House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, one of the parts of the budget is a program that will help small communities and small community centres. This program was particularly popular during the RInC program. Western Economic Diversification was key to delivering that program, so the moneys flowed through my department. The NDP voted against that program and has stayed firm on that. The member is saying today that he is going to vote against our budget.

The Department of Western Economic Diversification is again going to be delivering a program that would help small communities. Part of budget 2012 helps small businesses. Small businesses have not only asked for credit card regulations but have also asked that they be streamlined and made more efficient.

Is the member going to tell his constituents that he will be voting against some of the very programs and projects that his riding would benefit from?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will tell my constituents that I cannot support the budget and the priorities within it. While there may be some good things in it, it is overshadowed by the overwhelming things that are not good for Canadians. I point to 70 amendments to legislation that are not even related to the budget. That alone should be worth not supporting the budget.

However, in terms of western economic diversification, there will be a $16 million cut to that department by 2015. If we are looking at investing in western Canada, we can start by investing in western economic diversification, and that is not the kind of investment I support.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech.

I would like to hear more about the consequences of abolishing the Katimavik program and, above all, environmental monitoring programs. We know very well that climate change is a serious concern for a majority of Canadians.

I imagine that my colleague could give us more details about the demise of Katimavik and all the benefits of this program for Canadian youth.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have had a number of constituents and others who have written to me about their experience with Katimavik. One person wrote a letter to the editor, which was very insightful in terms of the economic impacts as a result of the visit of the Katimavik program to Yukon and the economic spinoff from the people in the program who went there. They participated and helped not only the community, but they spent money in the shops and on services.

She did an interesting calculation that showed the economic spinoff of those participants in that one area in that short period of time, then calculated all the projects in all areas across Canada. It is a tremendous benefit to the country, just in economies alone, not to mention the social impacts of the cultural exchange across Canada, as well as the knowledge gained by young people at a time in life when they make transitions and important decisions.

I am sure I will run out of time to talk about the environmental changes in the bill. One-third of the 450 or so pages of the bill are dedicated to weakening or changing the environmental protections to the Fisheries Act, to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and to many other important legislation. That alone is why I cannot support the BIA.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act as this legislation is vital to the implementation of the economic action plan 2012.

Economic action plan 2012 is a positive plan that will ensure Canada's economy remains strong. It is already forecasted to be at the head of the pack for economic growth in the G7 in the years ahead by both the independent International Monetary Fund and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In the words of former Liberal finance minister John Manley, current president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives:

Budget 2012 builds on our country’s reputation for fiscal responsibility, while at the same time establishing a more positive environment for private sector investment and growth.

In my time today I would like to focus on the necessary adjustments today's bill would make to the old age security program, or OAS, to ensure its long-term sustainability.

In 1952 the old age security program was launched, and I think we can all agree it was a very different world. At the time, life expectancy was significantly lower than it is today. Government policy-makers built the program around the understanding that seniors would be collecting OAS for only a few years after retirement. They also assumed there would always be a sufficient number of younger workers to finance OAS benefits through taxes. Because of these two assumptions, they were confident that the cost of the OAS system would continue to be manageable.

Those policy-makers could not have predicted 60 years ago the rise in longevity or the fall in our birth rates. They could not have anticipated how these two trends would threaten the sustainability of the OAS program. Let me be clear. This is not an issue of how much money will be saved, but rather whether the OAS program will be sustainable over the long term.

We want to ensure these benefits will be there for future generations when they need them. According to the World Health Organization, average life expectancy in Canada is one of the highest in the world. It is now almost 81 years, and it is increasing. Already one in seven Canadians is over the age of 65 and in 25 years nearly one in four Canadians will be a senior. The number of basic OAS pension beneficiaries is expected to grow from $4.7 million in 2010 to $9.3 million by 2030.

Canadians can be rightfully proud of our public pension system, which has been influential in dramatically reducing the incidence of poverty among seniors and enhancing their dignity and independence. As I said, the world has changed. When I say the world, I mean every country.

The demographic trends we are seeing in Canada are occurring all over the globe. Life expectancy is rising and birth rates are dropping. Population aging is happening more quickly in industrialized nations, which is why many of those countries have already moved to adapt their retirement support programs to account for this new reality.

In most cases, industrialized nations are raising the age of eligibility for retirement benefits, as this is the simplest and most effective way to ensure the sustainability of the program. Of the 34 nations in the OECD, 22 have made or will make the kinds of changes we have now proposed. Thankfully, because of the strong economic leadership of our Conservative government, Canada has the fiscal room to bring in these changes over a longer period of time.

Our government has pointed out that by 2030 there will only be two working age Canadians for every retired Canadian. If we do not adjust OAS, those two working age Canadians will support the tax burden that is currently shared by four working age Canadians.

Times change and government policies and programs must change with them. I would ask the NDP members to pay close attention to the words of Keith Ambachtsheer, director of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management. He said:

You can't put your head in the sand...When you look at the underlying economics of what's going on...It's perfectly logical in a general sense to say, yes we're going to have to look at all social programs because of these demographics that are baked into the pie. There should be nothing surprising about that.

This is why we are making modern changes to OAS to strengthen it for the future.

We will gradually increase the age of eligibility for OAS and the guaranteed income supplement benefits from 65 to 67. This change will start in April 2023, with full implementation by January 2029, and will not affect anyone who is 54 years of age or older as of March 31 of this year. We owe it to future generations to leave them a solid OAS program and an affordable tax burden. We understand that we have to make these changes in a sensible way. That is why these changes do not apply to seniors or near seniors, and there will be no reduction in benefits to seniors.

We are also making other significant positive reforms to OAS through today's act. To improve flexibility and choice in the OAS program, starting on July 1, 2013, we will allow for the voluntary deferral of the OAS pension for up to five years, allowing Canadians the option of deferring take-up of their OAS pension to a later time and receiving a higher actuarially adjusted annual pension.

We are also putting in place a proactive enrollment regime for OAS and GIS to reduce the burden on seniors of completing application processes and reduce the government's administrative costs, a major positive change.

In the words of noted personal finance author, Gordon Pape, writing in the Toronto Star, it is:

—a welcome elimination of bureaucratic red tape that should have the effect of putting a lot more money into the hands of seniors....This means that many people will no longer have to apply for benefits when they turn 65 – the payments will come automatically.... The potential gain for seniors is huge....any change that simplifies the process and gets some of that foregone money into the hands of needy seniors has to be welcome.

Our government is proud of our record with respect to seniors. We have increased the GIS to help Canada's most vulnerable seniors and we increased the GIS earnings exemption. We have provided $2.3 billion annually in additional tax relief to seniors and pensioners. We have abolished the mandatory age of retirement in federally-regulated industries so older people have more choice as to when they retire.

We have increased funding for the new horizons for seniors program to support seniors who want to participate in community projects. We are supporting healthy and active aging through a number of initiatives and we are funding projects to combat elder abuse.

All of these policies and programs will be adapted to meet new needs and circumstances of seniors as they evolve. In the same way, old age security must also adapt to new needs and circumstances. That is why the provisions in today's bill are the right thing to do and why I call on all members to support it.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, what the member just told us does not make sense. The Conservatives want to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 and are telling people who are 54 that they will be affected, but not those who are 55 to 65. In other words, those who are 63 today will not be affected and will not work until they are 67. We know that, at present, a large portion of the population is between 55 and 65. Most of the aging population is in that demographic.

Why should we punish future generations, 13 years from now, by forcing them to work two years longer when there will be fewer seniors and we will have the revenue to support them?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me assure the hon. member that it is the future generation on which the government has its eye. We want to ensure we have a sustainable old age security system for future Canadian seniors. At the same time, we recognize it is completely unsustainable to require two future taxpayers to pay for what four taxpayers pay for today.

Clearly, it does not take a masters in mathematics to realize that when the number of people receiving the benefit is doubled and the number of people who are actually paying into that system is halved, that system is simply not sustainable.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us look at the math.

According to the OECD, Canada's old age security benefits represent 4.2% of GDP, whereas the average for OECD countries is 7%, and the figure is much higher in other countries.

Comparing Canada to countries in trouble only throws fuel on the fire and scares people for no reason, because this program is sustainable.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, what I will do is quote from a prominent economist in Canada, Patricia Croft, who says:

(Budget 2012's) initiatives in the job front and addressing the demographic challenge…in both regards I’d have to give the budget probably an 'A'…in a global context, I think Canada is in a fabulous position.

That stands in contrast to the hon. member's remarks. The hon. member suggests that we should going down a road and follow the same path some European countries are following, paths that have led some of those countries dealing with absolutely disastrous circumstances economically, circumstances that will take decades and decades to recover from.

Thankfully we live in Canada which leads the way economically and has a very bright future because of the measures the government has taken.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke of the ability for Canada to enact these changes for sustainability in our old age pension system over a longer period of time because of Canada's relative economic strength. Some of the measures our government has taken over the last six years, including the competitive corporate tax rate, have ensured that economic sustainability leads to this long-term planning ability.

Would my colleague explain some of the measures in budget 2012 that will ensure Canada's long-term prosperity?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, because of measures that we have taken over the past six years of government, Canada is the envy of the world economically. Organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and the OECD have commented that Canada is leading the way relative to other countries.

The corporate tax rate change the hon. member mentioned, reducing the corporate tax rate from 22% to 15%, is one of the things these commentators have pointed to as an absolutely critical step that has led to that result. We see on the other side suggestions to increase taxes across the board, corporate taxes, taxes on job creators and carbon taxes, a complete 180° from the measures we have taken to put Canada in this enviable position.

I hope that all members will take a really good look at the bill, and not just do what their leaders tell them to do when it comes to voting on the bill, but actually vote in favour of Canada continuing that positive momentum that we have made over the years.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, we keep unearthing all these little treasures hidden deep in the bowels of Bill C-38 that we did not even realize were being snuck into this omnibus bill. Now we know why they were put there and their significance.

Bill C-38 repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. This is the construction fair wages act for the federal jurisdiction. For 100 years, we have been fighting for fair wages and working conditions for the construction industry. It is an industry with a transient workforce. Contractors and the like can exploit desperate working people in the construction industry if we do not have regulations that prevent them from doing so. This legislation took wages out of competition so that contractors would win their jobs based on their merits, skills and productivity, not on their ability to find cheaper labour because, by virtue of the fair wages act, it was agreed that it does not benefit anyone.

We have a quaint expression where I come from that “fair wages benefit the whole community”. It is virtuous to have a well-paid, consuming, middle class. It is good for the economy. Driving down the wages of Canadian workers is in no one's best interest. Members would know that the federal government is one of the largest consumers of construction industry services in the country. This act applied to any construction project contracted by the federal government, including military bases, prisons, ports, banking and telecommunications. The Canada Labour Code, which is the federal labour code, applies to all of those including projects that go across provincial borders. What comes to mind when we think about large projects that might span interprovincial borders are pipelines. We have unearthed now that deep within Bill C-38 the federal government has eliminated the fair wages and working conditions that are found in this act. It has completely eradicated that.

The act also states that contractors, whether unionized or non-unionized, have to pay the prevailing wage. This is usually determined by the Minister of Labour by consulting in that area what a normal prevailing wage would be, not the union scale but somewhere in the same living-wage ballpark. As well, it sets the hours of work, including that no construction worker has to work more than 48 hours without time and a half overtime.

All of that has been eradicated. Now, a contractor can bid on one of these federal jobs and post a job notice saying “Wanted: Carpenters, $8 an hour, 84 hour work week, straight time”. No one will apply for that job, which opens the door to the other side of the coin, to mix a metaphor.

The other side of the coin is that the government has changed the laws for temporary foreign workers again by virtue of recent legislation to the point where a contractor can get temporary foreign workers within 10 days. Where do they come from? They are not some unemployed guys in Bangladesh who notice a job opportunity in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Rather, they come from international labour brokers who are peddling crews of temporary foreign workers all over the world for construction projects. We call them labour pimps. Unfortunately, many of the workers working for these international labour brokers are working in a form of bonded servitude for substandard wages with substandard living, health and safety conditions. Not only are they exploiting those temporary foreign workers, they are also driving down the wage and industry standards of Canadian workers by virtue of these contractors who will undoubtedly win every job.

I know construction. I am a journeyman carpenter. I spent my whole life in construction. I used to be a representative of the carpenters' union. I know the margins that construction contractors play with. There is only 2% or 3% between this bid and that bid. It is very competitive. Contractors who bid a job by pricing out labour at 20% and 30% and 40% lower than their competitors will win every job, every time. They will drive down the prevailing wage, because those other contractors will now have to start bidding lower if they are to ever win a job.

To whose benefit is it to drive down the fair wages of Canadian workers? Let me point out a secondary problem this raises. How are we going to attract bright, young men and women into the building trades if the normal wage is now going to be $8, $9 or $10 an hour instead of the $20 or $30 that it is now? Try feeding a family on $8, $9 or $10 an hour. Nobody in his or her right mind is going to go into that industry. We are going to have temporary foreign workers all over again. This is a recipe for undermining the integrity of the construction industry. I believe it is set up specifically to enable the construction of interprovincial pipelines, which used to be subject to these fair wage standards. It is going to create an open door for contractors to avoid paying fair wages to Canadians and these things are going to be built with temporary foreign workers.

Let me provide a recent example. Unfortunately, the pulp mill in Gold River, British Columbia closed down due to normal market forces. The pulp mill was sold to China. Instead of hiring locals to tear down the pulp mill, the 400 men and women who worked there all their lives and knew every nut and bolt in the place, the mill owner applied for temporary foreign workers. The permit was granted. I have a copy of the application. It asked if the mill tried to find Canadians to do the job. The answer was yes. It asked for the reason it did not hire those Canadians. The answer was that the price was too high. Therefore, it brought in crews of guys from India, who sleep six to a hotel room, to tear down the pulp mill while Canadian workers were outside the fence looking in, wishing they had another 12 weeks so they could get a pogey claim at least.

These temporary foreign worker permits are being given away like party favours at Conservative Party conventions to anybody who asks for them. Now the rules have been changed to make it a 10-day turnaround. A company posts an ad in the paper saying carpenters are wanted for $8 an hour, no overtime, no benefits. Nobody applies for the job. Within 10 days, that company has a crew from an international labour broker pimp who is going to provide all the manpower for that job.

Another example is the Winnipeg international airport. Winnipeg is very proud of its airport. Why is it that unemployed Canadian carpenters were outside the fence watching a crew of temporary foreign workers build that airport? It is simple. It asked the government for it. The crew consisted of 80 guys from Lebanon. The last job they came from was in Latvia, where they built another big concrete job. These guys are moved all over the world because it is cheaper than paying Canadians a fair wage. Companies would rather pay foreign nationals, not landed immigrants but foreign nationals, our wages. They are eating our lunches and those jobs should be going to Canadians.

As if there were not enough to criticize in Bill C-38, the government has just repealed the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. It makes one wonder what kind of a government is opposed to fair wages for Canadian workers. How many trusting blue-collar workers look to their government for support, not to undermine their living conditions? In its zeal to smash the unions, the government is dragging down the standard of living for the largest-employing industry sector in the country: the construction industry.

I know who is behind it: the merit shop contractors. They are regular and frequent visitors in the PMO. They went to the PMO and said, “It would be really great if we could win all the jobs. We win some of the jobs now, but it would be great if we could win all the jobs”. The government asked, “How can we help you?” They said, “Just eliminate the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act and then we can offer whatever wages we want, with no restrictions and no controls”.

It used to be that companies had to pay employees time and a half after 48 hours when they should have been paying them time and a half after 40 hours, but that was not good enough. Now they do not have to pay time and a half at all. Minimum wage is the only prevailing wage now, and I mean the provincial minimum wage, on these projects. It is destructive and counterproductive.

It is in nobody's best interest to ratchet down the wages and working conditions of Canadian workers. It is bad for the economy. The government says it is doing these things because it is good for the economy. What is good for the economy are well-paid, consuming, middle-class workers who are buying cars, houses and jeans for their kids, not people who are driven into the poorhouse by their government.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy the performance of my thespian friend from Winnipeg. I would like to make a connection to something his boss said, who is in favour of shutting down the oil sands. I would like to make the connection between the oil sands and the manufacturing industry in Ontario that he cares so much, which I applaud, and the construction industry across the country.

Talking about cars and toys for kids, if his boss had his way and shut down the oil sands, there would be nobody in Alberta buying the cars that nobody in Ontario would be making. There would be no workers building, not just in Alberta but in other parts of the country. Could he make that connection for me?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is making stuff up. Nobody has ever said that he or she will shut down the oil sands. People have said that they would develop the oil sands in a responsible and environmentally sustainable way.

Here is a fact that maybe my colleague does not know. I will bet dollars to donuts that he does not know that Bill C-38 repeals the fair wages act. I also bet that he does know that fully 30% of all the jobs created in this country from 2007 to today have been filled by temporary foreign workers, not by Canadians, and not just in high paying jobs but at Tim Hortons and as chamber maids in hotels. The reason Canadians are not taking those jobs is because of their lousy wage. Maybe if people paid a living wage, Canadians would apply for those jobs.

Temporary foreign workers is not a human resources strategy. It is the polar opposite of a human resources strategy. It is admitting defeat.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

May 10th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech, which focused on workers' quality of life. In speaking of workers' quality of life, the hon. member spoke a lot about contributing to the economy.

I would like him to say a few words about the fact that contributing to the economy can go hand in hand with sustainable development and respecting the environment and workers' health.

A study shows that in the United States, corporations have invested roughly $26 billion in green energies and technologies in order to adapt to climate change. They have earned up to $533 billion. For every dollar invested, they have earned $20, all while working toward preventing pollution-related respiratory disease.

What should the government do to improve the health of workers and contribute to the economy at the same time?