House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Ethics
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the issue involved came to the Prime Minister's Office's attention just last Thursday evening. On Friday, the Prime Minister did the reasonable, ethical and appropriate thing by referring the matter to an independent officer of the House and to the relevant authorities. Let them review the situation and we will see where it goes.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to ask the Leader of the NDP, the member for Toronto—Danforth, to officially offer a public apology to me for what he said yesterday during question period. I quote:

“we have seen links between the member for Beauce and biker gangs”.

This comment is completely wrong and untrue and I am asking the member to retract it and to apologize.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can retract those remarks. We were not trying to say something that was untrue. We understand that this was sensationalized in the media, but we misspoke and that was not our intention.

I hope the member will accept my apology.

Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. A week and a half ago I sent out an email concerning the business of the transportation and infrastructure committee. Since then some members of the committee have expressed the opinion that it was in breach of privilege and therefore I apologize unreservedly to the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-9 on the implementation of the budget that was passed in March.

This bill has over 800 pages and implements various initiatives set out in the budget presented on March 4. However, two measures that did not appear in the budget were added to the budget implementation bill. The first is the change to the Employment Insurance Act and the creation of the employment insurance operating account. The other measure, of greater concern to me, has to do with the liberalization of one of Canada Post's business lines.

In the 10 minutes I have, I would particularly like to discuss the measure included in Bill C-9 concerning Canada Post. I will address only that issue, for it is very important to me.

I represent a rural riding, where many communities have rural post offices. I recently presented petitions with over 6,000 signatures expressing the wishes of the people of my riding, who want to keep their rural post offices. They are worried about various measures taken by the government, including privatization and more recently, the restriction of Canada Post’s exclusive privilege.

The Bloc Québécois strongly opposes the privatization, even partial, of Canada Post. We believe that corporation must remain a public entity in order to maintain universal services and consistent rates throughout Canada.

I just want to talk about this part of Bill C-9, because I want to draw attention to the hypocrisy of this Conservative government, which has been trying since 2007 to get a bill passed that would take away Canada Post's exclusive privilege concerning international mail.

First, in 2007, the government introduced Bill C-14, which died on the order paper. In June 2009, it tried again with Bill C-44, which also died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued.

Now, the government is using the budget implementation bill to introduce this measure and avoid public debate on restricting Canada Post's exclusive privilege concerning international mail.

I also want to talk about this measure to show the insidious nature of the Conservatives' tactic, which is designed to push through their plan to deregulate the crown corporation. We know that the government wants to completely privatize Canada Post, and it is clearly taking the first small step toward that end by including this measure in the budget implementation bill.

I am very active and very close to the people who work in the post offices in my riding. Since Bill C-9 was introduced, I have received many letters from my constituents who work as letter carriers. They are asking me to oppose this bill, because they are afraid of losing their jobs. I also share their fears about how the bill will affect the crown corporation's revenues.

For the people who do not know what I am talking about, I will explain what will happen if Canada Post's exclusive privilege—what we call remailing—is removed.

This measure will permit letter exporters to collect letters in Canada for transmittal and delivery outside Canada. That means that Canada Post's competitors will be able to collect mail in Canada and Quebec and send it outside Canada.

What that means, in fact, is that the forwarding of mail by a remailing company consists in collecting mail items from business clients residing in one country and sending those items to another country where the postal rates are lower. This usually involves a developing country where the mail is sorted and remailed to a third country. This is a cost reduction method and a way of ensuring that the revenue from that mail goes to Canada Post.

Allow me to illustrate this by way of a specific example. A Canadian company wanting to send mail to the United Kingdom goes through a remailing company. The company then sends the mail in bulk to a branch office in another country where the sorting is done at a fraction of the price. The mail is then resent to the United Kingdom. The company will have saved up to 30% of the delivery cost because the mail will have already been sorted.

A business using the services of a remailng company could save up to 66% of the price Canada Post charges. I am getting letters from my constituents about those figures. It is only natural that people working at Canada Post are as concerned as I am because they have good jobs with good working conditions that allow them to live in dignity and be consumers and thereby participate in the economic development of their community and region.

Who does this benefit? We must understand who will benefit from this measure. Some time ago, the government undertook a strategic review of Canada Post. The government reviewed all of Canada Post's activities and, as a result of its analysis, made a number of recommendations. One of these was to revisit the exclusive privilege of Canada Post in the area of international remailing.

However, the strategic review did not indicate the negative consequences for Canada Post of deregulation, even partial deregulation. It was also unclear whether partial deregulation would permit remailers to directly or indirectly attack Canada Post's exclusive privilege within Canada.

They are opening up a crack in order to challenge the exclusive privilege of Canada Post with respect to international mail. However, this may be just the first step. In fact, the entire issue of postal operations within Quebec and Canada may be next.

The Bloc Québécois believes that this bill will weaken Canada Post by eliminating some of its revenue sources. This situation could speed up its desire to regroup the distribution of mail in certain areas, which would result in cuts to home mail delivery to many Quebeckers as well as potential job losses.

I will conclude my speech by stating that, for the Bloc Québécois, it is important to maintain this universal public service and uniform rates throughout Quebec and Canada.

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Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely 100% correct in her analysis. This bill was introduced by a Liberal member a number of years ago while in government and then it was variously introduced by Conservatives, under Bill C-14 and Bill C-44 last year in a minority Parliament.

Knowing that it could not pass the minority Parliament and it would be held up, the government seized upon an opportunity to throw it into an 880-page omnibus bill dealing with the implementation of the budget. This has nothing to do with the budget. This is basically an attempt to privatize the post office by stealth at the end of the day.

If this remailer issue is passed by the House, we will see a gradual erosion of the post office's position in the country. These letters, I believe, are going to be sorted in places like Jamaica where the costs are much less. We will see a reduction in jobs in Canada as a result.

It is the dishonesty of the government in its approach. It does not have the courage to bring this bill forth, as it did last year, and subject it to proper debate and scrutiny in the House. It has stuck it in an omnibus bill that has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

It has basically said, “Here it is. Take it or leave it. It is a matter of confidence. If you vote against it, the government falls”. What has that done? It has scared the Liberals, who are against this measure, into having to either support the government and get what they do not want or cause an election. That is where we sit right now with this issue. It is a terrible spot that the government has put us in.

Would the member like to comment any further on this issue?

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Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I see we share the same concerns about the hypocrisy of the Conservative government, which is using the budget implementation bill to introduce a measure that would end Canada Post's exclusive privilege to redirect mail.

This will lead to financial losses. Canada Post has estimated that it is losing between $50 million and $80 million a year. It is already losing that money, because remailers are already in business. Canada Post filed a lawsuit and won, indicating that it has the exclusive privilege to handle international mail.

Of course, Canada Post told us that if the bill were ever enacted—Bill C-44 at the time—it would suffer financial losses. This will probably pass, since the Liberals will support it. At least, that is what I predict will happen.

One thing is certain: the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill. It is estimated that Canada Post will lose approximately $45 million to $50 million more if it loses the exclusive privilege to handle international remailing. By including this in Bill C-9, the government is removing Canada Post's exclusive privilege over international remailing. This is completely unacceptable because it is hypocritical, and it makes it impossible for us to have an informed debate, as Bill C-44 allowed us to do.

I hope the Liberal members will rise and vote against this bill, which will remove Canada Post's exclusive privilege to handle international remailing.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join in the debate today. I will try to focus my comments mainly on a number of the rural aspects of the budget. My riding is rural, for the most part. There are a couple of bigger communities, Glace Bay and Port Hawkesbury, but for the most part, Cape Breton—Canso is rural. When I go from one end to the other, it is about a four-hour drive and there are about three traffic lights. That would give an indication that it is a fairly rural constituency.

Some of the concerns of the people from Cape Breton—Canso obviously have to do with the out-migration, the shift in population from rural to urban. Many of the issues are being experienced by many rural communities right across this country. What I see in the budget is a lack of initiative, a lack of understanding of rural Canada and how to deal with some of the challenges that are taking place in those communities.

I want to talk about the fishery first. I would like to speak particularly about a program the government brought forward. With regard to the lobster industry last year, it pledged some short-term assistance. Too much fanfare, it announced $15 million in short-term assistance to the lobster industry. As we know, with the economic downturn, many ports along the Atlantic coast saw a downturn in the price of lobster and crab. It was compounded by the fact that catches were down in many areas.

The government announced $15 million in potential assistance for the fishers in these communities. We knew it was a fairly modest sum at the time, but what has compounded it was the criteria that were laid out by the government that made it almost impossible for fishers to receive any of that money.

I saw a cute sign the other day. I have been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan my entire life. I saw a big billboard out in front of one of the local bars in a neighbouring community that said, “Free beer for all Toronto Maple Leafs playoff games”. That is an easy pledge to make. It has been a number of years since we have been in the playoffs, so it is easy to boast the free beer.

This transitional fund for lobster assistance that the government put together is pretty much the same thing. It announced $15 million for those who qualify, but when the criteria are made so abstract and obscure, it is very difficult for an average fisherman to qualify for such funding. We saw just barely over half of that money being allocated to those who really needed that money at that time. It was a very difficult year in the fishery.

I was in Port Hood this past week and had an opportunity to speak at the installation of officers at the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department. A number of fishers were there from some of the harbours around Inverness County. I spoke with a group from Little Judique Harbour. They said their catches have gone down each of the last five years. The way the program was structured, very few from those harbours along the south side of Inverness County were eligible for any funding assistance at all.

Some fishers in Mabou qualified, but nobody qualified within Mabou Coal Mines. Just a little bit better than half of those funds were expended. It sounded like a good thing to do at the time, but I think the government really fell short in the delivery of any kind of assistance for the lobster industry and let down the fishers along the many harbours in Atlantic Canada.

Some of the representatives back in my riding, including Josephine Kennedy and Trevor MacInnis, said it seemed from the outset that the government was intent on making sure that not one of these full cheques was ever cashed. The maximum was going to be $5,000. Of course, because it was taxable, about 22% would go back to government coffers. About 22% of the money that was issued to the fishers who needed it would be signed back to the government.

On average these fishers would have lost $20,000 to $25,000. For any small business operator, if $20,000 or $25,000 is taken out of that enterprise in any one year, that is a significant amount of money to take off the bottom line.

The reality is that there are very few other opportunities for these fishermen, when we look at the reduction of crab quotas in the gulf and the drop in the price of the crab. They are very limited in their ability to generate other revenues with any other species. They are expensive operations to run. Running a fishing boat operation has a great number of costs involved.

We thought it was a good idea at the time, but it was the execution of the plan that really fell short and disappointed many. It is not the only concern we have about the fishery with the government. We are on record, on a number of occasions, questioning the minister herself as to why she wants to meddle in some past agreements signed off by some ministers but is not willing to in other cases.

We can look at a crab plan that was signed off in 2005. The minister arbitrarily went in and changed the whole context of that particular arrangement. And yet the minister is not willing to revoke the privilege that was issued to Tim Rhyno, a $1 billion licence that was issued by her predecessor, Loyola Hearn, just before the last election.

With respect to the lobster plan, as excited as we were when we first heard about it, the end result was something we probably expected anyway.

There are so many rural issues. The lack of attention that rural Canada got was stark. When the volunteer firefighters were speaking with me the other night, they said they were really hoping this was going to be the year that some recognition would be given for their efforts. If people come from Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, a major centre, when they go to bed at night they are quite confident that their safety is in the hands of full-time firefighters, full-time professionals. In case of a tragedy or if a fire breaks out over the course of the evening, then full-time professional firefighters will attend them.

However, in rural communities, we all know it is volunteer firefighters. They are very dedicated, committed community members who put their own safety and their own time into making sure we are able to live in safe communities.

The volunteer firefighters were hoping that maybe in this budget there would be some type of recognition, maybe in the form of a tax deduction for volunteer firefighters. That was certainly absent.

I know that all members in this House hold in great esteem and admiration all people who contribute to their communities through volunteerism. The firefighters, the first responders, those types of volunteers stand apart from the regular hockey or soccer coaches or fundraisers for the local charities. It is these people who are rushing into the buildings when everybody else is rushing out.

The volunteer firefighters were very disappointed that there was nothing in the budget for them.

We saw cuts to CAP sites and cuts to ACAP. I know the Minister of Industry came back and said it was all just a mistake, that they did not really mean it and that they found some money for them. So the government will maintain those programs for at least one more year.

Now we see what is going on here, and I think Canadians understand. The government is just trying to sort of rag the puck through to the next election. It certainly does not want to see another budget. It does not want to make it to another budget, because harsh decisions are going to have to be made after the situation we have sort of tumbled into under the guidance of the government.

Therefore I think we fully expect that an election will be triggered this fall. I think Canadians will understand that there were many opportunities missed in this budget, and they will keep that in mind when that opportunity presents itself, probably this fall.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have to say at the outset that this is a rather one-sided debate. We have not heard from a Conservative member for the last two days on this matter.

When we are talking about an 880-page budget implementation bill, we would think they could at least get one member up who could answer some of the questions that we in the opposition have regarding the bill.

The Conservatives have a provision in the bill regarding the provisions of the Criminal Code, applying them to serious crimes relating to money laundering and terrorist financing, and they are going to apply them to cases of tax evasion, which is probably a good idea, but we need some answers as to what sort of application that would have.

Currently the government's policy on tax havens is that it is offering an amnesty. When the gentleman sold the computer records from one of the Swiss banks two years ago to the German government and to other governments and uncovered all these foreign nationals who have money squirreled away in these banks, what is the government's answer? The government's answer is, “We are going to give you an amnesty. Just simply walk into the nearest Canada Revenue Agency location and report that you have been hiding money in Switzerland for the last few years, pay your taxes and you will be scot-free”.

This is the government's tough-on-crime approach to the tax haven issue.

I think we need some answers here. I would like to know what the member thinks.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona has asked a legitimate question.

It would have been good to have the current government engaged in this debate. Perhaps if it were engaged in this debate we could get some clarification.

The Conservatives make an investment in building more jails, but when they advertise that, it is social housing in their eyes. It would be good to have them stand and give an explanation on these various points, but I guess they have decided not to.

Still, the opportunity exists here today for us to engage in this. We can highlight those points and bring them to Canadians. I think Canadians appreciate the opportunity to be enlightened.

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Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Cape Breton for his remarks and certainly his insight as he spoke of the situation with the fishery in his riding. I have spoken on occasion in the past with one of his constituents, Josephine Kennedy.

I want to ask the member about what is tabled in the bill as well as what has gone through the economic action plan. It is almost as if there is a strategy, a gamble, by which some people will be excluded from certain programs.

Specifically, the member spoke of the lobster program, which is a valid point, but we also want to talk about community infrastructure. The smallest of our communities are unable to take part in many of these initiatives, one being the RInC program, the recreational program that is 50:50. The smallest of the communities are unable to come up with their half of the funding. Therefore after being told they are approved for $100,000, it is yanked from them, similar to the lobster program where the take-up was.

I would like to get the member's thoughts on where that money should be going, how that program should find its way through to the end, the lobster program, and also about the smaller communities in his riding.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, we have heard this time and time again from smaller communities.

My colleague, the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, represents a community not dissimilar to mine.

In these smaller communities, the tax base is limited. There is limited access to corporate dollars, where they can begin a fundraising drive and help with the community pool, the rink or whatever it might be. The communities understand it is essential and important to provide those recreational opportunities for their young citizens, but they are handcuffed and they are limited.

Therefore I would think, if the government were serious about trying to help rural and smaller communities, there should have been an envelope of money available for those in those special situations.

In many cases the province plays a role. We see in the bigger centres that the corporate sponsors and the fundraising initiatives are more easily accessed, but in smaller communities—

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

On debate, the hon. member for Saint-Jean.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will be no surprise to you, since we opposed the budget presented a while ago, that we will oppose its implementation for a number of reasons. I would like to discuss a few of them. I know that I have ten minutes and I will try to highlight as many as possible. At any rate, the Bloc Québécois has a whole host of reasons for objecting to the implementation of this budget.

First, the government has decided to spare rich taxpayers with the result that the middle class and the working class will pay for a good part of their budget in the end. I have a number of examples.

The Bloc Québécois had asked that people making more than $150,000 per year pay an additional 2% in taxes in order for them to contribute their fair share to debt reduction and permit the government to function. They have the means to do it. We had also proposed an additional 3% tax on income of $250,000 or more per year. The government did not accept this proposal. Yet, these two measures would have contributed $4.8 billion to the public treasury. The government decided to ignore the Bloc Québécois proposal.

The fact that the rich can cash in their stock options and pay tax on just half of the income costs the government $1 billion every year. We know who this government is choosing to support. It is certainly not the people who, day after day, have to live on minimum or average wages. They will be the ones filling the government coffers, and not the rich who, I believe, have been given many favours.

There are also the big organizations. The banks and oil companies are, I believe, the most important organizations in Canada. This budget does not make them contribute. These banks are allowed to continue sending their profits to tax havens. Big oil companies are allowed to continue benefiting from tax loopholes, even though they do not make the required contribution to the public purse.

The government's focus is clear. It is protecting those with more money and the big organizations that make a great deal of money and it is asking the middle class and small taxpayers to make the largest contribution to the tax base.

The government's use of the employment insurance fund is an example of a great injustice. In 2008, a separate bank account was created for the board. The government has just closed that account and created a new one called the employment insurance operating account. I remind members that this fund owed $55 billion to workers, the very workers who pay into it, and also to the small and medium-sized business who pay into it. As a result, with the creation of this new account, the slate was wiped clean. We can forget the $55 billion that has been stolen from EI over many years. We will never see it again. It disappeared into the government's current accounts, and that is that.

What is worse, the Conservatives are prepared to plunder another $19 billion from that fund themselves by 2015. This government is just like the previous Liberal government in this respect. Instead of paying back those who overpaid or relaxing the EI rules to help benefit those who need it most, especially during these tough economic times, the government has emptied the account.

The same goes for women and the status of women file. We saw absolutely nothing for women in this budget or its implementation act. Not only is the government not reopening the Status of Women offices that were shut down, but it is also allowing other injustices to continue. Incidentally, I am currently in talks with the government regarding preventive withdrawal.

In a supposedly forward-thinking society, why are women in federally regulated jobs not eligible for preventive withdrawal? That is not the case in Quebec. Women in provincially regulated jobs are eligible for this benefit. Because of the federal labour code, thousands of women are forced to either continue working or claim employment insurance benefits, which penalizes them.

The Quebec system is generous: women receive 90% of their net pay during preventive withdrawal. If their jobs are hazardous, they can stay home and take care of themselves. That is not how it works in Ottawa. Their income drops to 55% because they have to rely on the employment insurance system. If a woman claims employment insurance benefits too soon, she will not be able to stay home for as long after her baby's birth.

Women make up 52% of voters, yet they are a completely neglected segment of the population.

There are other elements with which we disagree, such as support for the forestry industry. The government gave $9.6 billion to Ontario's auto industry, but just $177 million to the forestry industry in Quebec and British Columbia. It is clear that the government's priorities do not lie with Quebec. This is extremely unfair to Quebec.

The same applies to the aerospace industry. Quebec's aerospace industry amounts to 55% of Canada's aerospace industry. There are figures for the industry's economic benefits. The government is no longer supporting Quebec's aerospace economy. It is giving out military contracts here and there, contracts that represent huge sums in the aerospace industry, sums exceeding $16 billion. The government recognized the critical mass of Ontario's auto industry, but it did not do the same for Quebec's aerospace industry. Right now, businesses are not getting enough funding from the federal government.

The federal government's support for Quebec's forestry and aerospace industries is negligible compared to its overwhelming support for Ontario's auto industry.

The same is true when it comes to the environment. We see where the government's interests lie. Creating a carbon exchange is out of the question. Yet it would be very easy to bring in such a measure. Nor does the government want to restrict the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the big oil companies, which, as we know, are its darlings. Not only is this harmful to the environment, but the government is losing out on the money it could levy from big oil companies, which can afford to pay. We are coming full circle, and it is the middle class and the poorest citizens who contribute the most to the tax base.

Nor can we forget the guaranteed income supplement. For several years now, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for the guaranteed income supplement to be paid automatically to the people who qualify, rather than telling them they have to apply for it. People can be cheated out of it for several years, yet the retroactivity applies for only 11 months. The money given to these people would go right back into the economy, since they are a poor group of people.

I could go on for some time, because the budget contains 50 or 60 points that we do not agree with. I outlined five of them here today. For these reasons and all the other reasons I have not had time to mention, the Bloc Québécois will vote against the budget implementation bill.