House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tobacco.

Topics

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, we are supposed to find ways to eliminate smuggling. I have a question for the member for Laval—Les Îles. Instead of having retailers charge the sales tax on tobacco products, could the government not pass legislation to tax the manufacturers of tobacco products? This way, if aboriginal communities or organized crime groups that smuggle cigarettes want to get supplies from companies that produce cigarettes or cigars, they would be taxed directly at the source, and the tax would be charged to the company producing the tobacco products, instead of to the retailers, who then pass that along to consumers.

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, we have to consider every step in the process that gets tobacco from the seed to a minor's lips. This is a big problem because the entire industry is going to have to disappear. Our country's political and psychological atmosphere discourages tobacco use. We have seen it, and members on both sides of the House have talked about it.

The tobacco industry is going out of style, much like how horses began to disappear as bicycles and cars became commonplace. People who raised horses found themselves in an industry, a trade that was no longer working for them. In my humble opinion, the tobacco industry is about to experience difficulties that will have an increasingly negative effect on both growers and cigarette manufacturers. We must not only consider the whole process; we must eliminate it.

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, I find that my colleague is a lot more learned on this debate than any member of the government side has been prepared to demonstrate and so, I am going to ask her, because she took great pains to make distinctions between correct activity and that which contravenes the law. Now, one of the problems that we have had in fighting smoking and tobacco usage, of course, is getting the appropriate partners.

Some would argue, as I know she would, that some of the legitimate retailers, mom and pop shops, in some of the major cities, have been our greatest allies in deterring young people from purchasing because they refuse to sell. In fact, those proprietors of those stores are already under great surveillance and they do the very best they can to discourage the use of cigarettes, cigarillos and other tobacco products.

What has happened with the emergence of the great contraband trade is that we no longer have a distribution system that is willing to be compliant with the law and, in fact, is in a position where it can be surveyed by law enforcement officers. I am talking about that illegal distribution system. I know she would want to take a moment to point out that legitimate retail operations have been our allies and we are losing them because this act does not address that distinction.

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague put it so well that I am hesitant to repeat what he said, but he is absolutely right. Legitimate retailers are disappearing and the illegal trade is gaining strength. That is why I said at the end of my speech that when this bill goes to the Standing Committee on Health, we will have to make amendments that crack down on all contraband, particularly tobacco.

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Resuming debate.

Is the House ready for the question?

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Tobacco Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Hearing no opposition, I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

June 3rd, 2009 / 6:40 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Minister of Public Safety

moved that Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am speaking to Bill C-34, an act to amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

The amendments we are proposing here today will make the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank more effective tools to help the government fight crime, a objective that, I am sure, will be supported by all Canadians and all parliamentarians.

Bill C-34 will implement fundamental reforms to the national sex offender information registry. First and foremost, the government will ensure that in future every individual who is convicted of a serious sexual offence is automatically registered with the national sex offender registry.

Offenders convicted of a serious designated offence under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act will also be required to provide a DNA sample to the national DNA data bank.

As hon. members all know, at this time, not all sex offenders are registered, since crown prosecutors must make a special request for an order to have an offender included on the registry when he or she is convicted of a sex offence, and the presiding judge has the discretion to deny such an order.

The amendments that the government is proposing here today would eliminate that flaw, which allows Canadian sex offenders who have been convicted to avoid being added to the registry, which hampers future police investigations and exposes Canadians to greater risk.

We are taking action to ensure that every individual who is convicted of a serious sexual offence is automatically registered with the national sex offender registry and is required to provide a DNA sample to the national DNA database.

Under the reforms the government is proposing today, the police will also be able to use the national sex offender registry, not only to investigate crimes after the fact but also to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Under the present system, police can only make use of information in the sex offender registry after a crime has happened. They are unable to use that information as a preventive measure to ensure the protection of Canadian communities.

If police see suspicious activity near a school ground, for example, if this law is passed they will be able to request access to the registry to find out if the person involved is a registered sex offender and obtain more information to assist them in their prevention work.

Police and victims' groups have requested these changes for some time. Our government is delivering on them.

The proposed amendments will also allow police services in one region of Canada to advise other foreign or Canadian police jurisdictions that registered sex offenders are traveling to their area.

Furthermore, federal and provincial correctional agencies would have authority to advise registry officials of registered sex offenders’ releases from and any re-admissions to custody.

Currently, travelling sex offenders escape the national sex offender registry. We are changing that. Canadians being transferred to complete a sentence in Canada for a sexual offence conviction committed in another country will automatically be registered. Any Canadian who returns to Canada after having completed a sentence for a sex offence committed outside of Canada will be required to provide written notice of that fact to the police in the province or territory where they are returning and will be required to register if served with a notice to do so.

Many Canadians are shocked to find out that travellers who commit sexual offences can escape the registry upon returning to Canada under the present system. Under Bill C-34, Canada will no longer be a safe haven that protects travelling sex offenders.

Our proposals will help police officers investigate serious sex offences and will protect the Canadian public. Our proposals will increase the amount of information to be included in the registry and will force sex offenders to notify authorities of any absences from their home address of seven days or more.

The bill before us today responds to the concerns expressed by thousands of Canadians about the inadequacies of the present national sex offender registry. It responds to the concerns and recommendations expressed by provincial and territorial governments that have been widely consulted about the present system and how it can be improved. It responds to the concerns and recommendations of law enforcement officials as well as to various victims' groups, all of whom see almost every day the pain and suffering that heinous sexual crimes can cause to victims and their families.

All of this is why I am confident that the hon. members in this House will give speedy passage to the bill under debate. All of us have an interest in preventing crime.

We care deeply about crime prevention, and we all want our streets and our communities to be safe. That is precisely the goal of this bill. That is the opportunity we are being given here today.

This is our opportunity, as Canadians, as members of this House, to take a step to correct the deficiencies in the national sex offender registry. While well intentioned, in practice it has simply not worked to protect Canadians.

We are making the changes today. We are asking this House to make the changes today to make that registry work to protect Canadians. We owe it to all Canadians, to children, to those who have been victims of sexual crimes and to their families. We need to do this, and we need to do it now.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

We will have questions and comments at a later date. It being 6:48 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Before resuming debate on this bill, I would like to issue a ruling.

On May 7, prior to the second reading debate on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) standing in the name of the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, a point of order was raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to the effect that this bill requires a royal recommendation.

The parliamentary secretary argued that Bill C-280 would result in significant new expenditures by lowering the threshold for eligibility for some claimants and changing the formula for the calculation of benefits.

He further noted that Bill C-280 was virtually identical to another private member's bill introduced in the last Parliament, Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), which had been found to require a royal recommendation.

In replying to the parliamentary secretary's point of order, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh expressed the opinion that a royal recommendation was not required since any new expenditure would be covered by contributions from workers and employers and not by the government.

I have examined the bills carefully and found that as the parliamentary secretary noted, Bill C-280 and Bill C-265 are indeed virtually identical. They both contain proposed changes to the employment insurance program that include lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, setting benefits payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks in the 12 month period preceding the interruption of earnings, and reducing the qualifying period before receiving benefits and removing the distinctions made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

On March 23, 2007, in a ruling on Bill C-265, on page 7845 of the Debates, the Chair had concluded that:

It is abundantly clear to the Chair that such changes to the employment insurance program, notwithstanding the fact that workers and employers contribute to it, would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

Therefore, it appears to the Chair that those provisions of the bill which relate to increasing Employment Insurance benefits and easing the qualifications required to obtain them would require a royal recommendation.

Having heard no new compelling argument to reach a conclusion that is different than the one concerning Bill C-265, I will decline to put the question on third reading of Bill C-280 in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

However, today the debate is on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook has seven minutes remaining in his time slot.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the first hour of debate on the bill, I spoke briefly about some of the substantive measures this government is taking to help Canadians get back to work and to train for the jobs of the future. I also mentioned some of the actions we have taken to protect Canadian jobs.

One of the highlights of our job protection efforts is our improvement of the work sharing program. We have extended the duration of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development shared with the House late last month, over 110,000 Canadians are benefiting right now from our expansion of the work sharing program. Those are jobs that are being protected.

The bill of course deals with the employment insurance program. As discussed numerous times before in this place, this is an area where our government has taken significant action to help Canadians through our economic action plan.

To help Canadians through the challenges posed by the current economic situation, we have extended EI benefits by five additional weeks through a national expansion of an existing pilot program that was focused in areas of high unemployment. These five weeks will help unemployed Canadians who need it most.

We have also increased the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. Further to this, we are introducing a new initiative for long tenured workers who are taking training, allowing those workers to receive EI benefits up to a maximum of 104 weeks while they pursue their training.

As the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said during the first hour of debate on Bill C-280, the proposed NDP legislation before us has not been costed and it does not take into account the future potential unintended consequences on the labour market that these proposed changes may have.

Any proposals for reform to the EI program need to be considered comprehensively within the context of who is going to pay for these changes while also taking into account what impact these proposals would have on helping Canadians get back to work so they can get jobs to put food on the table and provide for their families.

I want to reiterate that our government recognizes the challenges faced by those who have lost their jobs in these difficult times. That is why we want to ensure that any action we take is effective in both the short and the longer term.

That is also why we are monitoring the effectiveness of our measures, to make sure that the EI system is working and responding effectively to the evolving economic circumstances.

What we will not do is implement this Liberal-NDP 360 hour, 45 day work year idea.

The opposition can say what it wants about this scheme, and we know that it will. The fact is that this irresponsible proposal would result in a massive increase in job killing payroll taxes that would hurt workers and businesses alike, at a time when they can least afford it. This irresponsible proposal certainly would not help Canadians find new jobs or get new skills. It would simply add billions and billions more to the tax burden on Canadians.

Members do not have to take it from me. Let us see what others are saying about this Liberal-NDP plan.

The sponsor of the bill herself, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, said on Monday, in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, that “a payroll tax increase may be necessary”.

The Liberals realized this when they stated in a press release back in October that the NDP proposal would result in an “employment insurance premium hike”. They seem to have forgotten that now. It is striking that the Liberal Party would be honest with Canadians when it is looking for their votes during an election but would change its tune now.

It should also be noted that on April 11, 2008, the Liberal EI critic, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, a colleague of mine on the HR committee, said in committee:

It's my view that if you get rid of the regional rates and there are changes forced on the EI system because of the economic circumstances, those in the [high unemployment] regions will be hurt disproportionately.

He also said that the “cost is pretty significant” to do this 360 hour, 45 day work year plan. He said we should “keep the regional rates to protect those people in high unemployment areas”.

He said that just a year ago.

Let us see what others are saying about the Liberal-NDP 45 day work year proposal.

Harvey Enchin said in the Vancouver Sun on May 26:

The Liberal option not only seems illogical but it would raise the federal deficit--and probably taxes--while doing nothing to address the fact that many of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back. The Conservative government is right to reject it.

The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training and transition programs.

Here is what Don Martin, of the Calgary Herald, said on the same day:

But just 360 hours to qualify? For a benefit payment period that’s just shy of a year? That’s a bit rich, even for Liberals.

Yet there are many better ways to reform the system, starting with the Conservative’s reannounced $500-million to stretch benefits for long-term workers....

I agree with that and I think a good many Canadians do as well. Unlike the opposition's rhetoric and irresponsible plans, our government's economic action plan is helping Canadians get new skills for new jobs and is helping Canadians through these tough economic times. Unlike the opposition, on this side of the House we will not force all working Canadians and businesses to pay more taxes for this proposal.

Our government is helping and will continue to help Canadians get the training they need for the jobs of tomorrow. We will continue to help preserve jobs so that hard-working Canadians can continue to pay their mortgages and provide for the needs of their families. Our economic action plan is providing additional support to Canadians in a responsible, coordinated way, and we will continue to do so.

The proposal before us is not responsible and that is why we on this side of the House cannot support it .

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-280. The issue of employment insurance is critical and impacts every community in our country. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the need for changes to this critical component of our social infrastructure.

Since the economic crisis began, more than 300,000 Canadians have lost their jobs. Our system of employment insurance, designed more than 60 years ago, was simply not structured to effectively manage a national crisis of this scope.

More than 40% of unemployed Canadians who have paid into employment insurance do not qualify for benefits because of where they live. This is a serious concern and one the bill takes steps to address.

Employment insurance rules have not kept pace with the changing work environment. Current restrictions on claiming employment insurance benefits are preventing workers who have paid into the program from claiming money to support their families now when they need it most.

Across the country, 58 regional standards govern which Canadians are eligible for temporary assistance when laid off from their jobs and which Canadians are left to fend for themselves. This means that while most of us pay into the employment insurance program for most of our lives, we may never be eligible to receive employment insurance if we happen to lose our jobs through no fault of our own.

This assortment of regional standards is clearly not meeting the needs of the unemployed. We are seeing cases, for example, where two workers are laid off in the same factory and have paid the same amount into employment insurance but are now receiving different levels of assistance because their town just happens to straddle the border of two employment insurance regions.

In my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, I recently heard from a young professional woman who in my riding found herself applying for employment insurance for the very first time because she was laid off from her job as an occupational therapist. Her hours had already been scaled back and she was working mostly part time in the months leading up to the permanent layoff. As a first time filer in my region, she needed 840 hours to qualify for benefits. The reduction in the hours over the previous months left her with only 581 insurable hours, not nearly enough to qualify.

I also think of fish plant workers, for example, from Petty Harbour who work side by side doing the same work for the same number of hours with someone from the community right next door. The person from Petty Harbour needs 630 hours to qualify and his fellow worker living nearby in the next community needs 420 hours.

In this economic situation, the employment insurance system is not right for the times and needs to be adjusted.

I believe that a temporary national 360-hour standard of employment insurance eligibility should be introduced for as long as this economic crisis in Canada persists. This would set a temporary consistent standard across the country and make it easier for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own to qualify for benefits during this crucial time.

This proposal would not only mean 150,000 additional unemployed Canadians would have access to benefits, but it would also inject much needed spending in some of the hardest hit communities. Families spending money on food, rent and transportation translates into one of the most immediate, effective and direct ways to get desperately needed stimulus money flowing into our communities.

During this time of record job losses, we need to help unemployed Canadians. Implementing a national 360-hour standard to qualify for employment insurance would provide benefits for thousands of Canadians who have paid into the system and who now need help to support their families.

As we pull through this difficult economic time, it will be crucial to ensure that areas facing chronically high levels of unemployment are helped by the development of consistent standards for employment insurance and are not made to meet unreachable targets that would be impossible in other areas.

Most stakeholders strongly support the creation of a 360-hour standard for employment insurance. Social policy organizations across the country, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Labour Congress and many unions, have all advocated for a national standard.

Provincial political leaders are also calling for changes to the employment insurance system. Several premiers, including Premier McGuinty, Premier Stelmach and Premier Campbell, have all called for a national standard for employment insurance. Unfortunately, the government would rather leave Canadian families to fend for themselves than fix this crucial program.

Rather than opting to inject stimulus funding into local economies through increased employment insurance eligibility, which vulnerable families spend on groceries, transportation and housing, the government has characterized employment insurance as being too lucrative. This characterization by the minister is insulting to the thousands of Canadians struggling to make ends meet while they search for new meaningful jobs, and it is simply not true.

Families are burdened with enough concerns during these troubled economic times without adding additional confusion and apprehension about whether or not they will be able to qualify for employment insurance should they lose their jobs. I am hearing calls for clarity from workers in my riding in advance of this summer's closure of a telecommunications company in Mount Pearl, Teletech.

My constituents are concerned about whether they will qualify for benefits and would like to know if they will actually have access to some of the training programs. Clarity on qualification standards would go a long way to answering some of the many questions workers face when they know an eventual layoff, plant closure or restructuring at their place of employment is on the horizon.

Last week, in an attempt to convince Canadians her government would be taking badly needed action on this issue, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development simply repeated a part of the budget in place of announcing some kind of plan. The minister's reannouncement of funding for employment insurance training programs does nothing to help the thousands of Canadians who have not been lucky enough to qualify for employment insurance benefits in the first place. Not one new worker will qualify for employment insurance or benefit from this training program. These programs apply only to those who qualify for employment insurance already, leaving thousands of Canadians out in the cold.

Funding for training, while a crucial component of a strategy to address retraining and chronic unemployment, is not the full answer to this problem. If Canadians cannot qualify for this assistance in the first place, these training benefits are of no use.

In response to a question I recently asked in the House, the minister responsible for employment insurance indicated that it was becoming easier for people to access employment insurance, backing up this claim by pointing to regions of the country where so many workers have lost their jobs that the eligibility standards have changed. In her response, the minister stated, “The worse the situation gets, the easier it is for people to collect benefits”. Is that not unbelievable?

It would seem that the government's solution to the employment insurance crisis is to wait for more businesses to close, more companies to fail and more Canadians to lose their jobs so that the threshold for that region would change. This is a staggeringly inadequate strategy.

There is a clear need to undertake an intensive review of employment insurance and to carefully consider the changes that will make employment insurance more accessible during this economic crisis. Employment insurance rules have not kept pace with the changing work environment and it is time to address these shortfalls. Restrictions are preventing workers who have paid into the program from claiming benefits now to support their families when they need it most.

The government has a responsibility to help, especially during this economic crisis. It is time for the government to actually do something to help the unemployed.