House of Commons Hansard #139 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

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[For continuation of proceedings see part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

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5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I was saying that what we are facing here is not simply a budget bill. What we are facing here is a double-sided telephone directory of items and issues that go way beyond the budget. Not only that, but as a parliamentarian, I and many of my colleagues feel that we have been denied the opportunity to debate this so-called telephone directory of a bill, Bill C-38, in any meaningful way.

Members on all sides of the House were elected to come here. We run to be MPs because we believe in parliamentary democracy. The role of government in a parliamentary democracy is to propose, and the role of the opposition is to hold the government accountable, as it is for some of the MPs sitting on the other side, as well. There is nothing stopping them from getting up to ask questions if they need clarification.

In a parliamentary democracy, we do not have a dictatorship, we do not have a republic, we do not have the power to veto. Therefore, it behooves even majority governments to allow the parliamentary process to play out, because only then can the people of Canada have full confidence in the workings of this House.

The Conservatives are not used to having a majority. I have been hoping they would learn that they do not have to use time allocation, that they do not always have to smack the opposition on the side of the head and say that we are not going to be given time to debate. I was hoping that after they had used time allocation a few times it would have occurred to them that they do not have to do that. They have a majority. They could let the debate take place and let the Canadian public see what they are trying to do.

They say they have so much pride in what is in the bill. If they have so much pride in this thick document, they should be willing for us to have those discussions right here in this Parliament.

I heard a colleague say that we have had three months. There has not been three months of debate on this bill in this House. If there has been, it must have happened in a different reality in which only the government lives, because it certainly has not happened on this side of the House.

As a result of, I could call it arrogance or the fumes of power which have invaded certain heads, it absolutely boggles my mind that over and over the Conservatives keep using time allocation. We had a vote earlier today once again to limit the debate on this bill which is thicker than many of our communities' phone books. It is a great concern and we really have to pay attention to that.

Let us take a look at what is buried in the bill. There is a whole lot buried in the bill that will have a huge impact upon the world we leave for our children.

I hear a lot of rhetoric about protecting our environment, but when I see the kinds of attacks in this bill on environmental assessments and environmental protections, it causes me a great deal of concern.

Some will say who cares if I am concerned. I am an elected MP. A riding of constituents voted for me and sent me here in good faith.

However, I am not the only one who is raising concerns. People in the larger community are talking about environment issues.

For example, Jessica Clogg, executive director and senior counsel at West Coast Environmental Law states:

By gutting Canada’s long-standing environmental laws, the budget bill gives big oil and gas companies what they've been asking for--fewer environmental safeguards so they can push through resource megaprojects with little regard to environmental damage. It is Canadians and our children who will pay the cost.

I do not want my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren or myself to have to pay the cost, nor do I want the rest of our youth to have to pay the cost.

Ten minutes goes by very quickly, especially when there is an interruption, but I will move on to another area. The changes to OAS are totally unnecessary, as all kinds have experts have said.

I will focus for a couple of minutes on the changes to immigration. Some people will wonder why changes to immigration are buried in the budget bill. The government is planning to hit the delete button for thousands of skilled workers who have been waiting very patiently to come to Canada. Out of the blue the government arbitrarily decided that anybody who applied for the skilled workers program before 2008 is gone. It will hit the delete button and their applications will no longer be valid. I know the government is saying that it will send the processing fee back to them, but the government made a commitment. These people played by the rules made by the Canadian government. Not only did they play by the rules, but they waited patiently. They did not do anything illegal to try to circumvent the system. As they were waiting patiently, they saw a new face of Canada that the Conservative government is showing to the world, that is, that Canada lacks compassion and has no respect for people who play by the rules.

The government will give them their money back, but who will give them back their hopes and aspirations? Who will give back to the family in China who, based on a promise made to them by the Canadian government because they were in a lineup to come here, sold their property. They gave their child an education so that the child would do better here. Now they cannot afford to buy back their house because the cost of living has gone up so much. I have hundreds of stories like that one.

People are demonstrating against us, against the Canadian government, in Beijing, in Manilla, in New Delhi, in Chandigarh and in Hong Kong. Why? Because we as Canadians broke our promise. What are we going to do to give these people back their hopes, aspirations and dreams? Why is the government determined to damage Canada's reputation worldwide?

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5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the speech of the member opposite. It was excitable and hyperbole was used. I kind of wondered, here we have 760,000 new jobs in this country and when we look at what Canadians want, they want a job. They want to be able to raise their families. They want to be able to grow and prosper in this country.

There is an economic meltdown all around the world right now and this country has been safeguarded in a very practical way. We have the budget.

How can the member opposite deny the fact that 760,000 new jobs are out there, people are working and our country is prospering? That is why the member should support this bill.

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5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague and I went to Taiwan together and got to know each other really well. I have a great deal of respect for my colleague across the aisle.

What we are debating today is the budget implementation bill and the process that is being used, and what is being thrown into the budget bill that goes way beyond what should be in a normal budget implementation bill.

According to the OECD's “Best Practices for Budget Transparency”, the government's draft budgets should be submitted to Parliament no less than three months prior to the start of the fiscal year. It also noted that the budget should include a detailed commentary on each revenue and expenditure program, and that comparative information on actual revenue and expenditure during the past year and an updated forecast for the current year should be provided for each program.

None of these practices are currently followed in Canada. It is very hard for us to support a budget that is smoke and mirrors.

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5:40 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Newton—North Delta for her speech. She has identified a number of very important and troubling aspects of the government's actions.

I would like to go back to the absolutely incredible solution being put forward by the government. It will shorten waiting lists for immigrants by eliminating the list and refunding the processing fees. I just cannot understand why the government would do that. My colleague explained what people have to go through to immigrate to Canada. For many candidates, the process lasts several years.

I would like my colleague to tell us more about that.

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5:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are different ways people get into the country. The skilled workers class is an independent class. People have to qualify based on their education and profession, that type of criteria. The people whose files are being deleted qualified before 2008. The backlog, as it is being referred to, is not really a backlog because the minister himself gets to decide how many people from each category are going to be allowed into the country.

Over the last number of years we have seen a huge growth in the number of temporary foreign workers. Also, a lot of the skilled workers who applied before 2008 have been left out. Their hopes, dreams and aspirations have been based on the idea that they are going to come to Canada. These are the professionals we want. There was an article in the news the day before yesterday that people in Alberta are asking why the government is doing this, because these are the people that are needed.

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5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today in support of Bill C-38 and to explain the necessary changes to the old age security program.

I appreciate as well the opportunity to stand in the House against the NDP and the opposition's tired tactics of delaying, which only serve to threaten Canadian jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

The changes proposed to the OAS program in Bill C-38 would secure the retirement benefits of future generations, making the program sustainable for the long term.

When these changes were first announced in economic action plan 2012, the Calgary Herald recognized the importance of these measures as part of our government's broader plan to protect Canada's fiscal future, saying:

It's a budget item that seems both responsible fiscally.... The firm-but-reasonable OAS strategy is in fact representative of the budget's overall tone.... Canada has shown great economic strength relative to world powers in Europe and the Americas since the fall of 2008, and continued leadership on that front is important.

The numbers tell us that we have to confront our fiscal and demographic realities to serve the best interests of all Canadians, both now and into the future.

The recent census confirmed that Canada has more seniors than ever before. My riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has one of the larger concentrations of seniors, and it is going to continue to grow as a retirement area.

The population of Canadian seniors is expected to keep growing in the coming years. By 2030, less than 20 years from now, almost one in four Canadians will be 65 years of age or older, compared to one in seven today. The number of OAS recipients is expected to almost double over the next 20 years, from about 4.9 million in 2011 to 9.3 million by 2030, when the last of the baby boomers reaches 65.

The annual cost of the old age security program is projected to increase from approximately $38 billion in 2011 to over $108 billion in 2030. OAS is the largest single social program of the Government of Canada, and it is 100% funded by tax revenues. Today 13¢ of every federal tax dollar is spent on old age security. If no changes are made, in about 20 years that will grow to 21¢, or one-fifth of all federal tax dollars spent.

At the same time, Canadians are living longer and healthier lives. With the growing number of seniors who will be collecting OAS for longer periods of time, the total cost of benefits will become increasingly difficult to afford for tomorrow's workers and taxpayers.

We cannot stand idly by. We will not stand idly by. We cannot allow the old age security program to continue on its current path. That is why we are taking action: because we want to ensure that future generations have an OAS program they can count on in their older years.

Before I talk about the proposed changes, it is important to clarify that those seniors who currently receive OAS will not lose a cent and will not be affected.

The most important change we are proposing is to increase the eligibility age for the OAS pension and GIS from 65 to 67 by 2029, with a gradual increase starting on April 1, 2023. In essence, it will be phased in over six years.

We are giving advance notification and a long phase-in period to allow Canadians ample time to adapt their retirement income plans and to smooth the transition to the new age of eligibility. We think our phased-in approach is both fair and reasonable.

Two other changes to the OAS are being proposed: proactive enrolment and voluntary deferral.

Starting in 2013, we plan to begin proactive enrolment of OAS benefits to eliminate the need for some eligible seniors to apply for their OAS pension and the GIS. This measure will be implemented over a four-year period and will reduce the application burden on many seniors as well as the government's administrative costs.

On July 1, 2013, we also plan to allow for a voluntary deferral of the OAS pension. This would let people delay receiving their OAS pension by up to five years, up to age 70, in exchange for an enhanced monthly pension, similar to what is happening in CPP.

This new measure will provide people with more flexibility as they plan their transition from work to retirement. Not only will it increase flexibility for older workers, but the option to defer has also been welcomed by small business owners across the country.

Ben Brunnen, chief economist with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, has been clear that this represents a win for Canadian business by saying:

The OAS changes help remove disincentives and create choice for older workers to stay in the workforce, which can have a big impact on the labour market—especially for a smaller company.

Let me return to the age of eligibility and be absolutely clear about the timeline: current OAS pensioners will not be affected by this change, nor will people who are close to the current OAS age of eligibility. People aged 54 or older as of March 31, 2012—in other words, those born on or before March 31, 1958—would be eligible to apply for the OAS pension and the GIS at the age of 65.

We will ensure that certain federal income support programs that end at age 65 are aligned with changes to the OAS program. This would include programs for veterans and low-income first nation seniors on reserve. This will ensure that individuals receiving benefits from these programs would not face a gap in income at ages 65 and 66.

We will also consider the situation of people between 65 and 67 who receive disability or survivor benefits from the Canada pension plan. These benefits typically stop or are reduced at age 65, when the recipient becomes eligible for old age security. This will be discussed with the ministers of finance of the provinces and territories, who are joint stewards of the CPP, during the next regular review of the program.

Our government has been clear that the proposed changes would not affect the Canada pension plan, as the CPP and OAS are two separate programs. The Chief Actuary has confirmed that CPP is financially sound and fully sustainable for generations to come.

The OAS program cannot continue in its present form. Once again, as we have said, it is becoming unaffordable and needs to reflect demographic realities, and that is why we are changing it now. If we refuse to acknowledge these realities and simply sit back and do nothing, the OAS program would become unsustainable, as it would if the opposition parties had their way.

Conservatives are convinced that the only just and practical way to relieve the cost pressures on OAS is to increase the age of eligibility. As the Government of Canada, it is our obligation to make responsible and prudent decisions for Canadians of all ages over the coming decades. Not only is it our obligation to make responsible and prudent decisions, some of them tough decisions, but we are up to the task. Through our actions, that is exactly what we are doing.

Back when OAS was first put in place, the average age of a male was 67 to 68 years old and the average age of a female was 69 to 71 years old, depending upon which figures one looked at. However, today those ages are 80 and 83. We are living longer, and that is a good thing, but programs like this need to be looked at and changed from time to time.

Many countries in the world have already made these changes or are looking at making these changes. I think it is high time that Canada did the same thing. This policy would put us in good shape for seniors down the road. My sons, when it is their time, will have a healthy OAS there for them.

However, if we do not deal with it, I fear they will be looking at something that is reduced or gone altogether.

I will leave it at that. I look forward to any questions.

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5:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the good news, I hope, is that in 2023 the Conservatives will not be in government. They probably will not be there in 2015. That is the good news.

With regard to the old age pension, people working in big plants where they have good pension plans can decide to retire at the age of 60 or maybe 55. However, the problem is that the people who would be affected have low wages, are not in a union and have no pension plan.

I just do not see how, for example, people in a fish plant can work until the age of 67. People down home call my office and tell me that they have a hard time working until 60 in the fish plant with the hard work that they have to do. How are they going to be able to stay until the age of 67?

My question to the member is this: who will pay that cost? Would it be the provinces? Would we put people on welfare instead?

Also, with reference to other countries, France is reducing the age from 65 to 60. They are reducing it, not putting it up. I would like to hear what the member has to say on this point.

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5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, to my hon. colleague's first comment, which I will not get back into, my mom used to say when I was a kid that every little boy should have a dream.

However, in terms of the question about who is going to pay for this, the member talked about the age of 67. It is always the NDP way to fearmonger and present 67 as that terrible age. My father is 79 years old, and he can still outwork a lot of men 20 years younger. On this issue that we cannot work at 67, it is a reality and a fact out there today that there are members in this House who work 15 hours a day and are older than 67. It does not matter what profession people are in; to use that as an argument does not cut it with me.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound's remarks. I did not hear anything about the United Nations in there. I figured he might be talking about the United Nations and whether there is money allocated there. He is on that wavelength a bit.

However, the member's arguments on the OAS sound good. The problem is they have no substance in fact at all. The OAS is sustainable as is, according to nearly every economist. If people want to work to age 69, 70 and 75, they can do so, but what about those who cannot work beyond 65? This bill really means that those people who are poor and in the lower income bracket would have to go on provincial welfare. As it comes into place, this is a plan to transfer costs to the provinces and cover up for the bad fiscal management of the Conservative government.

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5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the member for Malpeque's support of my comments on the UN, so I thank him for that.

To get back to OAS, it is obvious that the NDP members do not have a monopoly on fearmongering. We just heard a classic example there. However, we are fixing this OAS so that when he leaves this place in three years, he will be able to draw on it too.

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6 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague for having content in his speech, because we have heard the opposition members talk a lot about how thick and big this bill is, and I ask my colleague to comment on this. Why is it that if there is not enough time for debate, the opposition members are taking a huge percentage of their total time talking about how big this bill is instead of talking about content?

Also, I believe it was the member for Burnaby—New Westminster who spoke for enough time to allow 50 of his party's members to speak to the bill. Then the members complain that there is not enough debate time, in spite of the fact that we have had the most debate time ever on a budget implementation bill. I would like my colleague to comment on that.

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6 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my good friend and colleague from Wainwright. I would never call anybody a hypocrite in this place, but certainly some actions are hypocritical, and the member touched on that.

In government we hear comments like the one from the member for Malpeque, who talked about fiscal management. It is known around the world in international circuits that the state of finances in Canada stands second to no one. We are leaders in that, and here is another example in which we fix something for the long-term good of Canada and Canadians.

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June 12th, 2012 / 6 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will take us from the United Nations and old age security to the environment.

Allow me to delve into Canadian history and go back to the dawn of the great nation of Canada, to 1867, the year of Confederation. At that time, the Fathers of Confederation decided on the division of powers and the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments.

At the time, there were two major industries in Canada: fur trading and fishing. The fishery was of vital importance and played a predominant role in the Canadian economy. Of course, it is still a very important industry, especially in the maritime provinces and on the west coast. However, it has a lesser role in the Canadian economy than it did back then.

At that time, it was decided, with respect to the division of power, that the fishery would be a federal jurisdiction.

Today, this power is very important when it comes to environmental protection because it gives the federal government a large say not only with respect to the health of fish stocks and the fishery, but also the quality and quantity of freshwater in Canada.

It is true that water is a natural resource and therefore a provincial jurisdiction. However, in some places it falls under joint jurisdiction, especially in the Great Lakes and the boundary waters that are subject to an international treaty. The federal government has a say in how those waters are managed. Apart from that, in Canada, water is a natural resource that falls under provincial jurisdiction. However, under the Fisheries Act, the federal government has a say in order to protect the quality and quantity of freshwater in this country.

In 1868, one year after Confederation, the government passed the Fisheries Act. In 1977, more than 100 years later, in light of the data we had gathered since Confederation and advances in science, we came to understand the importance of fish habitat to the health of the fish, but also as a sign of water quality. Damaged habitat has an impact on the health of the fish—the fish might be deformed, for example—but it is also a sign that the quality of the water leaves something to be desired.

It is not just pollution that can harm or damage fish habitat. Lower water flow can damage or destroy fish habitat. With the changing climate, we see that the flow of some of our country's great rivers is decreasing. I am thinking about the Athabasca River in particular. That is a threat to fish habitat. The flow of the Athabasca River is decreasing because of climate change, but also because of water removal by the agricultural sector and the oil sands industry.

If we want to protect fish habitat, perhaps we need to establish a critical flow threshold for the river below which water removal must be stopped temporarily.

If fish habitat in the Athabasca River is not protected by the Fisheries Act, it will not be illegal to remove too much water, and the water level will drop and fish habitat will be damaged. The government is removing fish habitat protection, which opens the door to all kinds of water removal.

For instance, let us suppose that, in the summertime, a municipality experiences a water shortage but, for political reasons, decides not to prohibit people from watering their lawns in the middle of the afternoon, which is what many municipalities usually do in the summer. Suddenly the water level in the watershed in which the municipality is located drops, and this damages fish habitat.

Fish habitat is very important, because many fish that travel from one end of a river to another rest and feed there. Damaging fish habitat is harmful to fish and to the river, and can even harm the ocean.

If this habitat is not protected by the Fisheries Act, this opens the door to all kinds of potential abuses of our freshwater resource.

This bill means major changes that will affect the future of our freshwater resource and the health of our environment and our aquatic ecosystems. This poses a real problem.

I would also point out that the government is using a false argument to justify its changes to the Fisheries Act to weaken fish habitat protections.

It is like with the gun control bill. The government likes to invoke farmers and hunters to make everyone feel that its objectives are noble. It is doing the same thing in trying to justify its weakening of the Fisheries Act with regard to habitat protection. It invokes farmers. The government says that it needs to do this to make life easier and to protect farmers and farming. The government knows that is a powerful argument.

I will read an article that appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on June 8, by a farmer, Mr. Jan Slomp, who owns a 65-cow dairy farm. It reads:

[The] Agriculture Minister...and [the] Fisheries Minister...seem to be using farmers as bait to get the public to swallow the changes to the Fisheries Act included in Bill C-38, the omnibus Budget Implementation Act.

By suggesting that the government is abandoning protection of fish habitat so that farmers don't have to deal with red tape when they maintain their irrigation ditches, the ministers have stretched credibility to the breaking point. Like me, many farmers resent the implication that we aren't interested in being good stewards of the water, which is essential for healthy livestock and wholesome crops, on the land we manage.

Here we have a farmer who is calling into question the government's public relations strategy of invoking farmers to justify changing the Fisheries Act and weaken protections for Canada's environment, water and aquatic ecosystems in particular.

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6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I should remind my friend that this is the Fisheries Act, not the water act. What we are doing with the Fisheries Act is making it a true Fisheries Act by making the habitat provisions apply to fisheries of human interest, commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries, so it is a true fisheries population habitat protection bill.

In terms of agriculture, the budget committee hearing that I was at, Mr. Ron Bonnett, who is the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, not just one producer but who represents most of Canadian farmers, was very much in favour of what we are doing with the Fisheries Act. Could my hon. friend explain the difference?