House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was changes.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on budget Bill C-38.

I wish to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

When our Conservative colleague was talking about some of the panels or organizations that the Conservatives had stopped giving money to on the environment, the simple reason is that if they criticize the Prime Minister, that is it; they lose their funding.

The Prime Minister went to another country and said clearly that if somebody criticizes the government's work, they would lose the funding the government gives them. That is the only plain answer. There is no other answer.

This is a government that does not like to be criticized. It is as simple as that. Canadians know it, and they will make a decision one day on who they want to run the country.

The problem with Bill C-38 is that it is a budget bill that contains a lot of things that have nothing to do with the budget.

According to this government, the previous government passed things in its budgets that had nothing to do with budgetary matters. But just because one government has done it does not make it right. Why have a budget bill if all sorts of things are going to be hidden in it?

I am sure that I am not the only one who has not read the budget's 421 pages. Few members of the House can have read it, not even government members. This budget hides all kinds of things. One day, people are going to wake up and realize what it all means.

I would like to bring up a number of points. The Conservatives say that 50 hours to support or to attack the budget are enough. They feel that it is plenty of time. But it is funny that hon. members on the Standing Committee on Official Languages have been studying the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality since September.

Take the 150th anniversary in 2017. Committee members have been studying the 150th anniversary celebrations since September.

In this case, the Conservatives have introduced 70 amendments to existing laws. I will give a few examples, for instance, the Employment Insurance Act. In the past, if there were changes to EI, they would usually be studied by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Thus, people in industry and workers across the county would come before the committee as witnesses and tell us how they would be affected by these changes. For example, with this bill, people will have to travel an hour from their homes if work is available. The government will be reasonable, it seems: refusal would depend on the job being suited to the worker, and that sort of thing.

Moreover, the government is getting rid of the board of referees. I am not sure if people understand this completely: 1,000 people across Canada sit on the boards of referees that decide whether the Employment Insurance Commission has made a good or bad decision. EI claimants have always had the fundamental right to appear before a board if they have been denied EI benefits.

Each board of referees is made up of three people: one represents the employer, one the employees and the third is supposed to be independent.

These people examine all the facts before them and decide whether or not the commission has made a mistake. If, like the commission, the board of referees rejects a claim, then the employee can appeal to an umpire. Conversely, if the board of referees agrees with the employee, then the commission can appeal to an umpire.

It is a transparent system where people can seek justice and accomplish something. The government is now doing away with the board of referees and the umpires. It is in Bill C-38.

Are the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada—who rises every day to tell us how good the employment insurance system is—and the Conservative government doing justice to workers covered by a program that belongs to workers and employers? The government does not give a single penny to the program. Now that the penny is being eliminated, we will be saying that the government does not give a single nickel to this program. It is paid for by the employees and employers.

They pay for insurance in the event of job losses. The government is now eliminating the board of referees and umpires and replacing them with 38 people who it will appoint. Honestly, that scares me.

I remember that, when the Mulroney government made changes in 1988 and in the 1990s, Canadians took to the streets. They did not accept the changes of Brian Mulroney's Conservative government. I remember that, in 1996, when Jean Chrétien was in power, Canadians did not accept the changes. They took to the streets.

We can imagine what it will be like when there are only 38 people in Canada to handle these cases. They will never be able to take care of all the cases deemed inadmissible by commission officials.

Conservative MPs are going to wake up when they get numerous calls to their offices from people who will be telling them that they are not entitled to employment insurance benefits and who will be wanting to know what their MP intends to do. I am eager to see how the Conservative MPs will respond to those people. If they do not do justice by them, they will then wonder why people are taking to the streets.

The other aspect concerns the age of eligibility for old age security, which is increasing from 65 to 67. I listened to what my Conservative colleague said.

He said the Conservative government does not want to pass the buck to somebody else or the next generation and that we have to look after the retirement of people from 65 to 67 to make sure we have money for them. Well, it has been proven that there will be money for their retirement, and the Conservatives are saying they do not want to pass the buck? They will be passing the buck to the provinces.

The people who really need the old age pension are the ones who do not have any pension. They did not work for an employer that gave them a pension plan. Many worked hard physical jobs in a number of areas. As an example, I have seen women working in fish plants where there are 3,000 people working in one area. They can take their retirement at 65, and I honestly cannot see them working until the age of 67.

People who work in factories, for instance, do not have pension funds when it comes time to retire. There are no pension funds for these people. Who will be hit even harder? The women who work in these jobs. These are jobs without pensions. These people will not be able to retire, and the government is deciding that they will continue working until they are 67. If they cannot continue working, they will have to turn to social assistance, and the provinces will be the ones to pay.

The government says that it does not want to pass the cost off to future generations, but it is passing it off to the provinces. The provinces do not have the resources to assume the cost.

All of that is hidden in Bill C-38. The government is absolutely not honest. When it talks about creating 720,000 jobs one day, 740,000 jobs another day or 760,000 jobs yet another day, the government is not talking about the 19,000 jobs it is eliminating in the public sector that help people every day.

For these reasons, we cannot vote for Bill C-38. It is not a good bill, and the government has failed in its duty to represent Canadians.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. He seems to have a much clearer vision of what is actually in the bill than the Conservatives and some of the stuff we heard earlier from them. They were talking about how senior citizens in this country were creating such a dead weight on the system that it was all going to collapse. We know the attack by the Conservatives on OAS is an attack on the poorest of seniors, the people who do not have savings or RRSPs. They will have to work until age 67. The Conservatives did not campaign on that but they are now bringing it in.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer said that the government's numbers were made up. Ever since then the Conservatives have been denying the Parliamentary Budget Officer access to information. The Conservatives broke the law by denying Parliament the ability to do its work, to do due diligence, to ensure that people, senior citizens for example, are not unfairly targeted by the government.

Could my hon. colleague tell me why he thinks the government has made up this fiction about senior citizens being a dead weight on our tax system when OAS is sustainable? Could he tell me why the government has gone to the lengths of breaking the law to deny the Parliamentary Budget Officer access to information and keep him from doing his work?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what workers have done to the Conservatives to make them hate them so much. For example, we saw what happened with Air Canada. We saw the arbitrator go towards the employer this week. We saw what happened at Canada Post. When Canada Post was ready to give its employees a 2% increase, the Conservative government brought a bill to the House which gave them a 1.5% increase. What did the workers do to the government to make the Conservatives hate them so much?

I have never seen the government go after big business. As a matter of fact, the government gives big business a tax break. When it comes to the workers though, the government just looks them in the eye and bingo they are gone. What is wrong?

We are here to make laws, yet the Conservatives break the law. They have been breaking the law day after day. The Conservatives have no conscience when it comes to Parliament, to what our democratic institution is all about. They have been like that since they became a majority government. They do not care. They have a big bulldozer and they ride over everybody. Now they are--

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. Questions and comments. The hon. member for Kitchener--Conestoga.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not in the House for a good part of the debate, but based on the question by my hon. colleague across the way, I can imagine there is considerable angst about the fact that we are proposing to change the rules as they relate to OAS way down the road. The opposition continues to paint this as if we see some crisis. There is no crisis. We are planning in advance to avoid a crisis. Why would members opposite not agree that we can plan in advance to avoid a crisis so we have a sustainable program going forward?

My colleague said that we are against workers. Our government has had a track record for the last number of years of economic action plans that have resulted in a tax reduction for the average family of $3,100. How could the member possibly suggest that we are against ordinary Canadians?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, when I see people at Canada Post losing their jobs at a call centre and the government creating jobs with independent private sector groups where people are paid $12 an hour, that is a hit to the workers. The government closed down a call centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Individuals were being paid over $20. The government opened one in Bathurst where people earn $12 an hour.

Canada Post was ready to give its employees a 2% increase. The government passed a bill, and that member voted for it, giving them a 1.5% increase.

What did the workers do to the government that makes it hate them so much? It is unbelievable.

Look at the pension plan in France right now. Instead of raising the age to 67, the government brought it down to 60. We can see the difference. There is a difference because that government has a conscience when it comes to the people. The Conservative government does not have a conscience when it comes to the people. You just drive a bulldozer over all of them and you will pay a price very soon for that.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. I would remind hon. members to direct comments and questions through the Chair.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to once again thank the staff and pages for all their hard work last week and indeed throughout the year. Without them this place would not function and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I thank them all.

New Democrats have fought this Trojan Horse budget bill every step of the way. We proposed that this massive and unprecedented 425-page bill be split into separate sections to permit proper study of its substantive measures, but unfortunately for the people of Canada, the Conservatives refused. Now we hear from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that legal advice provided to him has determined the government is in fact withholding savings measures and is not just breaking the law and contravening the Parliament of Canada Act, but also is breaking the Federal Accountability Act.

In response to this omnibus bill, the NDP caucus organized alternate public hearings in Ottawa and other cities across the country in May of this year to ensure that Canadians' views were indeed heard. I attended the hearings in Ottawa and I also hosted one in my riding. We heard many witnesses outline their concerns about this massive budget bill and how it impacted their lives, their jobs, the environment and Canada as a whole. The picture they painted was not pretty.

We tried to make this bill better at committee and report stage. We introduced hundreds of amendments that would have corrected the most egregious parts of Bill C-38. We wanted to take the sting out of this legislation and make it better, but the Conservatives defeated every one of our amendments. The votes that took place last Wednesday were a testament to the opposition's resolve and the dire need to make changes to Bill C-38, yet all amendments were just ignored and even openly mocked by members opposite, so here I stand once again in the hope that we can drive some sense into members opposite.

This budget implementation bill is supposed to implement the budget, but it goes far, far beyond what was outlined in the recent federal budget. Quite simply, it is profoundly inappropriate for any government to put so many sweeping changes in so many different areas to more than 70 pieces of legislation as this bill does. It is bad public policy. It is becoming abundantly clear that the government members opposite are trying to hide from their obligation to provide responsible oversight. Rather, they seem determined to avoid accountability.

I have spoken to this bill previously and in those remarks I have outlined the impact this bill will have on the retirement of future generations. We know that changes to old age security will have the biggest impact on the poorest people. Sadly, senior women and those with disabilities will be most affected. While the Conservatives claim it is necessary, the reality is that OAS is sustainable. It is sustainable now and in the future. We can absolutely afford to ensure all seniors are free from poverty and live in dignity in their retirement. A secure retirement is about making smart choices and intelligent practical investments. I say to the government that it makes much more sense to invest in people, our seniors, than in unnecessary megaprisons, expensive fighter jets and unaffordable tax breaks for profitable corporations.

The choices made in this so-called budget bill will have a dramatic impact on the Canadian landscape. I want to highlight a few of the choices the government has made.

The Conservatives claim that budget 2012 is about job creation, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that this budget will cost 43,000 Canadians their jobs. In fact, the budget actually plans for unemployment to rise.

Speaking of unemployment, Bill C-38 concentrates power in the hands of the minister in regard to what constitutes a reasonable search for work or suitable employment for those on employment insurance. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide any details about what the new definitions of “suitable employment” or “reasonable search” might be, but we have already seen the minister freelancing and defining “suitable employment” in a manner that will hurt hundreds of thousands of Canadians. The government is asking Canadians to just trust the minister.

EI is funded by Canadian workers and Canadian employers. EI belongs to them. It is not government money, yet the government believes it is all right to force many of those unemployed workers to accept a 30% pay cut in work outside their field. This is unacceptable.

Another decision made by the Minister of Finance is to gut environmental protection regulations. Canadians want their government to take action to fight climate change and protect our environment. Instead, Bill C-38 reduces Canada's accountability on the world stage by repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. By dropping out of Kyoto, Canada will no longer be required to report on its emissions. By bowing out, the Conservatives have made us the laughing stock of the rest of the world.

In fact, a full one-third of Bill C-38 is dedicated to environmental deregulation. The government is doing all the negative things it announced in the 2012 budget and more. Bill C-38 delegates environmental assessments to other authorities, including the provinces. Once again the government is downloading federal costs and responsibilities onto other levels of government.

The bill also takes aim at environmental groups. It amends the rules for determining the extent to which a charity has engaged in political activities. It grants the Minister of National Revenue the authority to suspend a charity's privileges with respect to issuing tax receipts if the charity, according to the minister, devotes too many resources to political activities. This attack on charities is in part aimed at environmental groups that have actively opposed the government's reckless inaction on the environment.

Bill C-38 also has consequences for our fisheries. It changes the rules around fish habitat protection and the deposit of deleterious substances in fish-bearing waters, and it weakens regulation regarding disposal at sea. Our oceans are already at risk, and the government is determined to make things worse.

Let me remind the government that as members of Parliament, we are stewards of this country and its environment. It is our job and our absolute obligation to protect that environment for future generations. By passing the bill, we would utterly fail in this task. The changes to environmental regulations will most tragically impact future generations.

Perhaps the most egregious part of this Trojan Horse bill is its size and scope. Its flagrant disregard for democracy and accountability is breathtaking. Within Bill C-38 also lies the single largest move to restrict accountability by way of the broad reduction in the oversight powers of the Auditor General. The Conservatives claim that the Auditor General requested these changes, but the reality remains that his office was impacted by the government's austerity agenda.

The Conservative government is so hell-bent on cutting spending that it is willing to roll back government oversight on key areas like food safety. Imagine, reduced oversight by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the agency that ensures the safety of the food we feed our families.

The bill also eliminates mandatory Auditor General oversight of financial reporting on 11 other key agencies: Northern Pipeline Agency, Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Exchange Fund Account, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Polar Commission, and Yukon Surface Rights Board.

There are many more issues with the bill, but I do not have time to outline them all. No one does.

I do, however, wish to point out one more very troubling issue. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said repeatedly that MPs are not getting the information they need in order to reasonably exercise their power of oversight.

How can we as members of Parliament in good conscience vote on a bill for which we do not have all of the necessary information? As I already said, the Parliamentary Budget Officer requested a legal opinion and it showed that the government is breaking the law of Canada.

I fear for democracy in this country. The bill is designed to strip away accountability, increase ministerial powers and hide financial data. It is an affront to the democratic process. It seeks to hide within the confines of budget implementation a wide array of things that will undermine our country.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

June 18th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham
Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult listening to that speech coming from this member because as I am sure members will recall—and if they do not, I will remind them—that this is a member who was actually a cabinet minister in the Ontario government in the nineties, which actually ran one of the highest, fastest deficits in the history of the province. It almost bankrupted the province, but thankfully, the Conservatives took stewardship later on and righted the ship.

However, in its time in office that Ontario government actually unilaterally shredded the collective agreements of hundreds of thousands of Ontario workers, forced them to take days off, cut their salaries without even asking them and rammed that through.

My question for the hon. member is this. Why does she and the NDP hate workers to the extent that they would actually rip up their contracts, as was done when that member was a minister of the Crown? Why does the NDP dislike families so much that it would vote against tax cuts for our families, the GST? Why does the NDP hate seniors so much that it would vote against the GIS?

Is she not embarrassed that the NDP is nothing more than a protest party that stands for nothing?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that this member has finally had the courage to ask that question of me instead of into some blank space, because I was indeed a member of that government.

Let me tell him just some of the history. Brian Mulroney, and members may remember him, brought in a free trade agreement. At that time, he said there would be training money for Ontario and there would be all kinds of support for all those unemployed workers.

Five hundred thousand job losses later, there was nothing for the workers of Ontario. There was no training. In fact, that government reduced employment insurance to the point where people were being forced onto welfare. We had welfare rolls that we could not manage.

Then, to add insult to injury, that same Mulroney government decreased the amount of transfers.

It was a very difficult time, thanks to Conservative governments.

With regard to all the other things that he seems to think were important, I have a very concise response, too. We would have been fine if there had been no Conservative government in this country—

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

Questions and comments.

The hon. member is rising on a point of order?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to clarify. The reason they stripped the workers of their rights back then was that we brought a free trade agreement in that has created—

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. That is not a point of order. We are into debate as to the facts and, of course, that is a principle in the debate as it goes.

Questions and comments.

The hon. member for Saint-Lambert.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for her remarks. As she pointed out, this massive omnibus bill goes way beyond the budget. Once more, the Conservatives are trying to rush their bill through without letting Canadians study it carefully, let alone the hon. members here. To make things worse, they are trying to include changes that will reduce transparency and democracy even more. Can the hon. member comment on this affront to our democracy and to parliamentary debate?