House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was social.

Topics

House Of Commons

10 a.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, you may have noticed this early in the morning that we have a new mace on the table. This wooden mace was used when the House of Commons, the Centre Block, burned down in the fire in 1916. Every year on this date we commemorate the date of the fire by using this mace.

As we were walking down I heard someone say: "No, we did not melt down the old one, we do have it and we are going to bring it in tomorrow".

This is to remind us that things get a little bit hot in here sometimes and we have to know we can survive and take the heat.

We are all here together as Canadian citizens and it is very important that we work together for the well-being of all our people.

That is what the mace represents and I just wanted to bring it to your attention.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

February 3rd, 1994 / 10 a.m.

St. Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Ronald J. Duhamel Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition pointing out that single income families with special needs children have not only a unique challenge but incur extra expenditures in raising their child or children.

Often one or other of the parents have no choice but to stay at home. Frequently the children must be sent to specialized day care centres incurring extra costs, sometimes significant extra costs.

These petitioners believe that the current system of taxation is unfair to them. They would like a review by the government of this particular situation as it looks at all of the difficulties and the unfairness that exists in our tax system.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Winnipeg—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my duty to present a petition on behalf of more than two dozen citizens, most of whom live in my riding of Winnipeg-St. James. Pursuant to Standing Order 36 the document has been certified correct as to form and content.

The petition reflects the concern these people have regarding the language policy of the federal government. It proposes a referendum on the issue. This would be a national referendum involving all electors in the provinces and territories.

I humbly present this petition to Parliament for its due consideration.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Should all questions be allowed to stand?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from February 2 consideration of the motion.

Social Security System
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Liberal

Warren Allmand Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion before the House asks the House of Commons and a committee of the House to study, analyse and report on Canada's social security system. As a matter of fact, it asks that we study the modernization and restructuring of the social security system with special reference to the needs of families with children, youth and working age adults. It is commendable

that we study, analyse and revisit our social programs, our income support and income replacement programs. However I want to remind the House and the minister that there are some things we should keep in mind. We will encounter serious difficulties in doing this examination of our social security system.

I want to remind the House that this was done with some intensity in the 1970s when the Hon. Marc Lalonde was the Minister of National Health and Welfare. A very serious attempt was made to rationalize and bring up to date our social security system. While some good improvements were made at that time, some of the simplistic approaches that were first suggested were found not to be workable.

We have different types of social security systems. We have those where the payment is universal and comes out of our general tax revenue, for example the old age security system. We all pay into it in varying degrees through our progressive tax system but at age 65 we all receive the same payment no matter what our income is. On top of that we have the guaranteed income supplement which pays additional amounts to people who do not have other sources of income, who do not have private pensions or RRSPs or whatever. That is one kind of social security support system where the payment is the same to all individuals. I am talking about old age security which is paid for through the general tax system.

We have other types of programs such as unemployment insurance and the Canada assistance plan. Depending on our income we pay in varying amounts. If we have lower incomes we pay in less. If we have higher incomes we pay in more. When we collect we receive more if we have paid in more and we collect less if we have paid in less.

The principle behind it makes sense. The highly skilled worker who pays the top premium because he has a higher income will have made commitments and entered into debt for homes, cars, household appliances. When unemployed he still has to meet those higher commitments so he gets a higher payment. But he has been paying in at a higher rate.

It is the same with the Canada pension plan. If we have paid in at a higher rate we get a higher payment at the end but it is usually because we have been living at a higher standard of living. Usually the rent, mortgage and other payments are higher and when we retire or are unemployed we need that.

When they tried to rationalize all these systems back in the 1970s they found that to put together a flat payment system with the systems that were based on varying contributions and varying payments was not an easy task. As a matter of fact they were not able to do it. I bring that to the attention of the House.

Some programs are geared to meet the types of debt and commitment we have made while we are working. When we become unemployed or when we retire or when we are forced to leave work because of injury or disability we need payments that will meet that type of commitment.

For example we do not want skilled workers to have to sell their homes simply because they are unemployed or because they are retired. To suggest we should have one payment for everybody no matter what they have been doing when they were working does not make sense. It could drive a lot of people into poverty and that is not what we want to do.

I want to refer also to the unemployment insurance system. There has been some suggestion that, and I do not know whether it goes that far, in order to collect unemployment insurance one should be obliged to participate in training programs or in some type of community work or whatever.

First let us deal with the training programs. It is a fact that a good number of our unemployed are highly trained already. They are skilled. They are machinists, electricians, architects, professional people and trades people with highly skilled trades. Their problem is not training, it is the lack of jobs. To suggest the solution to all our problems is to simply retrain or upgrade everybody is not correct.

It is true a large number of people cannot find work because their trades are out of date or they have no trade whatsoever or they are illiterate. Those are the people we have to train and make competitive with the people in the United States, Europe, Japan. I fully support that. However, let us not overdo it and suggest that the total solution is to retrain everybody. Many people come to my office and probably to my colleague's office every day who are trained but their problem is jobs, not training.

We hear another suggestion on the street. It is terrible these people are on unemployment insurance and they should be made to do some kind of work until they get a job. One of the major tasks of the unemployed person is to look for work. It is a time consuming undertaking. If unemployed people are serious, and most of them are, they spend a lot of time going for interviews, searching the newspapers and writing letters. They want to get back to work in the field in which they are competent.

Let us be careful so that this sort of work fair is not overdone. To put to work or in training programs as a condition for receiving benefits certain young people who are in good health but have no training is fine, but let us be very careful that we do not overdo it.

I want to remind the House and my own party that in the two previous parliaments we savagely attacked the Conservative government for the amendments it made to the unemployment insurance system, amendments that made it more difficult to qualify and amendments that reduced the benefits. In a previous set of amendments, it increased the penalty for those who quit or were fired without cause, as defined in the act, up to about 11 or 12 weeks. This was quite a considerable increase in the penalty.

In the last round of amendments in 1993 the Conservative government took away all benefits from people who had quit their jobs for serious reasons but could not meet the definition of just cause in the act. It was the same with those who were fired, according to the bosses for just cause, but which was very often in the mind of the employee not a just cause. It was simply a case of harassment or trying to get rid of those people with trumped up charges against them.

We questioned the minister at that time. We said: "Well you just amended the act a couple of years ago to increase the penalties from six weeks to twelve weeks"-or whatever it was-"and now you are completely eliminating any benefits at all. You are going to a very extreme penalty without ever really testing the penalties that you put into place a few years ago".

We attacked those sorts of things. We attacked the government for totally removing the $2.8 billion that the government used to contribute to the unemployment insurance fund. Prior to those amendments in the last Parliament, the Government of Canada always contributed to the fund after the unemployment rate went over a certain level. The other contributions to the fund came from workers and from employers. It was a three way contribution: the employers, the employees and the Government of Canada. The Government of Canada then withdrew its contribution of $2.8 billion and put the entire burden on workers and employers. The rates went up. They were another form of taxation. We were very critical of that. We said that was not the way to do it.

What happened is by doing these things to the unemployment insurance system, by cutting back the benefits, by making it more difficult to qualify, by throwing people out of work without any benefits whatsoever in some cases, it simply shifted the burden to take care of those people to the provinces and to the municipalities. When people do not have work and they cannot find work someone has to support them. We are not living in a cruel, inhumane society. We do not let people starve to death. What happened was the provincial social security systems had to pick up those people and take care of them. In Ontario and Nova Scotia the cities had to and they could not afford it. It was simply a shifting of the burden.

I am trying to remind the House and my party that I fully support this re-examination of social security. However, I am also reminding them that we have to be very careful in not overdoing it to the extent that we are cruel, inhumane, insensitive, unfair and unjust.

Let us study, let us recommend, let us save money if we can through a better delivery system, let us eliminate duplication. Let us not take benefits away from those who worked for years and years, built this country and contributed to funds, such as the old age security fund. Let us not take benefits away from those who worked and contributed to unemployment insurance. Let us not make our workers slaves of their bosses.

Let us be consistent, I say to my own party, with what we said in opposition. Let us be consistent with what we said in the campaign. Let us be credible. Let us be fair, just and compassionate in this country.

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Nic Leblanc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, an excellent speech by a 28-year veteran of this House who is very experienced in parliamentary matters and also very knowledgeable about Quebec, since he comes from Quebec.

However, there is something that surprises me. I have been a member of Parliament for nine and a half years, and from time to time people have come to my office with serious problems caused by inconsistencies-we have mentioned this before-in the area of manpower and training programs. In fact the situation is far worse than we think.

I would like to mention one example I think is absolutely inhumane. Some people who were on unemployment insurance after losing their jobs were taking courses funded by the federal government. These people, who were between the ages of 30 and 45, had decided to finish their fourth and fifth year of high school in order to graduate. They were in fact encouraged to do their third, fourth or fifth year. Unfortunately the unemployment insurance regulations are inconsistent with the rules of the Quebec school commission. For instance, these people had to take classes during the summer to finish their course. The Unemployment Insurance Commission told them they could not stop working or stop taking courses for more than two weeks.

As everybody knows, in Quebec, because of the unions and the government, teachers have to stop for a month during the summer, which meant the courses were automatically cancelled. Most of these people had almost finished their courses but they could not continue because Quebec's regulations were not consistent with Ottawa's. As a result, these people who had

worked very hard for one, two or even three years were penalized, because if they wanted to continue later on, they would have to pay for the courses themselves.

Now this is an incredible example. It is inhumane, when you consider the time and effort involved. I would like to ask the hon. member who is an experienced politician whether as a member from Quebec, he intends to work on this issue and ensure that manpower training is transferred to Quebec as soon as possible, so that Quebecers can take their courses and keep their dignity as human beings and also save some money. The duplication and inconsistencies make this system truly inhumane. Does the hon. member, as a member from Quebec, intend to ensure this problem is dealt with once and for all?

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Warren Allmand Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fully agree with the hon. member that there are provisions now in the Unemployment Insurance Act that are ridiculous and have to be changed.

One of them is the provision that we had historically that one had to be ready and available for work at all times in order to collect benefits. That meant that somebody who took a course was not ready and available for work because they were studying during the day. Those studies were essential in my view and in the view of many people to prepare that person for a job.

There were amendments a few years ago that allowed people to do study programs while they were on unemployment insurance but unfortunately one needs the permission of the unemployment insurance officials to do that. That permission is not always given. In my view it should be almost automatic.

I also said in my remarks that I am fully in agreement with taking steps to eliminate duplication between the provincial programs and the federal programs to get rid of waste in the delivery systems and so on. I would hope as a Quebecer that we could reach an agreement between Quebec and Ottawa to eliminate the inconsistencies between the federal unemployment insurance program and the provincial welfare system.

The elimination of the duplication is essential. The provinces should have prior jurisdiction in matters of education and training. That was the position put forward in the Charlottetown accord. Consequently we have to work out agreements that will satisfy the provinces in this matter and stop the fighting between the federal and provincial levels. We have to make sure that we have programs that are efficient and meet the situation that was put forward by my good friend from Longueuil.

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Sharon Hayes Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of our caucus co-ordinator I would like to advise the House that our party will be dividing the speaking time in accordance with Standing Order 43.

It is with a great deal of pride that I stand to give my first address here today as I join with my fellow MPs in this place of history and decision. This country, of which we are proud citizens, has given to us the responsibility to guide the direction of the ship of state in the next several years. The responsibility is awesome indeed. There are many potential dangers ahead in the presence of existing cracks in our vessel. Each of us in this Chamber will play a role in the challenging task to bring Canada to its port of safety.

It is my honour to have been elected to serve the people of Port Moody-Coquitlam. On the north side of the Fraser River on the outskirts of Vancouver we enjoy the beauty of the mountains and the temperate climate of the west coast.

As one of the fastest growing districts in Canada we are blessed with five thriving communities. Families from all nationalities and backgrounds have chosen to call this area their home. With its central location in the beautiful Fraser Valley so much of the employment and customer pool of this lower mainland is within easy reach. Originally containing the western terminus of the rail line in Port Moody, we now host a myriad of small businesses complimented by a busy port and rail connections.

I must pause and thank my family for its part in allowing me to take this responsibility. I have always made by husband and my two girls a very real priority and it was concern for them that crystallized my political choices. As I am sure every MP can already testify, this task that we are taking on demands sacrifices of both time and energy. Doug, Carolyn and Kathy, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love, support and understanding.

A sincere thanks to all those who voted for me. A special thank you to those who worked so hard in my campaign leading up to the election.

It is especially important to me to recognize that it is the people of Port Moody and Coquitlam who sent me here to represent them regardless of political stripe. I will honour the trust they have given to me, an ordinary citizen, to be their eyes and ears here in Ottawa and I will speak out for them on issues that affect their homes and our community.

The people of Port Moody-Coquitlam have told me that our country needs healing. Canada is critically ill with a half trillion dollar federal debt.

This one fact alone dictates the treatment for so many of its other complications. Where are the sore spots? Government policies are affecting the people I represent in real ways. It is not ink on a line, it is people and their families in their daily lives, their ability to find work, their sense of security, their openness

of heart to new ideas from around the world. That is what I want to talk about.

In Port Moody-Coquitlam one sore spot becomes apparent as we talk about roads and transportation systems, infrastructure, if you please. Our unique area is understandably one of the fastest growing municipalities in all of Canada. Coquitlam alone is projected to double in size by the year 2021. Even today traffic is in gridlock. The history of non action is too complicated to address here but even the federal government has a part in it.

Campaign promises of a previous losing government have made an equal provincial-federal cost sharing program a political football. Hope still exists for $16 billion or, better yet, equal funding for what is now a $120 million rail proposal.

What is our government's response? I ask not for more spending but about some of the areas in which expenditures are deemed more worthy than others. What makes these areas? Let decision making bodies such as the infrastructure panel include representations from those most affected by its decisions, elected representatives from all three levels of government. Who better than the municipalities themselves to best represent their own needs?

Sore points two, three and four would be taxes, taxes and taxes. When will the government realize that Canadians are fed up with its spending and borrowing and the taxes that go with it? I have talked with many small business owners from the tire dealer forced to reduce staff from 25 to three, to the community minded hotel owner who sees perspective investors come and leave, scared off by increased tax burdens. I have talked with family wage earners frustrated and plain mad that they cannot make progress.

This government talks about jobs. Careers and family income come from secure jobs within small business. It is folly for government in the name of fairness to tax away the job creators. The removal of capital gains or RRSP deductions and higher or broader tax bases will force more of our job creators across the border or out of business if they come here to start with.

Higher taxes on the individual put more pressure on families. Government spending must be reduced, not taxes increased, to help job creation. Jobs will be there by letting business do business.

What of those who need special help? Those who need the social programs of which Canadians are so proud? There is an infinite distance between the theory we see in some bureaucratic descriptions and the reality in our homes and on our streets. The social safety net does not need cutting, it needs to be saved from self-destruction, to be there for those who really need it. We must bring social programs back to their original purpose.

Unemployment insurance was originally designed to give temporary support for unexpected job loss. Welfare was there to support those who could not support themselves.

Take the sore point of unemployment insurance. In case number one, a young mother I talked to because of her honesty could not fill all the spaces in her day care but she could not afford to give up her partial UI supplement, so in turn she had to give up her day care or close her business.

In case number two, a well meaning pipefitter enrolled in a course but did not give proper notice and lost all his UI benefits.

Case number three is a government induced non productivity where west coast fishermen use UI as a supplement to yearly earnings already that are well in excess of national average because the government owes them as much.

Real job training and apprenticeship programs not by government but by business will put people back to work. There is no shortage of research on what must be done. We need government action not further studies.

My constituents have identified more sore points. I am proud of the tenacity of the Belcarra Council that spearheaded a national petition of municipal councils in protest over the present Young Offenders act. It put work and time behind the message I hear from citizens from parents to policemen. The present government must listen to Canadians as they tell it to reduce age limits and raise repeat serious young offenders to adult court. It is a poor system as we have lately seen that allows convicted criminals loose on our streets. Members of the public demand that their protection once again be the primary focus of government programs.

This message ends with one final concern. We welcome the increased participation and friendship of people from all parts of the globe. Our neighbourhoods proudly represent a microcosm of a broad, cultural and language mosiac. There is a common belief by all residents, new and older Canadians, that each one of us must be equal as individuals before and under the law and the privileges of this land.

Labels must be removed and not applied in ever new ways so that we come together as a people, proud to be Canadian first of all and proud to support our own heritage within that context. We must address the issue of our national identity for a nation with no identity is no nation at all.

I urge the present government to hear Canadians from all backgrounds tell it that they want most of all to be Canadian. New Canadians need to have the opportunity and access to jobs

and must be given that opportunity by wise immigration policies. It is the economic health of all Canadians that will dictate the social and economic climate that all must share.

I intend to scrutinize all government initiatives in multiculturalism and immigration and actively participate to make those initiatives more closely reflect the views of ordinary Canadians.

I salute my fellow Canadians as they watch the proceedings of this 35th Parliament. As Canadians we must never forget the richness of the land and the potential of its future. May we see past the quick fixes and easy solutions to work toward solutions that will provide a solid future of prosperity. That future is very possible as we have been blessed with so much.

As stewards of the abundant resources of this land and its people we must seek to be wise in our decisions and compassionate in our hearts.

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

St. Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Ronald J. Duhamel Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague on her address. I listened attentively and I appreciate a number of the comments. I agree wholeheartedly that most Canadian taxpayers really believe they pay too much-and I also believe that they do-and there is anger out there. They are angry.

My question is not a trick question. It is a very important one to me. I am trying to find out whether or not it is true that rich and influential families can in fact shield some or a great part of their wealth through trust funds. If it is true that a certain number of wealthy Canadians pay no taxes at all, that a number of profitable corporations supposedly pay no taxes, that clever people with the human resources as well as other resources are able to shield or protect some of their money by taking it to foreign countries, is it still appropriate then to ignore these people or perhaps ask them to pay their fair share?

Thereby we probably would improve the economic health of the country and help to protect those programs we have. It does not mean they need not be changed in order to be more efficient.

Would my colleague care to comment on that?

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Sharon Hayes Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

I thank the hon. member for his kind comments and question.

As I have stated Canadians do feel they are being overtaxed. What the hon. member has expressed is a very real concern of an ordinary Canadian: Why is it that I have a burden whereas it seems other people do not, perhaps even the most wealthy.

Unfortunately the rules of the game in our present world are that capital is becoming more and more international. The rules of the game are that money cannot be forced to be maintained in one country. That very fact dictates that Canada has to become very wise in its economic decisions.

The rich as the hon. member said can take their money and invest it in other countries. Corporations can move.

As I said in my speech the producers of our wealth and the producers of our jobs can move elsewhere. Thus it becomes that much more important for us to make sure that this, our country, is a place where they want to invest, where they want to bring their talents and their jobs. Then the rest of us can have jobs by that. Sure, they need to do their part, but we have to do our part to bring them here. I do not think we have done that in the last short while.

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Nic Leblanc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I totally agree with the hon. member when she says that we definitely should not raise taxes.

We have reached the limit and people are just about to break out in revolt. Her leader said that people would rebel and I think he is right. People are going to look for all sorts of ways to stop paying taxes.

It is obvious that the middle class is overburdened with taxes. Those who have a bit more money or a better education are leaving Canada. Last year, more than 400 physicians left Canada for United States. It costs the nation about $2 million to train one physician and we have a situtation here where 400 moved to United States.

What we should do, and I think my hon. colleague is right about this, is find better ways of managing our social affairs. There is a lot of waste at the management level. I do not want to see less services, but I want to see a lot less management. We have to decentralize, to make individuals, municipalities and provinces more responsible. The federal government could set the guidelines, but social affairs should be managed at the grassroots level if were are going to provide services to people who need them rather than to bureaucrats.

Social Security System
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Reform

Sharon Hayes Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments.

I agree that the middle class is maintaining a burden of what is happening in the tax load of our country. We are losing our best brains, our best job producers because of poor economic policies here.

I would take it a step further. I would take it to the very root. This was mentioned by my colleague yesterday. The society that we live in has had the tendency to be dependent on government doing things for its members, whether that be federal, provincial or municipal. I would like to see our country becoming one where Canadians care about Canadians. Perhaps even at that lower level, as families and as communities we are able to address the needs especially in the social sector where they need to be addressed.