House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was department.

Topics

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his speech the member stated that the federal government does not contribute one cent to the EI program but that the premiums are paid by the employees and employers, and self-employed people pay the full amount.

In fact all Canadians who participate in the EI program have federal tax credits for all of the premiums that they do pay. Effectively the federal government is subsidizing, and even for the lowest income Canadians, at a 17% federal tax rate. That is available on every dollar of premium paid. There certainly is a substantial support level by the Government of Canada with regard to EI.

The member also commented about provincial jurisdiction which is something we could talk about for days. There is health care, social welfare, post-secondary education and equalization issues, and the list could go on. Every level of government has a role to play.

I put it in the context that the measure of success of a country is not the measure of its economic condition but rather the measure of the health and well-being of its people. Each and every jurisdiction has a role to play in that. Sometimes the federal government has a direct role to play through research, for instance health research, whereas with regard to health, the provinces deliver the health system. There are also child care and community issues, et cetera.

We all have a role to play in some way, fashion or form because the best interest of the country is to ensure that the health and well-being of Canadians continue to improve. Does the member not agree that there is a very important role for each and every level of government throughout Canada to play in terms of the health and well-being of Canadians?

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to remind the hon. member that the Canadian Constitution of 1867 provided that these were provincial jurisdictions. It was only in 1940 that the legislation was changed, with the provinces' consent, to deal with the crisis brought about by the war and all that. Everything would get back to normal over time, but only the employment insurance fund was affected. That is one thing.

On the one hand, with all the infringements that have taken place since, we can see what road the government has taken, using this control over the EI fund to chip away increasingly at the portion of the jurisdiction that belonged to the provinces.

On the other hand, the hon. member said that the government is subsidizing at a 17% federal tax rate the contributions made by employees and employers; this may be true for some workers while others cannot necessarily take advantage of that. All in all, will the hon. member agree with me that, during the past year, of the surplus that was used for other purposes $3.3 billion came exclusively from that fund?

Only employers and employees contribute to this fund. Will the member not agree with me that they are contributing a lot and that this is turning into a disguised tax?

According to the Auditor General, over the past eight years, the portion of the surplus that was used for purposes other than what the EI fund was intended for totalled approximately $46 billion.

If the hon. member wants to deny that, that is his business. This is a fact, however, and facts are stubborn; they tend to catch up to you. For him to say that the government is contributing to the fund is a major mistake. He should look at how the fund is administered and how the surpluses are used.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my colleague had to say. He is a very thoughtful member of Parliament and I suspect we share many common values, but we do disagree on one important matter. This is the federal government and we are functioning in what is arguably the most efficient and decentralized confederation in the world.

We have to think about what are the appropriate roles of the federal government. I try to go to some trouble to point out that I have no wish to move into areas of provincial jurisdiction. However, in a confederation each partner--and in this case there are three, the municipalities, which my colleague also mentioned, the provinces and the federal government--should be strong. We should protect our own rights and responsibilities, but we should all contribute and ideally cooperate together.

The value of a confederation over a very centralized state is that all sorts of diversity can exist within the same unit. We have the possibility therefore to capture diverse best practices or to avoid worst practices going on. We can capture these things very quickly. One of the reasons we are doing so well as a nation at the present time is just that. Wherever creativity occurs in the country we are able to seize upon it.

We can look at different parts. My colleague knows I greatly admire what Quebec has done in the area of child care. I greatly admire the fact that the CEGEPs are free; there are two free years of college. Those are two examples of best practices. However in the province of Quebec the students pay the highest non-tuition fees in colleges of anywhere in the country. I think that is something which people from Quebec and the rest of the country should note.

I am just giving examples of best practices and less good practices. Quebec is the only province in which university enrolment has levelled out.

British Columbia has a very interesting system of colleges, university colleges and universities. It has very good linkages between the different levels of post-secondary education. I think we should learn from that. On the other hand tuition fees in B.C. are going up in a way that they have not in Quebec. The province of Alberta is an example in apprenticeships. There are these advantages out there.

Does my colleague not think that the new arrangement--and the department existed before but it is now being divided--will not allow us all, including Quebec and Alberta, and other provinces and territories which I could have mentioned, to see what is being done well in one part of the country and take advantage of it, and to see what is not being done so well in another part of the country and to avoid those problems? Is that not a role for the federal government in a system like ours?

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and his speech, which offers me an opportunity to add to what I have said.

For example, where the provinces cover tuition, students—and we see this even in Quebec—do everything they can to avoid having to pay new fees.

The hon. member must understand that the problem related to funding, whether health or education, lies in the fact that the bulk of the money collected from the taxpayer according to the responsibilities allocated to the federal and provincial levels, goes to the federal level rather than the provincial. Thus the fiscal imbalance. Everyone acknowledges this except the Prime Minister. It is also obvious from the facts being mentioned in today's speeches.

The Secretary of State is telling us that the provinces and the federal level are forces and resources that complement each other, and this cannot help but be beneficial to both. That might be the case if the funds came back to the provinces in a proper proportion to their responsibilities.

When only one of the parties benefits, only one out of eleven, while the others all get it in the neck, unless they have strong economies like some of the resource-rich western provinces—and we are happy for them—there is only one conclusion: this is not the case for everyone, Quebec included.

I would therefore like the hon. member to explain how he reached the conclusion he has just presented to us. Earlier, I referred to stubborn facts. Fiscal imbalance is one of those, and is acknowledged by everybody. It is not a stubborn fact just because I say so, but because this has been recognized for some years, even by this House. So what is his reaction to that? And how does he plan to deal with it? He cannot just pass it off as a matter of continuing education, as he has. Everything has be to examined thoroughly, the EI fund included.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to obtain the consent of the House to share my time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the member have unanimous consent to share his time?

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party, I lend our support to the creation of this new department. As has been said already in the introductory comments, this is a reconstitution of a department that existed before.

I want to speak very directly to one component of this department and underline why I want to give particular emphasis to its saliency, and that is to say that it will narrow the focus and make someone quite accountable for housing.

Today is National Housing Day and I want to say something about that in the context of this new ministerial responsibility we will get for housing. I want to do it particularly by focusing on the situation in housing in the nation's capital.

I had occasion not long ago to go to the capitals of many Scandinavian countries, to Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. I did not do a systematic tour, but I can say that I did not see the signs of homelessness on the downtown streets of those cities that I do on the streets five minutes away from the House of Commons.

One of the reasons for that is that all of those countries, like the majority of industrial countries, have a national housing program. We are the only one in the G-7 without continuing, coherent, stable funding allocated for affordable housing and that is a national disgrace.

This began in 1993 when Brian Mulroney abolished the federal housing program. The error was compounded and worsened when the province of Ontario elected a neo-Conservative government in Mr. Harris who immediately scrapped provincial programs that disastrously affected Ottawa, the nation's capital.

It should not surprise us that in the 1990s in the nation's capital, and I am not only talking about my riding but I am talking about the whole city, we actually had a decline of some 4,000 rental units in the city precisely at the time when the population was mushrooming. This was an inevitable consequence of two governments, one at the federal level and one at the provincial level, abandoning their responsibility for housing.

I want to say to my federal Liberal colleagues that it was a Liberal government in 1976 when I was here that took on the obligations of an international treaty, the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which has within it the obligation of the federal government to move to ensure that as a matter of right, not option, Canadians are entitled to housing. We have had that obligation since 1976 but it certainly has not been lived up to.

Finally, three years ago, eight years after the Liberals were elected in 1993, a new housing program was brought in with $25,000 per unit put on the table, but for that to go out into the community the provinces had to match the funding. Only three provinces took it up. Needless to say, the Conservative government in Ontario did not. Therefore not a single new housing unit in the affordable category has been built in the nation's capital since that period.

I want to say what is needed and what this new department with the new minister responsible ought to be doing. Here in the nation's capital 13,000 households, most of them with children, are waiting for social housing. The waiting period is six to eight years.

On a typical night here in the nation's capital 1,000 people go to bed in a homeless shelter. There are 250,000 Canadians nationally who are homeless. This, I repeat, for a rich industrial democracy is a national disgrace.

What do we say should be put in its place? The government actually boasts about having $61 billion in surpluses and that it has run surpluses for seven years in a row. We actually have a Minister of Finance who boasts that we have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7. Is that not incredible? We have 250,000 homeless families, over a million poor kids and 1,000 homeless people who sleep in shelters here in the nation's capital every night and the Minister of Finance has $61 billion in surpluses but has not spent a bloody cent on the housing that we desperately need in the country and in the nation's capital.

I hope the new minister recognizes that our international obligation in housing is a social right, which should lead to other initiatives. For example, we need a 10 year housing program that would include the building of 20,000 new, affordable units, particularly in the co-op and non-profit sector so low income Canadians could then have access to housing.

We should have lots of renewal of existing housing stock that is in virtual slum conditions. Those houses should be rebuilt and re-established. We could have a program for some 100,000 units there.

As a result of the low income position of many Canadians, we should provide rent supplements for all Canadians. My own party has calculated that there are at least 40,000 low income tenants.

I want to comment about my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois. As a Canadian I understand nationalist sentiment very well. I understand that nationalist sentiment and social democratic philosophy can go hand in hand. Although I respect the arguments put forward by my colleague across the way, it deeply disturbs me, as a social democrat, to note that whenever there is a conflict between a nationalist impulse and a social democratic obligation for everyone from coast to coast, it is always, for the Bloc Québécois, the nationalist impulse that wins out. I appeal to those members to once in a while say that surely our social democracy from time to time should transcend old constitutional restrictions that were first put in place on this continent in the 19th century.

There are Quebeckers and Canadians in the other provinces who are poor. They all have to work together from time to time to benefit everyone.

We have money. We have an accumulated surplus of $61 billion. This has gone on for seven years. We have another surplus now. We now have an obligation to get on with the job of creating affordable housing units that thousands of Canadians, many of them here in the national capital, badly need.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a big fan of housing. I spent five years with the housing authority in my own riding where we had rent supplements and rent geared to income programs, half of which were family units and half of which were seniors units. The member will know that the seniors units always are the best kept and the best managed because they take care of them. Unfortunately, 75% of the other units are occupied by mother led families with children. This makes it kind of difficult because there are more problems than simply the need for housing.

I am appealing for some words of wisdom from the member to provide the House with a little insight into the aspect of social housing versus affordable housing.

In my view, social housing has more dimensions simply because it is available but people will not take it because they are afraid, or they have mental health problems or there are other exacerbating circumstances that do not seem to mesh people with the social housing stock that is available.

Affordable housing, on the other hand, is not affordable for the people who legitimately need housing in major centres like Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver. The fact is that housing in urban centres cannot possibly be affordable for those who are living from paycheque to paycheque on a basic minimum wage.

We have to recognize that both of these situations require a more comprehensive approach than just simply providing affordable housing. We have to somehow find a way to get affordable housing to be really affordable but not necessarily in the major urban centres of Canada but to appreciate that there are places to go outside of downtown urban Canada.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is a serious one and I will try to give a serious answer. I think that the approach to housing has to be multi-faceted, as the member suggests.

The reality is that every industrial country has recognized that for roughly 85% of a population the market serves, the market provides housing. Whether we are talking about western European countries or North American countries, the market can serve most of us with above average incomes, or as I say, the top 85% of income. Then there is the other 15%, including, as the member alluded to, the working poor. We are talking about the working poor and other people who may need social housing. I think we need a mix of low income housing, non-profits and co-op housing. We need social housing and it can be provided in an esthetically and functionally attractive way. It is quite acceptable.

In the city of Ottawa we have the LeBreton flats project, a major project in the centre of the city. It happens to be in my riding. I have worked with the NCC on this. There will be a combination of housing in this project.

The member asked if, in effect, we should have all the low income people move out of the centres of the cities. I say no. Any decent city, any good city, ought to have a mix of all income and occupational groups. What we are doing on federal land in the LeBreton flats housing project is that 75% will be marketable housing, housing according to market prices, another 25% will be affordable housing, for the bottom 30% or so of income earners, and then within that there will be an additional 9% or 10% social housing. They will all be able to live as they ought to be able to live.

The people who lived in LeBreton flats before this were low income people, so rather than ostracize them to the suburbs where they do not necessarily want to go, we can accommodate all income groups in an urban development, as we should. But in addition to providing different kinds of housing, as I have said, this also will require, and let us face it, income rent supplements for a lot of low income Canadians to enable them to get by.

Men and women working in the city as couples, if they are at minimum wage, cannot afford things. They have to make decisions. “Do we pay our rent or do we buy food?”, they have to ask. The only way we will be able to deal in a sensible and civilized way with people like that who are working hard is to have some kind of rent supplement program like other industrial countries have.

The member is right. We need a multi-faceted approach to resolving this over time. It is exactly this kind of approach that our party favours and which, I will say with all due respect, his own party has abandoned for the past dozen years.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member from Ottawa Centre for agreeing to share his time with me.

He talked a lot about the issue of housing and the homeless. I want to add to what he was saying and I want to talk about how Bill C-23 relates to persons with disabilities in the country. This is an extremely important issue. The NDP is in favour of referring this motion to committee. What we want in particular is for extensive consultations to be held in committee. We want there to be consultations with labour groups across the country, as well as women, first nations, young people and student groups. Equally important: we want groups representing persons with disabilities to be consulted as well.

Some aspects of this legislation have a profound affect on the issue of persons with disabilities. If we improve their situation somehow, then we might improve the general situation for persons with disabilities in Canada. However, if we do nothing, if the legislation is nothing but policy, then their situation will not change at all. After 10 years of having a Liberal government, their situation is not good.

I do want to speak to this bill and speak to the vigilance that is required when we are talking about persons with disabilities in this country. We know that persons with disabilities represent almost 13% of the population and that currently there is a 50% unemployment rate among people with disabilities and one of the highest suicide rates in the country. In my region, homelessness has tripled over the past three years. We also know that nearly half of those who are homeless across this land are people with disabilities.

Obviously their situation is very serious and we need to address it. We need to address it immediately. We are hoping that we will have consultations through the process of the examination of this bill in committee so that we can actually start to address these long-standing issues for people with disabilities.

One thing we would like to see developed is a labour market strategy for persons with disabilities, which would include a plan for increased participation in the federal government workforce. As we know, increasing employment for the disabled would go a long way in improving the quality of living of these Canadians.

We would like to see an independent commissioner reporting directly to Parliament who would monitor the federal government's compliance, in all departments, with policies for persons with disabilities. This commissioner of course could further advise ministers about the effect on persons with disabilities of upcoming legislation or regulations.

We know that increased employment will not be sufficient. Expanded measures are also needed to help employers other than the federal government make workplaces accessible and accommodate persons with disabilities.

Some of the facts are pretty daunting when we look at persons with disabilities in this country. We know that they represent 12% to 13% of the Canadian population and that government programs are the main source of income for the majority of persons with disabilities who are not in the labour force.

I have mentioned the employment rate for persons with disabilities. It is almost half that of their non-disabled peers.

As we know, additional costs are associated with living with a disability and persons with disabilities typically need higher incomes to maintain an adequate standard of living.

Working age persons with disabilities get only 76% of the average household after tax income of all Canadians.

As well, cost has been cited as the main barrier preventing individuals from obtaining the assistive devices they need to be integrated into the workforce.

Less than one-half of the 1.9 million persons with disabilities in Canada over the age of 15 receive the help they require with activities of daily living. Forty-five per cent say they need more help than they are receiving and 10% say that they receive no help, this after more than 10 years of Liberal government. It is clear that the situation for persons with disabilities in this country is shameful.

When we look at sources of income, either from paid employment or from income support, we see that the majority of persons with disabilities continues to experience chronic poverty and inaccessible support.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience food insecurity in this country than their non-disabled peers are, and as I mentioned earlier, 41% of those using food banks have either a disability or a long term illness.

The situation is deplorable. There is so much more we can do. At the committee stage we are hoping to raise some of these issues that are important in the consideration of human resources and social development. More could be done in regard to greater recognition of the extra costs involved in leading a life with a disability. We could look at an expansion of the special opportunity--

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. As it is now 2 p.m., we will go to statements by members.

Canadian Heritage
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on an issue that gained prominence recently when Canada's highest military honour was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Victoria Cross, awarded to Corporal Fred Topham for his gallantry while a medic in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, is threatened with becoming a part of a private foreign collection.

Therefore, I am pleased that a provision has been found which will help prevent the export of Canada's military heritage. I find it encouraging that the money is being raised to keep Corporal Topham's medal in Canada.

I thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Minister of Canadian Heritage for their support of the schoolchildren and veterans working to ensure that Corporal Topham's Victoria Cross remains in Canada.

The Government of Canada shares the responsibility to preserve for future generations those symbols of our freedom that were won through the valour of great Canadians like Corporal Fred Topham.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Statements By Members

November 22nd, 2004 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, this past Saturday marked the 18 month anniversary of the BSE border closure, a direct result of this Liberal government's mismanagement of the critical trading relationship with the United States.

To mark that anniversary, the Prime Minister predicted that the border could remain closed for months to come despite the assurance from the U.S. president that the White House will begin to consider the process of reopening our border.

This is finally a piece of welcome news to the thousands of Canadians for whom the BSE crisis has been a nightmare, but it took 18 months to get the president to agree to a specific action because of the poor relationships of both the Prime Minister and his predecessor.

Where is the comprehensive and strategic action plan for a sophisticated political relationship with our largest trading partner, on which Canada's prosperity rests so heavily? Why has the government not been working for the past 10 years to develop the next generation of institutions and wide-reaching political relationships across the United States that would help inoculate against these kinds of border crises?

Canada's national interests demand and deserve better.

Status of Women
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 1929, thanks to five tenacious individuals, women were recognized as persons in Canada. As a result, Canadian women became eligible for appointment to the Senate, like men were. Today, 65 of the 308 members of the House of Commons, or 20%, are women. This facilitated access to other public positions.

Many women blend work outside the home and family life. All the associations dealing with women's issues must however receive more recognition and more tangible support from governments.

Historically, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been recognized as engines of social development. Thus, we encourage women's associations in Quebec, Canada and the far north, which campaign for the well-being and prosperity of all. These people deserve our respect for their tremendous contribution.