Brison:"Canadians view income inequality as the most important issue facing the country"
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
House of Commons Debates
OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):Madam Speaker, I want to focus my remarks on this budget on the issue of income inequality.
According to some recent polls, Canadians view income inequality as the most important issue facing the country. The gap between rich and poor, the increasing challenge for young people and low-income Canadians to make ends meet, is an issue of grave importance to a lot of Canadian families from coast to coast.
This budget does not discuss income inequality but, perversely, it does address it. I say perversely because it actually makes income inequality worse. The cutting of OAS makes the most vulnerable Canadians wait two extra years for their old age security. The Conservative excuse of sustainability is false. We have reports now from the Chief Actuary, from finance, from the OECD and from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that tell us that OAS is sustainable. The fact is that OAS, in 1993, was 2.7% of GDP. Today, in 2012, it is 2.4%. By 2030, it will be around 3.1%. But then later, by 2060, it will go down to about 2.3% of GDP. It is totally sustainable.
The Conservatives referenced that other countries have changed their pension systems. Well, they had to change their pension systems because their pension systems were not sustainable. In Canada, under the Chrétien and Martin governments, the changes made to CPP have enabled it to be sustainable for generations, in fact for the next 70 years.
The Conservatives are making a false argument. The OAS is sustainable in its current form. Even if sustainability were an issue, and we needed to address it, we would not address it by raising the age of OAS qualification. That would be a regressive step, punishing the most vulnerable, the poorest of the poor.
Let us look at who depends on OAS: 40% of Canadians who live on OAS make less than $20,000 per year; 53% of Canadians who live on OAS make less than $25,000 per year. Older, single women living in poverty depend disproportionately on OAS. Physical workers, those carpet layers, carpenters, pipe fitters and those working in a fish plant on their feet in a cold, damp environment all day, by the age of 65, their bodies are ready for a break.
It is important to realize that to qualify for GIS, people need to qualify for OAS. So the very poorest of the poor, Canada's most vulnerable, have to wait two more years, and that is about $30,000 for people who are living below the poverty line.
I would like to blame this on the law of unintended consequences, that somehow the Conservatives did not foresee this unintended consequence. The reality is that this is part of a Conservative agenda. When it comes to income inequality, this is not an unintended consequence. The Conservatives seem to be waging war on the poor.
In previous Conservative budgets, they introduced non-refundable tax credits, boutique credits for caregivers, volunteer firefighters, people with disabilities and a children's activity tax credit. Perversely, they did not make them refundable. As a result, low-income Canadians do not qualify. We have raised this over and over again.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, and organizations representing the disabled have raised this issue. Simply making these refundable as opposed to the current form of non-refundable would benefit low-income Canadians who need the help the most. However, the Conservatives refused to do this.
In terms of some of the changes they have made, the tax-free savings account and income-splitting that they are proposing at some point in the future when they achieve a mythical surplus, do not do anything for low-income Canadians. If people can afford to pay into retirement savings, the TFSA can help. If they cannot, then they do not get TFSA, I guess they get SFA.
The fact is that income disparity in Canada is a big issue. The gap between rich and poor, and income inequality is a major issue for Canadian families. It is important to realize that this recovery that the Conservatives speak of is an uneven recovery.
Unemployment in Canada is 1.4% higher than it was before the downturn. It has gone from 6% to 7.4%. Youth employment is at its worst in 10 years. If we break it down across the country, 60% of the jobs created in the last year were created in just two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which depend on oil, gas and mining.
We realize that oil, gas and mining is good for the whole country but the reality is that other provinces are hemorrhaging jobs, such as in Ontario, Quebec and the maritime provinces. This could have been a great budget for the Conservatives to renew the ecoenergy retrofit program, creating jobs for young Canadians and the jobs of tomorrow in the green economy. The Conservatives cancelled that program three times but this time, I guess with the strong, stable national majority government, they do not need e to worry about these election type things at this point.
It is also important to realize that, in terms of income disparity, more than half of Canadian tax filers make less than $30,000 per year and two-thirds of Canadian tax filers make less than $40,000 per year. These are the people who are actually filing taxes. What about the number of Canadians who do not file taxes?
In this budget there were a number of attacks on Atlantic Canada. There were cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, ACOA, Marine Atlantic, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the elimination of the Atlantic investment tax credit.
I want to talk about my part of Nova Scotia in the Annapolis Valley. In Kings county, Hants county and Annapolis county, we have 10,000 fewer net full-time jobs compared to the fall of 2008. Seventeen hundred more people are unemployed and looking for work. The unemployment rate in my riding in the Annapolis Valley and in the riding of the member for West Nova has gone from 5% to 8.7% since 2008.
I also want to speak to the fiscal disparity between the provinces. This budget does nothing but increase it. It will impose billions of costs for new prisons onto provincial governments. It does nothing to preserve health care for the future and preserve the capacity as we see the gap between rich and poor provinces grow, as we see deficits pile onto the provinces that do not have a wealth of natural resources. This is a concern.
This is a “you're on your own budget”. If people are doing great in Canada right now, if they have a job, if they are in oil, gas and mining, that is fine. However, if they do not have a job, this budget leaves them behind. We in the Liberal Party, believe we can do better. We need an economy and a recovery that benefits all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Therefore, I move:
"That the amendment be amended by adding after the words “ideological reasons” the following: force Canadians to make tremendous sacrifices by cutting their retirement income but fails to similarly increase the qualifying age from 65 to 67 for the Prime Minister's retiring allowance of two-thirds the sitting Prime Minister's salary; and k) not make cuts to the budgets of ministerial offices or the Office of the Prime Minister"
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