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Liberal MP for Cape Breton—Canso (Nova Scotia)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 46.40% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act November 4th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-462, and I want to thank my colleague, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who is a fellow member of the class of 2000. I know many in the House, my colleagues from Brant and Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, have remarked on a number of occasions that the class of 2000 was probably one of the strongest and most capable collection of members of Parliament to come to the House in generations. I thank them for that.
The member's bill is certainly well-intentioned. I want to congratulate her on it. The bill seeks to restrict the fees that consultants can charge disabled Canadians who need help with applying for the disability tax credit.
It seems that since 2005, a cottage industry of consultants has sprung up to help Canadians apply for the disability tax credit. Although many of these businesses are legitimate and provide a useful service, there are some that are charging outrageous fees to help guide people through the application process.
I agree with my colleague that it is important to protect persons with disabilities from being taken advantage of like this. Therefore, as with many of my colleagues from all parties, I will be supporting this bill, as I hope my Liberal caucus colleagues will as well.
However, I want to spend some time speaking about some of the shortcomings of the bill. It has some flaws that give me concern, and I believe they should be corrected. I would also like to talk about the reason the bill is needed in the first place and how additional steps are needed to fix the problems. Finally, I would like to talk about a note of caution. The disability tax credit is essential to many support programs for people with disabilities, so we need to ensure these changes would not make it more difficult to get help when they need to apply for this credit.
My first area of concern is that the bill may be too vague. The bill does not make it clear who exactly would be affected by the new regulations on charging fees. Right now, there may be a risk that legitimate accountants, tax filers, or doctors could accidentally be hurt by the bill.
In the submission of the Canadian Medical Association, for example, it noted that:
as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services.
As the CMA points out, there are already guidelines for these types of physician fees in provincial and territorial medical regulations.
The member says her proposal is targeted at third-party promoters other than normal tax preparers and accountants. In order to ensure the legislation would only affect the right people, it needs to be made more clear.
On a similar note, although the bill seeks to put a cap on how much consultants can charge to help file for the credit, the bill does not make it clear how high that cap would be. The finance committee has heard that the CRA would be in charge of setting the level for the fee cap, but CRA staff were unable to give the committee any idea of how high or low that level might be.
I understand the member wished to avoid including specifics so that the CRA could consult with stakeholders before setting an appropriate cap. While I understand and appreciate her concern on this point, it is nonetheless difficult for tax filing professionals to plan ahead if they do not know whether, or by how much, their fees would have to change. In order to ensure that legitimate businesses are not hurt by the bill, the text must be more clear about unfair fee levels.
My second concern is that the bill would not tackle the root of the problem and may reduce the ability of persons with disabilities to access programs designed to support them.
Although I believe the member has proposed this bill with the very best of intentions, we must be sure that it would not have the unwanted effect of reducing the amount of disability tax credits that Canadians claim. As we know, the cost of this tax credit to the treasury has grown quite a lot in the past few years. Some consultants may be abusing the system, but we must keep in mind that others are clearly successful at ensuring that Canadians with disabilities get access to the money they need and deserve. It makes sense to restrict the fees consultants can charge to help with the tax credit; no one should be taking advantage of people who live with disabilities. However, we must ensure that by restricting these fees we do not also restrict disabled Canadians' access to this tax credit.
The fact that these consultants exist in the first place suggests that it is hard to file for this tax credit. The Canadian Medical Association noted in its submission that it was:
...concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form be more informative and user-friendly for patients.
Therefore, I want to call on the member to address this issue. The process to apply for this tax credit should be made simpler and the cuts to CRA staff should be reversed so that people struggling with the application process can get the help they need without having to pay through the nose for it.
This brings me to my third point. It is important to make the disability tax credit easy to access because applicants have to be eligible for the tax credit in order to qualify for a number of other support programs. Representatives of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said in their submissions:
The Disability Tax Credit was initially designed as a tax fairness measure recognizing that people with disabilities have additional disability-related expenses. Disability Tax Credit eligibility is now the determinant for accessing other benefits and programs....
Some of these other programs include the registered disabilities savings plan, the disability tax credit benefit, the working income tax benefit for persons with disabilities, and the disability accommodation benefit. As we know, it also spills into a number of provincial programs; certainly it does in Nova Scotia.
Because of a number of benefits and the fact that individuals can back-file for up to 10 years, there is a huge amount of money available to people who qualify for this credit. The disability tax credit really is a gatekeeper for disability benefits, and qualifying for the credit can mean tens of thousands of dollars in relief for a disabled person. We need to ensure that whatever changes we make do not prevent people who need help from filing for the tax credit and getting that help. We do not want to set out to help persons with disabilities only to end up hurting them in the end.
The bill seeks to prevent some consultants from taking advantage of persons with disabilities, but there is a risk that this legislation, if not applied properly, could also prevent legitimate consultants from doing their job. That would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In conclusion, it is important to me that we make sure that disabilities do not get in the way of people living a full and happy life. Disabilities impose extra costs on those involved. Because of this, Canada has a number of programs designed specifically around the disability tax credit. However, it is not helpful to set up a program to help people that makes it so difficult that people cannot access it or that requires them to pay ridiculous fees to consultants to help them through the application.
The bill has good intentions. It may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I recommend that some parts of the bill be updated so that it would be sure to target problem areas and not negatively affect people. I also recommend that the government look more generally at simplifying the application process for the tax credit. Those are my comments.
Employees' Voting Rights Act October 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-525, the bill we are debating today, is yet another piece of Conservative anti-labour legislation that will be used to try to turn back the clock on labour relations in our country. My party and I oppose this legislation as it is written.
Today, I want to talk about why this bill is bad labour relations legislation, why it is undemocratic at its core and why it is not needed. It is simply a solution in search of a problem.
The decision by the House to either pass or defeat the bill will come down to whether we believe it upholds the principles inherent in making good labour laws through a legitimate process, a process that is driven by the groups directly affected, employers and unions, through a real consultative and consensus-building process that is based on the principles of balance, fairness and mutual respect.
I remember back to the last bill we had. Almost no Conservative members in the House stood up for those principles in what was another anti-labour Conservative bill, Bill C-377, which was passed in the House earlier this year. It took a small group of Conservative senators, led by Senator Hugh Segal, to stand with all of my Liberal Senate colleagues and oppose the bill in the Senate. In the coming weeks, as we debate Bill C-525, I ask my Conservative colleagues opposite to have the courage to uphold these principles. I ask that they base their decision on what is right, not what they are being told is right by the Prime Minister's Office.
Bill C-525 would impact thousands of employers and approximately 600,000 employers within the federal jurisdiction. That is 600,000 people who have the right to ensure we as politicians respect principles inherent to creating fair and balanced labour relations laws for them and their employers.
We are fortunate that the current federal labour system is well-respected and supported by both unions and employers. Why? Because it is a result of a genuine and proven consultative and consensus process that has been followed for decades for amending the Canada Labour Code. There are clear examples of thoughtful, balanced and independent reviews of the Canada Labour Code. The last major consultative review of the Canada Labour Code occurred in 1995 and the subsequent report “Seeking a balance: Canada Labour Code, Part 1, Review” was authored by Andrew Sims.
The Sims report was led by a three person panel of highly regarded neutrals. It involved seven months of research and consultation.
In that report, Mr. Sims outlined the guiding principles that served the review, including that the existing Canada Labour Code basically continued to serve its constituencies well, that stability was desirable and that pendulum-like changes to the Code did not serve the best interests of the parties or the public and that consensus between the parties was the best basis for advocating legislative change.
Basically, Mr. Sims said that if labour laws were to be changed, they should be changed because there was a demonstrated need because the legislation was no longer working or serving the public interest or it should be done on a consensual basis.
I ask the House whether it believes Bill C-525 meets these criteria or is based on those principles that employers and unions currently respect and agree upon.
The Sims report went on to talk about the dangers of politicizing labour laws. I think that is what we are seeing here. I quote from the Sims report:
Throughout our deliberations, we heard both labour and management comment on the need for stability in our labour legislation. Both sides were reacting to what they view as excessive experimentation in the labour law reforms of a number of provinces.... Some would push the pendulum one way, some the other. However, the concern identified by both sides is that the pendulum should not be pushed too far or too frequently. To do so destroys the predictability and underlying credibility upon which an effective...system depends.
The Sims report was a true consultative review of the Labour Code. Can anyone in this House say that the process we are following, which would make a significant change to the code, is either thoughtful or balanced and based on the wishes of the people affected?
For labour legislation to be effective, it must be driven and implemented by the stakeholders, including employers, unions, and the government, through a real consultative process, not by private member's bills that are based solely on political motives.
The question has to be asked: Who do we think is driving the bill? I have talked to labour groups, such as the CLC, and employer groups, such as FETCO, and I can tell the House that it is neither of those groups. They are both saying that the way to make changes to the Labour Code is through consultation and consensus.
Who is driving the bill if it is not the two direct parties involved in this, the two parties whose lives will be changed? Obviously it is those people who care little about what employers and unions in the federal sector want. If my Conservative friends will not listen to me, I hope they will listen to the people who are directly affected by this legislation.
Make no mistake, Bill C-525 makes a substantive change to federal labour laws. It fundamentally changes the rights of workers in how they can unionize, replacing a card check system with a mandatory vote system. However, it is not the standard vote system used by a number of provinces, where a union needs only 50% plus one. Instead, it is a grossly undemocratic process that would count anyone who did not vote as voting no. What democratic principle is that based on?
Their true intentions could not be further from the hollow words they have expressed. Let us be frank. The bill is about one thing and one thing only: discouraging unionization in this country, plain and simple.
Bill C-525 would change the rules for forming and dissolving a union from a majority process to a minority-driven process, making certifying a union more difficult while making decertifying a union easier.
The past decades have witnessed much progress in striking a balance between unions and employers. One of the main reasons is that improvements to labour law, in particular, the Canada Labour Code, have been done within the framework of the Canada Labour Code. Bill C-525 looks to bypass that established process that requires adequate consultation and support of the parties.
Bill C-525 is not wanted by unions or employers in the federal sector. The only ones who want this are my counterparts across the way.
The carefully struck balance in the Labour Code ought not to be taken for granted. There is simply no need to alter what is working well. I challenge the government, I challenge my colleagues across the way, to have the courage to stand up for consensus, balance, and fairness and to vote against the bill.
Employees' Voting Rights Act October 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, to make substantive changes to the provisions in the Canada Labour Code is fairly significant, which this is, so I would think there would be a fair amount of documentation on the rationale behind the purpose of this legislation.
There have been very strong accusations about intimidation by union leaders and union organizers.
I would ask my colleague, in this day and age where everybody is so hypersensitive about harassment and harassment charges, if he could give us an indication of the total number of charges that have been laid against union officials for harassment or if he could give us the number of files that have been before the labour relations board with regard to such actions.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 28th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I have had an opportunity to go to my friend's riding of Selkirk—Interlake. It is a great spot. We visited just after the major floods that I believe happened about four years ago. I know a lot of the talk around that time concerned global warming and was that what was to be expected going forward.
The concern I have, which is not dissimilar to the last question, has to do with science and the science sector. We see this outcry from scientists over the last number of months, and really the last couple of years, stating that science has been devastated. We have heard that from Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I am sure the government is taking money from all other sources and, like a shell game, moving it around.
What is my colleague's take on the outcry from the science community? Are we to pay no attention to what it has been saying? It is adamant that the government has turned its back on science. I would like his comments on that.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I sat beside my colleague in the hearings on Bill C-377. I know he is very passionate and very capable on labour issues. We heard witness after witness give testimony. We saw none of that reflected in the final report on that bill. It is when ideology really trumps the needs of Canadians and Canadian workers that we all lose.
What is fearful, through the debate here today, is that the number of Canadians who are working for minimum wage has doubled under the current government. The Conservatives are intent on driving wages down in our country, hollowing out the middle class, and it is unions that have really contributed to developing a middle class. It is egregious and it is shameful.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, we should not be surprised, but nonetheless every now and then the Conservatives throw one at us and we wonder what they are thinking, as is certainly the one with the Supreme Court reference in it.
In our country, our system is based on three pillars: judicial, administrative and legislative. For the Conservatives to take the highest court in the land and to tweak something that impacts on that court through a budget bill is a first, I am sure. I am sure many are amazed at that particular one.
I do not know the answer to that direct question, though. If the Conservatives pick these fights through these omnibus bills to divert Canadians' attention away from some of the scandals that are going on, such as members of their caucus being charged by Elections Canada or what is going on in the Senate, we opposition members, including I am sure my colleagues in the NDP, would say to break those bills out from the omnibus bill and let us have a discussion. If the planets line up, maybe they could even take some kind of an amendment to improve the legislation. That would be a rare day. I would go out and buy Insta Piks that day because the planets would be aligned.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2 October 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I want to first thank the House for allowing unanimous consent so that I could take part in this debate, which was noted by my friend and colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. He was not sure whether it was because the House had anticipated my comments so much and were so looking forward to what I had to say, or more so that they liked to limit my friend and colleague from Kings—Hants to 10 minutes. Whatever the rationale was, I appreciate the House allowing me to go forward.
I want to speak about the principles behind some aspects of the legislation. One of the comments that the parliamentary secretary mentioned when he led off the debate today was that it was not strange to have a bill of this size with so many components in it. It is 321 pages, but he said the last four bills have been of similar size.
The last four bills have been presented by the same government and concerns have been raised. Certainly the opposition parties voiced their disapproval with such a practice on those four occasions, but he was able to justify the bill by saying the last four were presented in a very similar manner. That would be like an NHL coach saying, “I didn't make the playoffs the last four years, but now you decide to fire me in my fifth year”. The unfortunate part is that maybe we do not get an opportunity to fire the government for another couple of years, but that day too shall come.
I want to talk about what was mentioned by my colleague from Kings—Hants with regard to some of the aspects of this piece of legislation as it deals with changing labour relationships in this country. I will read these into the record.
I want to talk about principles that a government must respect in creating legislation, such as what we are debating today, that affects millions of Canadians. In particular, it affects over 1.2 million hard-working Canadians who work in federal industries and the public service.
For Canadians, the affected workers in particular, to believe in these laws, they must have faith and trust in their government. However, trust and respect does not come with some gun pointed to their heads. Governing is about striking balance, a balance between things such as the environment and the economy, between one part of the country and the other, between social and economic values, and between the interests of the employer and the employee. Part of figuring out that balance is listening to people who may not agree with us and respecting the principles of fairness and due process when creating laws that fundamentally affect them. I do not believe there has been a government in recent history that has thrown so many things out of balance and replaced due process and fairness with political expediency than the current Conservative government.
The amendments to labour legislation in the bill are just another example of this. The government is using this omnibus budget bill as a back door to making major changes to the rules affecting collective bargaining in the public service. These changes, without doubt, are being made to weaken the public service unions by stacking the deck in favour of the employer and in this case, the employer is the government.
This type of behaviour only breeds mistrust and disrespect. It is not how we as individuals would expect to be treated and it simply lessens the institution of government when it continues out of control as we have seen under the current government. In order for our employees to prosper, whether it is in private industry or in government or workers in society or the economy at large, we need to have good labour relations. That is fundamental. We need labour relations that respect the interests of the workers and the employer in a fair and balanced manner, respecting due process and developed through real consultation.
Everything the government has done concerning labour relations since getting its majority has not been about striking balance. Instead, it has been about weakening the labour movement as much as possible in both the public and private sectors, from record use and methods used to impose back-to-work legislation to using—and one could say abusing—the private member legislation process as a backdoor way to introduce anti-labour legislation.
Bill C-377 was an obvious example. As we went through the testimony and the witnesses on that particular bill, we saw experts raise concerns about privacy and about the costs incurred, and not just by unions. The government tried to say that Bill C-377 was about union transparency by posting their actuals online. That would be a cost to not just the unions but also to administer it. This is the party of small government. The burden this would have placed on the CRA to administer such a mammoth undertaking would be significant to the treasury.
The government said it was all about openness and transparency. We threw a poison pill in there. We brought an amendment requesting it take the same rules it is asking of organized labour and ensure that our professional organizations play by them as well. Therefore, lawyers, doctors and chambers of commerce would have to post in the same manner as it is asking organized labour to. The Conservatives voted against that. It was not about openness and transparency. It was a poison pill. We did not think those organizations should have to post either. However, we knew that the Conservative government would vote against it because this was an attack on organized labour in this country.
Bill C-525 is now the second example. I expect we will see many more examples soon to come.
Never mind due process. Never mind fairness and balance. These terms mean nothing to the government. Political expediency at all costs is the motto across the aisle. Its fight with labour is based on an ideology that Canadians do not fundamentally believe in, an ideology that believes that if Canada is to prosper, the rights and benefits of workers must be sacrificed.
As a Liberal, I can say that I do not always agree with the labour issues. In past governments we fought with unions and we brought forward back-to-work legislation. However, we have always tried to respect due process. We know that the number one enemy for the Conservative government is labour. There is nothing in this bill that changes my mind. Giving federal employers the power to unilaterally declare parts of the public service an essential service, taking away its right to strike, and removing the option of unions to seek arbitration and settle a dispute to avoid disruption, stacks the deck unequally in the government's favour.
Balance in governing is an ideal every government should strive for, fostering trust and mutual respect as a goal. Labour relations are no different.
We have heard from FETCO, the organization that represents federally regulated industries. We heard from the CLC, which represents the people in those industries. They are both saying that the way to get this right is through consultation and consensus. They want the government to keep its nose out of their business. Instead, it continues to get engaged through private member legislation and aspects of these omnibus bills that continue to tip the scales. It is not just the unions or those workers who are saying this is unfair. The companies themselves see this as being unfair.
That is one of the problems we have with this omnibus approach to presenting legislation. If the government were confident about it, why would it not bring that forward to the House? It has a majority anyway. All we have to do is count. It will pass it anyway. Let us have the debate so it can tell us why it is doing that.
Business of Supply October 22nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in this debate.
I think most Canadians, and anyone watching this debate, understand that the member's integrity and opinions are beyond reproach. One thing that he garnered a lot of recognition for, and justifiably so, was the work he did as the minister of intergovernmental affairs in past governments. He certainly worked hard at gaining an understanding of all the provinces and their positions on the Senate.
I fully appreciate his comments on accountability, and in this motion I think it is fair to point the guns at the NDP and ask why the New Democrats have not been more accountable.
However, we are concerned and confused about other aspects of the motion. Would these issues have come forward during his days as the minister for intergovernmental affairs? Would the issues around the Senate and Senate reform have been issues that premiers would have come to him with?
Business of the House and its Committees October 17th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I think for Canadians this was probably the least offensive of the Conservative prorogations.
However, I think Canadians would have been very comfortable with it had Conservatives come with a throne speech that had a little bit of direction.
In a throne speech after one of those prorogations of the government of former prime minister Chrétien, there was a surplus to deal with. One third of the surplus would go toward tax relief, one third would go to reinvestment in programs, and one third would go to paying down the debt.
I guess the good old days are long gone now. It will be a long time, at least three years anyway, before we see another day like that.
Business of the House and its Committees October 17th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I looked at some of the comments posted by pundits on the throne speech yesterday. They said that it was timid, tepid and unambitious.
I remember in 1999, as we came into the new millennium, there was a lot of hype around the Y2K bug and about how it was going to devastate the country and, if we were not careful, the world was going to end. There was all this anticipation and anxiety around Y2K, and nothing happened.
That is sort of like the throne speech yesterday. There was a great deal of hoopla and anticipation, but it was pretty thin gruel. I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague that anything that was announced yesterday could have easily been addressed through a ministerial statement.
Maybe in a later question I can address the jobs grant.