no desperate hope that decisiveness is real leadership and not just style because it is not.
I support the motion but, make no mistake, nothing will happen in the fight against poverty until the current government is gone.
Ms. Ruby Dhalla (Brampton—Springdale, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as Canadians watch this debate on television, they are looking to us as parliamentarians to give them a sense of hope. They are looking to us as parliamentarians to give them a chance and an opportunity to live their dreams. They are looking to us as parliamentarians to ensure they have the tools and the resources they need to get out of poverty.
Canadians want a government and they want politicians who do not have a “me” approach but practise a “we” approach so that, together, as Canadians, we can continue to be the envy of the world.
It is unfortunate that since being elected the Conservative government has betrayed and ignored the voices of many Canadian families and the most vulnerable in our society. With its ideological, right wing approach, the Conservatives have single-handedly created a situation that will contribute to the rise of poverty in our country.
In my own riding of Brampton—Springdale, I have heard from women, seniors, children, people from cultural groups and youth organizations who have been impacted by the cuts that the government has made to important social programs.
The anti-poverty strategy put forward by the NDP is needed because the Conservative minority government has adopted a “fend for yourself” policy in respect to Canadians.
Let us talk about child care. Whether a senior, a youth or family is in need of child care, they need to be one of the lucky ones to benefit from the government's policy. If both parents can afford to stay at home, they will be the lucky ones under the Conservative government. However, like the 70% of children under six years of age whose mothers are working, those parents do not actually luck out under the government's policy because its plan only ensures benefits for those who are well off.
The neo-Conservative government does not understand the needs of Canadian families. The families who will benefit the least from this so-called universal child care benefit are those who really need it most.
Let us take a look at an example. A couple earning $40,000 each will lose about one-third of their monthly benefit, winding up with only $60 a month per child for child care. If we look at the cost of child care, this by no means will help them to ensure their children have the very best start in life.
I would like to compare this to what the former minister of human resources and social development has spent on limousines in the last three days. It was more than $1,800. This is money that could have been utilized by many Canadian parents and families who are living in poverty.
Child care advocacy groups and Canadian parents and families have issued a report card in this regard giving the Prime Minister and the new Conservative government a failing grade when it comes to delivering programs for children who are living in poverty in this country.
The situation is about to get worse because the funding that was implemented under the former Liberal government, with the early learning and child care initiatives, will run out next month and we will have an additional crisis in this country. We will have an additional crisis because the Conservative government failed to deliver on its promise to create 125,000 spaces. It has created zero of those spaces.
It has also failed Canadians and contributed to poverty by cancelling programs that are impacting the most vulnerable in our society, by cutting funding and ignoring priorities that are important to Canadians. It seems as if the Conservative government is ripping at the seams of our social fabric.
Some of the other Conservative policy initiatives have hit low income Canadians particularly hard. They have increased the bottom income tax rate from 15% to 15.5%. Instead of reducing income taxes for those who need it most, they have actually increased taxes. By lowering the basic personal exemption by $400, they have put 200,000 low income Canadians back on the tax rolls. They have eliminated the young child supplement to the child tax benefit. They have cancelled the Kelowna accord, which would have addressed poverty among aboriginal Canadians.
Another demographic hit by the Conservative Party's policy is youth. Students who have relied on summer jobs to ensure they can pay for their tuition, and perhaps get out of poverty, are going to suffer under this government, because the Conservatives have cut $55 million from the summer career placement program.
I spoke about the aboriginal community. Poverty among aboriginals is another significant challenge. Even though during the election campaign the Conservatives promised they would uphold the Government of Canada's commitment to first nations and aboriginal communities, the first thing they did in office was cut the $5 billion Kelowna accord, an accord that would have invested in children, health care and educational programs for our aboriginal communities.
Not only did the Conservatives cut the Kelowna accord, they have made more budget cuts to programs that are vital to the aboriginal community. They have cut child care funding for first nations, the first nations stop smoking program, and funding for aboriginal languages. It is unfortunate that due to these program cuts the Conservatives have made it very clear to aboriginal Canadians that they are not one of their priorities.
I will read for members a quote from Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who was left to conclude, “We're the only community that's been targeted this way”. He said, “We ask ourselves if this government really does care about the First Nations communities”. Now, under the leadership of Phil Fontaine, the Assembly of First Nations has had to launch its own campaign to address the issue of poverty in first nations communities.
We can talk about homelessness. We can talk about the fact that the government has not provided transitional funding to ensure those who are the most vulnerable in our society can get access to funding from SCPI, the supporting communities partnership initiative, to have the resources and tools they need to live in affordable housing.
What is worse is the fact that the government has taken away needed transitional funding when it cancelled the SCPI program. That has resulted in hundreds of shelters and the homeless being left in limbo, with shelters facing the fact that they might have to close and the homeless being left out in the cold due to the Conservative government's new philosophy.
If the government truly valued our nation's social programs, it would have made sure that a transition program for the homeless in this country was in place. Let us take a look at the Conservatives' 2006 platform. I was quite surprised when I took a look at their platform. There is nothing, not one initiative outlined in their election platform, that talks about poverty reduction or the minimum wage.
Let us take a look at the Liberal Party's track record. We are committed to social justice, to ensuring fair justice in terms of income distribution. The policies and the programs established under the Liberal government have ensured that Canada's social safety net is the best in the world. We ensured that by working together with the provinces and territories to make our country even stronger.
That is why we support today's motion for creating a national anti-poverty strategy and for ensuring that as the federal government there is an opportunity to increase the minimum wage to $10.
In conclusion, I find it slightly hypocritical that the NDP members are actually putting forward this motion, because it is due to their alliance with the Conservatives that the Liberal government was forced to go to an election and was not able to deliver on behalf of children, in ensuring that there were child care spaces, and on behalf of seniors, women and the most vulnerable in this country.
We on this side of the House are committed to a national anti-poverty strategy. We are committed as a party to standing up for the most vulnerable in our society. We are committed to addressing the root causes of poverty in a comprehensive approach, an approach that champions social justice and economic prosperity.
We have a dynamic team that is passionate, committed and driven to ensure that our approach, the Liberal approach, is one that creates acceptance of tolerance, equality and opportunity, because those are core values that so many Canadians across the country cherish. I am sure that with all parliamentarians working together we will be able to create a national anti-poverty strategy. We must all believe in this in our hearts.
Mrs. Carole Lavallée (Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie and thank him for raising the debate on poverty here in the House today. It has been quite some time since we have discussed this issue as seriously as this here in the House. The premises set out by my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie are good, and he has accurately identified the causes, effects and consequences of poverty in Canada and Quebec.
I would also like to remind the House that, in 1990, a motion was unanimously adopted right here in this House, promising to eliminate child poverty within 10 years. That was in 1990 and the promise was supposed to be fulfilled by the year 2000. Yet, now, in 2007, the situation is even more appalling than it was before.
Once again, I would like to thank the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie for raising this debate on poverty and the working conditions I mentioned. As I said, the NDP premises are good. I believe they identified the causes correctly and gave a good analysis. The member for Sault Ste. Marie gave an excellent analysis. He is right: those least well off and most vulnerable are left to fend for themselves, especially by this Conservative government, this right-wing government whose main ideology is based on every man for himself and the law of the jungle.
We saw this earlier from the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, whose analyses were based not on compassion or empathy, but rather on a cold, economic analysis. Furthermore, I must add, this is not just a misstep by the government. It believes in this ideology. It feels compassion for the oil companies in Alberta. Indeed, we can see and feel that.
This government says it is getting things done. Of course it is. It reduced the GST by 1%, but a person needs to have money in order to buy things. This may be true for low income workers and students who want to succeed, as the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont was saying. It is true we have to give them a chance. Nonetheless, there are some people who did not get a chance at all and we have to help them. There are people who are unable to work—those who are disabled, those who are illiterate, seniors, young families, the homeless—who need this helping hand.
It is not good enough to tell these people that the oil companies in Alberta will get millions of dollars, but they can have the scraps. We must truly help other categories of people who are living below the poverty line. I am talking about the current Conservative government, but the Liberal government was no better. It made drastic cuts, to employment insurance in particular. It totally changed the program and turned it into a tax in disguise instead of making it a program to help the unemployed.
The Conservative government is hawkish. It is investing billions of dollars in war equipment and military expenses and cutting subsidies to the least fortunate. I will give some examples. This government bases its ideology on repressing people instead of helping them or providing funding for prevention. It is the sheriff of Nottingham instead of Robin Hood.
This government does not have the same values as Quebeckers. In Quebec we have developed a strategy to combat poverty, to provide a social safety net to help the less fortunate. We have compassion, empathy and sympathy. We understand the distress and anxiety of people living below the poverty line. We are trying to help them in every way possible to improve their situation, with a stronger economy, but we are also trying to help people who cannot make it on their own.
The Bloc staunchly defends the interests of the unemployed, older workers, women, minority groups and all Quebeckers, while the federal government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has abolished or limited the programs designed specifically for low income earners.
The Bloc Québécois acknowledges the importance of a national anti-poverty strategy. When we use the word “national”, we are referring to the nation of Quebec. Thus, we recognize the strategy of the Quebec nation. The responsibility of the federal government is to provide adequate and temporary financial support—through transfers to Quebec—for the work of the governments, the provinces and Quebec in the fight against poverty.
The Bloc Québécois feels that, far from providing support, a pan-Canadian strategy established by the federal government duplicates what is being done in Quebec and in certain provinces.
The Bloc Québécois strongly believes that the minimum wage should not be the only aspect considered. There are other avenues used by the Quebec government—$7 child care, benefits for low-income families, the lowest possible tuition fees—that are achieving real results in the fight against poverty.
As for the minimum wage, the Bloc Québécois would prefer that the federal government take some of the measures that for too long it has refused to implement, such as improving the EI program, financing the older worker support program, using the huge CMHC surpluses to finance the construction of affordable housing, and restoring funding for women's and literacy groups.
Finally, the Bloc Québécois is asking the federal government to immediately take measures to assist aboriginal peoples who are truly living in poverty. Poverty is found in society but it is also found at work. Sometimes our work is not enough to lift us out of poverty.
That is why the Bloc Québécois takes workers' needs into account. For example, we have introduced—and will reintroduce—a bill on preventive withdrawal in order to avoid having two categories of female workers in Quebec. Some are entitled to only five months at 55% of their gross salary to withdraw from an unhealthy work environment and experience the joys of pregnancy and a new baby. Other female workers in Quebec benefit from a real preventive withdrawal program that allows women working in an environment that is not good for their pregnancy to leave the work environment with 90% of their net salary. That is the sort of program that should also be put in place for workers governed by the Canada Labour Code.
This government should have introduced another program. It is an NDP initiative that was reintroduced by the Liberal government and should have been brought in by the Conservative government last December. I am talking about Bill C-55, which sought to establish a wage earner protection program in case of bankruptcy. It is time this Conservative government reintroduced this bill in the House so that we can quickly adopt this protection for wage earners when the company where they work goes bankrupt.
Bill C-257, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), would also help workers. Workers are currently on strike at CN. The company is spending more time challenging the legality of the strike, hiring American scabs, creating dissent among the new workers by hiring retirees and using all sorts of stalling tactics than actually sitting down with the unions to negotiate proper, balanced conditions. Meanwhile, the scabs are getting involved in a dispute that has nothing to do with them. This is unacceptable, and it is time this House adopted the anti-scab bill.
As for the actual minimum wage, section 178 of the Canada Labour Code reads as follows: “—not less than the minimum hourly rate fixed, from time to time, by or under an Act of the legislature of the province where the employee is usually employed—”. Currently, the province, Quebec, determines the minimum wage. The Bloc Québécois feels that this is as it should be. We see no reason to change this, no reason to give the federal government another opportunity to interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
Quebec sets the minimum wage, and does a good job of it too. If there is any disagreement, we in Quebec discuss it with various unions, the FTQ, the CSN, social groups and the government. Together, we decide what the minimum wage should be. That way, we avoid creating two classes of workers—those who earn $8 an hour under the Quebec Labour Code and those who earn more or less than that under the Canada Labour Code.
That way, there is no problem. Minimum wage is the same for everyone.
In addition to creating two classes of workers, unfortunately, not many people would benefit from this legislation. We know that 267,000 workers in Canada are covered under the Canada Labour Code and only 1% of them—18,000 people—would be affected by the NDP's measure. Yes, it would help some people, but I think this work needs to be done on a provincial level.
As for poverty in society, let us talk about employment insurance. If this government wants to do something, it must fix the employment insurance program, stop using it as a hidden tax and return the $40 billion to the workers.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made 28 recommendations. All the government has to do is follow them. That way, we will be able to say that the government is really doing something to fight poverty.
I would also like to talk about the program for older worker adjustment, POWA. More and more, older workers are feeling POWA-less, if you will excuse the awful pun. The situation is getting worse and worse for older workers. We know that globalization is causing more and more workers to lose their jobs because more and more manufacturers are closing their doors.
Older workers, who sometimes have difficulty finding new jobs, need a bridge between when their company goes bankrupt, about when they are 55 or older, and when they begin receiving their Canada pension or Quebec pension.
I would also like to talk about child care. What the government did with respect to child care is an absolute scandal. At the federal level, there is a child care expense deduction. Canadians who pay the full cost benefit greatly. Conversely, since 200,000 children in Quebec attend day care centres at only one fifth of the cost—$7 a day—parents in Quebec can only receive one fifth of the federal tax credit.
Given its refusal to adjust its taxation for the $7-a-day child care program in Quebec, the federal government has thereby taken nearly $1.5 billion from parents since 1998. This amount, taken away from parents in Quebec, is compensated by the Government of Quebec, since it assumes 80% of the cost of affordable child care. When it comes to child care, Quebec pays and Ottawa pockets the money. Year after year, the federal government steals $250 million from parents in Quebec, or, on average, $1,316 per child. That is more than the $1,200, which of course is taxable, that the government proposed to give them in its last budget. This works out to a net loss of $116 per child per family. The Conservative government says it wants to give parents the freedom to choose.
The first thing to be done is to stop penalizing parents in Quebec for having chosen to set up an affordable child care system. The federal government's fiscal policies must stop penalizing Quebec for having created a child care program that is unique in North America. Furthermore, the OECD calls it the best program in Canada and one of the best in the world.
For years the Bloc Québécois has been calling on the federal government to transfer to the Government of Quebec the money it is saving on the backs of Quebec families. This transfer would allow the Government of Quebec to invest in its family policy. When the federal government includes child care funding as part of resolving the fiscal imbalance, as the Minister of Industry promised to do in February 2006, it should also take into account the punitive effects of its tax system on Quebec parents. Resolving the fiscal imbalance should be comprehensive; but to be fair, it should not be uniform.
Let us now look at another aspect: the guaranteed income supplement for older persons. This is another Liberal government scandal and the Conservative government is heading down the same path.
In 2001, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities identified, remarked and underscored that 68,000 people in Quebec were not receiving their guaranteed income supplement. The least fortunate in society receive a minimum and minimal pension. The federal government—whether Liberal or Conservative—through its management of this program, is preventing tens of thousands of people from receiving the guaranteed income supplement to which they are entitled. It is a real scandal.
The Bloc Québécois—thanks to our former member for Mauricie—launched a major campaign throughout Quebec to try to reach the least fortunate, the isolated, the sick, people who are unable to read or who do not speak either of the two official languages.
These are the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Thanks to the Bloc Québécois, today they receive the guaranteed income supplement of $6,600.
This Conservative government should pay them what they are owed, because it used these delaying tactics to avoid paying them earlier.
If this Conservative government wants to do something for the most disadvantaged, it should pay the retroactivity to seniors who need this guaranteed income supplement, because the government owes it to them.
As you are rising, Mr. Speaker, I assume I have little time left. However, I have yet to speak of social housing.
Some hon. members: There are four minutes left.
Ms. Carole Lavallée: Since I have four minutes, I have time to speak about social housing.
We have another scandal. CMHC will accumulate almost $4 billion in 2008 while building little affordable housing and behaving more like Bill Gates than Mother Teresa. That is unacceptable.
The most needy families, the elderly and the handicapped must have affordable housing. We must help these individuals. That is one way to help them. When individuals have affordable housing that they can pay for out of their own income, they feel they are worthy of membership in this society, and they act accordingly.
September 25, 2006, was a sad day because the Conservative government announced a surplus of $13 billion and, at the same time, cut $1 billion from the organizations that need it the most, such as women's groups. We know that women are often among the most disadvantaged. There are also literacy groups. It makes no sense to cut the funding of these organizations. What can we do with citizens who are ill-equipped to participate in society? It is unacceptable to manage a country in this way. That is not a Canadian anti-poverty strategy.
In conclusion, the NDP has provided an excellent and sharp analysis. It clearly sees the causes and the consequences. Unfortunately, its conclusions cannot be applied. The Conservative government absolutely must transfer monies to the provinces; it must make financial transfers to the Government of Quebec—which has jurisdiction in this matter and also the competence, in terms of know-how and experience, to continue its own excellent national anti-poverty campaign—until the day Quebeckers have a single labour code and a single strategy to fight poverty.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, poverty is a great shame in this country. It denies not only people's freedom and their hope, but their very dignity as persons, as fully participating citizens.
As the prosperity gap grows in Canada, as we have seen it grow, the reality is that it is threatening more and more working and middle class families who are just trying to get by. This is at the same time as we see the CEOs of the corporate giants securing astounding salaries, windfall incomes. Even as CEOs lose their jobs, they are given massive payouts. Yet working and middle class families are finding it harder and harder just to make ends meet.
Making ends meet is increasingly difficult for the average Canadian. That is the big problem. Poverty is increasing across Canada because of this.
The profits at big businesses, the big banks and the major oil companies are absolutely incredible. Last year the banks had profits of some $19 billion while the major oil companies earned $21 billion. There is prosperity, but who is prospering? Not everyone.
In a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, nearly half of all of the respondents said that they are one or two paycheques away from being poor. Two-thirds said that they are not benefiting from the economic growth that has been generated in this country.
Many of those living in poverty are working full time. In one-quarter of the poor families in Canada one member is working full time. Something is gravely wrong with an economy when full time workers are living in poverty.
I remember talking to a hotel worker. He was a new Canadian working as a server in the hotel. I asked him how things were going and he said that things were going well. He said that he had a full time job at the hotel working 40 hours a week which produced enough income for him to pay the rent, and his second job allowed him to pay for the food for his family. I thought that was a pretty stinging indictment.
If one cannot have a full time job that covers one's rent in this economy, then we are facing a very tragic situation, but we can do something about it. We do not have to accept this circumstance. Of course, the prosperity gap that we are talking about disproportionately affects certain groups in our society more than others: women, aboriginals, the disabled, and new Canadians, the immigrants to this country.
To speak about the situation facing women, they earn 71¢ on the dollar compared to what men make. More women work two jobs than men do. The figure is 6.1% of employed women take more than one job to make ends meet, only two-thirds of that number in the case of men. One in five women in Canada lives in poverty. That is 2.8 million women, and we need to also consider their children.
With respect to immigrants, during their first year here, new Canadians are 3.5 times more likely than native born Canadians to fall into a low income category. Even after the first year a disproportionate share, 2.5 times more than those born in Canada, find themselves in a chronic state of low income. Of course, part of this is because we invite them here based on their experience and credentials to work in good jobs and when they arrive they find the doors are slammed shut in their faces and they end up having to work at very low wage jobs, including minimum wage positions. This is why our party is advocating a first step in addressing the issue of poverty which would have to do with establishing a $10 minimum wage.
Mr. Speaker, I neglected to indicate at the beginning that I will be sharing my time with the member for Hamilton Mountain, with the indulgence of the House.
With respect to aboriginal people, 40% of off reserve aboriginal children are living in poverty. This is not only a national disgrace but it is drawing the attention of the global advocacy groups, which are saying they are going to have to come in and help in Canada to deal with poverty.
Students are already saddled with record debt. We have taken our national debt and put it on their shoulders. They are now having to work in minimum wage jobs to pay the rent, cover their food costs and deal with skyrocketing tuition. When we look at the record of past Conservative and Liberal governments over the last period of time, frankly, nothing has been done to close this prosperity gap. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Tuition fees have been rising very rapidly and families cannot afford to send their kids to college.
As far as child care is concerned, the Liberals and the Conservatives have been breaking their promises for years. Giving parents $100 a month for child care is said to be a policy. It is not right.
Most unemployed workers cannot even get access to employment insurance under the rules that have been created by the previous Liberal government. Even though they have to pay into the program, they cannot get help when their families are facing poverty and are on the brink.
It is not fair to working people. No wonder there is this sense of increased anxiety on the part of an awful lot of people who work for their living and are struggling.
We need a strategy here in Canada to tackle this prosperity gap. We have to put together a plan that includes many different elements and components. Most of the solutions are well known: affordable child care, affordable housing, these sorts of steps, industrial strategies to establish and keep good jobs which are draining away from this country at a ferocious rate. Whether it be in the resource sector where we sell out our resources, like the softwood sellout, or our manufacturing sector, our governments are in a state of denial even as hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear.
We believe that a starting point for this national strategy is to establish a minimum wage for the federally regulated industries.
The Liberals eliminated this in 1996 and low income workers have suffered as result of that decision. Low income workers and working families have ended up in poverty because of that decision by the Liberal government. Shame on the Liberal Party for having brought in such a policy.
When the federal minimum wage was there, it had a trend-setting effect. In a sense, it embarrassed perhaps provinces to take action. It kept the minimum wage in the different provinces in their regulated industries and sectors relatively closely tied together.
But now, since the federal government abandoned its responsibility for leadership here, we have seen the minimum wages in provinces divert so that they range now from $6.50 an hour in New Brunswick to $8.50 an hour in Nunavut, a difference of $2 an hour or 25%, and frankly it is unacceptable.
The current leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Dion, was a minister in the cabinet that passed that order and--
Ms. Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's debate regarding the NDP motion calling on the House to implement a national anti-poverty strategy.
In a country as wealthy as ours, it is simply not fair that so many people must struggle constantly just to survive. One in six Canadians now lives in poverty and they are defying the stale stereotypes of the poor. About 1.2 million of those living in poverty are children. Many others are adults facing tough barriers to employment while a quarter of poor families have someone working full time for low wages.
In a recent survey half of all working families said that they are just a couple of missed paycheques away from falling into poverty themselves. Poverty denies people freedom and hope, and it is the biggest single factor contributing to ill health.
When NDP members of Parliament defend good paying jobs and affordable training, we are defending ordinary people's freedom to thrive in good health. When NDP members promote affordable housing, we are standing up for two million families who cannot find shelter they can afford, and who must sacrifice other essentials or fall into homelessness. We promote fair security measures for vulnerable families, like secure pensions, adequate EI and decent social assistance.
At a time when even middle income families are feeling squeezed, New Democrats are working to make life more affordable, from laying a reliable foundation for affordable child care to ending unfair ATM fees. If we were not here in the House to raise these issues, who would be standing up to confront poverty?
Fighting poverty clearly does not fit the Conservatives' ideology, but if the Conservatives are the problem, the Liberals are not the answer. During their 10 years in power, when push came to shove, the Liberals cut corporate taxes and left our social safety net in tatters. They ended the federal role in welfare by cancelling the cost shared Canada assistance plan. They gutted employment insurance so that two-thirds of workers no longer qualify for benefits and they axed the world recognized affordable housing program New Democrats helped to create.
Moreover, the Liberals cut billions from education transfers, even as they wasted billions on corporate tax cuts. These cuts impoverished both students and the Canadian economy.
Canada's prosperity depends on how well we can equip today's young people with the skills they will need for tomorrow's economy. So it is both unfair and unwise to let soaring tuition costs push education and training out of reach of so many ordinary families.
Post-secondary education can open doors but it can also be a debt sentence. The average debt for university students at graduation last year was $24,047. Just yesterday I met with two medical students from McMaster University who told me that the average debt among their peers was over $100,000.
That kind of debt can choke young people's freedom to buy a first home, to start a family, or to pursue specialized training. Even the prospect of crippling debt can dissuade students from pursuing advanced education. Our kids should not have to mortgage their futures to get the skills they need to get decent paying jobs.
The solutions are right here in front of us. We need to create a system of needs based grants to offset student loans, replacing today's patchwork of tax credits and saving schemes that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. We need to overhaul the Canada student loans program to be more flexible, fair and responsive to the needs of every day students.
We need to ensure stable, adequate federal transfers for education and training by passing the NDP's post-secondary education act so every province can lower tuition and invest to improve education.
These are concrete steps to ensure that ordinary students will not continually be squeezed by the compounding pressures of rising tuition fees and jobs with an inadequate minimum wage.
However, concrete action is not a forte of this government. While it pays lip service to supporting a whole range of issues that would help financially challenged Canadians, in the end its rhetoric is not matched by action.
Therefore, I bet at the end of today's debate we will find all parties of the House supporting our motion to establish a national anti-poverty strategy, just like all parties supported a motion in 1989 that was introduced by former NDP leader, Ed Broadbent, calling for the eradication of child poverty in Canada by they year 2000.
Yet, today there are still 1.2 million children who are looking to their government to provide them with more than rhetoric. That figure includes an appalling one in four children in my home town of Hamilton.
Similarly, the House passed my seniors charter in June of last year. One of its guarantees was income security for seniors. Yet in Hamilton, one in four seniors still lives in poverty. Again, the government has been all talk and no action.
The Conservative government chooses whom to help by its own criteria of who is deserving and who is undeserving in its electoral universe. That record is not good enough. Confronting poverty is not optional, it is the essential recognition of the human dignity in everyone.
The NDP has proposed some concrete steps to address the growing prosperity gap in Canada by making life more affordable for low income and middle income Canadians.
First and foremost, we must repair the social safety net for vulnerable families, including more affordable housing and fair social assistance. We also need to repair employment insurance so it will work again for working families. We need to secure and improve public health care for today's families. We need to lay a permanent foundation for affordable child care. We also need to ensure we do not drive students into lives of poverty, by easing student debt and making education and training affordable for ordinary students. We need to end unfair ATM fees and address predatory credit card interest rates. We need to restore the federal minimum wage.
I know I only have a few minutes left to speak on the broad based motion before us today, but allow me to focus, in the time remaining to me, on one last item, and that is the restoration of the federal minimum wage.
How absurd is it that in a country as strong and vibrant as Canada we have people we call the working poor? No one who is working full time should be living in poverty. A living wage in Hamilton requires an hourly wage of over $12, and yet we still have people balking at the very notion of raising the minimum wage to even $10. Canada has a strong economy, yet internationally we are considered a low wage country with high rates of poverty. It is time for the federal government to show some leadership.
The federal minimum wage was eliminated in 1996 under the Liberal government. The argument then, as now, was that an increased minimum wage would hurt the economy and cost jobs. In fact, study after study has proven that there is no correlation between the loss of jobs and raising the minimum wage, nor of a detrimental effect on the economy.
David Card and Alan Kreuger's “Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage”, and Goldberg and Green's “Raising the Floor: The Social and Economic Benefits of Minimum Wages in Canada” are but two examples of many studies that have proven this.
As Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow confirmed that the:
||main thing about the research is that the evidence of the job loss is weak....And the fact that the evidence is weak suggests the impact on jobs is small.
We can also look to Australia, where the minimum wage is $13, or France, or England or Ireland to prove that raising the minimum wage helps, not hurts, the economy. It has been proven over and over again that poverty keeps countries and provinces poor, both economically and morally.
That leads me to the ultimate reason to raise the minimum wage. It is ethical and moral. We know that poverty is associated with lower life expectancy, worse health, impoverished chances of advancement and crime and violence in our neighbourhoods, all extremely costly to our economy and children.
Studies have shown us that we can afford to raise the minimum wage. The real question now is, can we afford not to?
Canada is an extraordinary place to live. Our economy is strong, our public service is respected, our charitable organizations are remarkably diverse and active. Our country is one of the world's robust multicultural societies. We are internationally regarded as a caring, inclusive and progressive society. It is time we live up to that reputation and commit to a Canada without poverty.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Barrie.
I am pleased to respond to the motion by the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie. I am sure that every member in the House shares the hon. member's concern for the working and middle class families. We all work very hard in the House to implement programs and policies to ensure that no Canadians fall behind, and to help them if they do. I can assure members, through working on the committee with the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie, that he raises this is an issue of concern on a constant basis. I know his thoughts and intentions are very real in this respect and it is something about which he has been concerned for some time.
I also remind hon. members that since taking office, the government has not only reduced the GST to increase the amount that Canadians can earn without paying federal tax, but it has also permanently reduced the lowest income tax rates. In fact, over 655,000 low income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls all together as a result of the government's tax measures.
I believe these are the kinds of initiatives that will have a major impact on the lives of the working and middle class Canadian families. They also have a more immediate impact than the kinds of measures the hon. member's party propose, measures that require more government intervention and as a result, higher taxes.
I also welcome this opportunity to address some of the other many measures that Canada's new government is taking to promote the economic well-being of Canadians. Conservatives share the member's dedication to eliminating poverty in Canada. To do this, we believe the government must first invest in the financial security of Canada and its citizens, and we are doing that.
The measures that we have introduced are designed to promote today's economy and to build a prosperous tomorrow for the benefit of all Canadians. Before examining these measures, let us take a brief look at Canada's economy as a whole and the state of our labour market.
Our economy is booming. With that, goes higher employment rates. According to the latest Statistics Canada labour force survey, employment rose by an estimated 22,000 in April and is up almost 1% this year, or double the pace of growth observed over the first four months of last year. Unemployment is hovering at a 30 year low. More Canadians are at work than ever. This translates into greater employment opportunities across the country, and I know of no greater anti-poverty measure than a job.
Nevertheless, we recognize that not everyone is equipped to participate in a booming economy. This is why the new government is making many important investments that recognize the importance of supporting skills development and learning, from apprenticeships to post-secondary education, from academic infrastructure to research and development, from child care to youth programs, to programs for older workers and new Canadians. These measures will help ensure that Canadians keep up with the ever growing knowledge economy, the best means of securing a well paid job.
We also recognize, however, that there are vulnerable members of our society who need and deserve additional support. Even in times of prosperity, there are those who need temporary financial assistance when they are between jobs.
Employment insurance is there for them. EI also offers support to workers who must be absent from work owing to sickness or caring for gravely ill relatives. Maternity and parental benefits are available for parents to take an absence from work for up to a year to care for a new born child.
It is also there for older workers. In a work world, older workers are often the most vulnerable. That is why we are taking action, through the employment insurance program, to provide a total of $1.4 billion to support some 230,000 unemployed older workers annually.
In employment programs funded in EI part II, more than 80,000 unemployed workers aged 50 and over were helped to obtain and maintain employment through training, work experience and aid in starting a new business. This figure represents 12% of all the workers assisted by these programs. These are tangible supports that older workers want in order to remain active and to continue to be contributing members of the workforce.
We continue to examine ways to assist older workers. We are undertaking a targeted older workers strategy to help older workers with retraining. Changes in the global economy can affect us here at home. We understand that we need to be ready for this.
The shame of the last decade was that the Liberals did nothing for older workers but talk about studying a problem everyone knew was coming. It is a telling sign that the Liberal member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor recently came out against our older worker programs, and the Liberal leader has said nothing about this.
What about foreign credential recognition? Workers new to Canada often have difficulty finding employment. Canada's new government is working on a foreign credential recognition program to speed up their ability to integrate into the labour market and society. While the Liberals talk about the issue and the NDP hold press conferences, the new government is acting.
I will give one example. The British Columbia Institute of Technology, Campus Canada and the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society will receive funding to develop the partnerships necessary to develop overseas information services, assessing of services, skills upgrading, Canadian workplace experience, opportunities and enhanced settlement support to skilled immigrants. This support will be offered both prior to and upon their arrival in Canada.
Projects such as these help, not only to combat poverty among immigrants, but also help all Canadians to benefit and prosper from their expertise.
The NDP motion being put forward today does not address immigrants. However, the Conservatives knew that immigrants were falling behind under the previous Liberal government. It took real leadership by the Prime Minister and the government to see the problem and to act on it. We have reduced in half the right of permanent residence fee that the Liberals imposed on newcomers. We have ended the decade long freeze the Liberals imposed on funding to community based agencies that help newcomers adapt and integrate into Canada.
The NDP and the Liberals were against the immigration measures in our budget but Canadians and immigrants were not. They know the Conservatives not only support immigration but we want to give immigrants the tools they need to succeed and to take full part in Canada's prosperity.
What about seniors? The new government is also taking action to ensure seniors can enjoy their retirement and financial security. The new government listens to seniors and they support us. The fact is that the NDP motion misstates the success Canada has been making for seniors.
Over the past 25 years, poverty has been going down for seniors in Canada. The percentage of seniors living below Statistics Canada's low income cutoff has gone from 21.3% in 1980 to 5.6% in 2004, an all time low. This trend is due, in large part, to income security programs, the old age security program and the Canada pension plan. We have introduced an act to amend these programs to simplify access to and delivery of the benefits. One of the amendments would enable Canadians who file tax returns to apply for the guaranteed income supplement only once. After their initial application, their annual tax filings would largely determine whether or not they receive GIS from year to year. They would never need to re-apply.
We are also continuing our extensive efforts to reach out to those seniors who may be eligible for GIS but who do not fill out tax returns. Since 2002, by sending potentially eligible seniors preprinted applications, an additional 250,000 are receiving the supplement, over and above the 560,000 seniors who applied for GIS along with their OAS applications.
While the NDP talks about action plans, the new government takes action. We have appointed a Secretary of State for Seniors and committed to establishing the National Seniors Council. The council will be an advisory body with an integrated approach to enhancing the well-being of Canadian seniors. The council will address the challenges and opportunities presented by Canada's aging population.
The new homelessness partnership strategy is our way of combating homelessness and helping those at risk of becoming homeless. The Conservative approach to housing involves partnerships. It involves local communities taking an interest in the lives of those who live in their community. The NDP want to build a bureaucracy. We want to build homes.
We have been working with provinces and territories on how best to address the needs of particular regions and communities. More important, we have been working with them on building more affordable housing. Through the homelessness partnering strategy, hope is being given to the homeless with sustainable solutions to become active members of Canadian society.
As the Commissioner of the Salvation Army said, “We are extremely grateful for the generous support of the federal government and we value this partnership and their commitment to supporting vulnerable Canadians”.
The Commissioner of the Salvation Army was right. We are committed to supporting vulnerable Canadians. We are committed to supporting all Canadians to achieve economic security. The measures that I have outlined are only a few examples of the many steps that the government is taking to ensure all Canadians can enjoy prosperity and well-being.
I can also assure the House that we do not want to work independently. We are in constant communication and consultation with the provinces and territories, as well as a multitude of stakeholders across the country.
I believe our approach is the right one. The evidence of the economy backs us up. Therefore, as much as I appreciate the hon. member's sentiments, I am not able to support the motion the way it is.
Mr. Patrick Brown (Barrie, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion of the member for Sault Ste. Marie. I will focus my speech on the topic of health and the well-being of Canadians and women.
This government understands that good physical and mental health will help all Canadians contribute and prosper in their communities and ensure that these communities stay prosperous. In other words, strong, successful economies and communities require healthy individuals. Having healthy and successful individuals and communities will go a long way to dealing with the issue of poverty.
When it comes to health, this government has done more in 13 months than the previous government did in 13 years. It was under the old Liberal government that Canadians saw wait times continuously rise. The Liberals are trying to brand themselves as a party of social justice. The provinces, which deliver health, education, literacy and social benefit programs, saw their budgets cut by $25 billion when the previous Liberal government made cuts to transfers. That is some social justice agenda.
One thing this government will not do is make a $25 billion cut to health and social transfers that the provinces depend upon to fund services to the many vulnerable and low income Canadians.
Because Canadians are clambering for leadership, they asked this government to do things differently. We are making significant and effective investments in Canadians' well-being to help them reach their full potential.
In the area of health care, this government has made a campaign commitment to implement a national wait time guarantee. Within our federal jurisdiction, for reserves and with pilots elsewhere, we have made significant progress on that commitment. We are taking action right now.
In January, this government announced a third wait time guarantee. We announced a 15 month wait time guarantee pilot project, investing $2.6 million for children in need of surgery. This project includes the development of the first pan-Canadian wait times information system to measure the burden of waiting times for children who need surgery.
This government is about making investments that have a positive impact on the lives of Canadians and helping them improve their lives.
We understand how poverty can become entrenched in some families and how crucial it is to improve their long term prospects through education, employment and, yes, appropriate government policies that will support their climb up the economic ladder.
If we look at the labour market performance of women in Canada over the last decade, it has been positive. Many women in Canada have been able to seize upon the new labour market opportunities and have experienced consequent gains in their income and assets. The participation rates for women rose from 57% in 1996 to 62% in 2006. The rate of low income Canadians among women declined from 16.5% in 1997 to 11.7% in 2004. This means that 587,000 fewer women were living in low income in 2004 compared to 1996.
Despite this success, there are segments of the female population who continue to experience higher levels of low income than their male counterparts. This is a reflection on both the circumstances and decisions.
Poverty rates among seniors, both men and women, singles and couples, have declined significantly over the past 25 years. Poverty among seniors fell from a high of 21.3% in 1980 to 5.6% in 2004. That in itself is a Canadian success story.
Despite this impressive progress, senior women experience higher rates of low income than their male counterparts. For example, 17.6% of unattached senior women lived in low income in 2004 compared to 11.6% of unattached senior men. Overall, women comprised 72% of all seniors living in low income in 2004.
Why is that the case? Older women were less likely than the young women of today to engage in substantial paid work outside the home. As a result, these women have had lower levels of contribution to the Canada pension plan and workplace pension plans. For younger generations of women, retirement will be quite different. In fact, their retirement income should be more similar to their male counterparts than the senior women of today.
The labour force participation rate of women in the core working years from age 40 to 44 in 2006 was 80% and 71% were contributing to the CPP. These figures are roughly double what they were for women now in their early seventies. Workplace pension coverage is also almost twice as high among these younger cohorts.
Despite the positive outlook in retirement, there are significant challenges that remain for younger women, as for every generation, it is young women who have children and who are often the main caregiver. There are challenges for young parents, in particular, young mothers who juggle the demands of a career and family related responsibilities. Reduced attachment to the labour market, costs of day care and other child related expenses can compete with other critical financial needs, including saving for retirement.
In 2001 one in five families with children was headed by a female lone parent, double since 1971. Single parent families are five times more likely to live in low income than two parent families. Over 80% of single parent families are headed by women.
On a positive side, the low income rate for single mothers has declined considerably in recent years from 52.7% in 1996 to 35.6% in 2004. Women are also more likely to experience persistent low income than men. Between 1999 and 2004, 6.3% of women lived in low income situations for at least four years compared to 4.6% for men.
There are also particular groups of women at a higher risk of persistent low income. These groups include women with disabilities, immigrant women and aboriginal women. Women with disabilities make up the majority, 55% of adults with disabilities, and this increases with age. Their median income is significantly less than that of men: $15,500 compared to $28,157 for men with disabilities.
Immigrant women also face challenges. In 2000, 23% of foreign born women lived in a low income situation, considerably higher than Canadian born women. This is despite the fact that a higher proportion of foreign born women have a university degree.
The women's unemployment rate has declined significantly over time and is currently at a 30 year low, 6.1% in 2006. Women are more highly represented than men in non-standard employment, particularly in part time and temporary work, 40% compared to 34% for men in 2006. This has implications for income and earnings and private pension coverage rates.
Women have also made considerable strides in education attainment. The national graduate survey tells us that in 2003 women represented 60% of all university graduates, which is an encouraging sign.
Responding to the challenges I have mentioned requires the efforts of all sectors of society, including the provinces and territories as well as employers, employees and the labour movement. The Government of Canada plays a key role in this area, primarily through income support programs, tax benefits and transfers to provinces and other partners. In the interest of time I will not detail these programs, but I would like to underline the importance of helping women increase their labour market participation in recent years.
That concludes my remarks, and I will close on this point. Unlike the member for Sault Ste. Marie, I believe that we should give women in Canada credit for helping us all climb steadily up the economic ladder.
Mrs. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Victoria.
I am glad there has been some acknowledgement of the plight of women in this country. I just wish there were some acknowledgement of the impact of unfair trade agreements, whether it be the Mulroney agreement or the Chrétien agreement in terms of poverty and those who are seeking to escape it.
The federal minimum wage was eliminated in 1996 under the Liberal government. This has proved to be less than a good thing for too many Canadians. The Canadian Labour Congress has found that a single person working full time in Canada needs an hourly rate of at least $10 to reach a poverty line income.
Initially, minimum wage was introduced to ensure that anyone working would not be poor. Sadly, in most provinces the minimum wage is so low that even someone working full time for an entire year falls far short of the poverty line. The low level of minimum wage is a major reason behind the high rates of poverty in Canada and persistently high levels of economic inequality.
According to the latest data from the National Council of Welfare almost five million Canadians, including 1.2 million children, were living in poverty in 2003. Not much has changed since then.
There are two issues related to poverty and income that I would like to highlight today. First, I would like to speak about how raising the minimum wage will specifically help many women across this great country. Second, I want to discuss how important housing is and how raising the minimum wage will help make it more affordable.
Raising the minimum wage will have a significant impact on many women in this country. In 2004, 394,800 women were working for minimum wage. Sixty-four per cent of minimum wage earners in Canada are women. The poverty rate for single women is a staggering 42% and it is worse for single mothers at 48%. The average wage for a full time worker living in poverty is $9,522. Imagine $9,522; that is less than MPs make in a month. One person cannot live on that level of income. That is less than $800 a month and it will barely cover the cost of rent in most cities, never mind food, and we have heard about people struggling to put food on the table. How can anyone raise a family on that? Yet many single mothers are forced to make ends meet with a shoestring budget such as this.
The sad thing is women who are visible minorities have it even worse. The Statistics Canada report “Women in Canada” published in 2005 shows that poverty rates are staggering. For visible minority women under the age of 15, 33.8% live in poverty compared to women in the general population at 15.9%. That is double. Women of colour have double the rate of poverty as women in the general population.
If we look at the age group 25 to 44 years, visible minority women living in poverty is at 29% compared to the general population at 14%. Again, it is double. In total, 28.8% of visible minority women are living in poverty in this country. This is not acceptable. This is a level of abuse that simply needs to end.
As the status of women critic for the NDP and vice-chair of the status of women committee, it is my goal to work with my colleagues to ensure that women's rights are indeed addressed.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has made 26 recommendations to improve women's rights around the world. In order to comply with the international obligations, governments need to fund research, legislation and programs that promote women's rights. It is crucial that we work toward equality rights for women for the sake of our mothers, our daughters and ourselves. Sadly, despite all the rhetoric, we do not have equality here in Canada.
The YWCA released a report in June last year that outlines the dire need for a solution to abuse. There are too many women in abusive relationships and too many women dying at the hands of their spouses and intimate partners.
Because resources are not available, many women are faced with an appalling choice: living in poverty or staying in an abusive relationship. That is a choice no one in this country should have to make. It is a choice that is causing the deaths of over 100 women every year.
By raising the minimum wage, we can take one step in the right direction. Women in an abusive relationship will not have to face the choice between poverty and abuse. They can leave, work and support themselves and their children and not have to rely on a violent partner for basic needs.
Women across this great nation deserve better. They deserve basic human rights, safety and protection.
No one should be denied this, particularly our grandmothers. Many senior women face the realities of poverty in their retirement. The poverty rate for senior women is almost double the poverty rate for senior men.
One-third of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 59 feel they are not prepared financially for retirement. These concerns are most prevalent among women, those who are widowed, separated or divorced, those who are recent immigrants and tenants, those without private pension coverage and, not so surprisingly, those with low wages.
How do our mothers and grandmothers end up living in poverty? There are a lot of reasons. Women's unpaid work makes their risk of poverty higher and results in less access to private pensions. Older women tend to have lower incomes because they live longer, which leaves them at greater risk of using up their savings as time goes by.
Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable. Many over the age of 65 who have lived in Canada for fewer than 10 years are without any income at all.
Senior women receive smaller pension incomes because of the wage difference between men and women.
Most divorced women do not claim a portion of their former spouse's pension even though they are entitled to it.
Because many retirement plans do not compensate for absences to raise children or look after sick relatives and absences are generally taken by women, these women are disadvantaged.
It is very important to emphasize here that senior women living in poverty did not end up there the day they retired. It was the poverty or near poverty in their youth that prevented them from setting aside money for retirement. That is the real source and the genesis of the problem.
By raising the minimum wage, we can take a huge step forward in preventing poverty in the future.
With the last dozen years of the Liberals cutting away at our social safety net, our working poor are at risk of being left in the poverty that we now see in retirement.
By ensuring women's rights and giving them the tools they need to fully participate in society, such as a living wage, we can take that first step in eradicating poverty in this country.
My second point is about housing. If one does not have a home, it is almost impossible to find a job and receive social assistance, to address the essential survival that housing would provide. I cannot fully pursue this topic, but we do know that there are health risks and real social consequences because of substandard housing.
My point is that there is a cycle here. One needs a home to get a job. One cannot afford a home on a low income. It gets to be a vicious cycle. It is critical that we raise the minimum wage to ensure fewer people fall into the homelessness cycle, from which it is very difficult to climb out.
More than 1.7 million households live on less than $20,000 a year. These people do not own a home and spend more than 30% on rent.
The federal homelessness funding at this point is in limbo. I know there has been a great deal of talk about transitional funding, but there is nothing in writing. Organizations that address the needs of homeless people are in limbo. The advocates who rely on the funding cannot get people off the street if they do not have support.
We need to support this resolution. I hope that all members in the House will look at the importance of minimum wage and decent affordable housing, with a national housing strategy to address homelessness and the fear of homelessness. We need to do it. All members need to support it. It is a crisis. We need to act.
Ms. Denise Savoie (Victoria, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion and to the importance of a comprehensive strategy to tackle poverty in Canada.
I would like to address the issue in the context of what is happening in my own riding of Victoria. Everyone who has visited Victoria knows that it is a very beautiful city, but they will not find the stories that I will describe today in tourism magazines.
A producer for VisionTV recently observed a city of poverty. After an absence of many years from Victoria, she was surprised at the change. She saw people “rummaging through dumpsters behind luxury hotels”.
Just this morning, I read an article about a person living in a Victoria apartment where daylight shows through the wall behind the stove, which is crammed in beside the broken heat register.
Victoria city councillor Dean Fortin tells of a man he recently met who was living in a metal shed because it was all he could find for $325, which is the shelter allowance for single people on welfare. Dean's community association is seeing 50 new homeless families per month. This is shameful.
I recently attended a supper organized by dedicated volunteers at the Metropolitan United Church, who served meals to 250 people. Judging from the comments I heard from the volunteers and from my own observation, I would say that at least 80% of those people suffered from some disability or other.
How do we explain this discrepancy, the discrepancy between these images and the story that I have heard Conservatives tell this morning, which is that strong economic growth is good for everyone? Apparently it is not.
For the past two decades, governments have been preoccupied by issues related to the global economy. They have given priority to meeting the demands of globalized markets. The interests of ordinary citizens have been trumped by the interest of ensuring higher corporate profits.
The pretext has been that the creation of corporate wealth would filter down to the rest of us, so governments have eliminated regulations to give corporations freer rein. They have entered free trade agreements that are not job based and that have not protected our environmental standards. In many cases, these agreements have neutered the power of governments to intervene on behalf of their own citizens.
Ursula Franklin wisely counsels us to follow the money to see who benefits from the policy decisions these governments have made. A report came out just in the new year and showed that since 1999 the richest 20% have received over 70% of the wealth growth in Canada. In 2005 the minimum wage increased by 4.2%, while the average CEO's salary increased by 39%.
It is not just about CEOs. The income gap between rich and poor is widening in Canada. Since the mid-1990s, and let us call them the Liberal years, Statistics Canada's most recent “Income in Canada” report shows that between 1995 to 2004 the average after-tax income of the poorest one-fifth of Canadians increased by $400. That is not great for a whole decade when we consider inflation and cost of living. But the average after-tax income of the wealthiest one-fifth of Canadians increased not by $400 but by $20,000, 50 times the amount of the poorest fifth.
In my own city of Victoria, the average income was approximately $55,000 and 60% of the households made less than the average income. One-fourth are living below the poverty cutoff and 12% of households made over $100,000. How can these extraordinarily unjust inequalities exist in a market that supposedly works?
As a social democrat, I believe that the economy ultimately must be judged by how well it serves the needs of all the people. Instead, glowing reports of the economy's performance and massive federal surpluses were funnelled to corporate tax cuts over the years, not personal tax cuts but corporate tax cuts, and those are still going down.
At a time of the biggest construction boom in Canadian history, the federal government through the Liberal years up to now have not had a national housing strategy despite the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' report of the need for such. Instead of such a strategy, because the private sector has no incentive to build affordable housing, what we have are luxury condominiums and many people and families without a decent place to live. How can we say that the market is working for ordinary Canadians?
Recently, we have seen the Canadian government replace funding of social programs with growing expenses in the defence sector. We should be asking what we are sacrificing in our society by spending our funds building up a military arsenal. Where is the political will to reduce stress on families struggling to make ends meet, to provide decent housing, to provide non-repayable grants to students, and to provide a more adequate post-education transfer?
In Victoria, we have seen the impacts of this lack of political will. In Canada, one in six people lives in poverty. In Victoria, that number is one in four. Our latest statistics for 2000 show almost 18,000 people living below the low income cutoff in Victoria. Of those, 57.6% are women and almost 2,000 are children, which is two out of seven.
One might be thinking single parents, but close to 4,000 are two parent families in the Victoria regional area who had incomes below the low income cutoff. In fact, a staggering 24% of Victoria's households are in need of core housing. That means people cannot find somewhere to live that is in reasonably good condition and is big enough for their households without spending more than 30% of their income. That is a shame.
As of 2004, there was a 23% increase in food bank use since 1997 in Victoria. As a community, Victoria has poured energy and resources into fixing these problems. We have set up an affordable housing trust, but we need the federal government and senior levels of government at the table, in partnership. That is not happening now.
The most recent report from the National Council of Welfare suggests that there is a working solution to poverty in Canada, that it is within our reach, and Canada can have the kind of success that other countries are achieving. This is not a partisan issue but it does require political will.
The National Council of Welfare report offers four cornerstones of a workable national strategy in Canada, including a national anti-poverty strategy with targets and timelines. Today's motion is about that strategy. NCW Chairperson John Murphy believes that:
||--most Canadians understand how practical this is. We do it in our daily lives—if you are serious about a goal, you develop a plan to reach it, you put it in place and you assess how well it is working...There have been staggering losses in welfare rates across the country and all welfare incomes fall far below the poverty line...Our many programs have become a tattered patchwork.
I will end by saying that today what we are doing is proposing a start because we have a prosperity gap. Precisely, the GDP goes up but wages do not and 13% of all jobs in Canada still pay less than $8 an hour. It is time for less talk and more action, and this motion gets the battle against poverty started in earnest.
Let us go and I hope that my colleagues will support it in the spirit that it has been presented to show some leadership from this level of government.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Davenport.
I look forward to the debate today on this extraordinarily important conversation about how, in Canada, we deal with some of our most vulnerable population and who, therefore, are described as poor.
We know that poor people do not live as long. We know that poor people are sicker. However, I hope that we will expand the debate today to ensure that this just is not about labelling people and using the definition of poverty, and fighting over the definition of poverty, but that this really is about all Canadians being able to look forward to a degree of income security and quality of life.
It is interesting to note that in Latin America where income security went down, poverty went up. People need to know that they will have income when they need it, but also that we will be able to deal with all of the other issues around quality of life, around housing, security and the supports and services that are needed in order to have real choices in life.
Havi Echenberg has always said that poverty is really having no choices: no choices on food, no choices on shelter. It is indeed a reason that I think we as Liberals and on this side hope that we will be able to move to income security programs that really do mean that people know their income is secure. We hope as well to move on what we established as public health goals for this country, a real approach with indicators and deliverables in terms of what actually is quality of life.
It is important, therefore, to always have real strategies, that there be realistic goals of what, by when and how in terms of how we actually deal with all the variables that affect the income security of Canadians as well as their quality of life.
I think we have to admit here on this side that we have made good strides in terms of these issues with our veterans. We have made good strides with our seniors. We have made reasonable strides with our kids.
There is one group that is particularly now vulnerable, and they are our disabled people. Persons with disabilities in our country are sometimes doubly discriminated against in terms of being single moms, being visible minorities, or being among our aboriginal people.
I guess today we would have to explain our disappointment and disgust in terms of what would have been the hope and opportunity for our aboriginal people in this country had we now been a year into the Kelowna accord instead of having it killed. People have not understood clearly the need for education, housing and health among our aboriginal people. They want to be full contributors to our society in a way that is right and dignified.
Poverty is an interesting thing in terms of what we have learned, particularly among our disabled people. Disabled people in Canada are now fighting a crisis of poverty, and that poverty differs whether it is a physical, developmental, cognitive, or mental health disability. Certain groups experience higher poverty rates; therefore, certain groups will need different strategies.
I feel that we have come a long way from David Smith's obstacles report to the member for Fredericton's task force, to the work that was begun under the then Liberal minister of social development, to understand the need for dignity, the need for full citizenship, and following the tremendous lead by the province of Quebec, the beginning of actually working toward a social economy.
As a family doctor, there was one rubber stamp that I would have loved to have had in my office for all of the forms I filled out, and that was a rubber stamp that would have said, “highly motivated—would rather be working”.
I think we actually know that so many of the people in our country have had real barriers to the workplace, real barriers to being able to volunteer, real barriers to sit on committees because of a lack of accessibility, and true barriers that still exist in our society. We know that these barriers impair people's dignity and, with social exclusion, we know that this has a completely deleterious effect on people's health and well-being.
Employment rates are very closely linked to poverty. People with disabilities face major obstacles in entering or remaining in the workforce. The existing labour market agreements allow provinces to cherry-pick and to set targets that then discriminate against persons with disabilities. That needs to be rectified.
We need to enlighten employers so they understand the benefit of having people of varying abilities within their workplace. It means we need to do much better on education and training. As we know, education and skills training is an extraordinarily important determinant of poverty.
We need to listen to all agencies that work with people with disabilities and educational and training resources. They need to get together in terms of their accessibility or ability to respond to people with special needs.
The potential loss of health benefits and income supports is described by Sherri Torjman in “Survival-of-the-Fittest Employment Policy”. She notes that income support for people with disabilities often do not allow recipients the flexibility to earn an income and retain a basic level of support.
The subcommittee on persons with disabilities explored the CPP disability. We found that the lack of flexibility to allow people to come back into the workforce when they felt better or when they were able to participate seriously got in the way of their income level and income security. Government supports do not usually bring them above the poverty line. There is a real need for these people to have coverage for their medications and other medical supports. This need, along with others, can be a deterrent for them to enter the workforce at this time.
Gender compounds this problem. the lives of women with disabilities are very different from those of women without disabilities. Women with disabilities who are parents are more likely to be lone parents than non-disabled women. Sole support parents are one of the groups most at risk of living in poverty.
Women with disabilities have different experiences than men with disabilities. For women with disabilities, participation in the labour force is no guarantee of financial security. Typically women with disabilities earn less than men with disabilities or non-disabled women and are more likely to experience interruptions in their employment. As a result, concerns over retaining coverage for medical necessities may be more acute for women with disabilities than for men with disabilities.
I come back to the issue around income security. At the subcommittee on persons with disabilities, we heard very clearly that unless people had an attachment to the workforce, their supports and service and income security were absolutely rock bottom.
People with disabilities should not be relegated to modest welfare programs, which were designed purely for emergencies. I hope we would look forward to a real system. For instance, if we ask question whether a person can work, or if a person can work with adequate education or training and the answer to both questions is no, then we need to find an appropriate pension for these people, one that is flexible. We need to ensure that we can be creative and innovative in terms of the most vulnerable. We need then to allow provinces to take the money from a federal program and the savings they would have and move them directly into the supports and services that persons with disabilities need in order to contribute.
From homemakers, to home care, to attending care, to equipment, to transportation, medication, all those things are extraordinarily important to the full citizen participation of persons with disabilities, taking them out of that cycle of poverty.
It is extraordinarily important that the government render the disability tax credit as a refundable so we can get a little help for the people who need it most. The $100 million that the Liberal government had placed in the social economy to help communities build these programs was only a first step. We need to do way more.
As we move forward, good economic policy is good social policy. However, bottom-up communities will need the resources to help full citizenship for all Canadians. That is the best approach to deal with income security and quality of life, such that we do not have to talk about poverty any more.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the motion before the House today.
Let me begin by stating, unequivocally, that I fully support the objective of ensuring Canadians across the country enjoy the highest possible standards of living. I am also fully supportive of the noble concept that workers are compensated fairly for their work and that their wages are sufficient to sustain them and their families in a lifestyle all Canadians deserve.
I must confess that I am a little intrigued by the position of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party to increase the federal minimum wage. While the principle is indeed worthy of support, it is important that we be fully apprised of the facts in this matter. If we are not clear, many of those who are listening to us would think that federally regulated workers are poorly compensated without such a minimum wage being in place.
As most members will know, the federal minimum wage was discontinued as a national figure in 1996. At that time, the minimum wage was set to correspond to the amount within the respective provinces and territories of Canada.
These facts are quite evident, and I am sure we are all aware of them. However, the members of the New Democratic Party are either being somewhat disingenuous when they criticize the former Liberal for eliminating the federal minimum wage or they are simply not aware of the facts.
Approximately 840,000 employees across Canada are covered by the federal statutes. Of the 840,000 federally regulated employees, how many of them are actually making minimum wage? The total is approximately 557. Additionally, if the federal minimum wage were raised to $10 across the country, regardless of the province in which the employees lived, there would be 18,000 or so employees affected by this change. The reality is the vast majority of federally regulated employees are making much more than minimum wage within the province they reside. Indeed, the vast majority are making much more than $10 an hour.
The very nature of so many of the jobs covered by the federal regulations results in a minimum wage much higher than $10 an hour. However, I support the concept outlined in the Federal Labour Standards Review undertaken by Professor Harry Arthurs. Professor Arthurs' excellent report speaks to the issue of minimum wage and recommends this amount be set at $10 an hour. This certainly seems reasonable in terms of ensuring a reasonable standard of living for employees who are federally regulated.
Many observers would argue that an increase in the federal minimum wage would have a negative impact on our economy. I am not one of those people. Professor Arthurs makes reference to a similar development in the United Kingdom. Despite protestation to the contrary, there was no measurable negative impact on the British economy when the minimum wage was raised to what was equivalent to about $11 an hour Canadian.
In view of the fact that most federally regulated employees are already earning in excess of $10 an hour, it would be safe to say that the objective of this resolution has, with few exceptions, already existed for some time.
However, I point out that should my colleagues in the New Democratic Party be so deeply concerned about the minimum wage, they may wish to speak to their counterparts like the NDP government in Manitoba where the minimum wage is $7.66 an hour, or the NDP government in Saskatchewan where it is $7.55 an hour, quite a bit shy of the $10 mark.
It is interesting that the motion was brought forward by the New Democratic Party in view of its decision in November 2005 to vote with our Conservative and Bloc colleagues to end the term of the previous Liberal government. Within today's NDP resolution is a reference to aboriginal people, for example. I am sure my hon. colleagues in the New Democratic Party will recall the Kelowna accord, which was negotiated by the provinces and the previous Liberal government.
In November 2005 the prime minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, signed a $5 billion agreement that was specifically designed to close the gap between first nations people and the rest of Canada. Upon assuming office, our colleagues in the Conservative government cancelled this agreement and in so doing ended the $5 billion commitment as well as the dream of aboriginal people.
As hon. members can imagine, I am quite surprised that the New Democratic Party motion refers to a prosperity gap, which the NDP members themselves helped to sustain by virtue of their decision to join with the Conservatives and the Bloc in defeating the former Liberal government.
I would also remind my colleagues in the House that in the November 2005 fiscal update by the former Liberal finance minister, the member for Wascana, there were a great deal of initiatives to assist those Canadians most in need of support. Among these initiatives was the working income tax benefit, which was designed to reduce barriers to work faced by low income Canadians. This was set to begin in 2008. This was accompanied by a $500 increase in the basic personal amount that Canadians could claim on their income tax returns. There were also reductions planned in the lowest personal income tax rates, which would take effect up to the year 2010.
Similarly, there was $2.2 billion over five years committed to help improve student financial assistance for Canadian students. This, of course, was also lost with the New Democratic Party decision to bring down the previous Liberal government.
I would also note that the defeat of the previous government in the House by the New Democratic Party-Conservative-Bloc alliance also ended the Liberal government's landmark national child care program, which I assume the motion before the House today speaks to in terms of the needs of children.
It would be fair to say that when we look back over the years, we can easily see that the greatest strides made for Canadians took place under the Liberal government. We understand the need to assist Canadians to have the best possible life and to take care of their families with decent living conditions and fair wages. Quite frankly, to use words from the New Democratic Party motion, the best possible national anti-poverty strategy for Canada would be to return the Liberal government to Canada.