House of Commons Hansard #73 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was leader.

Topics

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the address by my colleague, the hon. member for Peterborough. He listed an enormous number of things that the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development of Canada presumably will be able to undertake, if this legislation is passed. That is what we kept hearing. I guess, if that is true, it speaks to how many wonderful things the department has not been doing so far. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek because the department has been doing most of those things thus far.

We have already seen the division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under Bill C-31 and Bill C-32, similar to what we have with the legislation in front of us, which the government undertook a year and a half ago, and it was of absolutely no consequence whatsoever with the government. When it was finally implemented by the counterpart legislation for foreign affairs, it was defeated, yet the government forged ahead with the division in any event. It did not make any difference.

Are we not wasting our time today debating this, since it seems to have little consequence to what the government actually does?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am faced with very well-informed people today because they are members of the committee. I thank my colleague for his work on it.

I will say first off that a big difference between the two legislations, and I know less naturally about the other legislation, is that this legislation has its roots in a unanimous report of a standing committee fully supported in the House of Commons. There was an inquiry into the previous department, as was mentioned by my predecessor.

We are looking at something which the House can be proud of because the House of Commons said that one of the recommendations of the committee report, which was accepted by the House, was that the old department should be divided. This is a serious matter from that point of view.

From the point of view of public policy, which goes back to the previous question, it is almost inevitable in our society that government departments operate on a silo basis. They work within themselves and have a mandate. One of the difficulties is reaching out between them. In this case, we have two more effective silos, but we also have useful links between them which help us with the problems which silos create.

It is a product of the House of Commons, not a government initiative. It has been carried out in an effective way. For this one department, it is my great hope, if one reads the mission statement of HRSD, that this will department become not the delivery mechanism but the point of contact for everything to do with lifelong learning in the federal system. That alone is something needed in Ottawa.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, one question I wanted to asked was touched on briefly by the parliamentary secretary in answer to another question about why we were doing this and was it because these good things were not being done in the past.

The parliamentary secretary very astutely pointed out that the government was listening quite attentively and implementing a unanimous recommendation made by a committee of the House of Commons, albeit in a previous Parliament.

Is this not an example of how well our Prime Minister has listened to the advice given by a committee of the House of Commons? It appears to me, very objectively, to be precisely the case.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I tried to make that point. As it happened, I was chair of the standing committee concerned and was very involved with it. Although this is a minority Parliament we are used to consultation and discussion to a certain point, in those days that was not common. There was a great deal of consultation in committee and it was agreed that a revision of some sort was one of the solutions to the problems at which the committee was looking. The House of Commons agreed to it.

I would agree that this was a large example of individual members of the House of Commons having an influence all the way through to massive changes in a structure which involved $60 billion in the previous department.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague from Peterborough to make the following correction. The work of the Standing Committee—

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I regret to interrupt the hon. member, but the question and comment period has expired. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is even better since I can make the correction myself. I think that my hon. colleague is seriously mistaken when he says that the other opposition parties also agree to divide the department into two.

I want to remind my colleague that the work done previously was conducted within a framework totally different from the one to which this bill refers. The bill makes reference to concepts with which the Bloc Québécois completely disagrees, in particular the Employment Insurance Commission and infringements in areas of jurisdiction relating to on-the-job training and so forth. I have already talked about this, as has my colleague for Québec.

Contrary to what the member opposite said, we disagree for very specific reasons. This bill ignores the consensus reached during the previous session of Parliament.

The Bloc Québécois will vote against the bill for many reasons. The first of which, as I mentioned, is that it infringes in areas under provincial jurisdiction. For Quebec, this is serious, particularly with regard to labour management.

And there is the EI fund also. The Prime Minister used the proposed division of the former Department of Human Resources Development into two departments to establish the Department of Social Development and maintain the EI fund in its present form, in spite of the opposition from all stakeholders in the Canadian society, and the Quebec society in particular. I will come back to that. This does not reflect the consensuses at all. In this regard, the Prime Minister is on the wrong track, as I will show.

The Prime Minister split the department the very day he was sworn in. He did so in a hurry,because of the recent election. It was obvious that the matter had been thought over for quite some time. I will come back later to the intention behind this decision, because it is clearly different from the one set out by our distinguished colleague from Peterborough.

This bill adds to existing bureaucracy. It does not introduce anything new or additional in terms of the services to be delivered through this Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, which will be duplicated, naturally, with the Department of Social Development.

One objective pursued by the government with this Department of Human Resources and Skills Development is to mobilize the private sector, non-governmental organizations and communities on community development, the social economy and social development. There are also plans for an adequate income security system for seniors, persons with disabilities, families and children and for integrated policy development and program delivery.

This adds nothing to the services currently provided. It only adds a second head, grafted on to the existing body, namely the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, and chops off arms. Nothing is added to the existing structure, but the unstated purpose is the one in the latest budget.

I remind the House that because this is about splitting a department in two, we cannot limit our discussion to Bill C-23, which concerns the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. We must also, logically, discuss Bill C-22, which proposes the creation of the Department of Social Development.

I remind the House that there are currently 14,000 public servants in this department, which has a budget of $20 billion. The Department of Social Development will absorb 12,000 of these public servants, and have a budget of $53 billion. Up to that point, all is well. The same employees will be assigned to the same places, but spread out in service points across the country. These service points will include management of 105 employment insurance processing centres and 11 income security programs processing centres .

It is said that the Department of Social Development will use exactly the same channels to provide exactly the same services as before. What has changed, then? A minister has been added to a institution providing services under the social safety net, namely employment insurance, income security for the aged, job-related training, for a category of sectors, and more than I can mention.

Let us move on and look closer at what they want to do with that. The answer is found in the budget.

All stakeholders in our society are crying out for the creation of an independent employment insurance fund, with improvements. That fund would be managed by the two groups that contribute to it, namely employees and employers. We want contributions to cover employment insurance program requirement, on the order of $12 billion to $15 billion annually.

The surpluses accumulated in the employment insurance fund over the past eight years total close to $47 billion. What happened to these surpluses? They were used for other purposes. How were they generated? They were generated with the employment insurance benefits that were not paid to individuals who were entitled to these benefits and who had paid for them.

A claim is being made in this regard. I will get back to it later on, in the context of the bill and the standing committee.

My distinguished colleague often makes reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. On February 15, the committee tabled in this House a unanimous report recommending the establishment of an employment insurance fund administered by those who contribute to it, namely employers and employees. This committee, to which my distinguished colleague is referring, unanimously asked the government to put back in the employment insurance fund the $46 billion or $47 billion that have been diverted over the past several years.

Not only is this measure not provided in the budget or in this bill, the contrary that is confirmed. This bill provides for an employment insurance commission consisting of four commissioners. Just think: there will be one representative for employers, one for the some 18 or 19 million workers across the country who contribute to employment insurance, and two government representatives. This does not change anything in the current situation.

Needless to say the government will continue to divert the funds intended for employment insurance.

There are two stances. First we are told in this House that the issue of EI is a priority and the government will take care of it. Timid measures were presented suggesting that the best was yet to come. Nothing specific happens. When we look at the bill before us we realize they want to keep something that is unacceptable.

Let us move along. I come now to the budget. That is why I say we need to know exactly what this government is trying to achieve. Not only does it not want to put back into the EI fund what it took out, and not only does it not want to improve EI benefits, even though it has the means to do so, but it is giving the expenditure review committee the mandate to use various cuts to save $2 billion or $3 billion in the EI program. Where will this money be taken? It will be taken from the EI contributions.

In other words, the government is doing indirectly what the House will not allow it to do directly. Before the holidays, this House voted on a resolution as follows:

From now on, the employment insurance fund is to be used only for employment insurance purposes and the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, is given the mandate to recommend to the House the measures to take to ensure that this fund is indeed used only for employment insurance.

Instead of complying with the wishes of the House, the government is in the process of doing indirectly what the House told it not to do directly. This is totally unacceptable.

Where will this money be taken from? They say it will come from programs or structures. They say contributions might be reduced. Yet, that is not what those who are contributing to EI are saying. Maintain the contributions at the current rate and improve the program. What is happening now is totally unacceptable.

When we look at the unstated intention of this bill, to truly understand its meaning, we have to look at other documents. I have here a highly important document in which most of the recommendations were made unanimously. It is quite recent and concerns current factual data bases, not different data form the last Parliament. It is the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The first eight recommendations are unanimous. They recommend an independent fund so the government will no longer be able to dip into it for other purposes. It will be administered by the contributors and used to improve the benefits of those who pay into it. This has to mean something more solid than what the parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Peterborough, is referring to.

In recent weeks in this House, we have also heard the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development delighting in the measures she had presented here relating to Employment Insurance. The Quebec lieutenant, the transport minister, added that any reasonable unemployed person would find the budget and the government's position excellent. They were about the only two to say so.

In connection with this, the minister referred to a New Brunswick worker who claimed to be delighted with it. If anyone wants to consult them, I have some letters here that are addressed to the minister.

They come from the Canadian Labour Congress. The president sent me a copy, along with a letter. The CLC represents 3 million workers. The Quebec component alone represents over 1 million. Many are going short everywhere in the country, in Quebec in particular: the jobless, youth centres, women's shelters, municipalities. Just about every group of society is represented among those millions of workers and people working with those who are suffering because of the government's inadequate, restrictive and inhumane measures.

It is unacceptable, and at the same time ironic. It is a clear illustration of what goes on in this place and the mess things are in. As we have seen, while the government has the ability to make people poor, it is, in a muddled sort of manner, proposing measures to the members of this House that will make them rich.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Our benefits have been reduced.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
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5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Yes, benefits can be reduced. As for the hon. member's benefits, perhaps he should explain that to the unemployed. His colleagues are not even able to meet the unemployed. Their Quebec lieutenant is incapable of meeting with the unemployed; he refuses to meet with them. Here, they say that the unemployed are happy. If they were happy, they would go to talk with them.

The people of Acadie—Bathurst, in the editorial in L'Acadie nouvelle , are giving the minister a rough ride over her position. In almost all municipalities where there are seasonal workers, editorials are saying that it is unacceptable and lacking in common sense. One journalist even suggested that we find a way to spend half an hour with the minister to try to get her to listen to reason. That is what is in the newspapers. The minister has not talked about that. She has said that everyone was happy with it. The Minister of Transport, the Quebec lieutenant, and the minister are not representative of what people are going through in rural ridings, especially with respect to seasonal employment in businesses, whether it is textiles, shoes, softwood lumber and our forest workers, seniors or the POWA. Recommendation 13 in the committee report, which I have here, was passed unanimously. There is nothing here, except insensitivity to these situations. It is inconceivable.

They could say there is no money. That is not true. Not only is there money, but that money belongs to the contributors. As a result, people are in need. Families have been impoverished this way, and here the government struts about, concerned about our salary increase and so on, when there are people in need who have paid their contributions. Really!

I would be embarrassed. I think they lack courage. Here, all is well. Passing measures like this that impoverish people, and then refusing—

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, as reported (with amendment) from the committee and of Motion No. 1.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

March 23rd, 2005 / 5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but it being 5:29 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on Motion No. 1 at the report stage of Bill C-30.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on Motion No. 1, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Parliament of Canada Act
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6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I declare Motion No. 1 carried.

Parliament of Canada Act
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6:05 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Parliament of Canada Act
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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to apply the votes with Liberal members voting in favour of the motion before us, except for those who wish to be recorded against.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?