House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

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A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

May 11th, 2009 / 6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs a question concerning Omar Khadr on February 23, 2009. The question has been asked repeatedly to try to make the government understand that everyone in Quebec and Canada unanimously agrees that Mr. Khadr should be repatriated, everyone that is, except the government.

Not only has Mr. Khadr received the support of all opposition parties, the Canadian Bar Association and the entire legal community, but now a Federal Court ruling has ordered the government to repatriate Mr. Khadr. That ruling carries a lot of weight, and we were surprised to see the federal government appeal the decision. One must wonder if it decided to appeal simply to stall for time. Fundamentally, there is no doubt that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which relates to child soldiers, applies to Mr. Khadr. Under that convention, in the case of a child soldier, his or her country is responsible for reintegrating him or her into society. Furthermore, Mr. Khadr's lawyer and his family have made some proposals in that regard. In short, we are astonished by the position currently being taken by the federal government.

It made that decision when Mr. Bush was still President of the United States. We know about Mr. Bush's attitude toward torture and security. Security was more important to him than human rights. It is frightening to see the Conservative government follow in his footsteps.

Today, I asked a question in the House in the hope of better understanding the government's reasons for appealing the Federal Court's ruling, which is substantial and well-founded. The federal government has no reason to do this.

The government could have saved face had it accepted the Federal Court's ruling and repatriated Mr. Khadr. The government could have decided to submit him to the legal process if necessary. It could have reintegrated him into our society because he was once a child soldier. He was a minor when the crimes he is charged with were committed, crimes of which he has never been convicted. He should have been treated according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government of Canada signed that convention.

Today, Canadians and Quebeckers alike wonder why the federal government has decided to do this. It did the same thing in the case of a Canadian citizen who was convicted in the United States, a citizen whom it refused to defend. It did not try to save him from the death penalty. It still has the same attitude toward Mr. Abdelrazik.

We want the government to show that it understands the Federal Court's message and bring Mr. Khadr back to Canada. That is what this particular Canadian citizen deserves. I hope that the government will act accordingly, change its mind, grant Mr. Khadr his rights and bring him home to Canada.

6:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, as we well know, in 2002, Omar Khadr was arrested by U.S. forces in the context of his alleged involvement in the armed conflict in Afghanistan following his alleged recruitment and use as a combatant by al-Qaeda. Mr. Khadr continues to face charges pursuant to U.S. legislation.

These are serious charges under any legal system and they are before a U.S. court. As such, it is up to the U.S. authorities to make decisions regarding the appropriate mechanisms to deal with the disposition of the case currently pending against Mr. Khadr.

It bears repeating that there are very serious charges facing Mr. Khadr, including murder and attempted murder, as well as other terrorism-related offences. News reports recently showed video footage of Mr. Khadr allegedly building and planting improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, the very devices that have taken the lives of dozens of Canadian men and women.

We simply cannot prejudge the outcome of proceedings currently under way in the United States pursuant to those charges, nor can we prejudge the final outcome of the review and eventual resolution of Mr. Khadr's case. We know that the U.S administration is currently actively seized with the issue, as reflected by executive orders issued in January by President Obama.

The Canadian government has consistently asserted that it would be improper to interfere in the process put in place by the United States and we maintain this position in light of the work being undertaken by the United States to address the situation of Guantanamo Bay detainees as we speak.

Our government's decision to appeal the April 23, 2009, decision of the Federal Court of Canada regarding Mr. Khadr's repatriation, issued after careful consideration of the legal merits of doing so, is in keeping with our long-held position. This is further in accordance with our respect for the judicial sovereignty of the United States and allowing the process to play itself out without inappropriate intervention.

The work being presently undertaken by the United States to address the situation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay will assist in determining whether, among other things, detainees should be released or transferred or whether they should face prosecution and under what court.

As a Canadian citizen, Mr. Khadr's case is of interest to the Government of Canada and his treatment at the hands of the U.S. authorities. Regular, ongoing welfare visits have been carried out by Canadian officials in Guantanamo Bay in order to assess Mr. Khadr's condition, to provide him with a measure of support and to facilitate the provision of comfort items to him. Canadian officials will continue to visit with Mr. Khadr and will continue, as before, to assist in making arrangements for telephone calls between Mr. Khadr and his family.

Further, the Canadian government has facilitated access to him by Canadian legal defence counsel. The Government of Canada has also repeatedly requested that Mr. Khadr be provided with educational opportunities while in detention at Guantanamo and that he be provided with an independent medical and psychological assessment.

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes it seem as though it was not the Federal Court of Canada that declared that Mr. Khadr had to be repatriated. This is no longer the position of the opposition party or a lawyer, but that of the Federal Court, which ruled that the federal government must repatriate Mr. Khadr.

The federal government has decided to appeal this decision. How can it appeal a decision when we know that Mr. Khadr was a child soldier? As such, he has rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed by Canada.

Are the Conservatives simply trying to buy time to defend an ideological position that only the government supports?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, as mentioned, a review process is currently in place pursuant to the executive orders issued by President Obama on January 22, 2009. These orders reflect the president's stated intention to close down the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

In keeping with that intention, a review process is under way to assist in making determinations regarding disposition of the cases against detainees facing proceedings, such as Mr. Khadr. The Government of Canada intends to let that process run its course and will not interfere with the United States in its undertakings.

Our decision to appeal the recent Federal Court of Canada ruling regarding Mr. Khadr's repatriation was taken after careful consideration of legal merits of doing so and is consistent with that position. We will, of course, follow all developments regarding Mr. Khadr's case closely and will be prepared to respond appropriately to decisions taken by the United States at the culmination of the review period.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, on March 13, I asked a question about negotiations with the Association of Justice Counsel.

Let us go back to the presentation of the last Conservative budget and the introduction of Bill C-10, Budget Implementation Act, 2009.

The Conservatives have resorted to an underhanded strategy. They have tabled an omnibus bill that includes amendments to other legislation such as the Navigable Waters Protection Act and measures to restrain government spending, particularly in the area of pay increases.

We, Liberals, supported that budget reluctantly to help Canadians in need pull through this financial crisis as quickly as possible.

The Conservatives have taken advantage of an opportunity to penalize their public service. The bill limits pay increases for federal public servants to 1.5% annually, from 2008-09 to 2010-11, despite the collective agreements in effect.

What is the impact of these provisions? It is extremely important. The Conservatives are being sued by two unions: the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

These two unions represent over 215,000 members. Their voice is important and we must listen to them. What do they have against the Conservatives? They are upset by the Conservatives' decision to restrict the power to fully negotiate the salaries and wages of public servants. This would violate the freedom of association guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the right to collective bargaining recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada.

That situation is unfair to our public servants, but it is even more so in the case of the over 2,000 lawyers who work for the Government of Canada. Let me explain. In 2003, the lawyers and notaries obtained from Parliament permission to negotiate a first collective agreement. Unfortunately, because the parties could not agree, they resorted to mediation. Since that did not work either, the parties went to arbitration.

The problem is that the two sides could not agree on a fair remuneration before Bill C-10 was passed. This means that the union is now forced to accept salary increases that are based on a scale that goes back more than 20 years.

That situation is unfair. It puts Government of Canada lawyers in seventh place, in terms of salaries. For example, the starting salary of a federal government lawyer is 37% lower than that of his Ontario counterpart. Even though most Government of Canada lawyers live in Ontario, their salary is between 40% and 60% lower than that of their colleagues with the Ontario government.

How can the government attract young lawyers if it refuses to give them fair and equitable pay? Similarly, how can it keep its experienced professional lawyers, so that they will continue to protect our values and our rights?

Finally, this situation, which is unfair to begin with, exists in the context of the fight against crime, of which the Conservatives claim to be the standard bearers. On the one hand they create new offences, while on the other hand they reduce the resources allowing us to prosecute criminals. That is nonsense. It is a fundamental contradiction and it is sheer hypocrisy.

My question is still valid: will the Conservatives reconsider their decision and change the salary base for counsel, on which salary increases provided under the 2009 Budget Implementation Act are based?

6:40 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his question.

The hon. member says that measures contained in the latest budget violate the provisions of the Charter of Rights. That is a very serious charge. One wonders, then, why he voted for it. He then said that the measures were unjust, and he voted for it. He said that the budget took away pay equity rights, and he voted for that, too.

One has to wonder why the hon. member would vote for something he believes have done all those allegedly terrible things. For sure the member can be counted on for thing, and that is to be ferociously critical in his support of the budget.

In a sense he is really criticizing himself because he is opposing, today, something that he voted for in this place only a few weeks ago. Not only did he vote in favour of it once, but he voted in favour of it at all three readings. Then all of his Liberal colleagues did the exact same thing in the Senate.

Canadians can be forgiven if they are finding it difficult to follow the member or his leader. Given that we are talking about budget measures and given that the member will be rising in a few moments, it is appropriate to ask him to put his formidable debate skills to work in explaining what his leader meant when he said, “We will have to raise taxes”. He uttered that on April 14, in Kitchener.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Can you say that again? I didn't quite get it.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, a member in the House has said that she did not hear it, so I will repeat. He said, on April 14, “We will have to raise taxes”. He also said, on December 18, “I'm not going to take a GST hike off the table”.

He said that he supported a carbon tax. In fact, he was the father of the idea and led his party to adopt it in the last election campaign. He has written about it and he has supported it. As late as a couple of months ago, he indicated, once again, that he favoured taxing home heating fuel, the transportation of essential goods and services and a brand new tax that would apply to our factories and warehouses and all the industries, industries that are suffering right now under a global recession.

On this side of the House, we have Canada's economic action plan. It creates jobs building bridges, roads, communities centres and other construction projects. It helps contractors, painters and builders with a home renovation tax credit, which has caused a real boom in that sector. It cuts taxes for the average family by about $500. It allows for a new tax-free savings account, which encourages families to invest in their future and allows them to keep all the capital gains and the interest accumulated for themselves tax-free.

That is our economic action plan.

The hon. member has a leader who says, “We will have to raise taxes”. Apparently, that is the Liberal economic action plan, higher taxes in a time of recession or recovery. I do not think that makes the leader of the Liberal Party a bad person. He has every right to take that position, and I appreciate his honesty. He just has to explain which taxes he will raise, by how much and who will have to pay.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague obviously is trying to change the channel.

With regard to job creation, last week at committee the government's officials said that they were not tracking the creation of jobs, so the Conservatives do not have much to say about that.

Through their ideology, the Conservatives have made an enemy of the public service. They have abandoned our employees and made them bear the costs of this financial crisis, a crisis that they have both denied and ignored.

The Liberal Party has the utmost respect and admiration for our hard-working public servants and for what they do for Canadians every day. They have set an example by being willing to work with the government to enter into reasonable agreements.

Neither the Liberal Party nor I will forget the goodwill the public service unions have demonstrated.

Will this government recognize the efforts of the public service and enter into new equitable, reasonable collective agreements? Will it give Government of Canada lawyers their due and adjust the salary bases?

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that our government respects our public servants. That is why we decided to put an end to the Liberal practice of blaming public servants for the Liberals' historic scandals. We have put in place protection for whistleblowers, the same whistleblowers who were victims of abuse by the former Liberal regime during the sponsorship scandal.

Coming back to the present, the hon. member voted for our budget, but now he wants to criticize it. You cannot criticize something you just supported. That is what is called a flip-flop.

I would not want to accuse that member of engaging in such a thing, but it seems he has convicted himself before I had the chance.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, some time ago, I asked two questions in this House about the economic situation and the recession. I asked the government, specifically the Minister of Finance, what his action plan would do to help Canadians get through the recession.

The Minister of Finance went on about how Obama and the G20 had called Canada's financial system and the way we regulated it a model for the G20.

Everyone knows it was a Liberal government that pushed back on the Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance, that wanted us to deregulate Canada's financial institution system and allow bank mergers. The Liberals said no. Our great financial institutions and our regulatory system are thanks to the Liberals.

I want to come back to the issue of the economy.

Canada's unemployment rate has hit 8%, the highest it has been in the past eight years. Since October, 320,000 jobs have been lost, that is net job loss. Youth unemployment, those Canadians under the age of 25, has hit a stunning 14.8%. That means more than 100,000 young Canadians under the age of 25 are starting their working lives unemployed. That brings me to the employment system itself.

According to all of the best statistics, only half as many Canadians qualify for EI today than during the last recession in the 1990s. The current EI system was not designed for a recession as severe as what we are currently experiencing. In fact, according to Stats Canada, a staggering 325,700 EI claims were received by the government in February. That is up 51,000, or 18% from January. This is the single largest number of EI claims since, at least, 1997, when the tracking of EI data first began. The total number of regular EI beneficiaries has climbed 22% since October 2008. This means that as of the end of April, 610,250 Canadians are collecting benefits.

The system, as it stands right now, was not designed for a recession. It was designed for an economic boom, when the government was in surplus, when Canadians did not have difficulty finding jobs at all. In fact, companies and the private sector were having difficulty filling jobs because jobs were being created so rapidly.

The Conservative government is refusing to recognize that and is refusing to modify the EI system to respond to a recession situation. It is refusing to make EI more accessible to more Canadians who have worked and who have paid into it.

Again, when will the government establish a single uniform qualifier for EI of 360 hours? That is the limit. That is what it should be.

6:50 p.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I share the hon. member's concern for the unemployed in this country. We all do and we are all working as best we can to ensure those people get back to work as soon as possible.

I would, however, ask the hon. member to go back and check her figures. In its last report, Statistics Canada stated that since December 2006 we are still net 200,000 new jobs. There has been job losses, no argument, but let us be true with the facts, especially when we say them in this House.

Without a doubt, Canada is in the midst of a global economic recession. Its impacts are real and it is affecting employment rates throughout Canada and throughout the world, but again this is a global recession, not a made-in-Canada recession.

While Canada, as recognized by the IMF and the OECD, is in the strongest positioned to weather it, we are not immune and we will be affected. As RBC economist, Patricia Croft, noted in a recent CTV News interview, “This is not a made-in-Canada recession...but because we're a small open economy we've been caught up...But I do think there are reasons to be hopeful...there is a great story to tell about Canada in that we may come out of this recession much stronger than our global counterparts”.

Indeed, we are working with our global counterparts on a global solution and, as witnessed at the recent G20 summit, Canada is increasingly being seen as a model for that solution. As President Barack Obama stated in a New York Times Magazine interview:

Canada being a good example...they’ve actually done a good job in managing through what was a pretty risky period in the financial markets.

We also recognize the necessity to protect our Canadian economy right now and that is why we have Canada's economic action plan. This is a real plan that takes real action, a plan that has been endorsed by business leaders, economists, public interests groups, as well as Parliament.

A key component of our plan is immediate and significant tax relief to help Canadians weather this period of economic uncertainty, tax relief that injects $20 billion of stimulus into Canada's economy over this and the next five years, tax cuts that include increasing the amount Canadians can earn tax free, slashing the two lowest personal income tax brackets, doubling the working income tax benefit, increasing tax savings for seniors with an enlargement of the age credit amount, and much more. Tax relief that Canadians welcomed, as the Retail Council of Canada noted:

These tax changes will put money back in the pockets of Canadians, boosting confidence and encouraging spending, which is critical to the retail sector and Canada's overall economic recovery.

Unfortunately, the Liberal leader does not agree with lower taxes. He believes Canadians are not paying enough taxes and that families and seniors need to send more of their hard-earned money to politicians in Ottawa. We disagree. To quote the Liberal leader, “Federal taxes must go up...we will have to raise taxes”. I repeat, Conservatives do not agree with that.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly the Conservative government had no trouble breaking a promise, increasing taxes and creating a tax on income trusts, which it said in the 2006 election that it would never do and it was over 30% tax on income trusts. It bilked over two million Canadian pensioners out of something like $25 billion. It had no problem doing that.

I want to come back to the EI. Scientific studies and expert economists have all concluded that employment insurance is eight times more effective than the entire tax system at mitigating the impact of a recession. For every dollar of EI that is paid out in benefits, $1.61 were put into the economy.

When will the government make EI accessible to Canadians who have worked and paid into it? When will it establish 360 hours as the qualifier to be eligible for EI?

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, while we are clearly pleased with the positive job numbers for April, we recognize this will continue to be a difficult year. Canada will likely continue to see significant job losses and that is why we remain cautious and vigilant.

We will continue to implement our plan to help create and maintain jobs, while opposing the Liberal leader's tax hike plan. For those wondering why the Liberals would endorse such a discredited tax hike plan, this is what the Liberal member for Kings—Hants said, “Neither the Liberal caucus or the Liberal Party has ever encountered a problem that they did not believe to be best solved by throwing copious quantities of taxpayers' money at it. They are tax and spend-aholics”.