House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, today it is indeed a pleasure to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Given the events of the last couple of weeks, I must say that those of us on this side watching the actions of the government are deeply disappointed in its failure to truly address unemployment in the country in a meaningful fashion.

If the government was truly interested in a long term, effective plan to deal with the underpinnings of unemployment and underemployment in our country today, it would have had a more thoughtful approach rather than suddenly trying to pull out a mini-budget because the official opposition has decided to put forth a thoughtful way of lowering taxes and improving the economy. Instead the government has chosen, in a haphazard fashion, to merely lift many of the things from our platform and say to the public that after this election it will implement them.

The fact of the matter is, the public is going to see through this. If the government truly wanted to get people off EI rolls, to get people off welfare, to improve the lives of people who are underemployed in our country and to improve the lack of competitiveness in our nation, then it would address such things as how we are going to improve our education system.

The government should pull the first ministers together and ask how we can have national standards for education in this country today, how we can have public and private partnerships on improving the education system so that our young people will be able to learn the skills necessary in the real world, in real time, in order to be able to be employed in the future.

The government should ask how we can start addressing the interprovincial trade barriers which, I might add, are greater east-west than they are north-south. Is it not remarkable that there are more barriers to trade between my province of British Columbia and the province of Ontario than there are between British Columbia and Washington state? That is a shame.

If the government was truly interested in improving the economy of this country, it would have sat down with the first ministers and said “We are going to lock ourselves in this room. We are will sit in front of this table and come to an agreement that is going to remove the egregious rules and regulations that have been choking off the private sector in this country for far too long”. That is what the government should be doing.

Not only should the government have been looking at lowering the tax rates and taking a leaf out of our book, a little leaf, it should have taken a large chunk of our book instead of only asking how it could lower personal taxes and business taxes. I compliment the government on the fact that this has been done to some extent in this budget, but it should have been done a few years ago.

The government should also be dealing with ways of equilibrating the tax structure between high tech and manufacturing companies. High tech companies pay a higher taxes than those in manufacturing. Why is that so? There is not even any discussion about it, but there is no lack of ideas, not only within the House but also more importantly outside the House, from people across the country, people in business, in the public and in academia. Many of them have brilliant ideas on what we can do to improve our economy and the health and welfare of Canadians, which they have offered to the government.

There is an illusion going around that has been stuck in the House for far too long, which is that somehow if one is into lowering taxes, improving the economy and being fiscally responsible, one is being socially irresponsible. The illusion is that lowering taxes will somehow harm the poor and the middle class.

The fact of the matter is that whether we are looking at northern Europe, Sweden, Ireland, the British Isles, the U.S. or southeast Asia, those countries that have taken it upon themselves to lower taxes, rules and regulations and make labour laws more flexible have improved dramatically. The health and welfare of the people, particularly of those who were the most impoverished in our society, has improved. Just as important, it has given us the money to pay for the social programs that we have come to rely on so much and that are so important in helping those who cannot help themselves in time of need, be it with health care, education, pensions or otherwise.

That is what the government should be looking at, for to be fiscally responsible is to be socially responsible. They are two halves of the same whole. If one is fiscally irresponsible, as some NDP governments have been in the past, particularly in my province of British Columbia, that fiscal irresponsibility of spending more than is taken in, of spending the taxpayers' money unwisely, crushes our ability to pay for our social programs.

As a physician, I work in a hospital where it takes three and a half years just to see an orthopedic surgeon, where I cannot find a pillow in my emergency department for somebody with congestive heart failure. The reason that is so, the reason we do not have nurses for our emergency departments and hospital beds, is that there is not enough money in the system. There is not enough money in the system because our economy has not expanded so that we can tax that money wisely and fairly and have it available to pay for those programs that we are endeared to.

We are also not taking into consideration a brick wall that we will slam into. A lot of people will be hurt. That brick wall is our demographics. In the next 20 years our population over the age of 65 will double. As our population ages so too do our demands increase on programs such as pensions, health care and other services.

Yet there is no debate. There is only deafening silence on what we should be doing to prepare for the future and to deal with our needs in health care and the demographic changes that are going to be imposed upon our pension system. How will we do this? If we do not, those who are going to be hurt are seniors, fixed income people and those who will live lives of quiet desperation unless we deal with the problems now. We cannot manufacture these solutions overnight.

We have proposed for a long time that the Government of Canada, the Liberal Party in this case, take upon itself to deal with these problems now. We will work with them, as we will with the public, to bring forth effective solutions to deal with that demographic bubble that will hit our social programs with full force, causing them to crumble and causing the most vulnerable in our society to be hurt. This is something the government has failed to do.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-De-La-Madeleine—Pabok, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I would like some clarification. Are we not supposed to be talking about Bill C-44 on the employment insurance reform? Is this not the issue that we should be discussing? If so, could you tell me and our viewers about the relevance of the hon. member's presentation on demographics and health problems? I suppose that people are more likely to get sick if they cannot get employment insurance benefits, but I am trying to see how this is relevant to today's topic.

Could the Chair indicate whether we are indeed dealing with the Employment Insurance Act? If so, could the Chair call on the hon. member to share his views and those of his party on the appropriateness of the changes that are being considered and indicate if his party wants more changes or less changes?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I was amazed to hear the hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok refer to himself as my humble servant.

However, he is quite right that this is Bill C-44 and I was remiss, because we have been going a little astray from relevance.

If the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca would care to be a touch more relevant or to at least touch base every once in a while, it would be deeply appreciated.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for being a foil to this speech because he has just come into the most exciting part of the speech, linking EI premiums and what the government has done by removing, for the member's information, $100 billion in EI premiums from the taxpayer, from hardworking people. Our party has said for years that the government should be lowering those premiums because in effect they are using the EI premiums as a tax on business.

In the hon. member's riding in the province of Quebec I am sure many of his business colleagues are telling him that the EI premiums are too high, that the government has been taxing them through EI premiums, pocketing the money and spending it as it sees fit. It is not on the basis of need and not on the basis of putting people back to work, but saying to the public “We can live with EI. EI is an important program”. What the government is not telling the public is that it is using $100 billion of that money as a form of tax. Under those circumstances it hurts the business people who would love to have money to reinvest in their businesses.

Many small and medium size businesses, and most small businesses have fewer than five employees, have said to many of us that if they had more money, they could hire more people. If they had more money they could reinvest in their business and be more competitive, but the government is taking all that money from them through payroll taxes and EI is one of those payroll taxes.

My point on my hon. colleague's excellent question is that the EI premiums are too high. That is the bottom line. They are far too high. Rather than being a help to the unemployed the EI premiums are a hindrance to the unemployed and the underemployed.

As we have done for some seven years, we beg and implore that the government lower the EI premium to make it far more reasonable. If the government wants to know by how much it can ask us because we have been asking for a substantial reduction for a very long time.

Another point I want to make concerns people such as single mothers and people on welfare who would like to return to the workforce. They are actually penalized for trying to return to the workforce. We should reward those people who want to get the skills. Through the EI program, and in working with the provinces on welfare, we should make sure that money will be there to help them get a leg up. We should support them when they say they want to learn the skills to get back into the workforce but that they need daycare for their children. That is something we could do. We could help them by providing the resources so that in the long term they will get the skills necessary to return to the workforce.

Currently those people who try to return to the workforce, who are perhaps single moms, who are on welfare, who are in difficult circumstances find it very difficult to return. The system penalizes those who try to help themselves. Unfortunately many of them say it is not worth their while to get off welfare, that it is worth their while to stay on it, but they do not want to. The government should look at reasonable ways to reform the EI system rather than tinker around the edges.

The government has made a point of criticizing us on the issue of seasonal workers. It believes that raising the EI amounts that can be earned is somehow beneficial in some cases or that lowering the bar on how much one has to work is somehow beneficial. I wonder how often the government asks those seasonal workers, be they in the maritimes or elsewhere, whether they want to be seasonal workers or whether they want to work full time. I have never met a seasonal worker who did not want to work full time. I would venture to say that virtually all of the people the government spoke to would say that they want to work full time, that they want to work all year long.

Why does the government not use the taxpayers' money wisely to provide people with the skills necessary to be employed all year long, and not just 10 weeks or 12 weeks a year but all year long? In my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca many people in the fishery have been displaced. Instead of providing moneys to enable these people to be employed and to learn other skills, much money has gone into wasted programs that have not enabled them to be employed.

In my area, as there could be on the east coast, there are great opportunities in aquaculture if they are done properly. If we look at how the Norwegians and the Chileans do aquaculture and not how the Indonesians have done it, it would provide people who have been displaced by the changes in commercial fishing with jobs in areas similar to what they did before.

I am confident that as a country we can get back in aquaculture what we had before. We can take the initiative so it is a vibrant, sustainable and environmentally safe practice and that many people in the fishery rather than hanging on by their fingernails will be employed all year long in a different type of fishing industry.

Those are the innovations we need to explore. We do not see very much of that coming from the government and I would say mostly from the Prime Minister's office. I know some of the backbench MPs have tried to give the ministers at the front good suggestions and we have as well but they have not listened. That speaks to the fact that we do not live in a democracy. The single greatest problem, the reason our EI system and so many other things have not been fixed is that we do not live in a democracy. We live in a four year dictatorship. The public has a chance to vote only once every four or five years.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Rubbish.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

The member across the way who is saying rubbish should bite her tongue. She knows full well that the Prime Minister does what he wants. This country is ruled by 12 people. It is not ruled by this House.

Example number one is Mount Logan. The Prime Minister decided to rename Mount Logan, so there it goes. The Prime Minister decided to use HRD as his own little basket of Santa Claus goodies. This is the situation. In spite of the fact that good suggestions have come from all members across party lines, the system is controlled by the Prime Minister's office and a couple of cabinet ministers. Most of cabinet does not have much of a say in what goes on in the country, sadly.

What a tragedy that we do not have a system that allows members to do what the public, their constituents, the people who voted for them want them to do. The central problem in Canada today, despite the importance of health care, EI, pensions and education, is that we do not live in a democracy.

There is one thing we need to do and I hope the public holds all our feet to the fire on it. We need to ensure that the House becomes a democracy again and that individual members of parliament are beholden to the public who elected them and not the leader of their party. We need to ensure that individual members of parliament can vote freely in the House. They should not be subjected to the ruthless and brutal tyranny of leaders in the House who use their power as a carrot and stick approach to reward or punish MPs who do not do their bidding as opposed to the bidding of the public who elected them.

That is the central problem in our country today. If we liberated this House, all other problems could be solved. We would be able to get ideas from the public and bring them to bear on the House in a meaningful fashion. It would involve liberating the committees so that the committee structure would be relevant, so that we could have free votes in the committees, so that parliamentary secretaries could be removed from committees, so that there is input on government bills, be it the EI bill or others.

Bill C-44 should have been sent in a draft form to the relevant committee. Then the committee and the public would have had effective input on the bill. That is what is done in Britain and in other countries.

If we were to liberate committees, hard earned and innovative ideas put forth by the public would be listened to. This could happen if bills came forward from the ministry in draft form and we removed the parliamentary secretaries from those committees, cutting the umbilical cord to the minister.

We need free votes in the House. We need fixed election dates so that the Prime Minister cannot unilaterally decide to call an election, not because it is better for the Canadian public but for his own political gain. That is why the election will be called on Sunday. It will be called for the government's political gain, not because there is an effective plan or reason for calling it. The public is a lot smarter than we are. They are going to wonder why an election has been called. They are going to ask tough questions of all of us so we had better have answers.

In closing, the bill presents a great opportunity to articulate some of the great problems this country has. There is the lack of democracy. We need to be more competitive as an economy. We need to lower taxes. We need to remove useless rules and regulations. We need to increase interprovincial trade and remove the barriers to trade. We need to make our labour laws more flexible. We need to invest in our education system and ensure that we have an effective student loans system so that students across the socioeconomic strata get the education they want. We need to save our health care system not only by investing in it but by restructuring it to address the demographic changes that are going to hit us smack in the face. We need to ensure that the CPP is sustainable because that too is going to be unsustainable given the demographic changes.

There are many challenges, but we are lucky that this country has a great deal of talent. We only need to use it and this place will finally become a place that will work for the people and by the people rather than for the Prime Minister.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wonder if there would be unanimous consent for the following order: That at 5:30 p.m. this day, Bill C-44 shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole and reported to the House without amendment, concurred in at the report stage, read a third time and passed.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore to present the motion?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-De-La-Madeleine—Pabok, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have heard my colleague from the Canadian Alliance speak to Bill C-44 on employment insurance. I have two questions for him. He himself has said that we are likely headed for an election call this weekend. I trust that there will be an Alliance candidate in my riding of Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok. It appears that 2,800 new members of that party have been turned up in my riding.

I would therefore imagine that there will be a candidate and I would like that candidate to find out from someone involved in the leadership race where they found these people.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Under tombstones.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-De-La-Madeleine—Pabok, QC

I would really like to meet one member of their party.

As for the seasonal workers I would like the hon. member to gives us a clear and precise commitment on, if his party were to form government, the fisheries problem in eastern Canada.

In January he sea is iced over. We cannot fish, the same way that we cannot pick strawberries, and, in the lower St. Lawrence, we cannot harvest peat either. This then is what raw material harvesting is about.

Would the members of the Alliance Party agree with the definition of seasonal work which follows the course of nature? If biological rhythms require it to take place over a period of 10 weeks as, for example, in the case of lobster fishing, are they prepared to guarantee they will give lobster fishers employment insurance, unemployment insurance, since they need to eat 52 weeks a year? I would like a clear answer on that.

Second, I would invite the candidate and member present to explain why he said in his speech that aquaculture should not be developed. Some things could be done in this area.

I have come from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We travelled last spring to the west coast of Canada, and I came to realize that a number of Reform members of the committee more or less supported the development of aquaculture along the west coast.

I would like the members of the Alliance to tell me in no uncertain terms if they are in favour of the development of aquaculture and would take fiscal action to develop this industry, instead of simply making empty promises, because it takes more than prayers. I await their response.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

There are two questions here. The first one deals with seasonal workers.

It is interesting to see the community we have in my province of British Columbia and la belle province du Quebec. We too have seasonal workers. We will always have seasonal workers, but there is one thing we can do. Some people who do not have full time work develop other skills that enable them to do not only their primary work but other jobs as well.

This is one place where EI has failed. It can be using that money to ensure people have other skills they could perhaps use when the waters are frozen. Many people have more than one skill that enables them to do more than one job. This is an area of innovation that the government ought to be looking at.

On the issue of aquaculture, we can use models which would work from Norway and Chile. Norway and Chile were actually quite far behind us in terms of our aquaculture capability. However what has happened, because of a lack of innovation and the inability of companies to have money to invest, is that both Norway and Chile have acquired the innovation to take aquaculture far forward. It is quite a booming industry for them.

We need to learn from that, learn how it works well there, and employ it in areas such as the east coast and on the west coast.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be brief.

First, it is unfortunate that today, while we could have voted unanimously on Bill C-44—although I do not think the bill goes far enough—to ensure that people benefit from the amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, the Canadian Alliance voted against. It blocked a unanimous vote in the House of Commons. I want this to be duly noted for the record.

I have a question for the Canadian Alliance member. I would like him to rise in this House and tell Canadians once and for all what his leader's position is when he says, in Windsor, Ontario, that he is going to cut EI in the west, but when he visits Acadie—Bathurst, he says that he is going to save EI and that he is in agreement with people in my riding.

I would like him to rise in his place today and finally tell us the truth. Where is his leader headed exactly? He says one thing out west and another down east. Their intention is really to cut EI. That is what the leader of the Canadian Alliance has said.

I would like the Canadian Alliance member to finally tell Canadians the truth and stop trying to hedge his bets in anticipation of an election. They cannot have it both ways. It is abundantly clear that, in the west, he said that he was going to cut EI.

Earlier the Canadian Alliance member indicated that in some areas EI was not required because jobs needed to be created.

Last week in my riding the Canadian Alliance leader said “We will save the employment insurance program”.

I hope the Canadian Alliance candidate is listening to my speech this evening and that he will clearly understand what the Canadian Alliance is all about. It is a party that is against Atlantic Canada because it supports cuts to subsidies, to ACOA, to employment insurance. It is an anti-Atlantic party. Just that.