House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer my colleague's question, I will say that what we mostly want is to ensure that the funds allocated to the improvement of the quality of life of our fellow citizens are shared fairly and above all be brought back under the authority of the Government of Quebec.

In the course of my last interventions, I have had opportunities to allude, in particular, to the closing of factories in my riding or in the neighbouring riding. We end up with a shipyard, for example, where the majority of workers are more than 50 years old. In the neighbouring riding, there is a factory where, the majority of the 600 workers were more than 50 years old.

We had thus to ensure that social measures were really implemented, through specific programs, to ensure that those people could enjoy, for however many years, a certain quality of life. In short, if there is disagreement, it is not so much over the principle as the fact that there are already services, within each level of government, likely to help all those who face specific problems.

In the case of Quebec, we want the money, because we are able to manage it better. Indeed, we are better aware of the regional problems in Quebec. You must always look at what is going on. To be frank, let me tell you that, in my riding there is practically no such thing as seasonal unemployment. This means...

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I am sorry to interrupt the member. The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-23, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. We must all keep in mind that, in order to know where we are headed, we must know where we are coming from. It is also important to understand where the employment insurance program in Canada comes from. Let us never forget that employment insurance is a social measure. Under the Constitution of 1867, that responsibility was given to the provinces. This was the reality then.

In 1940, the provinces and the federal government agreed to transfer the unemployment insurance program to the federal government. Why did this take place in 1940? It was the beginning of World War II and we had just gone through the 1929 Great Depression. So, the decision to give to the federal government the responsibility for unemployment insurance was made by all the partners under the Constitution.

Of course, over the years, things got a little messy, because the federal government wanted to throw its weight around and go further than what had been negotiated in 1940, which involved only unemployment insurance. This is why we are now debating this issue and why the Bloc Québécois is being asked why it is so dead set against the establishment of two new departments. In fact, the responsibility given to the federal government in 1940 has become a huge snowball that will never stop rolling, for the simple reason that, politically speaking, Ottawa is finding it profitable to invest in all kinds of jurisdictions that do not belong to it. This is where we have a problem.

Indeed, Bill C-23 mentions all the activities that these two new separate departments of Human Resources and Skills Development could perform. These include areas such as employment programs, the workplace, learning, the homeless and the redistribution of benefits in all these sectors. This is where we say “Wait a minute: except for employment insurance, the other jurisdictions or initiatives mentioned in the bill come under the provinces”.

Some might ask us why we are acting like the great defenders of the provinces' interests. Actually, it is because provinces are closer to the real life issues the public faces. The simple truth is that the better service can only be provided by the level of government which is closer to the public. So, the Quebec government is closer to the interests of Quebeckers. Moreover, this is all in accordance with the various jurisdictions which were established in the Constitution of 1867.

This needs to be constantly explained because, too often, Liberal members centralize and are absolutely bent on getting good press or on investing in jurisdictions they do not possess. Obviously, that is the fight we are waging. In addition, the worthiest fight has to do with the jurisdiction that was granted to the federal government in 1940, namely unemployment insurance, which has become employment insurance. Instead of splitting this department and trying to achieve a better distribution of the enormous work load that this department has taken on above and beyond the jurisdictions that were set in 1940, we should look for ways to improve the employment insurance system. This all the Bloc and all its members in this House are asking for.

I know that my colleagues have been doing so ever since the Bloc Québécois arrived here in this House, that is, in 1993. It is a fact that the government is making money at the expense of the workers as far as employment insurance is concerned. Since 1996, the federal government has not put one red cent into it. The funds come from contributions by employers and workers, which are making the fund bigger.

The federal government of course tells us there is no fund. It is absolutely right. It has done away with it. So these contributions merely go into the coffers of the government and are used for other purposes. Other purposes have been created in response to numerous criticisms. This is why the Department of Human Resources has become so large and why it is getting involved in so many things that are not its responsibility. In fact, with a surplus of $3 billion or $4 billion, an average of $3.5 billion from the EI fund since 1996, it has decided to invest in such areas of learning, work, homelessness and back to work programs.

All of these are provincial jurisdictions. All it needed to do, if it wanted to administer properly, and this was the advice the government was given, was to create an independent fund administered in large part by employer and employee representatives. They would be better placed to decide what an EI system ought to be like.

In fact, quite simply, as its name suggests, it is insurance paid into by employees and employers. It is likely the only insurance program where contributors do not have a word to say about it. The federal government is the one to decide what it is going to do with the premiums it collects, and it has decided to invest them in things other than improvements to the program.

I do not want to hear how the program is not in particular need of improvement. We know that, in sectors like forestry, agriculture and tourism, work is seasonal, not the worker but the work. It is not the fault of the people in these areas, who work for three, four, five or six months a year, that they have no work, it is the nature of the sector. It operates when it is profitable, when it will make money. Often in forestry, agriculture or tourism, the weather is the determining factor.

That is why all the members of the Bloc Québécois, the men and women who represent Quebeckers, were prepared to improve this system. We have tabled bills. My learned colleagues, critics for various issues, have tabled bills to amend the employment insurance system.

What the Liberal government is proposing is not changes or improvements to the employment insurance system. It is proposing to change the departments. I understand that.

I had a chance to go through the directory of federal agencies. The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development has more than a dozen separate sections each with its own internal auditor. Just imagine. When you read the directory, you notice that each section of this department has an internal auditor and yet they find a way, year in year out, to be reprimanded by the auditor general.

In other words, the department has become so big that they want to split it up. The problem is that there are too many programs to manage. Why is that? It is because the federal Liberal government has made too much money and has given this department so many new responsibilities that it now wants to divide the department in two. It will probably be easier to monitor it that way.

It is very difficult to manage. Earlier I heard the Liberal member tell us that people agreed. Yes, we agree and we understand. The department has become so big that it has to be divided in two to make two even bigger snowballs. That is what will happen if we do not stop them.

That is why the Bloc Québécois is here to say, and to make the Liberal members realize, that they have to stop. The departments they are in the process of creating, Human Resources and Skills Development, have jurisdictions that do not belong them. These jurisdictions belong to the provinces, as stipulated in the Constitution Act, 1867.

From the outset I have been saying that we have to look to our history if we want to know where we are headed. This department was created by a single agreement in 1940. It had only one responsibility and that was to manage unemployment insurance at the time. Today we have a bill to divide the department in two because it has become too big with too many responsibilities that do not belong to it.

Listen to the Bloc Québécois for once. Give money to the provinces, give up some of your responsibilities and there will be enough of a department left to manage employment insurance, which should thereby be improved for seasonal workers.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I know the members of the Bloc are very interested in the Canada-Quebec labour market agreement. The federal government and the Government of Quebec are interested in the labour market development agreement mechanism.

The Government of Quebec has submitted expenses under the Canada-Quebec labour market agreement for workplace based training for employed workers. This is the first formal request to use the employment insurance part II funds to help employers train employed people. Officials of both governments are having discussions aimed at clarifying admissible expenses for workplace training for employed workers.

We are committed to support eligible unemployed persons through employment insurance part II. Annual funding for Quebec has increased considerably since 1996. It was $427 million in 1996-97. In the last year it is almost $600 million. This is particularly notable when over the same period of time, unemployment rates have fallen substantially, from 11.9% in 1996 to 7.2% in June of this year, as has the province of Quebec social assistant client caseload.

In 2004-05 Quebec will again receive $596 million under employment insurance part II. Does the member not think we are debating the formation of a new streamlined department which will focus more effectively on the problems of the unemployed? Why is his party not supporting the development of a better mechanism to deliver funds of this magnitude?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I thank my Liberal colleague for his question. This will give me the opportunity to speak about a certain sector.

He gave the example of transfer in the workplace. As a matter of fact, the Quebec government created local employment centres. It is true that there was an agreement with the federal government, but it is the Quebec government that manages this sector, while the federal government gives it a cheque.

This is a very good example. He should go on and use the example that he just gave to show that this is done in Quebec and was done at the time of the Parti Québécois government, in cooperation with the Government of Canada. It shows that we are not always quarrelling with the federal government. However, each one respected its jurisdictions.

What I am saying to my colleague is that, if the government had done so in all the areas of jurisdiction mentioned in this bill, it would not have to divide the department in two to create two big snowballs. Instead, it would only approve funds and transfer them to the provinces, which could provide the service to the public in the best way possible.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been here all day, and I understand the interest and concern of Bloc members for the unemployed, I understand their concern that people, who are in transition between jobs or who are at the end of their career too early, be served as well as is humanly possible. I am less sympathetic to some of their arguments, but I understand their concerns about jurisdiction.

I favour lifelong learning and it is a matter for every Canadian. Education is the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. However, one of the roles of the federal government is to encourage the best practices in lifelong learning across the country. I do not see a federal government moving in and taking over from Quebec any jurisdiction of lifelong learning.

I understand the member's concerns. We are debating a specific bill, Bill C-23 on the creation of this new department, which I believe will be more effective in delivering the federal government's roles in these various areas. There is no change in jurisdiction. The new department is taking over part of the jurisdiction of the programs of the old department, which the House unanimously agreed was too large and to diverse.

Given that there is no change in jurisdiction and given there is no greater infringement in jurisdiction in the new department than there was in the old, why is the Bloc is opposing this legislation? In committee the Bloc members unanimously supported it, and the House of Commons recommended the division of the old department.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would need a lot of time to reply to the hon. member's question and to set him straight as some would say.

However, I will simply use one example to explain why we are opposed. I will just give the example of the proposed employment insurance commission in the bill.

Bloc Québécois members have always been clear in this House. They have been clear since 1993. They are asking that the employment insurance fund be put in the hands of employers' and employees' representatives.

Once again, the government is proposing an employment insurance commission, which would consist of four commissioners appointed by the federal government, when it should be the employees' and employers' representatives who appoint their respective commissioners. Why? Because since 1996, the federal government has not invested one penny in the fund. Of course, the problem is that it will not let the fund be managed by those who contribute to it; instead, it manages it and it keeps the money.

Auditor General's Report
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Auditor General of Canada for the year 2004.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3) (g) , this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Har Ranjit Singh Kalkat
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform all members in the House that Lieutenant General H.R.S. Kalkat of India is visiting Canada and is in Ottawa. He and his wife are visiting their daughter who is a Canadian citizen.

Prior to his retirement, General Kalkat was the top general in charge of the eastern command in India. He is known for his expertise in mountain warfare and exceptional organizational skills. He is a veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. General Kalkat is a graduate of the Defence Service Staff College and the National Defence College, and holds a post-graduate degree in military service. He also served as the military, naval and air adviser of the south Pacific region and was posted to Australia from 1982-86.

I ask all hon. members to welcome Lieutenant General H.R.S. Kalkat to Canada. He is a distinguished soldier, diplomat and citizen of India.

Alberta
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate Premier Ralph Klein and his Conservative team on their 10th consecutive win in Alberta.

I would especially like to congratulate Doug Griffiths, LeRoy Johnson, the hon. Shirley McClellan, Richard Marz, Ray Prins, George Rogers, Lyle Oberg and Carol Haley for their resounding victories which are a direct testimony of the dedication and hard work of their campaigns, and also their hard work as incumbent MLAs.

Yesterday the people of Alberta also democratically elected three people to represent them in the Senate. We now encourage the Prime Minister to do the right thing and appoint these three deserving candidates to the Senate.

Because the Conservative Party of Canada wholeheartedly agrees with other Albertans, we too want an effective, elected and equally representated Senate. Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric about the democratic deficit, we are not confident the Prime Minister agrees. For all his talk about democratic reform, there appears to be very little action. Hopefully, this will change with this Alberta Senate election.

Mining Industry
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Bonin Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, mineral exploration is the lifeblood of the Canadian mining industry. Over the last 25 years, the systematic decline in reserves provides clear evidence of the need for a more competitive environment to stimulate greater exploration and development.

In October 2000 the Liberal government introduced the investment tax credit for exploration in Canada. The estimated $1 billion raised by the program has had a significant impact in the economic prosperity of rural and northern regions.

In Sudbury there have been several successful discoveries by junior mineral exploration companies financed through this program: two by FNX Mining and Dynatec Corporation joint venture and one by Wallbridge Mining.

Today, being Mining Day on the Hill, I call upon the government to continue with this program and give assurances to Canadians living in rural and northern regions that they too can enjoy the benefits of a good paying job while living in some of the most beautiful areas of this great country.

Université Laval
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Clavet Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, Université Laval has added a new jewel to its crown. It has just received a prestigious award from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Scotiabank-AUCC Award for Excellence in Internationalization.

This latest honour recognizes its excellence in providing students with experience in developing countries while earning credits towards their degrees through Le stage international et interculturel.

After three years in existence, Laval's program has established 22 partnerships in 11 developing countries. So far, 137 students have benefited from this program, and have helped their host countries reap over $215,000 in spin-offs and services.

Congratulations to Laval, a university with its roots in the riding of Louis-Hébert and an international reputation that is the pride of all Quebeckers.

Fire Safety
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to introduce members to an organization called Staying Alive Inc. Staying Alive is a non profit, volunteer driven program that promotes fire safety education for children. It is a Winnipeg based initiative started by Shane Ferguson, a local firefighter.

Shane started the program after a terrible house fire cost the life a young girl who decided to hide under the bed to escape the smoke. The family had working smoke alarms in the home but no home escape plan that the child could follow.

Shane and a group of 100 dedicated volunteers have developed an interactive CD-ROM called The Great Escape. It helps children learn what to do at home when the smoke alarm sounds. Staying Alive is now in the process of developing a curriculum so that The Great Escape can be taught in every primary school in Canada.

Congratulations to Shane, Dan Choy, Mitch Dorge and Jeff Derraugh, and the many others for creating such a worthwhile and most important lifesaving program.

The Environment
Statements By Members

November 23rd, 2004 / 2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, 30 years ago the Government of Canada said no to the transport of tankers through Head Harbour Passage to a proposed oil refinery in Eastport, Maine, U.S.A. The government of the day took the strong position to protect Canada's environment by refusing the passage of tankers through internal Canadian waters, the only route possible. The project died.

Today a similar project is being considered in the United States. This time it is a liquefied natural gas project. Canada has everything to lose and nothing to gain from this proposal.

I urge the Government of Canada to once again stand up and protect our citizens and our environment, and say no to the transport of LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage.

Welland Canal
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Walt Lastewka St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, on November 30 the Niagara region will celebrate William Hamilton Meritt Day and the 175th anniversary of the Welland Canal.

Every year approximately 3,000 ocean and lake vessels carry 40 million tonnes of cargo. Ships move up and down the Niagara Escarpment through the brilliant, yet simple, engineering feat of utilizing an abundant water source and the earth's gravity.

In 1824 William Hamilton Meritt, the great-great-great-grandfather of St. Catharines' current mayor, Tim Rigby, had a vision for his community: to link Lake Ontario and Lake Erie for the purpose of trade. This canal would bypass Niagara Falls and would provide a more reliable water supply for the saw and gristmills along Twelve Mile Creek. Construction began on November 24, 1824, and it was officially opened in 1829. The canal generated a shipbuilding industry which bolstered the local economy and saw three additional canals built between 1842 and 1932.

I am sure that all members will join me in wishing the Welland Canal Committee a happy 175th anniversary. May it bring another 175 years of prosperity to the Niagara region.