House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member here on our side of the House.

The headline in the Toronto Star reads, “PM's spending spree smacks of desperation”. The member made some very good points in terms of the kind of spending that has gone on. I would like the member to elaborate on a quote from today's Toronto Star which reads:

--the image is of a federal government creating new problems as it tries to buy its way out of trouble. And that, too, is reality.

That is a very serious statement. I would like the member to elaborate on that because it is causing new problems here in Canada.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bill Casey North Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, this budget is not going to cause as much trouble for us as it will for generations down the road, because a lot of these items are locked in. These are operational programs that the government is announcing. They are locked in and they will carry on for a very long time. If at the end of the day we have a deficit this year, and I do not know how we can avoid it with the rate at which the government is spending now, then we will pay, our children will pay and our grandchildren will pay for a very long time.

This comes down to common sense. No responsible Minister of Finance and no responsible Prime Minister would say on Saturday night, “Okay, we will give you 6,000 million dollars, and okay, we'll give the NDP 4.6 thousand million dollars for the 19 votes to get us through the next couple of months”. It is incredibly irresponsible. It lacks all common sense and responsibility.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

London North Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Fontana Minister of Labour and Housing

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the member how much I respect him and his hard work, but let me try to deal with some issues that I need to bring to his attention.

First, I wonder if the member would compare the Conservative record of Mr. Mulroney from 1984 to 1993, during which there were probably eight or ten consecutive deficit budgets, as high as $42 billion each and every year, with the Prime Minister's budgets. From 1997 to 2005 we have had eight consecutive surplus budgets.

Second, I am sure that the member has done so much on foreign aid. I appreciate his work in the Middle East. This money is not to buy NDP votes. Part of this money is to go to people. It is to go to people for foreign aid, housing and the environment. We are talking about putting the money in for people. I wonder if he would address the foreign aid issue, because I know he has been very passionate about this.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bill Casey North Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the hon. minister too. However, having said that, let me note that he said this money is not to buy the NDP's votes. Why was it not in Bill C-43? Why did it only crop up in Bill C-48 when the government needed the 19 votes so it could get its budget passed? Two weeks ago, it was not there. It is there now just because the Liberals need to buy NDP votes.

As for the Conservative record, that is a good point. I wish we had had more success than we did when we were in power, but there is not an expert or an economist in the country who does not give the credit for balancing the budget to the establishment of the GST and free trade. I challenge the minister to stand up and tell us about one innovative or imaginative policy, such as the GST or free trade, that the Liberals came up with and that helped them balance the budget. They balanced the budget on the backs of Brian Mulroney's accomplishments.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, Canadian Heritage; the hon. member for Langley, Human Resources.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie
Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, as Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, I am very happy to be here today to speak about Bill C-48.

This bill enables us to work with Canadians to enhance their quality of life by encouraging the development of a highly skilled workforce and an efficient labour market.

That in essence captures what we are trying to achieve in partnership with the provinces and territories and with key stakeholders across the country. It underscores our commitment to make the government work to build a strong economy so the benefits of citizenship in our great country touch every community, every family and every Canadian.

This new bill completes the budget implementation act and reflects the priorities of Canadians.

The emphasis on post-secondary education is a perfect example. Bill C-48 will enable us not only to maintain our excellent post-secondary education system but also to strengthen it in order to increase the learning opportunities for all Canadians. Learning is and will continue to be a priority for our government.

The importance accorded learning in this bill will help to create the conditions needed to ensure constant economic growth and enhance the prosperity of our country. It also shows our collective determination to ensure that all Canadians can contribute to the prosperity of the Canada of tomorrow.

Before outlining some of the main points in Bill C-48, let me first remind my hon. colleagues that it is another stone laid on the foundation of good governance. While other countries find themselves slipping back into deficits, we have delivered another balanced budget.

This is, in fact, the ninth consecutive balanced budget.

Thanks to consecutive budget surpluses, Canada boasts a solid credit rating and low interest and inflation rates. Among the G-7 countries, Canada has posted the strongest job growth in recent years.

The number of employed Canadians has risen continuously over the last 10 years. At present, the labour force participation rate is reaching unparalleled heights at 67.4%.

We are also very proud to note that, for a second time, the unemployment rate is at its lowest point in Canadian history. Our country's economic success enables us to invest in areas of crucial importance to Canadians, such as education and training.

Since skills and knowledge are the foundation for productivity, innovation and growth, we can be proud of the fact that, of all the countries in the world, Canada has the highest post-secondary education enrolment rate. The international studies that have been done, especially the Program for International Student Assessment, show that the literacy and numeracy skills of young Canadians compare favourably with those of young people in other countries.

Canada's education ministers have every reason to be proud of the quality of the instruction provided in our facilities. The successes that I just mentioned are a testament to the solid foundations that we have already built and are the fruit of all the investments made in learning and innovation over more than a decade.

As impressive as these facts and figures may be, there is no room for complacency. The reality is that not all Canadians share equality in this prosperity, nor are they currently able to fully seize opportunities in the 21st century knowledge economy.

In spite of Canada's high rates of post-secondary education attainment, there is still a significant pool of Canadian workers with low skill levels.

Some eight million working-age Canadians lack the literacy, numeracy and other skills needed to carve out a place in an increasingly demanding labour market. Illiteracy has a direct impact. It is estimated that a 1% increase in the level of literacy and numeracy would result in a 1.5% increase in GDP per inhabitant. Such an increase in productivity would translate into huge social and economic benefits for Canada.

Among Canadians, it is the older workers, aboriginals and new arrivals who face the most obstacles in getting employment. They have a considerably higher than average rate of unemployment even though we increasingly depend on them to fill the gaps left by the retiring baby boomers. When individuals have difficulties, society suffers. A good number of us are already hearing employers in our ridings say that they have difficulty meeting their human resources needs.

There is no general shortage in Canada, but there are difficulties in some regions, in certain trades and in the health and safety sectors. It is not just a question of finding workers. They have to have the necessary skills to meet the criteria of today's jobs, which are based on information and technology.

Given the demographic trends and the pressure from global competitiveness, we must focus on the quality of the labour force and set aside quantitative factors if we are to sustain economic growth. That means updating the skills of our current workforce and increasing learning opportunities for marginalized Canadians. Bill C-48 underscores the commitment of the Government of Canada to do so.

A progressive government works toward the common good. Bill C-48 creates a new avenue to increase access to education and training, which is central to participation in today's workplace and society at large and to the long term success of our country's economy.

Since we recognize that low-income earners and marginalized groups run a greater risk of exclusion, Bill C-48 sets priorities, including improved access to post-secondary education for students from low-income families.

These priorities build on changes to the Canada student loans program. As a government, we have a solid basis on which we can build, including the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation and the Canada education savings grant.

In addition, one of our priorities is to multiply skills development and learning opportunities for aboriginals. I want to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, for her hard work in this field. To reach our goal, we have implemented the aboriginal human resources development agreements and the aboriginal skills improvement program.

My department's role is to help close the employment gap by ensuring that aboriginals have the skills they need to prepare for, find and keep sustainable employment now and in the future.

At this time, we have two labour market program initiatives that are helping to significantly improve employment outcomes for aboriginal people: the aboriginal human resources development strategy and the aboriginal skills and employment partnerships program.

The aboriginal human resources development strategy shares many of these goals and objectives. It is designed to assist all aboriginals prepare for, find and keep employment.

The signatories to these agreements have created and are administering programs to increase the level of skills and learning, and participation in the labour market and Canadian society overall.

I should mention that my colleague the Minister of State and I have been impressed with the degree of support that the development strategy has received from aboriginal groups.

Aboriginal groups have publicly endorsed and praised the program for its recognition of the diversity of aboriginal Canadians, described by the Métis National Council at the Canada aboriginal round table as the “crown jewel in federal programming”, and by the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations as the federal government's “best kept secret”.

The program has a solid base to build upon. We have a labour market that is different than it was when it was first established in 1999, with new challenges and new opportunities. The new framework that I am proposing will take our aboriginal policies and programming into this labour market.

For its part, the aboriginal skills and employment partnerships program, a very new initiative, is proving to be an important means of contributing to aboriginal employment and supporting economic development projects near or within many aboriginal communities. To date, it is expected to support up to 11 projects, resulting in some 7,000 aboriginal people receiving training and more than an estimated 3,000 people obtaining employment.

I want to point out that investing in these areas is consistent with the advice being offered at the provincial level, where several recent studies have examined the challenges of post-secondary education. I want to further underline that any funds allocated to these areas must support national policy objectives in the area of post-secondary education and training.

I would like to remind hon. members that, in addition to the points I have raised today, our government has also invested $125 million in the Workplace Skills Strategy, in order make a closer connection between learning and work.

To that end, we are going to beef up Canadian training programs, support the implementation of new demand-driven skills development initiatives for people who are already employed, encourage dialogue on workplace skills-related issues through workplace partnerships comprised of business administrators, union leaders and trainer representatives.

Understanding that strong learning, literacy and essential skills are crucial in assisting workers adapt to changes in their workplaces and communities, the Government of Canada is investing $30 million in the national literacy secretariat. We are working cooperatively with provincial and territorial governments, employers, labour groups, communities, aboriginal people and voluntary organizations to improve the literacy and essential skills of Canadians.

We recently also invested $25 million in the Training Centre Infrastructure Fund.

These funds will be allocated to a three-year pilot project which will address the need for training centres to purchase up-to-date equipment and machinery . This will help tradespersons adapt to constantly changing skills requirements.

These major investments will not only help Canadians to achieve their full potential, they will also be beneficial to the economy and to society as a whole. This is one of the most dynamic periods we have ever experienced, a time when human creativity is bringing about major changes in the way our economy and our societies function.

Part of this means working within the global economy to ensure we are competitive with labour markets around the world. I am pleased that we were able to announce the internationally trained workers initiative on April 25. We have delivered on our Speech from the Throne commitment to improve the integration of immigrants and internationally trained Canadians into our workforce.

We have also announced a major investment of $85 million to facilitate foreign credential assessment and recognition.

What lies behind the changes is the need for experienced and qualified workers, in all professions and all sectors.

In order to enhance productivity we need to create more opportunities for people to acquire the knowledge and skills required for success in the economy of the 21st century. We also need to provide workers with the necessary tools to develop their skills or learn new ones in response to the changing economy.

And perhaps above all, we need to preserve our values of shared responsibility and our commitment to equality, which are what set us apart as a society.

I believe the points I have highlighted today reflect the kinds of investments Canadians value and the kind of society they want.

As we roll out our strategy for investing in people, we will be building a Canada in which citizens can acquire the skills they need to build their own futures, a country where corporations set the example by being innovative, a Canada where all members of the communities have an opportunity to reach their potential.

I am convinced that my hon. friends will agree, regardless of the party to which they belong, on the need for and the benefits of the initiatives proposed here and that they will support them.

Just one year ago, Canadians elected a minority government. In so doing, they clearly told us that they wanted the parties to work together for the good of all Canadians. Bill C-48 is a tangible example of this cooperation, a compromise reached in order to do something positive for our fellow Canadians.

I ask my hon. friends in this House to look very closely at Bill C-48, especially clause 2(1) ( b ). In the English version it says: “for supporting training programs and enhancing access to post-secondary education, to benefit, among others, aboriginal Canadians, an amount not exceeding $1.5 billion”. I do not know a single member elected to this House who would not be in favour of this clause.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be quick because I know my good friend from Prince George has an important question.

The minister who spoke is very much aware of what is taking place in our tourist business in Banff and Jasper regarding small business. Small business is spending thousands of dollars every year to advertise across Canada to get Canadians to take jobs. These Canadians do not particularly want these kinds of jobs because they are seasonal and in many cases it is not a place they can look forward to building a future. So we rely on overseas employment to come here annually.

I would like to know why, in this particular year, the minister and her office made it so miserably tough on small businesses by requiring far more than they have ever required before? These businesses supply housing, food, transportation and above minimum wage pay. Now they are required to fly them here, fly them back, and all kinds of additional requirements that these small businesses in these tourist areas can no longer afford to do.

Why does the minister and the government constantly hinder small businesses that are trying to thrive in these huge tourist communities and why do they cause these impediments? Why do they not strengthen small business through some efforts rather than cause them such grief?

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my fellow member raises the question of our foreign workers program. It is crystal clear that the rules of this program have not changed. First and foremost, our employers must make an effort to find Canadians, not only in their own communities but across the country.

As I was saying, even though the unemployment rate has greatly diminished in Canada, there are still Canadians who are looking for work and are ready to work in the tourism industry anywhere in the country.

There must be an effort, therefore, to attract Canadians to these jobs. Once employers demonstrate that they have made the necessary effort, we have to give permission to bring in foreign workers. When we bring in foreign workers in sectors where the work is more casual, we must ensure that these people have working conditions equal to those that would apply if Canadians were hired.

Every year foreign workers come to Canada to work in small business, tourism and even agriculture. In the summer, many foreign workers are hired all across the country to pick fruit and vegetables. We must ensure, however, that we have a good system for welcoming them and adequate working conditions.

These requirements have not changed over the years because, in my view, they are very much in keeping with the values of Canadians.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased with Bill C-48. It is something that I worked hard on in order to have more funding for post-secondary education and training. It was a commitment I made in my riding where post-secondary education is something of key importance to the people there.

I am glad that the bill we are debating today has an extra $1.5 billion for post-secondary education and training. It is something that was absolutely absent from the first budget proposal from the Liberals. In fact, the only measure for students was if the student happened to die, there might some be some debt relief on a student loan. This is a significant improvement to what was originally introduced.

I have a question for the minister about training programs. She spent a great deal of time this afternoon speaking about that and the importance of having a skilled and trained workforce in Canada. I have heard from representatives in the building trades that now it is often difficult to ensure that highly skilled Canadian workers get the jobs in Canada. We have seen her department approve applications from employers for temporary workers from overseas based solely on the idea that the workers from overseas would be cheaper. In fact, in some of the paperwork it boldly states that the workers would be cheaper.

I wonder what the minister is prepared to do to ensure that skilled Canadian workers get the jobs that are available in Canada and that workers are able to travel to those jobs in other parts of the country.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, first let me say that, while I appreciate the NDP's budget suggestions, I still want to correct my colleague's remarks at the start of his speech to the effect that it was thanks to his party that we will be investing in post-secondary education, which according to him, we had not done before.

This is taking the short-term view of our budget. A comprehensive look at the measures we have provided over the years for our students in this country reveals spending of over $4.7 billion on post-secondary education, either through direct assistance to students, through transfers to the provinces for teaching, through bursaries or through the bill we adopted most recently in this House on education savings. There was a lot of money.

We owe it to ourselves to do this because it is vital to our future here in Canada. People must have a good basic education.

Now, let us return once again to the program for older workers. In connection with what our employers have requested there are two different opinions. The Conservative Party says we are too demanding, the New Democratic party says we are not demanding enough. Let me tell you that the Liberals are somewhere between the two. We are balanced. We ensure, first and foremost, that jobs go to Canadians. However, when the jobs are given to foreign workers, it must be in complete security. We have to look at the health of these people and their working and living conditions. It is clear, however, that priority must go first and foremost to Canadians. That is the context in which we are working.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister talks about the Liberal way. I will tell her what the Liberal way is. The Liberal way is to drag one's feet on something until it gets to a crisis point and then do a little something.

When I came here in 1994, we advised the government that there would be a severe tradeskills crisis in this country. The baby boomers were going to be retiring and there was no adequate apprenticeship program underway in the country. We told the government that it had better address it as quickly as it could because it could become a crisis. The Liberals have done nothing for 12 years and now the crisis is even worse.

What the minister is proposing is just a minute amount of the work that the whole apprenticeship program needs to ensure that we are not going to be simply without electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, carpenters and other tradesmen because the Liberal's apprenticeship program has been a disaster. She knows it and she has nothing to be proud of when she is talking about this new program. Fix the old one first.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the member really believes in what he said right now, he has to explain why he does not vote for the budget. Why did he say a few weeks ago that it was a good budget? Why are opposition members changing their minds suddenly? They tell me that this is for the public interest. Never. This is for their own interest because there is personal ambition in all these people. We know that.

However, we are elected to serve Canadians first. If the member really wants to serve Canadians, he should vote with us on the budget that includes the increase in the post-secondary education program.

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order respecting proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 66(2)(b). There are three debates to be resumed in the next few days under that rule. Motion No. 5 will be on May 11, Motion No. 7 will be on May 13, and Motion No. 8 will be on May 16.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-48, an act to authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
Government Orders

May 10th, 2005 / 4:40 p.m.

London North Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Fontana Minister of Labour and Housing

Mr. Speaker, talking about height, the member is absolutely right. There is a chance for some small guys, maybe not in basketball but hopefully in politics. I have been here 16 years and I have enjoyed the company of some of my best friends, even on the other side of the House.

Before I begin my speech, I want to pick up on something the member for Cumberland--Colchester talked about being the highlight of the Conservative record between 1984 and 1993, that being the GST, which we all know how well that went over, and the free trade agreement. We all know it was the federal Liberal government that fixed those things.

Bill C-48 and the budget gives the government the opportunity to talk a bit about where it wants to spend taxpayer money. A budget is a lot more than just a piece of paper or a balancing act. One needs to put it into context first and foremost.

In 1993, 12 short years ago, this country was on the brink of bankruptcy. Interest rates were 14% and 18% and unemployment was high. Since 1997 the Liberal government has produced surplus budgets each and every year. This is the eighth surplus budget. The facts are on the table.

We have reduced taxes by $100 billion, especially to low and middle income Canadians. We have created more jobs than any country in the G-7, over 2.5 million jobs in the past number of years. Canada is ranked number one in the G-7. We have the lowest interest rates which have allowed people to build or buy homes. That is a fact.

Every single year that this government has put people first the country has done well. This budget does that again. It puts people first, which is what it is all about.

Bill C-48 will deliver another surplus budget but this is after having paid down the debt, after having reduced taxes and after having an economy that is the envy of the world with record growth and a number one quality of life.

Let us talk about where we should be investing people's money because that is what this comes down to. Where does the government want to put its money? Where does that party want to put its money?

I want to talk a bit about something I am very passionate about. I cannot believe that the Bloc critic would object to this budget with respect to housing because he was a cooperative housing president and knows how much housing speaks to his people. He wants to vote against this budget, especially the $1.6 billion for housing. Why? It is because his party wants to destroy this country, nothing more than that. It is the personal ambition of the Bloc leader.

I am really surprised because I know a lot of those members across the way, friends of mine over there, including the housing critic for the Conservative Party who has spoken about the Conservative Party supporting housing. What are those members going to do? They are going to vote against this budget. Why? It is because of personal ambition. It has nothing to do with governing. It has nothing to do with waiting for the commissioner to make a report. Those members think there is an opportunity here but Canadians are much smarter.

Canadians have said that they like the new budget and they like where the government is going to put their money. The Conservative Party is not listening to the people of Canada.

Let me talk a bit about housing because it affects every one of our communities. Eighty per cent of the people who live in this country has the option of buying a home but 16%, or 1.7 million, Canadians are looking for housing opportunities and there are very few.

What has this government done for housing over the past number of years? We have invested $1 billion in the homelessness initiative. We continue to invest $2 billion each and every year on social housing and co-operative housing. We have invested $1 billion since 2001 to build affordable housing across this country. This budget speaks about investing another $1.6 billion in every community. Why? It is because we believe we need to house Canadians.

I believe housing is the foundation of individual dignity. Everyone in this country needs an address. Without an address, without a home, without a place where a person can feel comfortable, secure, where no one can ever take it away, where the kids can go to bed at night not in crowded conditions, not in unsafe homes, not in insecure homes but in homes where they can sleep so they can learn tomorrow morning.

The men and women who are the working poor and who go to work each and every day fear that 30 days from now they may be out of a job or they may lose their house because they are paying 50%, 60%, 70% and 80% of their income toward housing.

Does housing matter to people? It does. Does it matter to the Liberal Party and to this government? Yes, it does. It is the foundation of families and communities. It is the foundation upon which neighbourhoods, cities and towns, rural and urban across this country from coast to coast to coast, are built, which is what the budget speaks to.

This budget speaks to housing, which is good economic policy, good social policy, good health policy, good environmental policy and good people policy. What we are talking about is investing in young people so they can buy their first home.

We want to invest in aboriginal housing because we all know how important it is to invest in our aboriginal Canadians on reserve and off reserve. They not only want to own and operate, they want to be part of the solution. They want aboriginal housing for themselves.

In the next couple of weeks cabinet will be having a retreat with the aboriginal leaders of this country to build an aboriginal housing system that will work for them and with them to ensure we deliver on the housing that they require.

We all know that over the past number of months since I became the minister of housing we have had an opportunity of working with each province. The province of Quebec, which is at the forefront of ensuring social housing, affordable housing and co-ops are there, has taken all the money we put on the table back in 2001 and 2003.

British Columbia has also made housing the number one priority. Larry Campbell, the mayor of Vancouver; Mayor Gérard Tremblay in Montreal; mayors and city councils across the country have made housing their number one issue. Why? It is because it is important for their families and for their communities. They have implored and asked the Conservative Party and the Bloc members to support this budget, to stop playing politics and to invest in people and housing. That is what we were sent here to do seven short months ago.

I know my friends will ask what has changed. Three minutes after we presented the budget the Leader of the Opposition said that it was a great budget and that his party would support it. What has changed since that day? Not very much has changed.