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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House to call it 5.30 p.m.?

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m. according to the fiction we have adopted, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

moved:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)( b ), a legislative committee be appointed to prepare and bring in a bill that would create the position of ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, this is a very interesting topic because of the amount of time that it ends up taking up not only in my office but, I am sure, in your office and the offices of all of the other members of parliament.

Most MPs who come to Ottawa try to raise issues of importance to their constituents, which is what I am doing. However, as I say, the beauty of this one is that I think it is an issue of importance to all Canadians and all members of parliament trying to represent them at the national level. Today I want to raise the issue in the House with this motion:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)(b), a legislative committee be appointed to prepare and bring in a bill that would create the position of ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada.

There is a terrible injustice being inflicted upon some Canadian citizens by private insurance companies that are refusing to honour their policies and pay benefits to people who suffer with long term disabilities.

Some of these cases involve Canadians who have put their own lives at risk in careers with the armed forces, the RCMP and the peacekeepers. Others are what we would call ordinary Canadians who have worked hard at their jobs as nurses, teachers and loggers to provide for themselves and their families.

In a nutshell, the problem is that Canadians in the workplace who find themselves with severe illnesses or disabilities which prevent them from performing their duties of employment and who then turn to their insurance companies, under which they believe they have insurance to assist them in such unfortunate circumstances, suddenly find the support is not there. Thus, the stress and anxiety they are under from their illnesses or accidents, along with the reality that they can no longer work to provide for themselves and their families, is multiplied by the process of and treatment by their insurance company.

Of course one must preface this by saying that it is not true of all claimants and not true of all insurance companies, but surely all members who are listening would agree with me that two, three and four times a week in every one of our constituency offices it happens that people are having difficulty with their disability insurance.

This is what my constituents have told me about processing their claims. First they are informed that their only option is to go on short term disability, from 26 to 52 weeks, only after they can prove with medical evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that they are severely disabled and unable to perform their duties at their present employment. At the end of the short term disability period, their insurance benefits are cut off and they are again required to go through the process to prove that they are still disabled. At that point they may be allowed to go on long term disability or be granted another short term period, but even if they are granted long term disability they will be subject to a review, usually every year. That means their benefits will again be cut off and they are required to go through the whole process over and over again with the same insurance company.

Within the past month I was made aware of two cases of constituents of mine who have received foreclosure notices on their homes from their banks due to cancellation of disability insurance benefits. These were on applications that had been completed at the bank, the lending institution, on behalf of the insurance company. They have led to disqualification of benefits, resulting in the foreclosure action by the bank.

Neither the insurance company nor the bank in these cases would take responsibility for the intent of the insurance. In other words, in these cases the bank had the customer sign documents insuring the mortgage but later the insurance company claimed it was the wrong document or application and refused to accept it and process the benefit.

The bank's response in these cases has been to discipline the employees to satisfy the insurance company. However, the banks have failed their customers, who in these cases have paid the premiums attached to the mortgage for years and believed the coverage was in place should they require it.

The intent of the insurance company and the bank to provide this coverage needs to be addressed. Do they intentionally provide wrong applications to their customers? I think not, but do the insurance companies not provide proper training to the bank employees? Perhaps. Do the insurance companies not review these applications and advise the banks that they have not processed the correct application and that their clients may not be entitled to benefits as a result? With the banks and insurance companies happily accepting their clients' insurance premiums each month, does it not obligate them to pay out benefits?

Surely if the funds are flowing through to the insurance company there is an expectation, an intent. If the paperwork is incorrect that is where an ombudsman would come in, because the banks and insurance companies end up working on and detailing only the words that are on a piece of paper.

Apparently the fact that people are paying their premiums does not really make that much difference. The question is: What can we do about it? What recourse do average Canadians have against banks and insurance companies when they find themselves faced with the circumstances that I have just described? Their insurance benefits denied, their only option is to accept it or hire a lawyer and fight for their rights. Talk about David and Goliath.

Of interest to all Canadians at this point is, if the claim is approved at this point, the insurance companies require the employee or victim to apply for early Canada pension benefits thus reducing the insurance companies benefit payable. In other words, the insurance company is downloading onto the reserves Canadians have paid into for their retirement pensions. Also of interest is that at one time all pension benefits received from an insurance company were in addition to any other pensions received such as the CPP and WCB.

The insurance companies will review each stage and suggest other employment opportunities that can be pursued so they can lower their benefit. Quoting from an insurance group's policy, it states:

“Totally disabled” shall mean, for the first 30 months of a total disability, an employee is wholly and continuously disabled by illness or accidental bodily injury which prevents him from performing the essential duties of his normal occupation. After the first 30 months of total disability, “totally disabled” shall mean he is unable to perform the essential duties of any occupation for which he is reasonably fitted by education, training or experience.”

Note that when the insured obtained the insurance it was insured at his present job.

The tactics of periodically discontinuing benefits or taking away our financial support mechanism and requiring one to continually prove he or she is incapable of working is in itself questionable. We are aware of cases where the insurance company has hired private investigators or sent their investigators out to spy on and record all activities of their clients for extended periods.

I would like to quote from letters from my constituents who, according to their doctors and medical specialists, were disabled but were unable to convince the bureaucrats working for the Canada Pension Act. The insurance providers look for any unfavourable decision from CPP so they can suspend or deny benefits. The letter states:

I had been on Long Term Disability—for over two years, at which point (the company) informed me that I had to apply for Canada Disability. This upset me at the time as I didn't consider my disability to be permanent. I am doing everything in my power to get better. It was explained to me that this is a necessary step in my health care management, and that I would qualify for benefits until such time as I was well. I was told (the company) would “top up” the benefits from CPP to my present level, if in effect, I qualified for disability pensions.

The next letter said:

Both companies denied my benefits, and I had to go through the appeal process. CPP has since denied my appeal, and I am awaiting (the company's) decision. I highly suspect (the company) is waiting to hear CPP's decision so that it can be used against me.

What we are looking at here is the fact that there is a patchwork quilt with which our constituents are faced. Much of the law that covers this particular activity in our society is federal law yet its administration is at the provincial level. Yet when we go to the provincial level, there is no ombudsman function on the part of any of the provincial governments. This unfortunately ends up falling between the cracks of federal and provincial jurisdiction. We recognize that getting an ombudsman is not the full answer because in effect we can still end up with fighting and delays and things getting in the way of the ombudsman to go ahead and work on behalf of the people.

The bottom line to the exercise is this, if people find themselves disabled and at that particular point no longer able to be gainfully employed, they now has a number of concerns.

The first concern is obviously their physical or mental incapacity to be able to perform at an ordinary level. That is a concern that would relate to everyone around them, particularly within their family unit.

Second, they will not have any income. Therefore, all their assets will be threatened and their ability to provide for themselves and their families will be threatened. It is a highly stressful situation because the two things work together in a symbiotic relationship to make both of those issues work. Then, if they are denied the benefits that they were fully anticipating by paying into a benefits program, there is a third compounding effect to their very difficult situation.

I am sure, Madam Speaker, as I said to the previous gentleman in that chair, that even in your office and in all our offices we deal with these things on a weekly basis.

The point of my motion is to tell the federal government that we have a problem and that there is no solution to the problem. The people who no longer have a job or the resources, and in many cases do not have the emotions to be able to handle the situation, require some help. To ask them to put down a $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 retainer for a lawyer to represent them is absolutely facetious. It simply cannot happen.

Therefore, with the motion I am simply asking the government take a look at this gaping hole between the federal jurisdiction of legislation, the provincial enactment that relates to the legislation and find some way to help our constituents.

This is an opportunity for all of us in the House, on a totally non-partisan basis, to bring a balance to the people of Canada which balance the rights of the individual against the rights of these very large corporations that are all, I am sure, obeying the law but nonetheless represent a very formidable force in the face of ordinary citizens. I say that collectively, on a non-partisan basis, we should be working together to represent individual Canadians.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia, Transportation; the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, Lumber Industry.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

3:35 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Kootenay—Columbia for bringing forward the motion.

Like many members on both sides of the House, I too am sometimes visited by people who have had some difficulties with disability plans, whether they be private or the Canada pension plan disability program.

I understand his sense of frustration, but I would submit that the motion is flawed for two reasons. One has to do with jurisdiction, and he touched on that point, and the other has to do with the fact that it would run counter to a number of initiatives under way right now at the federal-provincial level. I would like to discuss that.

The motion would create the position of an ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada.

I agree that it is important for consumers of financial services providers to have access to an impartial and fair complaints resolution mechanism that handles complaints about their dealings with financial institutions in a fair and impartial manner.

However, as I say, for two reasons I am not able to support this motion and I will explain why in more detail.

The first reason is it has to do with jurisdictional considerations. The second concerns conflicts with initiatives already under way at the federal and provincial levels to enhance and harmonize existing complaint handling mechanisms. In other words, the motion could lead to duplication and overlap.

In general, the property and civil rights power in the Constitution gives provinces the jurisdiction to regulate the day to day business activity of federally and provincially incorporated non-bank financial institutions, including life and health insurers.

Accordingly, the federal government cannot designate a particular dispute resolution system for non-banks. Provinces have the power to require insurers to be members of particular dispute resolution mechanisms and specify the design of such schemes.

Ontario, for example, has established an insurance ombudsman office to deal with complaints from Ontario policyholders, including Ontario disability claimants. All insurers in Ontario are subject to this regime.

In other provinces, provincial regulators respond to consumer complaints about insurance providers either directly or by referring consumers to an appropriate industry redress mechanism.

Further, as hon. members know, the marketplace in which financial services operate today is characterized by convergence, competition and increasingly complex products delivered through multiple channels.

Given this environment, provincial regulators recognize that financial services providers should be able to assure their customers that complaints and disputes will be handled promptly fairly and impartially through a mechanism that provides a uniform level of easily accessible service.

In this context, a task force on consumer dispute resolution has recently been established by the joint forum of provincial financial market regulators. The task force is comprised of representatives from several stakeholder groups, including the financial services industry and consumer groups, as well as officials from the federal Department of Finance. The task force on consumer dispute resolution is investigating the possibility of a single ombudsman system for Canada.

The federal government recognizes that there are potential advantages for consumers in having a single point of contact for dispute resolution for all financial services complaints. As a result, we are committed to working with the joint forum and other task force members towards this end.

I would also point out that the federal government is working with the industry to establish a new Canadian financial services ombudsman, often referred to as CFSO, as mandated by Bill C-8, which is currently under review in the other place.

As the task force I referred to earlier is still in its early stages and its ultimate outcomes are unknown, we believe that it is essential to press ahead with the CFSO to ensure that consumers will have the benefit of a fair and impartial complaints resolution mechanism at the earliest possible date.

Two points about the Canadian financial services ombudsman are particularly relevant to today's motion.

First, the CFSO would operate independently from government and the financial services industry, with a board of directors that would have a majority of non-financial institution representatives. It would replace the existing Canadian banking ombudsman.

Second, the new ombudsman would reflect the preferences of consumer and small business groups for a cross-sectoral ombudsman office.

To facilitate the creation of a single ombudsman for customers of all financial institutions, the Canadian financial services ombudsman would be capable of accepting all financial institutions as members.

Banks will be required to join. Other federally incorporated financial institutions will be required to be subject to a third party dispute resolution system and, along with provincially incorporated institutions, will be eligible to join the CFSO if they wish to do so.

The Canadian financial services ombudsman would have the power to recommend awards to aggrieved customers and while its rulings would not be binding, it would also have the authority to publicize the names of institutions that did not comply with its recommendations.

Further, the Canadian financial services ombudsman would provide the Minister of Finance an annual report on the number of complaints received and the results achieved in addressing consumer and small business complaints.

The government hopes to have the Canadian financial services ombudsman in place as soon as possible after Bill C-8 comes into force. In addition, the government would explore ways for the Canadian financial services ombudsman to interact with initiatives that may ultimately be launched from the provincial dispute resolution initiative I discussed earlier.

The hon. member has put forth a worthy proposal. However in light of the other initiatives and jurisdictional conflicts I have outlined, the need for an ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers has been overtaken by other measures.

For these reasons I am unable to support the motion put forward by the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak today to the motion that reads:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)(b), a legislative committee be appointed to prepare and bring in a bill that would create the position of ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada.

I support any initiatives which help Canadians with disabilities, including this one. I hope members of the House do not see the creation of an ombudsperson to deal with the difficult and sometimes discriminatory practices of private insurers as the complete solution to the problems our friends, families, neighbours and community members with disabilities face every day.

The mandate must be broader. An ombudsman must not only be a mediator who helps people fill out forms. He or she must act on behalf of people denied benefits by insurance companies. An ombudsman should also investigate employers who try to keep down their benefit costs by getting rid of disabled employees.

There is reason to believe that insurance companies encourage this practice. The most shocking example is the way the Canadian government, through the Treasury Board and its insurer, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, has dealt with long term disability cases. The most common complaint brought to my attention concerns the difficulties disabled government employees face when they try to access short term or long term disability insurance through work benefit plans.

I will summarize how the system for the hundreds of thousands of federal government employees is supposed to work. Employees who develop a disability which prevents them from working must first use up their sick days. They stay on the government payroll at full pay for this.

However many employees who develop an illness have few remaining sick days by the time they apply for disability leave. They then go off the government payroll on leave without pay and the insurer takes over. Sick employees must then apply and be accepted for EI sick benefits for up to 15 weeks at 55% of their pay. With a maximum income gap in force the tax system could reduce their income below the 55% level if they were well paid.

They then apply to their insurer, Sun Life or National Life, for the disability benefit which is 70% of their salary. For the first two years of disability benefit, which is called short term, employees must show medical proof that they are unable to perform all their job duties.

After two years they are classified as long term and receive 66% of their salary as income. They must then prove to the insurer that they are unable to do any work at all. That is how the system is supposed to work.

I am not at all enamoured by this model. It puts responsibility on the sick to prove their inability to work. It calls for complex forms to be filled out by doctors, a process often not covered by medicare. It causes the largest drop in income to take place at the same time the disability takes place, which is usually when the costs of having a disability are greatest.

It is a bad system by design, but the biggest problem is that it does not work as it is supposed to. I will refer to information I received, and which I believe other members of the House received, in May 2000 from government employees represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

They sent my party a brief entitled “Victimising Disabled Employees in a deal to Save Insurance Companies Money!”. I have the document here if anyone is interested in seeing it. They document the following problems with the current system, which they say are caused by treasury board policies, to minimize insurance claims to employees with disabilities. Some of the problems are simple. There is not enough space on the disability insurance application forms for medical evidence. It is a simple problem but it causes high numbers of rejections due to insufficient medical information.

Applicants then wait a very long time before receiving benefits, in some cases up to two years. This is a hideous circumstance if we think about it. If one is sick or disabled or facing the trauma of being disabled, the bills are not dropping. They are probably increasing and yet one is forced off the payroll to wait up to two years for a claim to be accepted or rejected.

If applicants finally get approved for short term disability after two years, they are forced into the catch-22 of the long term disability policies of the company and the government before they see a nickel from the insurer.

The catch-22 works as follows. After 24 months the company forces the employee to show that no other work can be done which would pay up to two-thirds of the former employer's salary. Because the burden of proof is on the sick person the benefit is generally cut off after 24 months. The person must go to court to appeal. The company has a policy to not deal with anyone who starts legal action against it.

That is only part of the problem facing the sick person. The government has taken an even more odious approach. It terminates the person's employment after two years, even though the person is on leave without pay, so that it and the insurance company no longer need to pay benefits.

According to the brief I have referred to, after 24 months of medical leave without pay letters are sent to sick employees giving them four options: first, return to work; second, take medical retirement, which means no union representation or status as an employee and being at the mercy of the insurance company, which may cut off benefits and force employees to take it to court; third, quit with no benefits at all; and fourth, be fired for cause.

The government is supposed to be a model for society in accommodating persons with disabilities. It instead puts pressure on the sick to get out or be fired so that it and its insurer can save a buck. On top of this, according to the union, the names of employees on medical leave for 24 months are given to the insurance companies. It is hard to see any reason for that unless the companies review the files in order to cut people off.

It makes me wonder why we call it insurance. Insurance against what? Is it insurance against being picked on by an employer, the government, because one has a disability? Is it insurance for those who might be discriminated against by the people who have a duty to protect them?

We need solid insurance against such behaviour by the government. This is another example of how the government has good public relations regarding persons with disabilities but fails when it comes to action. Now is the time to stop.

The federal government should be a model for accommodating persons with disabilities. The federal government should make the accommodation of employees with disabilities a condition in awarding contracts. The federal government should work toward real income support so that poverty is no longer the biggest problem facing Canadians with disabilities.

I commend the member from B.C. for bringing forward this important idea for a disability ombudsman. It is one measure in regard to tackling an enormous systemic problem that starts right here at the federal government level with the treasury board.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

3:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to private member's Motion M-244. Since we will be finishing early and since everybody here, including me, feels very energetic, I will try to make my presentation in Canada's other official language, English.

The intent of this bill is to create an ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada. While the intent is to protect those who use this type of insurance, I do not think this is necessarily the correct way to go about it.

It should be noted that some provinces have set up their own ombudsmen to deal with these issues. Ontario, for example, has an insurance ombudsman. That ombudsman's role is to offer consumers an informal, last stop forum for resolving complaints about the business practices of insurance companies in Ontario.

I bring this up while debating the member's motion because I think it is important that before we create yet another government agency we are satisfied it will not play a duplicate role in regard to what is already occurring in the industry and also, I might add, in the provinces.

Instead of imposing government on everyone and everything, we should allow the private sector to take the lead on these issues and have parliamentarians here to ensure that the sector acts in a way that is ethical, lawful and in the best interests of consumers.

I again want to focus specifically on the member's motion. As I said before, the intent comes from a desire to ensure that consumers are protected, and it is a great intent. The problem is that the current industry is full of provincial and federal overlap and private and public overlap and the last thing we need to do is add to that congestion and overlap.

The bill deals with a very specific type of insurance and calls for an ombudsman with a very limited role in this large industry. If we were to create this agency which is very narrow in scope, the logical next step would be to create a similar ombudsman for each specific type of insurance. Would we create one specifically for car insurance, one for homeowners' insurance and so on? I think my point is made.

It should be noted that as we speak provincial and federal officials are engaged in discussions over the creation of a national organization to deal with consumer complaints. This ombudsman's office would be different from a federal office in that it would be created by the provinces and so would deal with the jurisdictional issues that often arise when a federal agency is imposed on the provinces. This ombudsman would be one of national scope, but would not be limited by the constitutional restrictions that arise when the agency is a federal initiative. This may surprise members, but it is another example of how we in Ottawa do not always need to impose on the private sector or, in this case, the provinces.

The financial services sector is evolving and changing rapidly. In response to that, the private sector has adapted and will continue to do so. The private sector has the skills, knowledge and desire to keep its consumers happy and recognizes the benefit of doing so.

The provinces are also taking a step in conjunction with the federal government to address consumer protection in this industry. As a federal government we should allow this to occur, not muddy the waters any more and only interject when and as needed.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, I noted with interest the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and I understand that there are efforts currently under way to address this issue.

The difficulty I am having on behalf of my constituents is that it is grinding. People are losing their homes. I am sure my constituency is no different than that of any other member. People in our constituencies are losing their homes after entering into contracts in good faith at a financial institution. In many instances, they enter into large borrowing contracts on their residence. A mortgage is likely the largest contract in which they will ever be involved in their lifetime. They sign the documents at an institution that, by the way, also happens to have a majority share or sole ownership of the insurance company with which they are also contracting.

Then, upon a cataclysmic event in their lifetime, they no longer are able to make mortgage payments because they are truly disabled. We then have one of the twins turning around and saying that they did not sign the right paper. My office does not have the ability to help these people. It is from this sense of frustration that I have brought the motion forward.

The parliamentary secretary knows that I have a great deal of respect for him as an individual. This is not at all a partisan issue. I do recognize that there is duplication and overlap, and that Ontario has an ombudsman. I do recognize that there are financial services provided for the people in my province of British Columbia. However, when we talk about the marketplace, about convergence and about task forces, we are not talking about the people who are currently being removed from their homes through no fault of their own. I find that frustrating beyond belief. It is a human tragedy that is happening far too often in our country.

I am having a lot of difficulty with the comment made by my respected friend from the Progressive Conservative Party who said that the private sector would take care of it. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary might find it a tad amusing, not laughable but amusing, that a member of a party who believes so strongly that the government should get out of the faces of Canadians would be a minimalist and would be advocating the role of an ombudsman. Well I am and I am doing it without any shame because there are people in Canada who are presently not being treated fairly or equitably. It is from that sense of frustration that I have brought the motion before the House.

I respect the fact that the committee which selects these private members' motions and bills has determined that this will not be a votable bill. I will not go through the charade of asking for unanimous consent to make it votable but I do hope the government will see the sense of urgency that I have attempted to bring to the debate. It is my hope that the government will indeed put some fire and energy behind the task force.

Private Disability InsurersPrivate Members' Business

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

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

Private Disability InsurersAdjournment Proceedings

4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise today as a result of a question that I asked the transport minister a number of weeks ago with respect to the Trans-Canada Highway. I am concerned primarily about the stretch of road that goes through my constituency from Revelstoke to Field. For the most part the highway is not a divided highway.

Recognizing that this is a national issue, I have an immediate local perspective. Of the 15 million vehicle movements on the Trans-Canada Highway in the area of which I am speaking of, there were 150 fatalities. By comparison, on the Coquihalla Highway, which was constructed in 1986, 25 million vehicle movements had unfortunately 66 fatalities. One fatality is too many, but the point is that 15 million movements have 150 fatalities for a two lane road while 25 million movements have only 66 fatalities for a divided highway.

The federal government has a responsibility here because it enacted a policy over a period of time that had a direct impact on the number of vehicles on the road. When the highway was first built in the sixties there were only 1,500 vehicle movements a day. Today, on an average day, there are up to 10,000 vehicle movements per day.

Under this government, much of the freight that used to be on rails is now on trucks. As a consequence, the number of 18-wheelers using that road has multiplied tenfold. This has equaled a ramp up in revenue to the government. The government presently takes $700 million a year from the province of British Columbia in federal excise tax.

The government tells us that it does not believe in designated spending but it seems to me that the finance minister believes in designated collection. When he increased the federal excise tax by 1.5 cents he said that he needed to collect more money to help do away with the deficit. There is a little bit of a dichotomy here where he says on one hand that he does not believe in designated spending but that he does believe in designated collection. I wonder about the sincerity of that statement because now that the deficit has gone why has the extra 1.5 cents per litre not gone?

Indeed, the excise tax is simply a cash cow that is collected from the trucking companies, automobile companies and, ironically, also from the rail companies for the freight going back and forth through the province of British Columbia.

I would like to do a reality check on what we are looking at in my constituency. In the Kicking Horse Canyon, which is just east of the town of Golden, it would cost $5 million to straighten out a 200 metre stretch of road. One million rock bolts would need to be put into Heather Hill, which is west of Golden, because there is an unstable mountain. There is already an ongoing slide occurring on that mountain. In spite of the fact that the slides have already started to come down this year, there is still no medium or long term plan.

There is a federal responsibility here that was recognized back in the 1960s when the Trans-Canada Highway was initially constructed. The average cost of constructing the highway across Canada in 1960 was $100,000. The cost was $1 million through British Columbia, ten times as much money. As a consequence, the funding arrangements were taken into account at that time.

The people of Revelstoke, the people of my constituency and the people of Canada are demanding that the federal government come to talk about this issue with a big fat wallet.

Private Disability InsurersAdjournment Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Algoma—Manitoulin Ontario

Liberal

Brent St. Denis LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the late show. I appreciate the comments made by the member for Kootenay—Columbia. While his B.C. riding is a long way from my own northern Ontario riding, it is not unlike mine in a lot of respects.

I probably have the longest stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway of any riding in the country, which would be about eight or nine hours driving at 100 kilometres an hour, so I appreciate the importance of the Trans-Canada Highway. Some of the rocky terrain north of the Soo up toward Wawa would be reminiscent of some of the smaller hills in his riding.

I remind the member that highways are the responsibility of provincial and territorial governments. Nevertheless the federal government is concerned with the condition of Canada's highways. That is why Transport Canada has provided funding for provincial highways over the years through a series of cost shared contribution agreements. For example, the strategic highway improvement program, in effect from 1993-94 to 1999-2000, provided $30 million for highway projects in British Columbia alone.

At this point I would like to clarify the funding allocated for highway infrastructure. Of the $2.65 billion announced in budget 2000, over $2 billion was earmarked for municipal infrastructure and $600 million for strategic highway infrastructure. Agreements for the municipal component called Infrastructure Canada have been signed with all the provinces and funds would be available over a six year period starting from last year.

Although the primary focus of Infrastructure Canada is on so-called green infrastructure, funds would also be available for local transportation needs. Funding for the highway component would be available beginning in fiscal year 2001-02.

Transport Canada initiated negotiations last month with its provincial and territorial counterparts to identify those segments of the national highway system where a need for highway infrastructure improvement is the greatest. Given their jurisdiction over highways it is within the purview of the provinces and territories to propose highway projects for funding. I hope the member would encourage the government in B.C. to priorize the stretch of highway through his riding.

The minister is well aware that B.C. has made a priority improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway and I am sure he would make that case with the province. Every attempt will be made to expedite the establishment of a list of eligible projects and the signing of the federal-provincial cost sharing agreement. The first negotiation session on the establishment of a list was on May 3, 2001.

Private Disability InsurersAdjournment Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 4.12 p.m.)