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Thank you for visiting my website. I hope this offers you useful information on the work I am doing as Wascana’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons.
If you have any questions or comments about any federal program or service, or need help dealing with any department or agency of the Government of Canada, please don’t hesitate to contact my Constituency Office. It is an honour to serve our community.
It’s a basic expectation of every new generation of Canadians that if they work hard and make the most of their opportunities, they will achieve a quality of life that surpasses their parents. But for many young Canadians, the inevitability of such progress seems doubtful.
Long after the end of the 2008 recession, Canada’s unemployment rate for those under the age of 25 stays stuck stubbornly at something over 13%, nearly twice the rate for the economy as a whole.
There are 240,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians today than just before the recession. And perhaps even worse, despite a steadily growing population, youth participation in the labour market is down by four full percentage points, reflecting an increasing number who are giving up their search for employment.
Job quality has deteriorated. In all of 2013, of the woefully inadequate 99,000 jobs in total generated by the entire Canadian economy, 95% were just part-time – meaning lower wages, fewer benefits and less security. Over the past 12 months (August to August), only 81,000 new jobs in total were produced across Canada, and only 15,000 of them were full-time.
International investment banker Morgan Stanley reported last week that Canada is among the three worst countries in the industrialized world for creating low-paying “crappy” jobs. This reinforces a 2013 study by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce that found good-paying, high-end jobs were being generated in Canada at a much slower pace than low-end jobs.
Real wage growth is weak. Savings are down. Living costs are up, as inflation begins to tick higher. And more than half of the employees surveyed recently by the Canadian Payroll Association reported that it would be difficult to make ends meet if their paycheques were delayed by more than just one week.
Adding to this concern, Canadian households are carrying close to $1.64 in debt for every $1.00 of disposable income, a level of financial vulnerability that global experts have described as “anything but sustainable.”
And costs keep rising. Some two-thirds of middle-class parents worry they may not be able to afford access to post-secondary education for their children. In more than 40% of “empty-nester” families, the kids have moved back home (or never left) because they cannot yet make a go of things on their own. The housing and other start-up costs now confronting them are far more formidable than their parents had to face.
The Conference Board has done a series of analyses of income inequality in Canada. The latest was published about a week ago. They have concluded that we are becoming a more unequal country, with one of the biggest income gaps growing between younger Canadians and their older counterparts. Many youth feel increasingly left behind, even left out altogether.
Last week, I asked the Harper government if they thought this was a problem. In their usual cavalier fashion, they just sloughed it off.
While Conservatives remain fixated on cutting taxes for the wealthiest 15% in our society – tax cuts that even the late Jim Flaherty depicted as too costly and unfair – young Canadians are being told to curb their hopes and ambitions and settle for mediocrity.
That’s just not bold enough. Canada can choose to do better.
Yesterday, the House of Commons voted in principle on Conservative MP Michael Chong’s proposed legislation to loosen the grip of Party Leaders over their respective Members of Parliament. It passed easily. Justin Trudeau and almost all of our Liberal Caucus voted in favour.
Among other things, the draft law suggests that Party Leaders should not have the authority to sign (or refuse to sign) the nomination papers of all their candidates. It also gives Parliamentary Caucuses the power to initiate a process to fire their Leader. And so forth.
Some herald this vote as a great break-through. Others say it is more symbolic than real because, to get support (especially from his own Prime Minister and Cabinet), Mr. Chong had to water-down his proposals so far that they’re now merely options to be considered, not mandatory change.
Let’s hope they will make a difference in empowering individual MPs. But more will be required. During his run for the Liberal leadership, Justin Trudeau made a number of specific proposals for democratic reform.
For example, he was the first to require his entire National Liberal Caucus to publish all their travel and hospitality expenses on a pro-active basis. His plan has since been adopted and implemented by the entire House of Commons.
He has also introduced legislation to reduce government secrecy and bolster public Access-to-Information. And he has accomplished some actual Senate reform – more than anyone else – by proposing a non-partisan, non-patronage selection process and by requiring all previous Liberal appointees to withdraw immediately from the National Caucus and to serve as genuine independents.
Liberal reform plans also include more free votes in Parliament. Party discipline would apply only in three specific circumstances – i.e., (i) when a “confidence” issue is involved according to Parliamentary traditions like on a Throne Speech or a Budget, (ii) when a vote relates to a specific campaign promise made to Canadians and upon which the government got elected, and (iii) when a matter is rooted in the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms.
Otherwise (and in the vast majority of cases), the “whips” would not apply and MPs would be free to make their own decisions and assume their own responsibilities. Minister would have to work harder and in a more cross-partisan fashion to win approval for what they want to put before the House.
We also need to restore stronger Parliamentary control over the public purse – historically, that is what a Parliament is for!
For example, there could be an annual deadline date for the presentation of each budget. There could be accounting consistency between the Estimates (before spending) and the Public Accounts (after spending) so MPs can actually “follow the money”. The House could demand a costing analysis attached to every government Bill. And the government could be required to seek Parliament’s approval before borrowing any money.
Beyond that, we need a truly independent and properly resourced Parliamentary Budget Officer. There should be an impartial system (as some provinces have) to identify and eliminate purely partisan government advertising. And there need to be strict fences built around the use of secret Committee proceedings, Closure, Omnibus Bills and Prorogation to prevent their misuse to undermine transparency and accountability.
And two other ideas:
Elections Canada must be adequately staffed and funded, with independent investigative powers and enforcement authority to fight voter suppression and electoral fraud.
And Canada should have a “preferential ballot” in its voting system.
This would help ensure that successful election candidates actually get at least 50% of the votes cast, and their campaigning would need to be more civil and respectful because they would have to be concerned about Second Ballot choices. Old, divisive “wedge politics” wouldn’t work anymore. Candidates would need to focus on what they can achieve in common, not the personal vilification of their opponents.
What do you think? Good ideas are always welcome.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to meet with many individuals and organizations, representing both employees and employers, about the mess the Harper government has made of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
That program functioned pretty successfully for more than 30 years – until the Conservatives seriously messed it up after 2006. The numbers of TFWs coming to Canada exploded – on track to rival total new immigration. That’s when stories began to circulate about displaced Canadian workers, depressed wages and exploited foreigners.
The Auditor General exposed some of the program’s weaknesses and faulty administration. Liberals called for a detailed Parliamentary review to ensure the rules were appropriate and properly enforced. The Conservatives just sloughed it all off. They were in complete denial – until reports of abuses erupted in a media frenzy this past spring.
Almost overnight, the government swallowed itself whole. From being the great “enabler” facilitating the use (or misuse) of more and more foreign workers, they became the great “enforcer” bent on shutting the whole thing down. From one extreme to the other. Both wrong.
A great many employers in Saskatchewan are enraged at the government’s erratic incompetence on this file. This province has a hot economy with the lowest unemployment in the country and the highest number of job vacancies. Finding employees is a big issue.
To meet job market demands, more public and private investment is required in higher education and skills training for homegrown Canadians. But beyond that, there’s also a legitimate and urgent need for a sensible program, run with integrity, to help fill jobs on a limited basis when Canadians simply cannot be found.
It must be based on accurate community-by-community job market data. The rules need to be clear, consistent and genuinely enforced in cooperation with provincial governments. Program administration must be efficient, transparent and accountable. And the emphasis needs to be on newcomers becoming landed immigrants, permanent residents, citizens and taxpayers – not just temporary folks to be used on the margins and tossed away.
The Saskatchewan government has long argued for a better system with a clear pathway to citizenship through the provincial Immigrant Nominee Program. More than two years ago, Saskatchewan asked Ottawa to increase its nominees from 4,000 annually to 6,000. Mr. Harper said no. Over these past two years, the Feds allowed this province only an extra 700 or so. So it’s no wonder we’ve got a problem – caused by the Harper regime.
Knowing all this TFW bungling was generating a deep sense of betrayal, even anger, in the business community, Mr. Harper thought a quick tax cut might smooth things over – so, 10 days ago, he rushed out an ill-conceived Employment Insurance tax credit. It too is a public policy failure.
The credit is totally unrelated to the generation of any new jobs. It’s calculated on the amount of EI premiums an employer pays, up to a maximum of $15,000 in premiums per year (i.e., it’s capped at the equivalent of about a dozen employees). Go over that limit and you get nothing. So it encourages firms to stay small. It punishes growth and ambition. It puts a cap on jobs, and could even be an incentive to reduce wages or fire people.
The Harper regime increased job-killing EI payroll taxes in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to rake in an extra $1.8-billion every year going forward. The rates are now frozen at that higher level. The government’s own Chief Actuary says they’re excessive. They can and should come down.
But a great many economists like Jack Mintz at the University of Calgary say this government’s defective tax credit is not the right way to do it.
One alternative would be to cut EI premium rates across the board. Or, if that’s deemed unaffordable right now, the government could take the advice previously offered by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and provide an EI premium holiday on each new and incremental job an employer creates.
For the same $550-million the Conservatives are going to spend on their misguided tax credit, with no assurance of any new jobs, the CFIB’s earlier proposal could help to foster as many as 175,000 new jobs over the next two years. That’s why Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is promoting it.
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