From the kitchen table to parliament

 New Democrats met in Newfoundland this week to plan our strategy for the fall session of parliament.  As we met, MPs brought up issues they had heard about from over the summer.  The environment, pensions, health care, and accountability were all flagged as important.   Ultimately, it was clear that pocket-book issues remain the most pressing concern for far too many Canadians.

A new survey that was made public during our meeting backed this up. The survey, sponsored by the Canadian Payroll Association, found that 47 % of Canadians say they would be in serious financial trouble if their pay was delayed as little as a week.  This is nothing to dismiss.   While it is advisable to have a nest egg in place for unexpected circumstances, we cannot ignore the fact that almost half of our population is unable to even begin saving.  That carries with it significant implications for retirement options, the affordability of housing and education, and for the basic health of this vulnerable group.

Apart from planning strategy, NDP MPs received presentations from various groups, including an address from Dr. John Haggie, past-president of the Canadian Medical Association.  His remarks can be summed up with the phrase “wealth equals health” and for too many in Canada this isn’t possible.  Dr. Haggie explained how the bottom 10% wage earners in this country have a disease-free life expectancy - the period you can expect to live before developing chronic health disease - of 52 years.  The Canadian average is 68 years.  Most astonishing, for those in the top 10 percent, the average is 78 years.  That’s a big spread and has not been part of the debate about increasing the retirement age for public pensions.

When you combine the CPA survey findings with income-based life expectancy numbers, it is clear there is a new reality coming for the ‘average’ Canadian.   But our government doesn’t seem to be listening.   Instead of finding ways to help household budgets, they have been piling on to people stretched to the limit. 

The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a document this week showing user fees for government services have doubled over the past decade.  This now creates $8 billion a year in revenue.   That is money coming from Canadian’s pockets and correlates to the 50% cut in corporate tax cuts over the same period.  In the end, someone has to pay the freight and increasingly it’s the little guy.

New Democrats left Newfoundland vowing to continue with an agenda that leaves no Canadian behind and holding the Conservative government accountable.   When we return to the House of Commons on September 17th, the voices from the kitchen table will go with us.