House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ndp.

Topics

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday at the finance committee we had both big labour and big business. It was an interesting conversation with respect to Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, and the EI issue around setting up a separate EI fund. They pointed out that this particular provision in the budget left something to be desired.

If we want to set up an EI fund distinct and separate from the government, we need to put in about $15 billion. The reason we need to put in about $15 billion is because when unemployment times are bad we want to be able to reduce premiums and when employment times are good we want to actually increase premiums. There is this sort of counter-cyclical effect. We would not, in effect, be taxing businesses when they are strained in economic times.

I wonder whether the parliamentary secretary would be interested in amending the budget provision bill so that instead of setting aside a mere $2 billion, which would do absolutely nothing, the government would put aside $15 billion so the EI fund would act in a counter-cyclical manner and would cushion the bad times and help in the good times. It actually was a recommendation that was made by actuaries in Canada.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like my hon. colleague to know that the EI chief actuary determined it was $2 billion.

This government will not take any lectures from the Liberals on the EI fund. If we remember correctly, under their management it basically went into general revenue and was not managed the way it should have been. That is why we are in need of changes. This government wants to look after workers and put the changes forward that need to be put forward.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary talked about the NDP radical socialist plan. I want to talk about what my radical socialist plan would mean.

It would mean that 100,000 children in B.C. would not be living in poverty. It would mean that first nations children on reserve would have access to the same level of care as the children off reserve have. It would mean that 1,500 homeless people in Victoria would not be living on the street and would have access to affordable, quality housing. It would mean that forestry workers on Vancouver Island would have employment insurance beyond the limited number of weeks that is currently available to them so they would be able to maintain their homes and their families.

How does the government's particular plan address the fact that people are living in poverty, the forestry sector is in crisis in British Columbia and the Auditor General is saying that the Conservative government has simply failed to deal with children and welfare?

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her question because it gives me the opportunity to contrast the radical socialist policies of the NDP and the common sense policies of our government.

The NDP's policy for business is basically what it wants to do. We have heard the NDP members say that they want to increase taxes on corporations. In other words, they want to tax them to death, then regulate them to death and then increase taxes on the general population so they can subsidize certain businesses that are NDP friendly.

That is not our plan. We believe the best social program is jobs. Unemployment right now in Canada is at a 33 year low. If the member actually knew what she was talking about, she would realize that Ontario is the number one area in North America for automotive manufacturing. We produced over 2.5 million vehicles last year. As a matter of fact, Canadians only use 8% of the North American production but we produce 17%. We are batting above what we should be doing. If the NDP had its way, automotive companies would be paying higher taxes.

What that member does not realize is that we are in a globally competitive environment. Automotive companies do not have to invest in Canada. They can invest in the United States and in Asia. Without getting competitive on a global nature, those jobs will leave. Who then will pay for the social programs that the NDP claims it believes in?

Thank goodness Canadians will never see an NDP government.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to respond to the motion by the member for Sault Ste. Marie.

The member is concerned about jobs and the economy. I would remind him that the unemployment rate has not been this low for 30 years. Indeed, 325,000 jobs have been created during the past 12 months.

I also want to point out that family income is increasing steadily. In fact, real family income has increased twice as quickly in the five years between 2000 and 2005 as it did in the previous 20 years. The low income rate dropped from 15.7% in 1996 to 10.5% in 2006. That represents a great achievement.

However, as members of this House have discussed many times, there are industrial sectors where current economic conditions have muddied the waters. It is now recognized that the United States is in a recession. That was caused, in large measure, by the collapse of the residential mortgage market, which, in turn, had major consequences for the forestry sector. In addition, the rise of the Canadian dollar and higher energy prices have dealt a severe blow to the Canadian manufacturing sector.

On numerous occasions in recent months, this House has debated motions concerning the effectiveness of government programs to help communities and older workers affected by these economic conditions. The government has survived these motions.

We have proved many times that this House has confidence in the government’s programs. These include the $1 billion national community development trust and the targeted initiative for older workers, which has proved very effective in assisting workers in need.

But let me remind members of this House of certain facts as we prepare for a vote of confidence on the member’s motion.

Let me remind them that agreements under the national community development trust have been signed with all provinces and territories. Provincial and territorial governments will use those funds to provide occupational training, to prepare community transition plans and to carry out infrastructure projects to help diversify the local economy.

May I also remind members that the targeted initiative for older workers has been extended to March 2012, and that the total investment for this initiative has been increased to $160 million.

I want to remind them that we provided a billion dollars in tax relief to the manufacturing and processing sector in Canada by extending the accelerated capital cost allowance period.

I remind them as well of the new labour market agreements we signed with British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitoba. They will make it possible to provide training to people who do not qualify for employment insurance. Further agreements are currently being negotiated with other provinces and territories and will be signed in the coming months. The funding provided under these new agreements amounts to a total of $3 billion over six years.

Our government is clearly taking action to help the people who work in certain key sectors that are going through difficult times. Contrary to what the hon. member’s motion says, the government is reforming employment insurance. We are helping Canadians who have lost their jobs retrain for others. We are helping Canadians who are not eligible for employment insurance.

In response to the motion of the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie, I hope that we can rise above the kind of debates we have heard over the last few months as the opposition parties attacked the government. The hon. members know all about the national community development trust. They know all about the targeted initiative for older workers. They also know all about the tax relief we have provided for manufacturers and processors, as well as the changes made to employment insurance.

I want to remind them, though, of all that the government is doing to ensure that the next generation of Canadian workers has the skills needed for a knowledge-based economy.

We are taking care of older workers and communities dependent on industries that are experiencing difficulty, while at the same time we are preparing the next generation to meet the challenges of the future.

Our goal is to create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world. We talk about the knowledge advantage, and it is our youngest people who will be the basis of it. We are giving the next generation of Canadians a chance to excel in the knowledge-based economy by investing massively in post-secondary education.

We made some major commitments in the last federal budget to encourage young people to pursue post-secondary studies and invest in lifelong learning. By post-secondary education, we mean college and university as well as learning a trade.

We improved the Canada student loans program. We spoke with students. Their message was very clear: they need immediate, ongoing financial assistance. And we listened to them.

We introduced the new Canada student grant program, which will come into effect in the fall of 2009. The 2008 budget provides for an investment of $350 million in 2009-10, rising to $430 million in 2012-13. Students from low- and middle-income families who qualify for student loans will automatically be given a grant. It will cover all years of an undergraduate or college program.

The grants will be based on family income, and unlike the Canada millennium scholarships, they will help students in technical schools to continue their education, as well as students in colleges and universities. If a student comes from a low-income family, he or she will be given a grant of $250 per month. If the student comes from a middle-income family, he or she will receive $100 per month. Students will receive this money for each year they are in school. In the first year alone, we believe we will be able to assist 245,000 students. And let us be clear, these are grants, not loans.

This government will invest over $123 million in financial aid to students in the next four years, and $350 million in the Canada student grant program in 2009-10 alone. We will be investing in post-secondary education under the Canada social transfer through transfer payments to the provinces. Transfers will rise to $3.2 billion and will continue to rise by 3% per year until 2013-14.

We are also helping students and their families to save for their education and pay tuition fees and other expenses, through tax measures totalling $1.8 billion, which includes registered education savings plans.

This government is investing $2.7 billion in research and other related activities. This will allow us to prepare a new generation of Canadian workers to take their place at the head of an economy that runs on innovation and knowledge.

To conclude, we know that even with a dynamic economy, some sectors have been hard hit. We have taken measures, by using the tax system, by investing in communities and by introducing a program to help older workers, to meet the needs that are there.

But in the meantime, we are helping a new generation of Canadians to take their place in the new economy, a generation of workers who will have the training, the knowledge and the skills to meet the challenges to come.

It is to this government’s credit that it has introduced and administered a broad range of programs and projects to address the present economic situation, while at the same time building the economy of tomorrow.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to ask the hon. member a question that concerns me a great deal. I think it would concern her a great deal as well. There is the very dire absence of adequate child care opportunities available to children to get the best possible start in life from such early learning experiences and for parents who are desperate to work in jobs with decent incomes and to raise their families and provide their children with the best possible start in life.

This never comes from the province of Quebec. To its credit, the province of Quebec has done very well. It does not have universal child care available to every family that needs it, but it has a universal program available that can be accessed and that provides the best child care in the country.

As a woman, as a parliamentarian, as someone whom I know to be concerned about family, does the member not recognize the complete failure of the Conservative government, the government in which she sits, to provide the kind of child care that working families, low income families and modest income families need? This is a serious contribution to the crisis being experienced by so many parents and working families in our country. Why has the federal government abandoned those families because they do not happen to live in the province of Quebec?

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, as a woman and a single mother, I believe that this government has accomplished many things over the past two years. We have made significant investments to help families and individuals: $13 billion in benefits for families with children, including the universal child care benefit and the new child tax credit.

We have invested in the most important thing for children: education. On this side of the House we have taken action to establish structures for families and those with low incomes. And all the while, the NDP has voted against these measures. They have done nothing to help the families in this country.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reply to the member's speech. She said that the current unemployment rate in Canada and Quebec is at its lowest. That is true. Seasonal workers in the fishing, forestry and tourism industries, along with all forestry workers, are now in the spring gap. What I mean by that is that they have not been receiving employment insurance benefits since about the start of April, yet they will not begin work until the start of June or, for most of them, the start of July.

People do not have any more employment insurance benefits because they have exhausted the number of weeks covered by this government for employment insurance. They had been receiving employment insurance since September, the end of the season, and now they are not receiving anything. That is what is called the spring gap. Quite often these people find themselves on welfare.

The Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), but the Conservatives voted against it. We also introduced a bill that would create an independent fund, but the Conservatives were also opposed to that.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, our government has done a lot for these people, in this House. We invested $9 billion in programs for Canadians with disabilities. The Bloc Québécois has done nothing. We have invested $30 million in income support for seniors. The Bloc Québécois has done nothing and never will. We have invested $550 million through the working income tax benefit. Once again, the Bloc Québécois has done nothing.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

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 Burnaby—Douglas, Homelessness; the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, The Economy.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Halifax.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion presented by the member for Sault Ste. Marie. I know other members have talked about it, but I want to talk specifically about what this motion says. It states:

That the House recognize the harmful effects on working and middle-income Canadians of the growing income gap fostered by this government's unbalanced economic agenda, including it's failure to reform employment insurance to ensure that people who lose their jobs during economic downturns are protected and trained, and therefore the House has lost confidence in this government.

I simply do not have time to talk about the number of impacts, whether it is the fact that between 1980 and 2005, according to Statistics Canada, median earnings of individuals working full time on a full year basis fell 11.3% in British Columbia, or that First Call has said that British Columbia holds the dubious record of having the worst child poverty rate in the country for five consecutive years, from 2002 to 2006, and that record translates into over 100,000 children living in poverty.

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and everybody talks about the beauty of the city, which is all true, but it also has one of the highest rates of children living in poverty, at 26.6%. In addition, at least 1,500 people are homeless and on the streets of Victoria, and that is a shame in the capital city of British Columbia.

We also have the sad legacy that has been left by the current government and the previous Liberal government on the forestry sector in British Columbia. In a recent news article, in one of the local papers from Friday, April 4, it says:

Valley forest industry workers, already shell-shocked by the bankruptcy of Munns Lumber, and waiting for news on hard-pressed Ted LeRoy Trucking, woke Wednesday to discover that Vancouver Island industry stalwart, Madill Equipment of Nanaimo is also shutting its doors.

Then, related stories talk about a cascading effect on Vancouver Island, whether it is Campbell River, where Elk Falls and TimberWest has closed down a couple of its operations, or these following headlines: “Workers prepare for the worst at Harmac”, Nanaimo News Bulletin; “Crofton pulp mill faces summer of uncertainty”, Ladysmith Chronicle; “Ladysmith mill closes indefinitely”, Ladysmith Chronicle; “Black Tuesday for mill workers”, Cowichan News Leader and Pictorial; or the latest, on May 5, “Nanaimo mill on 48-hour life support”.

For a government that argues our country is just doing fine, tell that to the forestry workers on Vancouver Island. Tell that to the forestry workers, many of whom had filed for their employment insurance claims a number of months ago and are now running out of employment insurance.

I have spoken about this in the House before. We have forestry workers who, after a very few short weeks, are out of employment insurance. Our market is tied to the Vancouver Lower Mainland unemployment rate, and that unemployment rate simply does not reflect what is happening on Vancouver Island. Therefore, we have workers who have paid into the employment insurance fund year after year and they will be unable to collect their full entitlement because of this anomaly.

I encourage the government to take a look at what it can truly do for forestry workers on Vancouver Island, whether it is in Campbell River, Nanaimo or Duncan, and talk to those working families about what it is going to mean to them as their income runs out.

I also want to talk about aboriginals, because I am also the aboriginal critic for the NDP. I want to turn just for one moment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Article 21(1) states:

Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including...in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.

What we have seen consistently from the government, with its unbalanced economic agenda and its neglect of the working and middle class families, is a continuing neglect of first nations, Métis and Inuit in our country.

In the last budget we saw no commitment to defining the federal responsibility for post-secondary education, which leaves institutions such as the First Nations Technical Institute lurching from crisis to crisis.

We have seen no end to the 2% cap on social spending. I will address that a little further on when I talk about the recent Auditor General's report.

We have seen no dollars to implement Jordan's principle, which was passed unanimously in the House in December. It would mean that we would put children first and stop the quibbling that says children go without while provincial and federal governments argue about who should pay.

There was an opportunity in the budget to put some real meat on aboriginal policy in this country, but once again the government failed to do that.

If we want to talk about statistics, sadly, we are not talking just about numbers but about people's lives. In the 2007 report card on child and family poverty in Canada, we saw that 41% of aboriginal children under 14 were living in poverty nationally in 2001. That rose to 51% in Manitoba and 52% in Saskatchewan.

These are children under the age of 14. This means that these children do not have access to adequate housing. They do not have access to clean water. They do not have access to schools. The member for Timmins—James Bay has been leading the fight on trying to get a school in Attawapiskat. A generation of children is going through substandard schools in that community and many other communities in this country.

We are also talking about the fact that one in four first nations children live in poverty in this country. We live in a country that prides itself on human rights, compassion, dignity and integrity, and yet we say it is okay in this country for children to go hungry at night.

More than one-third of first nations households with children are in houses that are overcrowded. The high school completion rate among first nations youth is half the Canadian rate. We know that poverty plays a significant factor in children completing high school.

Let us talk about income. Again, this is from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which did a detailed analysis in its alternative federal budget. In the year 2000 the median income of aboriginal women was $12,300 and the median income for aboriginal men was $15,500. I want someone to tell me how to support a family on those kinds of numbers. It simply cannot be done.

On May 6 the Auditor General presented a report: “First Nations Child and Family Services Program”. It was a scathing indictment of both the current government's record and the previous government's record.

Whether we are talking about the fact that aboriginal children are eight times more likely in Canada to end up in care, or the fact that provincial governments fund foster children in care at one rate and the federal government at a substantially different rate, that difference has led to the Assembly of First Nations filing a human rights complaint because of the 22% differential in the funding provided for first nations children who are in care.

I want to quote from section 4.72 of this report. This is an important factor. What we often hear from first nations on reserve is that they simply do not have enough money for housing. They do not have enough money to deal with clean drinking water. They do not have enough money to pay their teachers a decent salary. They do not have enough money to take a look at medical care. This report says that money is diverted “from programs such as community infrastructure and housing to other programs such as child welfare”, because they simply do not have enough money to look after their children in their communities.

We know the answers are there. Whether it is putting money into the employment insurance fund so all workers have adequate access, whether it is removing the 2% cap that the Liberals have put in place and the Conservatives have continued for funding for aboriginals, or whether it is just looking at what is reasonable in terms of housing and access to education, we have the answers, but we simply do not have the political will from the government to move forward on some of these critical issues.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying something that I often say in the human resources committee when we are talking about these important issues. We all want the same end result. I think all of us in the House want to see decreased levels of poverty in Canada. It is just that from one party to another we differ in our views on how to get there, quite significantly sometimes.

We have taken some measures, as I said earlier, to cut the GST, to introduce the working income tax benefit and to introduce the universal child care benefit. We have increased the basic exemption and lowered the lowest tax bracket. These are all measures that the NDP has voted against. I would like to ask NDP members why they voted against them, but I am not going to do that. Actually, I am just happy that they voted.

I have a question for the member. She has been in the House for much of today and has heard members of the Liberal Party in debate. I would like to ask her, based on what she has heard today, whether she feels her Liberal colleagues are going to vote on this confidence motion and, if so, which way they might go.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to presume what the Liberal Party is going to do. Whether those members are going to stand and vote or sit in their seats, I think that is up to them and their conscience.

When we are dealing with the kinds of issues that I have talked about today, such as unemployed forestry workers, aboriginal children living in poverty, the lack of education for aboriginal children on reserve and the lack of adequate housing, if people choose to vote for a government that is not addressing those problems, that is between it and its electorate.

However, in terms of this member talking about the fact that we voted against the budget, if we could cherry-pick from the budget and just vote on the parts of the budget that we thought were of benefit to Canadians, that would be one matter. Unfortunately, we were presented with a whole package.

What that did not allow us to do was talk about the fact that we are not addressing some of those very serious economic issues facing Canadians and, in particular, British Columbia and Vancouver Island. We were not allowed to say that we do not support measures which do not address this economic disparity that is happening. So unfortunately we had to vote against the budget because it did not deal with some of those other critical issues.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to set the record straight. Earlier this afternoon, the member for Acadie—Bathurst commented that I had referred to the Saskatchewan Party as the Conservative Party. What I was talking about was philosophies. In Saskatchewan, there are two philosophies. There is the philosophy of a Conservative-like-minded government like ours that is doing a lot for an economy, which means we like to create wealth, unlike the NDP members and their philosophy. They like to divide wealth.

I just wanted to make it clear that I was not suggesting we are ruled by a Conservative Party, just by a like-minded, conservative-thinking party that does indeed believe in creating wealth. Therefore, we are now having population growth because all of those people who left Saskatchewan because of the poor economic environment and the declining population are coming home because of strong economics and some of our economic platform. I just wanted to make that comment.

I did want to also mention that I do not think the NDP recognizes this. In his remarks this afternoon, I think the member talked about how nothing was done for students. I think we did a lot for students with our--

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I hate to cut off the hon. member, but I do have to allow the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan a chance to respond.