International Treaty Accountability Act

An Act to ensure accountability in respect of Canada's obligations under international treaties

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Alexa McDonough  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of April 2, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of Foreign Affairs or any minister responsible for implementing Canada’s international treaty obligations to submit to each House of Parliament a report setting out Canada’s progress in implementing the international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

International Treaty Accountability ActRoutine Proceedings

April 2nd, 2008 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-530, An Act to ensure accountability in respect of Canada's obligations under international treaties.

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege this afternoon to introduce a bill entitled, “an act to ensure accountability in respect of Canada's obligations under international treaties”. If enacted, the Minister of Foreign Affairs or any minister responsible for implementing Canada's international obligations would be required to submit to each House of Parliament a report setting out Canada's progress in implementing the international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

November 29th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, before my distinguished Liberal colleague leaves the House and before I begin my speech on the implementation of part of the March 2007 budget and the economic statement of October 30, 2007, I have a few words to say to him.

We sometimes hear the Conservatives ask us what the point of the opposition is, and tell us that it is only good for criticizing things.

However, the Liberals said the same thing when they were in power. They must now realize that it takes courage to be in opposition, at least enough courage to be able to vote. Votes are sometimes very significant. For example, the budget implementation vote is important. Yet, they did not have the courage to stand up.

This clearly tells the governing party to be very careful when it comes to how it views the role played by the opposition, a decisive role in a democracy.

The Bloc Québécois is against this bill to implement part of the March budget and the October economic statement. We will therefore rise and vote against this bill, because it does not meet the five conditions or priorities put forward by the Bloc Québécois. Once again, it underscores the Conservative bias for the oil and gas economy. Indeed, for them, everything revolves around the oil and gas companies.

Even though they say that their measures apply to all manufacturers and businesses, it is clear that only oil companies will really benefit. These tax breaks will save the oil companies over $520 million, while businesses in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which are in crisis right now, will get nothing.

Other groups are being left to fend for themselves, including seniors who are being denied the guaranteed income supplement. Once again, there will be no guaranteed income supplement retroactivity, nor will there be any help for older workers. The economic statement ignored older people. It offered them nothing even though we know that the government owes them a lot of money, especially to the poorest of them who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. The amount of money they can receive is based on how low their income is.

This bill gives Nova Scotia and Newfoundland an unfair advantage because of their agreement with the Canadian government, and it cheats Quebec out of transfers and equalization payments. The government also ignored the environment, and we know why.

Let us examine each of these concerns. I will start with employment insurance. When we talk about helping manufacturing companies and businesses in general, we are also talking about measures to help workers. The previous Liberal member said that the NDP has a heart but no brain and that they, the Liberals, have a brain. What good is a brain without a heart?

The economic statement does not have a heart. One might think one has a brain if one subscribes to a particular philosophy or doctrine, but what good is that if the philosophy or doctrine does not include compassion and concern for those we need to look after because that is our calling and our duty? We have to look after human beings, the people we represent.

We know that unemployment is one of the most serious issues before us. Yet the previous government, even though it is now the opposition, is siding with the Conservatives to keep workers and the unemployed in a deplorable economic state.

The government is continuing to misappropriate money from the employment insurance fund, which has had a surplus of more than $54 billion over the past 12 years as a result of savings made by depriving people of benefits when they lose their jobs.

Employment insurance eligibility requirements have been tightened so much that the number of eligible individuals has been minimized. Only 42% of unemployed men and women qualify for employment insurance. I inadvertently said “unemployed men and women”. This is not entirely true. When you break down the figures, you see that only 32% of women who have lost their jobs qualify for benefits. This is quite dramatic and quite scandalous for a country that says it is fighting elsewhere for women's rights when here at home, it is depriving women of some of their rights. Similarly, only 17% of young people qualify for employment insurance.

One has to wonder where the surplus comes from. The answer is simple. If all the workers who lost their jobs received the benefits they were entitled to, there would be no surplus. One rule prevents people from receiving employment insurance benefits. The legislation refers to people who received too much money the previous time or who tried to get around the rules. These people represent between 10% and 12% of unemployed workers. Consequently, 88% of unemployed workers should ordinarily receive employment insurance benefits. Yet the actual figure is only half that, which is why there is a surplus.

The Bloc Québécois has introduced a bill in each parliament. This time, we have introduced Bill C-269, which seeks to improve employment insurance eligibility requirements. For example, a person's best 12 weeks of work would be taken into account. The maximum benefit period would increase from 45 to 50 weeks. The eligibility threshold would be 360 hours, and the coverage rate would go up from 55% to 60%. All these measures would cost approximately $1.4 billion dollars at the current unemployment rate.

This amount is less than the sum that was taken, again this year, from the employment insurance fund surplus. What is happening? Why is the government not voting with us on Bill C-269? We will debate it again tomorrow in the second hour of third reading. We have asked the government to give the royal recommendation, in accordance with the Speaker's ruling. It is cabinet that must give that recommendation. The NDP has also requested it. We are still waiting for the Liberals to follow suit and for the government to respond to our request. Why? For the House of Commons to finally vote, in a fully democratic manner, on employment insurance reform. Much to our dismay, and to the dismay of the people concerned, there is no sign of this happening so far.

When the unemployed are denied their benefits, it is not just one person who is penalized. That individual's family is penalized as well. This prevents the region's economy and the province's economy from benefiting from the economic boost that comes from a person receiving employment insurance benefits.

In each of our ridings, year after year, at least $30 million is kept out of the riding's economy because people who lose their employment are denied their employment insurance benefits.

I call that an economic crime. We here in the House of Commons are accomplices in that crime. Those who do not vote are not supporting this bill.

I am again asking our Liberal friends, the official opposition in this House, to join us in calling on the Prime Minister of Canada to give the royal recommendation so that tomorrow, in the second hour of third reading, the Speaker can announce that there will be a vote and so that we can vote on this bill soon.

Not to do so would be an act of extreme cowardice toward people who have lost their employment. Not making a concerted effort to come and vote would be worse than remaining seated. It would show a lack of courage to the people who elected us.

There is another bill dealing with employment insurance. Incidentally, I salute our friends from the NDP, who have always remained steadfast with us regarding, among other things, the need for an analysis of the precarious situation of those who find themselves without employment, despite the fact that the oil economy is flourishing. We know, however, that it is on EPO, because every other sector is collapsing.

We have kept rising in this House again and again to speak up for those who have lost their jobs. For instance, we introduced Bill C-257, to establish an independent employment insurance account, thereby putting an end to the misappropriation of funds, and make sure that the account is managed by those who are paying into it, namely the employees and the employers, and that a majority of representatives of employees and employers compose the commission administering the account. Of course, these people equally representing employees and employers could be seconded by a chief actuary. The government would also be represented. Money should also be taken every year from wherever it was diverted to and put back into the account.

All that I am relaying to the House right now is not a figment of the imagination of the member for Chambly—Borduas. It stems from the work of a parliamentary committee, namely the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Social Development. The principle of an independent EI account has been unanimously accepted and recommended to the House of Commons by the members of that committee, that is to say representatives of the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois. They were unanimous.

Yesterday, this bill was voted on at second reading stage so that it could simply be referred to committee, so that the committee could complete its work. To our surprise, and I would even say our dismay, the Liberal Party voted against. We are totally bewildered and we are trying to understand. How can that be? They were on board. What made them change their minds? Is it the same thing that kept them from standing up and voting on the budget? Is it cowardice? This is quite shocking.

Last night, I spoke with representatives of the main unions, the FTQ, the CSN and the CSQ, and unemployed workers' representatives. Everyone is dumbfounded by the Liberals' behaviour. They do not understand. They are dumbfounded. They were promised that the Liberals would vote like us. This morning, during the FTQ convention attended by nearly 4,000 people, there was a unanimous vote to give Bill C-269 royal recommendation.

There is something completely illogical, and I would even say illegitimate, about how votes are held here. Indeed, it is not representative of the will of the majority of the citizens of the country and, of course of Quebec, whom we represent.

I would like to revisit another concern of ours: social housing. What does it have for social housing? Nothing.

I would remind the House that the Liberal Party stopped all subsidies for social housing, as it is called in Quebec. At the federal level, it is called affordable housing. There were two programs, one provincial and one federal. The provinces, the federal government and the municipalities all worked together to develop social housing. However, from 1992 to 2001-02, not a single cent was put into it.

Yet, the established standard to ensure sufficient social housing to house low-income people states that there must be a housing vacancy rate of at least 3%. Many towns and cities do not even have that. In my riding, out of 12 municipalities, 10 are below that, five are below 1% and in one municipality, there is a 0% vacancy rate. What happens in such a situation? Naturally, this increases the cost of housing. This also causes people with low incomes to relocate. They move to towns or cities where there are slums, since slums are the only housing they can afford.

It makes no sense for 17% of people with low incomes to have to spend 80% of their income on housing alone. They only have 20% of a meagre income to feed and clothe themselves and to live on. It is unacceptable that, in Canada, which they say has a prosperous economy, people with low incomes are put in such a position.

What should be done? We must re-establish the rule we had in the early 1980s whereby about 1% of the national budget was allocated to social housing. That is what we are asking for in order to jump-start the construction of social housing, to provide more decent housing to low income citizens.

The fourth point I would like to discuss is how we treat our seniors. It is unbelievable that last spring's budget and the recent economic statement do not contain measures to correct the monumental injustice to seniors. They are owed more than $3 billion in retroactive benefits. That is not a gift.

These individuals with very low incomes were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. They were not informed about that. Heaven knows that individuals with a low income are, for the most part, very isolated, and not likely to be attuned to the communication networks that provide all this information. Seniors and aboriginals are some of these people. We could go sector by sector. For years, these people were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement.

What answers are we given today? They are always technical and evasive. In the past, the Liberal government played that game and nothing has changed with the present government.

A Quebec statesman said that a society is judged by how it treats its children and its seniors. I can say that the Conservative and the Liberal Parties will be judged harshly by history not only because of the horrible economic crime committed against seniors, but also because of the equally appalling injustice. These people are not asking for much; they are merely asking for their due.

I realize that my time is running out and therefore I will wrap it up. We, the Bloc Québécois, will definitely vote against this bill to implement the spring budget and the fall economic statement because this budget makes no provision for the most disadvantaged, making it unworthy of a so-called prosperous Canada.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 25th, 2007 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a rather unique situation. Yesterday, the Liberals did not rise when the time came to vote on the throne speech. No one got up. We did not know whether they supported or opposed the speech. We do not know because no one rose.

Today, we have before us a motion that looks strangely like something the Conservative Party might have moved as the party claiming to be the alternative to the other government, but the two parties are cut from the same cloth. It is sad, but true about this Liberal motion, which is a little light on analysis. Here are some examples.

First, the motion says that the government must reduce taxes, but makes no mention of the fiscal imbalance or possible transfers to the provinces. The Liberals seem totally unaware that there is a will in this country, particularly in Quebec, to make sure money is transferred to the provinces and the fiscal imbalance is corrected once and for all. This financial issue was corrected in part in the most recent budget, but a significant part of the issue has yet to be addressed: the actual transfer of money, which includes ways of raising money and transferring it to Quebec so that it can carry out its responsibilities. The Liberals are silent on this.

They could have criticized the Conservatives, who have failed to finish the job and seem content with the monetary transfer, but do not go so far as to respect the recognition of Quebec as a distinct nation and eliminate the fiscal imbalance completely. On this point, the Liberals take more or less the same position as the Conservatives.

The same is true when it comes to reducing corporate taxes. I am very surprised. The Standing Committee on Industry issued a unanimous report with 22 recommendations that made one thing clear: the government should not make across-the-board corporate tax reductions, but targeted reductions. Why? Because some companies are making good profits from their economic activities, while others are earning much less. The manufacturing and forestry sectors are not turning a profit. If corporate taxes are reduced, the people in these sectors will not benefit.

We need to find ways to make targeted tax reductions, as the Standing Committee on Industry recommended. That means things like refundable research and development tax credits, loan guarantees and a series of measures that will create a favourable tax environment for Canadian companies so that they can compete on global markets.

If we reduce corporate taxes across the board without asking for anything in particular in return, the money will flow into the pockets of shareholders, who will continue to invest in what they believe is best for the company. There is a difference between the goals of corporations and the goals of the state. The Liberals and the Conservatives do not seem to be aware of this reality. However, their own members on the Standing Committee on Industry accepted the proposals and were involved in developing this global action plan to help the manufacturing industry that was applauded by the coalition of manufacturers and unions.

With regard to today's motion pertaining to productivity, we would have expected that this distinction be made, that recommendations different from the Conservative approach be made. But this is not the what we see with the Liberal's position.

The issue of the debt is being handled in a similar manner. We are told that we must quite simply reduce the debt. However, there is significant debate surrounding this issue. This year, I conducted pre-budget consultations in my riding; I had six meetings of at least two hours each with citizens from all over the riding. I took away one thing from those meetings: what discouraged them the most was that $14 billion in surpluses was used to pay down the debt. It is somewhat similar to a home owner obsessed with paying the mortgage. He absolutely wants to pay off the mortgage on his house as soon as possible and in the least number of years possible. In the meantime, the porch is collapsing and he does nothing about it.

That is the kind of problem we have in Canada. It is fine to use the surplus to pay off about half of our debt, but we have to reinvest the other half in infrastructure programs. We also have to ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and implement a program to assist older workers who have been laid off due to globalization. These measures should be part of an overall industrial strategy.

If we want businesses to take advantage of investment tax credits so they can buy the equipment they need to be more competitive, we have to make sure that people who lose their jobs when that happens do not pay the price. We have to provide them with a decent living until they retire.

The Liberal motion does not address that. Now that they are the official opposition, they seem to be ignoring the issue. How disappointing.

Today is the day after the vote on the Speech from the Throne. They abstained from voting. Nobody knows whether they were for it or against it, just that they decided not to vote. I would have preferred to see four or five members rise, symbolically, to say that their party was against it, but none of them rose yesterday. Today, they have introduced a motion in an attempt to condemn the government. Theirs is a motion that sits squarely on the fence. Most of what the motion contains could very well have been supported by the Conservatives, or even proposed by them when they were in opposition. Obviously, the Conservative government will have to vote against it because of some of the things it says, but those are just details, really.

For example, the motion says that the government must avoid making mistakes such as breaking its promise not to tax income trusts. It is true that the Conservative's made the mistake of breaking their promise. They made a promise not to change the income trust tax, but they went ahead and changed it. Of course, when it came right down to it, that they clearly had to do something or income trusts would create very serious problems for the entire economy. We have to put this broken promise into context and in that sense, the motion generalizes.

The same goes for eliminating interest deductibility. The details have not been worked out. It seems to be the finance minister's trademark to present ideas and then, once they are on the table, realize that there are some loose ends to tie up.

This was how he tackled the issue of automatic teller machines. One day, he said he was going to bring the banks back to their senses and the next day he had a meeting with them and said the status quo was not so bad. It was the same with retailers. He said we have to make sure prices come down faster; he has a meeting and says the market will sort this out.

The Minister of Finance is sending out the wrong message. We saw this same lack of real analysis on the issue of interest deductibility. Again, it is clear that the Liberals did not get to the heart of this issue.

This motion is unacceptable to us because it systematically attacks provincial responsibilities in a number of jurisdictions, namely: infrastructure, research and development, post-secondary education, assistance to immigrants, recognition of credentials, and labour force training. For the Liberals, this is business as usual.

A majority of those activities are under provincial jurisdiction. They want to continue interfering in these areas when we know that action could be taken. For example, the federal government has maintained a reserve in the employment insurance fund for labour force training. There has been some devolution to the provinces, but part of it has been retained for a number of administrative programs, and there is a reserve. This money could be made available to Quebec and the provinces so they could use it to address labour force training needs. We do not want to find ourselves in the somewhat absurd situation that is happening in Lebel-sur-Quévillon. They are looking for mine employees there. Right next door, there are dozens and dozens of forestry workers. The Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec had asked that they be giving the appropriate training so they could become mine workers. No way of accomplishing this could be found, and we are going to bring in immigrants to do the work, while the forestry workers continue to be unemployed. There again, there is action that could be taken that was not taken and that should be taken.

So we are dealing with a motion that involves the level at which corporations are taxed and the size of the debt. It talks about driving greater productivity in Canada by making investments, but it gives no details about them, nor does it say what kind of action or what kind of policies should be put forward. This very general language makes no constructive contribution as compared to the position we would have expected from the Liberal Party.

When we talk about better access to post-secondary education, we have known the recipe for a long time. We have to be sure that the money is in the provinces’ hands and that the federal government stops interfering, as it did under the Liberals’ reign with the millennium scholarships. Quebec has to be able to manage its own money for education and decide where it is going to spend it.

That is the best way to improve access to post-secondary education. In fact, because of the loans and grants program we have developed in Quebec, which has unfortunately not been spared from the federal government’s budget cuts in this area, we still have an excellent system of access to training, and that must continue to be the case.

As well, the Liberal Party should have shown a little compassion in the way it worded this motion. It has nothing to say about older workers or workers on employment insurance, as if the question of productivity did not call for a little compassion; some is certainly required.

Earlier, I gave the example of older workers laid off by a company that is modernizing its plant. Often, those people have worked for 20 or 25 or 30 years for the same company. Until 1984, there was a program to help these people bridge the gap until retirement. Over and over, we have called for this kind of program to be put in place again. We succeeded in having an amendment to the Conservatives’ first throne speech passed, nearly two years ago now. We thought they would keep their word. They agreed to the amendment and they incorporated it, so that there would be a genuine assistance program for older workers.

In last year’s budget, rather than announcing the creation of the program, they decided to form a committee chaired by a former senator that was supposed to submit a draft report in September. When the end of summer arrived, we found out that the report had been postponed until January and still there is no program for older workers.

I asked the Prime Minister about this following his address during consideration of the Speech from the Throne. There is a reality here that people are facing and they deserve a solution. I was a bit disappointed, though, because the Prime Minister did not seem to know what I was talking about, even though the manufacturing and forestry sectors in Quebec and Canada are currently experiencing major difficulties.

Western Canada may well be riding an economic boom, but the Prime Minister should also be aware of what is happening throughout the manufacturing sector, which accounts for between 15% and 20% of the economic activity in Canada. Some of our citizens are badly affected by these layoffs. Yet the Conservative government shows no compassion, nor do the Liberals for that matter, because the very next day after the vote on the throne speech, they have introduced a motion in which they decide to say nothing.

It is the same with employment insurance. We have certainly put up a fight. I have been a member of Parliament for 14 years. Today is actually the anniversary of my election in 1993, and so it was exactly 14 years ago that I was elected to the House for the first time. We have been fighting hard for all that time. In truth, we would have preferred not to have to be here so long. I can humbly say that on the night of the referendum in 1995, I would have gone home, if we had only won. Today I would be living in a sovereign Quebec and would be very happy about it. In any case, we continued to fight and obtained some employment insurance pilot projects. These were not real changes to the act but five pilot projects that at least improved the situation of seasonal workers.

By the way, one of these pilot projects will expire on December 9, 2007. It enables all seasonal workers in 21 regions of Canada to receive benefits for five additional weeks over and above what is usually provided in the tables. However, if the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development fails to extend the current pilot project, the regular tables will come back into force on December 10. It is terrible for people in the seasonal industries to have a sword of Damocles like that hanging over their heads.

In the past, we forced the Liberal government to take action on this issue. Who could forget that Mr. Chrétien called seasonal workers beer-drinkers? In the end, we got a special program for seasonal workers. Nevertheless, it is sad that this has not yet become entrenched in law and that we still do not have an independent employment insurance fund to stop the government from dipping into it. The government must take action to extend the pilot project beyond December 9.

We are worried about the coming year. There has been a significant slowdown in manufacturing and seasonal industries. Furthermore, the rising Canadian dollar is having an adverse effect on tourism. In seasonal industries, people tend to work the minimum number of weeks to qualify for employment insurance.

People were going through an awful period of time known as the “spring gap”, when, for 4 to 10 weeks, they had no income left. After working 12, 15 or 16 weeks, they were entitled to the maximum number of weeks of benefits, but there was still a period of time during which they had no income. They had to resort to social assistance or cash in their retirement savings to support their families.

The pilot project gave people five additional weeks of benefits. It is due to end on December 9, and we are waiting for the federal government to take action on this issue. I was hoping the Liberals would take the lead by including this in their motion. After all, a society is not judged solely on the money it makes, but on how its wealth is distributed.

This week, Canada learned that only too well. A UN representative told us that when it comes to social housing, Canada is a little like a banana republic. We in Canada are not doing a very good job of fighting poverty. We are not using the tools we should be using, such as the employment insurance system.

During the previous session, this Parliament was considering Bill C-269, a bill sponsored by a member of the Bloc Québécois. The bill remains before this Parliament still today, as a private members' bill. The three opposition parties are prepared to pass it. The government's decision to give royal recommendation is the only thing missing.

Passing the bill would mean profoundly changing the employment insurance system. It would correct the situation and provide justice to those who fought hardest against the deficit, through the 1990s and until today, namely, unemployed workers in Quebec and Canada. For they are the ones who paid Canada's deficit and, to date, the only ones who have not seen any return on their investment.

We, on the other hand, have benefited from a few tax cuts and an improved economy. Unemployed workers are the ones who paid. The screws were tightened for 10 years. They were forced into a very precarious financial situation and nothing has been done to correct or improve that situation.

If the Conservative government wanted to really do something to better fight poverty, it would give this bill royal recommendation. A precedent has already been set in this area, on a bill dealing with employment insurance. If it would only do so, people around the world would say that the Government of Canada took significant action to fight poverty and ensure a better distribution of wealth.

I would have liked to see the Liberals refer to this bill in their motion. Nevertheless, they supported it, as did the NDP. The Conservatives are the only ones at this time who refuse to breathe new life into this bill. This is not a question of encouraging people to become or to remain unemployed. That phase has been resolved.

Given the current employment rate, we have a problem of a different kind. What about the manufacturing jobs that were well paid? In my riding we see it every day. The $15, $16, $18 and $20 an hour jobs have become $8, $9 and $10 an hour jobs. Fortunately, inflation is not very high. However, in real life, this reduces economic activity in several regions. There is another way of dealing with this situation: we have to have a good employment insurance program enabling individuals, including older workers, to live decently until their retirement and allowing them to have a minimum to keep the economy rolling.

These programs were created for a reason. After the Great Depression—the economic crisis of the 1930s—we realized that we had to maintain the buying power of those who no longer had an income. The unemployment insurance program and the social assistance program were established to ensure that people would have a minimum to continue to live. Today, even though our overall economy is doing well because of the energy sector, those who struggle every day, who provide their labour in order to have an income and support their family, are waiting for a return on the investment.

This is not reflected in the Liberal's motion, and even less so by the Conservative government, which is determined to continue claiming that no efforts are needed in this regard. The Conservatives have already said that they supported the independent employment insurance fund. Let them show it, let them agree to adopt Bill C-269 and to give a royal recommendation. Then we will have a tangible measure to judge. Until then, Quebec wants nothing to with what the Liberals are doing today or what the Conservatives presented in the Speech from the Throne.