Speech on Bill C-2

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in this House to discuss Bill C-2.

I want to start by clearly stating my premise up front, and then speaking to it throughout the 10 minutes I have. My premise is this, fairness for the middle class and societal inequality cannot stand together.

We cannot as a society, and nor can the government, decide that the middle class is the be all and end all of tax policy. I will say this bill misses the mark on delivering for the middle class.

We cannot say that fairness for the middle class is the be all and end all for society, because as long as inequality and poverty persists, every part of society is disadvantaged. Every part of society is disadvantaged by the continuation of poverty.

Recently, within the last half hour, I heard a Conservative member say the people who need the tax breaks the most, the people who need the help the most are the middle class. No, the people who need the help the most are the homeless. The people who need the help the most are the unemployed. The people who need the help the most are the poor.

In terms of inequality, where does Canada’s society stand today? By any measure, we are a fair and more equitable society than the United States. However, in a very real way, we are not as fair or as equitable as we used to be.

During the election campaign, I was digging all the time for stats and arguments for the few leaders’ debates in which I was included. While doing research, I was staggered to come across this stunning statistic: the 86 wealthiest families in Canada have more combined wealth than the 11.4 million Canadians at the bottom of the income brackets. Eighty-six individual Canadian families have more wealth than 11.4 million Canadians at the bottom.

Is this a problem? I submit it is a serious problem, and it is a problem that Bill C-2 will not address. I do not imagine that anyone thought Bill C-2 would address it. I will say, in fairness to the new government, and I will come back to this, I hope that more is planned, if it is serious about addressing income inequality.

Let us just look at this at a higher plane of analysis, which is the mania for neoliberalism, for the policies of Milton Friedman, and for the Thatcher-Reagan era, which launched policies in which no politician would say anything other than that we need smaller government, that we need tax cuts, that we need de-regulation, that we need trade liberalism, as though that mantra would deliver great blessings to a society overall.

One of the economists who I think has skewered this most effectively with detailed empirical research which does not brook a different opinion, because this economist comes fully loaded with the facts, is Nobel prize winning economist, currently a professor at Colombia University in New York, Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz amassed all the information any Parliament would need to decide that inequality is unacceptable for a society that wants to succeed at anything.

Joseph Stiglitz’s book, The Price of Inequality is something that I hope every member of Parliament will read. Stiglitz concludes that: “Inequality leads to lower growth and less efficiency. Lack of opportunity means that its most valuable asset — its people — is not being fully used.”

There are a lot of things one can say about the era of Thatcher-Reagan, neoliberalism and the kinds of trickle-down policies that were supposed to deliver benefits for all, but Joseph Stiglitz has pronounced, and I think it is time we all learned how to say it, the neoliberalism experiment in tax cuts to deliver wealth has been tried and is a monumental failure. Growth is stagnant. The economy is suffering, not just in Canada but everywhere. In Canada particularly more than some of our OECD colleagues, we have had stagnant growth for a while now. We are not seeing investment, and I want to touch on what our corporate sector has been doing or not doing.