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Evidence of meeting #5 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was million.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I can tell the member, Mr. Chairman, that we are not contemplating making changes to the employment insurance boundaries at this time.

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

That at least is clear.

Minister, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister made a commitment to establish an independent employment insurance fund. To a question asked by the Bloc's leader in the House of Commons this past June, the Prime Minister answered that he had the same philosophy as the Bloc leader concerning the employment insurance fund and that his government was going to take a position on it soon.

You didn't support Bill C-205 or C-357, whereas you had voted for Bill C-280.

What is your position today on that?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Chairman, I need to point out that in the throne speech we did commit to improving the management and the governance of the employment insurance account. We're working on that. I think it's fair to say that workers around the country, and employers, want to have faith in the system. I'm not sure they have that faith today, and we're conscious of that.

With respect to private members' bills, there are rules to be followed. These are private members' bills that don't follow the rules of Parliament. They attempt to draw on the treasury. If we implemented all the private members' bills that came from your party, I can tell you the employment insurance account would be in a huge deficit, because every time you bring one forward, it's typically uncosted and has a price tag in the billions of dollars.

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

With all due respect, Minister, I don't want you to use the time to repeat the arguments you can use in the House. I just want to know whether or not you have changed your mind.

We think an independent fund is necessary. So I understand that you've changed your mind on the subject today.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Chairman, I guess what I'm suggesting to my friend is that we understand what the Prime Minister said. I think we've signalled fairly clearly our intentions in the throne speech. We want to improve the management and the governance of the employment insurance account. As the Prime Minister said in the House to the leader of the Bloc, we're very open to ideas from the Bloc and other members regarding how it should be structured.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Minister, my questions are clear. I'd like your answers to be clear as well. I don't want you to retract your explanations. From what I understood, you had made a commitment to create an independent fund, but that is not what you contend now. You're bringing up questions of an entirely technical nature.

So I'm going to ask another question, Mr. Chair.

In our opinion, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's surpluses should be used to eliminate the significant deficiencies in the development of affordable social housing. However, that is not currently the case.

Has your thinking on this issue progressed? Do you intend to hand over to the provinces the amounts of money necessary for them to accelerate social housing development?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Chairman, of course Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is an independent body. They have been running surpluses, but that's a very good thing. This is the organization that backstops mortgage insurance for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. We want to ensure that they, frankly, continue to make a profit, because in their profitability comes stability for homeowners around the country.

The member's issue regarding affordable housing is a very important one. That is why we have taken a number of steps, including the housing trust of $1.4 billion. Combined with all the other initiatives that we currently support, that means we're spending more today on affordable housing than any government in history.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. Lessard, you have 30 seconds.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

You know it isn't useful to have such large surpluses. This year, I believe we'll reach $7 billion and it will be more than $10 billion in 2010. That money could very well be used to develop affordable housing. The reserve can be much smaller. We find it hard to understand why you are still in favour of such a high reserve rate.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I need to point out to Mr. Lessard that right now there is a surplus--or a fund, rather--of $3.7 billion, but it is a backstop to $291 billion in mortgages that CMHC backstops for Canadians, so relative to the amount that's been set aside to support Canadians through mortgage insurance, it's really a pretty small amount; it's just over 1%.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much, Minister.

Thank you, Mr. Lessard.

We're now going to move to the NDP. Mr. Martin, sir, you have seven minutes.

December 3rd, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you very much.

Thanks for being here today, Minister.

I just wanted to go back to the summer student employment program and ask you if you've fixed all the problems with the arbitrary grid that was in place.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Well, we've certainly heard a lot of feedback from stakeholders regarding a number of the issues surrounding this. We are absolutely taking note of that and we'll try to reflect a lot of those ideas in the program when we announce it very soon.

The short answer, Tony, is that we've heard people on the criteria and we're very mindful that we need to give people confidence that it's going to work for them in the various parts of the country you represent.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

As you know, it was pretty confusing, particularly for the folks out there trying to deliver some of those programs, and confusing for the students themselves as they tried to figure out whether they were going to have a job over the summer. None of us could figure out quite how the decisions were really made and what that grid really looked like.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Well, all I can say is that I'm conscious of some of the concerns raised by the not-for-profit sector in particular. We tried to respond to that as quickly as possible, because it's obvious these groups do tremendous work. Our goal was always to give students the best possible work experience they can get, and that goal still remains. We made an effort to make sure that organizations were promising that kind of experience, so that students would get very good work experience that would be useful to them in their studies and would also allow them to save for post-secondary education. Those were what the criteria were designed to get.

To the degree that we weren't successful in doing that, we do want to make changes.

4 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Will there be anything in the program that rolls out this year that will respond to some of the regional economic disadvantages that exist out there across the country, in terms of some communities being able to attract their students back so that they in fact see that area as a place to maybe set up shop when they're finished school?

4 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

As someone who comes from a rural riding, I understand some of those concerns. I'm not going to announce what the new program will be like today, but a lot of these concerns have been raised, and raised in a rather forthright way, by many of you around this table, so we're going to take a lot of that input and try to reflect it in the design of the new program.

4 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I want to move to another subject. I noted in one section of the estimates that there will be a new plan in place to review how well government is doing--indicators, timelines, accountability, that sort of thing. Also, in another section there's a reference to the problem of low income and the prosperity gap continuing to be one that you're grappling with, that you're having a difficult time coming to terms with.

I was just wondering if there is a plan specifically in place or if you're working on a plan to reduce poverty and to reduce the prosperity gap. Do you agree that we need a plan? I was at a session last Monday night with poverty activists from across the country, and we had the minister from Newfoundland in speaking, and he talked about their plan. He also talked very clearly about the need, if they're going to be successful, for a national plan.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I would say that I'm very excited about some of the opportunities today to help a lot of people who are really stuck in poverty. And I see it a little differently.

I think we've tried to take some very practical steps to help people today. I admit it's not a grand plan, but we've invested very heavily in training, and very heavily in housing, for example. We're also hoping--and you and I have talked about this many times--that this committee will finish the employability study, which would be helpful. Then I've invited you and suggested to you that I would be very happy to receive a poverty study from this committee that takes into account, as I said to you personally, of course, the measures that government can put in place, but also avenues that we can use via the private sector to lever people up, something we're seeing to an increasing degree right now in this hot job market.

4 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

The reality out there as more and more analysis and studies are done, and frankly, as governments try their best to put in place programs that move people along, is that we're finding more and more people taking advantage of opportunities to work. But even with working full time year-round, they're still living in poverty. Some of the studies that are done on child poverty are indicating that a lot of the children--and there are hundreds of thousands of them across the country--are living in families with a sole parent who is working full time and still not able to get their head above water.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I have to say I'm concerned about that. I've read a number of studies lately. I certainly read the study from John Richards regarding some of these things. I think he had some very strong views on how important it is to use the hot job market as a way to lift people out of poverty.

I take your point. I don't disagree with it at all. There are people working today who can't make ends meet and we need to work hard to find ways so that being in the workforce is rewarding and ultimately allows them to improve conditions for themselves and their families. I think all members of Parliament are concerned about that. I can tell you I've read a lot about it lately, and working with this committee, I want to put in place changes that realize that goal.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I know that housing is a persistent challenge across the country. There are a number of people now working very aggressively and energetically on homelessness initiatives across the country, but what they're finding is they're spending as much time trying to raise money as they are actually doing the job.

Is there any intention on the government's part to put in some core funding for some of those agencies and those groups so they can really turn their mind and most of their creativity to actually solving the problem as opposed to continuing to have to fundraise?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

What we've done with the homelessness partnering strategy is we're funding a lot of local groups to make judgments about who, within those communities, is in a position to provide services to people who are facing the potential of homelessness or are actually without a home today.

We've just started this program, of course. It just began with the beginning of the last fiscal year. So we're going to take a little bit of time to assess how well it's doing, but we're pretty encouraged with what we're seeing so far. I think it makes sense to have the real experts on these things engaged, the people who deliver the services on the ground. Hopefully, we'll find over a period of time that this is successful, and then maybe we'll be able to make the argument successfully that programming should be extended over a longer period of time. But it's a little early to say that, only a few months into the new program.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much, Mr. Martin.

Now we'll move to the final individual this round. Ms. Yelich, for seven minutes, please.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Thank you.

I have a few questions, then I will defer to Mr. Lake.

I, too, want to talk about Canada summer jobs, but from a different perspective.

First of all, though, I would like to ask you, from the questions today, do you think the opposition understands yet that the summer jobs program has nothing to do with ridings but has to do more with the whole national picture, that it's not everybody's riding and what they got? Do you think they've caught on yet that the program has been changed?