House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was country.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

You are contributing to the unemployment numbers, Paul, by not voting.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

When I hear those members trying to shout me down, Mr. Speaker, I know I am on the right track.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

It would be the first time.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Those members really are the most disrespectful people I have seen in a long time. If they do not respect a member's right to speak in the House, and if they want to yell me down, that is okay. I can take it. I am a big boy.

However, I can tell members that I was very concerned when the finance minister of the Government of Canada told prospective investors that if they wanted to make money not to invest in Ontario. His admonition to investors has paid off. It is not happening in Ontario. Another 1,000 jobs were lost in the automobile sector.

I have a feeling that we know what is coming next in Ontario. It is going to be tough times and it is going to be because of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my constituents of Brampton—Springdale and also in my capacity as the social development critic, I rise today to speak about the budget implementation bill, which has wide-ranging ramifications for the vulnerable in our society.

I rise today to speak on behalf of vulnerable people: those who are homeless, those living in affordable housing projects, the single mothers, those in the aboriginal community, and many newcomers to Canada.

When people look at Canada, they see our nation and country as a symbol of hope. We are a symbol of hope for many nations throughout the world. When we look at our country, we realize that the hallmarks of equality, acceptance, tolerance and respect are the very champions which have allowed us as a nation to become that symbol.

When we speak of the budget implementation bill, it is unfortunate that the agenda of the government has come forward. We realize in reading this budget implementation bill that the most vulnerable in our society, those who perhaps need government most, have been ignored. They have actually fallen off the agenda and the priority list of the Prime Minister and the Conservative government.

There have been absolutely no investments in terms of social justice in this particular implementation bill. There have been no new investments in affordable housing projects, the health care sector, the homeless or aboriginal people, so many of the people who live in my constituency of Brampton—Springdale.

Let us look at what has been attached to Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, and has been brought forward through the back door. Canada has always been a world leader in developing immigration policy. When we talk about our nation being a symbol of hope, we realize that we are a country in which so many people from so many different parts of the world live in harmony.

Our country has always been a pioneer in an open and transparent process, which has invited people like my parents to come to Canada in the 1970s. We are proud of this heritage in our country and also proud of our reputation of having a fair and humane immigration system.

However, it is unfortunate that the new reforms being proposed by the Conservative government, in particular the amendments that have been made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, are going to threaten our international reputation and threaten our nation's status as a symbol of hope.

It is these amendments being put forward by the Conservative government that are going to give the minister the unprecedented power of selection. The minister will be able to pick and choose the number of immigrants who come to Canada, the type of immigrants who come to Canada, and the category of immigrants who come to our country. The bill is also going to give the minister the ability to restrict the right of failed overseas refugee applicants to bring forward appeals.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that these changes are being brought forward through the back door without consultation with many of the people that this bill and these amendments are trying to help. They are being brought forward without the consultation of community groups and advocacy organizations. These issues are being brought forward in a secretive manner with a hidden agenda.

The government is desperately trying to paint these changes as improvements. I have travelled across the country and have met with constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale and with many Canadians, immigration and advocacy organizations and Canadians from particular ethnic groups. I can say firsthand that they are deeply worried and frustrated by the fact that the government has shut the door on them and refuses to listen.

The government paints a picture of how we need to reduce our country's backlog of 900,000 immigrants who want to come to Canada. However, it is very clear when one reads the fine print and the details of these proposed changes that all of the amendments and changes being brought forward are going to be effective starting on the date they are brought forward and will not have any impact or effect on reducing the backlog in this country.

As for the amendments that are being brought forward, there is a state of reluctance and frustration out there among the community groups and organizations. They do not really know what they should do or how they could get involved in the process. What we see is a government that wants to centralize powers in the hands of one individual, allowing that one person, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to pick and choose and perhaps insert politics and a bias into her decision making process.

It is this discretion, which we hope will not turn into discrimination, that is going to be at the minister's fingertips. We all know that in the 1900s our nation's immigration policies were at times discriminatory, exclusionary and even racist, which impacted many community groups across the country. As a nation, we have come so far. Our nation is a symbol of hope. I would hope that we will never ever go back.

We need to ensure, in this time of surplus and prosperity in our nation, that the government realizes that effective and efficient changes need to be made to the system. We must actually provide investments to ensure that there are additional officers placed at some of the busiest consulates and embassies throughout the world. That is what will make sure that we actually start to reduce the backlog of immigrants.

Our nation must realize that when we invite these individuals into our country they are coming here with their hopes, dreams and aspirations. However, upon coming to Canada, they very quickly find that their degrees and their qualifications are not recognized. They cannot be accredited. They are not allowed to enter Canada's workforce for lack of experience.

We must ensure that government surpluses are invested in programs for foreign credentials recognition. We must ensure that when we invite the best and brightest into Canada they have an opportunity to succeed and achieve their dreams. There is absolutely no reason why investments of this nature cannot be made.

Again, perhaps the greatest shortcoming of this bill, the budget implementation act, is a disregard for the most vulnerable of our nation. I can speak on behalf of those who live in affordable housing projects and those who are homeless in this country. We need only take a look at the statistics to realize that in this time of economic prosperity there are over 1.5 million Canadian households with a core housing need. They are spending over 30% of their income on home rental.

Having a roof over one's head is a basic fundamental human right. All of us as Canadians have to ensure that everyone in our country has a roof over his or her head and is in secure housing. It is a matter of dignity. It is a matter of pride. This budget has failed to address this crisis we have, a crisis that really knows no boundaries and has no barriers in this nation.

The fact that the government has thrown the issues of social justice off its agenda and off its priority list is really an insult to the many families and individuals who live without the basic means of survival. More than half of social housing applicants spend more than 50% of their income on housing. It is a tremendous burden for those who are in a low income bracket, which is a growing segment in our communities. That includes seniors, single parent families and immigrants.

We need only take a look at the waiting lists, even in an area like mine. In Brampton alone, there are approximately 30,000 people on a wait list to get into an affordable housing project. There is a wait list of over 21 years for some of these individuals.

There are regions like Peel, which has started a program called “Home in Peel Affordable Ownership Program”, which is going to provide some assistance, given the increase in population, the housing shortage and the market increases. Owning a home is no longer affordable for many Canadians across the country. We need the government to show some action. We need the government to show some leadership to ensure that these vulnerable people in our society have that chance and that opportunity.

When we take a look at national housing across the country, we see three major programs: the homelessness partnership initiative, the housing program, and the residential rehabilitation assistance program. All three are major federal programs that have provided resources and support for many of these community organizations in order to help the vulnerable in society. All three of these programs are due to expire at the end of this fiscal year. These groups and organizations are crying out, but what has the government done? Absolutely nothing.

Whether it is on child care, health care, affordable housing or dealing with immigrants in this country, we have realized that social justice has fallen off the map. We need action. We need leadership. We need a government that is going to care about the vulnerable in our society.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member. She listed some of the things of concern to her. She says that she is the critic for social justice, I think, in her caucus, but I am not sure.

As an example, I was pleased last month to stand on a stage with the Assembly of First Nations and announce the market housing fund, for example, something it has been asking for, for a long time. It was this government that actually brought that in and announced it with the AFN. It was a pleasure. We announced hundreds of millions of dollars for housing both on and off reserve, both in the north and in the south.

We also announced increased funding for shelters for aboriginal women, victims of violence, including money for five new shelters, because we realized there was a need for that. So, we have moved to fill that need.

She says there is nothing for aboriginal people, or aboriginal women I think she said, but that was a gap that we inherited. That is just one specific thing as an example.

She mentioned the immigration issue at length. There are dozens of organizations representing immigrants across the country that have come out in support of the amendments in this bill. Who are not in support are the lawyers. The lawyers loved the status quo, and the reason is because there are almost a million people in the queue.

This is the Liberal answer to the problem: create a system that leads to 800,000 or 900,000 people in the queue, all of whom must be processed and most of whom will not get a chance to come to Canada. That is not fair to the immigrants. Worse yet, it means that most of them will end up hiring an immigration lawyer and paying big bucks to get into a queue that will never get them Canada.

We want to make sure people come to Canada. That is the whole reason for the changes. That is why immigrants themselves say these are good changes.

Finally, she says all these things are wrong with the bill, that it is a travesty, that it is an awful thing, that the Government of Canada has lost its way and everything, and she says she speaks on behalf of these people.

However, her actions speak so loudly that we cannot hear her words because she will not stand in her place and vote on this bill, mark my words, and we will all be watching as will her people back home who will be saying, “Boy, you feel passionately about this. You feel strongly about this. I expect you to be there, if you feel like that, in the House of Commons to vote against it”. However, she--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I am sure the minister, as a former deputy speaker, will realize that I need to share the time with the member who had the floor.

The hon. member for Brampton—Springdale.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of talk from that side and, again, no action.

If the minister actually takes a look at previous records, I actually did stand in this House and did vote against this very immigration proposal and amendments that are being made.

I do not know which Canadians the minister has been speaking to about these changes, but he should definitely come out to my constituency, and he is invited. In Brampton—Springdale, which has one of the highest ethnic demographics in the country, I can tell members that people are extremely fearful. They are frustrated and they are upset with the fact that these changes and these amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are being brought forward through the back door, without any type of consultation.

Ethnic communities and Canadians across this country no longer want to be used to score cheap political points. They need to have a system which is fair, which is effective, which is efficient, and which is going to ensure that when they submit an application to come to Canada it is going to be given the due diligence that it deserves, it is going to be processed in a timely fashion, and that when they do come here, there are going to be opportunities for them, there are going to be resources for them.

One only needs to talk to some of the most vulnerable in our society to realize that they feel ignored by the government. The government has a responsibility to provide that leadership and to show some action on behalf of all Canadians in this country, not just its voter bank.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate this afternoon.

I, like a majority of Canadians, when I get up every morning and I read the newspaper I see what is going on. I have certainly come to the conclusion that this country is very much headed in the wrong direction.

It is my view, it is my vision, that the only way this country is going to work is with a strong central government speaking for every region, every province, and every person who lives in this country. That is not what we are seeing right now. We are basically seen as a phrase from another prime minister. This government is basically not even a head waiter. I would call it an ATM or a butler to the other provinces in Canada.

What we have is ill-conceived tax cuts. We have the highest spending government of any government ever elected in this country. We seem to have a lack of direction, a lack of leadership, and it would appear to me that we have lost our way.

This is said because it has happened in a short period of time. We all know, as Canadians, that we went through a very rough time, beginning in 1993. When the Conservatives were kicked out of office in that year, we all know that the annual deficit was $45 billion. We know that interest rates hovered around 11%. We know that unemployment was over 10%. We know that the debt to GDP ratio was 73%.

Decisions had to be made both monetary and fiscal. These were not easy decisions. These were decisions that took a lot of leadership, but these were decisions that were done. They were done by a strong central government.

As a result, we had 10 consecutive surpluses. There was a $100 billion tax cut. The debt to GDP ratio decreased to somewhere in the vicinity of 37% and all Canadians in the House, all Canadians in every province, and all Canadians in every region have every reason to be very proud.

However, if we do not pay attention to history, history will repeat itself and that is what I think is going on right now. Last week, Statistics Canada reported that in the first quarter we are back into negative growth after a long period of time. Every day we pick up the paper there are more job losses. We have a finance minister who is in a full frontal attack on the province of Ontario, stating that that province is the last place in the world where anyone should invest.

Confidence is such an important matter. It drives business. If there is no consumer confidence, consumers will not spend. If there is no business confidence, businesses will not invest. It is so important.

If the finance minister of this country does not have confidence in the province of Ontario, how do we expect General Motors to have any confidence? How do we expect any other business to have any confidence in this particular province?

When I looked at the budget, I was hoping to see initiatives that would be indicative of a strong central government, such as the productivity agenda, innovation, and the need, and I will admit there is some work being attempted on this, of a national securities regulator.

We want to see smart tax decreases, ones that encourage investment and savings. We would like to see something in affordable housing. We would like to see something that would try to eliminate or at least attempt to eliminate the interprovincial trade barriers that we see across Canada. We would like to see something in early childhood education, skills training, post-secondary education, research, especially research done by our important post-secondary institutions, and climate change. We would like to see something on Canada-U.S. relations.

To speak of Canada-U.S. relations, the worst that we have seen is the Conservative Party interjecting itself into the Democratic nomination process about a month ago, leaking information to the press about one of the candidates, Barack Obama. I just shudder to think if Mr. Obama becomes the president of the United States, what that will do to the relationship between Canada and the United States.

The reason why we are not seeing that is because these are so-called provincial jurisdictions. It is not our business. It is not our concern. Again, that disturbs me. I find it troubling and we have to question where this thinking comes from, who is developing this agenda, whose vision is it? When I talk to people from every part of Canada, that does not seem to be their thinking. We are a large geographical country with a relatively small population. People are looking for a strong central government with a pan-Canadian vision speaking for every person in every region of this country.

Where is this vision coming from? Who is developing it? I would suggest it is coming directly from the Prime Minister and maybe to a lesser extent from the Minister of Finance. He set his vision out a year or two before he was elected prime minister in this so-called firewall letter. He urged and pleaded with the then premier of Alberta to get out of medicare, get out of the income tax system that we have in the Canada, and get out of the use of the RCMP. He said to put a firewall or a moat around the province and go on its own without Canada.

The people I talk to from Alberta do not associate themselves with that vision. I do not associate myself with that vision. Most people in this House, I would suggest, do not associate with that vision or that agenda for Canada. People are looking for a strong central government and they do not see that at all.

One of the biggest issues facing Canadians right now is the need for action on climate change. We waited for the government for the last two and a half years. There has been nothing. It views it as a communications issue, not a real issue. We had the spectacle of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec coming together to their great credit and coming forward with a plan. Of course, we know what happened. Once that plan was announced, it was attacked by the federal Minister of the Environment.

They would not have had to do that if the Government of Canada took this seriously and did something, but that is not happening. Then, of course, we have the fight between the Minister of the Environment and the premiers of Quebec and Ontario. That will go on for quite a while I would assume and, of course, nothing is going to happen certainly from a pan-Canadian basis on the whole issue of climate change.

As one member of Parliament speaking in my little corner here, I find it disturbing. I find it troubling. I come back to the situation which I find a troubling spectacle with the Minister of Finance attacking the families, the workers, and the companies that live, work and invest in the province of Ontario.

Again, it is destroying confidence. I find it troubling that no other Conservative members of Parliament from the province of Ontario will get up and disassociate themselves with those remarks. They just clap when the Minister of Finance makes these statements. I am over here just shaking my head because I do not know how long this is going to go on. I am deeply concerned as to the further erosion of confidence from the remarks made by the Minister of Finance. I do hope they stop soon.

I want to add my words to the debate. I believe the government is going in the wrong direction. It is on the wrong path. It has lost its way. When we look back at history, this was not the vision of previous Conservative governments. It was not the vision and agenda of Sir John A. Macdonald. It certainly was not the vision and agenda of Brian Mulroney. It was not the vision and agenda of Joe Clark and I believe Canadians understand that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did want a chance to participate in this debate and appreciate very much the chance to do so in the 10 minutes available to me. Given your position in the chair, perhaps you will understand that the theme of my remarks is based upon the words of the epistle of St. James to Oshawans. In that epistle, he said, “If I was an investor, the last place I would invest is in the province of Ontario”.

In commenting on this text, it seems to me it is very important for us to keep coming back to the Minister of Finance and reminding him of these words, reminding him how damaging they are and how damaging it is to have a Minister of Finance launching an invective and an attack on a single province, which happens to be the heart of our manufacturing sector in Canada.

I am very proud to associate myself with the remarks of my colleagues from Scarborough and my good friend, the member for Charlottetown. The vision of Canada and of the federal government, which has been expressed by the member for Charlottetown, is a vision I share entirely.

We need to have a federal government that is capable of exercising leadership. We need to have a federal government that is capable of providing Canadians with a sense of hope and with a sense of opportunity. Instead we find a federal government with a very narrow view of its jurisdiction, with a very restrictive view of, first, what any government can do and, second, in particular what the federal government can do. I want to make it very clear that I reject that vision of the country and I think the majority of Canadians also reject it and do not want to see it.

However, we come back to these words. Why would a Minister of Finance say such a thing? Why would a federal minister, from Oshawa, say to his own people, to his own constituents, that the last place he would do business as an investor is in the province of Ontario?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Gary Goodyear

Because he was honest.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

A colleague across the way says, “Because he is honest”, so it was not a mistake. I heard the heckle and I am picking up on the heckle and saying that is what the Conservatives actually believe. The member for Cambridge is only endorsing those comments.

Cambridge is a key element in the manufacturing sector of Ontario and he has associated himself now with this epistle from St. James to the Oshawans, saying that the last place to invest is the province of Ontario.

I want to indicate to the members of the House what would happen if this were said about virtually any other part of the country, if a prime minister or a first minister said that about the province of New Brunswick, or the province of Newfoundland, or the province of Quebec, or any other province.

If that had been said about the province of Quebec, if the Minister of Finance had said that Quebec was the last place he would invest, there would have been an open and not-so-quiet revolution in Quebec. It would not have been a quiet revolution, but a real revolution, because people would not have accepted that.

On behalf of the people of Canada who live in Ontario, we do not accept being singled out by the Minister of Finance for opprobrium and attack and we do not accept that we are somehow second class citizens. For the Liberal Party, our Canada includes Ontario and Ontarians, and that is what we believe. We believe in that economy.

With the increase in the value of the dollar having gone up 50% in the last three or four years, with the impact of higher oil prices and higher energy prices, of course competitiveness has been affected in the province of Ontario. Much of our exports and our manufacturing has had the benefit of a truly competitive economy and now we are in a more difficult position.

This is not the moment for meanspirited partisan attacks. This is not the moment for the Minister of Finance, because the government of Ontario happens to be a Liberal government, which defeated the government of which he was a member, to suddenly turn around and attack not only that government, but attack the people of the province and the business climate of the province and hold out to foreign investors the idea that Ontario is a place where business should not be done. It is shameful.

Let me remind the House once again of the words of the epistle of St. James to the Oshawans, “If I was an investor, the last place I would invest is the province of Ontario”. It is shameful.

I can assure members opposite that those words will not be forgotten. Those words will not be lost in the course of a parliamentary debate, because those words were spoken aloud by the Minister of Finance in a deliberate way.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Gary Goodyear

We care about Ontario. We have to make decisions.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
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5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Judging from the heckling from the member for Cambridge, they were made in a way that is shared by members opposite.

When we look at the conditions being faced in our manufacturing sector—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Gary Goodyear

We were worried. The last time you were in charge of Ontario something bad happened.