House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was self-employed.

Topics

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Human Resources made a great speech outlining the benefits of Bill C-56. Recently, the House also passed Bill C-50, which is currently in the Senate. It makes a big difference for those long-tenured workers who are laid off.

I think we can all agree that the best way to help unemployed people is to help them find a new job. When I go door to door in my riding, once in a while I run into someone who has lost his or her job but has gone out and started his or her own business. It is clear that this initiative will really help these people.

How could any MP stand in this place and oppose the measures that are in this great bill?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, forgive me if I am a little bit biased in my answer to that question. I do believe that every MP should be supporting this bill for the sake of the 2.6 million Canadians who are self-employed and the many hundreds of thousands more who will become self-employed because it is their dream and goal.

They have an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of those people are young. They want to have families too and they should not have to choose between the two. We recognize that the self-employed often do not take much time off work because they cannot afford to for a number of reasons. We want to provide those income supports that they need for those key moments in their lives.

Perhaps they are welcoming a new child into their family through adoption or they have just had a new baby. Perhaps they have had a sudden injury or illness that prevents them from working, or they need to take care of their gravely ill family members. We want to be there to support them.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-56, the fairness for the self-employed act.

The Liberals will support the bill in principle. We want to get it to committee to have a look at it. It might take some considerable review because a lot of people have opinions on it, some favourable and some perhaps not. I think people, more than anything else, will have questions about it.

It strikes me that there is a bit of regret in that one of two things has occurred in the bill. The government and its departments, including human resources, have looked at this for some time, along with models and proposals. If that is the case, it was not shared with the EI working group in the summer, of which I was a part. That was part of the mandate of the group. However, there was no serious proposal made to the group.

In spite of consistent questions, particularly from my colleague, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, who asked whether the government had any information, the response was no. She said that there must be something as it was in the platform of the Conservative Party. If there was any information, it belonged to the Conservative Party and it would not share it. It was a dichotomous situation. Either the department was working on things that were not shared with us or the bill was rushed through and had some flaws in it. We will decide which one of those it is as it goes forward.

However, this is a good step forward for Canadians who are self-employed, a modest one albeit but a step forward. It looks at certain benefits for people who are self-employed and would like to be part of the employment insurance system.

Another question is one that I just asked the minister. I will quote from page 100 of the budget book of January 27. It states:

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will be asked to establish an Expert Panel that will consult Canadians on how to best provide self-employed Canadians with access to EI maternity and parental benefits.

The minister indicated that the expert the panel intended to consult was me and that the EI working group was supposed to do this work, which clearly was not the intent back when the budget came forward.

On Tuesday night, during a bill briefing, I asked officials this question. What about the commitment in the budget to have an expert group? They had no idea what I was even talking about. It was never seriously considered, unless they can prove the opposite. Even the parliamentary secretary was confused as to whether there had actually been a commitment.

Clearly, not many Canadians were consulted. We have not heard from the minister that she has consulted a lot of Canadians. She quoted some people after the fact, indicating that some may like the direction of the bill, and why not?

I am sure there is some merit to the bill and we hope this might be an opportunity for Parliament to work. We can look at the bill in a serious way in committee, me and my colleagues on the Liberal side, along with the member for Chambly—Borduas, who works and lives this file, and I suspect the member for Acadie—Bathurst, who steps in for the New Democrats on the human resources committee.

There are people who can seriously look at this and identify the flaws and opportunities to make the bill better. I hope that happens and that in the spirit of co-operation, perhaps even the spirit of Christmas, as the bill works its way through committee that might in fact occur.

We do have some concerns about premiums. There has not been any estimate as to what the cost to the government would be. We have heard there is a premium rate and that it will be differentiated for the province of Quebec. The province of Quebec already has certain benefits, maternal and parental, and people can opt in. Will the rate people in Quebec pay be suitable for the level of benefits they would have and will there be a cost to the government?

One could assume that in the first year there will be a spike in premiums as people enter the program. They will have to be in it for at least a year before they can draw benefits, so there will be any outlay in benefits. However, as the benefits start to catch up to the premium, what will be the cost and who will pay that cost? Will it be the consolidated revenue fund of the Government of Canada, as the government did with the extra five weeks in January, or will it be the EI fund where the money for Bill C-50 will come out of?

That is a big difference because, as we know, the government has set up a separate EI financing board, which only has $2 billion to work with. We have already heard from the Chief Actuary of Canada that the $2 billion is nowhere near enough to fund the programs that exist without adding new programs. That is one question we will ask.

However, I want to take a second and talk about a group of people in Parliament who have done some magnificent work. Over the last few years, the National Liberal Women's Caucus has established three pink books. These pink books came out in 2006, 2007 and 2009. In each of those pink books, the National Liberal Women's Caucus has addressed this issue of self-employment and the importance that it has for Canadian women.

In the one that was released recently, I will quote from page 16. It states:

Another significant group in the labour force are self-employed women. The latest statistics reveal that more than 1 in 10 employed women in Canada are self-employed. In 2004, almost 840 000 women were self-employed. Women entrepreneurs face many challenges, including difficulty in accessing capital and benefits. The majority of women small-business owners earn $30 000 per year or less and have no access to low-cost health care, no protection for disability, no employment insurance or maternity benefits, and cannot afford private sector insurance and pension plans.

Following that, it has a recommendation, which states:

Permit self-employed workers to participate in the special benefits programs under the EI program as recommended by the Standing Commons Committee on the Status of Women in its June 2007 report, “Improving the Economic Security of Women: Time to Act.” This change would give self-employed workers access to maternity and parental benefits and the Compassionate Care Benefit.

I congratulate the government on adopting one of the recommendations from the pink book. I would encourage it to go further and adopt all of the recommendations in that book. If the pink book, which coincidentally is pink, were adopted in full by the Government of Canada, I would not have to be a member of Parliament. A lot of the work would be done. I want to commend members of our women's caucus for the outstanding work they do, particularly on the social side, but also on the economic and environmental sides.

The recommendations the caucus have made have been very important. People such as the member for Beaches—East York and the member for Winnipeg South Centre have been champions of this issue. We have new members of the national women's caucus, such as the member for Brossard—La Prairie, who has done some fabulous work on this issue as well. The Liberal caucus has been looking at this for a long while.

I also want to refer to a report that came out in June of 2009. This is a report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women entitled, “Towards Improving Access to EI Benefits for Women in Canada”. Again, with the House's indulgence, I would like to quote from that. It states:

A measure which can be taken to limit the problem of moral hazard would be to extend exclusively EI special benefits to self-employed individuals. The Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) has extended its coverage to self-employed individuals for maternity and parental benefits. The Committee heard from several witnesses that QPIP can serve as a possible model for a federal program.

There are many good recommendations in the report. Recommendation 14 states:

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada make maternity and parental benefits as flexible and equal as the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan by expanding eligibility, benefit levels and duration of EI benefits.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada extend benefits to the self-employed using the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan as its model.

That also was a very good report and one of the things that our human resources committee would do.

I will ask for the indulgence of my colleagues from Chambly—Borduas, Acadie—Bathurst and my colleagues on the government side. We should have a joint committee study, at least one meeting where we bring in the status of women committee and look at this together, because of the specific implications it has for women's issues. There may be other committees that would be affected as well, such as finance or other committees.

This is a very broad bill, a long bill, a technical bill and a detailed bill. We have to do a bit of serious evaluation of it.

There are models and we have had significant groups, such as the National Liberal Women's Caucus and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, that have given us recommendations. We do not have to start from zero. We can take what the minister has given us. Again, I think there is a very real possibility that we can make this bill better for more Canadians.

However, we are discussing Bill C-56 and there are certain things that it would do.

The proposed legislation will provide the same number of weeks of benefit as paid employees have under their EI program. To recap, that is 15 weeks of maternity benefits, 35 weeks of parental and adoption benefits, 15 weeks of sickness and 6 weeks of compassionate care benefits.

I want to address the issue of Quebec. Quebec has a far more advanced social infrastructure than most provinces in Canada. It has made it a purpose to provide a solid social infrastructure system in the province of Quebec. It has a plan for parental and maternal benefits in Quebec. People in Quebec will still have the option to partake in the other plan as well, and they will pay a lower premium rate. Off the top of my head that the rate is 1.73%. It goes down to 1.37%. Is that a fair and accurate reduction for the amount of services to be provided?

We need to look at the entrance requirements. Normally for special benefits it would be an hours-based entrance requirement of 600 hours. Because we are talking about the self-employed, the determination is that it would be a threshold of $6,000 in pre-tax income. We need to have a look at that. The weekly benefits will be calculated by taking the claimant's income from the previous tax year and dividing it by 52. When this gets to committee and people come forward saying they would like to participate in this or they represent a group that would like to participate in it but they have a certain question, we should hear them. This is where the committee can do some work.

The minister has indicated that when we look at EI for the self-employed and special benefits, the questions we have to ask are these. What is the pre-attachment and the post-attachment to the labour force? What is the pre-attachment and the post-attachment to premiums? It has been determined that people have to pay in advance for a year before they can claim benefits. However, once they have claimed a benefit, they have to pay premiums for the rest of their life as long as they are self-employed. We have to look at that. We have to look at the numbers both for the individual and for the EI fund, which will be financing this at the end of day, and determine if that makes sense.

Will people take part in the program if they know they have to pay premiums years after they finished drawing benefits? I do not think we know that yet and I am not sure we will know that until we have a chance to look at it in a very serious way.

We believe this is a plan that has merit. We think self-employed people are looking for this. I can recall talking with a gentleman by the name of Chris Hopkins from Montague, Prince Edward Island. He has long campaigned for EI for self-employed. An article in July quotes him as follows:

It's too late for me, it's not going to benefit me, but it could benefit a lot of people, especially in these recessionary times that we have...I'm no longer self-employed, I'm just plain out there, an unknown statistic, not classed as unemployed because I was never employed, I was self-employed. So I'm a non-entity in the eyes of the government.

People who have been on websites, making appearances and rallying troops to this issue are the kind of folks we should probably listen to at this point in time. We have an opportunity to make this a good bill to do what they have asked us, which is to extend benefits to self-employed. Folks like that deserve some credit on a day like this and they deserve to be listened to as we move through the committee process.

As I have indicated, we are generally in support of this and we hope the bill is as good as the minister says. If it is not as good as she says, which is very possible, we hope we can make it better with her and her government's co-operation, working together with the opposition. However, we are going to ask questions.

One of the first questions will be why the bill came forward without the input of the promised expert panel. In the budget the Conservatives specifically said that an expert panel would consult and then determine what would be an appropriate way to provide EI to the self-employed.

In June, when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition determined that there would be an EI working group, the Prime Minister indicated that for the self-employed the government would consider looking beyond maternal parental sickness and compassionate care. He said that anything was on the table. He said that the EI working group would have a look at this.

We did not get the information that we needed. We never got a serious proposal. But to suggest that this group became the expert panel that the Prime Minister had indicated is just a smokescreen. The government did not appoint that expert panel. Why not? Why were the ministerial officials who briefed us the other day totally unaware that that commitment had even been made?

It is a highly technical bill. There may be flaws. There may be exclusions. What is the cost to government? That is a key point.

I want to go back to the fact that last year the government set up the CEIFB, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, which is supposed to be an arm's-length organization from government that will look at EI, that will determine premium rates, and that would invest moneys that are in the account. The problem is the government only put in $2 billion.

Liberals, at the human resources committee, supported by opposition members, said we have to have a look at this and we studied this. One of the people that we brought in was Mr. Bruno Gagnon, from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, and he spoke to the fact that a $10 billion to $15 billion reserve was sufficient. He stated:

Let's assume that a recession hits Canada and unemployment levels rise to 8%. The payment to out-of-work Canadians increases by approximately $3 billion. So the $2 billion reserve of the board is depleted and the EI account has to borrow $1 billion from the government. In this situation we might have to raise the premiums above the legislated limit of 0.15%. Consideration of applying the 0.15% would fall to ministers. It would not be a very easy decision, because if you applied the 0.15% ceiling you would run a deficit and the deficit would accumulate. The impact on Canadian businesses, which pay nearly 60% of the cost of employment insurance, would be huge...Workers would have to pay 40% of the cost when they were already at risk of losing their jobs,--

He was talking, at this point in time, suggesting what would happen if employment went to 8%. Well, it has gone to 8%. The demands on the system are much higher than they were then. The demands on the system are much higher than the government would acknowledge. The demands on the system are possibly going to be made more robust by this bill. So, we just need to have a look at the financing side of it.

Who exactly is defined as self-employed? There is a whole range of people who would consider themselves self-employed. Who all is included in the definitions under this bill? We need to have a full understanding of that.

Another question is, why not full EI benefits? If we are extending EI benefits from maternal, parental, compassionate care, sickness, then would why we not look at EI benefits to all self-employed people on some kind of basis? What is the model for that?

So, this is a limited-scope bill in that it targets specific measures. Maybe that is the safest thing to do. Maybe that is what Canadians want. However, maybe Canadians would rather have the full meal deal when it comes to accessing employment insurance.

Is the $6,000 pre-tax earnings threshold appropriate?

The issue of Quebec and how this plan will interact with QPIP in Quebec is important as well.

There is significant work that has to be done on this bill. I think, as I said before, that this is an opportunity for all members of this House, and particularly the members of the human resources committee, a committee that generally works very well together, a committee that is well chaired by the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook, a committee that has a lot on its plate already.

We are doing a study on poverty that will see us going out to western Canada the week after we get back from the break week to hear further testimony and hear witnesses about poverty and how do we actually do something about this in Canada. So, we have a lot on our plate. But this bill is important. I think we can give it the consideration that it deserves. I think we should see what people like Chris Hopkins and others around the country who have fought on this issue for a long time. I have not been in contact with Chris Hopkins recently, but if he is around, I encourage him to contact members of the committee and let us know what he thinks of this bill.

So, hopefully, as we head toward Christmas in this Parliament, we will have a sense of co-operation on this that will allow us to take a bill, perhaps improve it at committee, determine its strengths, understand its weaknesses, and work together to bring forward a bill that truly does provide an opportunity for the self-employed in Canada.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his comments, and I do appreciate his tentative support for this excellent bill. However, I was intrigued by one of his comments early in his speech, where he referred to a new interest in what he called a spirit of co-operation; in fact, what he referred to as the spirit of Christmas.

I am sure he knows, having been involved in the votes in this House, that when our government proposed adding another five weeks of benefits for the unemployed, he and his Liberals voted against that. When we proposed to extend work-sharing arrangements, he opposed that. He opposed our efforts to provide enhanced benefits for long-tenured workers. And when we tried to improve retraining opportunities for the unemployed, he and his Liberals voted against it.

I wonder if this is a new-found zeal that he has for this spirit of co-operation, or will that interest only last until Christmas.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague might want to get a copy of Hansard and have a look at how Liberals actually voted on the five weeks in January. We supported that budget earlier this year. We were not opposed to that. We supported that bill and the measures that were in the first budget. We thought those made sense.

We thought that Bill C-50 was blatantly discriminatory, picking winners and losers, telling people like seasonal workers across Atlantic Canada that they were not entitled to anything more, they were not deserving, but others may be. I am entirely comfortable with our vote on Bill C-50.

The member and his government boasted in the spring about how they were extending this five weeks to all Canadians, not just pilot projects but to all Canadians, and how fair that was. A few months later the government brings in a bill that does exactly the opposite and which discriminates against the vast majority of workers, even long-tenured workers in this country. I am entirely comfortable with that.

When I talk about the spirit of Parliament being a working relationship, that does not mean we have to agree with everything or that we all have to vote the same way. It is how we interact in a respectful manner. I hope that is what we will see over the next weeks and months.

I will wish him a merry Christmas when the times come, and I hope he gets his shot before then.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to congratulate my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the work he has done on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and also for convincing his Liberal colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-308, a bill that reforms employment insurance, at second reading. We dare to hope that the Conservatives will vote in favour of this bill at third reading.

I have the following question for my colleague. He mentioned that he had a hard time understanding how the government determined the premiums for self-employed workers. They also seem illogical to us, compared to the benefits, especially in Quebec. He mentioned quite rightly that Quebec has had its own plan since March 1, 2005. This plan came out of an agreement with the federal government to transfer responsibility for maternity and parental leave to Quebec, along with a transfer of 35¢ per $100 of earnings.

I would like to know how my colleague and his party understand this approach, which consists in having self-employed workers pay the full premium when they receive only a portion of the benefits and job loss benefits are not even included. Yet these workers will pay the same amount as if they were covered for job loss benefits.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments and the work that he does on this.

I think this is exactly what we have to do at committee, identify this rate and the fact that it is $1.73, the same as regular payers in the system. There is, of course, no employer premium, so the employers are paying the full cost but only the employee cost. For a long time people thought they might pay both ends. On the other hand, the benefits are less.

I think we have to look at that, and we have to look at what triggers what benefits and what the appropriate costs should be. Maybe it is higher and mayber it is lower. Maybe we can do that. Maybe we can find that out at committee.

I know that he is a very diligent member at committee and he will come fully prepared with ideas, costs and questions for people who may have the answers if we do not have them at committee. I think it is a very important process and I think the work can be very significant.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his speech.

He made several references to their pink book. I remember their pink book. I hope pink stands a better chance for success than red did, because as I recall, the red book talked about the GST and made all kinds of promises that were never kept.

My Liberal colleague is also trying to take credit for something, as though it had been his party's idea to grant benefits to self-employed workers. I would remind this House that when the Liberals were in power, they did absolutely nothing for self-employed workers. In contrast, our party, the NDP, made recommendations in its 1999 report. They can be found on page 12. We mentioned this, proposed it in the House of Commons and made requests in committee. At that time, the workers were saying:

Self-employed workers are not eligible for employment insurance and benefit from almost no social protection. We must take a closer look at what is really happening on the new labour market and explore ways to help so-called self-employed workers contribute to and benefit from the system.

My question is for the Liberal member. If the Liberals were in power, would self-employed workers who lose their jobs and are not covered by Bill C-56—which the Conservatives just introduced—be covered if they are not working? That is what self-employed workers were talking about: parental leave, maternity leave, sick leave, compassionate leave and other benefits if they do not have a job. That is what they said across the country. I wonder if the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour can answer this.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I know how serious the hon. member is about that. I acknowledge the books and reports he referenced in the last century, but we are looking forward to things we are proposing, not just myself but the Liberal caucus, the Liberal women's caucus, and the human resources committee. We are trying to go forward.

The only advice I can give Canadians is that any book they see that has a shade of red in it beats any book they see with a shade blue that comes out of this place. It would be better for the social infrastructure of this country and better for Canadian workers.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my friend and colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour has a constituent, who is probably one of the greatest hockey players now playing in the NHL, Sidney Crosby.

I have to ask my colleague this. Has he ever seen an exhibition of skating like what was just put on by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development when asked the question about the expert panel and trying to gather information before coming forward with this, and how she skated around that entire issue, abandoned the issue, and gave no answer?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, first of all I have to take issue with the member's comment that one of the best hockey players lives in my riding. The best hockey player in the world comes from Dartmouth--Cole Harbour and that is Sidney Crosby.

However, I must defend the minister in terms of her skating around the question. It is not really her fault. Her material is very weak and she has to work with the material that she has. So far it has not been great. I hope though that we can take step forward.

As I close my comments, let us try to make this positive. I am certainly prepared to put aside what happened over the summer when I felt that the Conservatives did not take the EI working group seriously and we missed an opportunity there. However, let us see if we can get something done for self-employed Canadian workers and move forward.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a quick question again about the working group that he spoke so eloquently about and has much disdain for. Could he provide for the House once again information about how the situation of self-employed benefits was handled by the particular working group and how the whole process was held in contempt by the current government?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I believe the EI working group could work.

One of my great political heroes is Teddy Kennedy. Teddy Kennedy passed away this year. One of his legacies was that he made things work. He reached across the aisle with Orrin Hatch and other conservative Republicans, he was a liberal Democrat, to get things done. That is the model we should all follow.

I know it is the model my colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor follows and I think that we should all follow.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

November 5th, 2009 / 11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth on a point of order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons raised a question of privilege suggesting that I was involved in the disturbance in the gallery, which occurred on October 26 during question period. That accusation is false.

I was as surprised as anyone was when this incident took place. It interrupted my important question on pensions that day in the middle of question period.

As my House leader has already said, any conspiracy here is only in the mind of the government House leader.

I do take this accusation very seriously. It is a very grave charge for one member to make against another, not something to be done frivolously or as a partisan stunt.

I greatly value and honour this place, as my father valued and honoured this place before me when he served in the House. He introduced me to the world of Parliament as a young person when we were involved in what was then the Older Boys Parliament and ultimately the Youth Parliament. I served as the speaker of the Youth Parliament in Quebec in the National Assembly for several years and was responsible for some of the kinds of decisions albeit of the young people of Quebec at that time.

These kinds of false accusations are simply not in keeping with the high standards of decorum that we need to be showing to Canadians. We cannot forget that this is their House of Commons.

I find it particularly troubling that accusations like these ones from the government House leader and the member for Langley could have been levelled against me or others without any effort to call me or ask me what happened. I certainly would have responded to any such call. It is almost like they were trying to intimidate me somehow. That is not right here.

We have both the right and the responsibility to debate the important issues of the people in this House. None of us should play any part in denying our fellow members the opportunity to freely and respectfully participate in these debates. Nor should anyone suggest that members should avoid meeting with groups who they might disagree with. These freedoms of speech and association are ancient rights that we were sent here to protect, not to erode.

I note that despite clear differences of opinion on some issues, the Minister of the Environment himself met with the very same group that I met with. I applaud him for doing so and certainly would never suggest that simply because he met with some of these young people that somehow he was responsible for their later actions in the House.

Lastly, I want to thank my friends, the member for Mississauga South and the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, for their correct and measured words on this matter. As always, I thank my friend from Vancouver East for her support.

In the spirit of encouraging free and open debate, and restoring a higher level of decorum and respect here in the House of Commons, I would invite the government House leader, should he so choose, and the member for Langley, should he so choose, to take this opportunity to apologize and withdraw their baseless accusations against me. I can assure the House that I would accept that apology and that would be the end of the matter as far as I am concerned.