House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

An hon. member

It's shameful.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

It is very shameful.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise today to take part in the debate on a bill that is important to a very large segment of the Canadian population.

As we all know, Veterans Affairs Canada has been serving the needs of veterans for almost a century now. In recent years its legitimate mandate to serve both traditional wartime veterans and modern era Canadian Forces members has been quite a challenge. The needs of the two groups are similar in principle but quite different in practice.

Although they are dwindling in number, the veterans who are still alive are increasingly making use of the services and benefits provided by the department, precisely because of failing health and complicated needs.

The changes proposed in this bill and the related regulations that are already in force or will be so shortly--we hope--will meet the most urgent needs of a few of our most distinguished senior citizens.

Bill C-50 speaks to both the past and the future. Let us first take a look at the new provisions for former prisoners of war.

I wonder how many of our colleagues know that Canada is one of the few countries in the world to provide compensation to former POWs. The relevant legislation was first introduced in Canada in 1976. At the time, the publicity campaign to reach out to eligible veterans generated more than 5,700 applications. Currently Veterans Affairs Canada provides benefits and services to about 4,000 former POWs to the tune of about $53 million a year.

We are taking additional measures today to help those special groups of citizens. We are increasing the benefits and broadening the compensation. The bill stipulates how the benefits are calculated under the Pension Act. The rate of the disability pension is based on the period of time the veteran was a prisoner.

Under the current legislation, veterans have to have been prisoners for at least 89 days to be eligible for disability benefits, as opposed to 30 days under the proposed changes.

Members will also note that, with this bill, the benefits for those taken prisoner in Europe will increase with the length of time they were held.

Thanks to these changes, groups like the merchant navy vets or the Dieppe veterans, who were taken prisoner at the very beginning of the war, will be entitled to enhanced benefits. And God knows that these people, because of their age, need more health care and more money.

I cannot imagine any opinion in this House, or anywhere else for that matter, against the addition to the compensation levels for this unique group of veterans whose experience of war included the terrible privations of war prisons.

In Laval West, the riding I represent in this House, there are two groups of veterans, one group in Chomedy and the other in Laval West. I know how proud these men and women are of the increased recognition this House and the Government of Canada are giving to their sacrifices as of today.

In a similar vein, I cannot imagine any objection to providing substantial financial assistance to children for their post-secondary educational needs where their veteran parents have died as a result of service. I believe that educational assistance for children of deceased forces members are part of the broader debt that the Government of Canada and all Canadians owe to those veterans who have died either as a result of military service or with a disability pension assessed as medium or higher. It seems to me that the bill is very fair in this regard.

A $4,000 yearly maximum is set for tuition in addition to a monthly $300 living allowance. The department expects that 70 eligible students will benefit from these increased tuition assistance and living allowance rates during the next five years.

I want to congratulate the minister on also taking care of the students who were unable to receive this financial assistance when the program was interrupted in 1995. We shall be sure to correct all obvious injustices caused by this interruption of the program eight years ago.

In the coming year, it is estimated that 60 former students will be eligible for financial assistance in respect of the education they undertook between 1995 and 2003, up to $12,000. This is substantial financial assistance and I hope it will help them pay back their student loans.

These changes to the Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act are a gift that speaks to the future. The children of Canadian Forces members who serve years from now and who subsequently die on duty or die with a pension disability of 48% or greater will receive this coverage. I am sure this resurrected and improved upon program will give great peace of mind to veterans and their families. It seems the least we can do for those who put their lives on the line for their nation.

The third amendment concerning eligibility for the war veterans allowance comes out of a case concerning an individual's right to WVA even though he never actually served in the Canadian armed forces. The matter was complicated and was eventually resolved by the courts in the client's favour when it was decided that he had to be considered a member of the armed forces.

As legislators, we do our courts, our judicial agencies and our citizens a service when we make the meaning and intent of our legislation crystal clear. What this amendment does is add clarity where perhaps it was missing in the current legislation and which gave rise, therefore, to the court proceedings I have just mentioned.

The minister has also mentioned the regulatory provisions that will soon be in effect to improve access for veterans or their dependants to health benefits. Survivors who need housekeeping and landscaping services, offered under the veterans independence program, or VIP, can now enjoy such services for life.

Veterans who receive a pension of at least 48% are now eligible for access to the health care programs, whether or not their health problems are related to a pensionable disability. Overseas service veterans waiting for access to a hospital bed will now receive VIP and health care benefits.

Moreover, allied veterans who have lived in Canada for 10 years or longer after the war will have access to VIP and health care benefits.

Finally, veterans who receive only POW compensation and are totally disabled will have access to VIP and health care benefits, where these are not available to them from provincial programs.

It is not difficult to imagine how these regulations and the amendments we are considering in Bill C-50 are going to make life a whole lot easier for these veterans and their families. When the minister announced his package of urgent needs proposals last May, Mr. Allan Parks, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, stated the following:

The Royal Canadian Legion welcomes this positive development in ensuring that the sacrifices of Canadian veterans will not be forgotten. In catering to the needs of prisoners of war, surviving spouses, and the long term care of veterans, Canada remains at the forefront of support to its veterans.

As legislators, I think we would all want to stay exactly in that position: at the forefront. Bill C-50 does just that. I join the minister in urging its swift passage.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals)
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan for the Minister of Justice

moved:

That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that, with respect to Bill C-10B, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals), this House continues to disagree with the Senate's insistence on amendment numbered 2 and disagrees with the Senate's amendments numbered 3 and 4. This House notes that there is agreement in both Houses on the need for cruelty to animals legislation to continue to recognize reasonable and generally accepted practices involving animals. After careful consideration, this House remains convinced that the Bill should be passed in the form it approved on June 6, 2003.

(1) This House does not agree with the amendment numbered 2 (replace “kills without lawful excuse” with “causes unnecessary death”), on which the Senate is insisting. This House is of the view that the defence of “without lawful excuse” has been interpreted by the case law as a flexible, broad defence that is commonly employed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It has been the subject of interpretation by Courts for many years, and is now well understood and fairly and consistently applied by courts in criminal trials. This defence has a longstanding presence in the Criminal Code, including being available since 1953 for the offence of killing animals that are kept for a lawful purpose. The House is convinced that the defence of “lawful excuse” offers clear and sufficient protection for lawful purposes for killing animals. There are no authorities that suggest that this defence is unclear or does not cover the range of situations to which it is meant to apply. For all of these reasons, this House remains convinced that maintaining the defence of “lawful excuse” in relation to offences for killing animals continues to be the best and most appropriate manner of safeguarding the legality of purposes for which animals are commonly killed.

The House disagrees with the Senate that the proposed amendment would provide better protection for legitimate activities. The House is of the view that the amendment would not bring any added clarity, and would give rise to confusion. The term “unnecessary” has been judicially interpreted to comprise two main components: (a) a lawful purpose for interacting with an animal, and (b) a requirement to use reasonable and proportionate means of accomplishing the objective (i.e. choice of means that do not cause avoidable pain). Only the first part of the legal test for “unnecessary” is relevant to offences of killing, namely whether there is a lawful purpose. It has been the law for many decades that persons who kill an animal without a lawful excuse are guilty of an offence. It has also been the law since 1953 that if they kill the animal with a lawful excuse, but in the course of doing so cause unnecessary pain, they are guilty of a second, separate offence. To collapse the elements of these two different offences into one will invite a re-interpretation of the well-developed test of “unnecessary” and will add confusion, rather than clarity, to the law.

(2) This House does not agree with the modified version of amendment numbered 3 (creating a defence for traditional aboriginal practices), on which the Senate is insisting. This House appreciates the recent clarification of an ambiguous component of the amendment, and agrees with the Senate that traditional aboriginal practices that cause “no more pain than is reasonably necessary” should be lawful. However, this House does not agree that the proposed amendment is necessary. Aboriginal practices that do not cause unnecessary pain are not currently offences and will not become offences under the Bill. This House believes that the Bill, as worded, already achieves the objective sought by the Senate.

This House remains convinced that creating a defence for this purpose is not legally necessary and may create unintended mischief. Any act that has a legitimate purpose and does not cause unnecessary pain does not fall within the definition of the crime, and cannot be the subject of an offence. A defence only applies where the conduct actually falls within the definition of the crime and is excused for other reasons. It is illogical and confusing to create a defence for actions that do not constitute a crime. More specifically, as causing unnecessary pain is not a crime, it is not meaningful to create a defence for Aboriginal persons who cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary. In addition, there is no need to mention aboriginal practices specifically; the law is already flexible enough to consider all fact situations and contexts.

The House remains convinced that the wording and effect of the amendment are ambiguous and unclear. For example, there is no clarity as to what “traditional practices” are in the criminal law context and whether there is sufficient clarity to guide the police in their law enforcement duties. In the absence of a demonstrated need for clarification in the law, this amendment could also create mischief by generating a different test for liability for Aboriginal persons. This House does not believe that the law would be improved by creating a defence that is legally unnecessary and has the potential to confuse, rather than clarify, the interpretation of the offences.

(3) This House does not agree with the amended version of amendment numbered 4 (the defences in subsection 429(2)). The defences of legal justification, excuse and colour of right set out in subsection 429(2) of the Criminal Code are applicable to a multitude of different kinds of offences including offences of animal cruelty. The defences apply differently depending on the elements of the offence under consideration. The phrase “to the extent that they are relevant” is included to indicate to the courts that the Bill is not intended to change the defences that are currently relevant to animal cruelty offences, or the way that they apply. It makes clear that the intention is to maintain the current availability and interpretation of defences, and not to alter it. This phrase sends a clear message to the courts that in any and all cases where the defences are currently relevant, they continue to be. Whether a particular defence is relevant will depend on the specific circumstance of each case. The phrase guarantees an accused access to these defences when they are relevant; it does not in any way limit access to defences that are relevant on the facts of the case. For these reasons, the House does not agree with the amended amendment proposed by the Senate.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals)
Government Orders

September 25th, 2003 / 5:05 p.m.

Northumberland
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce the debate on the message from the other place insisting on further amendments to Bill C-10B, an act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals).

Let me remind the House that we have been on a long journey with this bill. Animal cruelty amendments were originally introduced in 1999 in Bill C-7, a small omnibus criminal law amendment bill.

Bill C-17 died on the Order Paper when Parliament prorogued in 2000 without having completed second reading.

In March 2001 the government introduced Bill C-15, a new and larger omnibus criminal law bill containing the animal cruelty amendments. Some revisions had been made to the amendments to clarify the scope and the intent of the measures. Subsequently, the House split Bill C-15 in 2001 and the animal cruelty amendments and other amendments became known as Bill C-15B. The House passed Bill C-15B in June 2002. It died again when Parliament prorogued that summer.

In October 2002 the bill was reintroduced as Bill C-10 and referred directly to the other place. In November the other place referred Bill C-10 to the committee on legal and constitutional affairs with an instruction to split the bill into two portions. The animal cruelty amendments became known as Bill C-10B.

Committee hearings in the other place commenced in early December 2002 and concluded on May 15, 2003. Bill C-10B then received third reading and was passed in the other place on May 29, with five amendments.

The House debated the amendments on June 6, 2003. The House accepted the amendment to the definition of animal and a small technical amendment to the French version of the bill.

It also accepted the spirit of the amendment that made express reference to the defences of legal justification, excuse and colour of right, with a modification that removed an unconstitutional reverse onus and cross-referenced the currently applicable subsection 429(2) instead of reproducing the defences because this more clearly would indicate to the courts that existing case law should continue to apply to this new regime.

However, the House rejected the other two amendments that came from the other place. One of these was an amendment that would have replaced the offence of killing an animal without lawful excuse with the offence of causing unnecessary death to an animal. The other amendment was one that would have provided an express defence for aboriginal practices that do not cause more pain than is necessary. Both amendments were rejected on the grounds that, first, they were legally unnecessary; second, they were confusing; and third, had unclear legal effect.

The House urged the other place to pass the bill in the form in which the House approved it. A message was sent to the other place to acquaint them with the position of the House.

The other place considered that message and we are now in receipt of its response. The other place is insisting on the two amendments that the House rejected, with a small revision to the aboriginal defence amendment, and would further modify the legal justification, excuse and colour of right amendment adopted by the House.

The government's motion before us today makes clear that the government does not support the amendments that the other place is insisting upon. The House rejected two of them in June and continues to oppose them. As for the proposed change to the colour of right amendment, the government opposes that as well.

These animal cruelty amendments have been before Parliament in one form or another for nearly four years. A lot of hard work and discussions have taken place over that time between the government, and various individuals and groups concerned with the legislation.

In an effort to clarify the law as much as possible, even if the clarification was not required as a matter of law, the legislation has been amended three times already since it was first introduced in 1999.

In the view of the government, the form of the bill passed by the House in June satisfies the remaining concern of the stakeholders that have followed the progress of the legislation. It constitutes a compromise that strikes the correct balance between clarifying the law as it applies to animal industries without diluting the purpose and effect of the legislation.

With the participation of the other place, this hard work and compromise has brought the bill to a form that animal welfare groups on the one side and animal industry groups on the other side can all support.

In short, it seems that no one is asking for these additional changes that the other place is insisting on. The other place may think they are crucial, but this House does not, nor do any of the organizations that represent the people who work with animals.

Let me address each of the amendments in turn. The first amendment would replace the offence of killing an animal without a lawful excuse with the new offence of causing unnecessary death to an animal.

The government is of the view that the defence of lawful excuse is a well developed and well understood defence. The courts have interpreted on many occasions that it is a flexible, broad defence that is commonly employed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is fairly and consistently applied by courts.

More importantly, since 1953, this defence has been applicable to the offence of killing animals that are kept for lawful purpose. It has a history in the context of animal cruelty offences.

The government is convinced and satisfied that the defence of lawful excuse offers adequate and unambiguous protection for lawful purposes for killing animals. No witnesses who testified at the committee of this House or of the other place testified that this defence was unclear or unsatisfactory.

For all of these reasons the government remains convinced that maintaining the defence of lawful excuse in relation to offences for killing animals continues to be the best and most appropriate manner of safeguarding the legality of purposes for which animals are commonly killed.

Further, the government does not believe that the proposal of the other place would improve the law. In fact, it is likely that the proposal would actually give rise to confusion and uncertainty. The proposal would use the term “unnecessary” to apply to killings, but the term “unnecessary” as it has been judicially interpreted does not logically apply to the act of killing. “Unnecessary” is currently only applicable to the acts of causing pain, suffering or injury. It has two main elements: first, a lawful purpose for interacting with an animal; and second, a requirement to use reasonable and proportionate means when accomplishing this objective.

It is clear that in terms of the act of killing only the first part of the test for “unnecessary” is relevant and logically applicable. The question is, was there a lawful purpose? To ask the question about reasonable means makes no sense. It is not a qualitative assessment but rather a yes or no question about whether there was a good reason for the killing. This is why the defence of lawful excuse works and the concept of “unnecessary” does not.

It is currently an offence to kill an animal without a lawful excuse. It is also an offence to kill an animal with a lawful excuse but in a manner that causes it unnecessary pain. These are currently two distinct and separate offences.

The proposal would fold the elements of these two different offences into each other. This could lead to a reinterpretation of the well developed test of “unnecessary”. In short, this will add confusion rather than clarity to the law. For these reasons the government does not accept this amendment.

With respect to the second amendment, the amendment which would create a defence for traditional aboriginal practices, the government does recognize that a small change was made that removed an element that was overly broad. The amendment would create a defence for traditional aboriginal practices that cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary. The government agrees that this should indeed be the case and in fact already is the case. Therefore, the amendment is not necessary.

By virtue of the way the offence is defined, it is already the law that aboriginal practices, that cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary, are not currently offences. If we cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary, we are not causing unnecessary pain, which is what the offence requires. If we are not committing an offence, we do not need a defence. Nothing in Bill C-10B will change this.

The government believes that the existing law and the bill, without the new and special defence, already achieve the objective sought by the other place.

There is no need to mention aboriginal practices specifically. The law is already flexible enough to consider all situations and contexts. In addition, by adding a new and special defence for aboriginal practices when one is not necessary, this proposal could unintentionally create mischief.

It is confusing to create a defence for actions that are not a crime. The government does not believe that the law would be improved by creating a defence that is legally unnecessary and has the potential to confuse rather than clarify the interpretation of the offences.

The final proposed amendment in the message from the other place relates to the defences of legal justification, excuse and colour of right set out in subsection 429(2). The proposal would remove the phrase “to the extent that they are relevant” from the amendment that was passed by this House in June. The government believes that these words are helpful and should remain.

The defences in subsection 429(2) of the Criminal Code apply to a variety of different offences, including animal cruelty. The inclusion of the phrase “to the extent that they are relevant” is intended to signal to the courts that the existing manner of applying those defences to animal cruelty offences should not change. It makes clear that the intention is to maintain the status quo, not to alter it.

The words are clear and not capable of being misunderstood. The defences are available in any and all cases where they are relevant. The relevance of a defence to a particular case depends on the specific circumstances and the facts of that case. The phrase guarantees an accused access to these defences when they are relevant. It does not limit or otherwise take away a defence that could be raised.

There can be no possible unfairness to an accused person to be denied a defence that is not relevant. That is just common sense. For these reasons, the government does not agree with the amended amendment proposed by the other place.

The government would once again like to thank the other place for giving Bill C-10B such thorough consideration and attention, but the government believes that the time has come to pass Bill C-10B in the form this House approved in June.

This bill already safeguards humane and reasonable practices involving animals and has the support of groups representing hunters, farmers, fishers, animal researchers, and those representing the welfare of animals. There is a tremendous degree of consensus now and a strong desire on the part of these organizations and hundreds of thousands of Canadians to see the bill become law.

I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of the government's message which rejects any further amendments and requests that the other place pass Bill C-10B as quickly as possible.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals)
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the minister for giving us a wonderful legal speech, including legalese galore. One has to really think hard about some of these things, especially when one says that if killing is done without unnecessary pain, then it is done without unnecessary pain. That is awfully close to circular reasoning, but I guess that is what lawyers do in court and that is one of the things that is necessary to make our legal system work.

I would like to comment on Bill C-10B, cruelty to animals. In general it would be fair to say that the purpose of any such law would be to prevent the abuse of animals, the infliction of unnecessary pain, in fact to assure the humane treatment of animals in all instances. On the other hand, it should also serve to protect people who use animals in normal everyday living and they should hopefully, by our laws, be prevented from being continually dragged into the courts and having to defend themselves against practices which are judged by some others to be cruel, yet they are practices which have been used for many years.

I think for example back when I was a youngster. I know that probably, Madam Speaker, you tire of my stories from my youth, but we did among other things have animals on the farm, obviously. We had cows, pigs, horses, sheep, chickens and on occasion we had geese. Without those animals in those years, we would not have been able to live. They provided us with, in some case, the bare necessities of life, including food and other things.

I remember very fondly, even though at that time there were no laws that governed this, my dad particularly was very careful that we treated our animals with respect. We did not treat them as if they were humans, by no means, but we treated them in such a way that they did not have to endure unnecessary pain.

I know occasionally animals, especially large animals like cows, have to be dealt with rather harshly because they have to be controlled to prevent human lives in the barn from risk. I know for example that when we had bulls on the farm, they always had rings in their noses. When we took the bull out, we had a rope around his neck but we also had a rope through that ring. If he misbehaved, then there would be a tug on the ring on the nose. It was a very good persuader. He always followed us exactly the way he was supposed to because he wanted to avoid that pain.

Now the question is, is it painful to have a ring in the nose of an animal? Is that cruel? Should a person go to jail if he does that or be fined? I say that is much to be preferred to having one of the children in the family, of which I was one, suffer injury or death. We had to do these things to control these animals. Of course, once they are trained, they behave reasonably well and normally we do not have to take these extraordinary efforts.

It would be a tough sell to say that having a ring through one's nose is an act of cruelty because all we have to do is go down to the mall nowadays and we will see many teenagers and even older with rings in their noses and, dare I say it, in a whole bunch of other places, which really boggles the mind in my view, but then I guess I am a little old fashioned.

In any case it is very important that we continue to permit those who deal in animal husbandry to do so without fear of being prosecuted and to have to spend a lot of time in court and a lot of money on lawyers.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals)
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from May 2, 2003, consideration of the motion that Bill C-406, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak today on Bill C-406, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, introduced by my NDP colleague, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

There are many parts to this initiative, including the eligibility criteria, reducing the hours—350 hours—, the calculation of benefits—66% of insurable income based on the ten weeks with the highest earnings—, the waiting period, the duration of benefits, the added benefits respecting local unemployment and so forth.

The question is, why is the member for Acadie—Bathurst proposing such radical revisions, because there are significant changes in the bill? He is doing so to return us to something approaching the unemployment insurance program that we used to have and we do not have any longer.

Simply and shortly put, the changes over the past decade are not only shortchanging Canadians, as far as we are concerned it amounts to absolute highway robbery. Women, for example, are being robbed by the program. Only one-third of women today who actually apply for employment insurance receive any of the benefits. It is a gender gap that is widening by the day.

Overall, EI coverage has been cut in half over the past number of years. In 1992, for example, 78% of Canadians who applied for what was then called unemployment insurance actually received some benefits. Today, 62% of people who apply do not qualify. It is an astounding reversal in a relatively short period of time.

This happened at precisely the same time that we underwent changes in our economy in terms of the way we looked at work and the way work looked at many Canadians. There was a move over the past decade to more seasonal employment, especially in the hospitality sector and in the tourism industry. Women were particularly impacted as a result of this changing of the nature of work.

Before the UI program was so drastically overhauled in 1996, there was virtually no difference between the eligibility of men and women over the age of 45. Today, 45% of women in that demographic group do not qualify for employment insurance benefits when they apply, compared to 58% of men who qualify. That is a significant difference. It is clear that the government has been operating the employment insurance program in its own interest rather than in the interest of the people who are paying into the plan through their payroll deductions.

It is totally unacceptable, in the opinion of the member for Acadie—Bathurst and all of his colleagues in this caucus, to have rules that prevent the majority of people from accessing employment insurance that they actually have paid for.

I think of the seasonal adjustment workers program where we have migrants who come in from Mexico and other countries in the Caribbean and who work in our fields harvesting crops. They pay employment insurance with no possibility of ever receiving any benefits from it and no possibility of ever being repaid what they are owed.

Also, there is no offsetting program that says “Okay you are paying EI benefits, we are not able to pay that out, but we could do some other things”. There is nothing. It is just a straight money grab by the federal government. I am mostly interested in talking about the impact here in Canada, but that is an aside.

Women deserve equal access, and to do that changes must be made to the program's design. That is part of what is being proposed in this private member's bill this afternoon.

We are doing it because the cost to workers, families and communities is enormous. In my riding alone, Statistics Canada estimates that the loss to the people in the riding of Palliser amounts to about $12.5 million a year and $200 million a year in the entire province of Saskatchewan. That is a significant amount of money.

I know the Canadian Alliance is opposed to the bill, perhaps for other reasons. However when I look at Calgary and Edmonton, which is where the Alliance has been strong, where its lairs are, it amounts to about half a billion dollars a year that are forgone in employment insurance for people who live in those two major cities. It is over $200 million a year according to numbers that have been forwarded to the Canadian Labour Congress based on work done by Statistics Canada.

It is mind-boggling. It is the communities that are affected but it really impacts on the individual who has lost his or her job and is unable to collect employment insurance benefits.

It is obvious that the program needs more than a little tweaking. It needs a major and complete overhaul, which is what the member for Acadie--Bathurst is proposing in Bill C-406. The overhaul needs to be non-discriminatory and very clear and straightforward. It should also embody the KISS principle, as in keep it simple.

One of the key points in the bill, the basic 360 hours, should be enough to qualify for EI. This would replace the current patchwork system which, as I understand it, varies between 420 hours and 910 hours depending on where an individual works and the type of work being done. It changes from place to place. It changes from day to day. It is a mind-boggling system.

There should be flexible benefits. We should look at the hours worked in the months prior to lay off and the number of years the person has been in the labour force. We know that older workers, perhaps the ones over 45, have the most difficulty in finding work and being eligible for retraining programs. We think there should be guarantees for up to 18 months in benefits for people in those categories, and Bill C-406 reflects that.

It is time to extend regular benefits for apprenticeship training to everyone in the workforce. They need to sharpen their skills and knowledge. EI benefits should also be available to cover hours of work lost while in training or in job learning operations.

We need to balance work and family responsibilities for children and seniors. There is a growing need in this country for education, training and lifelong learning.

We believe that times are changing. Work has changed in the last 10 years and it will undoubtedly change in the next 10. Our employment insurance or unemployment insurance program must change with those times. We seem to have gone backwards when we need to be going forward. We need to keep up with the times so that people working in today's economy can count on receiving the benefits they need, the benefits to which they have contributed, when they need them.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for bringing this bill forward for discussion today.

Bill C-406 contains several elements intended to amend the Employment Insurance Act. These proposed amendments would expand the eligibility criteria; increase the benefits; eliminate the waiting period; increase the length of the benefit period, especially for claimants who live in high unemployment regions; eliminate any interest charges on penalties imposed for violating the act; and other changes are proposed as well.

My comments are not and should not be taken in any way to defend the status quo in terms of the act. There are changes that should be pursued, and certainly we would encourage those to be pursued, but I would emphasize that the member, and those who support this proposal, would like to appear to be supportive of the unemployed worker. I do not believe they are.

We should know with certainty what the effects of our spending on social programs, such as health care, aboriginal welfare and unemployment insurance, are having. Too often in the past this country has endured the perverse effects of poorly designed social programs on a fiscal level but those who truly suffer, when we throw money at a problem, at a social malaise, without thought, are the recipients of that money themselves.

One only has to take a look at the perpetual welfare dependency of many aboriginal communities across the country since the introduction and expansion of these programs in the 1960s: the concurrent alcoholism, the drug dependency, the abuse and the suicide rate particularly among teenagers. Aboriginal elders consistently claim that the single most damaging social policy for first nations people in communities was the introduction of welfare.

Let us set aside for a moment the escalating financial costs for the aboriginal welfare programs which have exploded to about $2 billion annually. Let us forget about the good things that we could do with those resources were they available to us. We should go to these communities and examine the real costs, the human costs, the abused children, the beaten women, the fetal alcohol syndrome, then talk to the elders and understand where these problems originated.

After one does that, I urge any member of the House to tell me that he or she does not wish that we could go back and change things in terms of the way those programs were designed. Anyone with an ounce of genuine compassion would immediately recognize that the improper design of a social program can create far greater problems than it would ever solve.

The member has not outlined any costs for his proposals. He asks us to demonstrate how much we care by being genuine with other people's money but he has not in any way addressed what the long term consequences of these changes he proposes might be.

We must have the courage here to ask what the effects will be and whether there are real measurable outcomes that will benefit Canadian people and contributors themselves in the future.

I would like to quote a noted Canadian, the premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, who said:

Canada is the only country that I know in the world that offers such generous programs that there is absolutely no incentive in return to divert yourself towards education or training...the truth is that the generosity of Canada has in many ways been the principal impediment to our growth.

If we follow the member's suggestions there will be a variety of outcomes he apparently has not even considered: the distortion of employment patterns; the enticements to create short term, low skilled jobs in declining industries; the temptation for young people to forgo education and training opportunities, why sacrifice income and leisure for training; the discouraging of full year, highly productive jobs in growth industries; the potential for long term dependence; the increased use by employers of short term lay off strategies; the tendency to avoid work once EI does kick in; and the fact that unemployment insurance may be a factor in Canada's rising level of unemployment and our lower level of output.

The member fails to even recognize the need to consider the impact of these proposed changes on families and children. There is nothing more important than children. Each decision we make in this Chamber will have an impact in some way on the future of Canadian children.

The decisions we make around the design of social programs, such as social assistance and EI, are particularly significant in their impact on Canadian families.

The OECD economic working group has been sharply critical of the government's decisions on these issues. In the Economic Survey of Canada 2003, released a couple of weeks ago, it stated:

Features of the employment insurance (EI) programme also contribute to the high unemployment rate. EI has moved well beyond providing income support during unexpected spells of unemployment and has become a major vehicle for delivering family, social and regional assistance.

The criticism of the abolition of worker experience rating contained in the previous survey remains valid. Other aspects of the system also need to be improved. The qualification period is short by international standards, while variations in eligibility rules between high and low unemployment regions discourage internal labour mobility, leading to persistent differences across the country and thus higher structural unemployment.

The member's proposed changes would see the qualification period, already criticized for being too short, reduced even further. The member has also failed to recognize that his changes would further exacerbate Canada's high structural unemployment and would very likely hurt the very region from which he comes.

Furthermore, the OECD recommends that EI should:

--include stronger training and job search requirements and greater use of initial case management and diversion programmes, as the countries that have been most successful in cutting unemployment are those that have improved both incentives and enforcement.

Those who advocate for changes, such as the member proposes in his bill, are promoting higher benefit costs. The government does not pay these costs. rather, the employed workers and the working poor, in particular, will be expected to pay for these changes.

We must remember that this is not a government fund. It is a pooled insurance fund. The money comes from the workers' paycheques and the costs reduce the workers' take home pay.

We must also remember that this has an impact on the families of this country, especially those who work full time in lower wage positions.

We must not make the same mistakes as the former finance minister here, who is responsible for allowing the overpayments to balloon to over $45 billion. That is not the sign of a good money manager.

This is the same finance minister who inherited a robust economy, which was none of his doing. He balanced the books, supposedly, but he did it by cutting health care and education transfers to the provinces and then blaming them for the problems that resulted. He signed the cheques for the out of control billion dollar gun registry, while at the same cutting things like agricultural research and infrastructure.

Again, we must not forget that he overcharged working Canadians and small business people by $45 billion on their employment insurance premiums and that he used the money as a slush fund for Liberal patronage projects.

We must remember that this is not our money. This is the working money for working Canadians. It is not a slush fund for the former finance minister to play with. It is not a slush fund for MPs to throw around like confetti. It belongs to Canadian families. When it is left in the hands of working parents it supports Canada's children.

When the design of a social program discourages employees in their search for work, when it discourages them in the pursuit of their training, when it discourages employers from hiring and when it discourages young people from choosing further education we have a problem. We must make no mistake about it, we have these problems in Canada right now.

In fact, today the Vancouver Sun reported on a study done by Statistics Canada which supports the charge that the “EI system is too generous and discourages the unemployed from actively seeking work”.

Most of the proposals in the bill, but not all, will simply make matters worse. They are cloaked in the guise of compassion. They are nothing of the kind. They are more of the shortsighted, misguided, vote buying tactics that have been practised by successive federal governments throughout the last quarter of a century.

The perverse outcome of which has been elevated structural unemployment in this country. Most tragic to our young people is the loss to Canadian children of the role models they need: the role model of a parent dedicated to working, committed to education and always mindful and in pursuit of the glorious potential that Canada has to offer each of its citizens; appreciative of a hand up but never looking for a handout.