House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was system.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-316. I have really enjoyed the robust debate we have had in the House. We have good speakers in favour and against the bill, and this is what Canadians of the House, to have motions put forward, to have good debate and, in the end, for members to vote the way they feel is right.

To start on a positive note, I applaud the member for attempting to reform the act. There are a lot of changes that need to be made to the EI system in Canada. We on this side of the House have mentioned it a number of times. The government and private members will bring forward their own ideas about how we might amend the Employment Insurance Act and a number of other acts.

Unfortunately, after reading the bill, which is quite short, the act needs to be reformed in different ways and perhaps slightly more meaningful reforms, not the ones being forwarded by the member for Cariboo—Prince George.

However, I do applaud the member for Cariboo—Prince George for pointing out the problem that pregnant women have in terms of accessing EI. My colleague mentioned that earlier today and that is perhaps a reform that the government or a private member might want to bring forward in terms of how to ensure that women are not excluded from this very valuable social safety net that has been in Canada forever.

Again, I applaud the member for bringing up those ideas for change and I encourage him to bring those forward and perhaps steer his efforts in this direction.

While I am thinking about private members' bills and other bills that are coming up in the House, I think about whether a bill will be good for our community. If it were put in place, would our communities be better places in which to live? That is not only Canada as a whole but also individual communities.

My mind goes immediately to my constituency of Burnaby—Douglas but also drifts back to the community in which I grew up just outside Wolfville in rural Nova Scotia. The communities have quite different circumstances. Burnaby is a land of opportunity. It is the best managed municipality in Canada. We have industry, universities, all kinds of ample opportunity and all kinds of jobs can be attained there.

However, where I grew up in rural Nova Scotia there is not so much the same kind of opportunities. In fact, that is why I moved. My mind goes back to the point when I was growing up in rural Nova Scotia and starting to make my way, the opportunities I had and the people I hung out with, my friends and colleagues.

I grew up in quite a poor area of rural Nova Scotia where individuals went on one of two paths. One path was where they made their way along, usually with some kind of family support, and they socialized with people who were good influences. On the other hand, there were people who went slightly down the wrong path. When I go back to Nova Scotia to visit, we talk about people who went down one path or the other path.

I will get back to this when I have my second five minutes to talk about whether these kinds of acts good for the community. In the second half of my speech, which I am sure all members will be keen to hear, I will allude to how I was on unemployment insurance in Nova Scotia. I looked for work, could not find it and eventually I got on what was then UI, which I was able to transfer out to Vancouver.

The valuable part of being on EI was the job retraining. What really changed my life was being able to access a very small amount of employment insurance. However, employers at that point could top up people's EI and train them. That really started me down the right path. I look forward to explaining more about that in a couple of weeks.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas will have five and a half minutes remaining when the House next considers the motion.

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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, how can this government proclaim itself a champion of the economy when it is jeopardizing the economy of an entire region? It is more like the champion of empty rhetoric. The facts are clear. The fishery is the cornerstone of the economy of Gaspé and the Madeleine Islands. Yet this government is doing everything it can to hurt the economy of my region.

We know that cuts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada will have a major impact on the eastern provinces, and on Gaspé and the Madeleine Islands in particular: 150 to 280 jobs cut, including 30 in my region. That is truly scandalous.

These positions are jobs that pay well. This will be tragic for those families. Those salaries will no longer contribute to the local economy. On top of that, this government is completely incapable of looking to the future. How can it cut fisheries resource conservation programs and hope for the sustainable management of fish stocks?

We know that groundfish stocks are already considered to have collapsed for several reasons: a lack of essential scientific information, weak international laws and climate change. And what does the government do in response? It slashes the expertise of fishers and scientists, it eliminates fleet separation and owner-operator policies, and it withdraws from Kyoto. Canadians deserve more from their government than a short-term vision that serves only large corporations.

It was not enough that they jeopardized the financial well-being of fishers. Now the Conservatives are putting their very lives at risk. It is closing the Quebec City search and rescue centre, the only bilingual centre in Canada. When there is an emergency at sea, there is not a moment to lose. Without this centre, there is no guarantee that distress calls from francophone fishers will be understood. Is the life of a francophone fisher worth less than that of an anglophone fisher? Does this government not take the safety of Canadians seriously?

In addition to the Quebec City centre, it is also closing the St. John's centre and reducing Coast Guard staff. Why is this government barely interested in the marine safety of a region where the ecosystem is so precious?

In closing, can the minister explain why eastern Canada will bear the brunt of these cuts? The Conservatives' slogan in the last election was “Here for Canada”. Did they mean “just here for the oil sands regions”?

6:35 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. The hon. member has raised the issue of cuts to essential services such as the Coast Guard and science. The facts tell a different story than the hon. member has put before the House.

In truth, the Canadian Coast Guard's recent changes were made to standardize the organization structure to be consistent across the country, not to reduce service. This is critical to ensuring that it conducts its business consistently as a truly national institution. Adopting these new standard structures has affected some areas of the organization. In fact, less than 1% of the personnel within the Coast Guard are affected and they have been expecting these changes for two years.

Letters were delivered to Coast Guard employees at the same time as to Fisheries and Oceans Canada employees affected by the strategic review so they would have the same opportunities to seek alternative employment.

The Canadian Coast Guard is a vital national institution and our government is proud to invest in its future, which is why we are equipping the organization with the tools and training needed to keep Canada's waters safe and secure. Our government has invested more than $1.4 billion, including critical funding for the new Hero Class midshore patrol vessels, as well as for offshore fisheries science vessels. From motorized lifeboats to midshore patrol craft and a new polar icebreaker, the state-of-the-art vessels we are procuring will provide us with a fleet for the future. This modernized fleet will not only serve the department, but will play a key role in helping other government departments to fulfill their mandates.

As for changes to science, we are strengthening the department's regulatory duties in relation to fish health and environmental interactions. We are streamlining and simplifying how science is managed by aligning science resources to reflect the transition to an ecosystems approach to science.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada believes science is an essential contributor to all resource management decision making. By adopting a team approach to science that looks at whole ecosystems rather than single issues, fewer single-issue experts are required.

As for timing, the decision to inform employees in December was not taken lightly. In fact, it was based largely on feedback from employees who, on the whole, wished to be informed as early as possible. The rationale was that every affected employee could benefit from workforce adjustment resources and have an early opportunity to make appropriate decisions accordingly. The actual transition process for employees will take many months.

As members can see, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has embraced deficit reduction as an opportunity for renewal and transformation. It has taken advantage of this opportunity to find better ways to do things, seek efficiencies, develop seamless delivery and respond better to Canadians' expectations.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is making business decisions that are in the long-term interest of the country. Within the department, there has been positive engagement and mutual support to find sustainable and innovative solutions to operating with fewer resources, changing the way we work for the better.

We have a responsibility to review the department's spending in light of the government's efforts to manage the deficit. We have a duty to ensure that government programs are efficient, effective and achieving expected results for Canadians.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I take issue with the thought that cutting so substantially at Fisheries and Oceans is in any way going to mean long-term savings for our country. It is firing 30 people at L'Institut Maurice-Lamontagne in Mont-Joli, Quebec. This will have a seriously negative impact on my region and I think on fisheries as a whole.

I do not see how, when scientists are fired, the government can then say that it takes a scientific approach to the fisheries. The scientists are simply not in the department anymore; they have been fired. We do not have the staff that is required. We are not going to be doing yearly inventory of the fish stocks. It is passing it from yearly to once every three years and once every five years. The science will not be there anymore.

Would the parliamentary secretary please address that issue?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are looking to do things more efficiently. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been working very hard in the last few months to develop a plan that would streamline and modernize the way we do business, while also helping the country achieve a balanced budget.

The changes proposed last fall would enable us to advance our goals for a viable, market-driven, business-oriented and sustainable Canadian fishing industry, safe and accessible waterways and effectively managed and protected aquatic ecosystems.

Informing employees of these much needed changes as soon as possible was the right thing to do. It was a responsible decision, designed to provide those affected with as much information and as many opportunities as possible.

Implementing a workforce adjustment directive was the best way to help staff find alternate employment quickly. Support is being provided to the affected employees so they can consider options and make appropriate decisions that best suit their individual situations.

March 15th, 2012 / 6:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I begin, I would like to thank the minister's representative who will be answering my question.

Last December, just before the holiday break, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development what the government was going to do to help Canadians who had not yet received their employment insurance benefits after weeks of waiting. On the eve of the holidays, I was very worried about the deplorable situation in which many families in my riding found themselves when employment insurance claims were not handled within the prescribed time limits. My office in the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles answered calls from dozens of claimants who said that they were unable to speak to anyone at Service Canada and that they were still waiting for their employment insurance benefits.

I would also like to remind members that this situation is ongoing, that calls for assistance in my riding are growing, and that it is quite unacceptable to make citizens wait this long. Workers have paid their premiums and they are entitled to receive their benefits in an efficient and timely manner in order to look after their families in difficult times.

We all know that the Conservative government has cut jobs at Service Canada since the end of the recession. Unfortunately, since the government has failed to come up with a real job creation plan, the unemployment rate remains high. In October 2011, over 360,000 people—I am rounding down—were waiting for their benefit claims to be processed. In October 2007, just before the beginning of the 2008 recession, that number was 82,000.

Canada's unemployment rate was 7.4% in November, 7.5% in December and 7.6 % in January 2012. In February, the unemployment rate dropped slightly to 7.4%, but we know that is because fewer people were looking for jobs, which is hardly good news.

With respect to the quality of services to the public, I would like the minister to explain a few things. Why does processing take considerably longer than 28 days in 25% of claims? Why do more than 22,000 people have to wait over 128 days for their employment insurance benefits? Why have Service Canada employees been told not to let clients know about the Office of Client Satisfaction unless clients mention the office by name?

When the minister responded to my question in December, she said that more resources would be allocated to address the increased number of claims that Service Canada receives during the holidays. Internal and media sources confirm that the usual extra holiday hours were not authorized this year. Additional resources were not on the job until January. The NDP believes that that is too little, too late. The minister also says that the processing system is being upgraded to improve efficiency and responsiveness.

I would like the minister to provide details about the timeline for this new system and measures that have been or will be implemented to minimize the impact of these delays in processing people's claims.

More specifically, I would also like to know exactly when Service Canada will be fully functional. In other words, when will it be in a position to ensure satisfactory service provided by employees who are not on the brink of exhaustion?

6:40 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question, which is a bit surprising because we were given a different question earlier. However, I am happy to answer on behalf of the minister who is obviously not here for the adjournment proceedings.

Protecting Canadian families is a priority for this government. When it comes to employment insurance, it is important to protect all those who have to use these benefits because, clearly, we want to take care of all families and we want to give them a way to pay their bills and meet their needs. When the hon. member asks questions about employment insurance, I immediately think of our Canadian families. What I hear, and what I think the hon. member often hears, is that families need more money in their pockets. They need their employment insurance benefits as soon as possible.

They need them because Canada has been affected by these difficult times and the global upheaval. Are families asking for higher taxes, as the NDP, the hon. member's party, suggests? No. I never hear families who need employment insurance benefits asking for higher taxes. Are Canadian families asking for higher taxes for corporations? No, because Canadian families understand full well that, if corporations have to pay higher taxes, then consumers are the ones who will have to pay the price. Employees will clearly have to pay the price, employees who we do not want to become unemployed.

So, when we talk about employment insurance, we have to think about consumers and Canadian families because, once again, it was the party of the hon. member who just spoke that suggested letting people be eligible for employment insurance benefits after working for only 45 days. Only having to work 45 days a year in order to receive employment insurance benefits is ridiculous. There is not one Canadian family who is asking for that. Canadian families want jobs.

However, when we talk about employment insurance, it is important to note that it was our government that took steps to ensure that additional resources are put in place when needed. That is what we did at Christmastime. The hon. member does not understand that additional resources were put in place and that we are proud of that. Yes, we must always do more, but we are adapting.

We are in the process of implementing a completely automated system that will meet needs and distribute cheques more quickly. We will continue along this path, but what we are not going to do is increase taxes for Canadian families and corporations, as the NDP and the hon. member opposite are suggesting.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the unemployed cannot wait months to pay their bills. The number of claimants in dire straits who are unable to pay for basic needs such as food and housing keeps going up. A loaf of bread costs $3.69 or more.

Job creation is well below what the government initially projected. The Conservative government does not have a job creation plan. If it does, where is it?

To serve the public well, the Conservative government has to take the necessary measures to restore the levels of service to what we had before. After all, Canadians are entitled to receive the benefits for which they have paid.

Will this government admit that the major cuts made to Service Canada over the past year were completely unjustified and inappropriate in an economy that is still fragile and unstable?

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, once again this government has moved forward with a plan to ensure that Canadians do have access to the benefits that they receive under employment insurance in a timely fashion. We have also done a number of things that will lead to more jobs and a stronger economy. Unfortunately, it is so disappointing to hear the NDP oppose lower taxes like we are suggesting, oppose support for the economic growth of this country.

Nevertheless, our government is focused on what matters most, that is jobs and economic growth. Canada saw continued economic growth in the fourth quarter and over 610,000 net new jobs were created since July 2009. I might remind the House that 91% of those jobs were full-time jobs, which is extraordinary. These are encouraging signs that we are on the right track for the economy and again, for Canadian families.

We all know more needs to be done. We all know that Canada is not immune to global economic turbulence like we see in the United States and Europe. That is why in the upcoming budget, economic action plan 2012, we will remain focused on those items. We truly hope that the NDP will support them because Canadian families will be depending on them.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the Minister of National Defence about the still unclear matter of his return from a fishing trip in Newfoundland using a Canadian Forces search and rescue helicopter on July 9, 2010.

This scandal, which received a lot of media attention, as we know, is something Canadian taxpayers are concerned about. They wonder about the careless spending of certain Conservative ministers who have yet to provide any detailed answers to questions raised on this matter. More than anyone, the Minister of National Defence has a duty to conduct himself with absolute rigour and honesty in the performance of his ministerial duties, which involve protecting the safety of Canadians.

How can the government guarantee the safety of the Canadian public in search and rescue situations in the event of incidents and accidents if the minister himself is using an emergency helicopter to return to work, as he likes to say, and limiting access to a rescue helicopter for Canadians in danger?

What would have happened to those Canadians, if, at that same time on July 9, 2010, their lives had been in danger and the situation required an emergency rescue? On that day, no other rescue helicopter would have been available in the event of an incident. How irresponsible, what an error in judgment by a minister in charge of national defence. How will Canadians ever believe that the Conservatives truly protect their safety and their right to adequate emergency services?

In addition to coming up with different versions to explain his decision to use an emergency helicopter, he claimed that he had to cut his fishing trip short and get to London quickly in order to make an announcement. He then said he took the opportunity to be part of a search and rescue demonstration aboard a helicopter.

In addition to costing Canadian taxpayers the exorbitant sum of $32,000 an hour—yes, that is the figure—for a short trip, search and rescue demonstrations are planned well in advance and require a lot more than half an hour of preparation. In other words, Mr. MacKay truly cut corners in his preparation for this so-called demonstration. Can we say that he was well informed about the procedures for a search and rescue operation in just half an hour? I highly doubt it.

Documents released in December revealed that even National Defence employees were concerned about the negative optics of the minister's helicopter ride. One of them strongly suggested that it be described as a search and rescue drill. Sounds pretty fishy to me.

In addition, emails exchanged between military personnel, which were made public under the Access to Information Act and which CBC received copies of, reveal that the demonstration story was just a story. According to the CBC and the documents, it was just an excuse. So it appears the minister did use the helicopter.

What funding announcement could have been so important that the minister's presence was required in London urgently enough to justify the use of a rescue helicopter for half an hour? Were Canadians drowning?

6:50 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the opposition member for asking this very important question and providing me with the opportunity to set the record straight with regard to the use of government aircraft.

Taxpayers demand that their government representatives manage the country's business at a reasonable cost. The government takes this very seriously. Government aircraft are used for government activities. They are used when it is not possible to take a commercial flight. This applies across the board to all ministers, including the Prime Minister.

Furthermore, the minister, like the Chief of the Defence Staff, uses his time on board government aircraft to do the tremendous amount of daily work that goes along with his duties. This work routinely consists of classified discussions and reviewing sensitive documents, and could not take place on board a commercial aircraft.

The Minister of National Defence has already been very clear on this matter. The minister must have in-depth knowledge of the daily problems faced by the Canadian Forces, including all aspects of search and rescue.

The minister was welcomed by the 103rd search and rescue squadron in Gander, Newfoundland in July 2010 to participate in a search and rescue training mission. During this time the squadron had two serviceable CH-149 Cormorant aircraft, one of which was in a high readiness posture for search and rescue. This visit involved less than one hour of flight time, as stated by the opposition member, and represented only a portion of the training typically done by the SAR standby crew during their day.

While 103 squadron was pleased to have had the opportunity to demonstrate its capabilities, this training mission, like any other, would have been immediately terminated had a distress situation arisen that required the CF's unique SAR capabilities.

Let me quote members of the Canadian Forces about this opportunity to showcase their skills and techniques to our ministers. Major Stephen Reid said:

The flight would have been flown regardless of whether or not the minister was included because the squadron conducts two training events per day as part of a regular routine. In this case, a new flight engineer required hoist training, therefore the training intentions were well matched.

He also said:

This was an opportunity for us. We took it, and I think it was great. I personally had a chance to have five or 10 minutes with him after we shut down to give him the latest update on our squadron and the issues we were facing. This was valuable to us, and that's totally appropriate in my mind.

Or listen to what Warrant Officer Morgan Biderman said:

As a SAR Tech, I appreciate the support the [Minister of National Defence] provides the [Canadian Forces] and I welcome future opportunities to conduct this style of contact training with any member of the government.

The government remains steadfast in its support for the needs of the military and in providing the resources it needs so that our troops can continue to do the important work that is asked of them. This requires taking every opportunity to familiarize the minister with this work, and I am very proud of the dedication that our minister shows to this important work.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, however, I am very disappointed by her answer. I have a great deal of respect for my colleague, but she did not answer my question at all. Her answer was extremely vague, and only feeds the scandal.

What we want to know is what important announcement did the minister have to make in London? If his travel to London was so urgent, what was the big announcement? Was the sky falling?

On the other hand, if, as the parliamentary secretary said, he had to do this trip for a search and rescue demonstration, these things do not happen with a half hour's notice; they are planned weeks or even months in advance. We know ministers have very busy schedules, so he would not have had time to prepare for such a demonstration with only a half hour's notice. These things must be prepared way ahead of time. All of these pretexts and answers are questionable. Once again, it is disappointing.

I have another question. Why did the Minister of Public Safety not use another mode of transport, like a plane or something, to expedite his hasty return to work? We are completely in the dark with all kinds of questions and no answers.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the NDP members' rigid attention to their agenda actually prohibits them from doing good work with their constituents. We on this side are able to adjust because we take very seriously the needs of not only our constituents but certainly also the needs of our Canadian armed forces members.

I must say that this minister has been absolutely passionate about the things that he does in his daily work with the Canadian armed forces members. He has also taken some measures to reduce some of the use of government aircraft. In fact, across government, if we compare the situation with the previous Liberal government, the use of government aircraft has gone down by almost 80%, which is a huge number.

To come back to my original point, government planes are to be used for government activities and that includes their use by the minister so he can fulfill his many duties.

I want to finish by saying, once again, I am so proud of the Minister of National Defence, who is among the most recognized and most passionate about what he does. As the granddaughter of three World War II vets, I just hope that my grandparents had a minister who was so dedicated to his duties during their time of service.