Parliament Video: Response to Federal Budget - we need to address how inequality has grown

On May 25, 2021, MP Jenny Kwan spoke for a second time about the 2021 federal Budget - the need for a wealth tax on the very wealthiest people, and a pandemic profiteering tax, to pay for the basic supports that people need to get through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially seniors and people with disabilities; support for small businesses; targeted supports for culturally significant institutions like the PNE & Vancouver's Chinatown, for people in cultural industries, and more

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, during the pandemic, inequalities have increased. The ultrarich are becoming richer, while those in need of help are still struggling to get by.

We have learned a lot about the Liberals in the last few years. They talk a good game, but time and again we see they have little intention of walking the walk when it comes to taking bold action. The Liberals choose to continue to give their rich friends a free ride, when what we need is for them to pay their fair share.

This is evident in budget 2021, which brings no wealth tax, no excess profits tax. If anything is clear in this pandemic, it is the fact that Canada needs a wealth tax on the super rich to rein in extreme inequality and contribute to crucial public investments in the wake of COVID-19. A wealth tax is economically and technically feasible, but it requires breaking with a status quo that all too often is just there to serve Bay Street and the wealthy few.

According to the Canadian group for fair taxation, three-quarters of Canadians surveyed are in favour of a wealth tax. What is clear is that the only thing lacking in bringing in a wealth tax is the political will to make this bold change. One has to ask what is wrong with this picture: According to the CCPA, Canada’s 87 richest billionaire families control 4,448 times more wealth than the average family and as much as the bottom 12 million Canadians combined. Budget 2021 will only serve to perpetuate such inequalities.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that if a 1% wealth tax was brought in for those with a net wealth of over $20 million, as proposed by the NDP, it would raise $5.6 billion in the first full fiscal year, rising to close to $10 billion per year by 2028.

In addition to a wealth tax, the NDP is also calling for a profiteering tax. Members should try to wrap their heads around this: The ultrarich made $78 billion over the course of the pandemic. Surely they can afford to pay a bit more to support Canadians in need. We also know that the ultrarich often stash their wealth in offshore accounts so they can avoid having to pay their fair share on their massive wealth.

It is a disgrace that budget 2021 only seeks to consult instead of taking action on tackling the problem of tax havens. Meanwhile, big banks are going unchecked, with no oversight. They are making billions during the pandemic, while hiking bank fees. This is wrong. We have to remember that Canadians were urged to avoid cash transactions during COVID-19, and now they are being dinged with increased bank fees.

All this is happening when one in five Canadians does not take the medication they need because they cannot afford it. As people continue to struggle, the call for a comprehensive universal public pharmacare continues to go unanswered after 24 years of promise by the Liberals. Not only that, but one in five Canadians avoids the dentist every year because of cost. The community is desperate for dental care, and that is not even mentioned in budget 2021.

As these basic needs are ignored by the Liberals, they have chosen to continue to provide fossil fuel subsidies to big corporations, and Canada continues to fail to meet its Paris accord targets. It is also disgraceful that the Liberals chose to turn a blind eye to the abuses of large companies that received the wage subsidy despite cutting jobs, increasing dividends to shareholders and increasing the salary of their executives.

The wage subsidy was clearly to protect Canadian workers and their jobs and was not meant for bonuses for top executives. Here on the west coast, the Pacific Gateway Hotel has terminated 140 workers. At the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown, another 100 workers have lost their jobs. The Sheraton Ottawa has fired 70 of its workers.

Any federal relief to be provided to big companies should require the companies to include an agreement on recall protections for workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. This includes the new federal hiring subsidy, which should prioritize rehiring laid-off staff over replacements.

Speaking of supporting workers, the increase of EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks in the budget implementation act is not enough. Not only that, but it would not take effect until 2022. For those suffering from chronic illnesses, 26 weeks is not sufficient. I have heard from constituents who are recovering from cancer or from a stroke and they are in dire situations because their EI benefit has run out. Since they did not lose their job because of COVID, they did not qualify for the CERB or the CRB. These families are falling through the cracks in their time of need. I am calling on the government to increase EI benefits to 50 weeks so that people can get the help they need.

On the CRB, while the government will extend the benefit for 12 weeks, for the last eight weeks, from July to September, the support will be reduced from $500 per week to $300 per week. This will be detrimental for workers in sectors that are slow to return. For many, $300 a week will not even cover rent, let alone ensuring that there is food on the table.

Similarly concerning is the fact that the Liberals have chosen to create two classes of seniors: those who are 65 versus those who are 75 and older. The increase for OAS should not be just for seniors over 75. We can afford to ensure that all seniors, 65 and older, are lifted out of poverty.

Also, it makes no sense that the Liberals have decided to study the needs of people with disabilities for three years instead of taking action now to lift them out of poverty. Most people living with disabilities have been excluded from some of the financial assistance offered by the Liberal government. Even the one-time payment to people with disabilities, a meagre $600 offered by the government, is difficult to access. For many people, because of the requirement to provide a disability tax credit certificate, it is not feasible for them to access this support. It is incomprehensible that the most vulnerable are not getting the help they need, while top executives are allowed to get big bonuses using government wage subsidies.

As this pandemic drags on, many Canadians are faced with significant rent arrears. The last thing we need to see is more people displaced without a home. That is why I fully support the National Right to Housing Network's call for action, which includes the call for a residential tenant support benefit. I also support Acorn's call to stop predatory lending.

On the issue of loans, the Liberals have finally taken the baby step of eliminating interest on student loans this year, although I have to note that this is not permanent. The Liberals need to stop making money from student debt, period. Not only do I want to see the interest gone, but I would like to see the government forgive student loans to help struggling students during the pandemic.

There is money to support Canadians in need. It is a matter of priorities.

As we look to the recovery, every effort must be made to support small businesses. There are huge gaps in the programs right now. Many new businesses that opened just prior to the pandemic did not get the support they need to get through the pandemic. Many of those businesses had to shut their doors.

Artists, musicians, performers and cultural workers have been among those hardest hit by the public health orders and advice issued in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. I have connected with many of my constituents and labour groups that represent theatre workers, like IATSE and ACTRA, to discuss the need for the federal government to provide better emergency pandemic supports in those sectors. I am in full support of their call for action on the #ForTheLoveOfLive campaign, which includes extensions of the wage subsidy and rental subsidy to the end of the pandemic, as well as additional sector-specific funding specifically for the live performance sector.

I am also renewing my call for the federal government to support the PNE. It needs to be able to access the wage subsidy. This 110-year-old institution in Vancouver East must be saved. Aside from the wage subsidy, I am also calling on the government to support the PNE with a grant similar to what was provided to Granville Island. Likewise, Vancouver's Chinatown needs support and this—"

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