Elsewhere

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 39.00% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Employment Insurance May 14th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by applauding the hon. member for Vancouver Island North for his concern for the welfare of unemployed Canadians.

Given the economic setbacks experienced in the member's home province, anything from softwood lumber to SARS and avian flu, I know how important the employment insurance program is to the citizens of British Columbia.

As well-meaning as my colleague's private member's motion may be, however, I think it is essential to point out the potential damage it could do to unemployed workers who are already coping with the challenge of losing a job.

While it may appear that Motion No. 300 is in their best interests, a closer examination reveals that it may not be. There is a very real concern that some of this country's lowest income earners, often part time workers, many of them women, could be really hurt if the motion were adopted. It could actually undo much of the good that we have achieved since reforming the EI program back in the mid-1990s.

I remind the House that our purpose in updating the legislation was to increase coverage and Canadians' access to the program. Prior to 1996 many part time workers were unable to access EI. Anyone who worked less than 15 hours per week was not insured. That is one of the reasons we shifted to the hours based system. It means that every hour of work now counts toward entitlement. This improvement has benefited seasonal workers and part time workers, many of them women who take time away from the labour force to raise young families. The shift to the first dollar coverage has extended the insurance plan's coverage to an additional 400,000 part time workers.

One of the other important changes that we made to the program was to emphasize the necessity of a strong workforce attachment. This serves as a reminder that EI provides temporary financial help to unemployed Canadians while they look for work or upgrade their skills, while they are pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or while they are sick.

An unemployed worker can only benefit from EI if he or she has earned wages in the previous 26 weeks. The problem is that if we were to exempt the payment of EI premiums on the first $3,000 of income, we would not be able to provide benefits to that amount should anyone become unemployed. That is because the premiums would not have been paid on this income. People have to pay premiums to receive benefits.

More worrisome, if we agreed to a basic yearly exemption, we would effectively be penalizing the most vulnerable and potentially reverting to the 15 hour job trap that affected a previous generation of part time workers. Evidence indicates that the move to the first dollar coverage eliminated the incentive for employers to restrict employees hours to below the minimum insurability.

If Motion No. 300 moves forward, part time workers or people holding down more than one job, generally low income workers, would no longer have to contribute to the EI program until they had earned more than $3,000, but they could not draw from the insurance plan either should they lose their jobs.

Also, if my hon. colleague's intention is to provide a premium refund to low income workers, the motion comes a bit late. We already addressed this problem through the improvements to the program several years ago. As it now stands, employees earning less than $2,000 annually can have their premiums refunded. In 2001 we reimbursed some 859,000 individuals to the tune of approximately $17 million.

With all due respect for the hon. member of the opposition, it is hard not to be cynical and to question the real motivation behind this motion. Even though at first glance it appears to be altruistic, it seems the only beneficiaries would be businesses looking at ways to cut corners at workers' expense.

We do not see it as an either or proposition. I can assure the House that our focus in reforming EI has not been exclusively on workers. We have made equal efforts to address the concerns of Canadian business. One way has been to cut the cost of the program, as the private sector has requested. We have reduced premium rates by just under $10 billion, actually $9.7 billion in 2004, over the past decade. EI premiums have declined steadily, benefiting both workers and their employers.

As my colleagues are aware, our government is determined to do even more. Do not forget that budget 2003 launched consultations on a new permanent rate setting mechanism for 2005 and beyond. The results of these consultations are currently under review. As we reiterated in budget 2004, our intention is to introduce legislation to implement a new EI premium rate setting mechanism that better reflects the economy of the 21st century.

Until we determine what kind of changes we will make to the premium structure however, it would not only be premature but inappropriate to adopt Motion No. 300.

That is not all we are doing for business. Recognizing that small and medium sized enterprises are the key drivers of economic growth and job creation, the budget identified a number of measures to help them grow and prosper.

Industry Canada and its industry portfolio partners will administer a range of incentives and supports to business. For example, to enhance access to venture capital for promising Canadian firms, the government has set aside $250 million for an investment in the Business Development Bank of Canada.

It is expected that these additional investments will lead to over $1 billion in new venture capital investment in Canada. A further $5 million per year is being committed to the industrial research assistance program to strengthen its support for regional innovations and initiatives sponsored by the National Research Council.

We have also committed to work with small businesses to reduce the paper burden, understanding this is a serious concern for many firms. To identify and respond to other priorities, they may and we will seek the advice of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to identify the best options for the future support of small business, taking into account limited fiscal resources.

Equally promising, the Minister of Industry, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with special emphasis on science and small business, and the new national science adviser have been tasked by the Prime Minister to study the commercialization situation in Canada. They will be recommending a long term strategy to put Canada at the leading edge of commercializing its intellectual property.

Therefore, there can be no question of the government's commitment to working with business to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace. Nor is there any doubt that the motion is not the way to go to support either business, the business community or unemployed Canadians.

I remind the House that various proposals for a yearly basic exemption have been put forward in the past. The idea was debated when EI was developed in 1996 but rejected in favour of first dollar coverage.

As well, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities recommended the same concept in 2001, but it was later concluded that this was not the best approach.

In fact, the 2003 EI monitoring and assessment report tabled on April 27 found that the core elements of the EI program such as an hours based system and the first dollar coverage are working very well.

I stand proudly behind EI, a pillar of the Canadian social safety net that has served Canadians well for more than six decades. I want to assure this country's workers that I will staunchly defend this vitally important program. I will do my utmost to ensure motions like the one proposed by the opposition member enjoy the same fate as previous efforts to introduce a yearly based exemption.

In the interest of fairness and dignity of all Canadian workers, whatever their working arrangements, I cannot with a clear conscience support the motion and I strongly urge others to reject it as well.

Petitions May 14th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have three petitions that I would like to present. The petitioners ask Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Supply May 11th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, to clear the air, very simply we as a government have always said that we take a look at the five principles of the Canadian Health Act and we stand behind them.

To go further than that, this becomes a negotiating situation with the provinces and territories. Where do we want to take the health care system, knowing that the issues that are facing it right now and the increased usage that is coming in the future as the aging baby boomers hit it? Those are the questions that will have to be negotiated this summer with the provinces and the territories.

Supply May 11th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I thought maybe the preamble would let me off answering the question but I will answer it.

I just want to give the member a bit of my background. I sat as a hospital board member for 12 years at the Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest. I was the corporation treasurer for four years for that hospital. I see the exercise that is in front of us right now, that we have to enter into negotiations with the provinces and the territories, as the federal government, on a proactive basis to take health care into the next century, which is where we are at.

I am 54 and a baby boomer. People are turning 50 at the rate of over 52,000 a year. A lot of pressure will be put on the health care system so it has to be up and ready to run.

One of the things that irritated me more than anything else when I was a corporation treasurer is that if the administrator of the hospital and myself found a savings in our budget, for instance, $40,000, we were not allowed to put that money in a capital trust account to take a look at expenditures that the hospital would be faced with, such as needing a new MRI, an x-ray machine or anything else. In fact, it was even worse because the $40,000 that I had found, if I did not spend it at the end of the year, in the next budget year my budget would be reduced by $40,000.

That is something that actually exists within the province of Ontario which encourages wasteful spending. What I am saying is that we as a federal government have to get past the fact that we walk into the room with a blank cheque. We have to be part of the administrative process with health care to take it into the next millennium. That is what I am behind and what I want to see done.

Supply May 11th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the motion by the hon. member for Churchill respecting health care delivery.

Canadians enjoy one of the world's most successful health care systems. Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world. Our universal, publicly administered health care system has worked well for our country. The principles, as enshrined in the Canada Health Act have conferred significant benefits, both in terms of health status and our economy.

Nothing optimizes this philosophy better than Canada's universal, single payer health system that provides everyone, regardless of income, age, gender or place of residence, with equal access to quality medical health care. In the view of many, our health system is central to our national identity. It defines us and unites us as a nation.

On standard measures of both life expectancy and infant mortality, Canada outperforms the United States. In 1990 the life expectancy for Canadian men was two years longer than American men. By 1995 it was 2.8 years longer. In the same timeframe, Canadian women's life expectancy increased from 1.6 to 1.9 years beyond that of American women. Medicare has contributed to the improved health outcomes for our children. In fact, our infant mortality rates are among the lowest in the world. This is largely because Canadians have access to necessary medical care.

A report just released by the Commonwealth Fund on the quality of health care in industrialized countries comparing Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand found no single country to be superior overall. However, it did note that the U.S. spends 13.9% of GDP on health care versus just 9.7% of GDP in Canada, with no appreciable difference in health results. The results of that study clearly demonstrate that Canada has a quality health system and that Canada spends 57% less per capita than is spent by the U.S.

Similarly, according to a 1991 KPMG study, the administrative costs of maintaining health care accounted for 31% of health expenditures in the United States and just 16.7% in Canada. In Canada, more of our health care dollars go to providing the health care services our residents need, not paying to administer the program.

In the United States, where health care is privatized, there are over 43 million people who do not have any health insurance because they cannot afford it. American media reports have indicated that just over one-half of bankruptcies in that country are the direct result of an inability to pay medical bills. This alone is a strong argument for single tier medicine in Canada. We do not want to see Canadians suffering serious financial loss because of health related difficulties.

Health care in the United States is based on income and an individual's ability to pay rather than the need for care. Health costs continue to be a major burden for employers. The difference between our public system and the American private system is that a two tiered system simply costs more to deliver and administer.

Our health care system is critical to our country's productivity and ability to compete in an aggressive global marketplace. In Canada, we recognize that our success as a nation comes from our ability to commit to our core values: sharing risks and benefits; looking out for the most vulnerable; and equality of all citizens, all of which contribute to a strong economy.

The Canadian single payer health care system has made Canadian businesses more competitive in the world markets by helping to keep their costs of doing business down. This is because the cost of health care is shared between individuals, businesses and government. Medicare is an economic asset, not a liability.

Medicare is one of the factors that has allowed Canada to have one of the lowest payroll taxes among the G-8 countries.

The very nature of our health care system puts Canada in an excellent position to control the aggregate expenses of the health sector in our economy, since each provincial and territorial government is a predominant buyer of health care in this jurisdiction. This provides enormous leverage to negotiate fee structures and service costs, and to manage spending to achieve cost effective health outcomes.

Resources can be directed to factors that improve health status, not only those related to health care but also other determinants of health. Obviously, a lower cost system leaves workers with more disposable income to stimulate the economy, but that is only part of the story.

We also know that when there are fewer work days lost to illness, productivity increases. There are greater opportunities to obtain better paying jobs and a higher standard of living for all.

Finally, healthier people, as we know, make fewer demands on the health care system, live longer and contribute significantly to the overall wealth of a nation. What is good for society is good for our economy and vice versa.

The government is committed to doing its part in sustaining medicare. In addition to the commitment of $34.8 billion under 2003 accord, the government also created a new health transfer. This transfer enhances transparency and accountability and provides Canadians with a more accurate picture of federal contributions to health care and other key social sectors.

Provinces and territories retain their flexibility to decide where and how they will invest federal resources in each sector, but Canadians know what the federal government's significant contribution to health is all about.

We acknowledge that our health care system is in need of revitalization. We must find news ways of responding to Canadians' health care needs in a timely manner. We must not be afraid to accept the challenge of adopting new approaches consistent with the principles of the Canada Health Act.

Let me remind the members what those principles are. Public administration: In order to satisfy the criteria of public administration, the health care insurance plan of a province must be administered and operated on a non-profit basis by a public authority appointed or designated by the government of the province. The public authority must be responsible to the provincial government for that administration and operation.

Universality: Under the universality criteria all residents of a province must be insured persons under the provincial health plan.

Portability: Portability means that the insured persons are covered for medically necessary services when they move from one province to another within Canada.

Comprehensiveness: Under this criteria, the health care insurance plan of a province must insure all medically necessary health services provided by hospitals, medical practitioners or dentists in a hospital setting.

Accessibility: Accessibility ensures that insured persons have a reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and-or physician services without any financial or other barriers.

However, as we move toward finding solutions and implementing lasting changes to renew the health system, we must not lose what we value most; the social equity and the economic advantages of a publicly funded, single tier health care system.

Renewing medicare will take perseverance, commitment, hard work and time. As a government, we are prepared to face the challenge and we are dedicated to working with the provinces and the territories and Canadians as partners.

The true test of commitment is where we stand in times of challenge and of change. We, as a nation, had the sense to invent medicare, now we need to find the will and the way to strengthen it for the long term.

Petitions May 7th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I also have a petition to present whereby the petitioners ask that Parliament retain the definition of marriage to be between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Caledon May 7th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commend the Town of Caledon in my constituency for being named one of the two greenest towns in Ontario. On Earth Day last year, Caledon tied with Orillia for that honour. On this year's Earth Day, the two communities faced off again in a broadcast on TVOntario.

The judge, Colin Isaacs, again declined to break the tie. With all respect to my hon. colleague, the member for Simcoe North, I understand that Caledon did have the edge.

Caledon has moved aggressively to fight unnecessary use of pesticides. At the same time it recognizes that pesticides are necessary in some situations, such as agriculture. Community groups such as the Environmental Advisory Committee, the Caledon Countryside Alliance, and the Weedgie Kidz are working hard to raise environmental awareness in my riding.

I wish to congratulate Caledon.

Petitions May 5th, 2004

Madam Speaker, my third petition is to enact legislation that would keep the Rockliffe Station in the public domain.

Petitions May 5th, 2004

Madam Speaker, my second petition is that natural health products be zero rated for GST and HST in the same manner that prescription drugs are.

Petitions May 5th, 2004

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 31, I have three petitions to present.

In the first petition the petitioners ask the federal government to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being a lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.