Help the poor, not banks: NDP leader

WellandTribune.ca – Local News
Posted Dec. 6, 2010.   By Allan Benner/Tribune Staff – Welland

Millionaire Toronto bankers don’t visit the Hope Centre’s food bank.

But on Jan. 1, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government will be giving those bankers $6 billion in tax cuts, while the poorest people in the community can continue to rely on food banks, the New Democratic Party’s federal leader said Saturday during a stop in Welland.

Jack Layton suggested that money could give seniors enough to get them out from below the poverty line or extend employment insurance benefits to people who need it.

“You could do all those things plus so much more if you cancelled that corporate tax cut to the banks and the oil companies,” Layton said.

During his visit Layton joined Welland MP Malcolm Allen for a tour of the new Employment Solutions centre on East Main St. to talk about his party’s efforts to bring fairness back to the employment insurance system.

“The last person who needs a handout is the CEO of one of the five major banks in this country,” Allen said. “Who needs the handout are our friends down the street at Hope Centre, or our friends down the street at Open Arms Mission.”

Layton said the unemployment rate in Welland is well above the national average, despite its “talented workers,” infrastructure and progressive municipal council.

“But what we’re faced with is working people who are not being treated fairly by the government in a high unemployment region,” Layton said.

“It’s not right that some regions of the country are getting extra assistance when other regions with equally high unemployment are being shut out.”

A program called the Extended Benefit Pilot Project was launched about a year ago that extended EI benefits by an additional five weeks to a maximum of 45, in 21 different parts of the country. But that pilot program was never implemented here, despite the higher than average unemployment rate.

Layton said the government had planned to scrap that program entirely, until the NDP’s employment insurance critic, Yvon Godin, discovered the plan and “raised hell about it.”

Now, the Layton said the NDP is working to try to get that pilot project extended to all people who need it.

He said the federal government wrote off $54 billion of surplus that was built up in the EI funds, rather than giving it to unemployed workers.

“We still think it’s owed to the workers and should be paid back, and one way it could be paid back would be to, say, let’s take every region that has high unemployment — we’re saying 9.4% and above — and let’s get that extra five-week program going there. That would include this region here.”

Niagara’s unemployment rate is currently at 10.4 %.

Though five weeks doesn’t seem like a very long time, Layton said it could be just enough to help workers get back on their feet.

Allen said the rules for getting EI are also unfair for many people who need it. Despite paying thousands of dollars into EI every year, the New Democrat MP said one-third of EI applicants don’t qualify for benefits under the federal governments current rules.

“The rules are draconian and they’ve changed over time to the point where they punish workers who, through no fault of there own, get laid off,” Allen said. “At a moment in time when we really need to be helping the regular folks who work in this community, and those who are unfortunately unemployed, we are not. This government is basically saying, ‘No.’ ”

While struggling with too little money coming in, Layton said Canadians are also being forced to spend more, particularly people in Ontario thanks to the Harmonized Sales Tax.

“I call it the ‘Harper Sales Tax.’ ”

Layton said Harper “hides behind (Ontario Premier Dalton) McGuinty” regarding the tax that was ultimately implemented by the provincial government.

“But it was Stephen Harper who brought that tax in, and (finance minister Jim) Flaherty. But they all say, ‘No, it was a provincial thing.’ They’re lying when they say that, because the first law that came in that brought the HST was passed in Ottawa. We were there. We stood up and voted against it. And the Liberals and Conservatives conspired to slip it through just before Christmas (2009).”

The tax isn’t even collected by the provincial government, Layton said.

“It’s now Stephen Harper’s employees who are collecting that HST.”

He said seniors are already shepherding every penny, and now they will have to pay an extra $20 or so on their electricity bill as a result of the new tax.

Layton said the NDP has launched a campaign to lobby the government to immediately take the HST off of anything to do with home heating.

“Take it off and take it off now. It’s a really important campaign.”

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