Bill C-55 (Historical)
Wage Earner Protection Program Act
An Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
David Emerson Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
May 5th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC
I am not confusing the two acts.
Bill C-55 received royal assent on November 25, 2005. Then, in 2008, certain sections of the act came into force. The act, by the way, was passed in late 2005, under a Liberal government.
The Conservatives have enacted some sections, but I think that the section on pensions has been forgotten—a section that is awfully important given today's economic climate.
Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec
Business of Supply
April 1st, 2008 / 12:20 p.m.
Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, the member should do his homework. It is not surprising that he has not defended Quebec workers because he does not know his history.
The objective of Bill C-55 was to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Of course, it included a section that created a program to protect the earnings of workers whose employer had declared bankruptcy. That was a part of Bill C-55. I invite all those who are listening to us now to look for the bill on the Internet. It is a bill that dates from 2006 or 2007. In fact, the largest part of this bill deals with an overhaul of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.
I will return to this example, because it is an excellent one. It is a bit complicated to explain and that is why it never made the headlines. Bill C-55 included a section that stated that from now on some RRSPs could be seized by big finance companies. Not only has this Conservative government done nothing to protect the savings of workers, but, worse, it has done nothing to protect the Quebec Civil Code. How can one believe that this Conservative government is open to the Quebec nation? It is not. It took the Bloc Québécois six months to get it to listen to reason. I say that it is a good example, but it is an excellent example. There is no need to prove the usefulness of the Bloc, but from time to time we must remind everyone just how useful the Bloc is. In the end, the Bloc Québécois used a unanimous motion from the Quebec National Assembly to make this government listen to reason. The government finally gave in and accepted the amendment from the Bloc.
Opposition Motion—Compliance with the Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec
Business of Supply
April 1st, 2008 / noon
Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to reread the Bloc Québécois' opposition day motion.
—following the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House, the government should move from words to deeds and propose measures to solidify that recognition, including compliance with the language of labour relations of Quebec’s Charter of the French language regarding enterprises under federal jurisdiction located in Quebec.
In this regard, I would like to respond to the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, who is gloating that everything is going so well and that 94% of Quebeckers speak French at work. If this is the case, it should be included in the act. If this reflects the real situation, they should put it in writing, support the Bloc Québécois' motion and formalize this ideal situation that exists in Lévis—Bellechasse.
The fact remains that Quebeckers are a nation. By recognizing this, the House of Commons automatically recognized its attributes, in particular its language, its culture, its model of integration and its Civil Code, but we will talk about it later. French is the official language of Quebec, except for the federal government, which recognizes two official languages. However, the federal government does not expressly recognize Quebec's culture. Whenever the federal government comes to Quebec to promote bilingualism, particularly in Montreal, it weakens French. Whenever French is supported in Quebec, it helps francophones outside Quebec.
However, the federal government imposes an integration model. It imposes multiculturalism, which runs counter to the Quebec integration model of interculturalism.
The Bloc Québécois recommends, therefore, that the federal government recognize and comply with the Charter of the French Language in Quebec, specifically with regard to enterprises under federal jurisdiction, that it exempt Quebec from its multicultural policy and that it grant Quebec regulatory power over radio broadcasting and telecommunications.
This would be a start in a genuine recognition of the Quebec nation. In fact, although the Conservative party prides itself on its openness towards Quebec, it has done absolutely nothing for the people of Quebec, except for recognizing the nation, which was, let us recall, a Bloc Québécois initiative.
It was the Bloc Québécois that, on an opposition day like today, introduced a motion that called for the recognition of Quebec as a nation. This government, that really just intended to obstruct and deceive us, used a shameful political tactic and applauded itself as it said that it was going to recognize Quebec as a nation, but within a united Canada. We will see later that Quebec was already a nation before Canada even existed.
As I have just mentioned, a little more than a year ago, on Monday, November 27, 2006, the House of Commons agreed to the following motion by 265 votes to 16:
That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
This was, as it still is, a great victory for the Bloc, but it was above all a victory for all the people of Quebec. To be recognized as a nation is no small matter, and it comes with privileges and rights. But on these, the government is silent.
Even so, it was still the first time that Canada recognized our existence as a national community. It is the first country to do so and we hope that it will not be the last.
Applied to persons, the term nation refers to a “group of people, generally fairly large, distinguished by its awareness of its unity and a desire to live together” according to the definition in the Robert dictionary. In short, “nation” is the community to which we belong, the group with which we identify, and within which we debate and decide how our society is to be organized.
And because a nation is the special place where political decisions can be made, recognizing a nation means recognizing a political entity with legitimate political rights and aspirations.
By recognizing the Quebec nation, the House of Commons recognized the right of Quebeckers to control the social, economic and cultural development of Quebec themselves. By stating that the Quebec nation is composed of all residents of Quebec, regardless of their origin or mother tongue or the region where they live, the federal government recognized that the Quebec nation has a clear geographic base, made up of all of the territory of Quebec. In so doing, Canada declared that calls for partition are illegitimate.
In short, recognition of the Quebec nation also means recognition of the legitimacy of Quebec’s repeated demands that Quebeckers have the powers and resources that are needed in order to develop their own society. To date, unfortunately, Canada has not yet acted on that recognition, and continues to behave as if it was composed of a single nation. Here again, we can see this Conservative government’s lack of openness to Quebec and to Quebeckers. As we shall soon see, this government’s openness to Quebeckers is a myth; it is an urban legend. Recognition of a nation must in fact be more than symbolic.
Nations have rights, and they have one right in particular, the right to self-determination, the right to decide the course of their own development. Quebec can choose the course of its own development by becoming sovereign. We know that this is the first choice of the Bloc Québécois. Just as it can choose to try to get the powers and resources it needs in order to achieve that by working to renew federalism. That is not our choice. But both options are legitimate, and we recognize that.
While waiting for Quebec to be sovereign, the Bloc Québécois works to promote the sovereignty of Quebec every day. The Bloc works to defend the interests of the Quebec nation. Even without recognition by Canada, the Quebec nation continues to exist, to pay its taxes, to have interests that are unique to it and that are often very different from Canada’s. The Bloc continues to defend the interests and promote the values of the Quebec nation. If Quebeckers form a nation, it is not up to Canadians to decide how they plan to organize their society.
Because Quebec is the homeland of the Quebec nation, it must have the resources to control its own development. To that end, the Bloc Québécois plans to work to resolve a number of priority issues, including the fiscal imbalance, because that has still not been resolved. Because the Government of Quebec is our national government, it must resolve this problem. As long as it persists, Quebec does not have the resources to implement the choices of Quebeckers, and what Quebec does depends on the goodwill of Canada.
Culture and communications are two other priority issues for the Bloc Québécois. Because Quebeckers form a nation, telecommunications and broadcasting must be under Quebec’s jurisdiction. As well, because the Quebec nation exists, Ottawa must recognize Quebec’s culture and identity in its cultural policies and legislation.
Quebec's standing on the international scene is a third priority issue for the Bloc Québécois. Because Quebeckers form a nation, they must be able to express themselves on the international scene in their jurisdictions. Quebec is fully sovereign in the jurisdictions the Constitution gives it. It must be able to fully exercise its powers in those jurisdictions, including in international relations.
What is a nation? The word “nation” can refer to two different things. When applied to a state or territory, the word “nation” can mean “country”. That is the meaning of the word in United Nations, an organization of which Quebec cannot unfortunately be a member yet because it is not sovereign. So, if the motion said “Quebec is a nation”, some people could say that that means that Quebec is a country. But that is not what the motion says. It asks the House to recognize that “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.”
When the word “nation” is applied to people, it does not mean “country”. According to the Larousse dictionary, it designates a “large human community which, most of the time, lives on a common territory and has historic, linguistic and cultural unity and the desire to live together”. That is the meaning of today's motion.
In Quebec, there is a long-time consensus that Quebeckers form a nation. On October 30, 2003, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion: “That the National Assembly reaffirm that the people of Quebec form a nation”. The motion does not say that Quebeckers form a nation if Canada remains what it is or if Quebec opts for sovereignty. It simply says that the people of Quebec form a nation. There was a reason why the National Assembly chose to reaffirm the existence of a Quebec nation.
This resolution repeated what all the Quebec governments have been saying for decades. I will quote a few, including Maurice Duplessis, the leader of the Union Nationale party, who said “The Canadian confederation is a treaty of union between two nations”. He said that in April 1946, not yesterday.
Jean Lesage, a Liberal, said:
Quebec did not defend provincial autonomy simply for the principle of it, but because, for Quebec, autonomy was the specific condition not for its survival, which is assured, but for its affirmation as a people and a nation.
Jean Lesage, a good Liberal and former premier of Quebec, said that in November 1963.
Daniel Johnson Sr., another unionist, said:
The Constitution should not have as its sole purpose to federate territories, but also to associate in equality two linguistic and cultural communities, two founding peoples, two societies, two nations.
I could also quote René Lévesque:
Canada is composed of two equal nations; Quebec is the home and the heart of one of those nations and, as it possesses all the attributes of a distinct national community, it has an inalienable right to self-determination...This right to control its own national destiny is the most fundamental right that Quebec society has.
That was in June 1980.
Jacques Parizeau, a good PQ premier, said:
To date, Canada's basic law has failed to recognize Quebeckers as a nation, a people or even a distinct society. That is a sad commentary.
Lucien Bouchard was once a Conservative, but he finally opened his eyes and realized that the Quebec nation deserved better than the Conservative Party. In October 1999, he said:
Quebec is the only majority francophone society on the North American continent with a well-defined land base and political institutions which it controls. The Quebec people have all the classic attributes of a nation... The Quebec people adhere to the democratic concept of a nation characterized by its language, French, and a diverse culture, and which is broadly open to international immigration.
The Bloc Québécois' Bill C-482 is extremely important. We know that it was introduced in this House by the hon. member for Drummond. The bill calls on the federal government—because it was obvious that the federal government did not have the will to do so—to recognize the Charter of the French Language within Quebec and extend its application to businesses under federal jurisdiction and—as we will see later—more specifically under the Canada Labour Code.
To avoid any ambiguity, it is essential to state specifically in the Official Languages Act that French is Quebec's official language. It must be done because this Conservative government is promoting bilingualism in Quebec. And Quebec being totally surrounded by a sea of anglophones and being constantly bombarded by the anglophone culture through television, radio and the Internet, when bilingualism is being promoted in a nation like Quebec and in a city like Montreal, the French language loses ground, particularly in Montreal. The situation is probably not as critical in Lévis—Bellechasse, but in Montreal the French language is certainly losing ground: 25% of Montrealers work in English.
This amendment is not purely symbolic. It states, to a certain extent, the intent of the legislator. In this regard, the Barreau du Québec said this:
Jurisprudence, also, seems to consistently demonstrate that the preamble is always important, though the circumstances in a matter, such as the clarity of the provision, justifies setting aside any indications of intent that may be found in the preamble.
It then becomes an insurance policy provided that the body of the act is also amended. The Official Languages Act essentially applies to the Government of Canada and its institutions, and as mentioned earlier, under section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is impossible to amend any provisions dealing with institutionalized bilingualism within the federal government without amending the Constitution.
However, two parts of the act can be amended, namely part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and part X, which deals in part with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois will require a commitment by the federal government not to interfere with the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to remind members that the recognition of the Charter of the French Language does not in any way diminish the rights and privileges of the anglophone minority in Quebec under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These amendments are strictly limited to the power of the federal government to interfere with language policy in Quebec.
The specific mention of a provincial legislation in a federal statute is allowed, and it is even common. This is called a statutory reference. It means that the government recognizes the provisions made by another Canadian legislature. For example, the Canada Labour Code includes a statutory reference about minimum wage that says the provinces are to set the hourly minimum wage. This is section 178 of the Canada Labour Code. The bill contains an amendment dealing with that.
Almost 10% of the labour force in Quebec is under the Canada Labour Code. These workers are under federal jurisdiction and are employed by companies that do not comply with Bill 101. A federal piece of legislation is needed in order to have them comply. In this regard, two or three industries are usually mentioned, but I will give a more extensive listing.
The Canada Labour Code applies to: works or undertakings connecting a province with another province or country, such as railways, bus operations, trucking, pipelines, ferries, tunnels, bridges, canals, telephone and cable systems; all extra-provincial shipping and services connected with such shipping, such as longshoring; air transport, aircraft and airports; radio and television broadcasting—all our radio and television stations in Quebec; banks; defined operations of specific works that have been declared by Parliament to be for the general advantage of Canada or of two or more provinces, such as flour, feed and seed cleaning mills, feed warehouses, grain elevators and uranium mining and processing; and Federal Crown corporations where they are engaged in works or undertakings that fall within section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or where they are an agency of the Crown, for example the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority.
Here are examples of the number of employees in some of the enterprises coming under the Canada Labour Code. Bell Canada, which is under federal jurisdiction, had 17,241 employees in 2006. In the financial sector, the Royal Bank has 7,600 and the National Bank of Canada has 10,299. In the interprovincial transportation sector, Air Canada has 7,657.
It is estimated that there are approximately 200,000 Quebeckers working in an environment that does not comply with Bill 101 in Quebec, that is a little less than 10% of Quebec workers. The amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois adds to Part 1 of the Canada Labour Code a provision that stipulates that “any federal work, undertaking or business carrying on activities in Quebec is subject to the requirements of the Charter of the French Language”. That provision responds to the demand made in the Larose report of 2001. I refer to Gérald Larose, then and still president of the Conseil de la souveraineté.
I can give a very good example of this Conservative government's lack of respect for the Quebec nation. It occurred last year right after the recognition of the Quebec nation. That motion was, I repeat, adopted in this House in November 2006. Within a week or two of that date, the Minister of Labour tabled Bill C-55 in this House.
This bill, which was a reworking of the bankruptcy legislation, contained a clause that ran counter to the Quebec Civil Code and made certain RRSPs seizable. What this Conservative government wanted was to see bankrupt small investors lose the money they had put aside over the years to certain major finance companies I shall not name here. Major credit card companies. That is what this government wanted to do, which runs counter to one of the things that differentiates the Quebec nation, its civil code. This runs counter to the values of the Quebec nation. This is not the approach we take to working people. We respect what they have put aside over the years.
Finally, after six months, the Bloc Québécois managed to get that legislation amended. Not a single Conservative member of this House spoke up for the investors of Quebec.
Statements by Members
January 28th, 2008 / 2 p.m.
Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, thanks to the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-12 was amended to protect one of the fundamental differences that sets the Quebec nation apart: its civil code. As a result, the bill protects Quebeckers' RRSPs from seizure.
The Bloc Québécois can say “mission accomplished” because Bill C-12, as amended by the Bloc Québécois, received royal assent on December 14. The act also covers the wage earner protection program, which the Conservative government must immediately implement so that workers whose employers declare bankruptcy can recover lost wages.
Given the current economic climate, the government has been inexplicably slow to implement the wage earner protection program. The Bloc Québécois will put pressure on the Conservative government until it implements this program, which should be as soon as possible.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 11th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I was happy to allow the House leader for the Bloc to go ahead of me in the usual order.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
I want to spend a few minutes laying out what is going on here.
First, we are all aware, as members of the House, that we receive a calendar every year. The calendar is very clear in that the House is intended to sit until June 22. We all agreed to this, all parties, through the whips. It is something with which we are all familiar.
We also are aware that on this day the government can, as it has done, move a motion for the extension of hours. We are debating a motion now as to whether the hours should be extended from June 13 to June 21 to 10 p.m. every night. The question that is really before us is this. Is this a warranted measure? After hearing the government House leader, this is a crisis that the government has manufactured.
Let us be very clear about what has taken place. This is happening because of the incompetence of the government in the management of its legislative agenda, its lack of consultation with opposition parties and its lack of calling its own bills. For example, we heard the government House leader talk about the budget bill, Bill C-52. He has said that he wants to get it through. There were 11 days when the Conservatives could have called the bill for second reading and they failed to do so. Instead they brought in all kinds of other bills that were quite inconsequential. If the budget were so important, they had ample opportunity to bring the bill forward for second reading.
I point out on the record that once it went through second reading, when the Conservatives finally brought it forward into the House and it went to the finance committee, the finance committee met for four sessions only to hear witnesses. It in effect fast-tracked that bill. It heard witnesses very quickly on a budget bill, which is core to our whole reason for being here. Then it was brought back to the House. We had one day of debate on the report stage. Now we are now debating third reading.
When we look at what has happened, it is clearly a manipulation by the government itself on its own agenda. I think what is happening is the Conservatives have brought forward this motion today for extension, even though they are saying the extended hours would go to June 21, so they can cut a deal to get out of here early. If we get out of here early and they get their budget bill, which we know they want, there will be no committees, no question period and no debate on other bills. That clearly needs to be put on the record.
In terms of management of other business, we have heard the government House leader say today that all these justice bills have to come forward. If we look at the agenda of the justice committee, the government made it a priority to deal with private members' business. It has taken up the valuable time of the committee to deal with private members' bills. Now we are being told it has all these other bills that it wants to get through. It really does not cut it. It does not make sense.
I really appreciate the position you took on Friday, Mr. Speaker. At the very last moment on Friday, the government tried to bring in a very rare Standing Order, used for emergency debates, to deal with Bill C-52 and extend the hours to rush the bill through. To your credit, you listened to what members in the House had to say and you made the correct decision in the end. I want to thank you for that. These things are really important. We have to play in a way that is open and transparent, and I do not believe the government is doing that at this point. Therefore, we are very suspicious and skeptical about the agenda.
Again, another irony is the Conservatives are saying that they want to extend the hours of debate. Yet we have never seen the light of day for Bill C-30, the clean air and climate change bill that came out of committee. The bill was amended by the opposition. It is a bill that would work, and it has the support of the majority of members in the House. However, the government itself is refusing to call it forward. We will stay here for as long as it takes to debate that bill. We consider it is an urgent matter that Canadians want us to address.
We will stay here for as long as it takes to debate that bill. We consider it is an urgent matter, which Canadians want us to address. It is a priority that goes beyond all partisanship, but I did not hear the government House leader mention that bill.
The Conservatives would rather get out of here, not having to bear the public scrutiny in question period and committees and not debate all the other bills. They just want to get the budget through. I fear they have made a deal with the official opposition. I do not know that, but I can almost guarantee, even though these extended hours will be approved, in a couple of days, maybe Wednesday, they will find a way to adjourn the House. That is really their agenda.
As the Bloc House leader has mentioned, one bill that we believe must be brought forward is the ways and means motion. It used to be called Bill C-55, which was the wage earner protection bill protecting workers from bankruptcy. This has been an outstanding matter.
The government, again, has not engaged in adequate consultation with the opposition parties, which want to get this bill through. It was passed in a previous Parliament, but was never given royal assent. It is an absolute injustice that today workers still do not have protection from bankruptcy. Millions of dollars have been lost, legitimately earned and deserved wages of workers because they have not had the protection of that bill.
I want to put on the record today that this attempt by the government to bring in extended hours is really about adjourning the House. It wants to get a very bad budget bill through. It looks like the official opposition is now complicit in getting through a budget bill, which, as we have seen, is a disaster in Atlantic Canada in that it has broken the accord. It is a disaster in terms of so many other areas, whether it is housing and homelessness, student summer programs or the environment.
We know the government wants to get the budget passed and that is all it cares about. I am very concerned we are facilitating its agenda under the guise of extending hours when really what it will do is rush to adjourn the House. We know it does not want to be accountable or go through question period.
Let us not forget that the Conservatives were filibustering in the committees. The Conservative members were making the committees dysfunctional. Why? Because they did not want business to go ahead in committees.
We found out about their 200 page playbook, a handbook for all the tactics that its members and chairs could use in the committees. This is further evidence that the Conservatives real game plan is not to deal with all the legislation about which the government House leader spoke. They want to rush through a bad budget bill that has barely been debated.
Nobody is holding up the budget bill, by the way. There are no tactics being employed by the opposition to hold it up. We want to have an adequate debate. We want to ensure that people can say, on the record, what they think about the budget because we have a lot of criticisms about it.
Let us be very clear. The motion today is under the guise that government members are ready to work and extend the hours of the House until 10 p.m. every night. Really it is about getting out of here, for the Conservatives to get beyond public scrutiny, to shut down the House, committees and question period once the budget bill is passed. That is what we will see happen.
Budget Implementation Act, 2007
June 11th, 2007 / 1 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief because I am so surprised that I am actually in agreement with something that one of the government cabinet ministers would say that I really do not quite know what to do. I am in agreement that the Liberal record is not actually anything to crow about.
In particular, I want to take the member back to Bill C-55. I have spoken in the House about how the manufacturing sector in my community is being decimated and I will talk about that again later when I get my own turn to speak. Members will recall that we hoped that at a minimum the Liberal government would address wage and pension protections in cases where companies went bankrupt.
The member will want to speak about the Liberal government's record some more, but the Liberals introduced Bill C-55. The bill did not do enough on pensions but at least the Liberals started to move forward on wage protection. That bill passed through the House. It passed through the Senate. It received royal assent, but when push came to shove, that bill was never proclaimed. Once again the Liberal government let down workers right across the country.
Wage Earner Protection Program Act
June 5th, 2007 / 2:55 p.m.
Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC
Mr. Speaker, 16 long months have gone by since all parties in this House unanimously passed Bill C-55, which received royal assent during the previous Parliament. Wage earner protection provisions will ensure that workers get paid if their employer goes bankrupt.
Can the Minister of Labour explain what has changed since all of the parties agreed to fast-track this bill and why hard-working Canadians and Quebeckers still do not have this important protection?
June 4th, 2007 / 7:15 p.m.
Mario Silva Davenport, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am deeply concerned and alarmed by the inaction on Bill C-55, the wage earner protection program. The bill, which was adopted in the 38th Parliament, has yet to be proclaimed by the government.
The bill is so crucial to so many who have lost their jobs. Bill C-55, or what should be known as chapter 47 on the status of Canada, puts the needs of individual workers ahead of corporations and creditors.
The essence of Bill C-55 is that working people deserve respect and justice. When a company is bankrupt, under the current system, the company and the trustees are under no obligation to ensure that salaries and pensions for their workers are the primary priority for payment. Bill C-55 would remedy this, ensuring that workers would not be left out in the cold.
Due to the inaction of the Conservative government, Canadian manufacturing jobs are being lost at an ever increasing rate. The Conservative government refuses to take any action to protect these jobs in the textile, automotive, forestry, fisheries and other sectors. The least it can do is to ensure that when these companies declare bankruptcy, their workers are protected.
The government has a duty to act. For all the noise the Conservative Party likes to make about leadership, it does not seem to understand that leaders lead through action. The Conservatives claim to support the bill, but if they do, why will they not do the right thing, move the appropriate motions and make the bill law?
Its actions lead me to the sad realization that rather than leading our country, the Conservative Party is simply unwilling to do what is needed to benefit Canadian people. It has made it abundantly clear that if it does not produce headlines, it is not a priority for the Conservatives.
Anyone can climb on a soapbox and proclaim to care about Canadians, but a real leader takes action. A real leader looks at ways to make Parliament work, not to obstruct it and its committees. Real leadership inspires the country, it does not produce inaccurate and unfounded attack ads that mislead and misrepresent. Real leadership is about standing up for what is right and just for all Canadians, not just for the wealthy few.
Real leaders roll up their sleeves and work on the real details on issues like Bill C-55. This is because they make such a difference in the lives of people and Canadians.
Canadians do not need million dollar campaign ads that speak of leadership, but deliver nothing of substance from those who paid for them. If the Conservatives want to show Canadians any leadership, then they are going to have to actually get up and lead. Bill C-55 is an excellent and long overdue opportunity to do just that.
When will the government show the slightest glimmer of leadership and follow the Liberal example on Bill C-55? Let us make this bill law now. It is the right thing to do.
Wage Earner Protection Program Act
June 1st, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.
Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC
Mr. Speaker, in 2005, Bill C-55 was unanimously passed by the House. On December 8, 2006 the Minister of Labour tabled a notice of motion in order to finally table the bill. This bill is now being delayed by the Bloc Québécois, which, as usual, would rather see legislation that would help Canadian and Quebec workers fail.
Can the Minister of Labour tell us when the wage earner protection bill will be tabled?
Canada Elections Act
May 30th, 2007 / 4:40 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, this is another opportunity for me to rise on a bill that is far from revolutionary. I have said so several times, and I believe that the same sentiment has been expressed many times in this House in the past few months. It is hard to be opposed to this bill. But at the same time, it does not attack the root of the problem of voter turnout, which is not dropping dramatically, but declining from year to year, particularly at the federal level.
This bill is intended to increase voter turnout. It proposes to add two advance polling days on the two Sundays prior to polling day. All the polling stations that will be open on the day of the general election would be open on the Sunday before that day, maximizing—according to the bill's sponsors—voting opportunities until polls close on the Monday after the second Sunday. On the other advance polling days, a limited number of polling stations would be open, as is the case now.
It seems to me to be a bit simplistic to expect that adding advance polling days will reverse the strong downward trend in voter turnout. However, we cannot oppose a relatively minor measure that would create a real opportunity for some people to vote on the added Sundays. We will therefore not vote against this bill. However, in our opinion, this is a minor measure that will not correct the strong downward trend in voter turnout. The government needs to attack the real causes of this decrease, which are diverse.
I want to give the figures for some past elections, which show that voter turnout at advance polls does not have a substantial or significant impact on general voter turnout on polling day.
For example, here are the results from Quebec for the 1997 federal election. Approximately 704,000 people voted at advance polls, some 3.6% of everyone who voted in the 1997 election. Again, I am referring to the federal election, but these figures pertain only to voters in Quebec. The overall voter turnout was 67%.
In 2006, during the last federal election, 1.5 million voters voted at advance polls in Quebec, or 6.8%. Thus, 6.8% voted in advance. One might have expected this to translate into much higher voter turnout, since the number of people who voted at advance polls nearly doubled. Yet, when we look at the overall voter turnout in the 2006 election, for Quebec, it was only 64.7%. We can therefore see that increasing the number of days of advance polling does not necessarily lead to higher voter turnout overall.
In that regard, we must ask ourselves whether the money it would cost to open polling stations the Sunday before an election—since, as we heard, all polling stations would be open that day—could not be used much more productively towards increasing overall voter turnout.
For instance, the total number of polling stations in each riding could have been increased, to make them more accessible. Also, particularly for our seniors, we could have tried to find ways to ensure they do not have to travel. I think there is a long list of possible solutions that would have been much more effective in increasing voter turnout, which, as we know, is decreasing every year.
Once again, I believe that the crux of the problem is not a function of the mechanics but of the general context and our citizens' views of politics. This holds true for Canada, and to a certain extent for Quebec, which nevertheless has a higher voter turnout. We have noticed it also in the United States and in France, although this last presidential election was quite exceptional with voter turnout of 85%. It may be an exception, but that is all for the best. Perhaps there is a change in the trend.
In my view, this fairly widespread tendency—particularly in industrialized countries where voter turnout is decreasing with every election—should lead us to look more closely at the general public's perception of politicians and of politics. For example, almost every government that has taken power, here in Ottawa and in many western countries, has told us—and the Minister of Industry is one of the best examples that I know of—that nothing can be done about the effects of globalization and market forces, and that the strongest must be able to crush the weakest as it is the law of nature manifesting itself in society.
That is wrong. A good part of the population, a good number of voters, have been led to believe that voting for representatives when electing a government is pointless because they are unable to solve their problems. What can the federal government do to help a worker from Saint-Michel-des-Saints who is losing his job because a Louisiana-Pacific sawmill and waferboard plant are shutting down?
The Minister of Industry is constantly telling us that nothing can be done, that these are the results of market forces and that no manner of industrial policy will prevent it. It could not have been prevented. But I say that it could have been prevented.
I would like to remind the House that, since 2003, the Bloc Québécois has been promoting a plan to help the forestry industry get through the current crisis. However, the previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government have always hidden behind market forces and the unrelenting effects of globalization. We know very well that when the citizens' democratic will is expressed through its democratic institutions, we are capable of putting a stop to things, of changing the course of events in economic, social or environmental matters.
For example, some countries, such as France, have said they did not want to be part of the multilateral agreement on investment and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, because they were negotiating privately. This would diminish the role of the state and its ability to exercise its sovereignty. France was able to stop this agreement, and this decision was made in the general interest.
At that time, the French president did not say that he could do nothing about it because of market forces and that this was the natural tendency. On the contrary, he said that this was not the direction in which he wanted to see French society and all other societies in the world go.
Currently, there is a disillusionment with respect to politics that is the fault of politicians. Obviously I am not talking about all politicians, but about those who, like the Minister of Industry, say that democratic institutions and political power no longer have any influence over economic, environmental and social matters. Not only are they responsible for this disillusionment, but they have also created in the population—this is true in Canada, Quebec, Europe, Latin America and the United States—a protectionist sentiment against opening up markets and borders. For three or four years, the Doha round has been blocked by the inability of governments to turn the people of the countries involved in favour of opening up the markets with rules, of course. Politicians could have made rules, but they did not want to. Because politicians did not want to make rules, the process collapsed.
It primarily collapsed because of the demonstrations in Seattle. But the developing countries said that in the last round, the developed countries had advantages, but had not done what was necessary to open their markets. So the developing countries decided to put a stop to it.
This happened because of the approach adopted by the Minister of Industry and the Conservative government. Not only did this approach lead to the current standstill in WTO and Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, but it also led to political disenchantment. This way of thinking is false because if we want to, we can use politics to influence economic, cultural, social and environmental issues. This way of thinking has led to disillusionment among many people who believe that voting is pointless because even citizens' representatives are powerless to help them get through difficult situations.
Unfortunately, politicians like our Minister of Industry and our Prime Minister have caused problems in other areas as well. This is also about transparency. We must not fool ourselves: the sponsorship scandal really hurt the Liberal Party of Canada, especially in Quebec, and that is a good thing. However, unfortunately, it also hurt politicians as a whole.
Our governments have demonstrated their ineptitude. I am referring to the Liberal government, but I have a feeling that the Conservative government is heading in the same direction by trying to fiddle with things. In so doing, they have discredited their own political activities as well as all politicians, and that is a real shame. They got caught red-handed, which is exactly what they deserved.
We are currently facing another situation. With respect to Option Canada, the Prime Minister can launch an independent public inquiry to uncover everything that happened during the 1995 referendum. Let us not forget that the government invested $11 million—no small sum—through Option Canada and the Canadian Unity Council. I would also like to mention that each camp—the yes camp and the no camp—was entitled to $5 million. Option Canada spent as much as both camps combined. In all, the federal government invested over twice as much as the yes camp.
The Prime Minister's refusal to launch an investigation to get to the bottom of this is, understandably, creating doubt among Canadians It suggests that the first thing a government would try to do is hide as much as possible from the public, by creating organizations such as Option Canada, which break the law. This time, it was Quebec's Referendum Act. Theoretically, politicians should be the ones to ensure respect for the law, since parliamentarians are the ones who make the law.
This creates rather serious uneasiness. We saw this uneasiness during the sponsorship scandal. We are seeing it again now, because of the Prime Minister's refusal to create a commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of the Option Canada scandal. This is a second factor in our problem with voter turnout. Unfortunately, more and more people are losing faith in the role of MPs and therefore choose not to vote.
In his response, the minister responsible for economic development said so many things that are out of touch with reality and the facts that, if I were a regular citizen, I would not vote for the Conservatives—I can assure this House that that will never happen, nor have I ever even considered it, in all my years of voting. This creates a degree of cynicism. I will give some examples.
Question period took place barely a few hours ago. I will give the example of one of this government's ministers. Earlier today, the Minister of Industry was in my line of fire, now, it is the Minister of Labour. What did that minister say in response to a question from a Liberal member, who asked him what was happening with the bill on bankruptcy, once known as Bill C-55?
The Minister of Labour stood up and said that everyone agrees, but the Bloc Québécois is blocking the bill. That is absolutely false. The Bloc Québécois is not blocking the bill. The minister is blocking it by digging in his heels on an amendment that the governments of Quebec and the other provinces want in order to ensure that the federal legislation will be consistent with provincial legislation. I have here the proposed amendment on which we worked together with the Government of Quebec. The minister has been aware of this for several weeks now. However, he is misrepresenting reality by saying that the Bloc is preventing the passage of this bill. We are in favour of the bill, but we are also in favour of respecting Quebec's jurisdictions. In his response, the minister completely misrepresented reality. What we are trying to do with this amendment is protect Quebec's power to exclude certain heritage property in bankruptcy situations, to keep RRSPs and RRSFs in comprehensive plans and to respond in a simple and effective manner to the concerns raised by Quebec's finance minister, a Liberal and a federalist. I am talking about Mr. Audet.
Once again, words were taken out of context and reality was misrepresented. Everyone is well aware that the Minister of Labour was not describing reality. Again, they are discrediting the ability of politicians, hon. members, ministers and members of this government in particular, to respond to questions accurately and truthfully.
On other occasions the debate is completely diverted. I am thinking of the Minister of Labour in his role as Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women was asked about the $60 million over two years for festivals. Some festivals are starting to have serious problems. Mr. Bachand, Quebec's tourism minister, warned Conservative ministers when they come to Quebec not to make too many appearances at festivals because he was not sure they would be welcome. Again, Mr. Bachand is a Liberal and a federalist.
For several days now, we have been trying to ask the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women why she has been unable to establish criteria to distribute the $30 million allocated to festivals this year. This is true for Quebec, and it is also true for the rest of Canada. Her answers do not really make sense.
My colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine brought the issue up again by sharing the example of a festival in the Magdalen Islands that lost its permit in a competition because it did not have the necessary funds. Then the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec—the same minister I was talking about earlier—rose to say that last year, the government invested a certain amount of money to promote the event, but that this year, since the event has already been promoted, it invested a little less. He did not answer the question. The question was for the Minister of Canadian Heritage concerning a new program to replace the old program that the Liberals messed up with the sponsorship scandal. Festivals, exhibitions and cultural events need the government's support. They did not answer the question; they are avoiding the issue.
This sort of conduct has increased in recent years, especially here in Ottawa, and has discouraged many people from voting. It is very clear that by adding two days of advance polling, Bill C-55 will not solve this fundamental problem.
All parliamentarians need to do some serious soul-searching about their ability not only to see the truth for what it is and give honest answers to the questions they are asked, but also to shoulder their responsibilities instead of hiding behind so-called market forces and the inevitable effects of globalization. They are creating a sort of skepticism and defeatism among members of the public. Once again, even though we are seeing this more here in Ottawa than in Quebec City, it will still have an impact if nothing is done to correct things.
I will close by saying that the Prime Minister was asked to apologize for the federal government's actions during the referendum campaign, when the government violated the Referendum Act. He refused to do so. I am happy, though, that this afternoon, the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, condemned the violations of the Referendum Act, even though he had initially had the same reaction as the Prime Minister. I believe that his response may signal that politics will be cleaned up. It is to be hoped that a new generation of politicians—and I am not referring to age—will change these practices and promote greater voter participation in our electoral process.