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Mulcair on the economy

| November 13, 2012
Photo: Dave Cournoyer/Flickr

Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair gave a fine speech on the budget bill on October 24, which can be found in its entirety in Hansard.

I have posted some extracts of interest to progressive economists below. They echo many of the arguments made on this blog.

"What is more, the Conservatives are creating an economy where salaries will be much lower. There is less pressure with regard to all working conditions because of a series of measures that are being implemented. It is not by chance that, for the first time in Canada's history, the middle class has seen a clear drop in income, and this occurred in tandem with the signing of NAFTA.

Over the past 25 years, the middle class has seen its real net income drop. This is the first time this has happened. In other words, the richest 20 per cent of Canadians are experiencing a rise in income while the other 80 per cent of Canadians -- it has been measured and proven -- are experiencing a drop in income. These are the results of the neo-conservative policies of the current government and its Liberal predecessors, who aggressively pursued the same goals for 25 years.

This is putting downward pressure on incomes and on employment conditions. As though that were not enough, these agreements are creating a race to the bottom: temporary foreign workers who used to come and work in a few sectors, such as produce farms, will now be in several employment categories. The government trumpets the fact that we can pay them a lot less than Canadians. People are working hard in mines and many other sectors and what is the result? One simply has to go visit the steelworkers in Prince George, British Columbia, to see what kind of pressure they are under. It is hard work. They work hard their entire lives. They fought hard for fair wages only to be told that the Conservatives are going to force them to work two years longer before they can retire. Then, as though these workers did not have enough pressure on them, the Conservatives want to bring in workers from other countries and pay them lower wages, and this adds even more downward pressure. That is the Canada the Conservatives dream of, where workers are subjected to working conditions from the early 1900s. That is their vision.

The NDP wants to build a fair Canada. We hear appalling speeches, like the one we heard earlier, suggesting that our dream is heresy. A country as rich as Canada is capable of paying for decent working conditions, and that is part of what an NDP government will bring.

Do not forget that Bill C-38, the Conservatives' budget bill in the spring, repealed the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. That is their vision.

They are not attacking one particular group or sector. Their goal is to drive down wages for all Canadians, a total lack of an economic plan. The government is not just failing workers but businesses that create jobs too. Canada faces a perfect storm of economic challenges. We have 500,000 lost manufacturing jobs, a $50 billion trade deficit, household debt at an all-time high, the worst American downturn since the Great Depression, and we are still in the middle of a eurozone crisis.

When we talk to Conservatives about the interest that we have in using our experience, our expertise and our capability to help in Europe, we get the usual talking points of "You want us to write a big cheque to Europe". What imbecility. As if the idea of using our experience and our expertise to help avoid a crisis that will invariably negatively affect us is something wrong.

Yet those are the talking points that come out of the PMO because they make stuff up. That is all they have. They have nothing else. They make up pages in the budget and they make up plans for the NDP that have never existed, other than the ones that were the same ones they had. They make stuff up all day long because they cannot defend what they are actually doing. That is what we are talking about now, what is actually in here, what they are actually doing and the negative effect it is having on Canadian workers across the country.

What an irony Bill C-45 is. The jobs and growth act does not contain a plan to generate either. Budget 2012 kills more jobs than it creates. It contains no strategy for the 1.4 million out-of-work Canadians. The so-called centrepiece of the economic plan is the small business tax credit, which members can applaud because the NDP supports a tax credit. It was part of our 2011 platform. This one does not go far enough. It is worth a maximum of $1,000 and it lasts just one year. At best, it may be enough to help companies hire one full-time employee. It will not even make a dent in our lagging job numbers.

The truth is that the government continues its failed policy of lavish corporate tax cuts, even as companies ship jobs overseas. For example, one company demanded a 50 per cent pay cut and shut its doors after receiving $5 million from the Conservatives. It was called Electro-Motive Diesel in London. I got to visit the workers on the picket line in the middle of the winter. It was an extraordinary experience because just a few months earlier a beaming Prime Minister had been out there with a $5 million cheque, because this was evidence of the success of his plan for jobs in Canada.

As soon as that election campaign was over, there was a little meeting. The bosses sat down and said, "We have a deal for you. You accept a 50 per cent pay cut or we move your jobs south of the border". The company closed, the jobs have been moved, it kept the $5 million and there are no longer any jobs in Canada. That is the Conservative plan.

Thirty years ago a young worker could work his or her way up a company ladder. Now workers have many different jobs in a lifetime. The incentive to invest in workers is being lost. A large workforce is no longer a sign of pride. A couple of generations ago, someone who was running a big company would be very proud and take great pride in stating the numbers in his workforce. Now the great pride is saying how many of those jobs were shipped to another country. That is the change. We have to get back to a feeling in Canada that it is a social responsibility to be proud to be creating good-paying jobs

Why do we keep doing what the Conservatives do, investing in companies like Electro-Motive Diesel that do not invest in our workforce? This is the type of short-sightedness that we see all over Bill C-45.

For example, under the changes to the scientific research and experimental development tax credit, the program would be cut. The $500 million a year that it costs would be eliminated, but it would also reduce government support for business research and development at a time when businesses need to increase innovation to compete.

To put it another way, if we cannot get the Conservatives to do the right thing because it is the right thing, let us try to get them to do the right thing because it is actually good for the economy. The only way to increase wealth in our society is to increase knowledge, and this is the dumbing down of Canadian business. That is the Conservative legacy. It is going to hit manufacturing particularly hard at a time when they need a little oxygen to keep going.

We need tailored incentives that better serve businesses and our economy as a whole. There are a couple of good examples that can be looked at in Canada where long-term vision and incentive by the government has produced a great result.

For example, take a look at the TV and film industry in Toronto. There used to be a time when it was only New York and Hollywood. Now, Toronto is in there competing with them every step of the way, but it required a partnership between government, business and labour. Those tax incentives were there for decades and they worked their way through the system and are producing the great result of bringing in billions of dollars a year and lots of high-quality jobs. However, it required government involvement every step of the way. The Conservatives simply do not believe in that.

We should be building the next success story now. Instead, we are getting less for workers, less for Canadians and less for our economy. That is what the Conservatives are about, less for everyone.

That is the path that the Conservatives are paving for us."

Photo: Dave Cournoyer/Flickr

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