House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firefighters.

Topics

Points Of Order

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Fraser Valley on June 14, 2000 concerning the placement under private members' business of a motion regarding the Senate's progress on Bill C-247, an act to amend the criminal code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and on the intervention made by the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford on October 5, 2000 on the same subject. I want to thank both members for their interventions.

I would also like to thank the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona for their contributions on this matter last June.

In his submission, the hon. member for Fraser Valley contended that his motion should be more appropriately considered under motions, under the rubric routine proceedings, a point echoed by the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford. The member for Fraser Valley referred to an earlier question of privilege raised on September 16, 1996 concerning the failure of a committee to report a bill back to the House. He drew a parallel between the principles regarding the fate of that bill and the principles regarding Bill C-247, which is presently before the Senate. The member also stated that his motion concerned the proprieties and authority of the House, which are normally dealt with under routine proceedings.

I have carefully examined both hon. members' arguments and, in my opinion, there are two aspects to this point of order. The first is whether a parallel can be drawn between proceedings in a House committee on a bill and proceedings in the Senate on a bill originating in the House of Commons. The hon. member for Fraser Valley made reference to my earlier ruling on Bill C-234 and I would like to repeat a part of that statement, which is contained in Debates , September 23, 1996 at page 4561.

Should a Member or a Minister be of the opinion that a committee charged with the review of a bill is defying the authority of the House, he or she may choose to bring it to the attention of the House by placing on notice a motion to require the committee to report by a certain date.

As hon. Members know, this can indeed be done under Government Orders or Private Members' Business, but such a notice of motion could also be placed under the rubric motions and be dealt with under Routine Proceedings.

I think that it is important to note that this ruling deals with an internal situation that lies clearly within the purview of the House. However, in a bicameral parliament such as ours, the two Houses share in the making of legislation. Each House is the master of its own proceedings. The rules of one House cannot also be applied to the other, nor can one House compel the other to conduct its work in a specific manner or according to a specific timetable. Accordingly, in my view the situation with regard to Bill C-247 is not analogous to the situation that was at issue with regard to Bill C-234 since the proprieties and authority of each House are completely independent one from the other.

The second aspect of this point of order concerns the proper rubric under which the hon. member's motion should appear on the order paper. House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at pages 390-91:

Different categories of business have developed over the years in response to the need to adapt to the organization of House business....As a general rule, motions dealing with matters of substance or government policy are moved either by Ministers under Government Orders or private Members under Private Members' Business....the Chair accepts certain motions put on notice by private Members for consideration under the rubric “Motions”, such as motions of instruction to committees and for concurrence in committee reports. When private Members give written notice of other substantive matters, these motions are placed under “Private Members' Business” on the Order Paper.

If a member or a minister wishes the House to express an opinion on any matter which falls outside the narrow scope of what is considered to be House Business, such motions should properly appear under Private Members' Business or Government Orders, as the case may be.

On that basis, I must rule that the motion under the name of the hon. member for Fraser Valley placed on the order paper under private members' business is indeed in its correct place and I thank him for having brought this matter to the attention of the House.

Points Of Order

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 11.10 a.m. the House will now proceed to private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

moved:

That the government consider the advisability of increasing the pension accrual rate for firefighters to allow them to retire with adequate financial provisions for their retirement.

Mr. Speaker, Canada's professional firefighters have a long and proud history of protecting the lives and property of their neighbours. For their selflessness and service to the public they rightly enjoy the respect and admiration of the Canadian people and the members of the House. I am confident that we all share the same image of the professional firefighter: a highly trained, courageous man or woman who assists us when emergencies arise.

The image is certainly accurate. I know first-hand the great job that our firefighters perform. I would imagine that members remember the date 1958. I remember it as a child of six years. At around 2 o'clock in the morning I remember my father crashing through the farmhouse telling all of us to get up, get dressed and get out of the house because the barn was on fire. The building that burned that night was a three story structure, 40' by 175', 21,000 square feet. I can remember the firefighters that night trying to save the barn and finally having to give up. They then tried to save our farmhouse, which they succeeded in doing. I remember them hooking a tractor onto a huge propane tank beside the barn, disconnecting the tank and getting it away before it left a very large hole in the ground. They were successful.

I remember that the individuals who fought the fire that night took their lives in their hands on a number of different instances. It is something that has been branded on my mind and in my memory. I will carry with me as long as I live the memory of what happened that night.

Perhaps there are other members in the House who have also benefited from such bravery and professionalism during an emergency situation, or who have at least witnessed firefighters in action at the scene of a fire, an accident, a medical emergency or some other kind of emergency.

We owe the firefighters a debt of gratitude. There is no question about it. In the name of fairness and in the hopes of correcting a long-standing inequity, I rise today to share another image of the professional firefighter, one not so widely known but accurate nonetheless. I am talking about the individual firefighter who spends 30 years in a career that has one of the highest rates of on the job injury and illness, who faces the result of a career spent in the line of toxic substances, communicable diseases and a myriad of dangerous situations. It should be noted that while other Canadian workers have the right to refuse dangerous workplace situations, the professional firefighter does not enjoy the same right. Danger is an everyday reality for them. It is part of the job.

According to data collected by the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents 17,000 professional firefighters and emergency medical personnel in Canada, firefighters experience the highest rate of job related injury and illness of any sector of the workforce. In 1997 almost one in three firefighters suffered an injury or illness in the line of duty, far exceeding and in fact tripling the rate of injury and illness experienced in other sectors such as mining, construction, manufacturing or agriculture. I am a farmer and I know the injury level in agriculture.

Several studies have showed a link between the occupation of firefighting, heart disease and certain types of cancer. This is as a result of a firefighter's exposure during the course of a career to toxic substances encountered while attacking blazes in chemical and industrial settings, a type of fire that is becoming more and more common in Canada.

We all remember too well the fire that raged for four days in July of 1997 at the Plastimet recycling facility in Hamilton, Ontario. More than 100 Hamilton firefighters were exposed to burning polyvinyls. They fought to save the city from this toxic inferno and were successful. However, the long term health effects on these firefighters may not be known for several years.

To give the House an example of that, I had a chance to talk to these firefighters last year when they were in Ottawa. Two of the fire trucks that were involved in that blaze were aluminium. They were totalled by the chemicals. The trucks could not be repaired and they had to do away with them. The firefighters were exposed to those same chemicals.

In a past experience, a toxic fire at a Saskatoon landfill site in 1982 illustrated that the long term health effects are in fact a sad reality. Six of the 12 firefighters who fought that blaze are dead. Cancers have been diagnosed among those who survived.

To give another illustration, one month ago the International Association of Fire Fighters added the names of more than 50 firefighters from across North America to its memorial in Colorado Springs. All of them were firefighters who died in the line of duty during the previous 12 months. This is the highest number of names added to the memorial in a given year. It is another reason why I think it is appropriate that we deal with this motion today.

I remind the members that line of duty means the same as in the course of saving lives and properties of people in the communities.

Canada's Income Tax Act recognizes the dangerous nature of firefighting and deems firefighters to be members of a public safety occupation. This permits them to retire early at age 55, which has long been considered to be in the best interests of firefighters and the communities they serve.

However, there is a problem with the regulation in that it stops there. It permits firefighters to retire at age 55 but it does not contain any mechanism to allow them to make up for the retirement incomes they forfeit because of an early retirement. This is a definite inequity which has robbed many firefighters and their families of the right to retire with dignity and with financial security.

It is an inequity that the International Association of Fire Fighters has been raising with the Canadian government since the 1970s. This is too long. It is an inequity that our firefighters have endured long enough.

It is time to add concrete regulatory action to the respect and admiration we give our professional firefighters. As it stands, a firefighter retiring at the age of 55 with 30 years of accredited service will retire with 60% of his or her pre-retirement income according to the 2% annual accrual rate that he or she and other Canadians contribute to their registered pensions. This is just too low when the government identifies 70% of the pre-retirement income as a benchmark for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living in retirement.

For three years now a proposal has existed which would correct this injustice. It involves a very simple regulatory change to the Income Tax Act, something that can be done easily and without rewriting the legislation. It involves a regulatory increase in the yearly accrual rate for professional firefighters' registered pensions from the current 2% to 2.33% for the years of accredited service.

Why 2.33%? This is the magic number for firefighters. With a 2.33% accrual rate, a firefighter who retires at age 55 after 30 years of service will achieve 70% of his or her pre-retirement income reaching that important benchmark for the quality of life in retirement. Again, this regulatory change can be done very easily and it would come at no cost to the Canadian government or the Canadian taxpayer. This is a win-win situation.

This is long overdue. It is a regulatory change. It is simply the first step in pension fairness for firefighters. It would allow the higher accrual rate to be negotiated and reflected in provincial pension plans. The final ingredient comes at the collective bargaining process at the local level. However, it starts here at the federal level.

Less than one year ago the Standing Committee on Finance released its report to the finance minister. In the report the committee, after listening to a compelling presentation from the International Association of Fire Fighters during its prebudget consultation exercise, acknowledged the inequity in firefighters' pensions and recommended that the finance minister consider taking action in correcting it.

Shortly afterwards, in April of this year, professional firefighters from across Canada descended on Parliament Hill during their annual lobbying conference. Of the 154 MPs who met with the firefighters, 101 of them, a full two-thirds, said that they supported an increase in the accrual rate for firefighters' registered pension plans in the name of fairness.

Support for this initiative and other methods of pension fairness for our nation's professional firefighters was voiced in the House in April echoing the growing chorus of support for this initiative. As it stands, there is no concrete action toward correcting this injustice. This is our opportunity to provide meaningful pension reform for Canada's heroes.

Let us not let it slip away. Let us take this opportunity to tell our professional firefighters and the people of Canada that we recognize the sacrifices that firefighters make in the course of their career. We are prepared to take action on their very legitimate concern about their right to retire with dignity and with security.

Firefighters are not asking to be put on a level above Canadian workers, they are asking to be treated the same. They are asking the government to enact a regulatory change under the Income Tax Act that will allow them to retire with the same standard of living as other working Canadians.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on this private member's bill introduced by my colleague who just spoke.

This is a private member's bill designed to address a concern of a profession that meets with members of parliament each and every year on the Hill. I would say that this particular group does one of the best jobs on putting forward its concerns to members of parliament than any of the groups who we meet with from time to time. It prepares its briefs very well. It makes its issues clear and concise. It involves its grassroots members in the effort. It is not just professionals or paid lobbyist but real people in our communities who talk to us about their concerns. We appreciate the efforts they take to meet with us and to work with us on their concerns.

My colleague and others in the House who will speak, speak for all Canadians in expressing the appreciation that all of us feel for the work of firefighters. The job entails a great deal of danger and involves a great deal of physical and mental ability. There has to be a lot of not only physical strength and fitness but also good judgement, bravery and ability to meet challenges in an effective way in this profession. We believe that some of the finest members of our community are involved in the firefighting profession.

This is sometimes a profession that is not appreciated as much as it should be until some of us experience firsthand the need for the kind of rescue operations that firefighters offer when our homes, our businesses or our communities are touched by fire and by the danger which firefighters deal with each and every day.

Firefighters are deserving of the highest praise, gratitude and appreciation by Canadians and by members of our community. We want to give them that appreciation today. This bill gives us an opportunity to emphasize how much we appreciate and value the work of firefighters in our communities and in our cities.

In many of our rural communities, there are volunteer firefighters. They carry pagers and if there is a fire or a situation in the community that calls for their services they drop everything to respond. These volunteers sometimes leave some pretty important situations in order to help out other members of the community.

I heard a story about a volunteer firefighter who was at his daughter's graduation when his pager went off. He simply left to help other families and other members of the community even though his daughter was graduating that day.

Again, we want to express appreciation for volunteer firefighters across our nation, many of whom work hard in other jobs but are still willing to be on call all the time to assist their community and their fellow citizens. The concern for fellow citizens which is inherent in the firefighting occupation is something that is very praiseworthy and we want to acknowledge that today.

The firefighters have put forward, in the seven years that I have been in parliament, three major concerns each and every year.

One was that dangerous goods be tracked across the country so that when there was a fire involving trains or trucks transporting dangerous chemical, firefighters would have a very quick and easy way of ascertaining what chemicals might have been involved in a particular fire so they would know how to deal with the chemicals.

Second, they asked for the opportunity to find out, when they were contaminated by blood in an emergency situation, whether they were infected with a dangerous disease.

I am pleased to report that my colleague from Fraser Valley West put forward a private member's bill called the blood samples act that would allow firefighters to obtain an analysis of blood that they were contaminated with and which they felt may have infected them. This bill passed second reading in the House and is now in committee. We are hopeful that this blood samples act, brought forward by my colleague from Fraser Valley West, will pass all readings in the House, will be passed by the senate and become law so that firefighters will have the peace of mind they need knowing they can ascertain if they were infected inadvertently with a dangerous communicable disease. This was another step brought forward by a private member of the House to assist firefighters and to respond to their concerns.

The third issue that firefighters have consistently brought forward is the matter of the Canada pension plan and the changes that they are requesting. We have this motion today and I will read it:

That the government consider the advisability of increasing the pension accrual rate for firefighters to allow them to retire with adequate financial provisions for their retirement.

I think it is fair to say that the wording of the motion is a little bit tentative. Even if we pass the motion, the government would simply be considering the advisability of making these changes. The motion would not have the effect of actually making the changes. It is perhaps a small step. I do not fault the mover of the motion for the wording because I am sure that it was well considered.

I want to point out that even if the changes to the Canada pension plan, which we are being asked to consider, were put into place they would not really allow firefighters to retire with adequate financial provisions. The Canada pension plan is designed to replace about one-quarter of the retirement needs of working Canadians. Even changes that would increase the accrual rate for firefighters would provide only a very small portion of the pensions that they need.

If this matter was to go forward for consideration there would be three issues that would be debated before the House and in committee: first, the issue of fairness and equity; second, the issue of coherence of the pension plan; and third, the issue of the best interests of firefighters or how any profession might best meet their retirement needs.

On the first issue of equity and fairness, many people have raised the fact that other professions must retire early, such as the military, or often retire early and become involved in stressful occupations within the public service. The question would be whether making special provisions for one profession would not lead to concerns about fairness and equity to other professions. I think that is an issue that needs to be considered and addressed.

The second issue would be that of whether the Canada pension plan, which is a pension plan for all Canadian workers, is the proper instrument of public policy to address specific concerns for specific groups that may access the plan. Of course the more a plan is tailored for different groups the more difficult it becomes to administer and the more costly. That also is something that experts will talk about.

The third concern is whether the Canada pension plan, which in the future will yield less than a 2% rate of return, is the instrument that firefighters, and particularly those entering the profession, would want to count on for retirement income. There is some concern, and we have raised this in the House, about the Canada pension plan and its long term viability.

Those are issues that we would be discussing if the motion is approved by the House. I want to say how much we appreciate the the firefighters taking the trouble to put their issues forward to us so clearly. We are pleased with the work they do. We appreciate them and we are also pleased to consider their concerns today in this motion.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this private member's motion, and congratulate the member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey on his interesting proposal.

The purpose of his motion is to restore equity with respect to CPP premiums for the firefighters of Quebec and of Canada, who are so important to the life of this country. That is why it deserves our careful attention.

Under the existing Income Tax Act, the occupation of firefighter is one associated with public safety. Firefighters are therefore forced to retire when they reach the age of 60. Over the years, a number of commissions of inquiry in Quebec, as well as in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, have suggested that the age of retirement be 55 because this is a high risk sector.

It is a high risk sector not just because of the sometimes fatal injuries that firefighters sustain, but because of the toxic substances to which they are exposed every day and which may cut short their lives.

Moreover, a study carried out in 1994 by the Ontario Industrial Disease Standards Panel stated that there was a link between firefighting and heart disease, as well as brain, lymphatic, colon, bladder and kidney cancer.

This is serious. The people in this profession are exposed daily to risks not found in other professions. In my riding in June 1998, the municipal fire chief of Acton Vale, Michel Daragon, died at the age of 55 while fighting an industrial fire. Firefighter Jacques Houle lost his life in the same incident. Eight firefighters were injured in the one fire, including Chief Daragon's son Mario, who was seriously injured. Serious head injuries were sustained by one firefighter, Réjean Messier.

In my riding, and elsewhere, these people are exposed every day to dangers that can result in fatal injuries. I should point out that just about everyone has a firefighter in the family. In my case it was a cousin, Gilles Archambault, father of two girls, who was faced daily with situations in which he could have been killed. He risked his life to save others.

This past weekend I saw a boyhood friend, Benoît Desjardins, a career firefighter with two young children, ages six and eight. He too puts his life on the line every day. They receive no pension contributions, despite the fact that they often have to take early retirement by age 60, at the latest, because this sort of job involves public safety.

What happens when these people start drawing their pensions at age 60? They have contributed to their pension plan during their life of active service at a maximum rate of 2% annually. At age 60 they are obliged to retire. In the period between 60 and 65, there are no contributions of 2% annually so these people can benefit from fair pension plans as other professions.

The public official who retires at age 60 can catch up between the ages of 60 and 65 by continuing to contribute to the Canada pension plan or Quebec's Régime des rentes. This is not the case for firefighters. Their active life, what is called credited service, lasts until age 60 at the latest. And so, their benefits are reduced because they are forced to leave their profession at age 60 and are unable between the ages of 60 and 65 to contribute to the public pension plan.

They may retire at 55, which is often the case. This is not really an old age, but it is a fairly advanced age for doing such a dangerous job and is as risky for the firefighter as it is for his colleagues. Some firefighters, for health reasons or things that have happened to them during their career, are forced to retire at 55. Things are even worse in this case, because between 55 and 60 they do not work and therefore do not contribute to their pension plan. In addition, they face the same prejudice all firefighters face, no contributions between ages 60 and 65. Therefore, they receive less pension income.

In the United States, many years ago, firefighting was recognized as being a high risk job. The value of this profession and the immeasurable contribution firefighters make have long been recognized. Pension contributions there are at the rate of 2.5% annually.

The firefighters association is asking us to restore annual authorized contributions to 2.3%. This is not much. In so doing, the government would restore fairness by treating firefighters like the members of the other professions relating to public security.

The time for fine rhetoric is over. The government must now take its responsibilities regarding this type of measure. In 1995, the Minister of Finance—with a hand on his heart or, more accurately, on his wallet, which is full of our money—sent a letter to the firefighters' association, in which he said:

I want to tell you that I am very aware of the daily pressures experienced by public safety officials and of the fact that, because of the burden that their profession represents, a large number of firefighters and police officers see their career cut short.

The time has come to follow up on that letter, sent by the Minister of Finance in 1995. We have here a concrete motion that seeks to partly correct the unfair treatment given to firefighters. It also ensures that firefighters are treated just like others public safety officials. Allowing early retirement at age 55 would make room for young people while avoiding—because this is a high risk profession—threats to the physical integrity of those 55 and over who are firefighters and of those whose lives they save, almost on a weekly basis.

The Bloc Quebecois will support this initiative.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I also wish to begin my remarks by complimenting the sponsor of this motion for bringing forward what I believe is a very topical and timely issue as it relates to the health, safety and well-being of working people.

I also want to compliment the International Association of Fire Fighters for being visible and very active in trying to promote this particular issue for many years, both in the general public and in the House of Commons.

During their annual lobby, every MP on the Hill has probably been visited by members of the IAFF as they have come to our offices to ask for recognition of the issues that they feel are most important and front and centre for the members that they represents. I do not believe any organization has run a more effective lobby in terms of making members of parliament aware of the issues that this particular organization is advocating. The association should be complimented for the long, hard road that it has followed to finally bring this issue to debate in the House of Commons.

It is generally agreed that firefighters enjoy a special status in the hearts and minds of Canadians. All Canadians recognize the inherent dangers of the job, the courage and the physical stress and duress that such an undertaking shows on working people. All of us recognize what a necessary and valuable position firefighters hold within our communities, whether they are rural or urban communities.

There is no other job in the world like firefighting. Every time the bell rings and every time someone is called out to their workplace they are faced with imminent danger. We can view many jobs as dangerous, whether it is logging, coal mining or the building trades that I come from, but no worker faces the day to day risk that firefighters face every day they go to work.

It is in recognition of that fact that we are sensing broad support in the House of Commons for this very reasonable amendment to the Income Tax Act. I regret that the motion was worded in such a soft way, as are most private member's motions. The motion does not particularly bind the government to leap into any particular action in the immediate future but it does give direction to the government to act in a certain way.

Specifically, the firefighters have come to us year after year in their annual lobby asking for just a few simple things. It is to their credit that they have rendered down the number of issues facing their members to a few achievable goals that they have been very persistent and consistent in putting across to us.

A number of those were itemized by previous speakers. One is the hazardous materials identification system firefighters are advocating that would go above and beyond the WHMI system that all other workers enjoy. WHMIS is the workplace hazardous materials identification system. It is based on the premise that all workers have the right both to know the chemical makeup of the materials they are handling and to refuse unsafe work.

Naturally, WHMIS fails firefighters. Firefighters do not have the right to refuse unsafe work. Everything they do would be categorized in any other conventional workplace as being inherently unsafe. Given the chemical soup that serves as a risk to workers these days in many manufacturing settings, firefighters are even more concerned. Unfortunately the ill effects of that chemical soup are even more obvious as manufacturing systems and processes become more elaborate and sophisticated.

One of the real and existing dangers pointed out by firefighters who have visited my office is that often it is not any one chemical that will harm them on exposure. It is the compounding effect of a variety of chemicals reacting with one another in a person's system. For instance, chemical A is ingested at one fire and chemical B is ingested a year later. Those two go on to form chemical C within the firefighter's internal organs.

This is a terrible problem. Firefighters we call the walking wounded are walking the streets today. They are really ticking time bombs in terms of showing the ill effects of exposure to hazardous things.

One of the paramount things firefighters want addressed is a more sophisticated hazardous materials tracking system, specifically on the rail lines. That way, when a rail car overturns and creates a toxic plume, firefighters would have some way of knowing what was in the tanker car prior to rushing to the scene. They would not have to read the card on the side of the overturned tanker that may be burning.

The second issue always raised with us when firefighters come on their annual lobby is what we are dealing with today, the fact that the Income Tax Act recognizes the hazardous nature of the work by allowing early retirement at age 60 and even an optional window for early retirement at age 55. This is in recognition of the hazardous nature of the work and the fact that there is wear and tear on the bodies of firefighters just by the nature of that work. However, it fails to recognize something else. A firefighter opting for early retirement at age 55 pays a penalty for every month prior to the age of 60 and is thus forced to retire with an often inadequate pension.

Firefighters seek to achieve by this motion a change in the Income Tax Act to allow for pension benefits to be accrued at a higher rate than that of the average worker. When firefighters opt for early retirement they would do so at full pension. We think this is a reasonable proposal, and I am glad to see that all parties in the House seem to agree.

We should point out to the public that this is not an additional cost to the government. There is no immediate cost associated with this recognition. In fact, this would allow firefighters to sit down at the bargaining table with their employer and negotiate a higher premium contribution to their pension plan above and beyond the 2% allowed by law today.

It really is not a cost to the general public. It is not a cost to the government. It is not a cost to the taxpayer. If at the bargaining table firefighters were able to achieve that increase in contribution rates from their employer, they then would enjoy a maximum of 2.33% pension accrual rate.

We should notify the public that by the passage of this motion and the implementation of the recommendations of the motion we are not voting for a cost to the taxpayer. We are not talking about any increased cost in CPP or any other tax relief for firefighters. We are simply giving them the ability to negotiate a higher rate of contribution to their pension plans.

We have many graphic examples of the unique nature of the day to day work and workplace of firefighters. A recent and horrifying example is the Plastimet fire in Hamilton, Ontario. It often comes to mind as a graphic illustration of the inherent hazards associated with this job. Given the number of fatal injuries from that fire and the many complications for the people working there, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Plastimet serves as the firefighter's Westray. On a per capita basis it was as severe and as extreme and it deserves our immediate attention.

This bill will give relief to one minor detail in terms of recognizing the special position that firefighters hold within our culture and communities, but it does not deal with many of the other issues often raised in this regard. I do not believe any job in the country should be considered a dangerous occupation. We have it within our means to make all workplaces safer if we address ourselves to that issue. No amount of compensation justifies a dangerous job.

We used to face that in my trade. They would give us danger pay for doing certain dangerous jobs. I do not really want another dollar an hour for putting my life at risk. I would rather we take that dollar an hour and put it toward research to make the job safer in the first place so that no one gets put into a dangerous situation.

Firefighters are unique in that when all other workers are running out of a burning building from a dangerous situation firefighters are running in. There is no easy solution to making the workplace safer for firefighters. There is more we can do with the co-operation of the union, their employers and government regulatory bodies.

The best we can do now for firefighters is to recognize the inherent danger of their workplace and to give them some satisfaction in terms of this issue and the other legitimate concerns they have brought before us, including the hazardous materials identification system for at least the rail system and the blood sample that was situation raised by other speakers.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with a great sense of pride that I rise today to speak to the motion put forward by the member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey.

In a previous life I had a substantial amount of experience working very closely with a municipal fire department. I can assure the House that I have nothing but respect for the men and women who put forward their lives to look after our constituents in their duty as firefighters.

I would also like to thank the member for Mississauga South who I know originally put forward this motion. It is a very important issue, one that will deal with the notion of increasing the contribution to pensions from 2% to 2.33%. However, before we get into that, I think it is important to recognize as other speakers already have indicated that the profession of a firefighter is indeed unique among emergency services.

Firefighting has changed quite dramatically over the past number of years. This past weekend I had the opportunity to stand onstage for the 14th annual Manitoba firefighters conference. At that conference two things happened. First, there was a memorial at the emergency fire services college in Brandon in memory of the 38 firefighters in Manitoba who lost their lives over the last 100 years. I mention that simply to indicate that the profession itself is a very dangerous one. When a firefighter goes to work he or she does not know what will be encountered that day. It could be a life threatening occurrence.

The second thing that happened at the conference was a skit comparing firefighting of 100 years ago with firefighting of today. They used horse-drawn water brigades 100 years ago. They fought fires using different technology and different training. Today both the system and the profession have changed quite dramatically. We talked about the haz mats, the hazardous materials faced by firefighters.

My firefighters wear a number of hats. They are full-fledged paramedics who have to deal with ambulance calls and other situations either on the highway or in the community. They have to deal with search and rescue. They are responsible for search and rescue on our open waters and in other areas of Manitoba. We have firefighters in northern Manitoba, where forests go up quite regularly. The danger of fighting those fires is much more dramatic now than it was 100 years ago.

Everyone in the House is aware that firefighting remains a very dangerous profession. As compared with workers in the private sector, firefighters have twice the rate of job related fatalities. I simply go back to the 38 firefighters recognized in that memorial. More than 40% of all firefighters suffered job related injuries in 1997. That far exceeds the rate of injury for any other occupation. Firefighters are nearly six times more likely than the average private sector worker to suffer injuries on the job.

The right to refuse unsafe work does not practically exist for our firefighters. When people are running away from a burning building, firefighters are running in the opposite direction, directly into the inferno, to save property and to save lives.

I mention this because the profession is a unique profession. One of the other things I noticed when I was onstage at the 14th annual Manitoba fire conference was that through the fire college a number of very young, well trained and physically fit individuals in my community were prepared to go into the profession.

It is a very physically demanding job. Because of the demands placed on the individual it is not a job that has longevity. In the city of Brandon we decided a number of years ago that the retirement age of a firefighter should be 55. Unfortunately the pension contributions that can be made do not allow my firefighters to retire at 55 with their full pensions. We do have people to take over from the firefighters who wish to retire at 55, but we have to make sure we can get those firefighters off the job and retired.

In order to do that, with respect to the motion before us, the International Association of Fire Fighters advocates that the finance minister increase the pension accrual rates from 2% to 2.33% for firefighters. This would allow them to retire with adequate financial provisions for their retirement.

In a letter to the Minister of Finance dated December 15, 1999, the IAFF urged the federal government to revisit the current provisions for professional firefighters. In the city of Brandon we have been prepared, through negotiations, to top up the retirement funds of firefighters to accommodate to a degree their request to retire at age 55. A regulatory change to the Income Tax Act would provide all firefighters with the opportunity to collectively bargain for a fair and equitable pension on retirement.

The regulatory change to the Canada Income Tax Act that the IAFF is advocating would allow Canada's firefighters to retire before the rigours of the job pose a threat to both the individuals and their fellow firefighters. The change would allow firefighters to make adequate pension contributions toward retirement.

The proposed regulatory change would be the crucial first step in this process, as firefighters would have to make the same change with their respective provincial pension legislation and then bargain the increased contribution with their employers. It is a critical first step that the federal government put into place the necessary legislative changes. The Canadian Police Association also strongly supports the position of firefighters on this issue.

Last year's report from the Standing Committee on Finance is clear in recommending an increase in the accrual rate from 2% to 2.33%. It has been almost a year since the report was tabled in the House. I urge all members of the House of Commons to support the motion and members on the government side to actually take action. The finance committee has already considered the motion. It is now time for the government to act.

It is a simple legislative change, as was mentioned earlier. I thank the member for Mississauga South. I also thank the member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey for bringing it to the attention of the House. Now it is a matter of putting action in place.

The firefighters that represent us in our communities deserve no less. They put their lives on the line. They wish to be able to retire at a younger age because of the difficulties and danger of the job. It is incumbent upon us to make it available to them. We will be supporting the motion put forward by the member.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

Rick Limoges Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address private member's Motion No. 418. Yesterday I had the honour of attending a memorial service jointly carried out by padres of both the Detroit and Windsor fire departments wherein honour was brought to those who laid down their lives in the service of our community. It has been said that there is no greater love than the love displayed by laying down one's life in the service of others.

Specific provisions in the Income Tax Act are what we are talking about and the fact that firefighters are in a very different situation than most other people in our society. Most are required to retire early due to contract provisions and the physically strenuous nature of their occupation.

Earlier this year I was able to convene a meeting with senior members of the finance department, those people responsible for the calculations and for putting forth the provisions of the legislation once it is passed by the House, along with the executive of the firefighters association. At that meeting, along with the member for Essex, we were able to discuss for several hours provisions of the pension plan and the firefighters request for the 2.33% integrated plan.

We understand there is scope within the existing pension tax rules for plans covering firefighters to increase pension plan benefits. This was explained to members of the association along with me. We understand that a number of firefighter pension plans provide a 2% pension benefit that is integrated with Canada pension benefits. This means that these plans are not currently providing the maximum pension benefits permissible under the Income Tax Act. However, due to the vagaries of collective bargaining, it would be very difficult for firefighters across the country to be able to negotiate the full benefit they seek.

I understand that firefighters would like to be provided with a 2.33% pension benefit that is integrated with CPP. I understand that by maximizing the benefits under the current rules the plans could possibly provide an even larger pension benefit than could be obtained in the 2.33% integration, but as I said earlier it would be subject to unprecedented success in collective bargaining.

It is clear that firefighters provide a service to our community that is desperately needed and absolutely essential.

It is clear that firefighters provide a service to our communities that is desperately needed and absolutely essential. In my 14 years of experience in municipal council I had the opportunity of seeing firsthand what some firefighters were doing and the dedication they brought to their jobs. We in Windsor are very proud of them.

Firefighters in Windsor were faced with a situation 15 years ago where there were very poor labour-management relations between the fire department and the city. They now enjoy an absolutely positive attitude and marvellous relationship. There can always be improvements, I suppose, but in talking to firefighters across the country it was brought to my attention that Windsor was a model others could only hope to follow.

Firefighters are out in the community doing the job of public relations and of increasing safety awareness in children and families. We are extremely proud that we have the type of relationship where everyone benefits.

It was explained to us yesterday during the memorial service that we do not take enough time to recognize and thank firefighters for the sacrifice they have made over the past century.

The motion speaks to the need for further consultation and consideration of the issue. It is paramount for firefighters and their families. I urge members of the House to support the motion before us.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that we have a very short time and many members wish to speak to the motion, so I will keep my remarks to the point.

I have listened to the debate today but, more important, I have had an ongoing dialogue with the firefighters in my community of London, Ontario. They do honourable work all hours of the day and night. They do it with safety. They do it with integrity. They do it with our interest at heart.

We have an obligation to listen to their concerns. That is what many of my colleagues around the House on all sides and I have been doing. I believe a valid point is made here. I add my voice to the people supporting the motion.

I have been lobbying the finance minister. In short order we should be looking at the reality of bringing in a regulatory framework that would provide the needed change. I will not restate the statistics. We know them. I will allow someone else to speak at this point.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the particular motion. I would like to make three specific points about it. It deals with the rights of firefighters or the consideration of whether firefighters should have a different accrual rate to their pension plans. They have to retire early because of health considerations, physical fitness considerations and other matters.

First, in my opinion firefighters have one of the most effective and most grassroots inclusive lobbying groups on Parliament Hill. They do a great job of integrating both the parliamentary role of their associations and the grassroots back home. They do it as well as any other group in the country. I have told them that and I compliment them on that.

Second, I would like to put a plug in for my private member's motion on the blood samples act. It specifically targets firefighters and gives them protection against contamination from bodily fluids with which they may come in contact during the course of their duties.

Third, specifically the motion has to do with the accrual rate. It should be passed and sent to committee for consideration. Firefighters will have to work with other groups like the military, police officers and others that also face the same problem with the accrual rate. I will leave it at that.

Firefighters' Pensions
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Report Of Information Commissioner
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act, to lay upon the table the report of the information commissioner for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2000. This report is permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Supply
Government Orders

October 16th, 2000 / 12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

moved:

That this House work to provide the means needed to fight poverty and violence against women as demanded by the World March of Women, particularly in the areas of income protection, health, international aid, violence and wage parity, so as to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth between women and men.

Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give you notice that the leader of the Bloc Quebecois will be sharing the time allotted him with our colleague from Longueuil. All members of the Bloc Quebecois will proceed in the same fashion.

Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this motion comes at a rather particular juncture today, because the women are in Washington today. They were there yesterday as well. They marched in Ottawa as well, as they did in Montreal on Saturday, and in Quebec City on Friday and in all regions of Quebec and in all neighbourhoods of Montreal and in other regions in Canada. In fact, pretty well around the world. On Saturday, over 30,000 women demonstrated in Brussels. Tomorrow, all these women will be in New York.

The Bloc Quebecois members are proud of the fact that this initiative originated in Quebec. It was the Fédération des femmes du Québec and its president, Françoise David, who had the idea and linked up with women around the world in order to blend the demands they were making of their respective governments and of international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. Tomorrow they will be meeting Secretary General Kofi Annan at the United Nations.

Many people feel that the women's demands are nothing but wishful thinking and that, while we agree in theory, it is impossible in practice because we cannot afford it.

We in the Bloc Quebecois have checked whether indeed we had the funds and the means to respond to the women's demands. Looking at the surplus in the hands of the Minister of Finance and the government—and it is important to say this today because we are apparently going to be having a mini-budget on Wednesday—it is up to $165.8 billion according to our figures. Without taking the agreement with the provinces relating to the Canada social transfer into consideration, the figure comes to $147.9 billion instead.

This represents a lot of money that can be used to meet the demands the women have made. This is not a debate about whether we have or do not have the means, it is a matter of whether we do or do not have the political desire to respond to the women's demands.

We have taken great care in calculating the surplus. For example, last year we stated that the figure would be $11.5 billion while the Minister of Finance was announcing $3 billion, knowing as well as we did that it would be far more. He did not want it known, in order to avoid a debate like the one we are having here today. In the end, the figure was $12.3 billion. Looking at the Minister of Finance's five year forecasts, I see the figure is in the order of $160.8 billion.

Taking the agreement out of the equation, as I said earlier, the figure comes to $142 billion and a bit, which is about $5 billion off the figure we had predicted. This opinion is shared by some of the leading economists as well. Last week, in a debate at the Conseil du Patronat, the same figure was reached with the same evaluations. It seems likely that this is what the Minister of Finance will be telling us on Wednesday.

Unfortunately, however, it is my impression that he will not reach the same conclusions as we on how to use these surplus funds. Women are asking, among other things, for a review of the whole employment insurance issue. If the federal government is currently enjoying surpluses, it is because it created them at the expense of the provinces.

It was the case with the Canada social transfer. The federal government finally recognized that it had taken money from the provinces, but even more so from the employment insurance fund, where it took more than $30 billion from the poor and also from businesses. The result is that the employment insurance program has become a tax on employment, with over 60% of contributors being penalized, since they contribute but do not qualify for benefits once they are out of work.

The changes announced by the government regarding employment insurance have only a very marginal and temporary impact on seasonal workers. Does the government realize that over two thirds of women who contribute to the program do not qualify for benefits? This is blatant injustice and must be corrected. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is saying that the government must reinvest $25 billion in the employment insurance program, over a five year period.

As regards transfer payments for health, post-secondary education and income support, women are asking the government to invest, to take into account the fact that there are enormous needs in the health sector, that the provinces must provide services without having enough money, while the federal government does not have to provide such services, at least not much, but has the money to do so.

The federal government announced $17.9 billion over five years. We believe that this amount must be indexed on the basis of the cost as it was in 1994, which would mean an additional $10 billion, and that the federal government must put $27 billion into the social transfer because it affects the health of families, and of men and women in an aging population.

Speaking of an aging population, one of the important demands being made by women—I will not go over all the demands because my colleagues will be doing so in the course of the day—has to do with old age security so that older women do not have to live in poverty.

Forty-two per cent of single women over 65 in Canada are living in poverty because many of them did not work outside the home; they worked in the home and this is work that is unpaid. Not that they worked any less, but they do not have a pension plan. These women are living under the poverty line. We must invest $3 billion to ensure that those who raised children, who raised our families, who helped build the future, are not abandoned to unacceptable and appalling conditions.

Despite what some say, when all these demands from women are factored in, there is certainly enough both for paying down the debt by $21 billion over five years and for tax cuts. We know the Minister of Finance will be announcing $58 billion in tax cuts with his plan to lower the capital gains tax from 66% to 50%, but the rate of taxation on employment income is 100% and low and middle income Canadians will not benefit.

What is needed are tax cuts and that is something that we can aim for, all the while balancing the budget and holding the line on the deficit. We do not want to go back to a deficit situation. In my view $73.8 billion could be set aside for this. This is in no way incompatible with the duty—and I do consider it a duty—to invest in the social, economic, education and health fields.

As far as the $73.8 billion allocated to the middle class is concerned, they are the ones who have borne the brunt of the deficit reduction, because they do not have enough money to take advantage of the wonderful tax loopholes that companies like Canada Steamship Lines can because it earns so much that it pays no taxes. The middle class has borne the brunt of it and must get some help.

When I speak of the middle class, I mean the many single mothers who cannot make ends meet because they have to pay income tax while the rich companies do not. This is social inequality and it is unacceptable.

For example, a family of four, two adults and two children, pays no income tax in Quebec if their total income is less than $30,000. On the federal level that same family starts paying tax at the $14,700 level. In most cases, women and children are the ones who suffer. Often women are raising children on their own.

That is why we must make an effort to respond to women's demands, while at the same time not neglecting to cut taxes for the low and middle income groups. We can afford to do so.

I will close on that point. It is not a matter of wishful thinking. This will be addressed in the election campaign. I do hope the government will settle this for us this week. The opposition would lose a point of argument but women would gain. I feel that is more important.

If the government does not settle this we will not hold our tongues. What is more, as Ms. David has said, women are determined to follow the candidates in this election and to let them know that there is a sizeable surplus, that there are priorities to be respected and that the wealthy friends of the party in power and the companies are not the only ones that vote.