House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fishery.

Topics

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-22 establishes the new Department of Social Development over which presides the Minister of Social Development. This bill amends or repeals certain related acts. It sets out the rules applicable to the protection and the making available of personal information obtained under departmental programs, other than those governed by similar codes found in the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

The focus of the Bloc Québécois is to promote the sovereignty of Quebec and to defend the interests of the nation, the people and the state of Quebec. Under the premise of defending this consensus reached in Quebec, Parliament cannot confirm the creation of a department with a mandate to interfere in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.

The new department created by the Prime Minister on December 12, 2003 has some 12,000 public servants who are responsible for managing close to $53 billion “to secure and strengthen Canada's social foundations while respecting federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions”. The Minister of Social Development was taken from human resources development, which is becoming a department that coordinates the activities of the Minister of State for Families and Caregivers.

Quebec does not need an administrative structure or an additional federal policy. Its social programs are already largely more advanced than throughout Canada. What Quebec truly needs is the money it is being denied because of the fiscal imbalance created by the Liberals, in order to properly fund Quebec programs.

Out of a $53 billion total budget, $51 billion was allocated in direct subsidies to individuals through two main programs: the Canada Pension Plan and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

In order to better understand the nature of the Bloc Québécois position on the creation of the department, just look at the list of benefits offered by the department, which is claiming to respect provincial jurisdictions, while its mandate is full of intrusions into provincial jurisdictions.

The Auditor General was quite critical in her remarks about the government's practice of netting, or offsetting expenditures against revenues. She was especially critical of the government's apathy toward the many warnings it has received.

In previous fiscal years, both gross and net amounts were shown in the Public Accounts of Canada. Thus, the government used to charge certain expenses against revenues in the operating statement. This did not have any impact on the annual surplus, but the statement presented lower expenses and revenues for the year. For several years, we have objected to this practice. The items in question are the Canada child tax benefit, the revenues of certain Crown corporations and the GST credits.

I am very disappointed and I find abusive that the government should keep using net amounts in its analysis of revenues and expenses in the annual fiscal report.

Obviously, any department has programs and additional expenses. It is essential to make a systematic analysis of each program of the new department.

The retroactive payment of guaranteed income supplement benefits is a fight the Bloc Québécois has been waging for years. The federal government has unfairly deprived and is still depriving many Quebeckers and Canadians who are among the most vulnerable in our society, from benefits they are owed. In my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry alone, the federal government owes $6 million to needy seniors.

In December 2001, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities made public its report on the guaranteed income supplement. It was revealed that more than 270 Canadians and 68 Quebeckers were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but did not get it.

From 1993 to 2001, almost $3.2 billion in Canada and at least $800 million in Quebec were kept from low income seniors who were entitled to these benefits. Thanks to the efforts of the Bloc Québécois, at least 25,000 more seniors now meet the conditions and benefit from the guaranteed income supplement.

This represents at least $100 million in recurring funds for Quebeckers that the federal government tried to deny low-income seniors.

Despite a Liberal promise in the 2004 throne speech to increase guaranteed income supplement benefits, the federal government still refuses to agree to one of the Bloc Québécois' most important demands: full retroactivity for seniors who were entitled to benefits and never received them, because they failed to receive adequate information. Currently, the federal government has limited this retroactivity to just 11 months, thereby penalizing seniors in need yet again.

In the 2004 budget, platform and throne speech, the Liberals made the disabled a major issue. They announced a number of measures, such as tax deductions and other measures for the integration of the disabled.

In 2002, the Bloc Québécois had actively participated in the work of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, in order, among other things, to improve the disability tax credit. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of improving the living conditions for the disabled through tax deductions and tax credits provided that Quebec's jurisdictions are respected.

The Bloc Québécois believes, however, it would be easier to integrate the disabled into the labour market if the Quebec government was made responsible for this client group. The federal government's direct involvement with community organizations, through the social development partnerships program, the voluntary sector initiative and the new horizons program, is blatant interference in areas of jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces, which have ties to these organizations through the Quebec health care and social services network.

It is obvious that the Quebec government is much better equipped to assess their needs and prevent the scattering of federal funds, since Quebec operates in accordance with a clear and well-defined social policy and stable, long-term funding.

The early years centres program is an experimental initiative to help communities determine the educational development of young children by examining the quantity, quality and scope of programs and services required to meet these needs.

These initiatives are a clear duplication of educational programs in Quebec. Quebec already has extensive expertise, thanks to its network of health care professionals and public education network, as a result of which it has full jurisdiction in this area.

So, the Bloc calls on the government to withdraw from areas of Quebec's jurisdiction and give it back the money it is putting into these programs so that Quebec can improve its day care system, because this system has proven itself and is well suited to the needs of Quebeckers.

The national child benefit provides financial support to low income families with children through a program of national child benefits calculated on the basis of income and paid out under the federal child tax benefit program.

Under the terms of the national child benefit, the federal government also provides additional financial support to low income families with children through the national child benefit supplement, which is an integral part of the Canada child tax benefit.

The thinly veiled aim of the federal involvement in this sector is Canada's visibility, as in the sponsorship scandal. As the member for Don Valley West and the chair of the subcommittee on children and youth at risk put it: the main aim is to have the public and history remember the Liberal government. As this member puts it, the government has done nothing worth remembering.

To justify its action, the government is pointing to the social union agreement. Quebec did not sign this agreement, it will be remembered. If the government really wants to honour what is being done in Quebec, it should not only recognize it, but should provide financial compensation when the program, which already exists in Quebec, is set up.

Quebec did its own consulting nearly 20 years ago. There is a consensus in Quebec and it is respected by the government. A Canadian policy on family and early childhood that includes national standards, would be paternalistic.

The example of the $5 day care speaks for itself. Some families lose more in deductions than they earn because of day care measures. Quebec has called for tax harmonization for these families. Ottawa, however, has refused, saving itself $70 million on the backs of Quebec families, which need it more.

At the present time, the Canadian taxation system has no universal measure which recognize and takes specifically into account the responsibilities of parents with dependent children. Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not provide tax benefits to certain families with children.

The Bloc Québécois feels it is self-evident that the responsibility for a comprehensive family policy is incumbent upon the Government of Quebec. The federal government can, and must, make an additional fiscal effort for parents in need.

This is why the Government of Quebec is proposing the inauguration of a refundable tax credit for all families with dependent children under the age of 18, including those whose income is too low for federal income tax. Low income families paying little or no income tax would thus also be able to benefit from a lighter tax burden.

The $7 a day child care system, which has provided Quebec parents with child care at reduced rates, has also saved the federal government considerable sums, but these have not been passed on to the Government of Quebec, nor will they ever be.

Since parents are paying only $7 a day for each child in care, as opposed to the actual cost of $25, their federal tax deductions and therefore their refunds have decreased accordingly.

Consequently, the federal government has saved close to $1 billion since Quebec brought in its $5 child care in 1998. In the first year of the Quebec program, the federal government saved $108.6 million for only 82,000 $5 child care spaces in Quebec.

As the number of child care spaces increases in Quebec, Ottawa's tax savings increase as well. In 2003, federal savings totalled $235 million.

So, over six years, this makes close to $1 billion Ottawa has saved at the expense of young Quebec families, families in need.

The Bloc Québécois calls for Quebec to retain its right to opt out with compensation as far as child care services are concerned, and also for the federal government to modify its taxation system in order to allow the full deduction based on the actual cost of the child care spaces, not the parental contribution of $7.

In closing, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the creation of a Department of Social Development that, by definition, interferes in the jurisdictions of Quebec. This government keeps promising to respect the jurisdictions of Quebec, but, in fact, it does just the opposite.

The government must agree to the Bloc Québécois subamendment requiring that it fully respect provincial jurisdictions while putting more money into social programs and imposing Canada-wide rules for the allocation of funds.

The Bloc Québécois has always defended the interests of Quebecers, and in that regard, it is essential that Quebec's areas of responsibility be respected.

The consensuses reached in our National Assembly have recognized that the Quebec government has full jurisdiction in the areas under its responsibility because it has the structure and the institutions needed to link all bodies. The Quebec government can recognize the real needs and develop a fair policy and detailed action programs to meet them.

We believe that the federal government must recognize once and for all that Quebec, although its leeway has been considerably reduced by the fiscal imbalance, has still managed to implement internationally renowned quality programs.

Quebec has been successful because it listens to people and because it has a responsibility to create relationships with the stakeholders in targeted areas in order to effectively identify the needs. The Bloc Québécois will never agree to the creation of a department that not only has the mandate to duplicate and copy Quebec's avant-garde policies, but that also prevents Quebec from fully developing its own social programs.

This is not about visibility, but about respect for the integrity, security and health of all Quebeckers.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I have listened carefully to the speech made by my colleague, which was articulate and laid out the issues well. This has given me an overview of the problem and I thank him for that.

As regards parental leave, it remains a matter of confidence in this government. Could my colleague tell me why we would pass a bill that only makes promises in areas that are outside its jurisdiction? Even in areas which are within its jurisdiction, nothing is being done.

In relation to the parental leave program, it took the federal government 10 years to respect the consensus in Quebec. To this day, it has not yet withdrawn its appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is scheduled to rule soon on constitutional responsibility over parental leave. I know that the Bloc Québécois and the Government of Québec have always asked the federal government to withdraw this appeal in order to demonstrate its good faith during the negotiations, something that has never been done.

Does my colleague believe that the federal government really has the will to negotiate with the provinces and territories, or is this just another trick?

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, indeed, I am convinced that the federal government is once again out to trick the people of Quebec and the other provinces. The will is not there. We know full well that this government only makes promises and keeps very few of them.

As to the parental leave, these are just that, promises. The current government is constantly at odds with Quebec's jurisdictions. Quebec is in the better position to meet the needs of its population. It knows exactly what is going on in the field, because it is there constantly. The Liberal government should undertake the necessary transfers to counter the fiscal imbalance in order to help people in need.

As the Bloc Québécois youth critic, I toured Quebec and was able to see firsthand what was happening everywhere. Non-profit organizations all over Quebec have little resources available.

The taxes paid by Quebeckers to the federal government are kept here in Ottawa and are not redistributed as they should. This deprives many needy organizations that have a hard time making ends meet and that try to help young people, who represent our future.

In fact, we are setting a bad example for them, in the sense that we are paying taxes to an institution that does not redistribute the money as it should. It is important for the federal government to realize that, by doing so, it is depriving a number of educational institutions and organizations in the field that really need this money.

For example, the summer career placements were recently cut. In the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, a 40% cut was made to youth services. This 40% cut in a riding located just outside Montreal has the effect of encouraging young people to leave their region and move to large urban centres. This is money that communities need.

Another example is the region of Huntingdon, in my riding, which was severely affected by the closure of the textile plants. In that region, 53% of the people do not have a high school education. Young people are not inclined to stay in the region, because the summer career placement program cannot help them get a job, and this encourages them to leave. So, young people are leaving the regions, because there is no incentive for them to come back and work there.

Therefore, it is very important for the federal government to understand that, instead of splitting up departments at a cost of millions of dollars, it should invest this money where needs are the greatest. The provinces, including Quebec, know which sectors need money the most. The federal government should transfer this $53 billion to the provinces, which will truly deal, on a long term basis, with existing problems in the field.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, in my riding, like elsewhere in Quebec, agencies and initiatives were put in place and we can say that they reached a very high level of perfection. Whether it is child care, cooperatives, social economy enterprises, maternity or parental leave, these are all initiatives that leaders in Quebec succeeded in keeping in spite of a dire lack of funds received from the bank, that is from the federal government. Indeed, it is the federal government that managed to accumulate surpluses. In spite of a lack of money, Quebec leaders succeeded in implementing a series of initiatives that are envied by all Canadian provinces.

That brings me to the question I want to ask my colleague. What is it that the party in power always wants to interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction? Yet, it knows very well that the initiatives in place work extremely well and could work even better if federal money was distributed fairly.

How would the hon. member explain this desire of the party in power to interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction where the public is highly satisfied with existing measures?

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my view, the reason why the government is interfering in areas under provincial jurisdiction is very simple--to increase the visibility of the federal government, Canada. It is interfering in our areas of jurisdiction and telling Quebeckers that Canada is there to help them. This is nothing more than a trick because nowadays Quebec is capable of meeting all its own needs. The federal government is duplicating Quebec's areas of jurisdiction in order to interfere and to take over from Quebec's programs. This duplication serves no useful purpose and just confuses people. People are calling us to say that they are faced with two programs, one provincial and one federal and want to know which one they should choose. These programs are often split in two and they have to apply to both to receive a fair amount.

I want to go back to the issue of transfers and fiscal imbalance. The federal government must absolutely transfer to Quebec the money that is owed to us, because we are the only province that can meet its own needs, that knows exactly what is going on in the field and in these organizations. This must also be done to avoid a useless bureaucracy. Having another department, another program, means that non-profit organizations, which often have limited resources, will have to do more paperwork. Their resources are often volunteers. They spend time filling out all these forms, but this takes a lot of the time that they should spend to do the important things for which they are there. It is important that the federal government transfer these funds to the provinces.

I also want to talk about the federal government's claim that it never has any money to meet our needs. However, when it wants to put the word “Canada” everywhere, it does find money to do so. In my riding, the workers affected by the loss of 1,000 jobs in six Huntingdon plants are asking for a program for older worker adjustment. It is estimated that, for all of Canada, such a program might cost at the most $50 million. The government is telling us that it does not have any money to help textile workers. In 1997, that program only cost $26 million.

Instead of creating all sorts of new departments, why does the government not follow up on these requests, which would definitely help people in the field?

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, it seems to me that we are repeating ourselves and that we are not done repeating ourselves, although, personally, I am confident that within a matter of months or years all this will change and we in Quebec will be doing our own thing. In fact, we have been repeating ourselves for quite a while. Today, we are talking about fiscal imbalance. A case in point is the establishment of a new department which I call the department of social encroachment. The government is taking steps to get involved in all the provinces and in Quebec in particular. It is unpleasant to have the government interfere in Quebec, which is increasingly autonomous and can do so well, as some members have pointed out, that it is sometimes a model for the other provinces.

When I was an MNA in Quebec City, I saw foreign governments come to study our legislation. Quebec is a leader in social development, as in every other field. The problem however, and it is a major one, is that 45% or 50% of our revenues go to the federal government. That is our money, but, as my hon. colleague from Laval said, we have to beg for every little bit we can get back. This money hardly makes it to us because the federal government finds ways to duplicate services in order to assert its presence in Quebec, which is having a discouraging and demoralizing effect.

As I said, this is nothing new. I will not hide my age. I am 69, and the first political speech I heard was one Maurice Duplessis made in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. I was with my father and I heard Maurice Duplessis say he needed a strong mandate to get back our share of the spoils. I asked my father what he meant by that, and my father explained to me how the federal system worked. He said, “We give money to the federal government, but it is not easy to get it back, and when the government agrees to give it back, it is based on its priorities, not ours”. Ever since then, I have become more involved in politics. So, Duplessis was getting back his share of the spoils.

There was also Jean Lesage, who had a huge mandate and who changed things in Quebec. He spoke of being master in our own home. He knew full well that we needed to stop sending our money to the federal government.

Then there was Daniel Johnson senior, who said, “It is equality or independence. Give us back our money or else.”

Then there was Robert Bourassa, whose knees were shaking a bit. However, in 1971, he slammed the door in Victoria when the federal government did not want to give Quebec its due.

This continued with the sovereignty association of René Lévesque and continues today. In fact, if the last referendum, in 1995, had not been stolen from us—and we now know that it was—Quebec would now be a country. Nevertheless, despite the fact that it was stolen from us, the referendum result was 49.4% for the yes side.

With everything that happens to us and every time we speak here, every time services are developed that encroach on provincial jurisdictions, we are humbled more and more. It makes us realize that we will be handling our own affairs in Quebec one day. Personally, I hope still to be in politics when it happens, even if it is my last mandate. I can assure you that I will still be there to work on it.

We talked about this a lot. I have spent my life on the road. I have seen human misery in every sense of the word. The hon. member for Laval also spoke about this earlier and she knows what she is talking about. It is unbelievable to see the extent of services that are close to those who need them and that are at the ready. There are some 7,000 social economy enterprises in Quebec.

There are CLSCs in the picture. The municipalities are increasingly able to deal with at risk or vulnerable individuals.

However, instead of giving the money to the Quebec government to distribute in keeping with the priorities of Quebeckers—and this is true in the other provinces too, I am sure—the federal government has just created the department of social interference or social duplication. It has come to set up house in our jurisdiction, establish parallel offices, wave a maple leaf and show that the federal government is there to provide services. Unfortunately, once they are well established, there is little money available and no more services. However, public servants have been hired.

The study by Jacques Léonard has proved that, over the last five or six years, the public service has grown by 49,000 employees. Thanks to this new department, there will be 12,000 to 14,000 more public servants. This will cost the federal government close to $10 billion more per year.

For the 10 provinces, this represents approximately $1 billion per province. Some provinces would get more than others, because the population differs in each province. Just think what the provinces could do with the extra money, since they know what services are needed. They have the expertise and are familiar with the public. It is appalling to see a government waste our money and energy and try to outmanoeuvre us.

If Quebec creates a good policy, the federal government copies it. Child care is one such example. It is amazing to see what Quebec has done in this field. We have absolutely no objections if others want to benefit from our experience. We are generous by nature. But our rightful share, however, is not forthcoming.

The Prime Minister said that Quebec was to be the model for the child care system throughout Canada and that Quebec would get its money unconditionally. We now know that four or five provinces have already signed. Quebec still has not signed. Why? Because Quebec would have to agree to conditions. Although the feds followed our example and benefited from our expertise, they are now imposing conditions on us before we can get our rightful share of the money.

I can tell you that this could have been so simple, but it has become demoralizing. I recall something I heard at some meeting. The question asked was “How is a country administered?” The answer: “You run a country like you run a family”. Families take their income or incomes, and then distribute it according to priorities. That way, there is money for leisure activities, education, health, and probably for holidays. In short, for all the family's needs. The same needs to apply to government.

No one here could run a family, because they cannot run a government. We have lost track of all the energy, the money and the time we have wasted to try to get the message across that the money needs to go back to those who need it most. The Liberal Party may be in power but it does not own this country. It acts as if it did, though.

One needs only look at the sponsorship scandal to see how they have shamelessly had their palms greased. In the parliamentary committee we are inviting para-governmental bodies to come and tell us about their situation. It is scandalous to see the extent to which the government is using the country's funds as if it owned this country.

This is not true. Neither the Liberal Party nor the federal government own Canada. We are the ones our money belongs to. Each province provides its share, as does each individual, and one day they will realize that we are going to take back what is ours and to stop handing it over to them because they are wasting it. I am discouraged by the whole situation. As I have said, we have been hearing the same thing for 50 years. We are getting closer and closer to a solution, but things have not changed in the past 50 years. Flashing the Canadian flag everywhere, putting emblems here, there and everywhere, that was what the sponsorship scandal was all about. And filling up their own pockets is perfectly fine, because they think they own the country. That is basically what they are telling us.

In committee, we interviewed André Ouellet, formerly of Canada Post. He became angry because someone called him a thief. Perhaps the word was a little strong. His answer was painful to our ears. He was at Canada Post. He told us not to get upset over a $2 million expense account. The costs of hotel rooms and meals had to be taken into account. True, there were no receipts for 15% of the expenses, but he had forgotten them. Fifteen per cent of $2 million is only $300,000; that is not much. An ordinary worker has to earn $600,000 to get $300,000. He laughed, he teased us, it was pretty awful. It was hard to know what to ask that would be logical. While he was a Liberal, he owned this Canada; it was his business. That is the way we see it. You can see it in other parliamentary committees. It really offends me. Things have to change one day, and I can predict that, one day, Quebec will change it. One day, in the not so distant future, we will tell the federal government that no more Quebec money is coming to it. We will hang on to it. Up to now, we have shown we know how to manage things. Whatever the government in Quebec City, it is always infinitely better than what there is federally. Sometimes there is waste in Quebec, but I can tell you that Quebeckers are keeping a close eye on it.

Our current government, the Charest government, has made mistakes. Not for too long. When it makes a mistake, it is forced to look at its position. Why? Because Quebeckers take to the streets and say what it wants to do makes no sense. It has to take another look at its position. But here, whatever message we send is unheard. I find that really difficult.

I have looked into the seniors issue. There are—as my colleague has said—270,000 Canadians who have been deprived of their guaranteed income supplement over the past 10 or 12 years. Of that number, 68,000 were Quebeckers. I have toured Quebec and attended 42 meetings on this. I have seen the terrible poverty. I was with the member for Sherbrooke in his riding, where we learned of one senior who died at age 88 after having an income throughout her old age of $6,000. The government pocketed $90,000 when she died. Imagine if she had had that money. She was no one of importance, just someone who raised a family of ten or so children, and surely did not work, so presumably was not seen as entitled to what was coming to her. I met people like that all over Quebec.

It makes no sense that they are coming up today with a bill that will merely complicate things, add more public servants, increase the visibility of the federal government, when this money could have gone to the seniors who have been deprived of $3.2 billion over the past 10 years. That is very close to $1 billion for Quebec alone, $80 million to be exact. Just the structure, the mass of functionaries, the wasted energy could have gone to pay seniors what is owed them. But no, they will not do that.

Conversely, when the federal government is owed money, the retroactivity goes back 10 years. And if the government finds a person at fault, the period of retroactivity then extends indefinitely and there are fines and interest to pay.

In our region, an older couple realized, when they were 70, that they had been deprived of $4,000 a year. These are regular people. I was able to get $4,000 for them for the past 11 months. This brings their total loss down to $16,000, $16,000 that the government is keeping in its coffers and using to build structures.

I have had enough, really enough, of this system. The government side never listens. We are asked questions, but when we answer in accordance with the wishes of the people, they do not pay any attention. The Liberals own the country and almost own its inhabitants. I am sad to see that we cannot advance issues further.

Seniors have been robbed of $3.2 billion in recent years. They will not be taking this money with them when they die. I pledge that, as long as I and the Bloc Québécois are in this place, we will pursue this. The day will come when the government has to agree to grant retroactivity to seniors, because they have earned that money and it belongs to them. Unfortunately, I can see that it is in the interest of the federal government to delay payment. The people involved are old; they are not youngsters. Those 75, 80 or 85 years old have precious little time left. The government is saving money with each passing day by constantly delaying payment. The day might come when it is generous enough to pay what it owes, but by then all of those who were owed the money will have died.

For now, the government has generously announced that payments will be made over the next six years, although the money was taken over the past 12 years. It is no longer exactly the same people. The government will be giving back $2.7 billion over the next six years, but took away $3.2 million over the past 10 years. Those involved will have changed in the meantime. We cannot really call that social justice.

There is no doubt that I support my colleague. So long as we can, we will oppose this bill. In fact, it creates a department of social encroachment. We have enough encroachment. We are going to fight it with the energy of the desperate, until we have hope of keeping all our marbles at home and making Quebec the country of our dreams.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Trinity—Spadina
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Ianno Minister of State (Families and Caregivers)

Madam Speaker, I just came in to put my book in and I was listening to the hon. member. We have had this discussion and debate for quite a while.

As he knows, the $2.7 billion is $700 million a year when fully implemented for low income seniors, $12,400 that they receive with an increase of $433 per year. I would be surprised if the hon. member would want to deprive his low income seniors from receiving that. With his vote against the budget, I am very shocked and surprised because on the one hand he speaks as if he cares about the seniors, which by the way I do believe, but on the other hand, he ignores that he is voting against those same seniors, and not only those who did not apply for the GIS who were eligible, but he is going against all the low income seniors in his riding who actually do receive the GIS because that $433 increase is not a lot in an overall number but it is a great deal compared to what they have received over the last 20-plus years.

I know that in the government they have been reaching out, sending out letters and outreach workers to ensure that anyone who is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement will receive it.

I ask the hon. member, who has been a member in this House for many years, if he chose to write in his householders or his 10 percenters, or search for those low income seniors who might not have applied. Did he do all that good work to ensure that each of those persons who deserve the money actually applies? The role of a member of Parliament is to ensure that their constituents receive all that is available to them. That is what upsets me in this House sometimes.

It is very nice to give the rhetorical storyline that the government is taking six years back, six years forward. If only he would deal with the facts as they are presented.

In January of this year it will be a $218 increase for those low income seniors and then fully implemented a year later. It was supposed to be over five years but we reduced it to over two years to speed it up because we care about our seniors. We created the Seniors Citizens Secretariat, with the budget they voted against, to ensure that seniors across the country have a person at the cabinet table, have research facilities and have all that is theirs because they helped build this great country.

There is a lot that the hon. member is speaking to which I believe but on the other hand he voted against the budget which would have allowed this to happen, especially with the new horizons program. When we take into account the organizations that will help seniors to become less isolated, there are many good measures in this budget that the hon. member and his party are voting against.

It is very nice to tell his constituents that he cares but he should put it into action, go against his party and pass the budget for seniors because they ultimately will be the beneficiaries of this and that is what is going to count.

What did the hon. member do to ensure any of his constituents, any low income seniors, actually were able to receive the benefit and not just talk about it and then cry later?

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I see the minister has a desire to change things.

I thank him too for giving me the opportunity to brag a little. To his question, “What did he do?”, I answer that I travelled around Quebec. I even went beyond Quebec, as far as Vancouver. We learned that 270,000 Canadians, including 68,000 Quebeckers, had been deprived of the guaranteed income supplement. We passed this information on, so that today the number is less than half. Indeed, efforts are still being made to find some 100,000 Canadians and 25,000 Quebeckers.

An effort was also made to get the minister to improve contact with seniors. The the GIS application form was too difficult for even an accountant to complete. Even an accountant found it difficult. Seniors are often at a disadvantage for various reasons. Still, they were being asked to complete a form that made no sense.

There was a phone number to call to request the guaranteed income supplement, but, at the other end, there was an answering machine. People had to wait sometimes for as long as two hours to get an answer. Imagine a senior needing information and having to wait so long.

Once when I was interviewed on Radio-Canada in Montreal, before introducing me the host said that his researcher had dialed this number the night before and waited two hours without getting a hold of anyone. That is how seniors were treated.

Today that has changed because the Bloc Québécois took care of it by doing a tour of Quebec. We will take care of it until seniors get their due.

You say that you are investing money in the future, well that is great, but this should have been done a long time ago. There is room for improvement. You should also invest the money that you took from them in the past. It is money you owe them. The 11-month retroactivity does not exist. Often those people are sick. They have ended up in situations where they are unable to ask for what they are owed.

I visited Msgr. Clément, a parish priest in Champlain, three weeks before his death. He died a year and a half ago. Msgr. Clément was a canon lawyer. He was an extremely knowledgeable man. He said to me, “Marcel, I understand your case. I have had three strokes. I can no longer see and I can barely hear. If I did not have good people around me, who would inform me of my rights?” These are your clients.

We have to find a way to get back to these clients and give them their due. When they are lucky enough to discover that they are owed money and that the government is accountable for it, then they should at least receive retroactive payments immediately. It is simple.

Mr. Minister, if you want to do as much work as my colleagues from the Bloc and I have done in the opposition, let us embark on this together and reduce the number to virtually zero.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Indeed.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague and to the minister. Like my colleague, I do think the minister is sincere. Unfortunately, I do not think that his government is acting in good faith. What goes around comes around. As the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain so aptly pointed out, a number of seniors were not reached, because the government did not do what it had to do to locate these people.

When the minister says he doubts my colleague did the work he had to do, I say, “Now wait a minute”. The minister should reread the story relating to the guaranteed income supplement. If there is one person who worked for seniors in Quebec and Canada, it is indeed the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Today, if we decide to vote against the budget, it is not because we do not want our seniors to be treated better. On the contrary, it is precisely because we want them to be treated better. There is money in this budget that is not going where it should be going. There is money going to areas where there is no need for it.

There is a need for social housing. The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain will elaborate on this issue. If the money were better spent and allocated, and my colleague will agree with me, we would support this budget. Right now though, it is out of the question.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, the member for Laval is 100% correct. We had said that we would support the budget under certain conditions. Those conditions are quite simple. For example, the money belonging to the unemployed has to be put back in the EI fund and the money for seniors paid retroactively.

Unfortunately, I will be voting against the budget, because the government does not keep its promises. It have invested too heavily in visibility and not enough in individuals. But the latter are the ones who need money.

The government is the only one who has not acknowledged the fiscal imbalance. I doubt that the minister has even acknowledged it to himself. If only the federal government had fixed this problem and returned the money to the provinces so they can develop their areas of jurisdiction, instead of meddling in them, we would support the budget. However, we know this will not happen.

Some day, I will invite the minister to come to the Quebec nation, where we will keep our money and spend it as we see fit.

Job Finding Club
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, I was pleased last week to announce the funding of $174,000 for a project at the Neighbour to Neighbour Centre in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. This money will go toward the centre's Job Finding Club. The program includes workshops on how to prepare for job interviewing and how to write resumes, employment counselling and computer orientation.

The Job Finding Club also provides critical resources such as Internet and job bank access, city transportation, and child care during workshops. The club boasts and impressive 90% success rate.

I applaud the centre for effectively teaching people the skills and providing the necessary tools and guidance for integration into the workforce. I thank Human Resources and Skills Development for providing this much needed support.

Rural Post Offices
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Jeremy Harrison Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, those of us who represent rural ridings know the importance of postal service to small and remote communities. In 1994 the Liberal government announced a moratorium on the closure of rural post offices. Like so many others, this Liberal promise soon fell by the wayside.

Small and rural post offices have been closing. According to the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, another 750 post offices across the nation are at risk for closure by Canada Post, 15 of them in my riding.

A Canada Post official has stated that supporting small rural post offices is a “heavy burden on the bottom line”. Meanwhile the corporation boasted a $147 million profit last year.

Postal service is essential to my constituents and to the well-being of their small communities. Closure of even a few offices in northern Saskatchewan will mean being forced to travel unreasonable distances to obtain this basic service. My constituents and millions of other Canadians are tired of being treated like second class citizens because of where they live.

The Liberal government's disregard for rural Canadians needs to be packaged up and returned to sender.

Jean-Marc Filion
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate Jean-Marc Filion, a science teacher at the Algonquin catholic high school in North Bay, who will be retiring at the end of the month, after a long and successful career.

Mr. Filion started teaching at the Algonquin school over 30 years ago, in 1974. Since then, thousands of students have studied under him in chemistry, physics, biology and computer science, as well as physical education and Spanish.

Under his supervision, the students have achieved unprecedented success, winning a total of 32 medals at national and international science fairs 19 years in a row, starting in 1986. That is outstanding success.

On behalf of all the hon. members, I would like to thank Jean-Marc for his commitment to his students, his colleagues, the Algonquin catholic high school and his entire community.

Happy retirement, Jean-Marc Filion. You fully deserve it.

Sustainable Development
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the exemplary determination of the town of Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton, in my riding, in taking steps toward sustainable development.

In Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton, the municipal corporation and local stakeholders are implementing initiatives to turn their town into an environmentally friendly one.

These initiatives include opening Camping Vert, an environmentally friendly campground, during the summer of 2005. In addition to regular camping activities, activities will be held at the campground to promote ecological awareness, nature discovery and better human interactions with the environment.

That is not all. An environmental study centre was established in Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton. This initiative is designed to develop environmentally friendly ecological solutions.

The municipality is embarking upon a journey toward becoming green. Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton is a future eco-village and a sustainable development model.