House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was home.

Topics

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 18, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of Sitting
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Given that we have no further business before the House, we will suspend until 12 o'clock when we will continue with government orders.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:50 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from November 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-51, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and to implement other measures, be read the third time and passed.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

November 16th, 2009 / noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Mississauga South has seven minutes remaining in his speech.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
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Noon

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-51 is an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and to implement other measures.

As members will know, from the debate that has gone so far, this bill touches on a broad range of subject matters, some of which I have mentioned in my previous remarks.

Before I move on to my final remarks, I would like to note that on page 6745 of the November 6 Hansard, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance raised a question about whether or not I had even read Bill C-51.

In my defence, I would remind the member that he chaired a briefing session for members of Parliament the day before it was tabled in this place and, as he will recall, I was sitting in the front row throughout the meeting and was one of the members asking most of the questions. He may want to withdraw the remark about my presence at the meeting or about reading the bill.

In reviewing some of the other matters that the members have talked about in debate and why it is relevant, because members have obviously raised it, was certainly to go back and remind Canadians about the November economic statement a year ago, which is where we need to understand where we came from and why we are here today.

The economic statement contained projections of surpluses and it included cuts to government spending at a most inappropriate time. It is really amazing what happened. The members will know the litany of changes we have undergone. A budget was brought in that ultimately included a fiscal stimulus through infrastructure and other members and the Liberal Party supported them. However, what did not happen was the execution of the matters in that budget. I remember raising in the House that, even with regard to the last fiscal year, some $3 billion of infrastructure funding did not get out the door. It was approved project by project, ready to go. We talked often about having shovel ready projects so that the money could get out quickly so we could save current jobs. That was one of the key elements of the infrastructure program.

We did not get the money out. We let the money lapse, which is a shame because it just goes back into the treasury, even though it was already announced, promised, funded and ready to go. Talk about shovel ready, that was it and they let it go.

We also know it is the same situation with regard to the current program of infrastructure spending. Only 10% of the projects that were submitted for funding are underway and have shovels in the ground. It is the government's term “shovel ready”.

In my own city of Mississauga, I just looked at the listing from the manager of the City of Mississauga who keeps the members of Parliament informed. There are a large number of projects in the sixth largest city in the country, Mississauga. However, in my own riding there are none that have any shovels in the ground yet, but they do have signs everywhere announcing them. It is really a shame because, as we have seen with the unemployment situation, we have gone from having the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years to now having the highest in our history. We are approaching 9% and expectations are that it could hit 10%. It means that we are still losing jobs when the stimulus program should have been saving those jobs, should have been creating those jobs through the infrastructure programs and through other initiatives. It has not. It has been a terrible execution.

It just strikes me that the Prime Minister once mused that Canada did not need to get on side in terms of stimulus, in terms of this overall so-called global financial crisis, because we are a trading nation, which means that other countries that are doing all the stimulus spending are creating an economic activity and they will trade with us and we will benefit from their economic spending.

However, we also need to do our share but now, instead of having a surplus in the current fiscal year, we are now up to a projected deficit of some $60 billion for Canada. It is outrageous that the current government has allowed this to happen.

The Prime Minister says that his government will not raise taxes and it will not cut government spending, particularly in transfers to the provinces for health care and other things. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says that we are in a technical recession. This means that we cannot grow out of it.

Projections show that even five years hence Canada will still be running a $19 billion to $20 billion deficit. This should be of concern to Canadians. This shows the government is incapable of managing the financial matters of the country. The government's responsibility is to be fiscally responsible. The Conservatives have spent all their time advertising things that have not happened.

I have some grave concerns about the government's ability to do the job. I have concerns about the EI commission, which the government wants to start up in 2010, with $2 billion in seed money. After that, all the premiums would go into the commission and all the expenses would come out of it.

With an unemployment rate that high, it is very clear to me, and I am sure to all Canadians, that the commission will operate at a deficit itself, and I hope members will ask about this. It will not have the resources to pay the employment insurance benefits to which Canadians are entitled. The government will have to make further transfers into the commission. It shows how incompetent the Conservatives really are.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found my colleague's comments in regard to these important issues interesting.

Would he elaborate a bit more on the issue of the commission and its workings? We do not know a whole lot about it. What would happen when it started to run into a deficit position? Who would be responsible? Obviously, it would be taxpayers.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

The member is quite right, Mr. Speaker. Although the government has said that it will not raise taxes, it has announced that it will raise the premiums on EI to generate an additional $13 billion a year. This is a contradiction of its promise that it would not raise taxes.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, in answer to a question in the House regarding whether an increase in payroll taxes, basically EI premiums, would be a tax, he said that it was not a tax. If that is not a tax, then I do not know what is.

We are probably going to have a $60 billion or $70 billion deficit. The $2 billion to be transferred into the commission would also be charged to the consolidated revenue fund, which means it would further erode the fiscal position of Canada. However, $2 billion is not going to be enough. The premiums are going to go into the new commission and the payments are going to come out.

When we are running an 8% to 9% rate of unemployment and when we are looking at increasing benefits for long-tenured workers, it is clear it is going to operate at a deficit and the money is going to have to come from the pockets of Canadians.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. I heard the first part of it the other day. He barely touched on Bill C-51. He does not seem to really want to deal with it at all, and I think there are a number of reasons why. Even today he has talked about a whole lot of other things other than the bill.

One of the main reasons he does not want to talk about it is that it contains the home renovation tax credit. This is probably one of the most popular tax reduction measures that has been brought in for years. People across Canada have taken advantage of it, but the Liberals have opposed it and voted against it.

Many people across the country are using the home renovation tax credit to renovate their homes and it is creating jobs. Given that it is as popular as it is, could he explain to Canadians, since millions of them are watching, why the Liberals are opposed to the home renovation tax credit?

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are opposing an incompetent government for its fiscal mismanagement. That is the issue.

When the government runs a deficit the way it is, I do not know how it will operate the home renovation tax credit once people start to file. I do know there are already some problems in it. We have raised some of the issues. We are very concerned about people getting scammed by disreputable businesses that have gone into it because there is such a high demand.

The renovation program is about two sentences in the entire bill, which is quite a substantive bill. Other issues are extremely important. The CBC will have its borrowing authority increased to $220 million. Some people might say that it sounds pretty good, but the only reason it is being done is to allow the CBC to sell its rental revenues over the next few years on properties that it owns but does not use. It is mortgaging the future.

As I said the last time when I spoke on this, I believe that when we mortgage the future of the CBC, it is the very first step to privatizing the CBC at fire sale prices.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member say earlier that when the Liberals were in power, they were expecting that the system the government had put in place to provide some kind of EI fund or an alternative management system for that fund would soon run out of money because there were a great many unemployed people.

I have a question for the member. When the Liberals were in power, they did not accept repeated requests made by unemployed groups for the creation of an independent EI fund. The Liberals collected billions of dollars in EI contributions and put the money into the general revenue fund to lower government deficits. That was a major misappropriation of EI money.

How can he say what he said, considering the fact that the Liberals could have acted a long time ago?

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in fact, the collapsing of a stand-alone bank account for the EI fund was mandated by the auditor general during the tenure of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. It was operating at a deficit at the time.

Who would have known we would have, under the Liberal government, not only balanced budgets by 1997 but 10 years of surplus and paying down debt. However, all that money is still being kept track of and it is the Conservatives now who are taking that money and locking it into the consolidated revenue fund. They will now set up a commission to operate on a stand-alone basis, just like it was when the auditor general closed it down. That is the problem. The Conservatives are taking the money from employers and employees because they do not have a way of paying back the $50 billion that is still outstanding. The money is still there and it is being used to pay down debt, reducing interest expenses and trying to manage the finances of the nation. However, it is still owed, and the member knows that.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always listen with great interest to my hon. colleague, but I think we need to back up a little to see where the Liberal Party has been. When it came to siding with the Conservatives on stripping pay equity for women, the Liberal Party stood and supported that. When it came to stripping basic environmental protection on Canada's river ways, the Liberal Party stood with the Conservative Party and supported that. When it came to stripping the fundamental obligations on Kyoto, the Liberal party went along with that.

The Liberal Party always looks through the prism, not of a national vision but of how to get back to power. Now we have a situation where the Liberal leader, perhaps he was seeking employment benefits himself, suddenly announced that the Liberals would oppose everything from here on in.

The Liberals are opposing changes to EI, which would help unemployed workers. Many in my riding have asked me about supporting it, but the Liberal Party does not support that. The bigger issue is getting the visitor from Harvard elected. Now the Liberals are refusing to support the home renovation tax credit, even though it is out there, because the visitor from Harvard sees this as a path to getting to power.

The Liberals have supported the government on everything that is wrong. When it finally has done one or two things right, the Liberals oppose it. I cannot understand their hypocrisy on this.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the official opposition has a greater role to play than the other opposition parties because it has two responsibilities. First, it is to hold the government accountable. Second, it is to show Canadians that it is a government in waiting.

The accountability aspect is where the government has failed miserably. For example, what did the Prime Minister say about Kyoto? He said that it was a socialist plot trying to suck money out of rich countries and companies.

There is no commitment of the government in terms of addressing climate change, which is so important. Canadians want us to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Even the environment minister, when he talks to the oil sands people, says that the government wants to do its share on climate change but it wants to do it in a way that does not impact their businesses. The dirtiest, most polluting business in Canada is the oil sands.

I do not need to take any lessons from the member. Responsible opposition is to hold the government accountable and to point out where it has failed Canadians.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
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12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-51, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and to implement other measures.

Bill C-51 was introduced by the Minister of Finance on September 30 and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance on October 7. The members of the Standing Committee on Finance have already begun to study it.

The purpose of Part I of this bill is to amend various aspects of the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations, namely with respect to taxes for certain livestock producers, the home renovation tax credit, the first-time home buyers' tax credit and the working income tax benefit.

Part II of this bill includes provisions to amend the Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act, the Broadcasting Act, the Budget Implementation Act, 2009, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act, the Customs Act, the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Superannuation Act and the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. It is clear that this bill amends a number of existing acts.

I would like to speak more specifically to the home renovation tax credit. That aspect of Bill C-51 is rather important to the Bloc Québécois. It is because of that measure in particular that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. What is more, this concept was part of a recovery plan submitted by the Bloc Québécois in 2008. A second component of this recovery plan was also submitted to the Conservative government in April 2009.

The part concerning the creation of a home renovation tax credit was included in the recovery plan and it is extremely important. At first, the Bloc wanted to encourage people to convert their oil furnaces to more energy efficient models. When we presented that measure, the Bloc members emphasized that this would help reduce our dependence on oil, which is extremely important. We have often said that Quebec would do well to reduce its dependence on oil. Even though the home renovation tax credit does not exactly achieve that goal, it does allow certain adjustments to be made. This measure does not strictly target energy efficient retrofits, but in this economic crisis it is an effective way to stimulate the economy rather quickly.

As we have already indicated, this budget was unacceptable to Quebec. The Conservative government has clearly favoured the automotive industry concentrated mainly in Ontario, to the detriment of Quebec's forestry industry. Compared to the $10 billion given to the auto industry, only about $70 million was given to the forestry industry, which is going through a major crisis.

Yesterday I met with some private woodlot owners who earn a living by making good use of their land. These people told me over and over that they have received almost no support from the Conservative government. To pass along what they told me, they are extremely disappointed.

They really expected to see a fairer distribution of the money they send to the federal government. I am convinced that the federal government is making these people poorer, since it is doing nothing to help them. It has also left them completely disillusioned, because of the unequal measures offered to certain groups in the country, particularly in Ontario and Quebec.

Coming back to the home renovation tax credit, we definitely support that measure. As I was saying earlier, it is a way to stimulate the economy to some degree. Even though this is not only about energy efficient retrofits, many people will benefit from this tax credit, for window products in particular.

So, part of this measure will improve energy efficiency. Indeed, people will be able to use this tax credit to improve the energy efficiency of their homes by putting in new window products, that is, windows, doors and skylights. Of course this can also help people significantly improve the comfort of their homes. When properly applied, this measure can considerably decrease both household energy consumption and the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, a major problem for all of us.

Purchasing higher quality windows, doors and skylights will ensure the right balance between cost, ease of use and maintenance. Owners of homes that are 15 or 20 years old and even older are already experiencing maintenance problems. This tax credit will allow these people to make their homes more energy efficient and easier to maintain. People often choose maintenance-free doors and windows, which improves durability, aesthetics and energy efficiency.

I insist on that because this measure has been very popular, particularly in Quebec. In my riding, many people told me that they thought it was an interesting measure and that they used it to varying degrees. It is not a cure-all for our economic woes, but it is a good support measure.

These changes will reduce energy costs. It is estimated that, for the residential sector, energy bills will be reduced by 7% to 12%. This will obviously have an interesting impact in terms of reducing greenhouse gases.

We talked earlier about the comfort of our homes. We all live in a rather difficult climate.This measure will help eliminate cold drafts in our homes, which is very beneficial. In terms of prevention, efficiency and maintenance, it will help reduce condensation. When new windows are put in, the air exchange is better, which means less condensation in the homes and less deterioration of materials. It also reduces external noises.

However, the home renovation tax credit still raises some questions.

This tax credit is supposedly effective but it does have limits. Eligible expenses are those covered by contracts completed after January 27, 2009, when the budget was tabled, and before February 1, 2010, and must be directly related to eligible renovations to an eligible dwelling or property. An eligible dwelling generally consists of the taxpayer's principal residence or that of one or more family members.

The maximum tax credit is $1,350 for one year only. Certain questions come to mind—questions that have not yet been answered—and it would be appropriate for the government to address them because they are important to citizens. Given that this tax credit was designed to temporarily encourage renovation projects or to accelerate projects already planned, should the credit not be available for more than just the one year? Should it not be extended for another year? It is an economic stimulus measure and the economy is still in trouble. According to the statistics, a great number of people are still unemployed. However, statistics do not tell the whole story. They indicate that the level of unemployment has stabilized but what goes unsaid is that many people are not eligible for unemployment benefits and are not even included in the statistics.

The government's proposed changes to employment insurance have not made it possible for many people to have access to the program. Even now barely 50% of those who pay into the employment insurance program qualify for benefits when they lose their jobs temporarily or permanently. Thus, the government's changes to employment insurance have not improved accessibility at all. Too many people are still denied benefits and government support after having contributed for many years. For all sorts of reasons, they are not eligible for employment insurance benefits.

There is also the issue of the two week waiting period. Once again, the government is refusing to make changes even though we know very well that this measure would truly support and stimulate the economy. Rather than waiting two weeks, recipients would receive benefits much more quickly and would not have to strain their resources to cover this period.

As we know, in some communities, in many places, the two breadwinners of some families, namely the father and the mother, both find themselves out of work and must wait the two week period. These people often go back to work later on during the year and then, five or six months later, they are once again laid off. This means that, two or even three times a year, these families do not have any income for a period of two weeks each time.

That is totally unacceptable and that is why the Bloc Québécois has proposed changes and keeps asking for an in-depth reform of the employment insurance system that must include the abolition of the waiting period. We must also allow these people to receive EI benefits based on their good faith, and we must stop thinking that EI claimants are crooks trying to defraud the system. Let us stop trying to find all sorts of ways to delay the payment of benefits as long as possible, because some people must wait several weeks before getting that first cheque, even though they are entitled to it.

If I am now talking about the EI system it is because of our suggestion to the government to consider extending this tax credit.

It would be important to look at the actual impact of this tax credit over a longer period of time.

There are other questions that remain unanswered, but that should still be answered. Currently, how many Canadians qualify for the proposed credit? Are estimates available?

As we know, this tax credit is non-refundable. If, strictly for home renovation, Bill C-51 proposed instead a refundable tax credit, what would be the impact on the government's total tax expenditures? What would be the pros and the cons of a refundable home renovation tax credit? Surely there must be government studies that could help get a clear understanding of the impact of such a tax credit. However, as always with this government, we are getting as little information as possible. In fact, we do not have any information. We can always try getting more information indirectly, because with this government we never get answers to our questions.

I said earlier that the Bloc Québécois submitted a proposal, in a recovery plan, for home renovation incentives to improve energy efficiency and real estate value. Are there elements in such a program which should lead us to believe that there will be a real decrease in total greenhouse gas emissions?

The government of Quebec also introduced a home renovation tax credit, but it is very different and it applies differently. The fact that the federal government did not adjust its tax credit to the tax credit already introduced by the Government of Quebec has caused some confusion among Quebeckers. Why was the credit capped at $1,350? Was this amount determined to be the optimal one to allow for the best possible economic recovery?

To what extent will this tax credit help the economy to recover in Quebec and in Canada? These are other questions for which we have not been able to get answers from the government.

Part 1 of Bill C-51 also deals with the first-time home buyers’ tax credit. The same questions must be asked. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a refundable tax credit for first-time home buyers? It would be interesting to have this information. Why has the proposed maximum been set at $750? This is a very small amount for the purchase of a first home. It would need to be much higher for housing construction to really have a stimulus effect on the economy. These are important questions to which no answer has been provided.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-51 strictly because of the home renovation tax credit, which is the most important part of it.

Economic Recovery Act (Stimulus)
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain for his excellent speech.

During the past few years, we have proposed several measures to improve the employment insurance plan. The member said that the government has invested very little money to support workers affected by job losses mostly in the forestry industry. The member and I intervened on several occasions because many forestry workers in the Mauricie region have been hit very hard.

I would like to hear what the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain has to say on that topic.