Speech on the Economy

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

I rise today to speak in favour of our party's opposition day motion which calls on the government to take swift action with regard to the economy. First, I would like to commend the member for Parkdale—High Park for all her hard work on this important issue.

As the Conservatives boast about their economic action plan, Canadian families know that times are still tough for them and they want the government to take meaningful action that gets them back to work. Rather than the billions of dollars in cuts to services and departments which the government is proposing, New Democrats believe that now is the time to provide targeted incentives for real job creators.

Even the Department of Finance has noted that infrastructure investment has more than five times the economic impact than corporate tax cuts. Yet, the government continues to follow unsustainable and unfair economic policies that have shown to be ineffective.

An excellent example of infrastructure investment which the government could do immediately is to work with provinces and municipalities to provide badly needed public transit systems. Communities across Canada are dealing with major shortfalls in transit funding.

New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody have been waiting for the Evergreen Line for over 20 years. It has been plagued by delays since the early 1990s. My community is one of the fastest growing regions in British Columbia with a high rate of commuters who travel to work. There is a severe lack of public transit. This infrastructure project is a necessary component for our long-term regional plan. Traffic congestion is a problem for many residents in my riding.

The Evergreen Line is expected to serve 70,000 people a day by 2021. Canada needs to transition toward a low-carbon future. The Evergreen Line is critical for my neighbourhood to meet future challenges associated with climate change and rising energy costs. The Evergreen Line is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air contaminants from cars by 4.7 million tonnes cumulatively by 2020.

One of the best things we can do for our economy is to invest in infrastructure projects that are needed to service our communities. The Evergreen Line would create approximately 9,000 construction jobs in my community. These jobs are needed now.

I call on the federal government to increase its investment in the Evergreen Line. The shortfall in funding falls on local taxpayers who are constantly being asked to pay more for vital infrastructure programs. It would be an excellent initiative for the federal government to increase its contribution to fund the gap and build the line.

The Evergreen Line is an example of why we need to adopt the New Democrats' proposed legislation that would create a national transit strategy in this country. The International Monetary Fund is predicting that unemployment will only continue to rise if swift action is not taken. Investing in public transit is an excellent way to create jobs and move us forward toward a sustainable future.

Small business is a major economic driver in Canada and in my riding of New Westminster--Coquitlam and Port Moody. In Canada, over one million small businesses employ over 50% of the workforce.

The federal government must support small businesses because it has become increasingly evident that they are the ones investing in domestic job creation. Yet, the government continues to reward large corporations with tax cuts, which tend to ship their jobs overseas, and does not do enough for small businesses.

Canada's New Democrats have called on the federal government to reduce the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%. This would help create jobs in communities right across the country. We also propose that employers who hire new employees get a tax credit.

Canada has a real opportunity to build the economy of the future by investing in vital green infrastructure. We also need to invest in research and technology.

The government continues to emphasize the expansion of oil and gas, while I believe we need to move into the 21st century and invest in a transition to cleaner technologies and energy supply. If we do not move forward with green energy and technology, I fear Canada will be left behind. Other nations are moving in this direction. If we want to compete, we must understand that our reliance on conventional oil and gas as a major driver of our economy must change.

There are many initiatives the government could pursue to assist people with retrofitting homes and buildings. When the eco-energy retrofit program was cancelled, I called on the government to reinstate it. This program helped thousands of Canadians renovate their homes, cut home heating costs and save an estimated three tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per home, or 1.5 million tonnes of emissions after four years of retrofitting.

The eco-energy retrofit program not only created jobs, but helped working families make needed improvements to their homes. I was pleased when the government brought back this excellent program. However, I believe it can be expanded and made more accessible to Canadians right across the country. We can work with industry and commercial enterprises to retrofit their buildings. We can better work with homeowners to help insulate their homes and drive down their reliance on energy. This would create jobs, would be good for the environment, and would help lower energy costs.

The primary economic problem in Canada is a slow economic recovery and a weak job market. The current job market remains weaker than before the financial crisis in October 2008. The unemployment rate is up to 7.3%. Many of the new jobs of which the government speaks are part-time positions. If we actually take into account the real unemployment rate, which includes people who have dropped out of the labour force and involuntary part-time workers, the unemployment rate in July of this year would have been 11.1%.

The youth unemployment rate is also alarming. This past summer, student unemployment hit 17.2%. This is higher than the previous summer and is up from 14% prior to the recession. Students are not earning the money they need to attend post-secondary school. They are incurring more debt than ever before.

Our most important investment is our future, and that includes ensuring our children have the ability to gain the skills needed from good-paying jobs.

There is another issue I would like to address that is having a negative impact in my riding and in the regional area of southwestern British Columbia and Vancouver. I am very concerned with the proposed changes to Service Canada, including the proposed closure of offices across the country and the reduction of staff which will have a negative impact with regard to employment insurance cases. Given the chronic staff shortage and current hiring freeze at employment insurance client services, the proposal to cut budgets, close offices and lay off workers is alarming. Levels of service are already unacceptable with wait times increasing weekly and clients often not able to make contact with an agent. There is a large backlog which is reflected in calls that we have received at my constituency office. I have been contacted by constituents who struggle to buy food and pay the rent.

This is a horrible situation for people who find themselves out of work and have to turn to government for assistance.

Service Canada, in particular EI, needs increased resources, not cuts, to ensure that it continues to be effective and responsive to the needs of Canadians especially in these difficult times.

Canadians want public investment. They want the government to take swift action to create jobs. This is critical in order to have healthy, sustainable and stable communities.

I encourage all members of this House to support his motion.