House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

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Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

February 10th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion regarding the striking of a special committee on Afghanistan. I move:

That a special committee be appointed to consider the Canadian mission in Afghanistan consisting of 12 members which shall include 6 members from the government party, 3 members from the official opposition, 2 members from the Bloc Québécois and 1 member from the New Democratic Party, provided that the chair shall be from the government party; that in addition to the chair, there shall be one vice-chair; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party's members of the committee no later than February 10, 2009; that the quorum of the special committee be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least one member of the government party and one member of the opposition be present; that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the committee have all the powers of a standing committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House.

That the committee shall:

(a) meet regularly with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, National Defence and Public Safety and senior officials so that the special committee can make frequent recommendations on the conduct and progress of Canada's efforts in Afghanistan; and

(b) review the laws and procedures governing the use of operational and national security exceptions for the withholding of information from Parliament, the courts and the Canadian people with those responsible for administering those laws and procedures, to ensure that Canadians are being provided with ample information on the conduct and progress of the mission.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and related fiscal measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to comment on how the infrastructure programs in the budget will affect his riding. While he is doing that, I want to go on the record, while the Minister of Infrastructure is here, to make sure he gets the message that municipalities and first nations want to ensure they get their fair allotment of the infrastructure funds.

I have been making this case for over a year but I have been worried recently. In talking to officials, they have suggested that there is no policing mechanism to ensure that first nations and municipalities, which have such a huge task of delivering infrastructure and the lowest tax base, get the fair share that they did in the past. The genesis of these programs in the past was to help these junior governments.

I know the minister has met with them, and I appreciate that, and I know there is a generous amount in the budget, but it is important that municipalities and first nations get their fair share to do the jobs they need to do with their limited resources.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, the comments made by the hon. member for Yukon were perhaps meant more for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

But one thing is certain, as I was saying in my speech—and I am glad he mentioned this part of the budget—not everything in a budget is bad, nor is everything ever perfect. Although the government would have us believe that it will solve all our problems, that is not the case. Although the Liberals support it, the budget is not perfect. We saw this in question period, as well in the speeches we heard.

However, according to all the experts, in a time of economic crisis, it is completely reasonable to invest in infrastructure. That is one positive aspect of this budget.

I agree with my colleague: this must be done as quickly and straightforwardly as possible. In a time of economic crisis, we cannot wait for endless criteria to be met. The money must be available immediately and quickly for Quebec and for the other provinces, in order to get this work underway.

I spoke with the minister who said himself that any work that is already ready to begin will be given priority. I think that is a very good idea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague further to something he said regarding what women are going through during this economic crisis. He talked about the fact that many women work in part time jobs. This is their reality, and we see that the government is not responding to it. What is more, we see that the government is taking steps that truly go against the most fundamental human rights enjoyed by everyone, enjoyed by all women in Canada for many years, in the area of pay equity.

I would like to hear my hon. colleague's point of view on the matter.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that very pertinent question. What we are witnessing is typical of so-called right-wing governments all over the world. In times of economic crisis, as in times of economic growth, right-wing governments adopt a laissez-faire philosophy. We should not expect the Conservatives to take measures to help the most vulnerable members of society. The Conservatives tell people who have lost their jobs to go out and get another one. I once heard the current Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Minister of National Revenue and Minister of State (Agriculture), CPC), when he was minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for Quebec Regions, tell people who had lost their jobs to go and work in Alberta because there was work there. Talk about a heartless thing to say.

As for women, as I said earlier, this would have been a good time—and anytime is a good time—for the government to introduce measures to improve access to employment insurance, because statistically, women most often hold part time jobs.

I said in my speech that pay equity is not negotiable. Pay equity is a right. You do not negotiate a right. Unfortunately, this government does not see things this way.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-10, the budget implementation act.

First, on behalf of my constituents of Don Valley East and indeed all Canadians, I would like to express our condolences to the friends and families of the victims of the brush firestorm that has swept across the state of Victoria in southern Australia. As a fellow Commonwealth nation, we share the shock and sadness of the greatest natural disaster in Australian history. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them and, as parliamentarians, I want to assure the people of Australia that the people of Canada stand ready to assist them in any possible way.

Now on to the topic at hand, the budget implementation act.

My constituents are asking why the Liberal Party has decided to support this budget. The simple answer lies in the fact that in this time of global economic turmoil, Canadians want politicians of all political stripes to work together so that we can put the country back on the road to prosperity. Unfortunately, this has been a bumpy road indeed and it seems that the government continues to hit guardrails at every turn.

First we had an economic update in November that created the greatest political crisis in political history since the King-Byng affair. While the Prime Minister fumbled at the steering wheel, the Conservative government had to face the embarrassment of withdrawing its own economic statement that was penned entirely by partisan zealots in the PMO without any consultation with officials at the Department of Finance. We then learned that instead of running a modest surplus in the coming fiscal year, Canada would, instead, run a deficit of $64 billion over two years, even before a stimulus package was ever contemplated.

In order to make a meaningful contribution toward the shaping of the budget, Liberals fanned out across the country to consult widely with Canadians in all walks of life. People told us that we must come up with an action plan that would, first and foremost, stimulate the economy and protect the most vulnerable in our society.

I know that it is not in the DNA of the Conservatives to make social housing a priority, but that is exactly what the Liberal Party advocated as an investment in our future. To that end, the Liberal opposition welcomes the following: over $400 million over two years for the construction of social housing units for low-income seniors; $75 million over two years for the construction of social housing units for persons with disabilities; $400 million over two years for new and existing housing stock on first nation reserves; and $200 million over two years for social housing in the north.

These are the types of constructive contributions the Liberal Party supports. However, the leader of the Liberal Party has made it clear that Liberal Party support is conditional and contingent upon the proper management of taxpayer dollars.

While we do welcome the extension of EI benefits, there is a real problem with access for many workers in my riding of Don Valley East, and in Ontario in general.

In 2006, the City of Toronto commissioned a task force on modernizing income security. It discovered that the first social safety net, employment insurance, is so full of holes that only 27% of workers who pay into the system are eligible to collect benefits. In a prospering economy, that is a serious problem, but in a recession, it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Last week I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Human Resources after one of my constituents complained that it is virtually impossible to get through to the EI call centre by telephone. I received assurances from the minister that more resources are being allocated to relieve the call volume, but this speaks to the question of access.

Minimum hour requirements vary from region to region across Canada, but the government must not exclude a certain class of workers who have paid into the system for years yet receive no benefits. Before the federal government begins to download the victims of this recession on to the provinces, I suggest that the Conservatives begin to rethink access to EI benefits.

The Liberal Party also supports raising the national child tax benefit and doubling tax relief provided by the working income tax benefit to encourage low-income Canadians to find and retain jobs.

We also asked for and strongly support a provision that will reduce the minimum withdrawal rate for RRIFs by 25%.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the leader of the Liberal Party has indicated that Liberal support for this budget is conditional and we will be reviewing the government's use of taxpayers' dollars quite closely.

Accountability and transparency are key. As the official critic for national revenue, I must draw members' attention to the results of an internal audit by the Canada Revenue Agency. It revealed that paycheque errors are costing the tax department millions of dollars each year by issuing cheques to people who no longer work for CRA. As of February last year, approximately $3 million had been paid out to 2,258 employees. This translates into a 5% error rate.

Similarly, the Liberal Party is deeply concerned with how the government will properly account for the home renovation tax credit. This tax expenditure has the potential for disaster and we in the Liberal Party will insist upon proper accountability and transparency mechanisms, because it is possible that people could misuse the system, abuse the system, and leave the taxpayers with a lot of boondoggle.

It is this kind of dismal performance that has driven Conservative allies such as the National Citizens Coalition, an organization once headed by the Prime Minister, to disparage the government for poor management. In fact, the head of the NCC has called upon grassroots support of the Conservative Party, many of whom are already tapped out, to withhold political donations until they see a form of improvement on the part of the government.

I have consulted my constituents from far and wide, and they have insisted that there are major issues they want the budget to address. Some of these issues include protection of the vulnerable, protection of their pensions, protection of the jobs of today, protection of job creation and the jobs of tomorrow, and access by small businesses to credit.

Some of the initiatives the government has taken have been in response to our input to the Minister of Finance. However, 1.2 million Canadians have lost or are facing losing their jobs. Out of that number, only 27% to 30% are able to access EI. For those vulnerable Canadians, it is important that we as parliamentarians revisit the EI eligibility rules and ensure that in an economic recession, we are there to help people.

The Minister of Finance had committed some funds for access to credit by small businesses, and the Liberal Party as the official opposition will ensure that that money does transfer to the small and medium size businesses.

My time is drawing to a close, so I will now answer questions and comments.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my province of British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a long and storied tradition of public service, delivering broad-based community police services to the people of our province. In fact, we are fortunate enough to have the headquarters of the RCMP detachment located within the confines of my riding of Vancouver Kingsway.

The RCMP was promised wage increases by the government. The RCMP officers were counting on those wage increases. However, after the election and with this budget, the RCMP wage increases that those officers were relying on in good faith have been rolled back.

I would like to know what the member's position is on that, as well as on the other collective agreement wage rollbacks that have been slipped in under the cover of this so-called economic action plan, which again simply is an attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for asking this question because it is a very valid question. I agree with him that the RCMP was supposed to have received its wage, but it was rolled back. My hon. colleague from Ajax—Pickering posed a question and did not seem to have received a very good response from the minister at that time. I firmly believe that members of Parliament have to ensure that there is a protection of people, that we maintain our word, and we ensure that Parliament respects the rights of people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, my good friend from Don Valley East, said the Conservative Party in its DNA does not have social housing. The more I read this budget, it is not in its DNA to support seniors, youth, heath care or education.

I want to ask a specific question on EI, if I may. In my neck of the woods in the great city of Toronto, Scarborough, where I come from, I am proud of Ontarians. They work to earn a living. They do not work for unemployment, but in these difficult and unusual times, unfortunately some of them are getting laid off, companies are closing, et cetera.

I want to know, because they are asking me, why are we in Ontario being treated differently in terms of EI than other provinces?

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was under the Harris government, which slashed, burned and destroyed Ontario, and now he has come to the federal side. What it took us 12 years to do, the Conservatives have undone in two and a half years. They have literally brought Canada--I was not going in that direction, Mr. Speaker, but I am prepared to go toe to toe with my good friend. It is just that this is not the time nor the place.

Nevertheless, I want to know. Because their understanding is that the same dollar they pay in Toronto is the same Canadian dollar they pay in B.C., Charlottetown or wherever. Why are we treated differently?