In Debate: Risk and Uncertainty for Canadian Jobs and Economy

Opposition Day motion tabled by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair:

“That this House acknowledge that the Canadian economy is facing unprecedented risk and uncertainty; recognize that many regions and industries across Canada have already suffered significant job losses in recent years; urge all levels of government to work together to build a balanced, 21st century Canadian economy; and insist that Canada's Prime Minister meet with his counterparts in Halifax this November at the National Economic Summit being held by the Council of the Federation.”

In Debate on the Motion:

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Mr. Speaker, congratulations. It is good to see you in the chair.

I am very pleased to be speaking on this motion by the Leader of the Opposition because it is very important that we have the opportunity to highlight the impact of the job losses in Canada's manufacturing sector. The figures from Statistics Canada are staggering. Canada has lost nearly 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the Conservative government took office in 2006 and we have lost over 40,000 manufacturing jobs this year alone.

We are currently at a historic low in terms of manufacturing jobs going back to when these statistics were first gathered in 1976. I would like to note that this low is quite significant because both our labour force and population have grown significantly over this same period. In other words, there are fewer manufacturing jobs in Canada now than there were in 1976.

Of particular note, the textiles and clothing sector, which, according to Statistics Canada, has long been one of the largest manufacturing employers in the country, was the hardest hit among manufacturing industries. From 2004 to 2008, manufacturers and textile product mills saw almost half of their jobs disappear. Another particularly hard hit sector is the automotive industry and members will know about this. Statistics Canada reports that automotive parts and manufacturing lost more than one-quarter of its employees from 2004 to 2008, while motor vehicle manufacturing lost one-fifth. That is 15,900 jobs. Those who earned their living and supported families in our communities from the automotive sector saw their job numbers go from 139,300 to 98,700. This effectively cancelled all the strong economic growth that we experienced from 1998 to 2004.

In my community of London there has been a steady, long-term erosion of jobs and it has been particularly hard hit by the most recent closing of manufacturing plants. Tragically, the city's manufacturing sector has been shrinking at a rapid rate and auto sector jobs have all but disappeared. These lost jobs were the good-paying jobs needed to support families and communities.

Just this year, more than 700 jobs were lost at Electro-Motive Diesel in London. Air Canada Jazz cut 200 maintenance jobs at London International Airport and Diamond Aircraft has been reduced to a fraction of the workforce compared to a year ago. People may recall the problems faced by Diamond in the development of a new jet. Unfortunately for London, the federal government declined to assist the company in its efforts and jobs have been lost. In the neighbouring community of Talbotville, after the Ford assembly plant was shut down in 2011, a total of 12,000 jobs were eliminated and now Timken will close, leaving 150 more people out of work.

It is not just manufacturing. We have seen 36 jobs cut at Service Canada in London. This loss of front-line workers creates tremendous hardships for the people in the London region who need help with their employment insurance, CPP concerns, GIS problems and CPP disability benefits. These Service Canada workers were highly skilled and very professional in their effective delivery of services to my constituents, services they need and deserve.

There has also been the elimination of all support staff at Wolseley Barracks. The important work done by that staff with regard to the efficient functioning of the base leaves members of the Canadian Forces without the supports they need to do their jobs, compels CF personnel to do jobs for which they are not trained and takes them away from the jobs for which they have been trained. We have seen the end of front-line service at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. There are no days of the week when the office is open to the public in London. For all those individuals who are required to contact CIC, this closure is an unforgiveable hardship.

The jobs lost in London were good paying jobs. They were jobs that supported the infrastructure of our community. They were critical to the future economic health of London. These were good jobs with pensions.

Now the retirement savings of those hard-working people are at risk and so are their pensions. Their ability to pay into CPP no longer exists. Some workers in London are still looking for the pension benefits they spent years paying into. There are many hundreds of them. Nortel pensioners and Beta Brands pensioners are still waiting for benefits years after their employers left the city. These are not the only lost jobs. These are lost pensions, lost hopes, lost security.

Sadly, where there has been job growth it has been concentrated in the service sector and part-time work where pension benefits are limited or do not even exist. That is what too many Canadians face, and it is unconscionable.

This economic downturn is being used as an opportunity to attack retirement security in Canada. More and more companies are opting out of defined benefit pension plans. With a defined benefit pension plan, employees receive a set monthly amount once they reach retirement. It is an amount they can depend on because it is based on the participant's salary and length of employment. With this plan the employer is responsible to provide specified sufficient funds to secure the future retirement of an employee. An employee can therefore retire knowing to the penny the kind of resources available and the lifestyle he or she will be able to maintain.

More companies are attempting to make the switch to a defined contribution plan where the employer defines the amount that will be contributed to the employee's pension plan on a regular basis. The amount contributed is then invested by the employer in a selection of investment options within the plan. The amount the employee will receive upon retirement will vary based on the amount contributed and the performance of the investment. In a defined contribution pension plan all of the investment risk is placed on the employee and there is no way at all to predict what the retirement income will be.

According to Stats Canada, the number of people who are members of defined benefit plans dropped by over 100,000 between 2007 and 2011. According to the Globe and Mail a survey of Canadian plan sponsors earlier this year found that only 42% of publicly traded companies with defined benefit plans still had them open to all employees while 39% had closed their plans to new hires and 17% had closed them to all employees. I would also like to note that Stats Canada states the number of members with a defined contribution plan has risen by just under 100,000 between 2007 and 2011.

In the private sector, employees in Canada are also in pension jeopardy. There has been an increase of more than 100,000 individuals who do not earn any pension at all. That is 100,000 fewer people with a pension plan than in 2006. That means 100,000 more people may need to rely on the GIS to make ends meet when they do retire.

Retirement security in Canada is changing, and this shift is not for the better. With losses and cuts to private sector pensions and threats to public sector pensions, Canadians will have less money upon retirement.

Young people today are facing high unemployment rates and are delayed entrance into the workforce. Young families today are earning less money than their parents did. Now, due to the government's recent changes to the OAS and GIS, workers will have to wait two more years before they are eligible to collect benefits.

The writing is on the wall. There will be a retirement crisis for the post-boomer generation unless we make some drastic changes, and to be clear, changes such as cuts to the OAS are not the type of changes that I am speaking about. We need to strengthen all three tiers of our pension system and in particular, we need to see a doubling of the CPP.

We live in a very rich and privileged country. We are experiencing an economic downturn. However, investing in job creation will have a far better outcome for our communities than corporate tax cuts and billion dollar jets made abroad.

The benefits are immense and will last well into the future. Only with job security can we have retirement security. Canadians deserve nothing less.

 

Mr. Brad Butt (Mississauga—Streetsville, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I sat and listened carefully to the member for doom and gloom on the other side of the House during her presentation. I find it ironic that we get preached to by Ontario New Democrats who will probably remember, like I do, the four and a half years when the leader of the Liberal Party was the NDP premier of the Province of Ontario. He created the worst economic recession in the history of any province in the country. Ontario is still trying to recover from the years when the leader of the Liberal Party was the Ontario NDP premier.

Given the fact that my friend on the others side and her colleagues campaigned in the 2011 election to bring forward a $21 billion carbon tax that would completely cripple Canada's economy, how can she stand in the House today and cite doom and gloom on an economy which is doing better every day under the leadership of our government?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate it very much if the member would understand that I am the member for London--Fanshawe and I am here to serve my constituents. I will do it with every effort, unlike the members opposite who have basically taken a strong economy and put it into the ditch.

In terms of the recession of 20 years ago, I would like to remind the House, and the member, that at the time we were elected in Ontario we were in the fifth quarter of an economic downturn. The Conservative government of the time's response to that was to cut transfers and shift the burden of unemployment from the feds to the provinces and created a very difficult time.

Also, the member needs to be very careful about what he says. He is getting his facts mixed up. We support cap and trade. I wish that they would understand that.

 

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party is going to be supporting the motion. The reason we are supporting the motion is because we recognize the valuable role that first ministerial conferences play in trying to build the type of support and consensus that is necessary in order to assist all Canadians to better prosper and have a sense that the governments are working together.

On the one hand we have the Conservatives who do not see the benefit. That is the reason we have the motion before us today. We want them to understand the importance of having first ministerial types of meetings take place. An excellent example of that would have been the health accord, which was achieved because of first ministers conferences.

Does the member not see that the NDP needs to apologize? There is a great deal of hypocrisy there when it will not even meet with premiers to talk about bizarre statements from the leader of the NDP who went on a verbal attack of the western provinces and pit region against region? Does she not see the merit of her leader apologizing to Canadians for that?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, I am very appreciative of the support from the Liberal caucus. It is absolutely essential that there be co-operation.

If the Liberals had read the NDP platform, like the Conservatives apparently have, they would have noted that in every case there is a very clear direction that whatever we do as a federal government we will do in consultation with the provinces and the territories.

As a member of the party of Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, I am very concerned about what the latest budget has done in reducing health budgets by $31 billion across the country. That is going to be very difficult for health care.

As to his final statement, my leader made it very clear that unless we have co-operation, unless we talk about the fact that our economic activity has a consequence, in every part of the country, we are not going to be able to protect either the economy or the environment of the future.