The inequality gap between Canada's wealthiest and the rest of Canadians has never been greater in our country. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, as of 2016, Canada's 100 highest paid CEOs now earn over 209 times more than the average Canadian worker. This year, Canada's CEOs could have stopped working at 10:57 a.m. on January 2 and taken the rest of the year off and they would still make as much as an average Canadian this year. Members can think about that for a minute.
Reducing this inequality is simply not a priority of the government. Despite promising to close the stock option deduction loophole, which is projected to cost some $840 million this year alone, the government, under pressure from its wealthy friends, abandoned that promise. The finance minister has suggested that this is because small businesses and start-ups use this as a legitimate form of compensation. However, the data shows that this is not the case.
The CCPA found that 99% of benefits from the stock option deduction went to the top 10% of income earners in Canada. It found that, “In essence, there is no benefit from this tax expenditure to anyone making less than $215,000 a year.” These are not employees of small start-ups. These people are the government's wealthy backers and fellow French villa owners. This is just one tax loophole.
Unfortunately, despite its promise and its posturing as a progressive force, the government has left several of these highly regressive tax policies on the books. It has also failed to take real action on the abuse of tax havens. Tackling these issues is simply not the government's priority.
For Vancouver East, housing remains the number one issue for many of our residents. It has long been declared a basic right by the United Nations, and Canada has signed and ratified a number of international human rights treaties that identify the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right.
The NDP introduced Bill C-325 to enshrine the right to housing for Canadians in the Canadian Bill of Rights. To my dismay, every Liberal MP joined hands with the Conservatives to vote against that bill.
At a town hall I hosted, many attendees agreed on the necessity of a real, national, affordable housing program; the need for renewed and ongoing federal housing subsidies; the need for a long-term solution, not two-year transitional measures, for co-op housing; the importance of the Liberals honouring their election promise of incentives to build rental housing; and the need for dedicated funding for aboriginal housing.
The Liberals promised to bring back a national housing strategy, and there was much fanfare, by the way, with that announcement. However, what we learned was that 90% of the funding will not actually be spent until after the next election. The issue of housing affordability constitutes a crisis, with real, immediate needs, and the government's response was to say that it will get back to us after the next election. Honestly, we do not deal with a crisis by spending over 90% of promised funding after the next election.
The NDP has urged the government to bring the funding forward by increasing housing spending to $1.58 billion in budget 2018 instead of in 2021. Sadly, budget 2018 failed to acknowledge this important call for action. According to the government, tax loopholes for the richest must continue. Funding for affordable housing can wait.
Homelessness costs Canada $7 billion annually, $1 billion in B.C. alone. Every dollar invested in providing housing has been found to yield over $2 in savings in areas like health care, the justice system, and other social supports. Each dollar invested in housing construction has also been found to result in $1.52 in GDP growth. These are investments that pay for themselves and simply should not be made to wait.
I had the opportunity, when speaking in support of Bill C-15, to draw attention to the work of the Vancouver East community and what it is doing in trying to obtain UNESCO world heritage site designation for Vancouver's Chinatown. With Canada having just celebrated its 150th birthday, partnering and investing in preserving heritage sites like this would have been welcome.
B.C. was able to join Confederation through the labour and sacrifices made by Chinese railway workers, and 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of Chinese-Canadians winning the right to vote. Vancouver's Chinatown is number three on the Heritage Vancouver Society's top 10 watch-list of endangered sites. It is on the top 10 endangered places list of the National Trust for Canada.
Relentless development threatens the area more and more each year. Our community was hoping that the federal government would get behind our UNESCO push and provide preservation funding. There was not anything in budget 2018 for this important work. I hope that in future budgets, there is recognition from the federal government to help revitalize Vancouver's Chinatown and Chinatowns across the country.
On another critical issue, there is not an indigenous community in Canada that has not been touched by the systemic racism and sexism that allow indigenous women to be stolen from their loved ones and allow indigenous men like Colten Boushie to be killed without repercussions.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has been riddled with challenges since the beginning. The inquiry is the result of decades of work and advocacy by families and survivors. I feel very strongly that it must put the needs of families and survivors at the forefront. It is also vital that organizations that have been granted standing because of their expertise on the conditions and practices that cause and perpetuate the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls are also heard by the inquiry. To date, there has been no information regarding the process or the timeline for these experts and the institutional hearings of the inquiry. This is not acceptable. “No more stolen sisters” cannot just be a slogan.
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in the massive rally to stop Kinder Morgan. This call for action was led by indigenous leaders from across the country. Thousands gathered at Forest Grove park to send a clear message to the Prime Minister: no consent, no pipeline.
With eagles soaring above us, the leadership spoke eloquently and passionately about future generations and how it is our responsibility to “warrior up” to protect those who cannot speak for themselves. Their powerful and inspirational message united all of us: with one heart and one mind, let us all work together to stop Kinder Morgan.
The issue of pipelines brings us to the need for real action for a just transition to a sustainable future. What about bringing in a strategy to expand the use of solar panels for homes and public buildings? There is nothing like that in the budget.
On a critical issue, the government has also finally decided to provide the Immigration and Refugee Board with some funding to address the strain on the system caused by the significant increase in asylum claims in Canada. Unfortunately, because of how long the government put its head in the sand on the irregular crossings, this new funding will address the issue for only two years. That is not nearly enough. The added funding will only ensure that 18,000 cases are processed. At a time when there are over 40,000 cases in the backlog, which is increasing by 2,100 cases per month, this is not sufficient.
This budget does not address the real needs of Canadians. Action is what really matters. It takes courage to act, and I call on the government to act.