House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 2008 the hon. member's party came out clearly in favour of the government's $50 billion of corporate tax cuts. Liberals kept that position in 2009 when only the New Democrats stood in the House and said that massive corporate tax cuts in this fiscal economic climate would be irresponsible. I noticed that recently the Liberal Party has seen the light and is now adopting the New Democrat position. I also note that members of his party voted for the last budgets and I anticipate his party will likely vote for the budget this time as well.

Could the hon. member tell Canadians why they should have any faith in the Liberal Party when it campaigned for corporate tax cuts and voted for budgets, yet claims it does not support the principles underlined in those budgets?

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the interesting thing is that the hon. member forgot about the political realities in Canada today. He neglected to mention them.

I do not know if the member has the luxury of voting against the government, but the issue of whether or not there will be an election really falls on the Liberal Party. I would ask the gentleman whether or not he thinks the Canadian public would have liked another election only a few months after we had had an election. The Canadian public said very clearly to us that it did not want an election. The member knows full well that if we had defeated that budget, there would have been an election.

The Liberal Party wants to work with the government, indeed with all parties, with an effective, balanced approach in order to have a strong economy and stable social programs. In fact my seatmate, who happens to be our party's finance critic, has offered many intelligent and constructive solutions to the government, as have many members of my caucus.

I hope the government listens because if it does not, our country is going to get hurt. We will continue to try to work with the government for the betterment of our country.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member knows that the current government inherited about a $13 billion surplus when it took office back in 2006 and it has squandered that. Now we have probably the largest deficit that Canada has ever had. It does not bode well for some of the matters the member rose, such as skills training and all the things related to doing better in the future.

The member has also been a strong advocate for health initiatives. We have an aging society and the costs with respect to our health care system are going to start gobbling up enormous amounts of the government budget. It does not seem to me that the government has even acknowledged these challenges that are hurtling toward us.

I wonder if the member has some thoughts about what responsible governments would do in these times.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that one of the untold stories of our times is that the current government was given a $13 billion surplus. When times were good, it actually had the largest spending increase that we had seen in many decades and it burned through that surplus rather than using it more responsibly. That was highly irresponsible. The Prime Minister took Canada to the brink, and then when we faced this economic downturn, it thrust Canada off the cliff. Today we are sustaining this $56 billion deficit, which would have been much less if the government had actually done the responsible thing when times were good and lived within its means. This is not well known in the public but it is the truth.

Although the management of health care is a provincial jurisdiction, unless the government is willing to tackle the issue of health care and health care expenditures, then no matter what it or a province does, the provinces are going to be in a completely unsustainable situation. Patients will suffer and provinces will delist or ration care because they will not be able to meet their budgets.

I remember when I worked in emergency, I had to treat patients in the hallway in the emergency department, which I thought was completely disrespectful to them. But what can I do as the physician when all of the beds are completely filled in the emergency department? I have to treat people in the hallway. That is the cold reality of what doctors and nurses are being faced with across our country today.

Commission of Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber Dealings
Routine Proceedings

May 31st, 2010 / 1 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I am tabling, in both official languages, the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca as he referenced the economic prowess of his seatmate, the member for Markham—Unionville. No doubt the Liberal Party believes in his economic prowess. I am sure at one point in time that party was absolutely in lockstep with that member's economic prowess when he said we should deregulate the banks. Of course, if the Liberal Party had followed through on what that hon. member wanted to do, we would have been in the same situation as in the U.S. with Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and all the rest of them that went down the great proverbial, and I will refrain from using the word. Needless to say, if that is their economic policy, then clearly the Liberals are still in lockstep with the government.

It is not about the luxury of opposing. It is about working for the people of this country in a democratic fashion. If we believe the government is headed in the wrong direction, then we oppose it. It is not about whether we will lose seats or our party will not be the government in the next election; it is about fundamentally understanding what the government is doing and if we should oppose it, then we do so.

That is what we have done and we suffer the slings and arrows of the government when it says we never vote for any of its budgets, and that is right. We do not vote for its budgets because we fundamentally disagree with its budgets, especially this one. This compendium of some 880 pages contains not only budget items, which of course it would because it is a budget bill, but it also contains numerous other pieces of legislation that should be before us individually in one form or another, especially when we are talking about things like the environment.

There was a national energy program that a previous government brought in which those in the west absolutely abhorred. I lived there at the time, as I went to the University of Alberta, and I understood why they did. But now the government is saying we will do it through the National Energy Board, or the NEB, so just change the last word and all will be well.

We went from something that was abhorred to something that we are supposed to love because we are going to include regulations that this body and this House has built up over time based on the expertise of people who have said that this is what is needed to protect the environment for everyone who lives on this planet, not just those of us who live in this country. We now have a group of folks who say that it is okay to drill another hole in the ground similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico, but oops, it has sprung a leak and they wonder how they will plug it. They have tried golf balls, shredded tires, mud and cement. Now they are just going to take the cap off the top of it and try something else, but it will leak 20% more.

Is that what we want from the NEB? I would hope not. However, the government, by including it in this bill, has not allowed us to debate critical measures such as that so that we can engage Canadians about what really affects them beyond the budget. This really is not the budget.

In my previous life as a municipal councillor, I was the chair of corporate services and if I decided to put the planning act inside my budget, my constituents and the citizens of the municipality would have been justifiably outraged. Why would I including planning documents in a budget? It does not directly affect their taxes.

The measures the government has included in this bill that are outside of the budget do not directly affect the government's expenditure of moneys, per se. There is one item that involves money, and I will get to it because it is money that parties that are in government actually owe Canadians.

No thought should be spared and no stone should be left unturned when it comes to ensuring that the environment is safe and that we are doing all that we can to protect the environment. We should not simply give things away and allow folks to run with it in an unregulated fashion. That is what I fear will be the case when the NEB takes it over.

However, when we talk about money, one piece the government did put in the bill talks about putting the EI fund into the budget. It would have been nicer if it talked about putting back the money which the previous government and the current government pillaged, to the tune of $57 billion, from the fund. The government should be talking about giving it back to its rightful owners, the workers and their employers. They are the ones who paid it and they are the ones who are meant to use it when needed, but last year when the recession occurred, we found that a good chunk of it was already gone. It had been spent by the previous Liberal government, and the remainder had been spent by the Conservative government. When is either one of them going to give back the $57 billion?

We see in the budget that an account is going to be set up, but no one is going to get any money per se. The money that was taken away will not be given back.

Things could have been done for workers to get through last year and this year. The recession is not over for workers. Those who are unemployed are still unemployed for the most part. There is a great many unemployed workers in this land, especially in my riding where the unemployment rate is still the second highest in this country. The government will say that last month it created x number of jobs, yet we see the unemployment rate has moved only marginally.

The government never speaks to how many people fell off the system. The unemployment rate only counts those who are in the EI system. It does not count those outside the system. The government's own statistics group says it is too hard to count that group.

The U.S. makes that count. If we extrapolate the numbers in the U.S. based on what we do here especially when it suits the government's purpose, we can expect that the unemployment rate, which is 8% plus across the country, will increase another 3%. That becomes the true unemployment rate because we are including people who have either fallen off or have never gotten on the system in the first place. As we saw last year, a great many folks did not qualify for EI because the rules were changed.

It started with the Conservative government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and I see that he is the subject of a report that was tabled today. It continued under the Chrétien Liberals who changed the system as well. Now we are at a point in the House, as I have witnessed over the last 18 months, where there is a hodgepodge of fixes.

We added on a piece by giving a 52-week extension to the members of the armed forces when it comes to parental leave. It is a good piece, but what happened to the RCMP and other police officers who went to Haiti? Oops, we forgot about those folks. It is a good private member's bill that is well worth supporting, but we forgot about another group.

That is what happens when changes are made to big legislation with band-aids. We do not get it right. We miss things. One of the biggest things that is missing in all of this is the $57 billion that is owed to the workers of this country and their employers, who have paid it. Not only are they owed money, but now the government has decided that at the end of this year it will remove the freeze on EI premiums, and will continue to do it. By the government's own calculations in the budget, it will charge Canadian workers and their employers $19 billion beyond what it needs to pay out.

I will give the Conservatives credit. They learned really well from the previous Liberal government. If it adds additional moneys to the EI premiums that have been collected, it could pay down the deficit. That is what the previous government did. The current government has learned the lesson and it is going to do the same thing. It is going to take a third of the $60 billion deficit from workers who have finally found jobs and are getting back on their feet. The government is about to take it off their paycheques. It may even be taking it off the paycheques of folks who were denied employment insurance last year. Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds of the unemployed.

Workers were denied EI last year because the government refused to amend EI so that people could get into the system who deserved to be there because they had paid into it. The government decided it would not change the system and it is about to take money from folks for the next year and the year after that beyond what is needed to run the system in order to pay down a deficit that the government created through its mismanagement. At the end of the day, workers who perhaps did not have the opportunity to collect EI are going to end up paying again.

It is reprehensible that the government will not fix the system. The government has heard time after time over the last 16 to 18 months from New Democrats at this end of the House in private members' bills on how to fix the system. We were imploring the government to fix the entire system, not just made hodgepodge changes to it. The first thing the government ought to do is write a cheque for $57 billion and put it into the employment insurance system.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right that there have been a large number of private members' initiatives. We know they require royal recommendations and we also know that the Conservative government would certainly not grant them. This reflects the mood of the House, which is extremely important, because the mood of the House reflects the mood of the people.

We have not had a recession since 1993, and no one predicted that, even when the U.S. went into recession. Under the rules of the game, the EI fund was to withhold two years of surplus to pay for a recession and the balance was to be returned by reduced premiums or improved programs, and I think everybody understands that. The real key now is that the obligation to do that will be eliminated by Bill C-9 because that liability will be summarily taken away. The cash will continue to flow whether there is a surplus or a deficit in EI operations, but that liability will be wiped off the books.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. There is a spirit for a change in the system, especially among opposition parties in the House.

As I said today and as I have said in the past, the system is broken. When we try to fix one aspect of the system, we end up inevitably not fixing the system. There were some premium reductions, but $57 billion was in the EI account and it was spent. If we look at the actual new programs that were introduced, some that were called for but were never done, then we did not see either or. We did not see huge premium holidays. We did not see brand new programs that would really mean something. If we had, we would not still be stuck with 15 to 18 weeks of sick benefits.

If somebody has a catastrophic illness and does not have a short-term disability plan through their employer, the only place they can get sick benefits is through the EI system. What do they get? They get less than four months, but they may be sick for 12 months. What do they do for the other eight? They end up on welfare.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member a question about the air security charges that all air passengers will have to pay. People are asking why these charges are so high compared to other countries. They want to know why the revenue collected far exceeds the amount spent on security and the justification for a 50% increase in this tax.

Canada was the second highest country in the world next to the Netherlands, and after the increase in February, we are now the highest in the world. The international fee alone has been increased 52% from $17 to $25.91, but in the United States that international security fee is only $5. That puts our airfares out of line with those in the United States. How are we supposed to be competitive with the American airline industry when the government is single-handedly making us uncompetitive?

I wonder if the member has any comments on that.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona is absolutely correct about the additional fees. It is one thing to pay the true cost but another thing altogether to pay above and beyond. The government quite clearly has shown that it is over-charging when it comes to security fees.

I congratulate my seatmate, the member for Elmwood—Transcona, for talking about a passengers' bill of rights. When it comes time to protect passengers, where is the government then? The government votes against it.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Hiding.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

The government is hiding from the consumer.

The government is quite happy to take money out of the pockets of consumers beyond what is needed to keep them safe, but to give them a bill of rights that would give them some sort of compensation for sitting in a plane on a tarmac for an extended period of time, the answer to that is no.

It seems to me that if we want passengers on airlines to be safe, then we should be able to pay the cost of that and no more than the cost of that. Consumers believe that is fair. To overcharge them to pay down a deficit created by the government is totally unfair and passengers do not want to put up with that.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-9. It is a budget implementation bill and it is a very extensive bill.

It has some interesting aspects to it that have created even more problems than simply the fact that the Conservatives are projecting, in the budget, in excess of a $50 billion surplus.

Bill C-9 is an omnibus bill. Canadians should know that an omnibus bill is one which does many things all in the same package. Normally we would see those in terms of justice legislation, where there are three or four proposed changes to the Criminal Code. They are all changes that have to do with one existing piece of legislation, but relate to different aspects of it.

In this particular case, we have an omnibus bill that does not deal with one other act of Parliament. It in fact deals with a number of acts. It is quite unusual. Theoretically, a government, after winning an election, could walk in here, table a budget which not only laid out the budgetary measures for the session, but it could also put into that budget implementation bill every other promise it had made in an election whether it related to the budget or not.

That is exactly what has happened here. We have a case now where inside the budget implementation bill, Bill C-9, and there is a big debate among parliamentarians and Canadians at large who follow this, there are initiatives which were never mentioned in the budget speech, were not in the budget itself, and which are substantive changes to existing legislation.

They include the privatization of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, AECL. My home backs onto their offices in the Sheridan research centre. A lot of my constituents are engineers and work there. This is causing great grief.

When I went to the briefing on Bill C-9 with the ministerial staff and had an opportunity to ask some questions about this, they were not very many answers, just “We are doing this, this and this”. The policy rationale was never there.

People are asking why we want to privatize AECL and get into public-private arrangements? They want to know if it is going to do something to the integrity of the R and D of AECL, whatever remains. They want to know what it is going to do to the whole model. This problem of AECL has been with us for a long time. This decision of the government to go forward with these discussions has caused great difficulty.

If we had a bill that came forward that called for the privatization of certain aspects and parts of a division of AECL, there would have been substantial debates in this House. There would have been substantial expert witnesses called to comment on the proposal in that bill. There would have been rigorous due diligence done with regard to virtually every aspect of the bill.

When we take a subject matter like that and put it into a budget implementation bill, it is that one big, large omnibus budget implementation bill that is being debated in the House, and reviewed and studied in committee.

It goes to the finance committee. I know the members on the committee. They are excellent colleagues. However, I do not think that they have the expertise in the area of atomic energy. I do not know how they could possibly discuss it. In fact, the people who were coming before committee to talk about it only had a couple of hours to make their case.

If it were a stand-alone bill, it would have had probably a dozen hours or so at second reading. It would have had substantive committee witnesses. It would have had third reading. It would have gone to the Senate. The rigour with which we handle legislation here is very significant, but that has been denied to that aspect.

That is not the only one. There are significant changes to the Environmental Protection Act. There are significant changes which would say that we will have a situation where we can waive the requirement for environmental assessments on major projects if there are certain circumstances in place, like time, where we have to have something done quickly. I remember asking questions of one of the hon. members about putting economic priorities ahead of environmental priorities, and the member quite correctly said we have to look at both. Good environmental policy is good economic policy. The reverse is also true.

We have a significant challenge before us in terms of greenhouse gases, climate change, and preparing ourselves to do our share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our country, but when we start playing around with the Environmental Assessment Act, all of a sudden that seems to fly in the face of social and public responsibility. Canadians have already very clearly said how they feel about us doing our share, and after the government embarrassed Canadians at Copenhagen, it is no wonder they are concerned about things like this.

Members have also mentioned the airline tax. The EI fund also, when I was at the briefing with the officials, was just glossed over. I asked the question of the officials there about how it would operate. I did ascertain that there was to be some $2 billion put in as seed money for the administrative part, but that this new separate agency was to be responsible for the operations of employment insurance in Canada. All of the premiums collected from today's workers would go into the fund, and all of the benefits would come out.

Here we are in severe economic difficulty with record unemployment, and it will even rise. It will rise even greater than it is today. We have been operating at a deficit. There has been a deficit there. When I spoke to the Auditor General last, she assured me that the operations of this stand-alone agency will be accounted for in the determination of surplus or deficit of the Government of Canada in terms of its operations of the program, notwithstanding that it is a separate bank account again out there.

I think what annoys all of the opposition parties is the notional surplus, the $57 billion of premiums that were collected in excess of benefits required to be paid out, which were built up over a dozen years of surpluses because Canada's economy was booming, and the lowest unemployment in our history had been achieved. That $57 billion represents a liability to Canadians. It represents a matter of either return the premiums to those who paid them or improve programs that would then be affordable.

The government did neither of them, despite all of the interventions and all of the initiatives of members of Parliament. The Conservatives have summarily said it will disappear. It is basically another indication that the government has refused to be open, transparent, and accountable to Canadians on yet another area of significant public interest.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Mississauga South touched on a number of areas in Bill C-9 where the government is improperly bringing initiatives through the door of this omnibus bill.

I want to go back to the area of security charges. We know that in the United States the international air security charge is $5. In Canada, the international air security charge ranges as high as $25. That is a huge variation. I think Canadians could understand that if the tax money were being used for safety issues it may be justified. However, we know that the revenues collected far exceed the money spent on security.

What is the government using the money for and why did it increase this tax 50%? That is a huge increase at a time when the government says that it is reducing taxes on Canadians. It is doing the opposite.