House of Commons Hansard #263 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.


Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Paul Zed Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations.

Pursuant to an order of the House dated Wednesday, November 8, 1995, the committee studied Bill C-101, an act to amend the National Housing Act, and has agreed to report it without amendment.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present the 101st report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding associate membership on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in this report later this day.

Foreign Aid Restriction ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-357, an act respecting restriction on foreign aid.

Mr. Speaker, this bill is designed to stop the flow of financial or other aid to any foreign country that refuses to accept re-entry of its nationals or former nationals deported from Canada.

Far too often when foreign born criminals are ordered deported from Canada, deportation is hampered because some countries do not want to take back their nationals. The foreign aid restriction act addresses this issue by freezing aid to countries that frustrate the Canadian deportation process.

The bill is a strong measure to ensure effective deportation policy in Canada. If a country will not take back its citizens who have committed criminal acts in Canada or who have misrepresented their past involvement in organized criminal activity, terrorism or other activities as noted under section 19 of the Immigration Act of Canada and are ordered deported, the bill would then direct the Department of Foreign Affairs to suspend all foreign aid to that country.

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

On the Order: Private Members' Business:

Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage of Bill C-292, an act to commemorate the birthplace of Confederation-Member for Hillsborough.

Commemoration Of The Birthplace Of Confederation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Madam Speaker, it is with great regret and lack of support by my Liberal colleagues that I ask you to seek unanimous consent so that I withdraw my private members' bill, Bill C-292, an act to commemorate the birthplace of Confederation.

Commemoration Of The Birthplace Of Confederation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

Commemoration Of The Birthplace Of Confederation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Order discharged and bill withdrawn.)

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, with leave of the House I move, seconded by the hon. member for Mississauga South, that the 101st report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled in the House today be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to.)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I wish to present a petition which has been circulating across Canada. This petition has been signed by a number of Canadians from Estevan, Saskatchewan.

The petitioners draw to the attention of the House that managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society.

They also state that the Income Tax Act discriminates against families that make the choice to provide care in the home to preschool children, the disabled, the chronically ill and the aged.

The petitioners therefore pray and call on Parliament to pursue initiatives to eliminate tax discrimination against families that decide to provide care in the home for preschool children, the disabled, the chronically ill or the aged.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of over 500 Bell pensioners.

These pensioners believe that Bell Canada, which was responsible for the choice of Confederation Life as an administrator of its group RRSP funds and which encouraged its employees to participate in it, has an obligation to ensure that its employees do not suffer economically from their pensions being placed at risk due to the collapse of Confederation Life.

They ask that Parliament initiate an investigation.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Simon de Jong NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, it is an honour today to present a petition concerning the "On to Ottawa" trek.

These petitions are historically important in that they bear the signatures of some of the original 1935 "On to Ottawa" trekkers, including Mr. Robert Savage, the last living member of the delegation of eight to meet with the then Prime Minister R. B. Bennett.

Sixty years ago Prime Minister Bennett ordered the arrest of the "On to Ottawa" trek leaders at a public meeting, hence provoking the Regina riot. The trekkers, citizens of Regina who witnessed the riot, family members and other Canadians draw the attention of the House to the "On to Ottawa" trek and its abrupt end in Regina on Dominion Day 1935, and the then federal government's role in the police riot in Regina.

These petitioners call on Parliament to extend to the 1935 trekkers, the Regina citizens and their families its unequivocal and official apology for its part in provoking the police riot.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed from November 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-96, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.


John Murphy Liberal Annapolis Valley—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak on Bill C-96.

The bill has a single and fairly simple purpose, integration. The government is setting out a solid legislative process for integrating Canada's social and labour market programs. With these changes, the Department of Human Resources Development brings under one roof all of our efforts to help Canadians achieve their full potential in society and in our economy.

Within this single department are all the programs and services that help people looking for work find and keep jobs, help employers find workers they need, help workers and employers under federal jurisdiction to maintain fair labour standards and a safe working environment, help people between jobs, Canadian seniors, families with low incomes and people with disabilities to get the income support they need.

It will help people get training and develop new skills for a changing economy. As well, it will help local businesses, communities and entire industries to target the skills for the future and build a skilled workforce that will help Canada be competitive and prosperous in a changing world.

By bringing all of these different programs into one department, we have taken an important first step toward ensuring programs work together, providing meaningful, co-ordinated solutions for the real world.

By taking this step the government has helped set the stage for real integration in the way programs and services are delivered to Canadians. Let us face it, when people come looking for service, they could care less which program branch delivers that service. The last thing they need is to be sent running around from one office to another.

One of the most fundamental goals of the government's approach is to ensure that integration takes place at the local level. To do so we must focus on locating the decision making and design of services at the local level. Instead of highly centralized decision making, we need to allow a much greater degree of discretion and judgment in the field.

Having been in the field of psychiatry and mental health for 30 years, I know what it means to tailor programs to individuals; it is very important and this bill accomplishes that.

Over the last two years I have developed a close working relationship with the Canada Employment Centre in my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants. I have had many opportunities to meet with the employees, listen to their ideas and watch these professionals do their jobs. I am convinced more than ever that decision making power must rest with the local level.

Decisions about what kinds of programs make sense in a community should be made by the community, in partnership with local businesses, trade unions, community and municipal organizations. If it is going to work we have to completely rethink the way we define programs and services.

As my hon. colleague from Burin-St. George's stated, we cannot say to communities across Canada: "Here is a program and here are all the rules you have to follow. Do it our way or not at all". He also went on to say that individuals need programs and even though it is not what they need, this is the only program we have money for so take it or leave it.

Instead, we want to say to communities and individuals: "Here are some basic tools that we know have worked. Here is the money and the available resources. Now you the client decide which tools make sense and how you can use these resources most effectively". Just do what needs to be done. That is the motto of this bill.

That is what integration means, bringing it down to the local level. That is what we are trying to do with Bill C-96. The government is also bringing this approach to the largest single social program in Canada, unemployment insurance.

For years now, we have had two separate tracks going for people who are unemployed. On the one hand there is the UI system, an absolutely vital program providing temporary income support for people between jobs. On the other hand we have developed an increasingly sophisticated and effective set of employment programs, a set of tools to help people develop new skills, gain work experience and in the end find jobs.

Our challenge in this bill is to integrate these two components, to build a single integrated employment service that people can turn to, not just for a cheque but for help to get back into the workforce. This means finding a way to combine that essential system of income protection provided by UI with an active system of employment, a system that gives people the resources and the opportunity to make choices about the kind of skills that are required, the kind of future they want to build for themselves.

For example, we are experimenting with a form of internship with small businesses. There are companies that desperately want to hire new workers but cannot afford to provide the training new workers require. With this program we help them hire young people, older workers and women returning to the workforce. We provide some support to pay for the learning curve, the time it obviously takes for new workers to become fully productive in their new jobs. The experiment is getting good results. Small businesses are creating jobs for unemployed Canadians, real permanent jobs.

Over the past year we have developed a program for self-employment under unemployment insurance. We want to give people a choice. Rather than simply collecting benefits while they look for a new job, we want to give people the opportunity to create their own jobs. The department provides some financial support, monitoring and counselling to help participants get their businesses started.

Over the past year 30,000 people have started their own businesses this way through the unemployment insurance system. They have not created just 30,000 jobs but rather 60,000 jobs. That is the

kind of positive initiative that can happen when we think in terms of integration.

Another example of integration can be seen in our government's strategic initiatives program. This program is important since it provides the government with the unique opportunity to experiment with program design that will support future policy development.

In September 1994 the government in partnership with the Government of Nova Scotia announced the launching of such a program. Success Nova Scotia 2000 will assist 3,000 young Nova Scotians to gain valuable work experience in leading industries using internships as an important part of their learning culture.

It is part of our commitment to find better ways for young people to secure jobs. By bringing together a full range of Canada's social and labour market programs, we are setting a new course and making a positive difference in Canada.

Bill C-96 provides a strong basis for this new direction. It ensures the structure that is in place for the federal government continues bringing programs and services together while working with our partners in the provinces and the communities across the country.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, ever since the Bloc Quebecois arrived in the House of Commons, Ottawa has treated us to power plays of every description. First, it created the Department of Canadian Heritage. In so doing, Ottawa denied the existence of the Quebec people and the government gave itself a mandate to defend and promote Canadian culture and Canadian identity.

Then came power play number two: the Department of Health. With this decision, the government expanded and consolidated its control over an exclusively provincial jurisdiction.

And now for Ottawa power play number three. This time, it is about human resources. I am referring to the bill before the House today, the act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts. With this bill, the department blatantly ignores the existing consensus in Quebec on manpower training and directly intrudes in this provincial jurisdiction.

A fourth power play is now looming, and I am referring to reforms in programs connected with income security for seniors. Of course for the past two years, every time he had to field a question in the House, we saw the Minister of Human Resources Development rise indignantly and play the same tape over and over again: "The document is wrong, you misread, and you do not understand".

However, there is every indication that Ottawa will use this reform to save money, again at the expense of the seniors, and the minister responsible seems to be the only one in this House who is misinformed.

In the February budget that was supposed to reshape Canada, using a Tory recipe with a Liberal label, the Minister of Finance announced a reform of programs relating to income security for seniors. This reform was to take effect in 1997. According to the Minister of Finance, it will be based on the following five principles: first, undiminished protection for all seniors who are less well off, which means there will be no increase in benefits but payments to the less well off will be maintained at present levels.

Second, a continuation of full indexation of pensions. Third, eligibility for OAS benefits will be based on family income. People should realize that this will significantly change the present system. In fact, OAS has always been universal, but after the Chrétien government's reform, the amount of the OAS cheque will depend on family income.

Fourth, benefit levels will be reduced as income levels rise. Ottawa's so-called positive approach careful conceals its plans to lower the ceiling for the clawback.

Fifth, control of program costs. In other words, administration of the OAS system will have to cost less.

This sketchy outline of Ottawa's intentions received a stinging response from Ms. Blackburn, Quebec's income security minister. In a press release dated March 2, the minister commented that the federal government was launching another attack on the incomes of seniors and that the reform announced in the Martin budget would permanently destroy the balance of the current OAS system.

The minister also pointed out that the decision to provide OAS benefits on the basis of family income would mean that more seniors, mainly women, would have to turn over their benefits to the federal government. The minister went on to say that women had won recognition of their independent status in society, but now, because of budgetary cutbacks, once they were retired their status would depend on that of their spouse and their family income and that, considering the measures proposed by Mr. Axworthy andMr. Martin, one wondered if women's rights meant anything at all to the federal government.

The minister's final conclusion is that such a change in calculating old age pensions makes them no longer a foundation for financial security in retirement but a social assistance program.

Seniors will be entitled to an old age pension if their income places them in the category of persons with modest means. We

must therefore acknowledge that the federal government did not have the courage before the referendum to clearly and precisely inform Quebecers of what was really in store for them in connection with old age pensions, because it knew what an impact that knowledge could have had on the final outcome of the vote.

Jean-Robert Sansfaçon, an editorial writer for Le Devoir, saw the announcements of old age pension cuts by the Minister of Finance in more or less the same light as Mrs. Blackburn. In his editorial last February 28 he wrote as follows: ``If Ottawa goes ahead with this, it will mean an end to universal old age pensions, which might end up being reserved only for households with modest incomes. This is a really new concept, one more closely related to social assistance than to a pension plan, and would encourage everyone to save money during their working years''.

In another editorial on March 4 he wrote: "Although this was not in the least what was expected of it, the present Liberal government is preparing to axe the plan-As early as 1997, we will see the end of basic benefits for everyone regardless of income. The amount received will no longer be the same for everyone but will be calculated according to total household income. Instead of being the base of the retirement income pyramid as it was in the past, the old age pension would become a kind of welfare payment. This is more than a reform, it is more like a revolution".

Before the House adjourned for the scheduled parliamentary recess, my colleague for Mercier got hold of a document called

Serving Canada's Seniors.

This document confirms the government's intentions of changing the old age pension into a plan reserved for only the poorest in our society. Page 5 of this document states: "The old age pension system, the guaranteed income supplement, the spouse's allowance and the senior citizens' tax credit will be combined into a single new program requiring an income test".

In short, all programs will be rolled into one and the pension will be paid to seniors according to family income.

After she obtained this document, the member for Mercier asked the Minister of Human Resources Development how he could reconcile what was revealed in this document with the Prime Minister's statement that the best way to protect our social benefits was to vote no. With his now legendary arrogance, the minister replied that the document in question was a mere invention by the Bloc Quebecois.

I would like to inform the people of Canada and of Quebec officially that no one within the Bloc has time to waste in writing such a document. And let me particularly point out that, if it were really a document from the Bloc, it would have been available in both of this country's official languages, and not just English.

If the minister sincerely believes that the Bloc authored this document, I must reach the conclusion that, on the one hand, he does not know what is going on in his own department, and one of two things on the other hand. Either he has not read the budget of his finance colleague, or he read it without understanding it, for the document Serving Canada's Seniors contains the income security program reform promised in the Minister of Finance's budget last February. I would add that I am amazed that the Minister of Human Resources Development would point the finger at our party, when it is the Bloc which has been trying to cast some light on the coming changes to the various programs relating to income security for Canada's and Quebec's seniors.

I would like to conclude with an invitation to the Minister of Human Resources Development to re-examine his old age pension strategy. To pay off the deficit at the expense of seniors, especially women seniors, is an unacceptable decision. When there is a budget in excess of $160 billion, one is entitled to think that all of our social benefits could be preserved, including old age pensions. The government must have the courage to make decisions that will enable all citizens to do their part to improve the collective well-being, and not make the least well off among us pay the price on their own.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 1995 / 10:30 a.m.


Peter Thalheimer Liberal Timmins—Chapleau, ON

Madam Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak on Bill C-96, which seeks to establish the legislative framework for the Department of Human Resources Development.

I have been somewhat amused throughout the course of the debate on this issue by the comments of some opposition members, which suggest either a misreading of the bill or an overactive imagination. For instance, some members of the official opposition claim to detect a sinister plot by the government to usurp areas of provincial responsibility. Indeed, some have even gone so far as to suggest that we might seek to sabotage existing educational, training, and manpower programs in the province of Quebec. This rather odd scenario was perhaps best articulated by one Bloc member who suggested that this legislation might be part of some hidden agenda by the government to demolish all the educational tools Quebec has developed.

Members of the third party seem equally confused. Many Reform members have expressed disappointment that the bill will not usher in the millennium and solve all the country's problems in one fell swoop. This would be a miracle were it to occur, since the bill from its inception was designed simply to take care of some legislative and administrative issues.

It is difficult to determine whether such opposition concerns are real or simply represent mere political gamesmanship. However, it seems only fair to give these members the benefit of the doubt.

I would like to take a few moments to address some of the misconceptions clearly plaguing some opposition members and explain why passage of the bill is so important for assuring further progress in providing even higher levels of service to Canadians.

To begin with, let me state what this bill is not designed to do. It is not, as some opposition members have suggested, a power grab or an attempt to raid areas of provincial jurisdiction. This should be clear from even the most cursory reading of this bill, which makes no significant changes to the statutory elements of the founding departments that are being brought together under this legislation.

Equally important is the fact that this bill does not change the powers of the federal government or the provinces. Nor does it seek to grant new powers to the federal government, as some have tried to suggest. The department's mandate is clearly limited to just those matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction. Nor will there be any new powers granted by clause 20, which empowers the minister to sign contracts with agencies and institutions other than the provinces. This authority already exists and therefore represents no change whatsoever.

If such concerns are unfounded, what does this bill really seek to do? Simply put, it seeks to recognize in a legislative, unified way the restructuring already under way, which is bringing together under one umbrella organization portions of the former departments of employment and immigration, health and welfare, secretary of state, and all of labour.

This consolidation is critical, since it will allow us to take a more holistic approach to the social, economic and training issues that have traditionally been addressed by these departments. It will allow us to provide better service at lower cost and develop the flexible, imaginative, and highly targeted approaches needed to adequately address the challenges facing Canadians now and in the future.

Of course this process of renewal has been under way for some time. I am pleased to say that this new department has had a number of successes in developing new approaches so Canadians can better cope with an increasingly demanding labour market.

As gratifying as this is, more remains to be done. That is why the changes contained in the bill are so important. To begin with, it will help us build on these initial successes by clarifying the role of the department and the responsibilities of the minister to both Parliament and Canadians generally. It will simplify the current complex trail of statutory powers, many of them going back to the original pieces of legislation that set up the founding departments, by providing one act that sets out the mandate and powers of the department. Such a change will clarify the identity of the department by laying out for both employees and clients the department's goals and the resources it will have to achieve them.

As well, the legislation will give people and organizations working with the department a clear idea of just who it is they are working with. As incredible as it may seem, many departmental officials still use old letterhead bearing the names of their former departments for legal and contracting purposes. This is confusing for partners, since in their minds those old departments no longer exist.

Of course these are not the only administrative problems to be addressed. For instance, without the proper enabling legislation simple tasks such as transferring personnel can be costly and time-consuming. This is also the case with large and detailed contracts, which often involve a number of former departments.

Most important of all is the need to bring the current transitional phase of restructuring to a close and then move forward. We need to build on our recent successes and undertake exciting new initiatives aimed at investing in our most important asset, people. To do this we need to clear away administrative obstacles so we can further undertake new initiatives such as UI reform, develop new programs and services under the human resource investment fund, and improve programs for our most vulnerable citizens, including seniors and the disabled.

Finally, this legislation will improve service to Canadians while at the same time ensuring taxpayers' dollars are spent in the most cost effective manner possible.

The bill before us will allow us to achieve all these goals. It will create the architecture required to implement the reforms needed to support Canadians with the job training opportunities they need to enter the next century with confidence. I would encourage members to support Bill C-96.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-96, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, is basically just reorganization of the department and does not offer any substantive changes.

It amazes me that with the number of people who are currently dependent on HRD for their welfare, some legitimately and some not, with the country in economic doldrums, with the debt increasing, with the IMF recently downgrading our country's rating by 50 per cent six weeks ago, the government persists in serving up bills that nibble around the edges of these problems, which affect us all.

Here is another opportunity lost. Never at any other time in recent history has this country required strong leadership in so many different areas. HRD is no different. In fact HRD affects the lives of those who are in the lowest socioeconomic situations within our country.

We sympathize with the government in the position it faces. Indeed it is a difficult one. However, it is not an excuse for inaction, particularly since we as a party have put forward strong solutions to address these very important areas. Our HRD areas are in critical shape. They are in effect ready to fall apart.

On the one hand, we have an increase in demand. On the other hand, with an increasing debt we have less money to spend on social programs. An important fact is that by the year 2010 the combination of payments on the interest and all the payments on social programs will consume every single dollar and every penny that comes into the federal coffers. What is the government going to do when that day comes? It is only 15 years from now. What is it going to do?

We need intelligent plans in order to put social programs on a firm fiscal footing. The consequence of not doing that is to face collapse. Those who are going to suffer the most are those who are in greatest need. It is not the people in this room who are going to suffer; it is the people in soup kitchens, the people who cannot feed their children anything but macaroni and cheese, the people who are unemployable and the people who are not making ends meet. They are the ones who are going to hit the wall. They are the ones who are going to have to pick up the pieces, but they will not be able to pick up the pieces.

The Reform Party has been accused of being a slash and burn party. I would not have joined this party and my colleagues would not have joined it if that were the case. I believe that every member of Parliament is committed to ensuring that social programs will continue in the future. We do not want to see people suffer. However, to sit around and do nothing is the single greatest threat to social programs. Inaction threatens social programs. It is causing them to implode. Health care is being rationed. Social programs are being rationed. There have been cuts across the board in welfare. That is what is preventing the people who truly need the programs from being able to live a healthy life.

Those who suffer the most are the children. They are not receiving the proper nutrition. They do not have the ability to grow up to be healthy and strong.

We spend $19.1 billion on old age security. The cost of that is increasing rapidly. It is out of control. Within the next 15 years the number of seniors will increase by 40 per cent. How will we pay for this? There is absolutely no plan for providing OAS to these people.

The Canada pension plan is $500 billion in debt. This is not accounted for in the debt figures. It is not actuarially sound, and there is no plan to change it.

The Reform Party has put forward a plan for super RRSPs. I hope the government will seriously look at that plan and work with us on the program to ensure that the people who need it will receive both the OAS and the CPP.

I would like to make some constructive suggestions. First, we have to decrease duplication and decentralize. It was a tragedy that the referendum was based in part on decentralization, because that is going to have to happen in every province across the country. For the country to be carved up partly over decentralization is a tragedy, because it is inevitable.

In fact clause 6 of the bill does the opposite. It strengthens the hand of the federal government rather than decentralizing powers. Decentralizing powers does not mean that people will suffer. By doing that, duplication will be decreased and more money will be provided to the end user.

The government can take a leadership role by working with the provinces in providing a minimum standard across the board to create similar standards for the provinces and ensure that those provinces that are the most impoverished will not suffer. It is a challenge, but it can be met.

Second, we have to prioritize spending. It makes no sense to me that when we are prioritizing spending we cut across the board. That cuts from everybody, those who are abusing the program as well as those who are not.

In British Columbia they looked at welfare. They looked at 780 people. Of that number, 280 were flagrantly abusing the system and did not need to be on welfare. They stopped after looking at 780 people; it was too inflammatory for them to continue. That is a lot of people. That money could be better spent in bringing down the debt and also in ensuring that the people who need it will get it. Cutting across the board only makes those who are the poorest suffer more.

We should focus on skills training. Let us make sure there is enough money in the pot to provide skills for the unemployed.

We also need to decrease the tax load. We have heard much about taxing the rich and corporations. However, the reality is that small and medium sized businesses are creating the jobs in our country.

What are these businesses telling us? They say that we cannot compete with other countries with our existing tax load. Many of the closed shops and closed industries and much of the exodus of companies south are in large part due to the fact that their tax load

is too great. Who suffers? It is mostly the people who are employed by them. Therefore our unemployment rates go up.

We need to decrease government red tape which is severely restricting the ability of companies to function properly. We must also decrease the debt.

We are not a slash and burn party. We have put forward constructive plans to enable us to decrease the debt, to get the deficit to zero, to priorize social programs, to provide alternatives to social programs, to priorize spending and to give people the skills to take care of themselves.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I too should like to speak to Bill C-96.

The bill is simply a housekeeping bill that brings together a number of departments under one roof. Yet it has inflamed the emotions of both opposition parties. Their criticisms are so completely unjustified that I must wonder if in making the accusations both parties are really speaking to their not so hidden agenda.

Some members opposite see Bill C-96, particularly clause 6, as a power grab. I have no idea how they came to this conclusion because clause 6 simply states:

The powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction and relating to the development of the human resources of Canada not by law assigned to any other Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada, and are to be exercised with the objective of enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security.

Any reasonable objective analyst not fixated on a separatist agenda or decentralist ideology would see that clause as a statement of purpose. It lists clear and legitimate limits for the minister, whose mandate is and always has been to devise policies that enhance employment, encourage equality and promote social security.

Bill C-96 does not change federal or provincial powers at all. It does not tip the balance one way or the other. It neither increases nor reduces the minister's range of authority. The statutory powers of the department in place now are unchanged. I am sure members of both opposition parties who have basic reading comprehension skills must know that.

The bill does not establish new initiatives or alter existing ones in any way. Only those members opposite who have chosen to play the victim role to the hilt and who apparently see a potential humiliation in every act of the federal government would see a power grab in the bill.

The three objectives set out in clause 6 of the bill, enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security, have always been key objectives of the federal government, especially of Liberal federal governments.

If a national government is not in the business of creating jobs, promoting equality of opportunity and establishing a social safety net, what is its business? Any federal government on the globe that is not totally anaemic, corrupt or viciously insensitive must have these fundamental objectives, especially the government of a country that has been named for the third year running the best country in the world in which to live. If the Canadian government were to drop these objectives, the official opposition would be the first to scream unjust and declare yet another humiliation of Quebec.

The Canadian government is constitutionally responsible for unemployment insurance and for creating and operating programs that help unemployed Canadians find employment no matter where they live in the country. In my riding in British Columbia COAST and FOCUS YWCA have provided and continue to provide invaluable services, especially for single moms on welfare. Currently many of these programs do not receive funding from the B.C. government when they are actually saving tens of thousands of dollars in welfare payments.

The federal Government of Canada has an international obligation under a convention of the International Labour Organization to provide national labour market information and exchange for all Canadians. The federal government is responsible for national economic growth and development. Therefore it is common sense that it must be involved in training.

If we have learned one thing over the past decade it is that a well trained workforce is absolutely essential if we want to remain competitive in the global marketplace and to maintain our standard of living as number one in the world. The strongest most innovative economies in the world today, Japan and Germany, have become what they are largely because of their national policies that emphasize training.

The federal government must be able to assist those affected by special situations that go beyond the jurisdictions of any one province, such as workers in the fishing industry, older workers displaced by restructuring of the economy or the dispossessed youth of Canada. In my riding Youth Service Canada projects have benefited youths very directly.

The federal government has absolutely no interest in having powers just because it wants them. The Minister of Human Resources Development said it very well when he said that we must combine resources across the country so that when one area is facing high unemployment another area helps to support it.

That is the Canadian way. That is why we have a federal country and a federal government. One part of the country supports another when it is undergoing trouble. It is a family in which we all help each other in times of need, because we know one day we may in

turn be in times of need. That is the fundamental concept of sharing. The more we fragment the country as the third party opposition would have us do, the more we divide it, separate it, decentralize it and balkanize it into a series of fiefdoms, the less capable we are of helping individuals that no longer have the benefit of that sharing. That is why the federal government must continue to play an important role in this area.

We have always been open to discussions with provincial, territorial and municipal governments about who is the best suited to deliver certain programs. We have negotiated that because we know we do not always deliver the best programs and that things must be done at the community level.

Because clause 6 of Bill C-96 sets out the department's mandate in terms of general objectives, we must have the flexibility to serve Canadians better. I do not want to sidetrack the debate by raising non-issues and reading into clause 6 things that are there. It is really a disservice to the thousands of Canadians in all provinces who benefit from job creation and training.

The other clause in Bill C-96 about which concerns have been raised is clause 20. It reads:

For the purpose of facilitating the formulation, co-ordination and implementation-

Words like co-ordination mean that we work together to make something work. It is so simple and fundamental to a clear understanding of how teamwork is accomplished, of how we pull together, that I cannot understand the problem. Anyway the clause continues:

-the Minister may enter into agreements with a province or group of provinces, agencies of provinces, financial institutions and such other persons or bodies as the Minister considers appropriate.

Any reasonable objective observer would see in this clause no hidden agenda to intrude. It merely provides a way to formulate co-operation with all groups with which we must form partnerships if we are to make the changes.

Without the authority that clause 20 gives the minister the department would have difficulties conducting its simple mandate and its simple business. However the Bloc is bent on getting more power for the political elite in Quebec, while the Reform Party is bent solely on getting more power for the provinces and fragmenting and balkanizing the country.

In 1994-95 the department of human resources signed more than 50,000 labour market related contracts in Quebec which were worth $700 million. Among those 50,000 contracts were 9,600 contracts with non-profit organizations, 9,300 contracts with private sector enterprises and 25,000 contracts under the fee payer trainee program, all in Quebec. It is the authority granted to the minister under clause 20.

It allows us to enter into agreements with financial institutions for student loans. How are we to create a country of young people who can take over from us and carry on if those who cannot afford to go to school are not allowed student loans?

It enables the federal government to sign agreements with provinces to help displaced older workers. When 45 or 50 year old people lose their jobs, especially in the emerging communication technology era, they need training.

This kind of section empowered Ottawa to enter into a partnership with Quebec to help entrepreneurs and to help workers affected by the closing of the Hyundai plant in Bromont last March. The whole bill helps the department of human resources to create a national vision for Canada. It is not for British Columbia alone. It is how we work together as a country to achieve the kinds of things that make us the envy of the world.

We are a unique country. I continue to hear people talk about how another country does it and why we are not doing it the same way. Wherever we go we hear people saying that Canada is a unique country. We have learned how to work together in peace. We have learned to do what we are supposed to do, that is to create peace, order and good government.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-96-and this may surprise you-seems to me to insult Quebec federalists. A lot of federalists in Quebec still felt, in the last referendum, that the federal government deserved one last chance to demonstrate its desire for change. Bill C-96, which was tabled before the referendum and which the federal government is still having debated in the House simply as if nothing had happened, represents the federal government's decision to interfere more systematically and with a basis in law-a new approach.

The bureaucratic powers in Ottawa have now decided to incorporate into legislation the intrusions by the federal government over the past years in the area of manpower through its control over the unemployment insurance fund. This is particularly significant and a bit of a blow to Quebec federalists and to the consensus in Quebec on the question of manpower.

There is, for example, Ghislain Dufour, the spokesperson and chief executive officer of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, who is not exactly considered a separatist or a sovereignist in Quebec. He says that now is the time, following the close result in the referendum, for the federal government to make it clear it is in favour of change and therefore acknowledge the consensus in Quebec on training and manpower. It is time the federal government agreed to give Quebec full responsibility for manpower to

put an end to the duplication and unnecessary expenditure in this sector.

We hear the same message from Gérald Ponton of the Association des manufacturiers du Québec. In the days that followed the referendum, he said it was absolutely vital that one level of government withdraw, if manpower practices were to be effective. For this to work in Quebec, it is the federal government that will have to withdraw. We must not forget that the whole matter of training is part of government activity, it does not simply come out of thin air.

As Quebec is already responsible for the labour code, which covers the vast majority of Quebec workers, for occupational health and safety, for minimum labour standards and for all regulations on professional qualifications, professional conduct and mass layoffs, giving Quebec responsibility for the entire area of training is like giving it an extra piece of equipment in its tool box. The Government of Quebec already has the networks, like the education network, for it to get involved in occupational training, among other areas, in order to ensure that young people coming along and workers needing retraining receive what they need efficiently and appropriately.

The auditor general, in his latest report, concluded that employee training costs were highest in Quebec in terms of the money spent by the federal government.

This is further proof, with the numbers to support it, that the federal government should withdraw from this sector.

But, instead, it forges ahead with Bill C-96; it insists on interfering everywhere, and on signing agreements with municipal governments, various agencies, and even the provinces. But nowhere does it say that these agreements will be in keeping with the provinces' policies.

In a way, this is the continuation of the monolithic state, and this is the terrible insult to Quebec federalists who want to see the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian structure revamped so that the federal government assumes only those responsibilities which come under its jurisdiction and which would be acceptable to federalists.

I also believe that this is the proof that, after all, sovereignists are right. Even with the warning it was served on October 30, the government is unable to shift gears and proceed with the adjustments that would allow it to meet Quebecers' aspirations; the only way for Quebec to have the tools it needs will be for the province to hold another referendum and separate.

What could be said to get the government to reverse its decision to pass this bill? What could make the government withdraw from this sector? I believe it would take two conditions which will be easily attainable. First, the federal government must stop using the unemployment insurance fund as a cash cow; now that it can no longer borrow money abroad, it has discovered a domestic market, namely employee and employer UI contributions. As a result, this year, in 1995-1995, it has accumulated a five billion dollar surplus, while it cut the number of weeks during which beneficiaries are entitled to UI benefits and increased the number of weeks of work required to qualify for UI. It has some nerve.

This is quite a message for the workers of Quebec and Canada, especially seasonal workers; it says that in order to be able to encroach on a field of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, the federal government is going to squeeze money out of those who need it the most. Let us take a worker in peat production, forestry or agriculture in general; because of those measures, instead of becoming entitled to unemployment benefits after 12, 13 or 14 weeks and receiving them for the rest of the year if his job is to continue the following year, the worker will have to find work for 14 or 15 weeks; otherwise, he will not be able to fulfil the requirements and receive a full year's income either from work or unemployment.

We know that unemployment insurance is not financed by the government, but exclusively by employer and employee contributions. Let us try to transpose this situation into another type of insurance program. You pay premiums, but you have no control whatsoever on the contract which determines how you will obtain insurance benefits; the decision is entirely up to the government. Instead of being eligible for benefits during 30 or 35 weeks, you will receive them for 25 or 30 weeks only, and there will be a four or five-week waiting period during which you will have to go on welfare. That is what is happening in Quebec this year. Between September 1994 and September 1995, the number of welfare recipients increased by 20,000 because of changes made by the federal government and now they are announcing, for next week, a new reform which will raise eligibility requirements yet again.

This also sends a message to federalists who believe there can be a difference between Canada and the United States. This government keeps trying to copy the American model, but that will never give the expected results. Canadians, particularly those of the Maritimes and Eastern Quebec and all those who really want more balance in our society and an adequate distribution of wealth and expenses, will have to stand up and say: "No; we will no longer accept that kind of action on the part of the government. It will have to restrain its activities to its own constitutional jurisdiction and withdraw once and for all from such areas as manpower training."

That is why I think the government should listen to the provinces, take note of the consensus in Quebec and withdraw Bill C-96

completely, because it already has rejected our amendment which would have given the provinces an opting out option.

Since that they have rejected the amendment, the only other solution is to withdraw the bill itself so that we can clarify the situation and so that Quebec can have sole jurisdiction in the area of manpower training and take all the necessary measures to face the challenges of our changing society.

Given the arguments presented, I hope the government will have the decency to withdraw that bill.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Madam Speaker, on Tuesday we dealt with the amendment proposed by the member for Mercier, a motion that had nothing to do with Bill C-96. Now perhaps we can move forward.

As I look back over the various statements by members on this bill, it seems to me there are really two basic questions we have to answer. First, does Bill C-96 represent any change in statutory powers that would allow the federal government to interfere with the provinces? Second, is the department created by Bill C-96 the kind of department we want, a department that will provide the best possible service and the right kind of service to Canadians?

We can deal with the first question very quickly. It has been answered clearly by the Minister of Human Resources Development and it is answered clearly by the bill itself. There are no substantive changes to existing statutory powers. The bill itself in clause 6 limits the powers of the minister to matters under the jurisdiction of Parliament, so there can be no intrusion on provincial areas of responsibility.

That really is the end of the discussion. Some people may say otherwise. They may say the bill is a secret plot to invade provincial territory, but saying it is so does not make it so, no matter how many times you say it. In the end we have to base any conclusions on what is really in the bill in black and white, not what is in other people's imagination. What is there in black and white is very clear: There is no interference with the provinces, possible or intended, in Bill C-96.

The second question deserves more comment. Is this the kind of department we want to create?

Fundamentally, this bill draws together all the different elements, programs and policies of the federal government related to human resources development into one integrated, coherent system. It is the basis for a new approach to helping Canadians as they deal with some of the incredible changes in the workplace and in the economy. It also provides a basis for new relationships between the federal government and individual Canadians, between different levels of government, between governments and local communities. As the Minister of Human Resources Development said when he moved second reading:

This is not a defence of the status quo or what it used to be. It is an attempt to provide a new, innovative way of governing-.The old ways are simply not relevant to the kinds of conditions we now face. That is one reason the government has undertaken to provide a new set of instruments, brought together with a single focus on policy.

The minister went on to say that the single focus was there so we can tackle the real deficit problem, which is not just the fiscal deficit, but the human deficit, a deficit as corrosive and undermining to the well-being of individuals as anything we face on the fiscal side.

How can this new department help tackle the problems we have with the human deficit? I say it is by providing a single focal point in the communities across the country, drawing together all the resources of the federal government and the community to help people find and keep jobs. It is by providing the opportunity for working more closely with the provinces to draw all of this country's resources together to help people find jobs. This is the priority of this government. It is the number one priority for Canadians. We know that.

Throughout this debate we have heard many examples of how this approach is already working. We have heard how the department is building a new integrated, decentralized service network moving from 450 to 750 points of service reaching smaller communities 24 hours a day. It is providing four times as many offices where seniors can get service in person. It is using the best technology available to speed up service, cutting UI processing time by two days, cutting old age security processing claims from eight days to one-half day.

We have heard how major changes have made student loans more accessible, flexible and sustainable. This has helped more than 300,000 students this year alone and has provided special grants to more than 13,000 high need students. We have heard how our new youth internships are leading to real jobs for some 24,000 young Canadians and how 130 Youth Service Canada projects across the country are helping young people serve their communities while getting valuable work experience. We know this is essential.

We have heard how the department is building new stronger partnerships with the private sector. There is increased funding for sector councils, partnerships where every federal dollar generates an additional $1.50 from industry to help Canadians adjust to the new economy, and we all have to realize it is here.

We have heard how the federal government is developing new partnerships with the provinces through joint federal-provincial initiatives. This is helping some 60,000 single mothers, older workers, aboriginals and young people to get new skills and new jobs.

We have heard again how this department is reviewing and distilling its 39 programs into a streamlined decentralized set of re-employment tools, tools that respond directly to the needs of Canadians where they live. Decisions can be made in the local communities instead of many miles away in some centralized bureaucracy. The provinces, municipalities, local businesses and organizations can be part of those decisions. They can tailor how federal service will be used to help people in their communities get back to work.

This may sound abstract, so I am going to talk about my city, London, Ontario. In the city of London, Ontario there is a wonderful example of these policies in action. Last month the minister sat down with community groups and political leaders in London to discuss the creation of a new learning and life centre there.

The London Learning and Life Centre will provide a centralized location for employment preparation, skills training and adult education. It will house a job search centre, an interactive lab for computer training and office space for community service professionals. Even an on-site child care service is planned.

An estimated, and I think this is conservative, 8,000 to 10,000 persons will utilize its services annually in London. The centre began as a community initiative, bottom up, not top down and has enormous community support. Its partner organizations include groups representing women, youth, adult learners, aboriginal people, immigrants and educators. Recognizing the real concerns, the real common sense of enabling local communities to work together for social development, the federal government contributed $700,000 to the initial stages of the centre's creation.

We heard the minister make clear commitments to build on the success of this decentralized approach, inviting the provinces to sit down and devise new solutions, new ways of working together. This is what the Canadian public wants. We want governments to work together with communities and individuals, new ways to deliver the best possible services, the most effective services to Canadians where they live, not here in Ottawa. This is clearly the right direction. This is clearly the kind of change and the kind of department that we need as Canada prepares for a new century.

The basic philosophy behind the new department, the vision behind Bill C-96, represents something new and very exciting. It is already making a difference in my community and in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians every day throughout this country.

It is up to this House now to ensure that the department can keep moving forward and that Canadians can count on this government's commitment to provide the best possible help in today's economy. Bill C-96 creates the department that can deliver what Canadians need. It creates the kind of department that can make a difference and the kind of department that makes sense.

We have every reason to move forward, not backward, and to put this legislation in place as quickly as possible.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I stand today in this House to address Bill C-96, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts.

The bill gives a legal basis to the Department of Human Resources Development in order to extend the powers of the Minister of Human Resources Development.

Thus, by this bill, the minister is given the power to circumvent provincial powers in order to establish direct links with local organizations or such other persons as he considers appropriate. With increased federal intrusion in social and employment programs, and most particularly, in manpower training, all social or employment related sectors are likely to be affected by federal action. Consequently, by getting new powers, the minister is interfering with provincial jurisdiction.

In the powers, duties and functions of the minister outlined in clause 6, it is specified that he exercises his power

-with the objective of enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security-

in matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction.

Clause 20 provides that the minister, within his powers, duties and functions,

-may enter into agreements with a province or group of provinces, agencies of provinces, financial institutions and such other persons or bodies as the Minister considers appropriate.

In the old legislation, the minister only had the power to enter into agreements with a province or group of provinces.

In clause 31.3,

The Commission may authorize any person or body-to exercise powers or perform duties and functions of or delegated to the Commission.

In the old legislation, it could only delegate them to "officers or employees or classes of officers or employees of the Commission or, where the Minister approves, of the Department", in section 18.3. It thus has a delegation power equal to the minister's.

Quebec partners in the labour market have long recognized the need to repatriate to Quebec federal responsibilities and budgets for manpower.

The 1989 employment forum was a major step concerning this claim. In December 1990, the Quebec Liberal government official-

ly demanded that all federal budgets, including UI funds, allocated to manpower programs be transferred to Quebec.

The Quebec government hastened to create the Quebec manpower development society or SQDM so that labour market partners could work together to manage all manpower development programs in Quebec.

Bill C-96 increases the federal presence and encroaches on provincial jurisdiction by allowing the federal government to approach organizations, municipalities and individuals directly, without going through an intermediary.

The bill gives the minister, among other things, greater powers to intervene in income security matters for children and seniors. This opens the door to the privatization and contracting-out of certain programs, including unemployment insurance and the Canada pension plan.

As spokesman on seniors organizations for the official opposition in the House of Commons, I am outraged by the June 12 tabling of the document from the Department of Human Resources Development, which questions the universality of old age pensions.

On Thursday, October 26, my colleague, the hon. member for Mercier and official opposition critic on human resources development in the House of Commons, said this: "The old age pension plan, the guaranteed income supplement, the spouse's allowance, the pension income tax credit, and the age tax credit will be combined into a single assistance program. Seniors' eligibility for this program will be based on their income".

The hon. member for Mercier also had this to say about the reform: "It is not only the end of universality for the old age pension that is at stake. What this government wants is to base the amount of the pension cheque on family income. This will affect mostly women and threatens their financial independence. The planned reform would also affect those who already receive their pensions, despite what the Prime Minister of Canada had suggested".

It is obvious that the end of universality for old age pensions marks a significant setback for Canadian and Quebec society, for women, and for all those who have a right to expect a minimum of financial security in the future.

Quebec also has the dubious honour of having the highest rate of poverty among seniors over 65 years old in all of Canada. This analysis was made by the senior citizens council. The old age security pension remains the main source of income for seniors, and elderly women in particular. I spoke many times in this House to denounce the federal government's planned cuts to old age pension, especially those to be announced after the October 30 referendum in Quebec.

When we put questions to the HRD minister in the House, he laughs them off and always seems to have all the answers. To listen to him, you would think that he is graced with papal infallibility. On September 26, as the official opposition's critic for seniors organizations, I asked Prime Minister of Canada if he could confirm for Quebecers and Canadians in general that his government's old age pension reform was actually ready but being put off until after the referendum so seniors would not know how extensive the cuts awaiting them were.

At the same time, I pointed out to the Prime Minister that his Minister of Foreign Affairs had clearly stated that the federal government would definitely not touch old age pensions, which is in total contradiction with his finance colleague's announcement, in his February budget, of an old age pension reform.

Of course, as could be expected, the federal government did not announce any cuts before the Quebec referendum. I must point out that the federal labour minister and minister responsible for the government's no campaign in the referendum also departed from the tradition federal Liberal line in reassuring a concerned lady by saying that the pension system would also be maintained under the Quebec sovereignty bill.

On September 21, I had questioned the Minister of Finance about the review of the Canada pension plan, pointing out to him that it was obvious that he and the HRD minister were waiting until after the referendum to let the axe fall on the old age pension program.

The Parti Quebecois made a firm commitment to maintain the old age pension program in a sovereign Quebec. In fact, clause 11 of the draft bill on Quebec's sovereignty states that pensions and supplements payable to the elderly shall continue to be paid by the Government of Quebec according to the same terms and conditions.

Unlike the federal government, Quebec will be able to fund this program through tax moneys recovered from Ottawa. It should be pointed out however that the old age security program is funded through taxes levied by the federal government in Quebec and across Canada. On the other hand, the Quebec pension plan, QPP for short, is funded through premiums paid by Quebec employers and workers. With the QPP, Quebec already has all the administrative structures needed to keep providing the old age pensions currently paid by Ottawa out of Quebec taxpayers' taxes when Quebec becomes sovereign, which should not be long in coming.

Bill C-96 is the federal government's way of interfering in and creating more overlap with provincial jurisdictions. Areas coming under the responsibility of the minister would include old age security programs, and the Bloc Quebecois cannot support such a bill.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, we have heard many fine words about Bill C-96 over the past two weeks. I will quote some words said on Monday because they sum up one of the main reasons we need to proceed with the bill.

One member said: "The key to the future is a good training program based on the manpower requirements of the region in which they live. It is certainly not here in Ottawa, far from my region and others, that public officials can determine the best training programs for my constituents. They are too far away and they do not know about our specific needs. Therefore the decision making process regarding manpower training must be closer to those concerned".

Bringing decision making closer to those concerned is perhaps the simplest way to describe the principle underlying Bill C-96. What is interesting is that the person who described it in this way was none other than the member for Chicoutimi.

I am very pleased to see that the Bloc Quebecois, despite all its rhetoric, agrees with the basic intention of the bill. The government is decentralizing labour market programs more than ever before so that individuals and communities are empowered to make real decisions that affect their lives.

If the member truly believes this is the right thing to do, and it is, he has every reason to endorse the bill. Of course the member goes on to describe the bill as unacceptable to Quebecers. His colleague, the member for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, goes so far as to described Bill C-96 as a steamroller of centralizing and anti-social legislation. I can only assume this is merely a lapse into the Bloc's more picturesque rhetoric.

I urge the member for Chicoutimi to trust his first instincts and recognize the bill for the ground breaking decentralizing legislation it is.

Everyone in the House recognizes there is a need to forge better partnerships, better working relationships between the federal and provincial governments. This is precisely why the federal government has invited the provinces to talk about new arrangements for labour market programs. We have made it clear that we fully respect the integrity of provincial jurisdiction in the area of training. We want to find a better way to work together.

Bill C-96 is a concrete illustration of this desire. The Minister of Human Resources Development said on November 9: "One of the direct results of the department will be to give far more space for provincial governments to begin to make decisions at their level of responsibility and jurisdiction. The time has come for us to take a much closer look at the respective roles and to build bridges to bring us together".

Our actions as a government, the initiatives taken with this department over the past two years, also demonstrate this desire to work with the provinces and address their concerns. Surely the time has come for all levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, to rise above the old-fashioned turf wars and start finding ways to work together, to bring our resources together and to help the people we serve.

The Bloc, on the other hand, seems intent on blocking the very progress it professes to believe in. Instead of urging us on, instead of supporting positive, constructive action, it throws up this wall of words. Under the banner of jurisdiction the Bloc says we should do nothing. In the name of progress and change I say let us find better ways to do our job.

We cannot do a better job by building walls that keep us apart. We need a better philosophy. We need the kind of philosophy the minister outlined when he spoke of the need to empower communities and individuals to make more choices. What does the Bloc Quebecois saying response? No. Individuals should not be empowered to make more choices. That is the philosophy of the Bloc Quebecois.

We need the kind of philosophy the minister outlined when he spoke of new partnerships: government with the private sector, government with the school boards, government with the provinces. What does the Bloc say in response? No. We do not want to work together for change.

Is it any wonder so many people in Quebec feel abandoned? The member for Chicoutimi speaks with concern for his riding, which has the highest unemployment rate in Canada. How can he expect to help Canadians in his riding with a do nothing philosophy?

How can we hope to help the people of Chicoutimi by saying: "You cannot have this awful federalist Bill C-96. You cannot have a system that gives you the power and resources you need to build better lives and get good jobs. It is not the Bloc Quebecois way.

This is plain nonsense. Quebecers and all Canadians deserve something better than that. The one million Quebecers who turn to HRDC for help each year deserve the best help they can get. The more than 164,000 Quebecers we helped find jobs last year deserve that help. The 44,789 students who found employment last summer deserve those jobs.

The 700,000 Quebecers who use provincial social assistance programs deserve to see the federal government's contribution, almost $3 billion each year, used in the most flexible and productive way possible.

The half million UI claimants in Quebec each month deserve the best possible service in their quest to get back into the workforce.

The 400,000 Quebecers who benefited from the department's employment programs and services deserve to see those programs become more effective, more flexible, more focused on their needs.

The 850,000 Quebec seniors deserve to benefit from improved access and service that will be available as the department builds its new service delivery system.

Every Quebecer deserves more than the status quo. Bill C-96 is about moving beyond the status quo to something better, to more responsive programs and services, better programs and services designed and delivered at the community level, where they can make a difference.

Bill C-96 will strengthen partnerships and decentralize power even further and let Quebecers make the decisions about what kinds of programs and services make sense in their communities.

We have made enormous progress over the last year in the pioneering of this approach, fundamentally rethinking and redoing the way HRDC works in communities in Quebec and across Canada. We are making enormous progress in working with the provinces to provide the most flexible services possible to all Canadians. Consider, for example, the Canada health and social transfer, which will replace the old Canada assistance plan. The whole point of this CHST is to help the provinces deliver the kinds of social benefits and services they want to deliver but cannot because of the inflexibility of existing arrangements.

We are making real progress, showing that we can work together in putting solid progressive social programs in the hands of Quebecers. Bill C-96 is about continuing this momentum. It is about continuing to work together to clarify the roles of different levels of government and it is about building bridges. Surely this is a better way than talking about imaginary power grabs. Building bridges together is the philosophy. This vision underlies the new Department of Human Resources Development.

Bill C-96 provides the basis for the new department. With the accord and support of the House we can put this legislation in place and move forward.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to address once again Bill C-96, this time at second reading. This act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development has an extremely negative impact in my riding, since it involves, among other things, a restructuring of the employment centre network across Canada, including in Quebec.

Following that restructuring, there will be 28 regional management centres in Quebec, as well as 78 local centres or suboffices. What is disturbing for Trois-Rivières and its surrounding region is that the government, in its wisdom, has decided to establish the regional operation centre in Shawinigan, instead of Trois-Rivières.

From now on, Trois-Rivières will be served by a suboffice of the regional centre in Shawinigan. You can understand that this decision is unpopular and also illogical. We strongly hope this is just an idea, but there is every indication that a final decision has been made at the departmental level. That decision is unpopular. Indeed, already, more than 25,000 residents from the Trois-Rivières region have signed a petition, in which they express their disagreement and their discontent. Moreover, all the major stakeholders, including MPs and MPPs, the mayor of Trois-Rivières, various community groups, as well as 70 organizations, including some 40 municipalities, have also expressed, in writing or through resolutions, their opposition to the government's intention.

In addition to the employees' union, which is being disregarded in this process, two other organizations, the Fédération de l'âge d'or and the Fédération des caisses populaires of the Mauricie region, co-operated to ensure the success of that petition.

Not only is that decision unpopular, it is also illogical. It is so illogical and it makes so little sense that it even contradicts the criteria defined by the department regarding the selection and the location of these regional management centres. The main criteria, which were based on plain common sense, took into account the number of people concerned, including UI beneficiaries, income security recipients and seniors, because they are greatly affected by this project. These criteria also took into consideration the number of companies and employers hiring people who are UI beneficiaries, at least we hope this is the case, and which are concerned by such a decision and by the current role of the employment centres.

Given the numbers for these groups in the Shawinigan and Trois-Rivières regions, that decision does not make sense and goes against established criteria. Indeed, in terms of numbers, the ratio is two to one in favour of Trois-Rivières for just about every group,

whether it is the overall population, the number of companies, the number of UI beneficiaries, etc.

This shows just how illogical that decision is. It is a decision which goes against the department's own criteria.

That operation is upsetting for Trois-Rivières residents, because it has to do with the establishment of regional centres. Yet, the government wants to go to Shawinigan and just keep a local centre in Trois-Rivières, in spite of the fact that the latter is recognized as the main centre in the region. This is totally unacceptable and we will continue, along with the other stakeholders, to denounce that situation.

We have to know what it will mean in the ordinary run of things. People will come to apply in Trois-Rivières, since the role of sub-offices, like the one intended for Trois-Rivières, is to receive applications for benefits, only recording facts without making any analysis nor any ruling, and then pass on that information to the regional management centre, which will from then on keep the actual file of the claimant's application. When the application will need, as is the case in three out of four applications, a supplementary, subsequent operation and a special analysis, that will mean that the whole operation, any action, any movement will come from Shawinigan, in a ratio of two to one because of the population pool.

At present, for unemployment insurance, the department's investigations, which are routine in some cases, are made in Trois-Rivières, as are complaints made to the board of referees, since the actual file is in Trois-Rivières. In answer to the letter we wrote to make the appropriate representations about the intended move, the minister indicated that services will not be altered in any way for the people of Trois-Rivières. However, from now on, contrary to what the minister said in his letter, the department's investigations and the appeals to the board of referees will be made in Shawinigan and from Shawinigan, which substantially alters, to use the minister's word, operations as they now stand.

We therefore question the good faith of the minister who, in our opinion, is trying to fool the population when he says such things.

You have to be aware that this project has been developed, or this decision made, without any consultation. It was announced just before the House recessed, or just before the change of rhythm that occurs in our society at the beginning of the summer holidays, since the announcement was made on June 22 and later confirmed in late July or early August, at a time when it is practically impossible to mobilize the population. What a nice approach, somewhat in keeping with the minister's image.

I remind you that this was done without any consultation, both locally and regionally, and regardless of the regional dialogue that goes on in our area, the Mauricie.

I remind you also, as was confirmed to me yesterday by reliable sources, that there has been no comparative analysis of the impact of keeping that centre in Trois-Rivières, which used to be the focal point, instead of moving it to Shawinigan. They did not study the impact on the population, users or costs. I will deal with that later on.

One of the impacts is that Bécancour, a community traditionally and naturally linked with Trois-Rivières, particularly as regards the manpower operations at the regional office in Trois-Rivières, will now have to deal with Drummondville, a choice that is arbitrary and inconsistent with the practices in our region, and makes no sense.

Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with this area would know things do not work that way. That is one of the reasons why my colleagues for Richelieu and Champlain and I agreed to a joint position and condemned that move, because our ridings are affected in various ways. This is a good example of the kind of co-operation that can come about when people want to co-operate.

Another aspect, which is just as revolting, is that this move will be detrimental to those most in need, people who have just lost their job and find themselves in a state of vulnerability they had not experienced before.

These people will feel increasingly uncomfortable in dealing with a system decreasingly at their service. Besides, what we have here is technological change of a type that will dehumanize relations between the department and people in need like the unemployed, seniors-who will feel the impact of that move-, people on welfare and community organizations which, as we know, rely heavily on volunteers and government assistance. Things have been made more difficult for them, and that is why this move should be condemned.

The government can choose one of three solutions if it wants to mend its ways. First, it could maintain the status quo, deal with existing circumstances, respect the wishes of the local population and users, and keep the centre in Trois-Rivières. Everybody would be happy.

A second alternative would be to have a regional office in Trois-Rivières for the whole area, including Bécancour, and give Shawinigan the status of a regional centre for the north shore, including Saint-Tite. The situation would be similar to that of Gaspé or Sept-Îles, something that could make sense. It would be up to the hon. member for Saint-Maurice to demonstrate that such an alternative makes sense.

Third, the most absurd alternative would be to set up a regional management centre in Shawinigan to serve the whole region, a decision we will always condemn.