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House of Commons Hansard #167 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offence.

Topics

Division No. 307Government Orders

December 7th, 1998 / 5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Division No. 307Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find consent to see the clock as being 6.30 p.m.

Division No. 307Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Division No. 307Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, the following is from the October 1988 report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs entitled “Moving Forward: A Strategic Plan for Quality of Life Improvements in the Canadian Forces”:

Members of the Canadian Forces must be fairly and equitably compensated for the work they do and the risks they take. Members and their families should never have to suffer the indignity of substandard housing, nor should they be reduced to charity in order to feed their families.

The lifestyle faced by military personnel often makes it well nigh impossible to support a dual income lifestyle. Due to compulsory posting of Canadian forces personnel, spouses must often forego their own careers or any reasonable hope of having a regular, well paying job.

Working alongside civilians and the RCMP, many armed forces personnel working to counter the savaging effects of the great ice storm of 1998 found themselves being paid less for the same work and facing harsher living conditions than their non-military co-workers.

The first recommendation in “Moving Forward” is:

That the base pay gap between non-commissioned members and their public service equivalents be closed no later than April 1st 1999.

That is less than four months away.

I very much hope this government will not risk the health, safety and even lives of Canadian forces personnel by taking these funds from purchases which would otherwise be made to guarantee the safety of military and civilian workers.

When I asked my question in the House on November 4 of this year, the minister chose not to answer the question. I hope the government will produce the information requested in response to my comments at this time.

Specifically, I would like to know, and I am quite sure Canadians would want to know, what military hardware is currently mothballed in warehouses and elsewhere throughout our land. There must be big ticket items that are neither currently be used nor intended for use. I know the government recently sold Chinook helicopters to the Netherlands after paying to refit them at a high cost to the Canadian taxpayer.

Let us see an inventory of unused hardware that might be sold to other allied countries. I am concerned that the government may be reluctant to provide this information so as not to be embarrassed by the amount or value of the equipment purchased that was never used or used for a short period of time before becoming obsolete or incompatible with other equipment.

Are there CF-18s in storage in Bagotville and Cold Lake which could be sold to NATO partners to generate revenues? What about ADATs, air defence anti-tank systems? Are these mothballed in storage somewhere outside Montreal and could revenues be generated from their sale to NATO partners? What about any plans to mothball frigates? Is there some way equipment can be turned into revenue to deal with pay and living conditions for service personnel?

Is part of the problem that the Canadian military has too many top level brass for the number of lower ranking service personnel? Is the balance between upper ranking officers and lower ranking personnel on par with that of other NATO countries or is there a real imbalance in Canada?

The government has the responsibility to ensure that both civilian and military personnel are properly paid and housed. It also has the obligation to minimize waste in the military. This is a challenge I expect the government to meet.

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle Québec

Liberal

Robert Bertrand LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin with sincere thanks to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs for their work on behalf of the Canadian forces.

As hon. members are aware, enhancing the quality of life of armed forces personnel and their families constitutes the number one priority of those in charge of the department and of the Canadian forces.

There is a broad range of questions to be addressed, in particular pay raises for all levels of the military, employee benefits, and housing allowances. We strongly support the committee's efforts aimed at improvements in these areas.

The department does, however, have to meet some sizeable financial challenges if it is to make the desired changes. As the minister has said, it would be very difficult to improve the quality of life for Canadian forces personnel without raising the defence budget.

We are convinced that it would be unproductive to dig into the operating or training budgets to finance new quality of life projects, because all these components are important to operational efficiency. The committee supported this position in our report.

The department and the Canadian forces will continue to manage their resources in order to ensure a balance between these vital areas, including managing materiel as economically as possible.

The size of the Canadian forces has been reduced over the last decade, and consequently some materiel has been declared surplus to present needs. Whenever possible, the department attempts to dispose of surplus materiel, but this is a highly complex process.

In some cases, when it is cost-effective, the department tries to modernize its materiel in order to avoid costly total replacements. This is the only way we will succeed in optimizing operational efficiency and in fulfilling our commitments to all Canadians, our allies and the—

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am sorry, but the time is up.

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Reform

Paul Forseth Reform New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I raised a question on October 1 to the Minister of Finance. I asked the minister to do the right thing and cut EI premiums immediately. The minister answered by saying that it is the government's intention to stay the course. He did not once answer why he would not cut EI premiums.

I come from British Columbia. British Columbia is in the midst of a recession. Most economists agree that one of the fastest ways to escape a recession is to lower payroll taxes. One of the ways to stimulate the economy and especially job creation is to lower the taxation on jobs.

Employers and employees are co-financing the employment insurance fund. Employees are paying $2.70 for every $100 of income and employers are paying $3.78 for every $100 in employee income.

Finally, last week the finance minister announced that EI premiums would be cut a measly 15 cents for every $100 of income. Well, whoop-de-do. That is like comparing the government to a schoolyard bully who robs a child of their lunch money and then gives them back a few cents, hoping the child will not feel too upset. The government should learn a lesson from this. No matter how one views it, I think it is theft.

The current EI law is clear: premium rates should be no more than needed to keep the fund in actuarial balance. The chief actuary of the EI account stated recently that a $10 billion to $15 billion accumulated surplus is more than enough. The latest figures have the surplus at a whopping $19 billion.

If EI premiums were reduced by 33% next year, the fund would still be balanced with sufficient reserve. Instead, the Minister of Finance has other liberal ideas. One, he is using the surplus to balance his books. Two, he is using the rest to pay for new programs. The government over-collects for other purposes. It is a tax on jobs and it is also against the rules.

Taxpayers paid into the fund and therefore the money belongs to them. The EI premiums need to be put back into the pockets of the payers. Instead of keeping the money in a political slush fund, the minister needs to be a wise administrator.

I would like to challenge the government to show me a small business owner in this country who believes that high payroll taxes encourage growth or is the right thing to do at this point in time.

In the November issue of Maclean's magazine one reader sent in the following letter to the editor:

When the Employment Insurance fund was short, the government cut off some recipients, lowered the benefits to others and increased the premiums of all. When the EI fund swells from excess contributions, and sacrifices of the unfortunate, the government steals the money under a scheme to buy votes from the same people they robbed. The media are pussyfooting around this profanity just like they downplayed the (Heritage Minister's) flag caper, the survival of the GST, the (P.M.'s) NAFTA boner, the (Health Minister's) paper wars with gun-toting non-criminals and the hepatitis C charity farce, the chopper flip, the Pearson airport disgrace, another Quebec armoury with no arms to put in, and the 64-cent Canadian dollar. The big-mouthed watchdogs of public good in the media all play dead for the Liberals.

The reason I am standing here today is because the Minister of Finance did not answer my question. Perhaps he could have answered my question with the statement he gave on October 17, 1994. He said then “We believe there is nothing more ludicrous than a tax on hiring. But that is what payroll taxes are. They have grown dramatically over time. They affect lower wage earners much more than those at the high end”.

Perhaps the government can explain why it does not listen to the auditor general who has commented that it would not be legal to use the premiums or make payments from the account for other purposes other than those stipulated in the Employment Insurance Act.

The minister knows the law. His parliamentary secretary knows the law. Why do they insist on breaking the law?

I will ask the question again. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary will be able to delete the rhetoric from his speech and tell Canadians why they cannot be given back the entire amount of the over-collection. When will the premiums reflect the cost? When will the government become fiscally responsible and live within its means, for surely the lowly taxpayer must? Why can the government not live within its means, just obey the rules and have premiums reflect the true cost of the plan?

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, the hon. member asked me to delete the rhetoric from my response. I do not have any rhetoric at all.

When the hon. member first asked this question it concerned how the EI premium rate was set. In his original question he stated that every year the finance minister meets with the Employment Insurance Commission in mid-November to set the employment rates. As that statement indicates, it is very clearly false. The Minister of Finance does not meet with the employment commissioners, has no intention of meeting with them and has never met with them.

I offer the hon. member a quick lesson on how the premium is set. It is set by commissioners who are appointed after consultation with their respective organizations which are representative of workers and employers. There is the Deputy Minister and Associate Deputy Minister of Human Resources Development for the government.

It is only after the commission has set the rate that the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Human Resources Development play a role. They jointly recommend the commission's rate for governor in council approval. They do not meet with the commissioners at any time to discuss the actual rate.

When the hon. member talks about EI premium cuts, he knows very clearly that since coming to office the government has continued to reduce the employment insurance premiums and will continue to do so each and every year. When we arrived the Tories had it going up. We have it going down and we will continue to do that.

We will continue to do that in balance. We know that there are Canadian priorities. The reduction of EI premiums is one of those priorities and we will continue to maintain that downward track. But we will also continue to ensure that there is balance: a balanced budget, reduction in taxes and reinvestment in health care.

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, on October 28 I posed a question to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. As the House will recognize, that was more than a month ago. I would have hoped that the issue I raised would have been dealt with by this time and that we would have a policy and a program in place that would in fact help the agricultural producers in the country.

But I am very saddened to say that still the government is waffling. It has not put anything concrete forward so that farmers can take some solace in the fact that there is actually a government that cares about agriculture in the country.

My question was quite simple. It stated that producers in the country right now have incomes that are down 55%. This is a huge industry, involving some $50 billion.

The United States at the time dealt with the issue by announcing a $6 billion program the week before this question was posed. The U.S. question was not “When will?” or “Will we put forward support for our farmers?”, it was “How much?” The question of how much was answered the day I posed the question. It was some $6 billion.

It is difficult to say, but Canada is now the second lowest, if not the lowest of the OECD with respect to support for its agricultural producers. Our government seems to be fiddling while farm incomes not only burn, but unfortunately farms are being lost right now.

The reason I tabled this late show is because the minister came back with some very facetious answers concerning the policy and the platform of the Conservative Party in the last election campaign. He talked about the amalgamation of the departments of the environment, natural resources and agriculture.

I mention that because the parliamentary secretary some days later, during an emergency debate that was instigated by the Progressive Conservative Party, took 10 minutes of the House's valuable time to spew nothing but political rhetoric. He did not deal with this very important issue, but only with the political position of his party.

I would like some answers from the parliamentary secretary with respect to what is now happening with the proposed program that is to come forward. Today in the House I asked if the program will be announced before the House rises for the Christmas break and if there will be criteria associated with that program which will allow cash to flow to producers who require it before the spring seeding which will begin in the new year.

In dealing with that I would say that we do have some experience we can point to. The previous Progressive Conservative government put into place the well respected and received NISA program which is still in place for agricultural producers.

In 1991 we also put forward the GRIP program, the gross revenue insurance program, which this government in its wisdom decided in 1995 to do away with. Why did it do that? It did it because there was short term gain for some very long term pain. We are recognizing that today. The pain is now only showing up at the farm gates and farmyards.

If the government had any vision it would have maintained that program or, at the very least, put in a program that would have had the vision to see the problems that could present themselves.

The parliamentary secretary is going to get up now and probably not answer any of those questions or any of these issues. If he wants to talk about policy—

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid I must interrupt the hon. member.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Egmont P.E.I.

Liberal

Joe McGuire LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Madam Speaker, since the member for Brandon—Souris mentioned the minister's remarks and my own remarks that were made recently, I promise tonight, unless provoked, not to raise the platform of the fifth party again. I would like to leave that now and bring the member up to date on what we are doing.

I am sure the member as a member of the committee knows what is going on. The reason why we are taking a little longer is that we know the pressure on producers and we have known it for some time. Producers have told us that they did not want an ad hoc program. Therefore, if we are not doing an ad hoc program, we do not want to be sending out cheques to people for various amounts. No one will know what we are doing or how we are doing it. We will take our time. Time is running short, but we will take our time to make sure we do it right for the short term and right for the long term.

On November 26 the minister made a presentation to cabinet where he had the opportunity to present the plan to his colleagues. Obviously we cannot talk about the exact details of the plan because it is still being discussed in cabinet. The minister put forward his plan on how he wants to help Canadian producers impacted by the current situation. There was a good discussion on the issue and the government realizes the severity of the situation.

November 26 was not a decision making day. There are a number of important steps that have yet to be taken before a final decision is made. It is still early to indicate what amount of additional assistance is being contemplated. Assistance to farmers is one of several important priority areas for investment including knowledge and innovation, the alleviation of child poverty, and health care. Therefore we are competing for—

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid I must interrupt the parliamentary secretary.

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, on September 29, 1998, the Minister of Human Resources Development said, in reply to my question, that the employment insurance program was funded by employers and workers.

We fully agree with that statement. In fact, the government should not forget that it no longer contributes to the fund.

To give an idea of the situation, on December 2, 1998, the whole $13 billion required to fund the employment insurance program for the 1998-99 fiscal year, which began on April 1, 1998 and will end in March 1999, had already been collected. This means that, as of December 2, the money put into the fund is used by the government for other purposes, such as paying off part of the debt.

It is workers earning $39,000 or less, and the unemployed, who made the greatest contribution to the fight against the deficit. Now, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Human Resources Development want to use that money to generate surpluses and pay off the debt.

These ministers are forgetting that there are people who do not pay employment insurance premiums. They include all the ministers, members of parliament and self-employed workers, who are not employees. These people are not asked to do their part. Those who do the largest part to pay this huge debt down are middle and low income earners. And that is unacceptable to me.

Could someone on the government side explain how we ended up with contribution rates being reduced by 15 cents, from $2.70 to $2.55, which will result in bringing the 1998-99 surplus down by only $260 million?

By cutting rates by only 15 cents, the finance minister did nothing to improve his image as someone who is misappropriating money from the EI fund to use it for other purposes. Money continues to be diverted from its intended purpose.

On their pay stubs, employees see “employment insurance contributions”. Therefore they expect these amounts to be paid into their employment insurance plan and not to be used for any other purpose. That is why the concept of misappropriation of funds remains valid.

In light of the fact that the employment insurance program can be self-financing with premiums of $2 per $100 of insurable earnings, and that the current rate is $2.55 per $100, could the government not spare another 40 cents per $100, or approximately $3 billion, to correct the inequities in the system? Because of these inequities, the number of claimants and the amount and duration of benefits are dropping rapidly, with the result that the federal government is being accused of contributing to poverty through its failure to act.

As a first step in the fight against poverty, should it not restore its EI system to decent and acceptable levels so that, on the one hand, employees feel that they are paying into a system that provides sufficient benefits and that they are getting their money's worth? On the other hand, since only four out of ten unemployed workers draw benefits, could the federal government not be required to put this $3 billion towards improving the system so that the war on poverty can resume and wealth can be shared more equally?

Is it not time to leave behind the federal government's cash-cow concept of employment insurance and go back to a system that provides adequate benefits and leaves employers and employees feeling that they have got their money's worth?

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Oakville Ontario

Liberal

Bonnie Brown LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, the government is very concerned with the situation of unemployed Canadians and wants to help them to make ends meet while they are between jobs and then to get back into the workforce.

My colleague on the opposite side of the House starts off tonight with his statement that there are $13 billion in the fund and that is enough to finance 1998-99. He fails to mention that the recently announced reduction in the premium rate of 15 cents from $2.70 to $2.55 will save workers and employers $1.1 billion a year.

He also fails to mention that the EI fund has been in deficit seven out of the last ten years. During those years average taxpayers in Canada paid out EI benefits through their taxes, in other words from the general revenues. Average taxpayers in Canada shared their ability to pay into the general revenue fund through taxes with those who were less fortunate and found themselves unemployed.

Now that the EI fund is in surplus, it sounds as if the member opposite does not want that fund shared with other Canadian taxpayers who may have priorities other than benefits to EI recipients. That is why we took on the difficult task of modernizing a 25 year old system which no longer met the needs of today's work environment.

We believe that getting Canadians back to work is the only real long term solution to high unemployment. That is why we shifted the focus from reliance on benefits to active re-employment measures, for example, the 31,000 jobs that have been created in areas of high unemployment because of the transitional job fund. Thousands of other Canadians are benefiting from the $2 billion we reinvested in active employment measures. We believe that helping people to help themselves is the key to their success.

The recent analysis of EI coverage clearly concludes that—

Division No. 307Adjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Forgive me, but I must interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.16 p.m.)