Canadians are feeling the pinch. In the face of declining and stagnating incomes, families are having to deal with the rising cost of everyday essentials, like groceries and prescription drugs. Students are grappling with rising tuition rates and have fewer opportunities for employment when they graduate. Youth unemployment is at a historic high and student employment is at record lows.
As Canadians adjust to these economic realities, our debt-to-income ratio has grown to 152%, much higher than the United States, and entire generations of Canadians have little or no savings.
All, or at least most, of us recognize that income inequality is a growing issue. Whereas in the years between about 1945 and the mid-1990s, the growing economy created greater equality not only because of the well-paying jobs that were created but also because of a range of government programs that sustained people who were in difficulty.
That is why Liberals are using our Opposition Day Motion to address pervasive income inequality. We are putting forward practical steps to reduce income inequality. Specifically, we are calling on the government to
- roll back their recent Employment Insurance Premium;
- end their punitive new claw-back of Employment Insurance benefits;
- make tax credits, such as the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, refundable;
- adapt the Registered Disability Savings Plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis; and
- removing interest charges from the federal component of student loans.
What we are asking the government to do is to first of all recognize that this is a problem, not to dismiss it. We had to work very hard to convince a number of Conservative members of Parliament to allow the finance committee to study this question. And then we want the government to institute our practical measures.
Income inequality is in fact the issue of our time. We cannot assume that prosperity will be fairly shared and we cannot take prosperity itself for granted. We have to avoid the mistakes of the extreme right and the extreme left and we have to come up with practical proposals that will make a difference to ordinary people and ensure that our prosperity is fairly, deeply and widely shared.