House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was railway.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The member for Saint-Boniface will have six minutes when the House resumes debate on the motion.

The time allowed for private members' business has expired. The order will be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence.

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

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this winter we learned of the Conservative government's plan to raise the eligibility age for OAS from 65 to 67. This announcement goes against one of the Conservatives' own election promises, which was, “we will not cut transfer payments to individuals or to the provinces for essential things like health care, education, and pensions”.

Just for the record, that can be found on page 23 of the Conservative 2011 election platform.

The Prime Minister reiterated this promise on June 7, 2011, when he stood in this very House and said, “This government has been very clear. We will not cut pensions“.

Currently, there are nearly 5 million seniors collecting OAS and 1.7 million seniors collecting GIS, which means one in three Canadian seniors receive the GIS. What will this eligibility change mean to Canadian seniors? The lost income to Canadian seniors from this change will be significant. It will mean a loss of roughly $30,000 to the poorest seniors over these two years and roughly $13,000 over these two years for Canadians who receive only OAS.

That is a substantial loss. Unlike the CPP or private savings pillars, the OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on retirees' previous labour market participation or their participation in a registered pension plan or savings plan. In the words of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the OAS and GIS are the “basic building blocks of the public universal system”, and goes on to say, “which make up the anti-poverty part of the system”.

The OAS pays a maximum benefit of $540 per month. On an annual basis, the maximum OAS payment is $6,481. The average monthly payment in the fall of 2011 was $508.35.

High income seniors must pay back all or some of their OAS benefits due to a formula set by the government. Above an income of $69,562, the OAS begins to be clawed back. Above an income of $112,772, the OAS benefit is completely clawed back.

Because many senior women were not part of the labour force earlier in their lives, to today's seniors, the OAS and GIS are particularly important retirement instruments. Senior women are less likely than senior men to draw an income from the CPP, private pension plans, RRSPs or employment earnings. This makes universal programs like the OAS and GIS particularly important for our female seniors.

The median income for senior women is about two-thirds that of the median income for senior men, We need to be clear that the OAS is really an anti-poverty and an equity tool used to ensure that seniors can retire with dignity and have funds to support their retirement.

It is loud and clear. The government's priority is to spend billions of dollars on corporate tax giveaways to their friends while slashing the services that Canadians rely upon. That is wrong.

Will the government listen to the expert advice it was given by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the leader of the OECD pensions team and the head of the BMO Retirement Institute, among others.

The government should stop manufacturing a crisis to take away future benefits from Canadian seniors and keep old age security eligibility at age 65.

6:30 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by assuring the hon. member that our government is taking action today to protect seniors of today and tomorrow.

In her original question, the hon. member spoke of young Canadians who are concerned about their financial security in their senior years. I want to point out that this is exactly the reason that we are making changes to the old age security now; to protect it and to ensure it is affordable and available for all Canadians in the future.

As pension expert, Keith Ambachtsheer, observed recently, we are facing large demographic changes that we cannot ignore. Mr. Ambachtsheer, who is the director of the University of Toronto's Rotman International Centre for Pension Management, has gone on record saying that there is a serious fairness argument that can be made regarding the future of OAS. He says:

...we can’t just willy nilly put the burden on a relatively smaller cohort that’s going to be ‘the work force’ 20 years from now and say: ‘Well, you know, that was the deal back then, so too bad. We don’t care that there’s less of you than there is of us.

We need to look at that relatively smaller cohort that he spoke about, the working age Canadians of the future. We already know that the ratio of working age Canadians to seniors is expected to fall. Within two decades it is projected that there will be close to two workers for every retiree. That is a stark contrast to today's ratio where there are four workers for every retiree. What will happen of course is that as this ratio shifts the younger generations will be forced to carry the bulk of the tax burden. This will hamper their ability to save and will have an adverse impact on their future and Canada's future. Younger Canadians will be carrying the bulk of the tax burden as they are raising families, paying student debts, making mortgage payments and just trying to make ends meet.

Speaking of the future, there are a few other projections I would like to focus on. According to the Chief Actuary, the number of basic OAS recipients is expected to almost double over the next 20 years. He projects the number growing from 4.8 million in 2010 to 9.3 million when the last of the baby boomers reach age 65. When we consider these numbers in the context of our aging population needs, we need to be willing to acknowledge that change is necessary.

Canada's prospects are bright. Among the G7 countries, Canada has posted the strongest growth in employment with 693,000 jobs created since the depths of the recession.

Thanks to the strong leadership of our Prime Minister and our Conservative government, Canada is in the enviable position of having the financial flexibility to phase in these changes over a very lengthy period of time. This will ensure the maximum time for Canadians to adapt to these changes, with minimal disruption to the quality of life future generations are counting upon.

We must confront both our fiscal and demographic realities as we decide what is in our best interests moving forward.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where the parliamentary secretary and the government are getting some of those numbers. We heard from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the OAS is easily sustainable and is actually projected to decrease in cost relative to the size of the economy in the long run.

Furthermore, these changes are really coming at the cost to Canadian youth, as I mentioned in my previous question and as the parliamentary secretary mentioned himself. Youth are already struggling to find good jobs while carrying enormous amounts of student debt, meaning that they will make less money over their lifetimes than their parents and grandparents did. Now we are forcing them to work two years longer to pay for a crisis that the government is manufacturing.

The government is not helping our youth. It is further hurting them. It is cutting from the poor to give to the rich. Since coming into office, the government has given $72 billion in tax giveaways without a single promise or guarantee of a job.

Will the government commit to reversing the change to the age of eligibility for OAS?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member and I know her to be a smart individual but I would implore her to actually look at the math here. We have four workers paying for every retiree now. In 2030 we will have two people paying for every retiree. This is not complicated math.

By way of a parallel, maybe we can consider a house rented by four university students. If the rent is $1,600 a month they each pay $400 right now. If two of them leave, only two would be left to pay the rent and those two would each have to pay double, which would be $800. When the landlord comes for her money, the NDP strategy of blocking its ears and repeatedly saying that there is not a problem will not change the fact that the cost has doubled.

Again I urge the NDP to actually look at the math behind the decision the government is taking. When it does, I am confident it will support us on this.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, numerous studies have shown how dangerous chrysotile asbestos is to health. According to the World Health Organization, all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and can cause mesothelioma, which is a form of cancer that surrounds the lungs, cancer of the larynx or ovaries, and asbestosis, which is a pulmonary fibrosis, and can cause plaques to appear. It is estimated that 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Over 107,000 people die each year of a disease resulting from exposure to asbestos.

The use of asbestos has been banned in 52 countries. The vast majority of countries in the world supported the addition of asbestos to the list of hazardous substances in the Rotterdam Convention, but Canada opposed it. The WHO says that the best way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to end the use of all types of asbestos.

In fact, there are a number of substances that can replace asbestos today. The leading substitute substances are synthetic inorganic fibres such as glass fabric fibres or mineral-wool or glass-wool insulation. Synthetic organic fibres can also be used as insulation. These are also called chemical fibres, and are generally produced from the corresponding polymers, which are plastics.

It is worth the effort to use materials that are less damaging to our health. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, mined mainly in Quebec, cause cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society believes that “all efforts should be made to eliminate exposure to asbestos and to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.” It is calling on the federal government, as well as provincial and territorial governments, “to adopt a comprehensive strategy addressing all aspects of the asbestos issue, including legislation for worker safety, supporting the addition of chrysotile asbestos to Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention, and immediately setting a clear timetable for phasing out of the use and export of asbestos.”

In 2004, a report published by the Institut national de la santé publique du Québec reported over 800 cases of mesothelioma from 1982 to 1986 in Quebec, when the asbestos industry was thriving. In 2006, Health Canada warned the government and the public against the dangers of these carcinogenic fibres. The director general of the safe environments program stated, “we cannot say that chrysotile asbestos is safe. Health Canada favours the option of adding it to the list of regulated substances.”

Despite all these warnings, Canada has sent over 750,000 tons of asbestos to global markets since 2006. We are the fifth biggest producer of asbestos in the world. The governments of Canada and Quebec continue to support the production of asbestos and, until recently, funded the Chrysotile Institute despite the fact that it is clear that the asbestos industry faces increasing criticism worldwide.

Furthermore, there are human and economic impacts resulting from the use of asbestos. According to statistics published in 2010 by the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail du Québec, asbestos was the new leading contributor to mortality for which compensation was paid out by the CSST. No fewer than 102 people had died following exposure to this substance, which was 17 more cases than in 2008. So things have gotten worse and not better.

The Chrysotile Institute claims that there is a way to use asbestos safely, a position endorsed by the government, but is this true? When I asked the government, in February, why it continued to support asbestos producers, the Minister of Industry replied that it was possible to use it safely. I would like to know what studies he was referring to.

6:40 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, Canada has promoted the safe use of chrysotile at home and abroad for more than 30 years. Canada monitors the use of chrysotile and promotes its safe use around the world. Canada does not seek to ban the mining of naturally occurring substances.

Our government said it would not ban a natural resource that is traded around the world. This government will not place a Canadian industry in a position where it would be subject to negative discrimination in a market where the sale is permitted.

Exposure to chrysotile is strictly controlled by maximum exposure limits in workplaces issued by federal, provincial and territorial governments and by restrictions on certain categories of consumer products and products in the workplace under Canada's Hazardous Products Act.

Importing countries are solely responsible for their decision to import products, such as chrysotile, and implementing appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of their workers in using that resource.

We implemented measures to protect the health and safety of those working in the mining sector, especially workers who handle chrysotile, a long time ago.

For several years now, we have been making a distinction between amphibole and chrysotile, and we have implemented regulatory mechanisms to protect workers in this sector.

The illnesses that we are currently seeing in countries that have made heavy use of asbestos fibres are related to exposure to high doses in the past and inappropriate practices that were prohibited and abandoned in Canada in the late 1970s, more than 30 years ago.

Completely banning chrysotile is not necessary or appropriate because doing so will not protect workers or the public from past uses that have been prohibited for many years now.

Since 1988, all federal, provincial and territorial regulations on health and safety in Canada that pertain directly or indirectly to working with or around asbestos are consistent with the International Labour Organization's 1986 Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Asbestos, Convention 162.

Canada was one of the leaders in the development of this convention.

The purpose of the regulations is to prevent consumers from being exposed to products containing asbestos, the fibres of which can detach, be inhaled and thus be harmful to health.

May 1st, 2012 / 6:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only did the hon. member not answer my question, but he also does not seem to see anything wrong with exporting to other countries the risks associated with asbestos. That is totally irresponsible.

The government usually refers to studies done by the Chrysotile Institute. According to that institute, exposure to a limit of one fibre per cubic centimetre does not pose any risk to health. However, other studies claim that chrysotile asbestos has a shorter life span in the lungs. It is called biopersistence. All these studies have been challenged for a long time by Dr. David Egilman from Brown University, and by others who have shown that the concept of biopersistence does not apply since the fibres are never expelled from the body. Rather, they split into several multifibres, some of which can move towards the lungs.

As for asbestos cement being safe to use, promoters forget to mention that transporting and exporting the raw material presents some real risks. Moreover, developing countries that import asbestos often do not have the means to ensure the safe use of the fibre.

Instead of exporting a dangerous substance, why does Canada not become a leader in new technologies? Why, instead of supporting a dying and deadly industry, does the federal government not help asbestos producing regions to shift to sustainability and to save—

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada has been promoting the safe use of chrysotile in Canada and elsewhere for more than 30 years.

Canada monitors the use of chrysotile and promotes its safe use around the world. Our government said it would not ban a natural resource that is traded around the world. This government will not place a Canadian industry in a position where it would be subject to negative discrimination compared to its competitors in a market where the sale is permitted.

I have two quotes from Premier Jean Charest:

The government has not changed its mind. It will continue to defend the safe use of chrysotile, a policy that should be defended.

That quote was from April 12, 2010.

Here is the second quote:

Quebec promotes the safe use of chrysotile. That is what we do at home and that is what is encouraged throughout the world.

That quote is from January 29, 2010.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here tonight to stand before you and Canadians from coast to coast to coast, especially the members of my riding of Davenport, the men and women who elected me to this place a year ago tomorrow.

The very first day of this Parliament, I rose in the House and asked the government where its housing strategy was. In particular, I asked when it would introduce a national housing strategy and, in the absence of one, whether it would like to get on side with the one we subsequently tabled in the House.

Every time I stood in the House to ask this question on behalf of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, I never received an answer. In fact, I will read the answer I received from the Minister of Finance one of the last times I asked a question on this. He said:

Mr. Speaker, what is not to love in the mayor of Toronto ? He is 300 pounds of fun, self-described by the mayor. I did not make that up.

The mayor is doing a wonderful job in Toronto. He is leading the transit reform charge and is straightening out the finances of the City of Toronto. It will be the ultimate great service for the taxpayers of that city to have control of the fiscal future of the City of Toronto, which has been mishandled for a long time.

There was not a single mention of housing in that answer.

This is what happens time and time again, not just to me but to every member of the official opposition. Quite frankly, Canadians are getting very concerned about the lack of accountability and transparency of the government.

With respect to housing, the Canadian Federation of Municipalities has underlined the fact that housing is the number one issue facing municipalities, both big cities, small towns and rural municipalities. Access to affordable housing is becoming increasingly more difficult, not just for those in our society who struggle economically but also for those who were once called middle class. The government likes to say that it is on the side of working people, but the facts do not bear that out.

Approximately 1.5 million Canadians are in core housing need, of which 25% are single parent families. Time and time again we hear the government say that it is doing this or it is doing that. However, whatever it thinks it is doing, it is time for it to acknowledge and admit that its plan is not working.

We need a national housing strategy. We are the only G8 country that does not have one. How can that be good public management? How can that be a good social policy? It is certainly bad fiscal management, especially when we consider the multipliers that investments in housing bring into the economy.

The government's decisions are ideological. It is time it started working for Canadians.

6:50 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand here today to answer the hon. NDP member's question. However, I have to indicate right off the bat that I am somewhat disappointed in the member for Davenport.

As he began his speech, he was very clear about reading a response from the Minister of Finance, but what he neglected to do is read his personal attack on the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, a personal attack that does not meet the standard that the Leader of the Opposition has set for the NDP.

Nevertheless, I intend to answer the question about housing because I and this government take this serious issue to heart. Unfortunately, that member is displaying how he takes this issue and attempts to attack other politicians with it and neglects to admit that when he does it.

I would like to first tell Torontonians that the affordable housing situation is one that has been addressed by this government in a number of ways. As I talk about the ways that housing has been addressed, I would like to reflect on the record of the NDP.

Let us think back to the economic action plan and to the historic investments that our Conservative government made in social housing that totalled roughly $2 billion. Combined with provincial and territorial support, this joint investment in social housing allowed for the construction and renovation of 16,500 housing units for low-income families across Canada. This included over 400 construction projects for low-income seniors and persons with disabilities and over 11,000 existing social housing renovation projects. However, there is more.

Our Conservative government also invested $150 million to renovate and retrofit federally administered social housing, supporting over 1,310 projects that helped some of the most vulnerable in our communities: single-parent families, recent immigrants and aboriginal people living off reserve. We also invested $400 million to build and renovate housing in over 500 first nations communities. Let us not forget the $200 million in the north to address the territories' housing needs, supporting over 200 projects.

Those are real investments, real projects helping real people and doing so right across Canada, including in Toronto. They are not empty rhetoric or theoretical strategies as suggested by the member opposite. These are real efforts, real commitments, real investments.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association states that Canada's economic action plan:

—addresses important needs facing people living in run-down social housing and certain groups--seniors, on-reserve aboriginals and people with disabilities--waiting for decent, affordable housing.

Amazingly, the NDP stood and voted against all of these investments. That seems rather shocking, given all of the statements that get made about supporting social housing. However, Torontonians need to know that when it comes to supporting and putting our words into action, it is this Conservative government that actually gets the job done. The NDP members stand, but they only stand to vote against social housing measures, against investments for those who are most vulnerable.

I stand here proudly, supporting the government because of the actions it has taken. I ask the NDP to start to show some compassion and some effort here. Support the measures we are putting forward. It is for the sake of Torontonians after all.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about effort. We have tabled a national housing strategy. The Conservative government has not said a word about it. In fact, the government likes to compare us to OECD countries when it suits it. Yet this instance and others such as the national transit strategy are another glaring lack on the part of the government.

There is very little in this national housing strategy that any government could not buy into. One of the main points is that once this national housing strategy comes into law, it compels the minister to convene a meeting within 180 days. The government has 180 days to talk to major stakeholders, to the provinces, to municipalities, to those that provide social housing. It is a way for the government to do the job that Canadians expect their government to do, which is to plan and to prudently plan for the kind of housing Canadians need.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member can play politics all he wants. That is his choice. We on this side remain focused on building a better Canada, and that includes the Toronto area.

Only recently we introduced economic action plan 2012. Our plan includes incredibly positive developments for Canada, and especially Toronto.

Furthermore, the action plan announces the creation of Canada's first national near-urban park in the Rouge Valley in Toronto, something that has been incredibly welcomed. Listen to what Toronto city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker had to say about it:

...to see the prime minister and [finance minister]...saying loudly and clearly that they'll protect this land is a dream come true for us.

What did the NDP and the member for Davenport do? Unfortunately, they voted against the Rouge Valley national park and against Toronto. That is unfortunate.