House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are many problems with how Service Canada is operating. People are not receiving the services that they need. I have heard from the London location of Service Canada that the front end staff have been reduced and it is causing a considerable backlog.

While the minister argued that additional staff were hired to deal with the influx of cases during the economic downturn, it is clear that additional staff are still needed and demand has not declined. In fact, there has been a 6.6% increase in the number of people receiving EI.

Access to help from Service Canada is vital. In documents obtained by the NDP, the government's own numbers show that in the last week of September, 50% of Canadians who tried to call for assistance with their CPP or OAS could not even speak to a machine, let alone a person. The facts are clear: Conservative cuts are hurting families that rely on Canadian services.

I would like to remind the House that these are some of our most vulnerable Canadians. They are asking for help. In too many cases, Service Canada cannot even give them an automated message.

This out of touch Conservative government is already failing Canadians in need and its cuts to Service Canada will just make things worse. Hang up rates in some regions, like Winnipeg and Vancouver, can be as much as a third of all calls. In Nova Scotia, the Glace Bay call centre is going to be closed, even though 25% of maritime callers hang up before they can actually talk to someone.

Stats show that other programs have also been affected, like the Canada pension plan and old age security. Half the calls made to these services between September 26 and October 2 did not even get an automated message. A constituent of mine, Joseph, sadly lost his wife in June of this year. After the funeral, the family said their good-byes, and Joseph began the process of applying for death and survivor benefits.

On July 18 he was able to confirm that Service Canada had received the necessary documents. He tried to call back to get an update on his status, but was never able to get a live human being on the telephone.

Finally on September 27, more than three months after Service Canada confirmed receipt of the application and supporting documents, Joseph received a letter informing him that he had not supplied sufficient documentation. Frustrated, he finally came to visit my office for help. Four months after the application was received, Joseph's benefits were finally approved.

For seniors on fixed incomes with all the expenses that come along with the loss of a spouse, this is absolutely unacceptable, particularly during a time of emotional and financial difficulty.

There are many issues. While modernizing the old paper system is needed, and I would say important, I am very concerned that people are going to be faced with complicated forms requiring access and an understanding of computers. Many of those accessing Service Canada struggle financially and they struggle with disabilities. These new computer models and these complicated access points are not going to help them.

My point is that Service Canada should be there to help the people in our constituencies and this minister is responsible to make sure that that happens.

7:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for London—Fanshawe today on CPP-related calls to Service Canada.

First, let me assure the member opposite that Service Canada is not only meeting but is exceeding its service standards related to the Canada pension plan applications and payments. Over 95% of benefits are paid within the first month of entitlement.

Last week 9 out of 10 Canadians resolved their calls through the automated voice response system or talked to an agent at at least 1 of our 14 CPP call centres.

I find it unfortunate that the member opposite would attempt to mislead or misinform our seniors about the level of service they can except from Service Canada. Our government's support for seniors is a matter of record.

In budget 2011 we increased the guaranteed income supplement to help seniors in poverty. This was the largest increase in 25 years and the money is already flowing to those in need. We provided income tax relief through pension income splitting and enhanced the pension income credit.

We are educating Canadians about elder abuse and increasing seniors involvement in their communities through a number of initiatives, including the new horizons program. Our government wants to ensure that Canadian seniors receive timely services and accurate information, no matter where they live.

At the present time, Canadians have access to more than 600 points of service across Canada, including Service Canada centres, outreach offices and community offices. In addition, there is a Service Canada call centre network that consists of 14 call centres primarily assigned to provide services for unemployment insurance, old age security and Canada pension plan benefits.

Between April 1 and October 1, 2011 our call centre agents answered 1.7 million calls and our automated telephone services received over 3.2 million calls.

Our goal is to provide all Canadians, including seniors, with one-stop accessible service, whether they deal with us by telephone, by Internet or in person.

We also have other ways to reach out to seniors directly. For example, we can identify Canadians who are approaching the age of 65 based on information related to their CPP contributions. Using this update, we mail CPP and OAS applications to Canadians who may be eligible for these benefits.

Through the tax system, we can identify those low-income seniors who are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement, so we can send them a GIS application form.

The government is committed to delivering programs and services that are efficient and effective, aligned with the priorities of Canadians and financially sustainable over the long term for Canadian seniors.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I come into the House and talk about people like Joseph or people trying to struggle with disabilities who cannot get through to Service Canada, it is my obligation. It is not misleading. It is not misrepresenting. It is telling the government that people need services and it is not providing them. There is less and less every day.

The government's plan makes no sense. Between the middle and the end of September, there were over 100,000 fewer calls per week because people had abandoned those calls; they could not get through.

Seniors are struggling to make ends meet. People need a government that cares. They do not have one.

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are consolidating and improving the way employment insurance benefits are delivered to Canadians.

The way in which claims are currently processed is outdated. That is why we are increasing automation to make the service fast, more effective and more efficient.

As the minister has said several times in the House, there is a long-standing tradition of providing extra resources this time of year to deal with a seasonal increase in claims. We will continue to do that this year, as we have in the past.

As I mentioned earlier, our government is committed to delivering programs and services that are efficient as well as effective.

The member opposite should stop relying on inaccurate and misleading information from union agitators whose only interest is protecting the old and inefficient way of doing things.

We are standing up for hard-working taxpayers who demand that we find more efficient ways to spend their tax dollars.

December 12th, 2011 / 7:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a question to do with the increasing use of food banks in this country. I want to remind listeners why we were raising this point.

A news release on the HungerCount 2011 stated that food bank use has skyrocketed by 26% since 2008. The report highlights that in a typical month, food banks across this country provide food to more than three-quarters of a million separate individuals and that more than 322,000, about 38% of the total, are children.

The minister has been heard to say in the House that people should just get a job. HungerCount points out that 20% of individuals and families assisted by food banks have income from current or recent employment. Clearly, the income from the jobs that people are getting simply does not allow them to meet their expenses.

The use of food banks is in the context of a number of reports that have come out recently which talk about the rising inequality in income in this country which drives people to use food banks. Many of these people have substandard housing, cannot afford to pay for their children to get a college or university education, and the list goes on.

In the article, “Rising Inequality, Declining Democracy”, put out by Bruce Campbell on December 12, 2011, he states that the income gap in Canada has:

--risen to levels not seen since the 1920s, and by some measures it is the worst it's ever been. The Conference Board notes that since the mid-1990s, income inequality in Canada grew at one of the fastest rates in the industrial world; faster than in the US.

He further states:

The average top 100 CEOs' compensation was $6.6 million in 2009, 155 times the average worker's wage.

Further on in the article, he quotes Canadian John Humphrey, a co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He wrote in his memoirs, “Human rights without economic and social rights have little meaning for most people”.

Of course, many people would argue that in this current economic climate what we have is a violation of human rights when people cannot afford the most basic of things, such as good nutritious food for their families.

Later on in the article, he indicates:

Whereas the Keynesian era was marked by rapid growth, low unemployment, widely shared prosperity, and economic and financial stability, the neoliberal era has been marked by three severe recessions, dozens of financial crises, slower economic growth, higher unemployment, ballooning inequality, and wealth concentration. Social spending in Canada and other Anglo-American countries...declined as a share of the economy.

He talks about the assault on democracy. In this country, we have seen that poor people have taken a disproportionate hit as a result of some of the policies that we have seen over the last five years. He talks about the fact that more than half of the unemployed are not eligible for employment insurance and that we are seeing the erosion of pensions.

It is clear that what we need from the government is a response around eliminating poverty. Will the government support Bill C-233, An Act to eliminate poverty in Canada, and put forward a national action plan on the elimination of poverty in this country?

7:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for her concern about the level of poverty in this country and in particular, the rise in food bank usage. I, too, share this concern. In fact, our government has studied Food Banks Canada's annual HungerCount report and we are encouraged to see a decrease in food bank usage compared with last year.

Our government has been taking action to reduce poverty and to address the conditions that lead to food bank use. We are working on two main fronts. We are equipping Canadians with the skills and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency. We have targeted supports for those who face particular barriers to that self-sufficiency.

One of the best ways to reduce poverty is to get more Canadians working. I would like to point out that almost 600,000 more Canadians are working today than there were at the end of the recession. This is something I have commented on in this House before. The unemployment rate has declined to 7.4%, significantly down from its peak at 8.7% during the recession.

To get more people into the workforce, the Government of Canada is working closely with the provinces and territories.

For example, each year we provide almost $2.5 billion to the provinces and territories to deliver critical services and supports to Canadian workers who need help finding new jobs.

I would also like to comment on our targeted supports.

To help seniors who are economically vulnerable, budget 2011 enhanced the guaranteed income supplement. This additional support is for those seniors who rely almost exclusively on old age security and the GIS. Effective July 1, 2011, these seniors will receive additional annual benefits of up to $600 for a single person and $840 for couples. This represents an investment of more than $300 million per year, which will improve the financial security of over 680,000 seniors. This is the biggest single top-up of the GIS in 25 years.

To help low income families with young children, we have implemented the universal child care benefit. This program helps provide over $2.6 billion each year to 1.5 million families. The child care benefit has lifted an estimated 55,000 children living in 24,000 families out of poverty.

To help people with disabilities, we introduced the registered disability savings plan. This is a program to help Canadians with disabilities and their families save for the future.

The Government of Canada has provided Canada disability savings grants and Canada disability savings bonds to low and modest income Canadian families.

We recognize that families who have children with a disability may not be able to contribute regularly to these plans and that it may take time to set up these plans. Therefore, in budget 2010 we implemented a 10-year carry forward program for both of these entitlements.

Our government is working to reduce poverty in many ways and our efforts are paying off.

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it becomes a war of statistics.

The parliamentary secretary talked about a marginal decrease in the number of food bank users. The fact is that nearly 40% of food bank users are children, 20% have a job, 20% of households live on old age security or disability benefits.

With respect to the jobs that the parliamentary secretary referred to, the government simply does not want to talk about the percentage of those jobs that are low wage, seasonal, contract, part-time employment and simply do not produce a living wage.

One of the recommendations that came out of the HungerCount 2000 called on the government to jump-start innovative partnerships in government-led programs that help ensure Canadian jobs are well paying jobs.

I would ask the parliamentary secretary if the government is prepared to undertake a review of the kinds of jobs that have been created. Would it undertake a review and make some recommendations with respect to creating good paying jobs? People simply cannot live on the kinds of jobs that have been created.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the numbers speak for themselves, Let t us look at the numbers.

The low income rate for children has declined significantly from a peak of 18.4% under the Liberals in 1996 to 9.5% in 2009 under our Conservative government.

We have doubled our investment in the working income tax benefit to $1.1 billion per year. This encourages more low income Canadians to find and retain a job.

We have raised the level at which the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement for low income families are phased out. This allows families to earn additional income and still qualify for full or partial benefits. By raising the ceiling for eligibility, we have provided an additional annual benefit of up to $436 for a family with two children in 2010-11. The child tax benefit assists 3.3 million families. The national child benefit supplement assists 1.5 million families with 2.7 million children.

As the member can hear, we are supporting Canadian families while reducing the conditions for food bank usage.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, ozone is critical to life on earth and protects us from harmful ultraviolet or UV radiation from the sun. This radiation causes skin cancer, cataracts, sunburns and local and whole-body immunosuppression. Without the ozone layer, life as we know it would not exist on earth.

Canada has a critical role in monitoring ozone as part of the global observing system for climate in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Assistant Deputy Minister Karen Dodds has said that he department has two separate technologies that measure ozone, but that budget cuts will mean that the two separate networks won't be maintained.

Why, then, have both the minister and the parliamentary secretary repeatedly stonewalled and said that there will be no cuts to ozone monitoring, especially when their own briefing document is entitled “Ozone monitoring cuts”?

We have also repeatedly heard that ozone monitoring will be maintained in the upper atmosphere. I will now ask the parliamentary secretary, yet again, whether monitoring will be maintained in the lower atmosphere.

The ozonesonde manager has received a workforce adjustment letter. A simple yes or no is all that is required. Sadly, I have absolutely no doubt that the parliamentary secretary will once again fail to answer my question.

Perhaps the parliamentary secretary will answer my third question.

Before a decision was taken to cut the ozone monitoring program, was any research undertaken to assess the adequacy of Canadian contributions to the global observing system for climate in support of the UNFCC, yes or no? If the answer is yes, I would ask that the parliamentary secretary table the relevant documents in the House.

I have a fourth question for the parliamentary secretary.

Was Environment Canada aware of the 2,000,000 square kilometre ozone hole over the Arctic when decisions were made to cut ozone monitoring, yes or no?

I would argue that it was known, as the Nature research paper describing the ozone hole was accepted for publication in May and the cuts were not announced until August.

Moreover, Environment Canada's presentation to the Eighth Meeting of the Ozone Research Managers of the Parties to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in May 2011 had a slide titled “An Arctic Ozone 'Hole'”, meaning that Environment Canada was aware of severe ozone depletion in the Arctic well before the government began to announce its cuts to ozone monitoring and science in June.

That is deplorable. Is the government trying to eliminate science that it finds inconvenient?

The government's cuts to ozone science are absolutely negligent and shocking. They reduce Canada's ability to monitor the environment and respond to problems, reduce our country's ability to explore the links between ozone and climate change and threaten international science and Canada's reputation.

My fifth question is this: how many people work in the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre?

My sixth question is this: does the parliamentary secretary understand that if the person who runs the data centre is let go, the data centre will close?

By what percentage in terms of money and positions was the experimental studies division to be cut? What percentage has been cut? Can the parliamentary secretary table in the House a spreadsheet showing how many people work in the department, how many people received letters and who, if any, had their letters rescinded?

She has told us repeatedly what is not being cut. What I am asking specifically is this: what is being cut?

7:30 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for her question, because it once again gives me the opportunity to talk about Canada's record in monitoring ozone.

We certainly have a very strong record in this country of participating in world monitoring activities. We understand that this work is very important, and this is why, as I have said several times before in response to my colleague's questions, we will continue to monitor the ozone. It is as simple as that.

We also understand that as a government, we have a responsibility to manage and be wise stewards of taxpayers' dollars, so we look at ways to do that, but also to continue to deliver services that are important. That is what we are doing with the ozone.

As I have said before, we will continue to monitor it.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, most of the ozone scientists have received workforce adjustment letters, and these letters have not been rescinded. If the parliamentary secretary is as committed to monitoring ozone as she says, then why has nothing been done about this deplorable situation?

My 10th question is this: do Brewers and ozonesondes perform the same task--that is, is there duplication in the system, yes or no?

I remind the parliamentary secretary of the briefing note approved by the assistant deputy minister, which stated:

These methods measure different characteristics of the atmosphere and thus complement, but do not duplicate each other.

I also remind her of Environment Canada's presentation in May 2011, which stated:

Balloonsonde networks provide critical high-resolution vertical profiles of ozone...and need to be maintained and expanded.

Therefore, my 11th and last question is this: why in May were ozonesondes critical and in fact believed to be in need of being expanded, and not so in August? What changed?

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I assure my colleague opposite that, as I have said before, we are proud of our record of monitoring ozone here in Canada and our government intends to continue to monitor the ozone.

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:34 p.m.)