BC FORUM News - from The Advocate, Spring 2015
Standing up for working and middle class families
by Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition
I’d like to focus my comments on what I believe is far and away the most important issue facing our economy, facing our country.
Just over a year ago, oil was at a $105 a barrel. Today it’s under $50 and many suggest that we haven’t seen the bottom.
As a result, the sector has signalled that it will cut $23 billion in capital spending this year alone. Thousands more Canadians are being thrown out of work.
Oil prices aren’t the whole story.
In the past few weeks we’ve seen massive layoffs and closures in the retail sector with announcements by Target, Mexx, Jacob, Bowring, Smart Set and Sony, throwing tens of thousands more Canadians out of work.
The retail meltdown isn’t the whole story either.
The most important economic asset any country has in the modern global economy – the engine of our prosperity for the past 70 years and if we make the right choices today, a guarantee of our prosperity for generations to come – is the economic well-being of Canada’s middle-class.
The best measure of a well-functioning, diversified economy is the strength of the middle class.
But the reality is in 2015 middle class families are working harder, while falling further and further behind.
The middle class continues to pay the price for our last recession.
There are 300,000 more out-of-work Canadians than before the recession. Job creation has not kept pace with population growth.
Incomes are down, and household debt has reached record levels at 163% of disposable income.
This record level of household debt is a condition that the Bank of Canada calls, “a significant risk to Canada’s financial stability.”
Young families just starting out can’t find affordable, quality childcare. That hurts families and the economy.
For far too many, post-secondary education and training for our young people is being priced out of reach. Seven out of 10 working Canadians don’t even have a pension.
The youth unemployment rate has climbed so high for the first time in our country’s history, current generations will be worse off than their parents. They will also inherit a massive economic, social and environmental debt.
These are realities that millions of middle class families face along with the millions more who want to be in the middle class.
To succeed in the 21st century, Canada will need to rebuild its institutions, based on the principles of good public administration and protecting citizens.
We will need to find ways to preserve and bolster existing benefits in order to mitigate the growing inequalities that are currently threatening the sustainability of our economy and the prosperity of the middle class.
“For the first time in our country’s history, current generations will be worse off than their parents.”
And we will need to adapt our economies to fit a model of sustainable and balanced development, based on straightforward, sensible practices like the polluter pays principle.
To ensure a thriving middle class we need a prosperous diversified economy, one that effectively absorbs shocks, such as steep drops in commodity prices.
We need an economy where global and domestic investment is welcomed to kick-start new opportunities and create stable full-time employment.
We need an economy that not only leverages our strengths in traditional sectors such as resource extraction and manufacturing but seizes new opportunities as well.
Let me give you an example.
Around the world, governments and industry leaders are investing in wind, hydro, solar and geothermal technologies. It is forecast that by 2030, $5 trillion of the $7.7 trillion invested globally in energy will be in the renewable sector.
Due to inaction, Canada lags far behind. Thousands of good paying, middle-class jobs have gone elsewhere. That’s just not good enough.
I’ll work with industry, and the provinces and territories to ensure that Canada seizes every opportunity to reap the benefits of diversification that sectors such as renewable energy provide.
Over the coming months, the NDP will offer full series of measures to help promote economic growth and put Canada on the right track.
Today, I will mention three key aspects of our economic vision.
First, an NDP government would retain effective measures that help the Canadian manufacturing and transformation sectors and would extend the accelerated capital cost allowance for an additional two years.
Second, the NDP would implement an Innovation Tax Credit to encourage investments in machinery, equipment and property used in innovation-boosting research and development.
Third, we would provide immediate and permanent assistance to our small and medium-sized businesses by progressively reducing their tax rate by one fifth, from 11 to 10 to 9%.
Small and medium-sized businesses create the most jobs in Canada and it’s time we help them out.
These practical steps are just the beginning of what we can do right away to get the economy and the middle class on track.
My focus on the middle class stems from my upbringing.
My family story is that of millions of Canadian families. We had to work for everything we had. It wasn’t easy. We worked hard, played by the rules and lived within our means. We learned the importance of looking out for one another, sticking together, of community, of generosity.
My family pursued the middle class dream, an undertaking that has become more and more difficult for too many families. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I believe in growing the economy through prudent, strategic investments and sound fiscal policy.
Policies that attract investment and stimulate the creation of stable, full-time jobs.
The goal is to put the emphasis back on sustainable economic growth. Growth that will help not only today’s middle class, but our children and grandchildren. This means building a diversified economy that focuses on the creation of value-added jobs.
When we consider recent events – the job losses, the closures, the withdrawing of investment, and skyrocketing of household debt, the focus of our response must be on the hardworking families who feel the effects of these events day-in and day-out.
Their struggles will always guide my priorities.
The choice has never been clearer. And there isn’t a moment to waste. The middle class in Canada is counting on action and we’ll deliver it.
This article has been edited from Tom Mulcair’s speech to the Canadian Economic Club, January 27, 2015. The full text is available at ndp.ca.