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Evidence of meeting #70 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was clauses.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gordon Boissonneault  Senior Advisor, Economic Analysis and Forecasting Division, Demand and Labour Analysis, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Sue Foster  Acting Director General, Policy, Appeals and Quality, Service Canada
Margaret Strysio  Director, Strategic Planning and Reporting, Parks Canada Agency
Stephen Bolton  Director, Border Law Enforcement Strategies Division, Public Safety Canada
Michael Zigayer  Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Garry Jay  Chief Superintendent, Acting Director General, HR Workforce Programs and Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Jeff Hutcheson  Director, HQ Programs and Financial Advisory Services, Coporate Management and Comptrollership, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Darryl Hirsch  Senior Policy Analyst, Intelligence Policy and Coordination, Department of Public Safety
Ian Wright  Executive Advisor, Financial Markets Division, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Nigel Harrison  Manager, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
David Lee  Director, Office of Legislative and Regulatory Modernization, Policy, Planning and International Affairs Directorate, Health Products and Food Branch, Department of Health
Anthony Giles  Director General, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
Bruno Rodrigue  Chief, Income Security, Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Gerard Peets  Senior Director, Strategy and Planning Directorate, Department of Industry
Suzanne Brisebois  Director General, Policy and Operations, Parole Board of Canada, Public Safety Canada
Louise Laflamme  Chief, Marine Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Department of Transport
Judith Buchanan  Acting Senior Manager, Labour Standards Operations, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
Mark Hodgson  Senior Policy Analyst, Labour Markets, Employment and Learning, Department of Finance
Stephen Johnson  Director General, Evaluation Directorate, Strategic Policy and Research Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
James McNamee  Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Graham Barr  Director General, Transition Planning and Coordination, Shared Services Canada

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Journeyman carpenter, certified.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

But that doesn't apply to construction.

6:50 p.m.

Director General, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Anthony Giles

Generally speaking, the construction industry is covered under provincial jurisdiction. That's right.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Yes.

Chair, I would just summarize by saying that repealing this act supports the government's commitment to job creation and long-term economic growth. I would expect the members opposite should really be supporting this if that would be their interest, creating jobs.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay, thank you.

I have Mr. Jean, then Mr. Martin, and then Ms. Nash.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I wasn't going to mention anything because I think this is a good step, but I just want to reassure Mr. Martin. I have employing people in northern Alberta for 30 years steadily, and I have recently had no other choice but to have one of my businesses get a temporary foreign worker. I can assure you that after eight months and being refused and having to go through another process, another application, it is not easy, first of all, even with proper market opinion. And it is not inexpensive. Quite frankly, I have found these temporary foreign worker solutions to be much more expensive than finding domestic people. The only difference is that they will stay with you longer because of the necessity of a contract and also because of the obligations you have on providing them with a room that is adequate.

I know that Alberta has quite stringent guidelines in relation to how temporary foreign workers are treated, how they're brought in, and what market and what businesses they can go to. But in no way at all are there pimps in Alberta, as he suggested, that I'm aware of, in dealing with these on a practical basis, on a consistent basis.

I do believe that I have one of the busiest immigration offices in the country—certainly in the top ten, I know that. So I deal with a lot of these, and my staff do, and in no way have we seen any of the suggestions Mr. Martin has come up with. In fact, it is the total opposite. They are not less expensive. In fact, I find they're more expensive. I would say they are 10% to 15% to 20% more expensive, including what we have to do for rooms and what we have to do for wages. It's not a cheaper solution by any stretch of the imagination.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you, Mr. Jean.

Mr. Martin.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

I just want to point out that the federal fair wage schedule takes care of anything under the Canada Labour Code. The Canada Labour Code conditions apply to the construction of prisons, military bases, anything to do with transportation, anything to do with wharves, Indian reserves, pipelines. Any pipeline that crosses a provincial border is covered by the Canada Labour Code, because they're not provincial.

It's kind of.... You know, one of the most controversial major construction projects in the country right now is pipeline-building. It's just kind of convenient that we're eliminating the fair wage act just in time to accommodate one of the biggest construction projects perhaps in North America. I think you can make a connection safely.

I'll give you another example, that of the pulp and paper mill in Gold River. You don't think the temporary foreign workers undermine local jurisdictional...? The poor guys lose their pulp and paper mill to a.... China buys it; they're going to set it up there. The millwrights and everybody laid off there know every nut and bolt in the place, but they've brought in gangs of temporary foreign workers from Bangladesh to dismantle the pulp and paper mill. They're sleeping six to a hotel room. God knows what they're being paid; maybe nothing.

So there are 80 or 100 unemployed millwrights and carpenters and pipefitters and tradespeople standing outside the fence while temporary foreign workers are doing the last six months' worth of work at that pulp and paper mill.

It's happening all over the country—maybe not at a Quiznos or a Robin's Donuts or a Tim Hortons, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about major construction projects that do work for these labour brokers, who move gangs of workers all around the world. We call them “labour pimps” in the industry. They undermine the local conditions everywhere they go.

We're opening the door to this by eliminating what was put in place to protect Canadian workers. I mean, it was Canadian taxpayers working on projects paid for by Canadian taxes, and they're getting screwed out of decent working conditions by the elimination of this fair wage act.

I'm a certified journeyman carpenter, and you're over there calling me a union boss. You guys love that. Yes, I represent working people. Working people voted for you, and you're undermining their fair wages.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Comments through the chair.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

I don't think you're undermining anybody's fair wages—it's him.

6:55 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay. Thank you.

We'll go to Mr. Brison, please.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I think the issue of temporary foreign workers is a complex one.

I can say, Mr. Martin, that I have actually spoken with...and Mr. Jean has made the point that in many cases, in fact, the cost of temporary foreign workers is actually higher than the cost of local. I think that in fact is accurate, in a lot of cases; my understanding is that it costs employers more.

There is a broader issue, and that is the emergence of a trend where we have jobs without people and people without jobs, and the need to close that skills gap within Canada. I think that speaks to, among other things, restoring the honour of trades, the dignity of trades. Part of it is cultural, part of it is public policy, but over a 30-year period we've seen a diminution in the dignity and honour of trades and a herding of everybody to universities as opposed to a recognition of the importance of trades and the need for tradespeople. It's one of the reasons why we need to have a more robust role for the federal government in the area of training and engagement of the provinces in that area.

I do think temporary foreign workers in some sectors actually play a very important role in terms of the production chain and the value chain. Furthermore, I know a number of employers who use them, and I do not see the conditions that.... Perhaps there are cases where the conditions are really bad, but I've seen in fact, to the contrary, some very reasonable conditions, and beyond that, people who on an annual basis will work for Canadian employers and use that money to build homes in their home country and to really bootstrap themselves and help....

I know this is distinct from the cases you're describing, but in some cases they're taking jobs that could not be filled locally, where there were not Canadians who had either the desire or the skills to fill those. But I realize that's distinct from some of the cases.

I would just say that it's a complicated issue and one that requires more time. The training issue is an important one.

Thank you.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

We're getting into some interesting, good debates, but we're really stretching relevance with respect to comments on the clauses of the bill. I appreciate the debates; they're good debates. But I really think if we're going to get through this, we need to focus on the subject matter of the specific clauses in the bill.

Mr. Marston, is this essential to say at this point?

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Well, I can say it at this point or at the next opportunity, whichever you want, Mr. Chair.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Well, it's your choice.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Then I'll go now.

This gentleman beside me, the member for Winnipeg Centre, was elected six times by the folks he represents. What I find really a problem in this place, Mr. Chair—and I'll go through you and do my best to go through you—is the constant “labour boss/union boss”.... If you want to look at a labour boss, look at me. I was 28 years in the labour movement. I never lost a motion once. I was elected 14 times as president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council and president of my own local.

When we're chosen by our people to come here as elected representatives, each and every one of us deserves respect, and labelling and this kind of childishness is absolutely ridiculous.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay. I appreciate that.

I will just respond as the chair and say that I have consistently asked members on both sides to show respect and to focus on the subject matter at hand, and to not stretch relevance to the point where I'm wondering what the point is in relation to the bill we're discussing. I just encourage all members to stick to the clauses and the bill we are debating and to make their points.

My suggestion to all three parties is to get on the record and say “with respect to this issue, this is our position”. Each party can do that very succinctly, and we can move forward and have a vote on the clauses. People can register whether they support them or not and we can move forward.

That's my advice as chair. I can't enforce that. I can't impose that upon you as members of Parliament. I'm just seeking your approval in that method. Let's just put everything behind us, in terms of past comments, and move forward from there.

I will call clauses 441 to 444.

(Clauses 441 to 444 inclusive agreed to on division)

We'll move to division 24.

I want to thank Mr. Giles for being here.

We'll do the Old Age Security Act, clauses 445 to 467. I have Mr. Marston on debate.

7 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Quite regularly, we hear how the NDP votes against things, so I thought I would start off my comments by talking about the things we agree with the government on in this particular one, because we have a lot we don't agree on.

The changes in clauses 449 and 450 would allow the minister to waive requirements for applying for OAS. We think that's good. We also think that voluntary deferral, in clause 451, is good. Waiving requirements for applying for GIS, in clauses 454 and 457 to 459 and 460, again is reasonable.

Now, I'll go down a bit further in my notes here, and I won't go through item by item, because we will vote on those, Mr. Chair, but the clauses that we're against and the aspects that we're against—we have said all along that there's a fundamental disagreement between the opposition and the government parties on the need to change the eligibility for OAS. We don't think it's needed.

The parliamentary budget officer has said—and he's looked at this file—that yes, there's going to be an increase of $39 billion to over $100 billion. But he says in the commentary from the government, it doesn't talk about the growth in GDP. The OECD pension team looked at it as well. They didn't agree.

The first we heard about any of this, of course, was in Davos, with the famous speech—or infamous; it depends on how you look at it, Mr. Chair. It took us ages to find out from our finance minister that this change would be $10 billion for the government. We knew it was going to be something like that because of the savings by holding people on disability for an extra two years, or holding people on welfare for an extra two years. It should be between $6,000 and $7,000, depending on your numbers, per year, per person, that you are going to save by transferring those costs to the provinces. Giving fairness to the finance minister, he said he'd try to cover those costs. We'll see how that goes.

But expert after expert has said OAS is sustainable. Even when they move it out to 2023, as they've done...it's not something that needs to be in this budget. If we're going to look at retirement security for seniors, and pensions, we need to take a holistic approach and look at everything that's out there. You look at OAS, GIS, CPP, and the private options. The PRPP that the government put in is not mandatory, so it's not going to accomplish anything. We're very concerned about that aspect and the fact that it's going to leave seniors and disabled people in poverty two years longer. The change will keep them from going to OAS and GIS, which gives them a modest increase to their monthly income. That's who you're hurting with this. It's not needed. It should be withdrawn.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you, Mr. Marston.

I have Mr. Jean and Mr. Brison.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

This is an issue that I identified 15 years ago as being a real live issue in Canada, as it has been in most western democracies. Demographics is the trend...most people are set on making money because of the growing population. Seniors are going from 4.7 million to 9.3 million over the next 20 years. That's almost a doubling of the population.

I can't say enough to Mr. Marston and others, that notwithstanding that the age is being changed, the reality is that Canadians are living longer, healthier lives, which means that 30 to 40 years ago, at 65, very possibly they were in need of social assistance and help from the federal government, but today it's a very different scenario.

My mum is 80 years old and very healthy. She is working full time—a spry young lady, I would call her. She just wrote a book and works at least 50 hours a week. She walked around India with me for two weeks and most of the time she was outrunning me.

This is not what took place 40 to 50 years ago in this country. People are much healthier, because we have such a great, generous health system, because we have a good system of taking care of our society. I think the reality is that the cost of the OAS program will increase dramatically. It will increase to such a point that it will not be sustainable, and we can see that by the numbers we have seen for years, which is that we are going to be in a situation, if we continue, that by 2030 there will be two taxpayers for every senior, down from what they are today, which is four, so a doubling of the burden on the same number of taxpayers, in essence. I think that is substantially more than it was 20 years ago; I think there were 8 or 10.

There's no question something needs to be done. I think most western democracies have done this, and they've done this because it's absolutely necessary. Anybody who doesn't see the writing on the wall is clearly playing politics, in my mind, and not dealing with reality.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you, Mr. Jean.

I have Mr. Brison, and then Mr. Van Kesteren.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you very much.

On this issue, the reality is that the OECD and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have said the OAS is sustainable in its current form, 65 being the age of eligibility. It's important to realize that while today it is 2.7% of GDP, at its peak in 2030 it will be 3.1%. This is manageable, and it's really important to realize that 40% of the people getting OAS make less than $20,000 a year. These are the most vulnerable.

Mr. Jean's mum is a very active and healthy person. I've met her. She's a tremendous entrepreneur and a pretty remarkable person. My father worked until he was 82, and he was a pretty amazing person in that sense. But there are people who, either due to their health or the nature of their work...if you're in physical work, if you're working in a fish plant in a cold, damp environment in rural Newfoundland, if you are working on your feet all day, if you are a labourer, at 65 your body could be ready for a break, and I think it's important to realize that.

I have a question for Mr. Rodrigue, who appeared before us on a Thursday, quite late at night, a few weeks ago, I believe. I asked you for the information on the impact of this change on the fisc and you responded that you couldn't comment on that, it was a cabinet confidence, and I was able to refer you to section 69 of the Access to Information Act.

The next day, less than 24 hours later, I think it was in the afternoon, this information was provided, not to Parliament, but broadly as part of a press release. What changed in that period of time?

June 5th, 2012 / 7:05 p.m.

Bruno Rodrigue Chief, Income Security, Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, Department of Finance

The government decided to release that information.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

But it was not a cabinet confidence at that time, though, on the Thursday night?