Click here for the full debate
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Kings—Hants.
The growing gap between the rich and poor in Canada is a sign that we as a society are failing to preserve the core Canadian value of equality of opportunity for all people in Canada. Unfortunately, it is clear that the Conservatives do not believe that government has a positive role to play in facilitating equality of opportunity for all Canadians.
This morning, our leader asked the House to call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada.
Clearly, those measures can begin to reduce the unacceptable gap between rich and poor.
It is clear that the Conservatives’ ideology is focused on leaving Canadians on their own to fend for themselves. We recently saw the Conservatives’ answer to social inequality when the UN special rapporteur on the right to food highlighted serious food insecurity issues in Canada, in particular in aboriginal communities.
We have seen the Conservatives’ strategy play out time and time again. First, they emphatically deny that there is a problem and then savagely attack the credibility of those raising the issue. It is particularly shocking that aboriginal Canadians suffer from one of the largest gaps in terms of income inequality given that the Crown has a unique and historic fiduciary relationship with First Nations people in Canada. The most recent Statistics Canada data shows that the median income for aboriginal peoples was 30% lower than that of non-aboriginals. Aboriginal Canadians are working to build sustainable prosperity in their communities but they can no longer count on their federal government as a partner.
Canadians know that education is the key to success. Appallingly, only one in three first nations students graduate high school and, under the Conservative government, the rate is getting worse. First nations receive only two-thirds of the annual per-student funding as non-first nations students in provincial systems but not one penny of the government’s so-called new funding is targeted to close this annual $3,500 per-student gap. Why does the government think that an aboriginal student is worth less than a non-aboriginal student and why does it think that aboriginal students do not require that same equality of opportunity?
The Liberals support equal rights to high-quality and culturally appropriate education for First Nations students and recognize that the present situation prevents them from participating fully in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities and of Canada as a whole.
With first nations suicide rates five times the national average and Inuit suicide rates eleven times higher, the Conservatives are cutting the aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy. These are young people who feel hopeless and helpless and the government is cutting help to them. Even though aboriginals are much more likely to suffer from diabetes, have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancies, the Conservatives are cutting aboriginal health programs. The National Aboriginal Health Organization, the aboriginal diabetes initiative, the aboriginal health human resources initiative and the aboriginal health transition fund have all been cut by the government, but the government knows that social inequality is the key to health inequality.
Despite overcrowding rates on reserves six times those off reserve and more than 40% of on reserve homes in need of major repairs, the Conservatives have no plan to deal with the crisis in first nations housing.
Last November, the Conservatives supported a motion made in this House by the Liberal Party. The motion urged the government, as a priority, to address the needs of first nations communities whose members have no access in their homes to running water fit for drinking. This crisis requires more than those words; it requires action from the government.
The government has failed to provide funding to upgrade the huge numbers of first nations water and waste water systems, which have been determined by the government’s own national assessment to be at either high or medium risk.
The government is turning its back on first nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians and the Canadian values of compassion and fairness. We know that health outcomes are the ultimate report card for the success of a society. Closing the gap in the health status of first nations, Inuit and Métis will only be possible if the government chooses to accept its role to address the equality of opportunity for the first peoples of Canada.
Since 2009, Richard Wilkinson’s book, The Spirit Level, has brought together the evidence and raised the consciousness about the role of inequality and health outcomes. I will quote from his new and updated edition, The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone.
It is now time egalitarians returned to the public arena. We need to do so confident that our intuitions have been validated and found to be truer than most of us ever imagined. Because the evidence shows that few people are aware of the actual scale of inequality and injustice in our societies, or recognise how it damages the vast majority of the population, the first task is to provide education and information.
Understanding these issues is already changing attitudes to inequality among politicians. In Britain, The Spirit Level has been endorsed across the political spectrum. In a major speech at the end of 2009, David Cameron said that the book showed that, among the richest countries, it is the more unequal ones that do worst, according to almost every quality of life indicator.
In his first major speech as the leader of the Labour Party, Ed
I do believe this country is too unequal and the gap between rich and poor doesn’t just harm the poor, it harms us all….Words are a start, but changing policies and politics, changing the way our societies organise themselves, will require the evidence to be recognised even more widely.
Few tasks are more worthwhile than this as we think The Spirit Level shows. The health of our democracies, our societies and their people is truly dependent on greater equality.
I am calling on the government today, if it is to share embassies with the British people, maybe it could listen to the experts and the politicians who are in the United Kingdom now on the importance of working on social inequality.