House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fraud.

Topics

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate Motion No. 515, which reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

It should be apparent that I have much interest in this subject.

Our government recognizes that potential older workers bring to the workforce their knowledge base and the invaluable capacity for mentoring that experienced workers provide our country. My motion speaks to the Conservative government's focus on providing appropriate labour market programs and policies so older workers can continue contributing their skills and experience.

I am one of those who is considered an older worker over the age of 55 and, indeed, just slightly over the age of 65. I note that many in the House would fall under the same category. We play a vital role in the House, bringing experience and wisdom to the deliberations and, as older workers are valued here, so, too, should they be valued throughout our great nation.

Canada has been through a difficult period. However, with the prudent economic leadership of our Conservative government, we fared better than most countries through the global recession. While a forceful stimulus helped to reverse the decline last year, we will be judged, as our Prime Minister said, by our capacity to lead the world through recovery and beyond.

The experience, knowledge and talents of older workers are key factors in this recovery and Canada's continuing competitiveness. Given our demographic challenges and a slower growth in our workforce, Canada needs all workers active and contributing in the coming years. Given that Canadians are living longer and healthier lives than in the past, more and more workers are choosing to extend their careers beyond the once normal retirement age of 65. For some, it is a financial necessity, but others enjoy their careers, want to continue in them or explore new and more interesting occupational endeavours. Mandatory retirement, for the most part, is a thing of the past as older workers in good health want to continue contributing to society.

For older workers who do not want to retire and are healthy enough to continue working to say 70 or 75, as do members of the other place and some members of Parliament, why not? Why not utilize their wealth of knowledge, skills and enterprise? What if all Canadians took early retirement, expecting the government to support them?

I certainly have no objection to those choosing and seeking early retirement but I do object to those who have a sense entitlement, who believe they should stop contributing and let the government support them. That certainly is where, philosophically, we as Conservatives differ from the Liberals. Some Liberals even want to lower the old age security rules to allow immigrants to qualify after residing in Canada for only three years. Three years of residency to qualify for a lifetime pension is rather unbelievable.

We want to encourage older people to be engaged in worthwhile endeavours of their own choosing.

In 1900, just over a century ago, Canadian men had a life expectancy of 47, while women could expect to live just three years longer. When the first old age pension was introduced by the federal government in 1927, payment began at the age of 70. Most Canadians would not live long enough to collect that pension as the average life expectancy then was 59 years for men and 62 for women.

When the Canada pension plan was introduced in 1965, age 65 was the start date for benefits. However, it was common for workers to continue in the workforce until age 70, when they qualified for the old age security pension. The starting date for that pension was reduced to age 65 during the period of 1965 to 1969. By 1965, the average life expectancy had risen to 69 years for men and 75 years for women. That is a 10 year increase for men from 1927.

Today, Canadians expect to live about 30 years longer on average than we did a century ago; 78 years for men and 83 years for women. That is another reason that Canadians are choosing to work longer. They know they can continue to contribute and still have time for a well-earned retirement and leisure period when they are a little older.

In just 33 years, from 1976 to 2009, the number of workers aged 55 and over has increased from one million to three million and, as the baby boom generation grows older, I would expect that number to continue to grow.

Our government has seen the demographic changes in Canada and has responded accordingly. We now have a Minister of State for Seniors who is tasked with supporting our aging population, whether it be on combatting the ever-increasing scourge of elder abuse or support for volunteering through initiatives such as the new horizons for seniors program.

When we look at the broad labour market, older workers are doing quite well. So far this year, employment has grown by 1.1% for older workers compared to 0.3% for prime aged workers. Clearly, older workers are valued in the labour market. Their wisdom and maturity are a benefit for their employers. They, in fact, can be very resilient during recessionary times.

Of course, the growth in the number of older workers is not true for all sectors. Older workers in forestry, for example, have experienced some difficulty and have needed assistance to retrain for other available employment opportunities. Seasonal workers in some industries in certain communities have had special challenges.

However, our Conservative government has met these challenges head on. Canada's workforce is known throughout the world as resilient. We have one of the highest participation rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

We need to be inclusive in our labour market. The long-term benefits of releasing the economic potential of older workers and other groups, such as persons with disabilities, are enormous.

While our government has been attentive to the needs of Canadian workers who have experienced unemployment during the recent recession, we have also kept our eyes open for chances to develop skills for the future.

I will summarize some of the program measures and initiatives our Conservative government is offering.

We have increased funding for targeted initiatives for older workers to assist unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to retrain. It is a five year, $220 million cost-shared imitative with provincial and territorial governments. The goal is to help unemployed older workers in communities affected by significant downsizing, closures or ongoing high employment by preparing them for new and immediate employment. This funding includes $60 million under Canada's economic action plan.

More than 10,000 unemployed older workers have been assisted through more than 200 projects that have been approved to date. This is concrete help that is good for the workers as individuals and good for Canada as a whole.

For example, a project was approved in Regina, Saskatchewan that helps older workers develop new skills to help them find and keep jobs. This is a joint Saskatchewan-Canada initiative that will help older workers adapt to a changing economy. As the Saskatchewan minister of advanced education, employment and labour, Rob Norris, said:

...older workers represent a large and growing portion of Saskatchewan's population. Their ongoing contribution to our prosperity will be a benefit to everyone.

Participants get résumé writing, interviewing tips, skills upgrading and committed mentors to help them choose their path. For those who are faced with finding new employment for the first time in years, these are crucial skills to be learned. As one participant said, “This has strengthened my belief that I can and will re-enter the workforce”.

What I find astonishing is the lack of faith some of my colleagues in the opposition have in older workers. While they say that they support older workers, they have consistently voted against all help for older workers, including the targeted initiative for older workers, which is just one of the measures our Conservative government has put in place to ensure our labour market needs are met and older workers can benefit from the economic recovery.

Under labour market development agreements, older workers can also receive assistance. They are part of the unemployed workforce that is being helped with $1.95 billion in funding provided to the provinces and territories.

Under these agreements, the workers must be eligible for EI to receive programming to help them get back to work. In Canada's economic plan, funding was increased by $1 billion over two years. More than 100,000 workers over age 50 participate in these programs each year. For those workers not eligible for EI, we have labour market agreements that help unemployed workers, including older Canadians, return to work.

Again, our Conservative government provides $3 billion in funding over six years to the provinces and territories to help these workers return to the workplace. In the economic action plan, this funding was increased by $500 million over two years.

As well, our Conservative government appointed an expert panel on older workers in January 2007. The panel was to examine the long-term issues facing older workers, including any barriers or disincentives to their continued participation in the labour market. The report recommended an employability approach and advocated removing all systemic barriers. My Motion No. 515 is right in line with the report's findings.

Our Conservative government is interested in working with all of the provinces and territories. We recognize there are regional differences in their approach. Our labour market development agreements and labour market agreements are flexible enough to take that into account.

We may at times have different approaches but we stay united on one basic issue: we welcome the chance for older workers to contribute their skills and experience to Canada's labour market. In doing so, they are increasing their prosperity and the prosperity of all of Canada. I would ask members of the House to support this motion.

There has been a philosophical shift in Canadian retirement aspirations. From the idyllic freedom 55 of years gone by come the new realities of potential retirees taking three very important premises into account: health, wealth and constructive occupation of time. Certainly most do not aspire to put up their feet and retire at age 55. Retirement without occupation of time is not freedom. For some it can be drudgery.

Older workers want their contributions recognized for the good value they contribute to society. This motion is for me and for other older workers.

I do hope the House and the good citizens of Edmonton East recognize that I can still contribute to society for as long as I can and that I am welcome to participate and continue. I suppose in a way I speak for all older persons who can contribute and want to continue to contribute to society, to their family's financial well-being and who want to be reminded that there is still true value for this contribution.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must take issue with a comment that the member made. He referred to the Liberals supporting changes to the old age security for people who have lived in this country for only three years. That is an outright lie.

We on this side of the House encourage our members to express the feelings of people in their own constituencies. That is a private member's bill and it is not supported by the Liberal Party nor our leader. Clearly, that Conservatives across the country are suggesting that the Liberals support that and we do not.

If there are one million to three million Canadians staying in the workforce, is it possible that they cannot live on the $12,000 that they would get on OAS and CPP?

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before I go to the hon. member for a response, I would like to remind all members that there are certain terms that we do not use in the House, “lie” being one of those. I anticipate that the member could make her point without using that word.

The hon. member for Edmonton East.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is worth reminding the House of some of the initiatives the Conservative Party has brought forward in recent times, some of them being extremely well received and certainly indicative of the emphasis the Conservative Party has put on older persons and seniors issues.

First and foremost, we created the position of minister of state for seniors. This is to bring the concerns of older Canadians to the cabinet table and to stand on their behalf.

The National Seniors Council was established in 2007 to provide advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors.

We have also improved government programs in support of seniors. We have allocated $400 million over 2 years in targeted funding for the construction of housing units for low income seniors through the affordable housing initiative, to be cost-shared with the provinces and territories. We have improved access to EI compassionate care. We have allocated $220 million over 5 years to the targeted initiative for older workers, which has, thus far, assisted over 10,000 unemployed older workers through over 200 approved projects.

This is only a portion of what we have put forward for seniors.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, certainly older workers have the experience, knowledge and skills and should be encouraged to stay in the workforce as long as possible.

With that in mind, the member obviously has not read his government's 880-page omnibus finance bill, which passed the House recently. In fact, the government is giving incentive for people to stay longer in the workforce, but experts have been quoted in newspaper articles as saying that this incentive is not big enough to make very many people take the option of staying in the workforce.

On the one hand, he wants to have initiatives to keep people working. On the other hand, his government is acting in the opposite direction. Could he comment on that?

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will mention other programs to which the Conservative government has contributed. A more recent one is the new horizons for seniors program. This program offers three types of funding for organizations, including community participation and leadership funding of up to $25,000 per project. It supports community-based projects across Canada. The projects encourage seniors to continue to play an important role in their communities by helping those in need, providing leadership and sharing their knowledge and skills with others.

There is also capital assistance funding, once again for $25,000 per project. It helps non-profit organizations that need to upgrade their facilities or equipment used for seniors' programs and activities. It enables seniors to continue to lead active lives by participating in existing programs and activities in their communities.

A third and very important program is the one on elder abuse awareness. This is an insidious aspect of social life today and it is very important that the Conservative government has put forward funding to address the concerns of elder abuse.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here this morning to speak to Motion No. 515, tabled by the member for Edmonton East. Aside from being a statement of general principle, Motion No. 515 speaks to the larger societal question of overall respect for seniors.

My riding of York West is a riding that boasts a tremendous cultural diversity. In travelling throughout the region, I have come to see and understand many of the customs and the beliefs that tend to distinguish each of these unique cultures. For example, in general terms, cultural conditions in many regions of Africa, Italy, Japan and many native Canadian cultures tend to view seniors as an asset, to be cherished. For the most part, seniors with a background from these areas are seen as community elders, as teachers and as a linkage to the lessons of the past.

When I speak with some of my constituents, they are confused by local trends that push seniors out of the workforce before they are ready to leave on their own. To these people, these elders, it sounds almost laughable to think of the implications. Imagine trying to explain the merits of casting out years of training, ingrained institutional knowledge and real-life practical expertise in favour of the novice, the untried and the untested.

Sadly, this tradition of truly honouring our seniors is something that is fading from North American society in general and even faster from the policy directions exhibited by the current government.

While I support Motion No. 515 as it speaks to the idea that older workers can, and should be, permitted to continue to make a contribution to society through employment, I am saddened that a motion like this is even needed.

When I spoke in the House last week, I made mention of the fact that, according to the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, more than 200,000 Canadian seniors currently still lived below the poverty line. They struggle every day to buy food, clothing and the basic essentials of life. More than that, because of the severe financial limitations, many of these seniors are removed from society and from their families. Buying a birthday gift for a grandchild often represents a decision to cut back on groceries. An unexpected miscellaneous household expense means taking on new debt. The thought of a night out with friends at a restaurant or at a movie is nothing more than a dream.

This is the terrible reality that many seniors struggle with every day, living out their retirement years in isolation and in uncertainty. Imagine being one of those 200,000 seniors still below the poverty line. They have worked their entire life, they have raised their family, they have paid their taxes and they have contributed to their community. However, now, when they need a small hand up, their government has no real interest in helping them.

More than 620 days ago, the government said that it would have some consultation on the subject. What did it do? It declared a National Seniors Day. It quite often talks about seniors in their speeches, but when it comes to action, the government does very little of substance.

If members would like to hear of some examples, I would like to cite Nortel as just one. As most members of this place know, the former employees of Nortel are currently fighting to protect their pension benefits in the wake of their company's financial collapse. Many of these pensioners stand to lose between 30% to 35% of their retirement income, with nothing but the stroke of a pen. After working for their entire life, after contributing to a pension plan and after contributing to Nortel's asset growth, these people are now being told that they are at the end of the line when it comes to distributing the scraps from Nortel's table.

When they looked to their government for help, the Minister of Finance said that pensions were not a matter of federal interest. Since then, the government has softened its rhetoric, but it has still been motionless when it comes to actually offering help and relief.

What the government does not seem to understand is that retail politics might make good for a sound bite, but it does not solve any problems. Partisan politics can easily be condensed onto the back of a brochure, but it does nothing to help those over 200,000 seniors pay their monthly hydro bill. Whether we are talking about elder abuse, or about inadequate pension income or about the former employees of Nortel, action is what is really required, not more words.

Do not misunderstand what I am saying today. The member of Edmonton East deserves credit for Motion No. 515 and I intend to support it, but, after all, it is a lofty and wordy statement of principle. If passed, Motion No. 515 will say that the House of Commons, as a whole, sees the worth and merit of continuing to have seniors in our workforce, but this is a big caveat. If the House is to make a real impact for seniors, we need a government that is interested in more than brochure covers and sound bites.

Recently the government spent more than $1 billion on two international summits, one in Toronto and one in the riding of an Ontario cabinet minister. More than $1 billion was spent to build a fake lake and to buy glow sticks and snacks at fancy hotels, and there is more to come. Most of the 200,000 impoverished seniors who I referred to could have thought of something better to spend that money on. Just imagine what $1 billion would have done to help many of those seniors with groceries.

The government is currently planning to spend another $16 billion on new stealth jets for the Canadian military. Do we really need them now, at a time when we are heading into some very difficult times in Canada from a financial perspective? Is this the right time and we do have to go forward right now? Could we not buy something more in keeping with operational needs and put some of that money toward old age security pensions or to increase the GIS? These are important decisions that show the real priorities of the current government. Beyond the rhetoric and the sound bites, Canadian seniors deserve much better.

In effect, Motion No. 515 says that we want to have proactive and positive government policies on seniors issues. Unfortunately, the party the member belongs to is not inclined to follow the lead from the House. We are each familiar with the vote taken last week on the long form census. Members of the House told the government, in no uncertain terms, that we wanted the long form census questionnaire to be reinstated. However, as always, the government continually disregards the will of this elected House.

Likewise, I continue to expect that the government will ignore the will of this elected House, though I would point out that by ignoring it, sooner or later there will come a time when it can no longer do that. The government was elected with a minority level of support. If it is to legitimately govern for all Canadians, then Parliament must be part of that equation. Perhaps Motion No. 515 will be a catalyst for that change. Maybe it will help the Minister of Finance understand that even some members of his party are growing tired of the stalling, the excuses and the abdication of their moral responsibility to tend to the needs of all Canadians.

I will support Motion No. 515 because it is a good motion. I believe seniors should be able to contribute to society for as long as they wish, but I would never want it to be the case that someone must continue to work into their retirement years just to survive or pay his or her basic expenses.

I believe in retirement and I believe that after a lifetime of working, seniors have a right to retire with dignity. That is part of the reason why I introduced my retirement bill of rights last Friday. Seniors have much to contribute both through employment and volunteerism within our communities. Let us untie their hands and give them real choices.

Despite its efforts to ignore the problem, pension income adequacy and coverage must be a focus for the government in the years ahead. I am hopeful that Motion No. 515 will help to illustrate this point.

I again commend the member for Edmonton East for bringing this matter to the floor. Let us hope the Prime Minister is finally ready to listen.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion that my colleague from Edmonton East has proposed targets workers over the age of 55 and aims to ensure that government policies and programs encourage older workers to remain in the workforce.

This motion is very interesting. It is primarily focused on the targeted initiative for older workers, a program that my Conservative colleagues find attractive because it trains older workers who have lost their jobs and returns them to the workforce as quickly as possible.

Of course, this initiative is useful, but the government is forgetting that age is exactly what makes it difficult for older workers to find a job, especially because they often have less education or simply because there are not many jobs available in their region.

Once again, the Conservatives' lack of compassion is obvious; they are ignoring the socio-economic challenges facing older workers, especially following the 2008 economic crisis and specifically in regions hit by factory closures or closures stemming from the forestry industry crisis.

As the Bloc Québécois critic for seniors' issues, I would like to remind the members that seniors were one of the main interest groups left out of the last Conservative budget. In fact, they were ignored on two fronts.

First, there was nothing in that budget to improve the guaranteed income supplement, which provides assistance for our poorest seniors. In fact, on April 22, I was forced to introduce a new bill, Bill C-516, which we will hopefully be debating very soon in the House.

Second, what does the budget the Conservatives brought down on March 4, 2010, have for older workers? Nothing. Yet for years the Bloc Québécois has been calling on the federal government to bring in a new income support program for workers 55 and over who cannot be retrained and who are victims of massive layoffs.

This program was well known as POWA until 1997, but it was abolished by our Liberal friends, which was not a great idea, I must say. Why do we want a POWA? Because there will always be older workers who cannot retrain, and an income support program is essential for these workers. It is a matter of social justice.

During its 2006 throne speech, this same government committed to creating such a program by adopting a Bloc amendment proposing an income support program for older workers. Since then, it has not taken any concrete action. Nothing has happened.

In October 2006, the Minister of Human Resources announced that the government would pursue the targeted initiative for older workers, known as TIOW, which does not provide for any funds for an income support program for older workers. TIOW projects are designed to improve the employability of participants from 55 to 64 years of age, and may assist them through activities such as prior learning assessment, skills upgrading, and experience in new fields of work.

In the 2007 budget, the Conservative government did not provide any money for the income support program for older workers.

The same goes for the 2008 budget. In that budget, the Conservative government announced that the TIOW would carry through until 2012, and that it would invest $90 million in the project.

The annual budget of the TIOW is now $50 million a year until 2012, with additional funding of $60 million for the 2009 budget.

Once again, this still does not help our older workers who cannot be retrained. To substantiate my comments, I will add that in 2005, the Employment Insurance Commission acknowledged that all training programs for people aged 55 to 65 were inadequate. Yet the Conservative party has done absolutely nothing in that area. It proposed retraining those workers, even though we all know that what is most important to those people who have lost their jobs is to provide them with the income they need to bridge the gap between the end of their employment and the beginning of their old age pension.

Furthermore, an expert panel was established in 2007 to examine this whole issue. The panel completed its report in 2008. It proposed a few interesting solutions, which the government chose not to implement.

For instance, it recommended that severance pay not be regarded as earnings for EI purposes. The Bloc considers this recommendation important and believes that this measure should be available to all workers, not just older workers.

The experts also recommended a complete overhaul of the EI system. Do I need to remind the House that the Bloc has been calling for such reforms for years? In fact, there was a vote in the House on October 28, 2009, on motion M-285 moved by my colleague, the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. The motion proposed the following:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should as quickly as possible implement a genuine income support program for older workers who lost their job in order to ease their transition from active employment to pension benefits.

The result of the vote: 143 in favour and 137 against. Only the Conservatives voted against this motion. I have given up trying to figure out their reasoning.

Every Conservative party response is based on the same overly simplistic logic: training people and putting them back in the job market will help get the Canadian economy back on track.

What happens if the training provided by a targeted initiative for older workers, or TIOW, project does not lead to a job? Then many older workers will have to go back to square one and divest themselves of their assets and investments in order to survive. Without an income, some will even have to sell their homes in order to access social assistance.

Is that what we want to happen to those who worked for many years to build our society? Certainly not. If they are unable to find another job at the end of their benefit period, older workers will be forced to apply for social assistance, or what is now known as employment assistance. To qualify for employment assistance and receive help, they must first deplete all their assets. This means that if they have more than the equivalent of one month's benefits in their bank account, they will have to wait until they have used up all their savings before receiving assistance.

For example, if someone owns an $80,000 home or a $5,000 car, the government will not help them until it has deducted $20 of monthly benefits for every $1,000 in assets exceeding the allowable amount. Not only will older workers have to deplete their assets, but they will have to do so at a loss. Being a homeowner will seem like a bad thing.

Nevertheless, we will be supporting this bill. The TIOW can be beneficial but it must be supplemented by other income support measures for those who cannot benefit from it and who are not able to find a job after this training. The motion presented today may be excellent, but it is incomplete. It must be combined with an income support program for older workers who have lost their jobs.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Motion No. 515, which states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

I have no problem with the motion itself. How could I? Recognizing and supporting older workers is not only laudable but absolutely essential. The problem is that the rhetoric of the motion does absolutely nothing to take even a baby step toward that goal. It is as inoffensive as it is ineffective. So let me move beyond the empty words and address what needs to happen if we want to do more than talk the talk.

To walk the talk, we need to have a close look at what is happening to older workers in today's labour market. Let us begin with some facts. In 2004, the Employment Insurance Commission released statistics for 2004-05 indicating that older workers accounted for 21.3% of the long-term unemployed, even though they made up only 12.5% of the active workforce. While that study may be a bit dated, the reality has not changed. In fact, the recent economic downturn has only exacerbated the trend.

Older workers are disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed. This is especially true in communities like my hometown of Hamilton where the manufacturing sector has been decimated. The same is true in cities right across the industrial heartland. Companies like Stelco, Lakeport, Hamilton Specialty Bar, Multiserv, Siemens and many others were institutions in our community. They were unionized workplaces where seniority mattered and where companies therefore had the benefit of the skills, experience and expertise of their long-tenured workers. But a senior workforce also means that when plants close or downsize, 60% to 70% of the newly unemployed are older workers.

One would think then that successive governments might have assumed some responsibility for addressing the unique issues confronting older workers in Canada, but despite often lauding our incredibly skilled workforce, they did nothing to ensure that these workers would remain a vital force in our economy. To this day we do not have a manufacturing sector strategy in this country. We do not have an auto sector strategy. We do not have a green industry strategy. Instead, we allow foreign companies like U.S. Steel, Xstrata and Vale to buy up Canadian companies without an ounce of a guarantee that they will protect Canadian jobs. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the very government that did nothing to protect their jobs in the first place is the same government that is also doing nothing to protect displaced older workers. These unemployed Canadians need to keep working. They need a few more years of income before they can retire. They cannot cash in their retirement savings; that would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. And surely we cannot expect them to sell their homes or take out a new mortgage. These older Canadians have worked hard all their lives. They have played by the rules and now, through no fault of their own, they have become incapable of building a secure future for themselves and their families.

It is time for the government to step up to the plate and offer real assistance to these displaced workers. Unfortunately, instead of setting up effective programs for worker adjustment, the Conservatives have been setting up barriers to re-employment instead. In the limited time available to me here, let me review just a few of them. They really are just the tip of the iceberg.

First, there is a bias toward high skills in today's demand for labour. This is a huge problem for displaced workers, especially those residing in parts of the country where opportunities for re-employment are very limited. As a nation, Canada has never had a culture of workplace-based learning. This must change. If employers actually invested in the continuous updating of skills and education for their workforce, not only would they benefit from increases in productivity and profitability, but our country as a whole would benefit by ensuring that displaced workers would have the skills necessary to participate in the increasingly high-tech economy.

I am not suggesting that the onus for training should fall solely on employers. On the contrary, the government too has an important role to play in promoting lifelong learning. However, instead of taking that role seriously, the government is actually responsible for many of the barriers that undermine skills training. We know for example that 40% of working-age Canadians have limited literacy and numeracy skills and that even these skills atrophy from lack of use in some workplaces. This has had a profoundly negative impact on the re-employment prospects of Canadian workers. Yet, what was the very first thing the Conservatives did when they assumed office in 2006? They slashed funding for literacy programs to the point where it now amounts to a measly $1 per Canadian. What a disgrace.

By cutting the support for literacy, the Conservatives have cut the legs right out from under older workers, in that literacy and numeracy are the cornerstones of successful skills development and retraining.

Similarly, the government's employment insurance system does little to encourage workers to participate in skills upgrading. On the contrary, it sets up further barriers.

I have spoken in the House many times before about the serious flaws in our EI system, and I will not reiterate them at length here. However I do want to comment on the training piece of it.

All federal training programs in Ontario have now been rolled into the second career program, which is partially funded by the federal government but administered wholly by the province. That is a smart move by the feds.

It allows the Conservatives to duck the heat on a program that is failing workers, by simply blaming the McGuinty Liberals. The problem with that strategy, though, is that laid-off workers are the ones who are paying the price.

Last September, the second career program ran out of money, so workers whose applications were in progress were told that they were out of luck. Through no fault of their own the doors simply slammed shut on them. Then in November the government opened the door just a crack. It announced new tougher eligibility criteria but also advised workers that funding for retraining would have to wait until the new budget year, which did not start until April 1 of this year.

There was no other issue over the past year that generated as many calls to my constituency office as the bureaucratic bungling of the second career program. People who had been approved before September suddenly could not start their programs because the money had run out. Then when the program was restarted, their prior approvals were disallowed because they did not meet the new criteria. So they had to start the process all over again.

However, under the tightened program criteria many then found themselves ineligible for the very program that they had been admitted to just a few weeks earlier. That was six long months during which unemployed workers watched their EI run down without any opportunity to acquire the skills they needed to return to the workforce. So much for the Conservative government's rhetoric that it will “ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce”.

It is little wonder that older Canadians are so overrepresented in the ranks of the unemployed. A couple of decades ago, the government at least offered some assistance for older workers so they could bridge to retirement.

In 1987 the Conservatives introduced the program for older worker adjustment, which gave income support to workers between the ages of 55 and 64 who had lost their jobs as part of a mass layoff. The program was not perfect, but it did allow more than 12,000 displaced older workers with poor re-employment prospects to bridge the gap between layoff and retirement.

Unfortunately the Liberals dismantled that program in 1997, and to this day no better alternative has been put in place. Essentially, the Liberals wrote off older workers as inevitable casualties of structural change in the Canadian economy.

We can and must right that fundamental wrong, but we cannot do it with the motion like the one that is before us today, a motion that is bereft of any concrete proposals.

If the Conservatives were serious about doing something for older workers, they would offer them income support instead of platitudes. However as I have said, that proposition assumes that the government really is concerned about the future of older workers, and perhaps even that assumption is overly optimistic.

When I observe the foot-dragging by the government on pension reform, I despair about the future of our country. Despite the fact that the NDP's motion on pension reform passed unanimously in the House as far back as last year, the government still has not implemented a single aspect of it. There is no improvement to the CPP. There is no super-priority that puts workers' pensions ahead of other creditors in cases of commercial bankruptcy. And perhaps worst of all, we still have more than a quarter of a million seniors living in poverty because the government has not raised the GIS to ensure that no recipient would be below the low income cutoff.

That essential piece of reform would cost the government a mere $700 million. Sadly, the government has chosen its business buddies over the very seniors who built our country. In the last budget the Conservatives spent $6 billion on tax giveaways for the wealthiest corporations but did not spend a dime on the poorest seniors.

I wish I had more time, but let me conclude by saying once again that if the Conservative government really cared about older workers then it would not have asked the member for Edmonton East to table this motion. It would have tabled and implemented comprehensive legislative reform, and frankly, hard-working Canadians deserve nothing less.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Minister of State (Seniors)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise, as Minister of State for Seniors, in support of Motion No. 515. This excellent motion has been introduced in the House by my hon. colleague from Edmonton East. His motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

Because Canadians are living longer, healthier lives, many are choosing to remain in the workplace longer. A recent article by Denise Deveau of Postmedia News quoted Tim McCarthy, who was a successful brokerage trader. Now at age 63, he is into his second career, at Home Depot as a flooring expert. McCarthy says:

When you have had a career that required a lot of energy and drive and you stop, you can go downhill. I’m not going to let that happen.... It’s important to do something that helps you keep your edge.

Susan Eng of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons finds that people like McCarthy “want to do it, they want to get out, and they want to stay involved”.

Deveau's article also quotes Taissa Klaus, who at the age of 60 decided to open a small store as a second career and believes that involvement is the key to staying young.

These older Canadians are an increasingly important segment of our labour force. They have already contributed so much to our economy and possess valuable skills, knowledge and experience. They are also a source of enormous potential and are invaluable mentors to younger generations. This government recognizes the importance of these older workers by ensuring that its labour market programs and policies do not penalize them for staying in the labour force if they choose to do so.

It is no secret that our population is aging. Currently one in seven Canadians is over the age of 65, but in just two short decades that ratio will jump to one in four. One result is that we are about to enter a period of severe shortages of skilled labour, which will be experienced from coast to coast to coast. A 2007 study on labour force projections indicates that during the last quarter century the Canadian labour force grew by about 226,000 per year, but in just six short years from now, that annual growth will be near zero. That is an enormous change. According to the report:

The labour market shortfall will be enormous.... The absolute size of the total labour force will peak in 8 of the 10 provinces during the period to 2016. The provinces will have difficulty getting the workers that they need.

I can assure the House that our government is aware of this demographic reality. That is why, in 2007, we appointed an expert panel on older workers. The panel produced a report examining both current and long-term issues facing older workers, including the barriers and disincentives to their continued labour market participation. We are pleased to note that the panel confirmed that our government is on the right track.

For example, one of the panel's recommendations was to “minimize work disincentive effects associated with the guaranteed income supplement clawback provisions”. So in budget 2008, we acted by increasing the GIS exemption from $500 to $3,500. This means more money in the pockets of 1.6 million Canadian seniors, more choice and more flexibility for older Canadians who would like to remain involved in the labour force.

It is more important than ever to encourage and support older workers who wish to remain as active participants in the Canadian labour force. As the expert panel on older workers indicated:

One of the major barriers to engaging them in the labour force was thought to be myths about the need to retire early in order to more fully enjoy life and to make room for the younger generation.

But our population is aging, and older workers are key to Canada's long-term prosperity. They represent a large pool of skilled labour, and many sectors realize that retaining them is essential. That is why we have taken action.

A key component of our government's economic action plan is to create better and increased opportunities for Canadian workers through improved support for skills development and training programs.

We are investing an unprecedented $8.3 billion in the Canada skills and transition strategy, which includes measures for income support and training.

Our economic action plan also provides about $500 million, or half a billion dollars, over two years for the career transition assistance program, which will benefit up to 20,000 people. It offers extended income benefits to long-tenured workers who are paying for their own long-term training.

These new initiatives are in addition to the increased support we are providing to the provinces and territories for skills training.

Through labour market development agreements, the Government of Canada provides nearly $2 billion in funding to provinces and territories. These agreements create employment and training programs for the unemployed who are eligible for EI.

In the economic action plan, we increased the funding for labour market development agreements by $1 billion over two years.

These agreements provide programming to assist unemployed workers, including older workers, who are not eligible for EI, to get back to work.

We have also increased funding for the targeted initiative for older workers, to assist unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities. This is a five-year, $220 million cost-shared initiative with the provinces and territories.

Also, as the House may know, the Minister of Finance recently announced changes to the Canada pension plan rules to remove penalties on older workers who wish to keep working. This is the kind of action Canadians have asked for, and the government is proud to say that it has delivered this action and will continue to do so.

A 2006 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey indicated that, in the year the first wave of baby boomers would hit 65, “62% of Canadian private companies say the shortage of skilled workers is already slowing the growth of their companies”.

Canada's prosperity now and in the future depends on a strong labour force. Our labour force is immeasurably strengthened by the contributions of older workers. Canada's older workers have accumulated the kind of wisdom and experience that we cannot afford to throw away.

Therefore, I urge all members of the House to join me in supporting Motion No. 515.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Edmonton East for sponsoring Motion No. 515. I will read the motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and to ensure that its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

It has been pointed out by other speakers that older workers are extremely valuable to our economy. They provide knowledge, skills, and experience that the workforce needs. But there are a number of industries in which older workers have to face the possibility of having to be retrained because of technological changes. I think it is incumbent upon the governments, both federal and provincial, to get together and cooperate to retrain these workers and keep them in the workforce.

I mentioned to the member in the question period, in a supportive way, that he should recognize that his government has already taken steps to encourage workers to stay in the workforce longer. The incentive in this last budget was that if they stayed in the workforce for an extra few years they would get a bigger pension than if they took early retirement.

That is fine if that is what the government wants to do, but there are experts out there who have written articles saying that, while it is the government's intention to have workers stay in the workforce longer, the policy is not actually having the desired effect, because it did not offer a large enough incentive for people to stay in the workforce. When they did the calculations, it turned out that there was only a marginal difference between what a worker would collect in early retirement versus what he would collect if he stayed in the workforce for an extra few years.

The member should take that back to his government, to his minister, to his caucus, and perhaps take another look at that issue. After a year or two of experience, the government will recognize that this initiative did not keep people in the workforce and that, to keep them in, it has to increase the benefit.

Older workers have had an increasingly difficult time over the years, especially with the dislocations in the economy and with the jobs that have been lost. When it comes time to rehire, older workers have a much more difficult time finding a job than younger workers. This is a problem that has been around for a long time. It has been recognized by governments, and governments at all levels have made adjustments, as have businesses, to try to keep older workers on the job.

Older workers are a huge resource. They have the training and experience of many years in the workforce. A new worker, somebody fresh out of school, cannot be expected to be up to speed and have the same experience and skill level as a worker who has been on the job for 10 or 20 years, whether it's roofing, plumbing, carpentry, or in any skill out there. The member for Winnipeg Centre will attest to that. A carpenter who has been in the business for 10 or 20 years is probably going to do a better job than people who have just come out of school and are looking to establish themselves.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order has dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will have six minutes when the House returns to this matter.

The House resumed from September 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act
Government Orders

Noon

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to be here today speaking on Bill C-22 and also to be here with my colleagues.

My hope is that we have support in this House from every party. I know that Conservative members of Parliament strongly support this legislation. It is the right thing to do for the protection of our children. It is a new and important piece of legislation.

I do not think there is anyone in this House who would disagree with me that the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web has been incredibly positive for Canadians. It is a wonderful tool. However, as with most things that are good for us, there is a potential for abuse, and this is also true with these new and evolving technologies.

While the Internet has provided us with new and easier ways of doing many things, it has also provided new and easier means for offenders to make, view, and distribute child pornography. This has resulted in a significant increase in the availability and volume of child pornography.

The Internet has contributed to the massive growth of the child pornography industry, which is deemed to be worth more than $1 billion worldwide. It is estimated that there are over five million different child sexual abuse images on the Internet.

According to the recent report called, “Every image, every child” released by the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, there are over 750,000 pedophiles online at any given time. Tens of thousands of new images or videos are put on the Internet every week, and hundreds of thousands of searches for child sexual abuse images are performed daily.

The continued advancement of Internet technologies makes these crimes not only easier to commit, but also harder to investigate. There is an increasing burden on law enforcement to stay abreast of the changing technologies in order to to effectively investigate the crimes.

Child pornography is a particularly serious form of child victimization. Not only are the children abused and exploited through the making of child pornography; they are further exploited each time these images are shared or viewed.

To refer again to the “Every image, every child” report, I was shocked to learn that between 2003 and 2007 the number of online images of serious child abuse increased fourfold, and that these images became more violent and featured younger and younger children. It is disgusting.

According to the federal ombudsman's special report, 39% of individuals who accessed child pornography were viewing images of children between the ages of three and five, and 19% were viewing images of infants under the age of three. These statistics are nothing short of tragic. I am confident that most Canadians are just as appalled as I am, as each of us are, at this information.

Our government is committed to ending the growing problem of sexual exploitation of children. As part of these efforts the Minister of Justice, of whom I am so proud, reintroduced Bill C-22 in this House. Today we also have the chair of the justice committee in the House, the member for Abbotsford. I want to thank him for being here.

The main goal of this legislation is to help Canadian law enforcement officials detect potential child pornography offences on the Internet. Bill C-22 proposes, in precisely the same manner as Bill C-58 did in the last session of Parliament, that the law require those who provide Internet services to the public to do two things.

First, it will require them to report any information or tips they receive regarding websites where child pornography may be available to the public. They will be required to make this report to a designated agency. Second, it will require them to notify the police and safeguard any evidence, if they believe that a child pornography offence has been committed on their Internet service.

Failure to comply with these reporting duties would, in the case of an individual, a sole proprietorship, constitute an offence punishable by graduated fines up to $1,000 for the first offence, $5,000 for the second offence, and $10,000, six months in prison, or both, for the third offence and subsequent offences. In the case of a corporation, the graduated fine would start at $10,000 maximum, increase to $50,000 on the second conviction, and to $100,000 on third and subsequent convictions.

The duties imposed by this bill, in addition to helping reduce the availability of online child pornography, would facilitate the identification and rescue of victims of child pornography and assist law enforcement in identifying the offenders who create, possess, and distribute child pornography.

I would like to make it clear that this legislation was carefully tailored so as to achieve its objectives while minimizing the impact on the privacy of Canadians. Suppliers of Internet services would not be required to send personal subscriber information under this statute. The legislation is also tailored to limit access to child pornography and avoid creating new consumers of this material. Hence, nothing in this legislation would require or authorize a person to seek out child pornography.

Before I proceed further, I would like to explain to the House who is covered by this legislation. I am sure most members are familiar with the term “Internet service provider”, or ISP. An ISP provides access to the Internet. In essence, it acts as an on-ramp to the Internet. That is the service it provides. An ISP is one example of a provider of Internet services, but the term is broader than that. A provider of Internet services refers to all those who provide an Internet service to the public, including things like electronic mail services such as webmail, Internet content hosting services, and social network sites.

This bill is an example of Canada's commitment to fighting the scourge of child pornography and protecting children from online sexual exploitation. However, the Internet is a complex instrument. We all know that. Our knowledge and understanding of the full impact of the Internet in facilitating the demand for, and distribution of, child pornography is still evolving. The Internet presents a real challenge to the prevention and policing of this material due in part to the relative anonymity of the parties and instant worldwide access by millions of people.

I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to recognize the great efforts already made by Canada's major ISPs to address the challenge of online child sexual exploitation. Most ISPs have adopted acceptable use policies, which outline the rules for using an Internet account, the conditions of access privileges, and the consequences of violating these rules and conditions. These polices allow the ISP to terminate accounts in the event of unacceptable online behaviour, and we thank them for that.

I would also like to mention that the Canadian Association of Internet Providers has helped to develop standards for the industry, including an ISP code of conduct, to which many Canadian ISPs adhere. We thank the association for that.

A further initiative that bears mentioning is the Canadian Coalition Against Internet Child Exploitation, which was created in 2003 by some Canadian ISPs and police agencies. The main objective of this body is to assist law enforcement officials in their efforts to address online child pornography.

I would like to speak specifically about one important initiative that has developed from this collaboration between the ISPs and the police. It is called Project Cleanfeed Canada and it aims to reduce accidental access to child sexual abuse images, as well as to discourage those trying to access or distribute child pornography.

To achieve this goal, Cybertip.ca, which is the national tip line for reporting online child sexual exploitation, creates and maintains a regularly updated list of foreign-hosted Internet service providers associated with images of child sex abuse and provides that list to the participating ISPs. The ISP's filters automatically prevent access to addresses on the list by blocking these addresses.

Most of Canada's major ISPs participate in Cleanfeed Canada, which results in 90% of Canadian Internet subscribers being protected. There are continuing efforts to reach the remaining 10% of Canadians.

I am confident that Bill C-22 will be a complement to these existing efforts, especially Cleanfeed Canada, by requiring that all providers of Internet services report child pornography websites, which can then be added to the Cleanfeed Canada list.

Bill C-22 will also ensure that all providers of Internet services to the public will be held to the same standard of reporting when it comes to online Internet child sexual exploitation. Some may criticize this initiative as having a limited impact on the business practices of providers of Internet services, who already voluntarily report cases of online child pornography, and in fact, it is true that Bill C-22 was drafted in a way that closely mirrors the current practices of Canada's ISPs. However, I would like to reiterate that this legislation applies more broadly and covers more than just the typical ISP. It applies to all providers of Internet services and its impact will be much broader.

I recognize, and I am sure our colleagues do too, that more is needed to combat this disgusting social ill than just strong criminal laws. The government is committed to a broader approach that is effected to protect our children. That is why, in 2008, our government announced a renewed commitment to work with our partners through the national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. This is a successful initiative that has played a very big role over the last few years in helping to make sure that the growing number of young people online stay safe and that we take action to crack down on the sexual predators.

The Government of Canada is investing $71 million over five years to help ensure that the national strategy remains the success that it is today. With these great investments, our government is further strengthening our ability to combat child sexual exploitation over the Internet through the work of the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, which works to reduce the vulnerability of children to Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation by identifying victimized children, by investigating and assisting with the prosecution of sexual offenders, and by strengthening the capacity of municipal, territorial, provincial, federal and international police agencies.

We are also further strengthening the ability of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to help young people stay safe online through initiatives such as Cybertip.ca, which, as I mentioned earlier, allows the public to report suspected cases of child sexual exploitation they may find online.

Currently, most reporting of child pornography across Canada is done voluntarily. The vast majority of tips come through Cybertip.ca, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week anonymous tip line for reporting of child sexual exploitation on the Internet. Cybertip.ca provides a valuable function for law enforcement across Canada by screening, prioritizing, and analyzing each and every one of the 700 reports it receives every month. The skilled analysts collect supporting information using various Internet tools and techniques, and if the material is assessed to be potentially illegal, a report is made to the appropriate police services.

By providing this service of reports and forwarding only the most relevant information to the police agencies, Cybertip.ca saves valuable police time and resources. This allows police to devote their time and efforts to actual investigations rather than to the time-consuming tasks of analyzing all the incoming reports of child pornography.

Cybertip.ca collaborates closely with many of the Canadian ISPs and international partners and it has a memorandum of understanding with most Canadian law enforcement agencies.

As part of the mandate of Cybertip.ca, it also collects statistics regarding online child pornography in Canada. Each month, Cybertip.ca receives 800,000 hits on its website and 700 reports of suspected child abuse images. Between 2002 and 2009, Cybertip.ca had triaged over 33,000 reports, and approximately 45% of those reports were forwarded to law enforcement. It is very effective.

The material that is deemed not to be illegal is often followed up with educational information. Ninety per cent of the reports received by Cybertip.ca relate to child pornography.

As a result of these efforts, at least 30 arrests have been made, approximately 3,000 websites have been shut down, and most important, several children have been removed from abusive environments.

The work of Cybertip.ca is being bolstered by recent efforts of some provincial and territorial governments. We are thankful for that. The Province of Manitoba enacted legislation on mandatory reporting of child pornography in April 2009. Under this law, all members of the public are required to report suspected cases of child pornography to Cybertip.ca. Ontario has enacted similar legislation, but it is not yet in force. Nova Scotia's mandatory reporting legislation came into force just a few months ago, on April 13 of this year. I would like to extend my congratulations to them and to Cybertip.ca for their efforts in this regard.

This government is committed to protecting our children. I hope my fellow members in the House understand just how important this legislation is. I urge every member to support this legislation as we work together to protect our future, which is our children.

Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member will know that 87% of the child pornography sites are in five countries of the world, which leaves about 13% from the other 55 countries.

The member should also know that countries such as Sweden and Germany have actually blocked the sites completely.

The current government, while it has taken years to get this bill this far in the House, is proposing to spend another $42 million having the police chase around after these sites when in fact Sweden and Germany already have the answer: simply block the sites and the problem should be solved.

I would like to ask the member what sort of research the government has done on the Swedish situation and the German situation and report back to us and tell us why we cannot follow the same route.