The Canadian economy: Conservatives fail to meet expectations

A few weeks ago, the Harper government announced that Quebec minister Denis Lebel would crisscross Quebec on a charm offensive. I am sorry to disappoint the deputy minister, but it is too little too late.

Like all Conservatives, Mr. Lebel has made the economy the cornerstone of his campaign. But he is far from effectively managing the economy, as he claims. Since 2006, his government has continued to slash key budgets and dismantle programs and services that Canadians rely on—good economic long-term planning be damned. Let’s just look at a few examples.

With the debt level at new heights and 1.3 million Canadians unemployed, the Conservatives are using Kijiji to invent statistics and justify expanding the temporary foreign worker program. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada exploded to nearly 500,000, an increase of more than 235%.

While the program has its merits, it has been the subject of many abuses that have slowed job creation, reduced workers’ wages and put temporary foreign workers in vulnerable situations—all under the federal government’s passive eye.

That’s why the NDP raised the alarm this past spring and, after months of hard work, managed to force the Conservatives to reduce the program’s scope. Without better data collection on Canada’s labour markets, expanding the program is unjustifiable.

But this problem is only one part of the economic equation. Two years ago, the Conservatives imposed their changes on the EI program, with dire consequences for our seasonal economy and our workers. While the number of EI claims is up by 10%, the number of Canadians receiving benefits has fallen by the thousands, creating a 3% decrease in benefit payouts.

How does this happen? Well, although the unemployment rate has remained relatively high for a year—in Quebec, it’s 8.1%—the Conservatives continue to restrict access to EI at historic lows. According to a recent Statistics Canada report, fewer than 4 in 10 unemployed workers are now eligible for benefits.

When I talk to constituents in Beauharnois–Salaberry, I often hear the same question: “But if Quebec and Canadian workers pay into a program that doesn’t come to their aid when they need it, where does the money go?” And every time, my constituents are shocked by the answer.

The reality is that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have diverted more than $57 billion in contributions from workers and employers to other purposes.

It is unacceptable that Ottawa can undermine a program so essential to the welfare of Canadians and the economy. That is why the NDP is committed to eliminating the reforms imposed by the Conservatives in addition to introducing a bill to prevent EI contributions from being used for purposes other than paying out benefits. (I encourage you to sign our Protect our Employment Insurance Fund petition).

It is also unacceptable that the federal government allows entire industries to disappear without intervening. Layoffs at Bombardier have been well publicized, but they are only part of a larger problem. Since the Conservatives came to power, some 100,000 jobs have disappeared in Quebec’s manufacturing sector. This year alone, 15,200 Quebeckers have lost their jobs in this critical industry.

The NDP believes in making a concerted effort to save existing jobs and create the jobs of tomorrow. We must do this by using all available tax, legal and business opportunities to invest in education, training and research.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives seem stuck in the stone age and would rather give tax breaks to banks and oil companies than develop new opportunities and support Quebec and Canadian businesses. Their recent decision to abolish the hiring credit for SMEs and move forward with income splitting reflects their lack of vision. In both cases, the New Democrats have publicly opposed these senseless approaches.

The NDP believes our future lies in a sustainable and diversified economy. The United States, Denmark and Norway all recognize that green energy is an unprecedented opportunity to become a leader in this growing market. It is time for Canada to follow this trend before it is too late.

The number of jobs created in the renewable energy sector has increased by 18% year over year. Worldwide, annual investment in clean energy is more than $240 billion, for a value of $300 billion by 2020.

As the Official Opposition Deputy Critic for Industry, I believe it is imperative that we expand our horizons. To this end, I will be hosting, along with my NDP colleagues François Choquette and Peter Julian, a forum on green energy and industry on October 3 in Ottawa.

From EI to research and development to small business support, the NDP has something to offer to Quebec and Canadian workers and businesses. The environment and development can and should go hand in hand. For the NDP, this is the challenge we want to meet.