October 21, 1997 (36th Parliament, 1st Session)


Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the very important motion placed before the House today by the New Democratic Party.
As a new member of the House, having been here for about a month and listening to the debates which have taken place, I have been struck by the rhetoric that flows around this room. What is important about the motion is that it deals with the number one issue facing Canadians.
It was our commitment from the day we came to the House to raise the issue and make the government accountable with respect to unemployment and job creation.
I was in my riding of Vancouver East last week when the finance minister was also in Vancouver speaking to the finance committee about the state of the economy. He was in the Hotel Vancouver with all the media and the fancy hardware making his speech. I was across the street with some of my constituents. It was not a huge crowd. They were people who had rallied at the last minute because they had heard the finance minister was coming to town. They wanted to speak out. They wanted to address what they understood to be the real issues facing them as well as other Canadians.
The finance minister spoke about the state of the economy. He gave himself and the government a nice pat on the back. We were across the street in the pouring rain, unfurling a banner which pointed out that social and human costs of the budget of the Minister of Finance had been devastating to our communities.
When I went back into the hotel to listen to the finance minister, none of his statistics pointed to the real crisis we are facing, which is unemployment among our young people and other Canadians. We have growing poverty. The motion before the House today addresses this question.
I listened to the Secretary of State for Children and Youth earlier today say that the NDP has not been here and might not be aware of what the government has done for youth unemployment and young people in general. We may not have been in the House with party status in the last parliament, but we have been aware along with other Canadians of exactly what the government has not been doing to address unemployment, particularly unemployment among our youth.
No matter what the government says, there is no escaping the fact that for the 84th month we are facing an unemployment rate of 9% or more. We are now facing the highest sustained unemployment rate since the 1930s. When we couple that with the severe cutbacks that the government has enacted in its obsession to deal with the deficit, we can see what a toll it has taken on Canadians.
When we consider 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed and add in those who are underemployed and those who have dropped out because they have given up looking for work, we are really talking about 3 million Canadians who have failed in the system because the system has failed them.
Earlier today I heard a member saying that sacrifices had to be made, that these were tough times and we had to make sacrifices. A question needs to be raised. Sacrifices by whom?
The fact is that the record of the government and the finance minister is being carried out on the backs of the unemployed. It is being carried out on the backs of women who are trying to re-enter the workforce. It is being carried out on the backs of young people.
When we look at real statistics in terms of new jobs that have been generated, part-time work with lower benefits and no job security, and when we look at the cutbacks there has been a sacrifice. But that sacrifice has not been equally shared by all Canadians. I think that point has to be made. We need to understand who has really paid the price.
One thing is clear. The government's economic proposals and its obsession with dealing with the deficit and meeting the agenda of corporate Canada have been at the expense of the lowest 20% of low wage income.
We heard from my colleague from Acadia—Bathurst about the situation of unemployment insurance and what a severe impact it has had on unemployed workers.
When we talk about sacrifices and what opportunities have been created, we need to know why the government has not addressed the issue of fair taxation. Why will we be witnessing for another year a record $7 billion in windfall profits for major Canadian banks? Why do we still have $17 billion in deferred taxes? Why do we have tens of thousands of profitable corporations and businesses that do not pay any taxes?
We have to tell the Minister of Finance that his state of the economy is really a one-sided view. It has failed on every ground to address the real crisis of unemployment. It has failed to address growing poverty. It has failed to address that in the 1990s we have seen a decrease in full-time jobs and an increase in low wage, part-time jobs.
We are here today with our motion to draw attention to stark reality and to say that it is time the government is held accountable for the situation in terms of unemployment.
I would like to address one particular aspect which concerns young people. Youth unemployment is double the national average. At this time almost 500,000 young people are unemployed. Since the Liberals took office in 1993, 40,000 more young people have ended up on the unemployment roles. For those who are lucky enough to find a job there has been a doubling of part-time work. It is very difficult to find full-time work.
We hear the Liberals say they are committed to youth. Listening to the minister today, these are just hollow words that have no meaning for young people who are desperately trying to pay off student loans and find work.
If the government were truly committed to young people and solving the crisis of unemployment among them, the first thing it would do is restore the cuts to post-secondary education. This year alone we will be witnessing a cut of $550 million. Is it any wonder that tuition fees have gone up 45% since 1993.
The government should take note of what the provincial government in British Columbia has been able to achieve. Despite federal cutbacks of $2.29 billion in post-secondary education, the NDP provincial government has been able to hold the line and freeze tuition fees to give our young people a fighting chance to get through post-secondary education.
Under the Liberal plan what is happening? Our young people are graduating into poverty. The government has to restore funding to post-secondary education.
We have heard a lot about this millennium fund and that somehow it is a wonderful thing that will happen in the year 2000 to help young people. Young people cannot wait until the year 2000.
Young people need assistance for post-secondary education and they need to have a freeze of tuition fees. They do not need a scholarship program. They need a realistic plan that will relieve their debt load which is now at $25,000. That is what we are saying to young people who go to post-secondary education.
The hollow words and the rhetoric I have heard from members in the House are little comfort to unemployed Canadians. If we are serious about our commitment to unemployment the government has to address a program of job creation. It has to embark on a program of fair taxation. It has to ensure that it intervenes in the marketplace.
Today I heard from a hon. member across the way that some how the marketplace is responsible for job creation, not the government. If we look at the cutbacks we have witnessed in the last four years, $7 billion in the public sector alone, they have had a massive impact on unemployment.
This motion brings back a sense of reality to the House. It is a motion that addresses the real issues facing Canadians. Those of us in the NDP caucus have listened to the government records. We have witnessed the record of the government and so have Canadians. We are determined to continue to raise the number one problem of unemployment. To have 1.4 million Canadians unemployed is absolutely unacceptable. It is a national disgrace and it is a crisis. The finance minister and the Liberal government have to make this the number one priority.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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