House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was child.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

moved that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important day, because from now on our veterans will receive a positive response from a government that wants to help them.

We believe it is important to protect our modern-day veterans, for example, those who are returning wounded from Afghanistan. We must ensure that they and their families do not have any financial difficulties if they have the misfortune of being wounded during a mission, either in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world.

It is also an important time for me because just over a year ago, I was named Minister of Veterans Affairs and I had no idea of the magnitude of the task ahead of me. Why am I bringing this up? When I started to listen to our veterans, our modern-day veterans, and realized the difficulties they were experiencing, I understood that we would have to make some changes and do so quickly.

What actually happened? Why, all of a sudden, did our modern-day veterans start publicly talking about and sharing their suffering, pain and financial difficulties?

Here in the House, in 2005, parliamentarians voted unanimously to create the new veterans charter. We said it would be a living charter that would reflect today's reality. When our modern-day veterans, who often are 20, 25 or 30 years old, come back injured, they do not wish to go home and wait and see what will happen. They want to return to their communities and be active members of society. They want to go on with their lives. Naturally, if they have any disability whatsoever, we must help them return to civilian life.

The new veterans charter is entirely focused on rehabilitation. When veterans are in a rehabilitation program, we must ensure that, financially, we do the right thing so that they are able to support their families and get through this difficult stage.

We realized that the new veterans charter had some shortcomings. So, we listened to the interested parties. We went to Valcartier and other military bases. We met with members of the Royal Canadian Legion and representatives of the seven associations. We attended their national convention and consulted them in order to identify the priorities we should emphasize to support our modern-day veterans. Almost everyone agreed that we had to take action on three fronts.

This is the first. If soldiers return injured, from Afghanistan for example, and go into a rehabilitation program, from now on, for the duration of the rehabilitation—whether it takes two, three, five or eight years—they will receive a minimum of 75% of their salary, or at least $40,000.

The second change concerns those who cannot return to work, those whose injuries are too serious. Once Bill C-55 has been passed by the Senate, they will receive a minimum of $58,000 a year. That is the minimum that a member of our military will receive if he or she is unable to return to work.

In addition, when our veterans are injured, they will also receive what is known as a permanent monthly allowance. This allowance—which is similar to the measure in the old system—is paid to them each month for life. The amount can vary from $543 to $1,631 per month for life. Bill C-55 also provides for an additional $1,000, which means that someone who cannot return to work will receive at least $58,000 per year.

There will be a third change to the new veterans charter. Essentially, Bill C-55 has added a whole new chapter to the new veterans charter that was passed in the House in 2005.

The other constant criticism that we have been getting is about offering a lump sum payment as compensation for pain and suffering.

This lump sum payment could be as much as $285,000. After having done some research, we found that the problem was that many of the people who suffered from psychological wounds, mental health issues or PTSD, for example, spent their money inappropriately.

It is our responsibility to protect those who could encounter difficulties. Through Bill C-55, people will be able to receive a cash payment or spread the payment over a certain number of years, be it 10, 15 or 20 years, depending on what they choose. They can also choose a combination of the two, meaning that they could receive part of it in cash and part of it spread out over time.

That means that each individual will need to talk to his or her spouse or family to determine the best decision for their particular situation.

There are three interconnected elements. There is rehabilitation, for which they will receive $40,000 per year, in addition to the lump sum payment. If they cannot return to work, they will receive $58,000 per year, in addition to the lump sum payment. On top of that, of course, there is a permanent monthly allowance of between $543 and $1,631 per month for life.

We cannot put a price on the cost of losing one or more limbs. There is nothing we can do when that happens. However, we can financially support those who are injured, in order to ensure that they and their immediate families do not experience financial difficulties. That is why the changes we are proposing are a step in that direction. We must help our modern-day veterans who, unfortunately, may come back wounded from a mission.

Earlier, I said we consulted soldiers. I even went to Afghanistan to hear what our soldiers there had to say. I am pleased to share with the House what the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Patricia Varga, said:

This bill, as a first step, makes great strides in improving the New Veterans Charter and encompasses many of the recommendations made by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

I would like to thank parliamentarians for their support. We know there are rumours of an election in the air, but we must vote on this bill before the upcoming budget. We hope to have as much co-operation as possible from the Senate to ensure that any of our soldiers who unfortunately face such a situation are properly protected. We must also ensure that these corrective measures come into force as soon as possible and avoid delaying everything for another year.

I would also like to tell the members of this House that I am the only minister who, in an economic recession, managed to get $2 billion from the government in order to correct the shortcomings in the new veterans charter. Who will benefit from that $2 billion? Our veterans, their families and modern-day veterans who have particular needs because of the work they do to protect our values and our country and to defend oppressed nations.

I truly believe that this is a step in the right direction. It is our responsibility to support our soldiers, the people who defend our values. Thus, I would like to thank all parliamentarians for supporting our desire to help those in need.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate the minister. It is not often that we congratulate ministers.

He has answered some of the questions from our veterans. I have spoken with a number of veterans in my riding and there are still a number of other questions I would like the minister to answer.

I have no problem with adjusting the compensation amounts and the amounts to which people with psychological or social problems are entitled. Nevertheless, we know that our veterans are increasingly younger. A clause has been included whereby the sums will be indexed over time. The cost of living never stops increasing and veterans are a bit concerned about that. The sums are adequate for now, but will they be indexed in 5 or 10 years?

Until now, World War II veterans have received services from health care facilities. Modern-day veterans want to know whether those services will be maintained. Will health care institutions be provided for them? Will widows and wives of those who are no longer independent also have access to the services?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question.

I can say yes, the payments are indexed. For example, a few months ago, the lump sum payment was $276,000. It has just been indexed and is now $285,000. The same goes for our permanent monthly allocations. These sums have been indexed.

As far as the families are concerned, we must also ensure that the necessary facilities are available so that individuals who return injured and disabled can take part in a transition program. This allows our soldiers to go to the right place for their overall rehabilitation. It will be a kind of residence, adapted to their needs while they follow their transition plan.

What is more, if a seriously injured veteran cannot return to work and the spouse wants to take a training program, they can do that as part of the services we are offering. The spouse could take training, acquire new skills and provide additional support to the family. These things exist. It is indeed important that we provide this type of support to our veterans who need it.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to commend the minister for bringing forward Bill C-55. Anything we can do to continue to help our veterans is something I know all members of Parliament greatly appreciate.

I have many veterans in my riding who come into my office to talk about some of the issues they are having in relation to getting the compensation. It is great to hear about the new compensation and some of the things the minister was talking about earlier, such as indexing, but it is the veterans who are being denied for whom we have to advocate.

Is there anything in this bill that will actually do something to help alleviate what veterans are having to go through right now in terms of being denied their claims when they legitimately have claims, and the processes that are there? Is this something the bill will address?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify that until Bill C-55 comes into force, the amounts I mentioned will not be available. We are still operating under the charter that was adopted in 2005. As soon as Bill C-55 is in place, as soon as it is passed by the Senate, it will be five or six months before it takes effect. There are also measures for when a veteran contacts our department. We have just added 20 new case managers to respond more quickly to requests from our modern-day veterans.

We are significantly improving our department. We are reducing our processing times, improving our efficiency and decreasing red tape for our veterans and modern-day veterans. All of this is in the process of being implemented. We obviously had to set some priorities. Our priorities are the following: find ways to reorganize the fiscal or financial support we give these people with all of the necessary facilities for both physical and psychological problems. Now, other priorities will be determined in the future, since other changes still need to be made. But we are listening to their needs and the department is there to help them.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on third reading of Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act.

According to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Bill C-55 is only the first step to addressing the concerns of veterans. However, we agree that it is a good first step and we congratulate the initiative.

The proposed legislation is a small step forward. We have supported the bill because our veterans need urgent help now and because the minister assures us that further changes will come. We hope this represents a significant change in thinking, in acting, that will address other gaps.

I would like to acknowledge our critic on veterans affairs, the member for Etobicoke North. In the short time that she has been in the House, she has earned admiration from all sides for her diligent and very capable work. She is passionate about the issue of veterans. She has travelled extensively and met with veterans. One only needs to chat with her to understand how seriously, deeply and personally she connects with our veterans.

Just before Christmas she was in Nova Scotia speaking in the town hall on veterans' issues with the member for Halifax West. I had a chance to have her meet with some of my constituents. I remember sitting at a Starbucks, chatting with Bruce Grainger, who many people in the House would know. I am sure the members for Sackville—Eastern Shore and Halifax West would know Bruce. Bruce is a veteran who served our country with distinction. Now his concern is for other veterans. He has put forward some ideas for the minister that perhaps we need to bring more veterans into Veterans Affairs and on the review and appeal boards. We need to respect that kind of passion from Canada's veterans.

What we owe our men and women who have put the uniform on is to honour our sacred trust and to be there for them when they come home. That means working to improve their pay and benefits so they feel secure knowing their families will be looked after. That means working to improve care for wounded warriors, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. What we owe them is to provide the care they need until the end of their lives, for example, ensuring long-term care so no veteran should have to suffer dementia and PTSD in a facility not equipped to meeting his or her needs.

Sadly, instead of trying to repay our obligation, we have let them down on many issues. For example, too many veterans go untreated for PTSD, too many veterans have nowhere safe to sleep at night, too many veterans suffer traumatic brain injury. It was shameful when a 92-year old veteran in Edmonton said, “There's a long road to go to make this right and you must not give up speaking to us because we never did”, speaking of himself and his colleagues.

The minister tabled Bill C-55 on November 17, 2010. The proposed legislation brought together several of the fall announcements and would make changes to the new veterans charter, as called for by several veterans organizations, including the Royal Canadian Legion, and would introduce changes to the administration of the lump sum disability award. Specifically, Bill C-55 would amend parts 1 to 3 of the new veterans charter as well as part IV of the Pension Act.

There are important changes in the proposed legislation: at least $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, those too injured to return to the workforce; a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary when serving in the CF for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit; an additional monthly payment of $1,000 for life to help our most seriously wounded veterans who are no longer able to work; and improved access to the permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance, which will include 3,500 more veterans.

On behalf of veterans, I must ask why the government waited four years to propose any change to the new veterans charter, which has been hailed as a living document, a work in progress that would be continually adapted to meet the changing needs of veterans.

I must also ask why Veterans Affairs Canada did not live up to its 2006 commitment to review lump-sum awards for a disability pension within two years.

While the minister promised new improvements to the lump sum payment, the government merely divided up the payment differently, for example, as a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years the recipient chooses, or as a single lump sum payment.

Despite this, parties came together to ensure the passage of Bill C-55 and its extra support for veterans because our veterans need urgent help now and because veterans organizations across the country, including the Gulf War Veterans Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping and the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association have asked us to do so.

I come from an area with a rich military history. We recently lost retired Brigadier-General Ned Amy, who had served with such distinction. We have had many giants in Nova Scotia in military history. One of the great giants was a diminutive man who barely cracked five feet tall but made such a difference.

I think of sitting at the Battle of the Atlantic dinner with Murray Knowles, Earle Wagner and some of the great heroes who have served our country, many of whom went across the cold North Atlantic in the corvettes, the last one of which is HMCS Sackville, which is nearing the end of its useful life in the water and has to come ashore. One way the government could support what veterans want in recognition of what they have done for us is put money into the proposal to bring HMCS Sackville ashore in Halifax.

Dominion president Pat Varga spoke of this bill, saying:

This bill, as a first step, makes great strides in improving the New Veterans Charter and encompasses many of the recommendations made by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. The Legion considers that further improvements are needed to the Charter on which we look forward to continue the ongoing dialogue with [the] Minister...

Many things have been brought forward by the legion. In the future, the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the amount of the lump sum payment, the $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive, on average, $329,000, Australian service members received about $325,000. British service members receive many times that figure. The legion feels those injured, while serving their country, should expect to receive at least the same amount awarded to civilian workers whose lives have been drastically changed by circumstances beyond their control.

This is a bill that parliamentarians from all parties are happy to come together and speak in favour of.

I want to talk about where we are in Canada today.

It is no secret that Parliament is facing a volatile time. There are serious issues being discussed in the chamber that go to the heart of our traditions and customs. There is a hardening of opinion on all sides and the stakes are high, indeed. It is a tense time and yet a delicate time and I do not think anybody knows for sure where this will end up.

It is happening in Parliament where the people of Canada have a voice. In Canada, we use words and not swords and we determine who governs our nation by using ballots and not bullets. However, privilege did not come by default. It was not inevitable. It is the dividend of the blood and sacrifice of those who left their homes and families, went to lands many never heard of before and put their lives on the line. Some never came home, and it happens to this day.

As we pass Bill C-55 and parliamentarians consider their responsibilities, let us remember the men and women who have given up the opportunities they had so we could do this in a free country. It is appropriate in this tumultuous time in Canadian democracy to remember that the veterans have brought us all and Parliament together. Once again, it is the men and women who have fought for Canada who have showed us how democracy should work. We can do much more to honour that sacrifice. I hope today is just the start.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his support, and take this opportunity to elaborate on an important point that must be taken into consideration.

Injured soldiers are still employees of the Department of National Defence when they return home. In compensation for their injuries, the Department of National Defence will pay them an amount of up to $250,000. Then, when they are no longer employed by DND, they will be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to the $250,000 from the Department of National Defence, they will also receive another lump sum payment that can reach up to $285,000 plus the amounts I mentioned. A veteran participating in a rehabilitation program will receive $40,000 per year. If they do not participate in a rehabilitation program because their injuries are too serious and they cannot return to work, they will receive a minimum of $58,000 a year.

Thus, there is an initial amount of $250,000 from the Department of National Defence; a second amount of up to $285,000, depending on the extent of the injuries, from the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the other measures that I just mentioned.

I know that no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a limb or another injury, but our responsibility is to ensure that veterans and their families are at least financially stable. For that reason, I urge all members to support Bill C-55 and thus improve the situation of our modern-day veterans.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the point is when people serve in the Canadian Forces, that is their employer. The Canadian government is not only their employer, but also provides other benefits, just as it does to other people who get benefits from their employers and still are entitled to benefits from the Government of Canada. There is an awful lot of veterans in our country who are not receiving benefits, or cannot get benefits or have trouble getting benefits and they end up in the offices of parliamentarians. We can do a lot better.

Any time the minister has been in Halifax, he has been very gracious in ensuring that parliamentarians of all stripes are brought forward at meetings, commendation ceremonies and things like that. That does not happen with departments. It has been my experience that, as minister, he has been gracious in ensuring the veterans issue is as non-partisan as possible.

While we all support Bill C-55, any MP who meets with veterans in his or her office, and I meet with a lot of them, knows we need to do a lot more. This needs to be the start and not the end of the journey.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour on one thing. In committee a senior department official told us that over 3,500 veterans would benefit from Bill C-55 over five years. That is actually incorrect. Careful research by the Parliamentary Library indicates that only 500 veterans would benefit from these changes. A possible 2,320 veterans would be subject to enhanced benefits from regulatory changes, not legislative changes. The government did not need to introduce legislation to make changes to the regulations to assist more veterans.

In fact, the minister said that this would be a $2 billion enhancement. That is like telling a guy who plans on working for 40 years and is making $30,000 a year that he is going to make $1 million. The reality is $2 billion will be spread over an incredibly long period of time. The average cost of Bill C-55 would be $50 million a year. We thank the minister for that very tiny increase.

My question for my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is this. Why did the government not take a bigger lead in enhancing benefits—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore is a very passionate defender of veterans and veterans rights.

Last Friday I met with somebody who had been employed in the military in Gagetown. This individual had medical evidence indicating he had been afflicted with a disease that he contracted from serving in Gagetown. Because he finished his service a few months before the deadline of 1960 to 1970, he does not qualify. These arbitrary deadlines of who qualifies for programs and who does not leave a lot of veterans at home. They leave a lot of veterans without any support.

I do not dispute the number mentioned by the member. We were told at committee that the number was supposed to be 2,500. If it is less than that, then that is wrong.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to debate Bill C-55. As the daughter of a soldier who served for six years in the last world war, I completely agree with the demands of our soldiers who return from the front. Their needs must be taken into consideration. When soldiers are at the front, everyone sings their praises and speaks about them with great enthusiasm. Everyone says how important their work is and how various countries would never achieve freedom if they were not there.

When our soldiers, both male and female, are at the front—there are more and more women enlisting—they are always being praised. However, when they return, we thank those who went to war for their efforts and then often we forget about them. But, their injuries are not just physical injuries; often they are injuries to the soul. These injuries may not be apparent, at least not when the soldiers first return from combat. Sometimes it takes them a number of years to discover just how much they have been affected by combat and the atrocities they witnessed on the ground. They do not want to talk to anyone about it because soldiers do not want to be seen as weak. Female soldiers have also been taught to be strong in order to defend people in various troubled countries.

My mother married my father in 1949. He was returning from war, where he fought from 1939 to 1945. He was a scout throughout the entire war. He participated in the campaigns in Italy, Poland, England and Africa. He slept in the trenches for six years, eating monkey meat, as he called it. He did that for six years—not six or eight months—before returning to Quebec, resting and returning to the front lines six months later. For six years non-stop, he was on the front lines. When he returned in 1949, he suffered from chronic bronchitis. He was told that it was not a result of the war and he was refused a pension.

My mother fought from 1949 to 1987 to for my father to receive something. It took 38 years for my father to finally get recognition from his country for what he had done. After 38 years, still today, we see men and women fighting to be recognized for what they have done for their country. They are not recognized. Now, the government will give $1,000 a month to wounded soldiers who cannot work for the rest of their lives, but that $1,000 is taxable. Big deal.

They will receive their lump sum payments, even though we know very well that when people get a lot of money all at once they spend it. Life is expensive. Soldiers return home from the war and their families are affected because these soldiers have gone to and from Afghanistan or other theatres of war several times. They see the most terrible things, such as seeing their fellow soldiers killed in front of them or blown up by a bomb. And we think that those scars are not permanent? Psychological wounds may not look as frightening, but they are permanent. And they are not adequately taken into account.

The people who evaluate returning soldiers work for the government. But the government wants to pay out as little as possible. That has been the case for years. They are giving less to our military personnel who are coming back from combat. Are they worth less because they are coming back from combat and are older? Is that it? When they are in combat, they are taken care of and are paid well, but as soon as they come back, it is a different story.

Of course, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill despite its lack of a broad approach to help soldiers regain what they deserve, like the lifetime pension, for example. How could the government have taken that away? The last survivor of the first world war died recently. They do not need to take care of them anymore.

My mother is 82, soon to be 83. Last year she became entitled to help, despite the fact that she had taken care of my father for many years and her health was failing. She did not want outside help because she said she was capable of doing it herself. It was her husband and her duty. She felt that she was capable.

In 1971, before my father received anything from the government, he was decorated by England, Poland and Italy. Three governments recognized the work he had done to free them. Our government did nothing, absolutely nothing for us. He got hearing aids. Hearing bombs and constant explosions will obviously affect your hearing eventually. He got his hearing aids a few months before he died. And that could not be blamed on the war either. He could not hear a thing, but that was normal deterioration.

I do not know what to say to make my colleagues across the floor understand that this bill must be improved, that we need to bring back the lifetime pension, that our soldiers deserve a lifetime pension, that when soldiers return home after fighting on the front lines, they deserve the respect of their fellow citizens, but more importantly, the respect of the government and MPs. I still hope that people will remember, that the government will correct the situation in order to give our soldiers as much support as possible and stop being tight-fisted. The government is not skimping on the F-35s. It is not skimping on money for arms. It is not skimping on money for Afghanistan. So it should stop skimping on the money it gives to our soldiers. They are entitled to that money. Our men and women in uniform fought for us. When they return home, they deserve a minimum of respect and they need to know that their efforts are appreciated.

I find it very unfortunate that we are still discussing this in 2011. I would have thought that the government would understand by now. Every year, we commemorate the armistice. We lay wreaths on Remembrance Day for our fallen soldiers. We lay wreaths, and then we go about our business for the rest of the day. The legion is the only organization that continues to care about our soldiers, and legions have fewer and fewer volunteers because people are dying. People are dying and those still with us are less enthusiastic than in the past and less able to defend their rights. And those who are returning from the mission in Afghanistan are also not able to defend themselves. It takes months and years to get over that.

I remember that my father never wanted to talk about the war. In 1978, McGill University asked him to do a series of interviews over a period of six months during which he talked about what he experienced in the war. These interviews were confidential. We were not allowed to attend and they remained confidential. The research has remained confidential. After his death, we tried to obtain copies in order to find out what happened. We never were able to get a copy, but I know that when he started talking about what he experienced during the war, he would cry every time he watched the armistice commemoration on television.

For our soldiers, I am calling on the House—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out a number of things that have been accomplished under this government and under the leadership of the veterans affairs minister . Obviously, we have accomplished a number of significant things for veterans.

The member spoke about veterans quite a bit. We reintroduced the benefits for allied veterans, for example, under VIP, which had been terribly and shamefully stripped away under the previous Liberal government. We also extended VIP benefits to thousands and thousands of veterans who did not qualify under the Liberal government. We have done that.

The member seeks to impugn the government for our actions and our support for veterans, but in the death throes of the 38th Parliament, under the Liberal government, a bill was brought forward for the veterans charter. It was passed in the days just preceding the election with the unanimous approval of the House. Many of the things that member is complaining about and saying are unjust, her party voted unanimously in support of. I think all parties have come back and said that we should fix this, and there is goodwill on this.

Did the member support that veterans charter when it was brought in as the balance of her party did? I do not know if she was here in the 38th Parliament, but that was something that was enacted by a unanimous vote in Parliament.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, just because we made mistakes in the past, that does not mean we have to keep making them. That was a unanimous vote. The Conservatives, the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP voted in favour because they thought that was best for the soldiers.

When we realize that a bill is no good, we change it. The hon. member forgot to mention something. I did not say that the Minister of Veterans Affairs was not doing a good job. I said the government could do more for our soldiers. I did not say that the government was doing nothing for our soldiers. I said it could do more and better, but that will cost more. If they can afford corporate tax cuts and tax gifts for the oil and gas companies, then they can afford to do more for our soldiers.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raised a very interesting point. The Conservatives are always at the ready for photo ops with the military and to say that they defend the military and that it is a priority for them. Now we see that veterans who return to Canada unfortunately are not a priority for the Conservatives. We must defend the veterans. The Conservatives are willing to spend almost $30 million to purchase F-35 fighter jets, but nothing on veterans.

I would like to know how my colleague feels about this hypocrisy.The Conservatives are willing to have their photos taken with the military, and they say they are pro-military and prepared to defend soldiers, but when the time comes to help them after they return home, they do nothing.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. All of us appreciate the efforts of our troops on the front. When we oppose a measure that it wants to implement, this government says that we are against the troops. The opposite is true. That is a despicable response to questions about investments in Afghanistan and the F-35 fighter jets.

It is very nasty of the government to continue saying that we are against the soldiers because we want them to be treated better. It is not true.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her passionate speech and her support for the veterans in her riding.

I, too, have been a strong advocate for the veterans in my riding. I think of Joe, Tiny and Bill who all come into my office and talk to me about the issues they are having.

It is great that we are talking about Bill C-55 and getting that money out there. Once we get the bill passed, the money is there, but the problem they are having is getting the money. They are being denied claim after claim.

Is it not time that we actually find some way, through Bill C-55, to ensure our veterans get the money they deserve, rather than having to come and see us all the time and beg, plead and borrow to ensure they get the money they deserve and fought for?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member has 30 seconds to reply.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. My colleague is quite right. It is time for us to choose to do things differently and to do more for our veterans. I repeat that we will be voting in favour of this bill because we believe it is a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise on behalf of the NDP to debate the third reading of Bill C-55.

I want to say at the outset that when the bill first came to us in November, we looked at it very carefully and talked to various organizations and individuals, and we gave the minister our private and public support for Bill C-55, on the premise though, and this was a great big but, that the minister and department had told us and the House that further changes were coming.

We welcome this type of dialogue. It is for this reason that I want to personally congratulate the minister for what he surely recognizes, the ongoing concerns our veterans and their families, and RCMP members and their families are facing in this country.

The fact is that Bill C-55 is a short step forward, a minor step forward to be completely honest. We know where the difficulties lie within the Department of Veterans Affairs. We know that we can never ever have enough money to do everything that we wish to do.

However, we can streamline the process. We can make sure that veterans and their families, and RCMP members and their families do not have to go on television to plead their case before the nation, as Major Mark Campbell did just the other day on CTV in Calgary.

Let us think about that. Here is a hero of our country who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, who said very clearly, “I didn't end up this way just so I could earn 25 per cent less than I did before I lost my legs”.

No veteran, especially a disabled veteran, either psychologically or physically, should have to do that. It should be a no-brainer. The department should have immediately sat down with him, assessed his needs and determined exactly what he required to carry on with his life.

On the new veterans charter, let me provide members with a little historical asterisk. I remember the great Jack Stagg, who was probably one of Canada's finest public servants. He helped negotiate the Marshall decision in 1999 regarding Donald Marshall, the aboriginal Canadian. He helped in the creation of Nunavut. Most importantly in my mind, Jack Stagg was instrumental in developing a new veterans charter.

I remember sitting with Jack Stagg, and rest his soul, as he is no longer with us, and the department. They were very clear that the veterans charter might have the odd flaw, but they wanted to change the paradigm of veterans' care from not just giving veterans money and keeping them at home for the rest of their natural lives, but providing them and their families with educational opportunities and providing rehabilitation services where they could become productively employed members of our society.

I say this because many of these veterans are quite young. In fact, if I am not mistaken, our youngest veteran in the country is about 19 years old. I believe our oldest, if I am not mistaken, is about 102 or 103 years old. There is a wide range of veterans in this particular regard.

It is true that it is a challenge within the department to recognize the needs of and assistance required by these various age groups and the various indications of disabilities, psychological, mental or physical they may have and what they require. There is not one policy that fits all.

When the four leaders at that time came back from Holland in 2005 they recognized that the charter was a good thing. It was then passed in this House on the premise that it was a living document, meaning a document that implied that when there were problems and anomalies and errors, they would be corrected and be corrected rather quickly.

Our challenge is that we are now five years into the charter, and Bill C-55 is the first opportunity for change. This opportunity for change is a small step. The government had every opportunity to make a huge step to improve the lives of veterans, RCMP members and their families, but it chose a smaller step.

I do not buy the argument of fiscal restraint. For example, the government can allocate, at the snap of its fingers in an untendered contract, $30 billion for new jet fighters. And do not get me wrong on this, because the CF-18s indeed need to be replaced, but we just do not know if the F-35 is the right type of aircraft. However, if the government can be that aggressive on that type of procurement, then surely to God it could be that aggressive when it comes to helping veterans. Surely to God, veterans should not have to wait years to get a hearing and then when they get to that hearing, their claim is denied. Why are they denied? It because of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

I say directly to the minister, and I am glad that he is here, that this is the problem in his department, not the staff. There are 4,000 wonderful people working in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and every day they get up and try to do the very best they can for Canada's heroes.

The problem is the politically appointed Veterans Review and Appeal Board. There are 24 people on that board, which has a budget of $11.5 million. It also has a director general for 24 people, and 19 of them are political appointees, and four of them have some form of military experience and one has some form of medical training, but I do not believe the person is a doctor.

Yet if the veteran, Steve Dornan, of Annapolis Valley has five different cases of medical evidence, and even the federal court has said that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has no right to declare his medical evidence as not credible, how does a person, without being a doctor, without being trained, without military experience, without RCMP experience, adjudicate cases of veterans and their families?

Mr. Dornan and wife Roseann have been fighting for nine years. They have the medical evidence. The federal court ruled that the medical evidence was credible. Since when do unaccountable people in the VRAB make that decision?

Then we hear from the minister and the department on letter after letter that I have forwarded to them, and we see the benefit of the doubt not being applied in any of the over 600 veterans' cases I have worked on since 1997. That is despite section 39 of the legislation stating quite clearly that the benefit of the doubt has to be applied if there is evidence that the injury or psychological concern may have been caused by military or RCMP duty. I have yet to see that applied.

These people sit in that tower in Charlottetown and make decisions that frustrate the living hell out of these men and women. Steve Dornan should not have to go to the newspapers to get help. Major Campbell should not have had to go before the media to get help.

We all remember Brian Dyck, that great man from Ottawa who did a press conference with the former ombudsman, Pat Stogran. Just before he died from ALS, he said very clearly to all of us, not just to the government but to all Canadians: “My advice to the ministry is if you are not willing to stand behind the troops, feel free to stand in front of them”. Unfortunately, he died.

However, I give the government top marks as it then immediately recognized that military veterans with ALS would then get the coverage they needed. The government did not have to move legislation for that; it was a regulatory change. The government did not need Bill C-55 or to bring something else before us, but it did it immediately. The government has the power and wherewithal to do this.

However, I will say again that veterans should not have to go public to get the help they need. They are our heroes.

We were told by a senior official in committee that Bill C-55 was going to help 3,500 people. That is not true. Research by the Library of Parliament shows that it will only help 500 people over five years. Where the additional veterans will get help is not from the legislated changes in Bill C-55, but in the regulatory changes. We do not need legislation to change regulations.

We heard from the minister, and god love him for it, that this is a $2 billion investment. Again, that is like telling a guy who makes $30,000 a year that he is going to make $1 million over 40 years. We cannot really do that.

I could go and on regarding veterans and their families, but I do thank the minister for moving Bill C-55 forward. However, I encourage the minister and the government to move much faster. If the government can give Christiane Ouimet a half million dollars for not doing her work, then it can turn around and give veterans the money and the programs they need to get back to a normal life.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his support for modern-day and other veterans.

I would like to tell him right away that we are currently working on increasing the number of veterans who sit on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. We believe that it would be beneficial and enriching to have more veterans among us.

With regard to the number of people who will receive the permanent monthly allowance, we know that when the new veterans charter was adopted, it contained an error. We verified the figures again and there are indeed 3,500 people who, in the next five years, will be able to receive this permanent monthly allowance, which is a little bit like the one granted under the old pension system. This amount will vary from $543 to $1,631 a month.

With regard to the board's decisions, I would like to remind the hon. member that we are trying to find out whether we can post them on the Internet so that everyone can have access to them.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to say publicly that I know the minister is sincere, but in 2005 at the Conservative Party convention the Conservatives said that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board would be replaced with military, RCMP and medical personnel. We have yet to see that.

I do not believe we need a Veterans Review and Appeal Board in the Department of Veterans Affairs, but if there is a VRAB, we should at least make sure it is made up of military and RCMP personnel and doctors. That way when military personnel are being reviewed, they are being reviewed by their peers, not by political appointees by the political party of the day.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There will be three minutes left for questions and comments for the hon. member for Sackville--Eastern Shore after question period. We will now move on to statements by members.

Hockeyville
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the well-known Antigonish arena on its position in the top ten in the Kraft Hockeyville contest on CBC. I would like to encourage all of my fellow MPs to go to the CBC website and cast a ballot for this storied hockey temple. It is Nova Scotia's only entry to crack the top ten and is fitting of that honour.

With an army of volunteers, the arena ices teams from Timbits to the Junior A Antigonish Bulldogs of the Maritime Junior Hockey League to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. These teams and those of every age group imaginable call it home ice.

With our votes the Antigonish arena could be this year's Hockeyville and benefit from $100,000 from Kraft Canada dedicated to upgrading the arena. Then all of Nova Scotia could show Canada how much we truly are Hockeyville when the Antigonish arena hosts an NHL pre-season hockey game and a CBC Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. All Canadians will be proud.

Hockey began in Nova Scotia, and now I ask all hon. members to help bring it back.

Health Care
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week doctors from across the country descended on the Hill to make a house call on parliamentarians.

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, hosted a breakfast for over 100 MPs, senators, members of the media and health care stakeholders. He brought with him an important call to action.

Today Canadians are saying that health care is as big a concern as the economy and they want action now.

I hope that the government will be inspired by this vision of the future of health care and that it will enthusiastically embrace the CMA's initiative to transform health care rather than pursuing its plans for prisons, fighter jets and tax breaks for businesses.

Imagine, that $30 billion for untendered fighter jets is equivalent to the total annual federal contribution to health care.

The doctors and nurses of Canada deserve better.

St. Patrick's Day
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, next week we will celebrate St. Patrick's Day, the national day of the Irish people.

Quebeckers of Irish descent make up the second-largest cultural community, after those of French descent. It is estimated that up to 40% of Quebeckers have Irish ancestors. The first Irish arrived in North America in the 16th century, but the majority immigrated in the 19th century, during the potato famine.

The oldest St. Patrick's Day parade in North America takes place each year in Montreal, Quebec. Year after year, hundreds of thousands of people join in the fun.

On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, as someone of Irish ancestry on my mother's side, I would like to wish all Quebeckers of Irish descent a happy St. Patrick's Day.

Japan
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, like all Canadians, New Democrats were shocked and saddened this morning to hear of the devastating earthquake that hit Japan overnight. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan and to Canadians who are still trying to reach their loved ones.

As the tsunami makes its way across the Pacific, our thoughts are also on the safety of those living along coastal areas, including Canada's Pacific coast.

It will be days before we understand the full effects of this disaster, but we know Canadians stand ready and willing to help in the days ahead.

New Democrats will strongly support efforts by the government to provide aid and relief to those affected and do what we can to help people in their great time of need.

On behalf of all New Democrats, we send heartfelt condolences to the people of Japan and all those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy.

Religious Freedom
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the world became a more dangerous place on March 2 when Pakistan's minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was brutally gunned down in his country's capital. Others in the House have risen to condemn the extremist assassins and our Prime Minister, on behalf of all Canadians, has expressed deep shock and sadness.

It is alarming enough that Minister Bhatti was the only Christian minister in Pakistan's government, but the ruthless ambush and murder is made all the more outrageous because he was killed for standing up for religious freedoms, standing up for those of all faiths in his country where, unlike our own, such freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Too often Pakistan's blasphemy laws are abused to restrict freedom of religion and expression. They have been used disproportionately to target religious minorities. Canada and the international community have called upon Pakistan for this to stop. After last Wednesday, the world is now watching more closely than ever.

Let us be mindful of Shahbaz Bhatti's great legacy. May his example strengthen our own resolve to challenge extremism wherever and whenever we may find it.

Evening of la Francophonie
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, next Wednesday, March 16, the Club Richelieu LaSalle will present its fifth annual Soirée de la Francophonie, in co-operation with the borough of LaSalle.

This event has been gaining popularity since it began. It is always held as part of the Semaine de la Francophonie, with the goal of celebrating the French language and culture. The Club Richelieu LaSalle takes advantage of the opportunity to crown its “francophone personality of the year” and hand out awards to students in public speaking, dictation and poetry competitions.

I would like to take a moment to commend the magnificent work done by Gilles Dubien, chair of the organizing committee, who, for over five years now, has worked diligently to make each edition of the Soirée de la Francophonie a tremendous success.

On behalf of my constituents, I would like to sincerely congratulate him on this remarkable initiative, which helps to promote our beautiful French language.

Seniors
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to salute senior citizens not only in my riding of Calgary East but all across Canada.

Our seniors have made countless and invaluable contributions that have shaped our great nation and moulded us into what we are today. That is why our government is committed to enhancing the well-being of Canada's seniors during the retirement they have earned.

Since 2006, our government has introduced tax relief measures specifically for seniors, such as pension income splitting, twice increasing the age credit amount and increasing GIS benefits. We have introduced legislation to make our streets and communities safer so that seniors feel safe in their own homes and communities. We have created a dedicated Minister of State for Seniors, bringing seniors issues directly to the cabinet table. Finally, we have established October 1 as National Seniors Day.

We owe our seniors a debt of gratitude. Our government will continue to stand up for seniors across Canada.

Quebec Film Industry
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, at the Genie Awards, the Quebec film industry was once again at the forefront. Denis Villeneuve's film Incendies, which had already been nominated for an Oscar, cleaned up. It won eight Genie Awards, the most prestigious of which were best director, best picture, best actress for Lubna Azabal and best adapted screenplay. The artists of two other Quebec movies filmed in Montreal, Barney's Version and The Trotsky, also received their share of recognition.

A celebration of Quebec cinema, the Jutra awards, will take place Sunday evening. The films 10½, Les amours imaginaires, Incendies, Les signes vitaux and Curling will compete for best picture. Denis Villeneuve—Incendies, Podz—10½, Xavier Dolan—Les amours imaginaires, Kim Nguyen—La cité and Denis Côté—Curling will compete for best director. The Jutra-Hommage tribute will be awarded to Jean Lapointe.

Through its quality and creativity, the Quebec film industry has made a name for itself by obtaining its fair share of nominations and awards at these film industry celebrations.

Public Transit Operators
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I had the privilege of introducing my first private member's bill, Bill C-637, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (public transit operators), also known as Bregg's law. If passed, this legislation would amend the Criminal Code to make the fact that a public transit operator was the victim of an assault an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing.

Almost 40% of Canadian transit workers have reported that they have been physically assaulted over the course of their career. Attacks range from a push or a shove to spitting, verbal assaults, or sometimes a serious aggravated assault. These types of assaults endanger not only the life and safety of the public transit operator, but also the lives and safety of passengers and anybody who happens to be in the vehicle's vicinity. Accordingly, this legislation would give added protected to public transit operators, the passengers they serve and the public generally.

The bill would be known as Bregg's law, in honour of one of my constituents, Mr. Tom Bregg, an Edmonton transit bus driver who was the victim of a violent attack resulting in serious permanent injuries. I would like to thank Mr. Bregg for his courage in sharing his story, which serves as the inspiration for the Public Transit Operators Protection Act. I would ask all hon. members to support private member's Bill C-637.

Outstanding Cape Bretoner
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, Cape Breton has a rich history of many stories yet to be told, but much of our history would have been lost had it not been for the work of Ron Caplan.

Mr. Caplan was born in Pennsylvania and came to Cape Breton in the 1970s. He heard the great stories of Cape Breton and saw the need for them to be documented. Tape recorder and camera in tow, he collected a rich oral history.

The founder of Cape Breton's Magazine, Ron's work can be found online today. He also founded Breton Books which enabled other writers to publish many fine works. His documentation of our history and culture is unprecedented.

In December 2010, Mr. Caplan was appointed to the Order of Canada for his contributions to the protection of Cape Breton Island's history and culture as a writer, editor and publisher.

As a fitting tribute to a great Canadian and Cape Bretoner, I ask the House to stand and applaud him.

Paralympic Athletes
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, one year ago, we were united as a nation as the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games began in Vancouver and Whistler. Our Paralympic athletes would go on to provide tremendous performances over the following days.

Lauren Woolstencroft of my riding of North Vancouver, Brian McKeever, and many others broke records while providing excitement that kept us on the edge of our seats. In the end, Canada had its best ever performance at a Paralympic Games, with 19 medals including 10 golds.

Since the conclusion of the games, our government has not ceased its support of the Paralympic movement. In fact, our support for the Canadian Paralympic Committee is at its highest level ever, enabling it to provide more equipment and training for athletes at all levels.

Our Paralympic athletes continue to make us so proud. They prove themselves against the best in the world time and time again.

Automotive Industry
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, recently my riding of Welland took another devastating blow when Henniges Automotive announced it would close its Welland plant by the end of the year, leaving over 300 hard-working people in my community without well-paying jobs.

The company was taken over by a private equity firm whose only interest was to make a quick buck no matter how many people it put out of work or how many communities it destroyed. This is yet another example of how the Conservative government has deserted Canadian workers by allowing another plant to leave Ontario without a fight.

The Conservatives' attitude that it does not matter how hard people work or how profitable they make a company, the Conservatives will simply cast them off without a second thought, is wrong and shameful.

The people of Niagara have watched plant after plant close around them with no support in sight from the government. As Welland mayor Barry Sharpe said, “This is another very dark day, another major setback the city can't afford and one we didn't deserve”. He is right. That is why I and the New Democrats stand with workers in their fight for good jobs and the fair treatment they deserve in Niagara and right across the country.

Aerospace Industry
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois has done an about-face and now has joined the Liberal Party and the NDP in withdrawing its support for the purchase of the F-35 fighter jets. The Bloc is abandoning this important sector in the Quebec economy and the tens of thousands of workers and their families who are counting on these jobs during the economic recovery. Only the Conservative government is defending the interests of the workers in Quebec's aerospace industry.

The aerospace industry is a jewel in the crown of Quebec's economy, and we are proud to contribute to the development of this industry and to the creation of jobs in Quebec. We will continue to support job creation in Quebec. On this side of the House, we will once again stand firm to save jobs in Quebec.

Japan
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, a disaster of unimaginable proportions struck Japan last night. An earthquake registering 8.9 on the Richter scale hit that country, triggering a tsunami with 10-metre high waves. Aftershocks were also felt, some measuring 6 or 7 on the scale. This is the most powerful earthquake on record in Japan and the fifth largest since earthquake data collection began. Reports are just starting to come in, but these events are causing consternation. The next few hours will certainly be critical for the victims.

My colleagues in the Bloc Québécois join me in expressing our solidarity and our empathy for the people of Japan, and anyone else who might be affected by the consequences of this earthquake. We will continue to monitor the situation closely in order to ensure that the government takes all the necessary measures to provide support and aid to the people in need. Our thoughts are with the people of Japan.

Genie Awards
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the 31st annual Genie Awards paid tribute to artists in the Canadian film industry, and it was certainly one of the most anticipated celebrations of the year. Artists and fans alike came to the national capital for a spectacular evening.

Leading with 11 nominations was Barney's Version, Mordecai Richler's beloved story set in Montreal. It took seven Genies, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Paul Giamatti's depiction of Barney, and Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design for Claude Paré and Élise De Blois.

But the winner of this glamorous evening, broadcast live on CBC, was Montreal's own Denis Villeneuve. His acclaimed film Incendies won eight awards, including Achievement in Direction for Villeneuve and the prestigious prize of Best Motion Picture.

This has clearly been a spectacular year of achievement in French and English Canadian film.

On behalf of the Liberal Party and my cherished city of Montreal, we congratulate all of the Canadian filmmakers who have created some real masterpieces for the Canadian film industry.

Political Financing
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are all now well aware of the infamous ethics breach by the member for Charlottetown when he advertised that he was selling Liberal Party memberships out of his taxpayer funded office.

The hypocrisy of this ran high when just this past weekend the same member told the Charlottetown Guardian that, “Parliamentary materials are never allowed to be used for political gain, especially to drum up donations for political parties”.

Of course, this was right before he said that constituency offices are all political anyway. Perhaps his more than most is, since a local reporter called to see about buying a membership there and the response from the staffer was, “No, we are not doing that”--and here is the operative word--“anymore”.

Today in an interview with the CBC the same member claimed he did not even know about the ad. He said, “This ad was not prepared by me or my office. It certainly was not paid for by us”.

Now we must wonder, who paid for the logo? Who paid for the ad that prominently features the Liberal logo? Can the Liberal leader tell us that neither he nor his staff have their fingerprints all over this messy situation? I would like to know the answer to that question.

Japan
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, a savage earthquake caused huge damage and many deaths this morning in Japan. The entire Pacific Rim, including the west coast of Canada, is threatened with a tsunami.

Our deepest condolences go to all of those who have suffered loss and we remain concerned about those still in harm's way.

Can the government inform the House about the latest situation including the impact on Canadians in Japan or elsewhere, the tsunami risk to British Columbia, and the steps Canada will take to help all of those anywhere who are suffering as a consequence of this disaster?

Japan
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, our thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible earthquake, the strongest in Japan's history, that has caused widespread infrastructure damage as well as fatalities.

This morning, the Prime Minister spoke with Japan's ambassador to Canada. He obviously offered our assistance and let him know that our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy.

I would also like to reassure the members of this House that our officials at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo are working closely with colleagues at—

Japan
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Wascana.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the coming week will be a week of shame for the Conservatives. In a courtroom in Ottawa, four of the Prime Minister's closest advisers will be charged with election fraud, phony invoices, illegal spending, illegal rebates, tampering with democracy.

A few blocks away, on Parliament Hill, a Conservative minister will face contempt proceedings about a falsified document, serial failures to tell the truth, again tampering with democracy.

Is such abuse of power considered normal by the Conservatives? “You win some, you lose some”, is that it?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it will not come as any surprise to the House or to the hon. member opposite that I completely reject the premise of his question.

Let me tell the House what will be happening next week. This government will be working hard and will remain focused on the economy and creating jobs.

We were very pleased with the 15,000 net new jobs that were created last month. While those members of the Liberal Party in opposition were scandal-mongering, were seeking to try to provoke an early election to get new jobs for themselves, this government was hard at work trying to create jobs for Canadians.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, Canadians believe we do not have to sacrifice democracy. The abuse continues.

In another parliamentary hearing next week, the Conservatives will stand accused by you, Mr. Speaker, of wrongfully hiding the truth about their extra corporate tax cuts, $6 billion; about their mega-jails, $13 billion; about their new war planes, where the cost has now doubled to $30 billion. It is no wonder the Prime Minister runs from a debate about his numbers and that leaves his budget a vacuous fraud.

When will the Conservatives stop thumbing their noses at Canadians and finally tell the truth?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party is once again trying to distract Canadians from the real issues.

I find it regrettable that the Liberal Party is now in a position where it wants our men and women in uniform to be flying 40-, 50- and 60-year-old airplanes in the future. They are not war planes. It is equipment that our men and women in uniform need to do the job that we have asked them to do.

These men and women in uniform are prepared to pay the ultimate price to keep Canadians safe, to keep Canada sovereign, and the least they can expect is that the government provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs.

Veterans
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are in such a hurry to buy fighter jets that they only did half the calculations to determine the cost.

I would love to see them show as much urgency when it comes to helping our veterans who, because of their participation in the Afghan mission, will forever be scarred, both physically and mentally.

How many of them could count on better support upon their return if the Conservatives made the effort to save billions of dollars on the purchase of the F-35s by using a tendering process?

Veterans
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised two points in his question. He is talking about veterans as well as the F-35s.

As for veterans, I would like to tell the member that today in this House we will be voting on Bill C-55, which will ensure that our modern-day veterans receive more financial help if, unfortunately, they come back wounded from Afghanistan or any other mission. There are three different benefits that will be amended in order to help our modern-day veterans.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to the parliamentary budget officer, these 65 fighter jets would cost at least $30 billion. Even our Bloc colleagues have joined the Liberals in opposing this hasty and unreasonable purchase. Furthermore, the Conservatives have rushed through this contract so quickly that they obtained only crumbs for Quebec's aerospace industry.

Now that the majority of this House is opposed to the purchase, what are the Conservatives waiting for to launch a bidding process?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I spent more than 30 years of my life exercising sovereignty on behalf of Canadians.

Sovereignty is not something that is given to us; it is something we earn and something we keep. Somebody is going to exercise sovereignty over Canada and I would suggest that it should be us.

DND procurement experts stand by their cost projections. We have committed $9 billion for the purchase of 65 aircraft, and $250 million to $300 million a year over 20 years for in-service support.

The F-35 is the only jet that meets our demands, as Mr. Page himself acknowledged. The Minister of National Defence spoke yesterday with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, the U.K. Minister of Defence, and they both acknowledged they are committed to the program. The Secretary of Defense said the program is going very well.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the statements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons clearly show that, for the Conservatives, democracy is just an obstacle, and a distraction from implementing their ideological platform. Your decisions, Mr. Speaker, are a serious wake-up call for this government, which refuses to be accountable to Parliament.

Instead of playing down their moral deficit, will the Conservatives stop their undemocratic behaviour, and respect Parliament and the people?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I must be very clear. We have a great deal of respect for the Speaker of the House and his decisions. We are working hard and doing our best to provide the information that the Speaker has asked of the government. However, our absolute priority is economic growth and job creation. We are very proud of the Canadian economy, which created 15,000 new jobs last month. That is good new for Canadians and Quebeckers.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only is the government acting undemocratically, but its ethics are very dubious. We need only think of the violation of the Canada Elections Act, the use of House resources for partisan purposes, the falsification of documents, and the refusal to provide the information that parliamentarians need to do their job. Respect for the people and the institutions is not an option; it is fundamental to democracy.

When will the Conservatives understand this?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, we have a great deal of respect for the Speaker, for the House of Commons, and for democracy. That is why we created the Federal Accountability Act. It is also why we are focusing on the priorities of Canadians. We are working very hard on the economy, economic growth and job creation. These are our highest priorities and we will continue working on them.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has determined that the Conservative government misled us on the cost of the F-35s. The government told us the cost would be $16 billion, but Kevin Page is talking about a bill of at least $29 billion. What is more, the Conservative government is unable to guarantee a modicum of economic spinoffs for Quebec.

Will the government cancel this deal, impose a moratorium on major military purchases and present a real foreign policy and defence policy to guide its military procurement?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is having a change of heart; it is abandoning the regions and forgetting the entire aerospace sector of the economy. Take for example the military base in Bagotville, where there are 1,357 soldiers. Is the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord also doing an about-face and abandoning our soldiers? He does not want to give them the same equipment that other nations have chosen. Everyone thinks this is the direction we should be taking. Are the Bloc MPs turning their backs on our soldiers?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, since the government is determined to go ahead with the F-35s even at double the cost, it should at least proceed with a real call for tenders and conclude a contract with solid economic spinoffs for Quebec consistent with its share of jobs in the aerospace sector. That is what workers in the industry are calling for.

Will the government require a call for tenders and minimum spinoffs for Quebec?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, we have invested $185 million with other nations to develop the best plane. Together we decided that the F-35 is the best and that is what the government has decided on for protecting our soldiers, securing our future for 40 years in certain military bases and ensuring that we have the best equipment.

He says there is no support for this, but John Saabas, president of Pratt & Whitney, said that all the other countries have chosen this plane and if we want to be a part of this, then the Government of Canada must decide right now to enter into the supply chain.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, this has been a tough week for the Conservatives and an even tougher week for Canadians. There are insiders facing criminal charges and potential jail time. There were two more rebukes from the Speaker. It seems that they have given up on accountability in favour of schoolyard behaviour as they cry that others did it too or resort to name-calling.

The courts have ruled, Parliament has ruled and now you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled as well.

When will the Conservatives stop their schoolyard antics and take responsibility for their wrongdoing and their actions?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, we respect your ruling and are right now working to do everything we can do comply with your ruling. We look forward to the committee hearings next week.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we know that Senator Lavigne, who is facing charges and is in court today, was censured and disciplined by the Senate. However, Conservative senators also facing charges are still sitting in the Senate enjoying their perks and continuing to do party fundraising.

Why is there one set of rules for the Conservatives and another set of rules for everybody else? When will they take responsibility and suspend their senators facing these criminal charges?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there is no member of the Conservative caucus, neither in the House nor in the Senate, facing criminal charges. The House leader of the NDP should stand in her place and apologize and, if she does not, she should have the courage of her convictions to go outside of this place and make those outrageous charges against two outstanding parliamentarians.

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, Canadians want their government to fix health care, not elections. We know that they bought the 2006 campaign by cheating on their spending limits, and now they are scamming again by appointing their senior campaign team, the architects and masterminds of the biggest election fraud in Canadian history, to the Senate. One Liberal senator is in court today and he has been kicked out of caucus.

Why are these disgraced senators still at the public trough and still running the Conservative Party election campaign on the taxpayers' dime?

Government Accountability
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what to say to the member. I completely reject the premise. I think the member is getting a little out of control. There is no member of the Conservative caucus facing any criminal charges.

We have worked hard to eliminate the role of big money in politics. We have made outstanding progress in that regard and I completely reject the premise of the member's claim.

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are outraged at the $534,000 of hush money paid to the former integrity commissioner. That is an obscene amount of money. The average adult with a disability in Canada makes $28,503. We need to think about that. That is about one-twentieth of the current cost of silence that the government pays.

A year ago, the government finally ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but since then has done nothing. If the Conservatives had true integrity, would they not pay less to cover up their mistakes and a little more for people with disabilities?

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, our government is very proud of its record on helping persons with disabilities. In fact, our government brought in the registered disability savings plan to help the disabled and their families plan for the future. The Liberals voted against that one.

We also are investing significant amounts in over 300 projects across this country to make community facilities accessible so that people with disabilities can fully participate in society. Of course, the Liberals voted against that. The member even voted against making his church, Saint Iona's, in his riding accessible. I say shame on him.

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are giving over $500,000 to a former integrity commissioner just so she will resign quietly and go away. That $500,000 also could have been used to match the provincial contribution to the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, which had to eliminate some essential positions in July 2010 because the Conservatives cut funding to that organization.

Or do the Conservatives believe deep down that, like the former commissioner, aboriginal women in distress should just be quiet and go away?

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, we are doing a great deal to help all vulnerable populations, including aboriginal people, people with disabilities and even women, anyone who faces barriers to fully participating in our society. For instance, we have the WITB to help people get over the “welfare wall”. We have done a great deal to help these people. They should have supported us in our efforts.

Political Financing
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, in British Columbia, 12 Conservative ridings were part of the in and out fraud. Six sitting MPs were part of a scheme to break the law. One of them is the President of the Treasury Board, the person in charge of spending taxpayer dollars.

How could the minister have gone along with this fraud? Did he not know this was wrong?

Political Financing
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member to explain why the Liberal Party transferred exactly $5,000 on July 19, 2004 to the Liberal riding of Simcoe--Grey, which then transferred $4,500 back on July 25, 2004. That was a direct in and out transfer during an election campaign.

That in and out transfer was recognized by Elections Canada as a legitimate local expense and, therefore, all of the same transactions the Conservatives made should be recognized the same.

Political Financing
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government does not seem to get it. Two MPs, the former Conservative whip and the former House leader received back over $15,000 of taxpayer money through this fraud.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said, “you win some, you lose some”. The Conservatives have clearly lost and it is time they returned this dirty money.

Will the Prime Minister order that these tax dollars be returned immediately?

Political Financing
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the reason I have been systematically pointing out that members of the opposition engaged in in and out transactions is to demonstrate that their national parties transferred funds to local campaigns which then purchased services from the national campaign and transferred the money back to pay for those services. That is precisely what the Conservative Party did.

If Elections Canada recognized all of those transactions by opposition parties as falling under local expenses, then it must also recognize similar Conservative transactions as local expenses.

Former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, in committee, the former integrity commissioner said that the $500,000 severance package she was offered was not negotiable. The government therefore offered her this amount to get rid of her and buy her silence. In addition, given that the Auditor General's report stated that there had been obvious mismanagement, there was no justification for giving the commissioner a severance package.

How can the government justify such a large amount of severance pay when it had every reason to dismiss the former commissioner without paying her a single cent?

Former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner tendered her official resignation in October 2010. We received legal advice that, based on her 28 years of employment, this was the best way to ensure unresolved complaints would be resolved without putting taxpayers on the hook for any further salary and pension payments.

Our priority was and continues to be the protection of whistleblowers and the proper investigation of any complaints.

Former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to the Prime Minister, this was the quickest and least expensive way to get rid of Christiane Ouimet; however, that does not explain why the government paid a fortune to someone whose poor quality work was criticized by the Auditor General.

Are we to understand that the determining factor in the government's decision was the fact that it wanted to buy the former commissioner's silence at all costs? Why is the Conservative government rewarding incompetence?

Former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner spent two hours before committee yesterday.

I understand that it may be disappointing to opposition members that they did not get to hear what they wanted to hear, but I would remind them that she answered all questions under oath. She can speak freely and so can we.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have learned that the Minister of Immigration used government resources for partisan purposes. Conservative Party fundraising letters, certificates of excellence with a nice logo and an election communications plan targeting ethnic communities were sent from his office. And now, lo and behold, we find out that his political office budget has increased 35% over three years.

Will the government admit that the increased spending of the Minister of Immigration can be explained by the increase in partisan activities being carried out by his office?

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, not at all. It is because the Minister of Immigration was also the minister responsible for multiculturalism.

Perhaps the member for Repentigny could answer my question. I have here a press release regarding a cocktail fundraiser for the Bloc Québécois in Chambly—Borduas. It says that if you want information, you can call the riding office of the member for Chambly—Borduas.

Could you explain why you are using public resources for your election campaign and—

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I would remind hon. colleagues to address their comments through the Chair and not directly at other members.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, he seems to be confused about Quebec. Chambly is nowhere near Repentigny.

The government must stop trivializing the use of government resources for partisan purposes. Last year, the minister's budget went $500,000 over the Treasury Board's directives.

How is it acceptable for a minister to disregard Treasury Board rules? It must be because the Prime Minister himself is authorizing the diversion of public funds for Conservative Party purposes.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I already made it clear that this minister has two responsibilities. That is the reason for the change. He also returned over $300,000 to the Bank of Canada because he did not spend all of his money.

But I do wonder why the Bloc is using public resources for a Bloc Québécois cocktail fundraiser. Why did it use the riding office of the member for Chambly—Borduas? Will he return all of the public money that was used? I have not received an answer to my question.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are unable to figure out the distinction between their government activities and their partisan activities.

The Minister of Immigration is using his department to buy votes in “very ethnic” communities.

His staffing budget increased by half a million dollars in three years and he is using the money to produce and distribute partisan documents.

Is this really an appropriate use of taxpayers' money?

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Immigration has two responsibilities, one as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and he has continued on with his good work as Minister of Multiculturalism in his new portfolio.

He has done an outstanding job at welcoming new Canadians, and doing more for immigration settlement, particularly in the province of Ontario where the member and I come from.

When my premier, Dalton McGuinty, had to come begging for a fair deal for immigration settlement funding, he did not get it from the previous government. This government is the only government that has delivered for immigrants in Ontario.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister's job is not to go out and get ethnic votes. The minister's job, as Minister of Multiculturalism, is to build up Canada. “Insidious” is a strong word but that is the word that is being used to describe this partisan vote getting activity.

In the Calgary Herald, it says that we are raising questions that lift “a curtain on an insidious overlap between government business and partisan politics.”

This is an abuse of tax dollars. The minister asks us to trust him but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has demanded an independent review. Will we get one?

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the member for Don Valley West is pretty happy to stand in the House today to talk about partisanship. Why do we not take a little look at his website. On his Don Valley West constituency website, he endorses, through a letter on his website, a candidate for municipal office.

The last time I looked, our jobs in Ottawa were to work for the people of our country, not determine who should sit on city council in the city of Toronto.

Government Communications
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative edict to have government departments assume the name of the “H” word government is nothing but an arrogant, command and control, purely partisan propaganda campaign.

The Conservatives say that it is common practice. It is not. Mel Cappe, the former head of the public services said, “It is not the [H] Government...It is the Government of Canada. It's my government and it's your government”.

How can the Prime Minister not understand that he is undermining the impartiality and independence of 450,000 public servants? They work for the people of Canada, not him.

Government Communications
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. This has been a long-standing practice across various governments. This terminology is widely used by journalists and the public alike.

In fact, Mel Cappe, who is quoted in these stories and mentioned by the hon. member, approved many of the releases, while he was clerk, using the terms “Chrétien government”.

Government Communications
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the late Jim Travers pointed out, democracy in Canada and Africa is currently going in different directions.

When we go abroad to teach democracy, we do not teach this.

Does the government think that naming governments after their leaders is a good idea for emerging democracies reeling from former dictatorships? When will this abuse of power stop?

Government Communications
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's Office has issued no directives to departments. There is no need for one, as this has been a long-standing practice across various governments.

A simple check of online archives shows that the terms “Chrétien government” and “Martin government” and similar variations appear in official government communications by various governments.

This terminology is widely used by journalists, the public and the Liberal Party itself. In fact, the official Liberal website has at least 109 references since January, 2009.

The Economy
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, while the Liberal leader is trying to plunge Canada into an opportunistic election, our Conservative government is focused on the number one priority for every day Canadians, jobs and the economy.

The Liberal-led coalition wants that unnecessary election to implement a $6 billion tax hike that will kill jobs. Canadians expect us to focus on Canadian jobs and growing the economy, not Liberal political gains.

Could the Minister of State for Finance please inform Parliament on today's job numbers?

The Economy
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Miramichi for pointing out today's good news.

February job numbers are increased by 15,000 net new jobs. That is more proof that our economic action plan continues to work. In fact, our economic action plan has helped create 480,000 net new jobs since July, 2009.

The economy is still fragile and we need to remain focused on our low tax plan. The last thing we need right now is an election forced on us by the opposition.

Shipbuilding Industry
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian shipbuilding industry was already nervous when it learned of secret talks being held with the U.K. over naval shipbuilding. Now we have learned that the government has gone to Germany and Spain for ship designs when our own navy has developed plans for replacement vessels.

We just cannot trust the Conservative government to protect Canadian industrial jobs. Will the minister commit to involving the industry in any talks with foreign governments and will he commit to keeping Canadian shipbuilding jobs in Canada?

Shipbuilding Industry
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, our National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy establishes a long-term relationship with the Canadian shipbuilding industry to renew Canada's federal fleet.

Manufacturing Industry
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Industry might not be worried about the potential of further job losses in southern Ontario, but the people in my riding of Welland sure are.

The government likes to tell people that we are out of the recession because the banks on Bay Street are all doing well. However, the people who have lost their jobs in southern Ontario, due to job losses in the industrial sector, see it differently.

When will the industry minister take real and meaningful action to ensure our manufacturing jobs are protected?

Manufacturing Industry
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's question gives me the opportunity to again highlight the jobs that have been created in our country, nearly 500,000 new jobs since July 2009.

Our country is leading the way worldwide among industrialized countries as we come out of this global economic recession, thanks to the measures taken by this government, the industry minister and the entire cabinet.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, France and Great Britain have recognized the National Transition Council, which is made up of the main forces that are opposing Gadhafi. By recognizing this new political interlocutor, these countries are also giving crucial support to the Libyan people, who are fighting for their freedom.

Will the Conservative government sever all ties with the Gadhafi regime and begin discussions with the National Transition Council?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her question. States can recognize states. We are committed to contacting this interim council to engage in dialogue. We believe that the council is a valid interlocutor that can help put an end to the hostilities in Libya as well as the blood bath that the Gadhafi regime is inflicting on the Libyan people.

International Trade
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, in Honduras, since the coup in 2009, human rights activists remain in prison, women continue to be raped and teachers are still being assassinated.

How can the Minister of International Trade ignore these human rights abuses and continue to support these unscrupulous leaders by negotiating a free trade agreement with them?

International Trade
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada believes that engagement rather than isolationism is the best way of supporting change in Honduras. Canada works with like-minded countries, international organizations and governments worldwide to support improved respect for human rights and international humanitarian law and to lay the foundations for peace. Free trade between Canada and Honduras will benefit not just Canadians, but Hondurans alike.

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of International Cooperation is hard to believe when she told the House on Wednesday that she respected your ruling and would provide all the clarity needed truthfully. Yesterday she was evasive again and refused to answer the questions.

Therefore, let us try again for the 91st time. Who specifically added the word “not” to the KAIROS funding document and who at the PMO ordered this change? Why will the minister not step up to the plate, show some accountability and start naming the names?

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the minister reported at committee 11 times on December 9, 2010, that she was the one who made the decision.

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate the government will not let the minister speak for herself. There continues to be more evasion.

Does the government not understand how serious this actually is? Does it not understand that the government is on the verge of having the first minister in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament? Why did the minister think she was entitled to ask someone to doctor a document already signed by public servants?

Again, who at the PMO put the minister up to it and why does she continue to mislead Parliament? We need the names. Start stepping up to the plate and showing some accountability.

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the member for Brampton—Springdale is just trying to change the channel.

I have in my hand a press release, which says, “Paul Martin government announces prudent and ambitious budget”. It is at the www.fin.gc.ca press release. Who is quoted in this press release? I cannot mention his name, but his first name is Ralph.

Pensions
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, the finance minister and the rest of the government voted in favour of the New Democratic motion that laid out the road map for pension reform in Canada. The Conservatives said that they agreed with our plan, yet two years later little has been done.

Will the government include the NDP's practical proposal to increase CPP in its upcoming budget? When will the government finally address the poverty of seniors?

Pensions
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, we have looked into it, along with our partners, the provinces, which need to be consulted on any changes to the Canada pension plan. They said that they do not want to move forward with increased costs for employers right now. We continue to look at options where we might make the Canada pension plan better for Canadians.

However, what is more important is a proposal, on which the provinces agreed with the federal government, to look at the option of a fully registered pension plan.

I would encourage the hon. member to get behind the bandwagon on that. This will help more seniors and more Canadians prepare for their retirement.

Veterans Affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, Major Mark Campbell of Calgary is one of Canada's heroes. Unfortunately, he lost both of his legs in Afghanistan, while serving his country. He has already fought one war. He does not need to fight another one with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Again, Mr. Mark Campbell is one of Canada's heroes. The Conservatives gave him zero and Christiane Ouimet half a million dollars to keep quiet, and she did not do her job. Major Mark Campbell did his job.

Will the veterans affairs minister or his staff immediately meet with Major Mark Campbell to assess his needs and ensure that he is entitled to every benefit that he and his family should have in order to give him—

Veterans Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that the individual responsible for this file has in fact contacted Major Campbell. Veterans Affairs Canada has several programs to help injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan, among others.

Indeed, there will be a vote in the House today on Bill C-55, which will bring further improvements to help our modern-day veterans, in order to ensure that they and their families do not experience financial difficulties.

Aerospace Industry
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that building and maintaining the F-35 military aircraft will create thousands of jobs in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

Can the Minister of Veterans Affairs explain to the House how the Government of Canada is going to create jobs for Quebeckers in the aerospace industry?

Aerospace Industry
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, the CF-18s are near the end of their useful life. We need new equipment. We made a choice: the F-35. With eight other countries, including the United States, we developed the best aircraft out there—a new technology. We invested $168 million.

Today, the Bloc is abandoning the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and the military base in Bagotville. We want to give that military base 40 years of security. We want to give it a long-term future, but this party is failing our soldiers.

Taxation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, rural Canadians are faced with skyrocketing prices for gasoline and home heating oil. It hurts those who can least afford it. It hurts those on fixed incomes and it hurts our seniors. Loggers, tourist operators, farmers and fishermen will be faced with a cash crunch.

The Conservatives betrayed these people in the last election by promising them a 2¢ a litre break that never happened.

Why is the government giving a corporate tax break to big oil companies instead of giving a break to rural Canadians?

Taxation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where that hon. gentleman was when we voted on reducing GST for all Canadians. We reduced it from 7% to 6% and then from 6% to 5%. That is reduced costs for every Canadian for all products on which GST is placed.

As I said earlier, we are proud to remind everyone that we have had 15,000 net new jobs in February. The low tax plan we are on is working for all Canadians.

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, Service Canada's chief operating officer has said that the four Atlantic provinces will now be grouped into a single, unilingual English, administrative region. Yet, there are nearly half a million francophones in Atlantic Canada. Once again, the Conservative government is making a mockery of the Official Languages Act.

Will the government review this offensive directive and ensure that Service Canada offers services in French to the Acadians and francophones of the Atlantic provinces?

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, we are committed to providing Canadians with excellent service in their choice of either official language. All Canadians have the right to speak the official language of their choice, no matter which Service Canada office they go into.

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, this weekend the government House leader will be visiting my riding of Nickel Belt, lending support--

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Ho, ho!

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order please.

The hon. member for Nickel Belt.

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, he will be lending support to candidates who are having trouble explaining why the government has not been protecting pensions, funding long-term care facilities or giving constituents a break on the GST. The Conservatives even voted against FedNor. The government has no interest in helping the people of northern Ontario.

Is this visit just another example of ministerial resources paying for Conservative campaigns?

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will in fact be in Sudbury on Sunday and Monday next week. I will be making a government announcement. I will be talking about issues like the gun registry on which a lot of New Democratic members broke faith with their constituents.

I will also be talking about the GST, which has gone from 7% to 6% to 5% and how the New Democratic Party wanted the GST to stay high rather than support the significant tax reduction this government delivered to families in Sudbury, the Nickel Belt and throughout all of northern Ontario.

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

Noon

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to recognize the first anniversary of our Conservative government's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Our Conservative government is committed to removing barriers for persons with disabilities, who play a vital role in the success of our economy and our communities.

Can the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development please inform this House about the important investments our government is making toward this goal?

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

Noon

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, through the RDSP, the enabling accessibility fund, and unprecedented investments in training, our government continues to break down barriers to ensure that all Canadians can participate fully in and contribute to our great country and economy. We are delivering for Canadians with disabilities.

I would quote Al Etmanski from the Plan Institute, who said:

I believe...[this] Government is hands down the most effective Federal champion people with disabilities and their families have ever had.

Electricity
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, the development of the Lower Churchill transmission line to Cape Breton has the potential to create thousands of jobs. The proponents of this project want the federal government to provide a loan guarantee to help make this project move forward. All three parties in Nova Scotia endorse this project.

Will the Prime Minister stop delaying and provide this loan guarantee so that we can move this critical project forward?

Electricity
Oral Questions

Noon

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, discussions are indeed continuing between officials from the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada.

I agree with the hon. member that this is a very important project for Atlantic Canada. We encourage those discussions to continue.

Human Resources and Skills Development
Oral Questions

Noon

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities adopted a motion calling on the government to increase the budget for the Canada summer jobs program to account for the higher cost of living and minimum wage. Since we are talking about the regions, this program allows thousands of young students to gain valuable work experience in their region.

Will the minister immediately increase that program's budget so that it reflects today's reality, as called for by hundreds of organizations and municipalities across Quebec?

Human Resources and Skills Development
Oral Questions

Noon

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we did two years ago. Two years ago, through Canada's economic action plan, we added $10 million to that program, and last year, we made it permanent. We did so in order to create 3,500 more jobs for students who need them. But the hon. member and her colleagues voted against that.

Retirement Congratulations
Oral Questions

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I'd like to draw the attention of members of the House to the presence in the back of the House of our Assistant Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, Monsieur André Boivin. Today is his last day. He will be retiring after 37 years of service, 31 of which were in Parliament.

Retirement Congratulations
Oral Questions

Noon

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

Noon

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, during question period, I made reference to a number of documents, and I am very pleased to table them.

The first document is a press release entitled, “Paul Martin government announces...budget.” The sub-headline says, “Budget 2004, announced today by the Paul Martin government—”. Then the first paragraph says, “The budget today announced by the Paul Martin government—”. In the second paragraph, it mentions, “Minister of Finance [the member for Wascana]”. I cannot mention his name, but I believe that if members went to www.ralphgoodale.ca, they would find the name. It also has the government website at the end, www.fin.gc.ca.

I want to assure the House that some press releases were saying the “H” government because if we called it the Paul Martin government, people would be very confused.

I will table that.

In response to a question by the member for Repentigny, I talked about a Bloc press release.

It is about a fundraising cocktail party for the Bloc Québécois in Chambly—Borduas. For more information, there is a number to call. I will table this press release in the House.

I am also pleased to table a story by the Canadian Press dated March 11, 2011, 11:51 a.m., about a senator appointed by the Liberal Party. It reads, “Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne guilty of fraud.”

I will table all three of these documents in the House.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to thank the hon. government House leader for tabling those documents, but I would also caution him that we are not allowed to do indirectly what we are not allowed to do directly. So when it comes to mentioning members by names, even if he thinks he is doing it in a roundabout way, I think the House would appreciate it if he remembered not to mention them by name.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, during question period, it was quite obvious that the Conservative government's dark ops teams have been working very hard to dig up some kind of information. They may be digging it up, sir, but the reality is that they are digging up inaccurate, incorrect and misleading information.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration used a document in his response to my question that is not from my website, has never been on my website and never would be on my website. It was an email that was sent from a political account with no parliamentary resources used. Several weeks ago, the whip on this side of the House told the whip on that side of the House that this has nothing to do with that.

It is an intentional misleading of the House on something that is beyond and above them, and I would hope that they would actually have some—

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, order. I have not heard anything that is a point of order. It sounds like there is a dispute about facts.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite said that a member of the government intentionally misled the House. That is completely unparliamentary. The government requests that you require that member to withdraw his comments.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. government House leader is making a good point. The term “intentional misleading of the House” is unparliamentary in referring to a member of the House.

I would ask the member for Don Valley West to withdraw those comments.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is something interesting about this. Somehow I am being told that calling something unparliamentary is worse than actually misleading the House.

My concern is that someone on that side of the House actually already knew that this document was never on my website and that it was from a sophisticated program called email. It uses a thing called constant contact—

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, order. It is not for the Speaker to pass judgment on the accuracy of statements made in the House.

However, one thing the Speaker is tasked to do is to keep the rules of decorum. I did ask the hon. member for Don Valley West to withdraw the unparliamentary language that I heard. “Intentionally mislead” is a term that has consistently been found to be unparliamentary. That is something the Speaker is allowed to pass judgment on.

I would ask the member for Don Valley West to withdraw that portion of his remarks.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw the remarks with deep concern that he unintentionally misled the House.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I think the House appreciates that.

I see the hon. parliamentary secretary rising. I am going to caution him. If this is another exchange or debate over facts, the Speaker is not going to have much time for that. We have to move on to other business.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am simply going to inform the House that I am quite prepared, with unanimous consent, to table this document that shows on the front page that the member is a member of Parliament.

The email that the member referred to states, “[The member for Don Valley West], 1 Leaside Park Drive, Unit 1, Toronto, Ontario”, and the postal code. On the—

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member is requesting unanimous consent to table a document. Does the House give its consent to table the document?

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Export of Military Goods from Canada
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the Report on Exports of Military Goods from Canada for the years 2007-2009.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, entitled “Supplementary Estimates (C) 2010-11”.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 12th and 13th reports of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in relation to gender-based analysis of federal funding in sport and gender-based analysis of legislation.

Health
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Health.

It is in relation to supplementary estimates (C) 2010-11, votes 1c, 5c, 10c and 25c under health.

Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan entitled, “Recommendations on Non-Military Aspects of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan Post-2011”. Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in relation to its study on the freeze of departmental budget envelopes and government operations.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in relation to Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act. The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.

Purchase and Sale of Precious Metal Articles Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-638, An Act respecting the establishment of a National Strategy for the Purchase and Sale of Second-hand Precious Metal Articles.

Mr. Speaker, as the title of the bill obviously implies, the bill seeks to drive out unscrupulous gold buyers from the purchase and sale of second-hand metals.

As the prices of precious metals increase, more and more people are getting into this business. Therefore, the bill calls on the minister to work with his provincial counterparts to make sure that only those individuals with the actual intent of doing this properly are allowed to maintain and stay in this business. The bill would get rid of all of the unscrupulous people who would seek to prey on those who find themselves in desperate situations.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-639, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (universal child care benefit).

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to move a bill to remove the taxes from the universal child care benefits, seconded by the member for Halifax.

Every Christmas parents get a rude surprise. They receive a letter from the government and are told that they must pay taxes on their $100 a month baby bonus from the government. It is a classic case of the Conservative government giving with one hand and taking with another.

Working parents are particularly hard hit. In a month's time, by the end of April, these parents will have to pay collectively over $200 million in taxes.

My bill would make this child benefit tax free so Canadians have a few more dollars in their pockets to buy a few more toys, books and nutritious food for their kids. There is absolutely no excuse to pay taxes on money destined for children.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Poverty
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I wish to present a petition on behalf of 44 Nova Scotians who are very concerned about people living in poverty in Canada and call upon Parliament to ensure swift passage of Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada.

Iran
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition from my constituents who are alarmed that the fourfold Iranian threat: nuclear, incitement, terrorism and massive domestic repression, constitute a grave threat to international peace and security of Canada.

Accordingly, the petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to support Bill C-412, the Iran Accountability Act, the only such bill before the House, to implement the recommendations of the unanimously adopted report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs on Ahmadinejad Iran's threat to peace, human rights and international law, to decry the massive domestic repression and human rights abuses in Iran, including an unprecedented rate of execution, to hold leaders in Iran criminally responsible for their state sanctioned incitement to genocide, to work with our international partners to combat the state sanctioned incitement, the quest for nuclear arms, the support for global terror and its massive domestic repression and to support the Interpol arrest warrant for terrorist action as well.

Housing
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to present a petition from my riding. Denise Chartrand brought me this petition signed by more than 100 people calling on the Government of Canada to make the necessary public investment to enable the Société d'habitation du Québec to complete its low-income housing renovation plan and to cover the accumulated maintenance deficit.

On behalf of Denise Chartrand, it is my great pleasure to present this petition in the hope that the Canadian government will take it into account.

Health Care
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions I would like to present today.

The first one deals with the desire of many Canadians to have a national government that will insist on more accountability in health care. That means stable funding, national standards and more.

There is a great deal of concern in regard to the health care accord and the need for the government to start to take actions that will reinforce what is a very valuable treasure that many Canadians recognize, our health care system.

Foreign Affairs
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the issue of visitor visas particularly from the Philippines and India. We need to support the right of family members to be able to visit Canada as long as they are of good character and good health. Far too often visas are turned down for individuals who want to come to Canada to participate in special graduation ceremonies or because someone in their family has passed away.

We need to do more to enable families to be reunited during these times.

North Korea
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today from residents of Don Valley West and some of their friends, drawing attention to their concern about human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. The petitioners want to ensure that Canada's voice be heard in calling for fairness in treatment and transparency for people living in North Korea, as well as for those who may leave North Korea and seek refuge in other countries.

The petition reaffirms Canada's commitment to millennium development goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It requests us to maintain, if not increase, Canadian humanitarian aid to North Korea through NGOs and charitable organizations. It also pressures the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's government to take responsibility for human rights violations that it has committed in the past and prevent further violations.

I congratulate the students of Crescent School who have worked hard to not only get signatures, but also to raise awareness of this important human rights issue.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, be read the third time and passed.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Pursuant to an order made March 9, Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act is deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House proceeded to the consideration of C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that the Bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Hon. Rob Nicholson moved that the Bill be read the third time and passed.

He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the third reading debate on Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act.

The bill recognizes that sexual exploitation of children causes irreparable harm to the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. The bill recognizes that we as legislators not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to do all that we can to protect children from this harm. No less important, the bill reflects the view held by most, if not all, Canadians that sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible and that the criminal law must treat all forms of child sexual exploitation as such, including by imposing penalties that fit the severity of this crime.

Bill C-54 therefore proposes Criminal Code amendments to ensure that all child sexual abuse penalties consistently reflect the serious nature of this crime as well as to prevent the commission of a sexual offence against a child.

The bill proposes to add seven new mandatory sentences to existing child sexual offences that do not currently impose minimum sentences. It proposes to increase the minimum sentences for seven child specific sexual offences that already have mandatory sentences and to impose two new sentences in the two new offences proposed by this bill. In this way, Bill C-54 would ensure that all sexual offences involving child victims are treated the same by requiring all convicted child sex offenders to serve a term of imprisonment. This would eliminate a distinction that currently exists between the 12 child specific sexual offences that already impose mandatory penalties and the seven additional sexual offences that still do not.

This existing distinction sends out the wrong message. In effect, it says to the majority of child sexual assault victims whose offenders are charged under the general sexual assault offence in section 271 that does not impose a minimum sentence that their victimization is less serious than that of the 19% of child victims whose offenders are charged under child specific sexual offences that do carry minimum penalties. This is just wrong and Bill C-54 would change this.

The bill would also increase seven existing mandatory minimum penalties in the child specific sexual offences to ensure that the minimums are commensurate not only with the offence in question, but are also coherent with those for other offences. For example, offences that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment would have the same minimum penalty of one year.

Accordingly, the existing minimum for the offence of sexual interference in section 151 would be increased from 45 days to one year, which in turn would be consistent with the new minimum proposed in section 271, the general sexual assault offence that also carries a maximum penalty of 10 years on indictment.

During its review of Bill C-54 the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from a range of witnesses, including victims' groups, police, academics, psychologists and criminal lawyers' associations. Some disagreed on Bill C-54's approach with minimum penalties. Some argued against minimum penalties. Some advocated for higher minimum penalties and some supported the reforms as proposed by this bill. But without exception they all agreed that child sexual abuse and the exploitation of children is a serious crime and must be treated as such. That is what this bill would do.

This bill proposes reforms to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children. It does so in two ways.

First, it proposes to create two new offences that target conduct that is preparatory to the commission of a contact sexual offence against a child.

The first offence would prohibit a person from making sexually explicit material available to a young person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual or abduction offence against that child. This offence recognizes that child sex offenders often give this type of material to their victims, often with a view to lowering their sexual inhibitions and making it easier to sexually assault them. If the material is child pornography, irrespective of the reason for which it may be given, this conduct is already prohibited. This bill would now prohibit providing other sexually explicit material for this specific purpose.

Our bill defines “sexually explicit material” in a manner that is consistent with its use and interpretation in the child pornography and voyeurism offences.

The proposed offence would apply to transmitting, making available, distributing or selling such material to a young person for this purpose and would apply whether it is provided directly in a face-to-face encounter or over the Internet.

The second new offence proposed is a prohibition against using telecommunications, such as the Internet, to agree or make arrangements with another person to commit one of the enumerated child sexual or abduction offences.

The existing prohibition in section 172.1 against using a computer system to communicate directly with a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of one of the enumerated child sex and abduction offences only applies where the communication is between the perpetrator and the child. It does not apply to a situation where, for example, one adult uses the Internet to communicate with another adult to agree with or arrange to commit a sexual offence against a third person, the child. Thankfully, this bill would close that gap.

There was much discussion at the justice committee about this new offence as to what the term “telecommunications” includes. How would the offence work? Does its formulation deny an accused legitimate defences and even legitimize police entrapment? The answer to that of course is no.

The term “telecommunications” is defined in the federal Interpretation Act as “the emission, transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature by any wire, cable, radio, optical or other electromagnetic system, or by any similar technical system”.

Using such a broad but clearly defined term would ensure that this new offence would apply to the same prohibited use of new technology that may be created after this offence is enacted.

The new offence would operate in a similar manner to the existing luring a child offence that is found in section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. It includes the same provisions about presumed or reasonable but mistaken belief in the age of the child.

Like the existing luring a child offence, the common law defence of entrapment would still be available to an accused in the appropriate circumstances.

Bill C-54 also proposes to require a court to consider prohibiting a child sex offender and a suspected child sex offender under section 810.1 from having both access and opportunity to sexually molest a child. It proposes to expand the list of sexual offences for which such prohibitions could be included to include four prostitution offences where the victim is a child.

Courts would also be specifically directed to consider imposing two new conditions prohibiting the offender from having any unsupervised access to a young person or from having any unsupervised use of the Internet.

These conditions would help prevent the offender from being placed in a situation where he or she has access and opportunity to sexually assault a child, and from having unfettered use of the Internet or other similar technologies that are instrumental in the commission of child pornography and other child sexual exploitative offences today.

Witnesses before the justice committee were generally quite supportive of these proposed preventive measures.

There was some discussion of what is meant by these provisions' use of the term “the Internet or other digital network”. Bill C-54's use of “the Internet or other digital network” is consistent with its commonly understood meaning. It is also used in Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, which is currently before Parliament.

Clearly, the intention here is to direct the court to consider imposing such a prohibition where it is appropriate in the circumstances of the accused and the safety needs of the community and, as specifically directed by this bill, to impose the prohibition subject to any appropriate conditions as determined by the court.

I am confident that this proposal strikes the right balance in providing sufficient clarity and needed flexibility to enable the courts to craft a clear and understandable prohibition with any applicable conditions warranted by the circumstances of each case.

This is an important step forward in the protection of children in this country, and I am asking the House to pass this bill as rapidly as possible.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-54. We have dealt with a lot of justice issues in the House. I follow all of them very carefully and, when I have the opportunity, I contribute to the debate. I am not a lawyer, although I have often been accused of being one, so I often let the people who have done this for a living handle the major bulk of the debates, but I have always been very interested, as are all members.

I am pleased to see Bill C-54. I think there is some work to be done, and with this piece of legislation, I wonder whether not being a lawyer is a detriment or not. One thing that makes us interested in this legislation in particular is our being parents, as many of us are, or grandparents. That is not to say that people who are not parents do not have an interest in what is happening with children.

I have a child who is now a teenager and one who is getting there rapidly. I worry about what happens with my children. People worry in this day and age with the new communications tools that are available to children. We try to monitor them, but there are lots of different things that people worry about when it comes to the exploitation of children.

I have organized how I am going to speak to this bill for the next few minutes. There could be up to 30 million Canadians watching this and I want them to be able to judge their time. This bill is important. I want to talk about the sexual exploitation of children, what happens and how often it happens. I want to set it in the overall context of the crime agenda of the government, and I will have a few comments about what people have to say about it. Then I will come back to the bill and conclude.

As has been noted, Bill C-54 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to introduce or extend mandatory penalties for crimes against children of a sexual nature and to introduce two new offences. We support this legislation. We are very concerned about the safety of our children. We recognize that times are changing and there are different threats to our children than used to exist.

It was the former Liberal government in 2002 that made it illegal to deliberately access a website containing child pornography. In an age where new technologies have the negative effect of increasing access of our children, we need to be responsible and have a look at the Criminal Code to ensure it is up to date.

This bill would introduce mandatory minimum sentences for seven existing Criminal Code offences, including sexual assault on a person under 16 years of age, luring a child, and conducting an indecent act in the presence of a child. It would also increase mandatory sentences for seven sexual offences involving child victims.

I think generally members of the House are going to support this bill. I am not sure but I think the New Democrats and the Bloc are going to support sending the bill to committee. There is a legitimate concern, which I understand and in many ways share, about mandatory minimums. They are controversial. There is a lot of conflicting evidence as to whether mandatory minimums work.

We supported mandatory minimums as a government. The Liberal government brought in some mandatory minimums. We do not think they work in all cases, which I will get to later, but we think in this instance they are appropriate.

The Department of Justice has a family violence initiative website. Let me preface my comments by mentioning people who have come to my constituency office, as people go to the offices of all members, with their concerns. It is pretty disconcerting when they visit their MPs to say they think the law needs to be changed because of something that happened in their own families and then they provide the details of what happened to their children.

In many ways, we are powerless to help these folks. We want to reach out and help them. One way we can help them, of course, is by bringing their stories to Parliament to try to make sure the laws of the land respond to their concerns and the wishes they extend.

The family violence initiative website states:

The sexual abuse and exploitation of children and youth may involve a range of behaviours....Sexual exploitation may involve prostitution as well as making children and youth participate in pornographic acts or performances for personal or commercial use.

Those are fairly serious issues. The question is:

HOW WIDESPREAD IS SEXUAL ABUSE AND THE EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN CANADA?

Further on it states:

However, the available national data indicates that sexual abuse and exploitation of children and youth is disturbingly common in Canada.

It was not recognized as a problem in Canada until the 1984 Badgley report. All evidence we have indicates that this is a very serious issue.

As to the extent of sexual abuse and exploitation, in 2002, 8,800 sexual assaults against children and youth were reported to a subset of 94 police departments in Canada. This included 2,863 sexual assaults against children and youth by family members. This is pretty disturbing. Sexual abuse was the primary reason for investigation in 10% of all child maltreatment referrals to social service agencies.

There is some very good information in terms of types of sexual abuse. According to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, the most common form of substantiated child sexual abuse in child protection cases was touching and fondling of children. It goes on to talk about other things that are more graphic than that, which I probably do not need to recite here but which need to be brought to the attention of parliamentarians.

Who is doing these crimes? The perpetrators are more often individuals who know the victim rather than strangers. About half of sexual assaults against children and youth reported to a subset of police departments in 2002 involved friends or acquaintances, while a quarter of those assaults involved family members. About 18% involved assaults by strangers. Most but not all are male.

There is a bit of a pattern. We have some information that has been gathered over the years on who is committing these heinous acts against our children. What has been done about it? There have been a number of pieces of legislation that have been brought to this House, mainly by Liberal governments over the years.

Bill C-2, introduced October 8, 2004, proposing amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act that are intended to protect children and others who are vulnerable. It lists all the things that it did, expanding the scope of existing offences, narrowing the availability of statutory defences, composing the creation of new offences, voyeurism, proposes amendments allowing children and other vulnerable witnesses greater access to aids. I will mention a few of them.

Bill C-15A, proclaimed into force in July 2002, created new Criminal Code offences.

Bill C-7, which is the Youth Criminal Justice Act, replaced the Young Offenders Act. It holds young people accountable for their actions through interventions that are fair and in proportion to the seriousness of the offence committed.

Bill C-79, proclaimed in 1999, amends the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act to facilitate the participation of victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process.

I will not go through all of the bills, but they include: Bill C-27 in 1997; Bill C-46 in 1997; Bill C-41 in 1995; Bill C-42; Bill C-72; Bill C-126; Bill C-49; and Bill C-15. These are all relatively recent pieces of legislation that address the issue of sexual exploitation of children.

We have to accept the fact that there is a problem. Part of that is the changing technology, the changing way children communicate with other children and adults, and sometimes we do not even know who our children are communicating with. I am sure I am no different from any other parent in this place in that we try to keep an eye on those sorts of things. We want our children to be aware of what is happening around them.

We support this legislation. I want to put this in context of the greater criminal justice agenda of the government. Today, we have come together. I think all four parties are speeding up the process so that we can deal with this bill and get it to the Senate so that it can be adopted. The Minister of Justice no doubt is very appreciative of the support of all parties so that we can get this done. However, he has not always been so appreciative of the support of the Liberal Party.

One of my favourite letters that I have seen, and I am sure the minister has had a chance to look at it extensively, is one from February 4 of last year. Senator Cowan sent a very affectionate letter to the Minister of Justice responding to concerns the government had that the Senate was holding up all kinds of legislation. I wonder if the minister remembers that letter.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Oh, I remember that. We had a lot of trouble with it.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

This very good letter outlines some facts. It said:

I was puzzled to read reports in which you defended the latest Senate appointments as necessary to allow your Government “to move forward on [y]our tackling-crime agenda.” You accused the Liberal opposition of having “obstructed that agenda in the Senate.”

If members knew Senator Cowan as I do, they would know that he always assumed the most purest of motives about anybody. He said:

I can only assume that you have been misinformed as to the progress of anti-crime legislation. In fact, as I am sure your Cabinet colleague, Senator Marjory LeBreton, would tell you, the overwhelming majority of your Government’s anti-crime bills had not even reached the Senate when [the] Prime Minister...chose to prorogue Parliament. Indeed, an honest examination of the record compels one to acknowledge that the greatest delays to implementation of your justice agenda have resulted from your own Government’s actions--sitting on bills and not bringing them forward for debate, delaying bringing legislation into force, and ultimately, of course, proroguing Parliament. That action alone caused some 18 of your justice-related bills to die on the Order Paper.

He goes on in his helpful way to further enunciate the status of those bills. He says:

Your Government introduced 19 justice-related bills in the House of Commons. Of these, 14 were still in the House of Commons at prorogation. Of the five justice bills that passed the House of Commons and came to the Senate:

two passed the Senate without amendment;

one (the so-called Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime bill) was tabled by your Government in November in the Senate but not brought forward for further action after that;

one was passed with four amendments and returned to the House of Commons which did not deal with it before Parliament was prorogued; and

one was being studied in committee when Parliament was prorogued and all committee work shut down.

He goes into a bit more detail on exactly what happened with the government's alleged tough on crime agenda.

There have been a number of initiatives and we have been supportive of just about all of those bills. However, we have had concerns because some of the bills have come to us with very little or misleading information. I think about what we could do for the health of our children. One of those, in fairness to the minister, is to deal with it in the way that Bill C-54 would.

When we look at any societal problem, we need to do two things. We need to ask if there are regulations in place that ensure we are protecting our children from being exploited or hurt in this manner. There not only needs to be a legislative response but also a response that looks at the causes of the issue that we are trying to prevent.

If we could invest more money in the boys and girls clubs, we would need less prisons. If we could invest more money in early learning and child care, we would need less prisons. The studies on the impact of early learning and child care on criminal behaviour are absolutely amazing. If we want to reduce the amount of money that we need to spend on prisons, then we should invest in reducing poverty.

Just this week, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development snuck in a totally inadequate response to a poverty report done by all members of this House, including members of her own party. We have heard from people like Don Drummond and just about every social policy organization, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. We have seen the impact that can be made on reducing criminal justice by investing in reducing poverty. We would see huge reductions in health costs as well. A report organized by the food banks in Ontario, which Don Drummond was part of, said that by reducing poverty we would reduce criminal justice costs in Ontario alone by some $600 million in a year.

We are on a failed course in terms of criminal justice. Those who the government emulates on criminal justice, who are the hard right Republicans in the United States, have had an epiphany, a change of course.

Newt Gingrich, who will be running for president in 2012, was one of the architects of this new tough on crime agenda. It was part of the contract with America in, I believe, 1994. The Americans were saying that they needed to invest in prisons, that they needed to spend money on our prisons, that they needed to put people behind bars because that is how to deal with these situations.

On January 7, 2011, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “Prison reform: A smart way for states to save money and lives”. This is an amazing document that repudiates the alleged tough on crime agenda of the eighties and nineties that put so many Americans behind bars. The article reads:

There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections--300% more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but...half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.

That is a pretty powerful statement.

What Mr. Gingrich is calling for is a Conservative response to what the Conservatives caused in the last two or three decades with this “tough on crime” approach, which has not reduced crime. In fact, the article goes on to say:

Some people attribute [this] to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime...some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety. Americans need to know that we can reform our prison systems to cost less and keep the public safe.

Asa Hutchinson was quoted recently in the Globe and Mail on March 3 talking about these same issues. Part of that article reported that:

Because of tough criminal justice policies in the United States, one in every 100 American adults is behind bars--up from one in 400....

Mr. Hutchinson was also stated:

The United States has five per cent of the world’s population but 23 per cent of the world’s recorded prisoners.

That was an admission that there was a failed policy brought into the United States to jail more people and spend more money on prisons. The problem is that it did not reduce crime, but it cost a lot of money. We know the condition of the American economy and the situation that it is in.

The case is very clear. In all cases, throwing more money into prisons and locking more people up does not work. We are not be looking at the causes of crime and the root issues that create criminal intent in our young people. We are not investing in early learning and child care. We are not doing very much to equalize out the opportunity. It does not need to be all kinds of government spending. It could be targeted support for our wonderful Boys and Girls Club.

Tomorrow I will be bowling in Halifax for the Big Brothers Big Sisters. Let us think about the work it does to reduce crime in our communities and the work it does to mentor young Canadians so they do not, as a first instinct, think about becoming a criminal but instead think about the dignity and self-worth they have as individuals. Those are the kinds of things we should be investing more in if we are going to be reducing crime.

I appreciate the minister's indulgence in being here for the discussion on this debate. I commend him on this bill but, overall, I think the justice agenda of the government is taking us in a wrong direction. We cannot even get the exact costs of what the government is proposing in terms of building these mega prisons. It seems that building more prisons is the Conservatives' answer to a national housing strategy but it is not. If we want to keep people out of prison, one way to start is to ensure people have a roof over their heads when they go to sleep at night. We need to provide those kinds of supports that Canadians need.

I am pleased to support this bill. Our Liberal critic, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, has worked very hard on these issues and will also support the bill. It is a sensible bill under the circumstances. We worry about our kids and we want to give them all the tools they need to be happy, healthy and productive adults. From a government point of view, there is a responsibility on us as legislators to recognize that the world is changing.

I support Bill C-54 and I urge other members to do the same.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-54, which pertains to minimum sentences for sexual offences against children. This bill would amend the Criminal Code.

On March 22, my grandson will be 18 months old. Grandparents are always proud of their grandchildren. There are grandparents who are watching today and I know that they are proud of their grandchildren. I cannot remain unmoved by a bill introduced in Parliament that pertains to minimum sentences for sexual offences against children. If anyone touched my grandson, I would have difficulty abiding by the law; however, I would, as all citizens are obliged to do.

Bill C-54, which is well-intentioned, must be examined. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill at this stage and feels it should be sent to committee. When it is reviewed in committee, we can ask witnesses questions. The fight against crime is of the utmost importance, particularly when children are the victims. However, it must be said that, in Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, the crime rate has been declining for the past 15 years or so. The measures set out in Bill C-54 warrant our attention. This bill creates new offences and imposes new restrictions on offenders. However, the bill also provides for minimum sentences.

We must hear from legal experts on the matter. When the Conservatives introduce crime bills, they do so to satisfy their own ideology rather than to improve society. They have that annoying tendency of trying to do what the justice system should do. When minimum penalties are brought in, we tell the judges what they have to do. Our parents and grandparents passed on a legacy of the rule of law and a justice system in which judges look at offences on a case-by-case basis and assign penalties in accordance with precedents that have been developed over years. In short, looking at case law means looking at what has happened in the past and giving similar penalties for similar crimes, so that justice is balanced.

When minimum penalties are brought in, it changes this balance that was passed on to us by our parents and grandparents. I am a grandfather to a boy who will be 18 months on March 22, and I would not want to leave him a justice system that completely disregards our history and the foundation of our society.

The Bloc Québécois is generally in favour of the principle of sending a bill to be studied in committee. There, we can hear from witnesses and make any necessary amendments to the bill. The purpose is that when the bill is passed, it helps develop society. The sole objective should not be to replace the justice system that was passed down to us by our parents and grandparents with the new system that the Conservatives and their ideology are trying to impose.

Quebeckers and people from the rest of Canada can trust the Bloc Québécois to maintain that balance. We have always done so in the House and we will continue to do so. The principle of the bill is very interesting and we want to develop it and discuss it.

The bill would create two new offences. The first offence would prohibit anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child. This hybrid offence would carry a mandatory prison sentence of 30 days imprisonment and a maximum penalty of six months or a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days.

The second offence would prohibit anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree or to make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child. This provision was part of former Bill C-46, which was introduced in the previous parliamentary session but was not passed because of the last election.

The Bloc's goal is to help society evolve. This bill would prohibit the use of telecommunications. Our parents knew nothing about these kinds of things. I am getting older, and my father never saw such things, nor did my grandparents. Laws need to be adapted, and I think this is a step in the right direction. Once again, at this stage in the discussions surrounding Bill C-54, the Bloc Québécois will support the bill.

Next, we need to proceed with this bill so that the legal and criminal aspects of our society, passed down by our parents and grandparents, will evolve and be more suitable for our grandchildren. That is the challenge that the Bloc Québécois has taken on. We will bring the necessary witnesses forward and we, along with the other parties, will try to move this bill forward to achieve the final goal of helping society move in a positive direction and not towards a right-wing conservative ideology as has happened with the U.S. Republicans and in totalitarian societies in the world. There needs to be a balance, and that is what the Bloc is here for.

At this stage, the government can count on the Bloc's support.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-54 today. I know my hon. colleague, the member for Niagara Falls, the Minister of Justice, and I lived through a horrific period of time a number of years ago, with Paul Bernardo and the luring of who were then ostensibly children. He and I have intimate knowledge of that, living in the area at that time and knowing the consequences of the actions of that couple.

The minister knows that I was more than pleased to work with the Minister of Public Safety to ensure that one of the perpetrators, Karla Homolka, did not receive a pardon, when she came to the end of her sentence. I was extremely pleased to work with the government. I thank the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice for their work with me to ensure it did not happen. It was immensely important, not just for the people who live in Niagara where those heinous crimes were committed, but for all Canadians across this land who believed that justice would not be served if it happened.

When we talk about child luring for the purposes of sexual exploitation, all of us in the House agree it has to be one of the most repulsive and heinous acts committed against the most vulnerable and cherished in our society, our little ones. As the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said earlier, whether we have little ones or not, we must protect them. As my mother always says to me, I am always her little one. I am not sure how that happens with my size and age, but I guess I am always her son. I have a son who is six foot five, but he is still my little guy and he always will be.

There is no greater thing in this world that we can do than protect those little ones. No matter how old they get, they are always our little ones and we want to protect them. That should be, by extension, not just for family but out across the broader community, across this province, across the country and around the world. They are the folks we cherish most. They are put in situations where they are vulnerable and we cannot allow folks, who have the wherewithal, to make decisions to go ahead and try to lure those little ones.

The New Democrats actually brought forward a bill on child luring through the act of using communications as various methods. In fact, I congratulate my good friend and colleague Dawn Black who has now moved on to British Columbia's legislature. She initially put two bills before the House to deal with this very subject.

I want to congratulate the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam who has taken them on himself to ensure that the work started by Dawn continues to go forward. That is how we feel in this party about the importance of it and how we ensure we protect our little ones.

Also, I give a great deal of thanks for our member for Windsor—Tecumseh who is our critic for justice. He gives yeoman work when it comes to debating the bills and ensuring they are crafted in such a way when they get to committee, with amendments and good questions, and calling good witnesses. It was in second reading that my friend from Windsor—Tecumseh said that part of the failings of the initial part of the bill was around the sense of what was “telecommunications”. He highlighted the point that the definition was too narrow when it came to telecommunications.

As many of us know, the art form of telecommunications moves at a horrendous speed, which makes it very difficult for us to keep up. Modern telecommunications could be yesterday's telecommunications within less than a year or even months in some cases. He has pushed for that, and I am sure he would want let the minister know that the committee has broadened the sense of what “telecommunications” is and what “communications for child luring” is. He has made it more accessible and not a narrow definition but a broad one. Therefore, we will not have folks escaping the very net we are casting to catch those who would lure our children for sexual exploitation.

All of us believe they need to be punished. I do not believe anyone would say they should not be. We need to find ways to not only to reduce what happens to our young people, but to find ways to stop it.

What do we want to see happen? I believe the bill accomplishes a fair amount, but it unfortunately leaves parts out. My friend for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour articulated issues around poverty and the things that we ought to do that might be helpful at the preventative level so we would not see young people get lured and then engaged after the fact.

Part of the aspect that is missing is this sense of how we treat those offenders. As I read through the committee transcript, there were some eminently qualified witnesses, psychiatrists and psychologists, who talked about the types of offenders who committed and perpetrated these crimes. They are not exactly as we think they might be. The witnesses explained that they fell into three different categories. It is not for me to try to explain it because they are the experts. They quantified the numbers included in there. For one category of offenders, there was great hope that with certain forms of treatment, there was the possibility that they would not reoffend, and the treatment would be successful.

Therefore, the sense is not that they should not be apprehended and punished. They should be. However, we do not want to just simply end it with that and allow them back out to reoffend. If they do reoffend, it is not simply a question of saying that because they have reoffended, we will put them back in jail to punish them again. The person who has really suffered the greatest is that child. Accordingly, if we can catch the perpetrators and find ways to get them into treatment, and experts have told us there are ways to do this in the vast majority of cases, hopefully when they get out, they will not reoffend. That would set us on a path to reducing child luring, child exploitation and child molestation. However, to send them back out to reoffend does not make any sense.

I hope the minister and the government will look at this and decide that perhaps they ought to spend a few dollars to do that.

Let me be abundantly clear that all New Democrats feel revulsion when it comes to child luring and child exploitation. All of us want to put an end to it to ensure our children are protected.

Therefore, for all of the above reasons, we will support the bill as it goes forward. We have heard that from my other colleagues in the House. Let us put an end to the exploitation of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities, our families and across our country. It is our obligation to do so and we take that obligation seriously.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today on behalf of this. I hope, once and for all, some day in the not too distant future, we will not have to talk about a subject like this again because we have put ourselves on the road to ensure it will not happen to our most vulnerable.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

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

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 1:30 p.m.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Shall I see the clock at 1:30 p.m.?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans).

Before I tell members of the House what the bill does, let me them what it does not do. First, it is not about pensions. It is about long-term disability, LTD, and that only.

Second, the bill is not about Nortel, although that situation precipitated the bill. It is about the over one million employees in Canada who can be affected now and in the future if they find themselves in similar circumstances with respect to LTD plans.

The purpose of the bill is straightforward. It is to protect employees on long-term disability, but while its focus is narrow, it speaks to larger issues, of fairness, justice and respect.

It aims to correct a situation that leaves the most vulnerable of our workers in the most desperate of straits and reaffirms the simple principle that people who pay their dues and play by the rules have the right to expect that they will receive what was promised to them.

At the moment, approximately 1.1 million employees in Canada have disability benefits that are self-insured by their employers. If a company with self-funded long-term disability benefits goes bankrupt, its employees who depend on these benefits, are given the same standing as an unsecured creditor. When a company goes bankrupt, they should be first in line.

In 2001, Amy Stahlke in Benefits Canada magazine wrote about the impending problem. She said:

In Canada, there has been little regulation of self-insured plans. There is no requirement that employers set aside adequate reserves to cover future liabilities arising from these plans. If reserves are set aside, there is no restriction on how those funds are invested. There is also no obligation to keep funds in trust to protect them from creditors. This means that a bankruptcy could spell the end of the benefits plan, including benefits for individuals already on disability.

Employees who are disabled, who cannot work, should not be shunted aside. Their needs are not over when their employer goes under. They still need their medication. They still need treatment. They still need rehabilitation. They still need all of the things that their long-term disability would have helped to provide.

The bill proposes to protect these beneficiaries under long-term disability plans by granting them preferred status. By bringing LTD claimants to preferred status, employees are more likely to get their full benefit coverage up to age 65 to be able to pay their medical bills and continue, which is very important, to live outside of poverty.

Some may have concerns about the cost, the impact it might have on credit markets and about the overall competitiveness of our businesses, but when we look at the evidence we see that not only can this be done but that many countries around the world are already doing it.

Thirty-four of the 54 countries studied by the OECD and the World Bank already have either super-priority or preferred status for employee claims in their bankruptcy laws, so 34 of 54 countries have better laws than we do, and that is for all pension claims, not just long-term disability. They have properly functioning credit markets and are still competitive with these in place, so the two are not incompatible. We can protect our most vulnerable employees and retain dynamic credit markets and stay competitive. We can do both. Other countries do and it has given stability for these people and these companies.

Also, at least 12 countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, require the payment of insurance premiums by their corporations to fund their public pension plans and disability income guaranty insurance programs.

The United Kingdom system goes even further. In 2004, it enacted the pension protection fund that states that if an insolvent company's long-term disability fund has been underfunded, the government will compensate the scheme to protect employees. The government backs it, but the government is not going to have to put in one red cent in what I am proposing.

Employees are therefore protected before an employer goes bankrupt because the government requires their company to fund the LTD funds. If there is a shortfall, the government will step in to cover it. In essence, the most vulnerable will be protected.

Even our friends south of the border in the United States, LTD employees have disability protection for pensioners through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Also, employees have legal recourse to go after LTD benefits after bankruptcy provided by their federal employee retirement income security act legislation. There is no such avenue here in Canada. They even have better protection in the states than we have in our country. They also have a more generous social security disability program, which pays more than twice what CPP disability pays the disabled in Canada. It is unbelievable that we treat sick employees this way.

Nowhere is the inequity of the present situation more starkly illustrated than in the case of the Nortel workers who live right outside Ottawa and in the surrounding areas. As that company goes about the business of divvying up its assets, over 400 of its employees on long-term disability are being cast aside.

Currently, the bankruptcy court has accepted an agreement for the dissolution of Nortel's health and welfare trust, pretty well taking it off the hook. The trust was set up to fund life insurance, long-term disability and other benefits for 18,000 Nortel workers. That fund has been underfunded for years and holds only 35% of the assets necessary to fund its obligations to all employees. This is a dire situation for Nortel's long-term disability employees whose average age is 54 years and may need benefits for many years to come.

I am going to tell a story about a lady who came to my office. She is not from my riding. She is from the riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. It is a very sad story. It is a story about Josée Marin. She was a lab technologist at Nortel and a single mom. She had been on long-term disability since 2002. She suffers from Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, and scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune disorder. She is in rough shape.

This is how bad it is. Under this agreement, because of the chronic underfunding of the trust by Nortel, Josée will see her monthly average benefit which she received on long-term disability go from $2,143 to $433. Effectively, she will be receiving only 20% of the income replacement benefit she has been receiving since she became disabled.

To make matters worse, Josée also faces high health care costs which were paid through her medical benefits. No more. These benefits ran out in January of this year, which adds a significant burden. The Conservatives could have made it right. This bill was in the other place and it had a chance to make this right. She could still be receiving benefits.

What will happen, of course, is that employees like Josée will increasingly turn to social assistance and make greater use of social services. One could say that is what they are there for, but people will have to make heart-wrenching decisions because there is not enough money to live and pay medical expenses. They will have to make heart-wrenching decisions on whether to buy medication or food for their families, to get treatment for their illnesses or to pay rent. Those are the decisions they are faced with after working many years.

Effectively, Nortel will have downloaded these costs onto taxpayers while the company walks away from its responsibilities.

Josée does not want to become a burden to the taxpayer or to her family. She just wants to be able to live the remaining years of her life in dignity, or as she has starkly stated:

I want to die in the comfort of my home, not in my car or on the street.

That is a pretty strong statement.

Nortel employees are not alone. Long-term disability workers from Pacific Newspaper Group, which is owned by CanWest faced this uncertainty last year. Thank goodness CanWest survived the bankruptcy. However, if the situation had led to liquidation, as in Nortel's case, those employees would have seen their benefits cut off as well.

This problem is not new. We have seen this kind of thing play out before. In 1988, when Massey Combines Corp. went into receivership, 350 employees saw their disability payments vanish, gone. Ten years later, the bankruptcy of Eaton's resulted in hundreds more being left without benefits. Everybody else is getting their money, but not the people on long-term disability.

Long-term disability is based on a simple bargain, if workers pay the fees, they will be covered should anything happen that makes it impossible for them to work. That is what it is all about. It is very simple.

In the case of Nortel and others, that bargain has been broken. In the future, if no action is taken, similar bargains can be broken again and again. As I said, one million workers in this country could be under this threat and taxpayers will have to pick up the costs.

The bill before the House today attempts to end this practice. It declares in no uncertain terms, that promising long-term support and making short-term decisions that leave those promises in tatters is not just a matter of liabilities that are unfunded, it is a matter of practices that are unfair, unjust and unacceptable.

This bill will not only bring a greater degree of fairness in the bankruptcy process, but will help protect some of our most vulnerable citizens now and in the future or, as Josée Marin said:

These changes to the bankruptcy act are about human decency. They ensure a situation like the one I have been through for the last year never happens to any critically ill or disabled worker ever again.

As I am wrapping up here, this reminds me of a couple of years ago when I introduced a bill in the House for employees who get sick. Right now there is only 15 weeks unemployment. My bill, at that time, would have given them a full year of unemployment.

Across the floor, the Conservative government quashed it. It was a really sad thing. Not only opposition members believed in that bill, many of the MPs across the way believed in it. They had people coming to their offices. I have a list of all the ridings around Ottawa where the Nortel workers had visited MPs, of all stripes, especially the Conservatives. They came into the offices with tears in their eyes, wondering how they were going to pay their medical bills.

There is no need of it. There is no need of it in today's society. There is no need for this to happen. There is no need for a wealthy country like ours, or countries that are rich, where everybody takes off with the money and people cannot pay their medical bills. They are going to be dying in their cars. They are going to be dying on the streets. And it is because we are not planning any action here. It is a sad what happened in the other House, but we cannot let it happen here.

I urge all members in the House to vote for this bill. It is the right thing to do. We are very fortunate, the 308 of us here. We have a good job. We represent people. We have a pension. We are going to be taken care of if we have medical problems. Our families are going to be taken care of.

People are not being taken care of. Other countries are doing it. We are not doing it. Why are we not doing it? Why are we letting this happen when these companies go bankrupt? Why should these people not be the first up to get their money?

It shows meanness. We do not have to be like that. I want my Conservative colleagues to really think about this over the break week. I want them to go back and check with the people who do case work in their ridings. Check and see the situation. It is not just Nortel. There are companies right across Canada that are having this problem.

I will ask everybody to support this bill. It is the right thing for us to do. This situation makes a mockery of our country when we do not take care of the people who need help.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my hon. colleague across the way who spoke well on this subject but he somehow wants to put all the blame for this tragic situation on the government side of the House.

He has introduced a private member's bill, which I think he serious about. He wants to help solve a difficult issue facing Nortel pensioners. I do not disagree that they are facing a difficult situation.

However, this falls under provincial jurisdiction and it is the province's responsibility to fix this very difficult and tragic issue that affects the lives of many individuals. I would like an answer from the member but I do not want to hear about what the government has not done. I would like to know if he has talked to his provincial Liberal colleagues in Ontario and asked them to fix this tragic situation and help the individuals involved?

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Nova Scotia, who was an employer and an employee, knows what this is all about. He has bounced this back on to the province. We are talking about the bankruptcy act, which is a federal act, not a provincial one.

These people will be downloaded onto the province and they will expect the province to take care of them but the province does not have enough money to take care of them.

This issue has nothing to do with the province. This involves the federal bankruptcy act and we have the power in this House to make it happen.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I recall when the member's private member's bill to extend EI sickness benefits to 50 weeks came to the committee that I was on and everybody supported it.

This bill that we are debating today died in the Senate. The member may recall the circumstances. It was the night that the Prime Minister was singing to his colleagues in the hall. However, enough Conservative senators snuck away from the bar and the merriment to kill the member's hopes and dreams in a vote in the Senate that night.

Is that the way legislation should be dealt with in either Houses of this Parliament?

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour works hard on the needs of downtrodden people. He follows his dad's example.

It was a shame what happened that night. I cannot believe the Conservatives can live with their conscience. If these disabled workers were standing near the party the Conservatives were having or stood in front of the Senate that night--

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

An hon. member

If they were able to.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Exactly. If they were able to. Point well taken.

I have had some of these people come into my office with tears in their eyes. Families are breaking up. They have nothing. They are going to be living in their cars.

For that to happen that night, and for this to continue to happen here, is just a disgrace and we need to do something about it.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, today I welcome the opportunity to speak to a private member's bill, Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans), which was introduced by our esteemed colleague on February 11, 2011.

Bill C-624 proposes to amend Canada's insolvency laws. In particular, the bill would change the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to provide long term disability claims with a preferred claim in bankruptcy. This would mean that long term disability claims would be paid after secured creditors.

Furthermore, the bill proposes to amend the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to rank long term disability claims as a super-priority in restructuring, meaning that they would be paid ahead of secured creditors.

Last, the transitional provisions in the bill indicate that the amendments would be retroactive, in other words that they would apply to insolvency proceedings that were commenced prior to the coming into force of these bills.

Bill C-624 is essentially the same as Senator Eggleton's Bill S-216, which was reviewed by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. The committee heard from several experts on the possible effects of prioritizing long-term disability claims and these concerns remain relevant for Bill C-624.

After weighing the evidence, the committee concluded that Bill S-216 could generate claims that conflict with court-approved settlement agreements already in force, resulting in litigation that would be detrimental to the interests of long-term disability claimants, including the former employees of Nortel.

Second, the bill would cause companies to prefer liquidation to restructuring because it would confer lower status to long-term disability benefits in liquidations than the super-priority gives to similar claims in restructuring.

Third, the bill would reduce the amount that some creditors would otherwise hope to recover in bankruptcy proceedings, therefore increasing risk for investors and resulting in a higher cost of credit.

For those reasons, the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce concluded that Bill S-216 would be detrimental to the growth of the Canadian economy. This is why the committee reported back to the Senate with the recommendation that Bill S-216 not be proceeded with further. The Senate adopted the report.

The Senate committee's recommendation is in keeping with practices from Canada's major trading partners, none of which provide a higher priority for future long term disability claims in insolvency. In fact, neither the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Australia provide a higher priority than Canada does to cover future long-term disability benefits payable after an employer becomes insolvent.

In many instances, insolvency legislation is not the best tool to better protect employees because, once a company is insolvent, it is already too late. By definition, an insolvent company does not have sufficient moneys to completely pay the claims of all creditors. Moreover, insolvency law is an economic framework legislation that has broad implications for Canada's economy, including economic growth and job creation. Any changes to the established priorities need to be carefully considered, as they could harm businesses and the economy through higher cost of capital.

That said, this government has taken action to better protect workers. In 2008-09, the government amended insolvency legislation to create a super-priority for outstanding normal pension contributions, such that these amounts are paid ahead of secured creditors. This government also created the wage-earner protection program in 2008, which pays up to $3,400 for unpaid wages for employees whose employer becomes bankrupt or subject to a receivership. In 2009, the government expanded the wage-earner protection program to better protect employees' severance and termination pay.

Furthermore, in the spring of 2009, the government engaged in a national consultation on the legislative and regulatory framework for federally regulated private pension plans. As a result of that consultation, the government announced in October 2009 an important reform plan to modernize the federal private pension legislative and regulatory framework.

Last, the government has undertaken a very serious and public discussion with Canadians on retirement income adequacy and security. A joint federal–provincial–territorial research working group was established with respected academic Dr. Jack Mintz as director of research. Based on the working group's findings, finance ministers agreed in December 2010 on a framework for defined contribution pooled registered pension plans and to continue work on options to improve the Canada pension plan, as well as to review the task force on the financial literacy's report, which is scheduled for release shortly, and to respond to the recommendations.

I understand that Bill C-624 was introduced in hopes of providing assistance to former Nortel employees whose long-term disability benefits ceased on December 31, 2010 as a result of a court-approved settlement agreement. However, as the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce heard, these amendments would not really help, but instead lead to lengthy and costly litigation, which would be detrimental to the interests of long-term disability claimants, including the former employees of Nortel.

The government understands and is very sympathetic to the challenges that Nortel's long-term disability beneficiaries are facing through no fault of their own. However, it should be noted that the hardship they are facing is primarily due to the fact that Nortel chose to self-fund its long-term disability benefit obligations rather than to purchase insurance.

Long-term disability plans are largely a provincial issue and, therefore, provinces are really better placed to look at developing a regulatory framework that would prevent this type of situation from repeating itself. Amending Canada's insolvency laws is absolutely not the right way to protect workers and, doing so, would have negative consequences for businesses and the economy as a whole. That is not in the interests of Canadian business, not in the interests of Canadian workers and certainly not in the interests of Canadian pensioners.

I welcome any input that any member from any party in the House has in terms of finding a solution to this difficult issue.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here this afternoon to speak to Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans).

This bill amends the existing legislation in order that, in bankruptcy proceedings, the status of a preferred claim be conferred to the liabilities of the fund established for the purpose of a long term disability benefits plan and that such fund be used to continue the payment of benefits to the beneficiaries.

This bill was introduced in response to the situation facing former Nortel employees with disabilities, as my colleagues said earlier. Indeed, I would like to remind the House of the sad story involving these employees, whose disability benefits have all but disappeared. On December 31, 2010, nearly two years after seeking bankruptcy protection, Nortel emptied its health and welfare trust and cut off 360 people with disabilities, including over 50 Quebeckers. Like many large corporations, Nortel provided its employees with disability insurance. Those employees also had the option to pay higher premiums for better coverage. The employees with disabilities who paid their premiums to SunLife thought they were properly insured. The employees learned the hard way that Nortel was responsible for guaranteeing the disability benefits out of its own funds. SunLife simply managed the program.

By seeking protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in January 2009, Nortel stopped putting aside money for its employees with disabilities. So, with Nortel's bankruptcy, people with hefty medical expenses lost a huge portion of their income. These people are desperate and are, by far, the most vulnerable of Nortel's creditors, since they have lost 90% of their benefits.

The group advocating for Nortel employees with disabilities has provided appalling statistics on the poverty inflicted on these people in early 2011. Under the final settlement, they receive an annual amount representing 27% to 33% of what they previously received. In concrete terms, this means that average income of $30,900 was reduced to $13,600 in early 2011. As for those who made optional disability insurance contributions, they saw their income fall from $43,300 to $16,900 a year.

Those not receiving disability benefits under the Canada pension plan, because they have never applied or do not meet the criteria for disability as defined by the Canada pension plan, are even worse off: their average income has dropped from $30,900 to $6,500 a year.

Suffering from mental illness, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses, these people are in an untenable position. Furthermore, the 360 people laid off in December have 160 children.They have families to support and medical expenses to pay.

Nortel's long-term disability plan was administered by Nortel's health and welfare trust, and funded quarterly by Nortel's general revenues. When the company went bankrupt, the health trust was no longer able to meet its commitments to disabled employees.

Two problems surfaced. On the one hand, in the event of bankruptcy, recipients of disability benefits are considered to be unsecured creditors, just like suppliers or bondholders. Given that Nortel found itself in a position where it was unable to meet its obligations towards all creditors, unsecured creditors were severely penalized.

When Nortel became insolvent, monthly benefits provided to employees on long-term disability were categorized as unsecured claims.

On the other hand, disabled Nortel workers appear to be the victims of misrepresentation. They believed that their disability benefits were guaranteed by Sun Life. Evidently, they believed they were insured by Sun Life. In fact, Nortel's disability plan was self-insured, and not backed by an insurance company.

In light of this tragic state of affairs, many employees with disabilities have asked that the bankruptcy laws be revised to ensure that disabled employees become secured creditors in the event of bankruptcy.

The bill has just one goal and that is to confer the status of a preferred claim to disability benefits plans in the event of bankruptcy or restructuring. An estimated 1.1 million people receive disability benefits in Canada through a self-insured plan. Currently, if their employer declares bankruptcy, they are considered ordinary creditors. If Bill C-624 passes, their disability benefits will be protected.

The Bloc Québécois feels that above all, we must ensure that these types of situations never happen again. More specifically, employees who are part of a self-insured disability plan should be informed of all the terms and conditions. In that vein, an obligation of transparency, like the one in Ontario and in Alberta, could be imposed on all self-insured plans under federal jurisdiction. If that requirement is not met, the officers could be held personally liable, as is the case for source deductions.

The Bloc Québécois proposes requiring all self-insured plans under federal jurisdiction to be drafted in very clear terms. The Bloc Québécois also proposes considering the feasibility of regulating self-insured plans more in order to better protect the insured. At the same time, and because there is still a risk that disabled employees will be wronged, it is necessary to ensure that in the event of bankruptcy, they are among the first to be paid, therefore before banks and not after.

We support Bill C-624 in principle, mainly because disability benefits are usually more important for people with disabilities than loans are for banks. Unlike financial institutions, people with disabilities do not have the same capacity to absorb a loss of income. People with disabilities generally do not have any way to protect themselves when their employer experiences financial difficulties. It is also difficult for an employee to assess the risks of working for a given company, particularly in cases where there is a risk of misrepresentation, for example, the case of a self-insurance plan.

For all of these reasons, the demands of former Nortel employees with disabilities must be heard. They have significant medical bills to pay and have very few resources for dealing with the situation facing them. We have to act quickly to help these people. Canadian bankruptcy laws are not fair to people with disabilities. Changes must be made quickly and the Conservative government has the responsibility to take immediate concrete action to remedy this situation. It is a question of justice and dignity. The Bloc Québécois therefore supports the idea of granting people with disabilities preferred creditor status.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to make a few comments on Bill C-624.

Everything we do and say in this place is about choices and the kinds of choices we can make. The bill deals with a group of people who do not have a choice. What we and the hon. member are asking is that we help to make good choices on their behalf. Bill C-624 is a good choice.

We do not always make good choices, and I will give a good example.

I was hoping to rise earlier today to talk about funding for first nations police forces and the fact that the government was cutting 19% from these police forces. They already are sorely underfunded. How can the government increase funding for other public safety concerns, but decrease funding for first nations police forces.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with Chief Chum, the Nishnawbe Aski Police Chief, and Stan Beardy, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, on the concerns they had for the safety of the people they policed. I guess it is that kind of choice we are faced with here today.

First, the bill is most welcome. Disabled workers deserve to be at the front of the line. If a company goes under, they deserve to be ahead of pensioners. They certainly deserve to be ahead of banks and other secured creditors. It is only fair.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of Diane and Hugh Urquhart who have done tremendous work in this Nortel case and in lobbying parliamentarians to reform bankruptcy laws to make them more just. The hon. member spoke about justice and fairness, and that is exactly what this is. Hugh and Diane should be commended for their tireless effort on this front.

The reason I say that disabled workers deserve to be at the very front of the line when a company goes bankrupt is because they are more vulnerable than any other group. They are fewer in number, have more limited options, sometimes no options at all, for finding work or gaining access to medical benefits after the bankruptcy.

In Nortel's case, with its tens of thousands of workers worldwide, we are talking somewhere around 400 disabled workers. This is not a large number when the whole workforce is considered. To extrapolate the number of employees that may be on long-term disability to other companies entering bankruptcy, I am sure we would see we are not talking about a lot of workers. We are not talking about a lot of people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in a situation where they are on long-term disability.

Once they are no longer on long-term disability, medicine and medical care can cost thousands of dollars per month. In some cases, much more than that. With cutbacks in the amount of medical coverage by provinces, the expense of obtaining certain care will fall on the person who has a long-term disability.

How can someone who is severely disabled, who cannot work and cannot afford $2,000, $3,000 a month or more, pay for their monthly medical care? The answer is they cannot. In the case of disabled workers at companies with medical plans, they should not have to.

The bill is necessary because it will save and extend lives. For that reason alone, we should move the bill through the system quickly

It comes at no cost to the federal government, no cost to taxpayers and very little expense to corporate bond holders and those with other secured debt claims.

The parliamentary secretary talked about companies deciding to go bankrupt instead of restructuring, implying that investors would no longer want to invest in companies if they had long-term disability liability. It is completely wrong. In fact, I think we will see that Canadians and other investors will invest in Canadian companies for the same reasons they always have if this bill passes.

They will continue to invest because they have good owners or good management. They have a great product and a great future. Those are the reasons why people invest in companies, not because they have long-term disability plans that they may be liable for as a secured debt should they go bankrupt.

The parliamentary secretary also talked about the WEP program, the wage earner protection program. I would like to quickly relate a story about that. He was touting it as the be-all and end-all of something the government has done. Buchanan Forest Products in my riding has gone bankrupt and many of the people, for reasons unknown to me, have been coming to my office and thanking me for sending them to WEP, except that for some reason they do not qualify. The wage earner protection program does not cover everyone, apparently.

Having said that, let me say that I was very proud to work in committee with the parliamentary secretary. He was honest, forthright and a great help to a rookie like myself in that committee. However, I think his comments are misguided.

I believe that disabled workers must receive their benefits for the rest of their lives when a company enters bankruptcy. As such, I fully support this bill and urge all of my colleagues in this place to do the same.

I would like to reiterate the concept of justice and fairness. It may not seem like it, but we have come a long way in this session. When I first entered this place, there was no talk about severance pay when companies go bankrupt, pensions or long-term disability. It is on everybody's radar in this place and, in fact, right across this country. That is a good thing. Canadians are talking about what happens when companies go bankrupt.

In closing, I would like to state again how important this bill is, how important it is that we all support it and that all of us get together with the opportunity we now have to pass this bill quickly.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-624 brought forward by my colleague and my friend from Sydney—Victoria.

The member has a history of standing up for people who need help. His bill on extending employment insurance sick benefits from 15 to 50 weeks was a very well crafted piece of legislation as well. It passed through the House and went to committee where we heard from a number of stakeholders who said this is exactly what is needed. The bill passed at committee and came back to the House. It needed a royal recommendation which the government refused to give.

The member has done his homework, as he always does. He stands up for people who need help, whether it was getting money for the tar ponds, or whether it was forcing the government to come forward with money for the dredging of Sydney Harbour. He has always done the work. He has led the way, and I am sure he will do that for many years to come in this place.

Bill C-624 would protect beneficiaries under long-term disability plans by giving them preferred status. As my colleague said, this is not about pensions. This is about long-term disability. My NDP colleague who just spoke mentioned the Urquharts and the work that they have done.

I had the opportunity to meet with Nortel workers in my office. It is a very sobering experience to sit in an office with a number of people who have multiple sclerosis, cancer, crohn's disease. These people cannot work, not because they do not want to work, but because they cannot work.

All of a sudden the money they have to live on in long-term disability is being reduced in some cases by over $2,000 to $300 or $400 a month. I would like members to think about that. All members in this House make $150,000 or more. How would we be able to live on 20% of that salary? At least we would have the opportunity go out and work and add to that, but it is very difficult to do that when one has advanced multiple sclerosis or cancer. This is a fundamental issue of fairness. There are 400 Nortel workers affected by this and there are many others across the country. Imagine living on 20% of a salary that is pretty meagre to begin with.

I asked a question earlier in the House about what people with disabilities make in this country compared to what was paid out to the former Integrity Commissioner. The average salary for a person with a disability is $28,000 a year. Some of these people have families to support on that. Why add to that burden? It makes no sense.

Other countries have done this. Studies by the OECD and the World Bank indicate that well over half of the countries that we would consider comparable have some kind of pension protection. Countries like Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. have preferred status for people on long-term disability.

We pride ourselves in Canada on our social infrastructure. We pride ourselves on the way we stand up for people who need help but we do not always help them. This bill provides us with an opportunity to do that. This bill provides us with an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and say that this is patently unfair. We pride ourselves here in Canada on what we do to protect people who need help. Sometimes we miss that opportunity. We do things individually and collectively as members of Parliament to try to help the people in our constituencies. What happens to people whose companies have experienced a downturn and go bankrupt?

I had a similar experience in my constituency a couple of years ago. The Moirs plant, a well-known company in Dartmouth that has been there for many decades, all of a sudden went out of business. The union came to see me and asked me for help. Monte Solberg, who was the minister of human resources at the time, was somewhat helpful in that regard. The people at Service Canada went out of their way to ensure that we could help those folks. But they did not lose their pensions in the way the Nortel workers did.

How many people in this country think they have a solid pension and/or disability plan? The people at Nortel certainly did. Who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that Nortel would go under? Who would have thought this would happen? Who would have thought that their pension and their long-term disability was self-insured? They were not given any reason to believe that. All of a sudden, through no fault of their own, they are without luck.

There are enough problems for people already in this country, particularly through the economic downturn that we had. People at home spend nights at the kitchen table wondering how to make ends meet, how to pay for gas when the price of gas is where it is. They see articles about the price of food going up. The cost of sending their kids to post-secondary education has skyrocketed in the last couple of decades. People are sitting down everywhere across this country and asking, “How do I stretch what I make? How do I do it? What is my pension like?”

There are a million Canadians who probably think they have a long-term plan or a pension plan who do not even have it. Add to that the fact that three-quarters of people who work in private companies do not have pension plans to begin with. People are concerned. They are scared. They do not know where to turn.

Credit card debt is through the roof. People are being dinged exorbitant rates of interest on their credit cards. People just do not have the ability to stretch their paycheques to cover their expenses. They worry about paying for their kids' post-secondary education. Many of them cannot afford RESPs and things like them that perhaps we have the benefit and luxury of doing.

Government has a responsibility to assist in those areas. People do not ask that much from government, but what they do ask for is some consideration of their circumstances. They sit at the kitchen table trying to match what comes with what goes out. When what comes in goes down by 80%, who among us could survive that? We need to do more. We need to help.

This bill initially was brought forward by Senator Art Eggleton, who has done a lot of work on issues of poverty as well. He is somebody for whom I have great regard and respect. He has done a lot of work on the social condition in Canada.

This bill had a chance to be passed by the Senate just before Christmas. The night the Conservatives had their big Christmas party, the night the Prime Minister sang and played piano for his caucus, the night they were making merry in Centre Block, enough senators snuck away from the merriment to kill the bill.

Now my colleague from Sydney—Victoria has picked up the challenge. He said that someone has to stand up for these people. These are not people who are hurt because of anything that they have done. They are hurt because of circumstances beyond their control.

Let us think about who is at stake. Let us think about the people we are talking about. Let us think about people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and other debilitating diseases. They are trying to survive on a pension of $2,000 or $3,000 a month, on top of which there are medical bills, on top of which there are all kinds of other concerns. All of a sudden, they are left defenceless and their income is chopped.

How do we tell people with advanced multiple sclerosis to go out and make the money that they have lost in their long-term disability? It cannot be done.

We need to do something. I have never been one to say that government has all the answers, because I do not believe that government has all the answers. Sometimes government does not even know the question. In this case we know the question and we know the answer. The question is, how do we stand up for workers who, through absolutely no fault of their own, have been let down by their company, who thought they were protected and it turns out they are not? They are looking to us to stand up and do something.

Well, we can do something. It is within our power to do something about the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. We have the chance to do it. Bill C-624 is a very important step.

Again I want to congratulate both Senator Eggleton and my colleague from Sydney—Victoria. I also want to thank my colleague from York West who is our critic for seniors. She has been tireless in her support of workers, whether it is on retirement or long-term disability issues. She has been on the front lines, making sure her voice is the voice for people who need a voice in Parliament.

If there is one thing we should all do as parliamentarians, it is stand up for people who need help. There are all kinds of people in this country who will stand up for people who do not need help. There are chambers of commerce and business organizations, labour unions and lots of other organizations. What we need to do as parliamentarians is stand up for those who do not have a voice, for those who are stuck in a situation that they did not create, over which they have no control, and out of which there seems to be no solution.

Bill C-624 is a solution.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my thoughts today on Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans).

I would like to start by thanking the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for introducing this proposed legislation.

The bill seeks to address the plight of beneficiaries of long-term disability benefits plans in cases where the employer has gone bankrupt. In essence, it aims to protect employees on long-term disability by granting them preferred status during bankruptcy proceedings.

The Government of Canada does not view the bill as the best approach to addressing the challenges these beneficiaries may face, but we agree that this is an important issue. Fairness and compassion matter to all of us as Canadians.

The Government of Canada understands the challenges faced by workers whose employers go bankrupt, including the possible reduction or loss of benefits, such as for long-term disability. That is why our government has already put in place a series of measures to help deal with the challenges these beneficiaries face. In fact, this issue was identified in the 2010 Speech from the Throne. We made a commitment to Canadians that we would look at how we could better protect workers when an employer faces these kinds of difficult circumstances, and we are delivering on that promise.

We have consulted with citizens and are exploring workable, lasting solutions, but we are doing even more than that. We already have initiatives in place that are making a difference.

I would like to take a few minutes today to outline what the Government of Canada is doing to support Canadian workers and to provide the protection they need while maintaining a balanced approach.

The government recognizes that when an employer goes bankrupt, employees are often left in a difficult situation in regard to wages. Through no fault of their own, they can suddenly find themselves struggling to make ends meet. That is bad for workers and their families and it is bad for our economy.

In response, our government established the wage-earner protection program, or WEPP. It provides timely compensation to employees who are owed money when their employers go bankrupt. As a result of this important program, eligible workers who lose their jobs and are owed money because their employer has gone bankrupt, or has become subject to receivership, are now compensated for unpaid wages and vacation pay. They are also eligible for more recent severance and termination pay up to a maximum of approximately $3,400.

The WEPP was expanded in 2009. As a result there has been improved financial support for Canadian workers during the economic downturn, as more Canadians have been able to qualify for WEPP financial support and to secure higher average monetary claims. As a result, since January 2009, over 30,000 WEPP claimants have received almost $67 million in payments. In other words, the WEPP has made an important difference to those in need.

We have also taken action to ensure better pension regulation in Canada. In December 2010, a number of regulatory amendments were proposed to the pension benefits standards regulations.

The proposed amendments are designed to make federally regulated private pension plans less sensitive to financial market volatility while protecting plan members and retirees. It calls for four key measures.

First, it would permit plan sponsors to secure properly structured letters of credit in lieu of making solvency payments to the pension fund, to a limit of 15% of the plan assets.

Second, it would require plan sponsors to fully fund pension benefits on plan termination.

Third, it would render void any amendments to a pension plan that would reduce the solvency ratio of the pension plan if the plan's solvency ratio is below 0.85 or the amendment causes the solvency ratio to fall below 0.85.

Fourth, it would introduce a distressed pension plan workout scheme.

These changes are part of the Government of Canada's overall commitment to further strengthen the retirement income system for our citizens. This is the kind of action that Canadians have been asking for and that we have been delivering.

The Government of Canada stood side by side with Canadians during the recent global recession. We have worked very hard to ensure citizens have all the tools and all the support needed to ride out challenging times. We moved quickly to protect jobs. We have also invested in an unprecedented two year $62 billion stimulus program to create jobs, to strengthen innovation and to build for the future.

From major infrastructure projects to reductions in personal and corporate taxes, from support for the unemployed and those at risk of losing their jobs to transfers to provincial and territorial governments for training, we have invested wisely in Canada and in its people.

Our efforts did not stop there. Some $13.3 billion have been directed in targeted efforts to support regions and industries hardest hit by the recession.

In addition, we also developed measures to allow for greater access to employment insurance benefits. This included extra weeks of benefits and extensions to work-sharing arrangements for eligible recipients. Combined, these initiatives have helped over one million workers and their families. The enhancements to the work-sharing program have meant that more workers have been able to keep their jobs while employers have retained skilled workers with years of experience.

Our government believes in maintaining a fair and balanced approach to this issue. We are determined to continue showing our capability and capacity to act so that workers know that they will be protected.

Through Canada's economic action plan, our government has acted decisively to protect livelihoods. We have acted to protect incomes. We have worked hard to help create jobs and to ease credit markets. Just as important, we have taken steps to help ensure that workers get back on their feet.

We also emphasized in the Speech from the Throne and elsewhere that jobs and growth remain the top priority for Canada.

There is a need for balance. We need to protect workers. We also need to protect our nation's economic competitiveness, something that we have all worked so hard to build and maintain.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the hon. member there. If she likes, she will still have a minute and a half left to conclude her remarks the next time this bill is before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:09 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, March 21 at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:09 p.m.)