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Evidence of meeting #63 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was changes.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claude Poirier  President, Professional Serving Canadians Coalition, Canadian Association of Professional Employees
Tyler Sommers  Coordinator, Democracy Watch
Terrance Oakey  President, Merit Canada
Bob Linton  Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

I'm just asking if you publish the funds for your advocacy campaigns. Do you publish the budgets? I'll take that as a no, if there's silence.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Do you want to respond to that, Mr. Oakey?

12:05 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

Currently, we do not. As we've always said both publicly and to our members, if the federal government chooses to pass a piece of legislation that would require that we do, we would comply.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay.

Thank you.

Ms. McLeod.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank the witnesses, and for their patience in particular, as our start was slightly delayed due to the bells.

I would perhaps like to start with Mr. Poirier.

I represent a community that's rural and urban with a lot of mining and forestry, and during the recession there were significant challenges, especially during 2008 and 2009. I saw that the owners of these businesses had to make many difficult decisions regarding viability.

To a greater degree, government also has to look at the long-term future. We look at what's happening in Greece with the deficits there, and around the world if governments don't have their fiscal houses in order.

Given the fact that our public service has increased by one third from 1998 to 2011—and there was certainly a huge increase during the time of the economic action plan—are you saying that it's not appropriate for government to look at the long-term future of the country and that all jobs within government must be protected? Is that what you're saying, that there's no room for government to look at how they are doing things?

12:10 p.m.

President, Professional Serving Canadians Coalition, Canadian Association of Professional Employees

Claude Poirier

The workforce adjustment directive and the appendices to our collective agreements are there to allow the government to move people around and to change the way work is being done. That is part of the deal that Canada has with its unions. I don't have the exact figures on increases in the public service for the years you've quoted. What I know is that in 2008 or 2007, we were back at the levels we saw in the early nineties, 1993 and 1994.

The increase has been there in part—and in good part—because older guys like me will be retiring from the public service, and you need to recruit more to allow for succession planning. That explains part of the increase.

Now, as far as the economy goes, you have to take into account that before the Conservative government came to power the first time, we were not having deficits but yearly surpluses.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, and I would also like to note that we paid off $30 billion during our initial time. In 2008 of course there was a global recession, and things have changed dramatically, so ultimately we do need to look at where we're going and absolutely have a workforce that meets those very important needs of the community. But I'd also say that we have to be like those businesses in my riding that had to make some very challenging decisions.

Perhaps here I will switch to Mr. Linton, because I only have five minutes. Mr. Linton, you referenced the PBO budget report. Did you also read the budget report where he talked about the demographic challenges that we would be facing? Could I have just a quick yes or no.

12:10 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

The demographic challenges that I saw included the fact that—

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

There was a specific report he did approximately a year ago that reflected on how the government had to do something in terms of the health and social safety net and the demographic challenges. Did you manage to read that report?

12:10 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

Are you talking about the increase in the GDP and how it will be only 0.8% or 1.8%?

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

He produced a document that reflected very clearly on how the government had to look at the demographic challenges in terms of structural deficits.

Did you see the numbers that came out today from Stats Canada regarding demographic challenges? A quick yes or no.

12:10 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

No, unfortunately, I was on a plane on the way up here.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Okay.

Were you aware that many countries have taken this move from age 65 to 67 to deal with these very significant challenges?

12:10 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

Yes, I am aware of that.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

So I don't think this is an easy decision for government to be making, but I think it's a decision, given the information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and from Stats Canada, that OAS needs to be there for the long-term future. Can you not see the rationale in terms of the long-term future?

12:10 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

I believe that's something we'll agree to disagree on.

Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

We go to Mr. Brison.

May 29th, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate each of you joining us today.

I appreciate Mr. Poirier's recognition that in fact there was a period of significant budget surpluses and paying down of debt. In reality we were in deficit before the downturn in the fall of 2008, as a result of tax changes and spending increases.

But on the issue of EI, I'm told in regard to the proposed change to the EI board of referees that the current approach is working well. It's decentralized. Decisions are being made closer to the citizens, the workers, and the employers affected by those decisions, and it's a very low-cost structure—probably lower than it will be later.

What's the rationale being given to make this change, to centralize this decision-making?

12:10 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

Sorry, I wasn't aware that was for me.

What's the rationale?

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

What's the rationale? It's a low-cost structure currently. It is working well, and decisions are being made close to the people affected by the decisions.

12:15 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

I don't think I could argue with you on that. I think you're asking the wrong person why there should be changes to the system. It's the old saying: If it ain't broke, why fix it?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Unless it's that you want to control all the decisions centrally from Ottawa and you have an agenda.

In terms of the seasonal work issue, whether you're in food production in agriculture or in agrifoods or in a fish plant, you can limit seasonal workers but you can't eliminate seasons. I represent the riding with the largest agricultural production of any riding in Atlantic Canada. There is significant agriculture and horticulture, and I'm hearing from the horticulture industry, particularly, about the effects the change will have on their operations. I'm also hearing from food-manufacturing businesses in New Brunswick—for example, Ganong in St. Stephen, New Brunswick—and from the tourism industry that there are going to be a lot of unintended consequences for their businesses.

On the temporary foreign worker side, I'm also hearing from the same businesses—as I spend quite a bit of time visiting the farms in my riding—that the temporary foreign workers program has, within agriculture, been a very valuable program. Temporary foreign workers are an important part of the production chain and the value chain. They're part of a global reality around the production of food, and it actually costs more to hire them than it would cost to hire local workers. In some cases, the costs all in are $14 to $15 an hour, and the temporary foreign workers aren't taking a job away from a local Canadian worker. For instance, strawberry picking is back-breaking tough work at which they work 12 to 14 hours a day, but Canadian workers are involved in packing the strawberries or driving the trucks that transport the strawberries, so there's some value added there.

Do you see the reality of temporary foreign workers as part of the production chain, and do you acknowledge that they're not really taking jobs from skilled Canadian workers in these instances?

12:15 p.m.

Director, Government and Political Affairs, United Food and Commerical Workers Union

Bob Linton

Absolutely. And the seasonal agricultural workers program is a system that's been in Canada for almost 30 years. As I said before, although it does have its faults, it has worked well. A lot of places and industries rely on that.

I guess the problem for us is that those workers are not going to be treated the same as other workers in the country.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

You used an example of someone being asked to spray chemicals or pesticides. If they're doing that, they're breaking a number of labour laws, and they should be shut down by whatever jurisdictional or enforcement vehicle. There's no difference in the way the law would treat that versus—