House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was program.


Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is a very senior member opposite whom I had not noticed earlier. I am sure he has a direct pipeline through to Eddie Goldenberg and therefore all that I say will be taken due note of.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

An hon. member

By whom?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

The Prime Minister in effect.

I am distressed with this debate also because, as the finance critic when the last finance committee report was tabled prior to the last budget, I saw a number of good recommendations which were the result of honest effort on the part of Liberals and other members, each and every one of which were virtually ignored by the government in its own budget.

For instance, after its broad national consultations, the finance committee recommended an effective cap on spending at roughly the rate of inflation plus population which essentially meant a spending growth cap of 3%. That was completely ignored in a budget which effectively proposed a 10% program spending increase.

That finance committee report last year recommended expanding tax relief, particularly by increasing the maximum allowable amount under the RRSP deferral from $13,500 to $19,000. That recommendation was completely ignored.

It recommended reform to employment insurance payroll taxes which would have reduced the job killing disincentive on employers to hire workers by implementing a yearly basic exemption on EI premiums for new hires. That recommendation was ignored.

It recommended a continuation of the prudence and contingency factors for budget planning as well as an annual allotment toward repayment of the market debt, all of which were ignored. The last budget of the member for LaSalle--Émard proposed not a cent in debt reduction for the next five years.

The finance committee report made solid recommendations in a number of areas which were completely ignored. I can predict that will happen again. I see many of the same recommendations. It is like déjà vu all over again.

I hear talk about the need for spending review, spending restraint and reallocation. What does reallocation mean? It means getting our priorities straight.

The government seems to believe that there is not a single dollar within its $175 billion spending envelope, which includes the massive $40 billion in debt interest payments, which can be cut, which is waste. In fact, we had the spectacle of the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle--Émard, making the bizarre assertion last year following his budget that he could not find a dollar to cut from one program to reallocate to a higher priority.

That was from a man who aspires to be prime minister, who says he wants a real debate about the choices Canadians can make for the future. He could not make a single choice when it came to reallocating dollars to reflect changing public priorities. He implied that there was not a dollar of waste in the $175 billion global budget and the $135 billion program budget of his government. What a joke from somebody who claimed to be a responsible finance minister when we see the kind of waste now before us. Other of my colleagues have made this point.

When that finance minister said last year that he could not find a dollar to reallocate toward health care or further tax relief or national security and defence, he was sitting on top of information about the $1 billion firearms registry boondoggle. He knew there was money going through the window, being burned in the furnaces at the justice department, and he did nothing to stop it. He did not redirect those funds. He apparently did not ask any serious questions. He just continued to sign the cheques and continued to make the wrong choices for Canadians.

The story of the member for LaSalle--Émard's fiscal management since 1998 is a travesty. It is a travesty of a nearly 30% increase in program spending since fiscal year 1998. It is average program spending increases of 6% and 7%, the highest levels we have seen since the disastrous fiscal train wreck of the latter years of the Trudeau administration.

All of this means there are fewer choices to make to increase our standard of living, to improve our productivity, to allow working families in Canada to keep more of what they earn.

The government tells us we do not have a tax problem anymore. The government claims it solved that in the 2000 budget. That is nonsense. The finance committee report calls for the further implementation of the so-called $100 billion tax cut. There is no such thing. The government is cooking the books on the order of what happened in the justice ministry to come up with that figure.

When we net out the enormous increases in taxes for the CPP premium; when we net out the non increase of taxation through the de-indexation of the tax system in the 2000 budget; when we net out the increase in the child tax benefit, which is counted as a tax cut but is in fact a spending increase; when we look at the real numbers, the tax change in the year 2000 was actually $48 billion spread over five years. This has had virtually no discernible impact for working families or entrepreneurs.

The federal tax to GDP ratio today is as high as it has ever been. The overall Canadian tax to GDP ratio, including all levels of government, has gone from 41%, the peak in 1996, to 40.1% today. It is a tiny incremental reduction in the overall Canadian tax burden for the one taxpayer of whom we all frequently speak. It is attributable largely to the real, substantive tax cuts of the provincial administrations in Ontario, Alberta and elsewhere. These are provincial administrations that parenthetically had to absorb the massive arbitrary cuts in their federal transfers for health care, which the government claims is its highest priority. What a joke.

Further, when it comes to setting priorities, there is a massive national consensus from left to right emerging across the country that we must get serious about protecting our national security and investing in at least a minimum capability for our Canadian forces, our military.

We hear this from the Commons defence committee, the Senate defence committee, citizens' review committees on defence, from expert panels, from left wing Liberal academics like Tom Axworthy and his brother Lloyd. From left to right there is a consensus that if we are serious about protecting our sovereignty and our national interests, then we must invest an adequate minimum to support our men and women in uniform.

Yet what did we see in the newspaper today? The hon. Minister of Finance was mocking those who have called for further investment for basic minimum national defence saying that they are essentially telegraphing; that notwithstanding the recommendation of the committee report, which we are debating today; notwithstanding the recommendation of Liberal members on the defence committee; notwithstanding the recommendation of the defence minister himself; that there will be no significant new resources for national defence.

In closing, what I foresee unfortunately is another missed opportunity to get the fundamentals of this economy right in terms of productivity growth and standard of living through further tax relief that will get our priorities wrong in terms of national security and health care, which will fail to address our still massive $530 billion debt. I hope that is not the case.

Let us see whether the present finance minister has any greater capacity to make priorities that are in Canada's best interests than did his predecessor, the member for LaSalle--Émard.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy the hon. member's comments, his depth of research in finance and the points he brings forward.

I would just like to ask about two of them. We had this discussion in the last budget actually. One is related to Canada pension plan premiums. As he knows, the Canada pension plan was not self-sustaining. We did a study to make it self-sustaining and now he seems to be complaining about the premiums again. Is he suggesting that we put that excess cost into income taxes or reduce it so that it is again out of sync with reality and it is not funding itself?

Also, I know the member was limited for time and he would love to restate the position that the Alliance is against the regional development funds which are used to help all parts of Canada, except southern Ontario, funds such as western diversification, the Atlantic opportunities agency and the one in Quebec. I want to give him that opportunity.

We target those funds at innovation and knowledge based opportunities. A lot of them are projects that will help our competitiveness, and of course that is the key to productivity. The Alliance has questioned our productivity compared to the United States but when we have these tools where we are trying to solve that problem the Alliance is against them as well.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the always thoughtful questions from that very diligent member.

Let me say with respect to CPP premiums that, like any economist would understand, we believe that the CPP premium is a tax. It is a disincentive. It reduces wealth in the economy and the ability of people in this economy to produce wealth. As such, it is a burden.

Having said that, obviously there are enormous actuarial problems with the government monopoly generational transfer scheme, which is the current model of the CPP. We would like to reform the plan so that younger workers could allocate a small portion of their mandatory pension savings toward private investments that would generate over a lifetime a higher yield and a larger pension at a lower cost. I think we ought to learn the lesson of other jurisdictions in that respect.

In terms of regional development, I thank the member for the opportunity to restate my party's policy. It is one of strong and consistent opposition to all forms of corporate welfare and taxpayer handouts through what we have learned is an increasingly corrupt political apparatus to favoured corporations, be it through western economic diversification, FORD-Q, ACOA or any of the other alphabet soup of corporate welfare programs.

I note today that the Minister of Industry was handing out another $60 million in technology partnerships Canada funds to a Liberal party fundraiser, who also happens to be a billionaire, Terry Matthews. If Mr. Matthews could make a business case that this so-called government investment could generate a reliable profit, then there would be private sector creditors lined up outside his door to provide the credit he needs.

Why does he need to dip preferentially into the taxpayers' pockets? Why does he go to the front of the line? It is because he raises money for the government in power. This corporate welfare game is one of the terrible aspects of the politics of corruption in this country.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

Prebudget ConsultationsThe Royal Assent

December 12th, 2002 / 5:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill S-2, An Act to implement an agreement, conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Kuwait, Mongolia, the United Arab Emirates, Moldova, Norway, Belgium and Italy for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion and to amend the enacted text of three tax treaties—Chapter 24

Bill C-14, An Act providing for controls on the export, import or transit across Canada of rough diamonds and for a certification scheme for the export of rough diamonds in order to meet Canada's obligations under the Kimberley Process—Chapter 25.

Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act—Chapter 26.

Bill C-21, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2003—Chapter 27.

Bill C-8, An Act to protect human health and safety and the environment by regulating products used for the control of pests—Chapter 28.

Bill C-5, An Act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada—Chapter 29.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start with a clarification that I tried to make related to a point of order earlier in the day. I could not make it in that format. It was just an incorrect number quoted from a newspaper by the member for Lotbinière—L'Érable, I think. It seemed to infer that HRDC, which is responsible for pensions, security, student loans et cetera, was cutting $12 billion from its $85 billion budget. There was a report in the media to which he referred which was simply incorrect.

HRDC's budget is not $85 billion, nor is it cutting its budget by 15%. The budget is in fact $65 billion and more than $60 billion, or 92% of this spending, goes directly to individual Canadians through employment insurance, the Canada pension plan, old age security, Canada student loans and other statutory transfer payments. I wanted to correct the misconception around these facts.

What I would like to do today in this prebudget debate, and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to do this, is talk about items both in my constituency and nationwide that I would like to see in this and subsequent budgets. As I think people know, we are very close to a balanced budget. There is not much surplus to keep the government running and there are huge requirements that everyone is aware of, related to defence, health care, greenhouse gases et cetera, so there is not much room to manoeuvre.

I am going to list a number of things that I am in support of for when it is feasible to do them. I will talk about my riding first and then Canada-wide material and as many elements of the Standing Committee on Finance that I can get to before my 20 minutes run out.

In my riding, there is a big item that I of course want to make sure there are sufficient funds for and that is the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline, which I will talk about after I have completed the items for my riding.

Also, of course, the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome needs support. Some members of the House have talked eloquently about this. Prevention of this through health care is much more economical and humane than letting the problem go on. Hopefully the resources required to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome will be allocated.

One of the excellent programs in that area is the Headstart program. I have been a big supporter of the Headstart program for years and I would like to see more of it. In the throne speech there was a reference to expanding this program. I want that trend to continue. It has been an excellent program in my riding. We would like to get more programs set up in other locations and keep the funds in the existing ones. Because they are so popular there are more demands on them.

The homelessness program, or the SCPI program, is also very popular in my riding and I know that it has been popular in a number of ridings. There have been a number of projects. In fact in my riding it was mentioned by the minister as one of the unique programs in the country. But the problem has not been solved. We have an excellent local committee, chaired by Ross Findlater, which has done some very innovative things, but of course the needs still go on and we want to keep energizing these volunteers to organize projects like this and have more success stories.

First nations make up a significant portion of the population in my constituency. I want to of course make sure that there are sufficient funds for anything required for signing the remainder of the specific land claim agreements as well as implementation. When they are signed is really when the hard work starts. Funds are required for implementation. I hope it is sufficiently funded.

We also need funding to protect northern sovereignty. I have spoken in the House about this before. A number of anecdotes have been told right across the north, and northern MPs have mentioned them, about foreign vessels coming into our northern waters and not being accountable. There is not enough surveillance. As we, the three MPs from the north, have this debate with the other 298 MPs and are making good points about the requirements for defence and the Coast Guard, I want to make sure that our part of the north is not neglected. I would like the Coast Guard and national defence to get a significant portion of any increases in that area.

There is child poverty in my riding as there is in any other riding and it is a concern for me as it is for any member of the House of Commons. I support efforts for change in that direction.

There are also regional northern economic development funding and infrastructure needs. I am going to talk about that a bit later. Of course I was delighted when the Government of Canada announced that it will support the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. It will be the first time in history that the games are held north of 60.

There were some items related to the Romanow report that were very exciting for the north and for my riding. Specifically, the report recognized and addressed a number of the problems we have in the north, some that are specific to the north. The commission talked about the rural fund, which would hopefully deal with some of these problems. We are very excited about this. In particular, one recommendation that was not specific to the north but was addressed in the report is waiting lists. I have certainly had a number of constituents approach me on this problem. This is something my constituents would like to see improved.

A problem that is specific to the north, though, is the recruitment and retention of northern medical specialists. This problem was well documented in the Romanow report. The report outlined suggestions to deal with it. Another specific problem we have in the north is related to guaranteeing timely access to specialists and for major surgery. Roughly half of Canada is north of 60 and there is no hospital that can do major surgery, so we all rely on using other people's health care systems in the various provinces, in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and so on. This means that we in the north are at the whim of these provinces. They treat us very well and I am not complaining about the way the provinces treat us, but we do not have guaranteed access so that our medical practitioners can plan.

Also, for specialists, of course, there is not always the economy of scale in regard to having all the specialists in the north. Once again, how can our doctors refer people to specialists in other health care systems? We hope this will be dealt with.

Of course mining is one of the large economic generators in my riding. For many years it was the biggest private sector contribution to the GDP, or the GTP. I support the initiatives that members have talked about which would help the mining industry.

Also, tourism right now is the largest private sector employer as far as number of employees is concerned. I find the assistance for the tourism sector in marketing and so on very positive.

I thought that the reports of the finance committee both this time and last time were very perceptive. I was very happy that the committee referred to the fact that infrastructure in the north cannot be done, as it was historically, on a per capita basis.

This has been mentioned on several occasions and I am sure everyone in the House recognizes and agrees with it. Because of the low population there are fewer taxpayers and they are so widely dispersed that a per capita allocation of money for infrastructure just does not work. We would not get very much done that way. In the north we have unusual conditions due to permafrost. That also makes infrastructure very important. I am delighted that people recognize that and it has on occasion already been incorporated into infrastructure calculations.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I will talk a little more about the pipeline. There are two Arctic gas pipelines that could come to Canada, the Mackenzie pipeline and the Alaska Highway pipeline. They would create a lot of jobs for Canada. I have talked in support of these pipelines before.

I think people have heard a lot about the Mackenzie Valley, but I would like to just talk about some of the benefits of the Alaska Highway pipeline because it has not been talked about as much and people may not know about it. There are several studies that show there could be 100,000 person years of work in western Canada and in Ontario from the Alaska Highway gas pipeline, and over 165,000 person years indirectly in Quebec and Ontario, $1.2 billion in revenue for Canadians, $31 billion for Canada's GDP, and 8,600 jobs in B.C. just during the construction of such a pipeline.

This actually would be the largest such project in the history of the world, so we are delighted with the recent appointment of the government to the Northern Pipeline Agency, which will help facilitate the project because of course Canada's role is to be the regulator. We want to make sure that if and when someone applies to put either of these pipelines through, the government is ready and has the resources to regulate quickly and efficiently.

There is a great demand for natural gas. All of the objective projections of natural gas requirements for North America show that the demand will be far more than the capacity of these two pipelines. If these two pipelines are built as large as they are planned and are filled with gas, they will provide only a very small percentage of the demands projected by the estimators.

A lot of this is the result of new electrical generation capacity in the United States, but it can also reduce greenhouse gases as the United States and other places replace coal and diesel. For instance, we have a lot of diesel in the Yukon. If that were to be replaced with cleaner burning natural gas it would reduce greenhouse gases.

I am supportive of the government making sure that this is regulated very quickly. If we delay, the demand will still be there, and the United States in particular will fill the demand from other places. They are already starting to build plants for LNG, to bring liquid natural gas to both coasts of the United States. Then Canada would lose out completely on a project where we could get roughly half the construction benefits, a project that could be a tremendous boon to the economy in Canada.

I hope that when the United States Congress reconvenes in February it will once again support an energy bill that will not permit drilling in ANWAR but will have provisions to help make sure the Alaska pipeline can go ahead to move Alaska gas through Canada where we Canadians can get the benefits.

As I said earlier, I was very happy with some elements of the report of the Standing Committee on Finance. The most important part for me was about rural Canada and the north. I will quote one sentence:

The Association of Yukon Communities told the Committee that its request for $160 million for infrastructure spending would not only “bring Yukon communities to a level that will help make them more competitive with their southern and northern neighbours,” it would also “replace much-needed infrastructure, such as roads, water, and sewer, and high-speed cable fibre, and build a much-needed bridge across the Yukon River in the Klondike.”

I am very excited that the finance committee has recognized these needs in my riding and that they show up in the report.

I am also very excited about recommendation 27, which suggests that:

The federal government ensure that adequate attention is paid to the needs of rural and remote communities. Moreover, the government should focus resources on working with remote communities in Northern Canada to advance their economic development efforts.

I would like to switch gears and talk about some Canada-wide directions of which I am in favour, as well as my responsibilities in that respect. Of course many of them will have positive benefits for my riding.

As the chair of the defence caucus, I support the efforts to make sure our military is well funded and efficient. Our Canadians are as talented as anyone in the world and there is no reason that we cannot have a military that can do the job, that takes care of its employees and has the most advanced equipment, notwithstanding that it is has to be put in the context of the entire needs of the budget and what is important for Canadians.

I am very pleased with the $100 billion tax cut, the largest tax cut in history, and about the fact that a majority of it will not go to high income people. One of the members from across the way was asking about that yesterday. I am also quite proud of the child tax credit. As I said earlier, more needs to be done in those areas and I will be in support of anything we can do in those areas.

Having directed the programs in the International Trade Centre in the Yukon in a previous career, I am quite sensitive to our requirements in that area. As we all know, we are very dependent in Canada on international trade and, in today's environment, to security and to international information related to terrorism, drug trafficking, and those areas.

We need to support sufficiently our foreign service, our ability to collect and obtain foreign intelligence, and facilitation related to trade with the world. For instance, Mexico has more resources in the United States than we do to support trade, but we also have to diversify because we also have a huge dependence on the United States. This would actually be one of the less costly improvements because we have absolutely superb talent in this area and we just need to make sure that we have sufficient resources.

I mentioned yesterday that I had talked to a constituent a few weeks ago who was disabled. He told me that he liked to work but that sometimes he was not able keep up with people who were not disabled. We need to set up a program that would allow disabled people to stay in the workforce, and not cut them off for whatever reason, when they might otherwise not be cut off if they did not have their particular disability.

I am also in support of a modern, knowledge based economy in order to be competitive with our neighbours. I am in support of all the efforts that the government is putting forward for advanced skills, advanced learning, advanced education, especially the support to the unemployed in those areas, and also the lifelong learning of Canadians.

I have always been in support of the efforts the government has taken on the rural file. It has been so successful with such little funds that it could even be enhanced. I am sure I speak for our rural caucus on this. The urban people have mentioned that the mayors of the big cities have said that people are coming in from rural areas and causing them problems and that they have more costs. As the mayor of Dawson says, that is a symptom. If we could actually solve the problems of the economies and the lifestyles, and keep these people healthy and productive in the rural areas, then this would not be a problem for cities.

I applaud the rural community capacity projects that are underway. I know my riding has some. I also applaud the rural lens and hope that continues so that any new program is looked at from the rural perspective to make sure that it is as efficient as it possibly can be for rural people.

I will now go on to some of the recommendations from the standing committee which I strongly support.

First, I am totally in support of any income tax reductions or tax reductions as long as they are done in the context of making sure that the other needs in the budget are covered.

Recommendation 4 talks about us making sure that tax rates in Canada are competitive with others in the G-7. However, as the House knows, some of our rates are already competitive or more than competitive, but I applaud our efforts to move in that direction.

I also applaud the efforts to increase the limit of registered retirement savings funds so people can help fund themselves in their old age, as well as the Canada savings grant exemption.

Recommendation 11 talks about reducing the federal excise tax applicable to small breweries to achieve parity with the United States. In the debate we had earlier, I said that I was totally in favour of this and delighted that it was being recommended. We have an excellent, award winning brewery in the Yukon that produces excellent beer that I recommend to everyone. Of course we would like it to be competitive.

The air travel security charge is only sufficient to cover the needed costs without jeopardizing safety. Canadians have told me that they want to definitely be safe but do not want it to unduly hurt the tourism industry.

I was also delighted with recommendation 13, which talks about the federal granting councils. I was on the industry committee, as was my colleague, and we constantly talked about funds in research for smaller universities and colleges such as we have in the north.

Recommendation 13 states:

--consider the concerns of smaller universities and colleges when disbursing funds, and should ensure that they do not face discrimination.

I am delighted that recommendation, for which we fought so hard, was in there.

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the many items that I think could be helpful to Canada and to my riding.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments by my hon. friend from the industry committee. I know he is a very diligent, hardworking, serious member. I do want to ask him a few specific questions.

He talked about tax cuts. Would the hon. member be in favour of an increase in the basic exemption to allow for tax cuts for lower income Canadians in particular?

The second thing I would like to know is whether he is in favour of increasing the RRSP limit to allow Canadians to better provide for their retirement.

The member is on the industry committee. Yesterday at the industry committee the members of the Mining Association of Canada presented to us. They asked us to eliminate capital taxes in the upcoming federal budget in order to stimulate investment as a way for them to deal with the post-ratification Kyoto environment.

I would like to know if he would agree with those three recommendations.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I thought I had answered two of the member's questions in my speech when I said that I was in favour of increasing the registered retirement savings limit and when I said that I was very proud that in our $100 billion tax reduction plan, which is the biggest in Canadian history, that a majority of the people getting that would not be high income people.

I also applauded any tax provisions, not only the capital tax but I also approached the finance minister on other tax provisions that I hope can help the mining industry. The mining industry, such as flow through shares, et cetera, is very critical to my riding. In fact, the report talked about the mining association presentation to the industry committee yesterday. It also said that innovation was about reducing cost. I agree with that. Hopefully we will have funds for innovation because we have a major innovation strategy for Canada.

The report also talked about the funds being competitive, and that we need an efficient tax regime which supports and rewards innovation. Of course that is what the government's whole innovation agenda is about and I am in favour of that.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I have a lot of questions for my fellow Yukoner from my former Yukon days but I will narrow them down to specific areas that would help my riding.

First, we all know that the military is severely underfunded in terms of the Sea King replacements and those need to be addressed.

Second, the previous industry minister, Mr. Tobin, had said the government would have a shipbuilding policy. It wrote a booklet called “Breaking Through” and we still do not have a shipbuilding policy which would help the domestic shipbuilding industry, especially in Atlantic Canada.

Third, we know that the Coast Guard, from coast to coast to coast and in central Canada, is in dire straits.

What would the hon. member recommend to his finance minister to correct all three deficiencies prior to the next budget?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I do not think shipbuilding will have a big impact on my riding in the near future, so I will comment on the other two.

First, in relation to the helicopters, I am delighted that the bidding has been put into one package. That will speed up the process which is, I think, what all members in the House want.

I would be disappointed, however, as there is always a cost to everything, if the cost of not splitting that bid ended up reducing employment in that industry. I and I am sure Canadian workers would be disappointed if that were to happen.

I was delighted to hear the member mention the Coast Guard because I can again mention the comment I made when we had the debate on the Coast Guard, which had to do with northern sovereignty.

Some countries do not accept that all the islands north of Canada, beyond the mainland, are part of Canada. The waters are opening up and ships are going through there. My colleagues from Nunavut and NWT have mentioned examples of ships just showing up. They can be polluting with oil. They can be dropping immigrants. They can be infringing on our sovereignty if we do not make a presence. I know we have increased it some but the use of military or the Coast Guard is not the simple solution.

In the north, because resources are so limited, we need a strategy to increase them all. We have wonderful support from the Canadian Rangers, who quite often are aboriginal people, who patrol there. I totally agree with my colleague opposite that we need to increase those resources so we can protect Canada's north.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am extremely interested in aboriginal issues. My colleague has referred to the head start program and to university education.

As a member of the standing committee of arctic parliamentarians and also having taken part in many of the works of the Arctic Council over the years, the whole question of university training for young aboriginal people in the north is central, not only to Canada but to the other nations in the Arctic.

Being from Yukon, my colleague will have a special interest in this question. The president of Yukon University is also the president of the new Arctic College founded by the Arctic Council. I want to get the member's views as to how he sees the future for young people in the north, given the thrust today to new technologies and new ways of learning, so they can take their rightful place in the modern world.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, my colleague has asked a very good question. The new knowledge based economy in technology opens up a future for people in the north, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, that was never there before.

It is quite exciting because, as the hon. member mentioned, there was no university north of 60 in Canada before. However, because of technology, we now have this virtual university of the Arctic that comprises the pan-northern world of all the nations. Because everything can be done by computer, this university can be connected by computer. The north, which has many first nations people and aboriginal people in many countries, can now be connected and have a sharing of common solutions to common problems right across the north.

The farthest community in Canada from here is a place called Old Crow. It is the farthest northwest--

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I apologize to the hon. member, but the time has expired.

It being 5:54 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

moved that Bill C-206, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (persons who leave employment to be care-givers to family members), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I cannot say how pleased I am, along with my colleague from Vancouver East and all of the New Democrats, and all members of Parliament and yourself sitting in the chair, to lead off in what I think is a historic debate. We are debating how we could use the laws of Parliament to change Canada's employment insurance system to assist anywhere from 200,000 to three million Canadians when they provide care.

On a personal note I am honoured that my hon. colleague and good friend from Vancouver East seconded the bill. She has experience on the subject and can give personal testimony to exactly what we are speaking about. It would be unfair for me to go into that as she will so eloquently state her personal experience.

Every single one of us probably knows someone, or we ourselves have gone through what the bill addresses. Bill C-206 would allow individuals to care for a dying relative or someone who is under severe rehabilitation in the comfort of their own home. Individuals would be able to leave their place of employment and would have job protection and would collect employment insurance while they provided the loving, palliative care that is so desperately required by dying Canadians.

Bill C-206 will not solve or even get into the discussion of all aspects of caregiving. It is not meant to do that. Being a member of the fourth party, the New Democratic Party, in order to assist the government and other opposition parties it is our role to provide some advice or suggestions. It is our role to say, “Here is an idea. Let us forget about the politics and let us work together to see where we can go on this initiative”. That is the purpose of this debate.

This bill originated in 1997. I had received a call from two of my constituents. Unfortunately, one of them has since passed away. Their names are Pearl and Doug Fleming of Oakfield, Nova Scotia. They were in their seventies and Pearl was dying of cancer. She had been a robust woman of 120 pounds but when I met her she was down to 75 pounds.

All of the doctors told Mr. and Mrs. Fleming that she was dying, that she must be in the Nova Scotia hospital for 24 hour care. Mr. Fleming said no, that if his wife was going to die, he was going to care for her in their home. The doctor said fine and listed the equipment that would be required and the concerns that should be kept in mind. They needed an air filtration system, a ramp, a lift for the vehicle, a special tub, widening of rooms, et cetera.

All the man wanted was to deduct those expenses from his taxes. After fighting for it for over two years, we were finally successful in getting a tax deduction for him. That opened my eyes to what happens in this country and the difficulties that people face time and time again.

I will not use any names, but I know of a woman who now lives in Fort McMurray, Alberta. She was working in the tar sands. She left a small community in Newfoundland for economic reasons. Her father passed away in 1998. In 2001 her mother was diagnosed with cancer and Alzheimer's and was dying.

Being the only child, the young lady had a choice. She could either institutionalize her mother so that her mother would die in a strange building surrounded by people she did not know, or she could quit her place of employment, move back to Newfoundland and provide the care that her mother so desperately needed. She chose the latter. When her mother passed away, she returned to Fort McMurray to see if she could get her job back but unfortunately, it had already been filled.

That should not be allowed. That young woman made a life decision which affected her career. All she wanted to do was care for her dying mother in the comfort of her mother's own home. She did not want the taxpayer to pay hundreds of dollars a day for health care in a nursing home. She wanted to give her mother the care that her mother had given to her when she was a child. She saved the state a lot of money. This young lady left her home in Newfoundland to find work, which is what we encourage Canadians to do to become productive members of society. Yet when she made a life choice, there was no program in place to assist her.

This is just one story of thousands of stories I could tell and they are all true. Every day in our society people make that difficult choice when they get a phone call telling them a relative is dying or has been in a severe accident. I hope and pray that it never happens to any parliamentarian or staff member or anybody in Canada who is watching this.

Madam Speaker, imagine if you were to receive a call today that one of your children had been involved in a severe accident. I know what you would be doing right now. You would be rushing to the aid of that child and you would be with your child for as long as you could. But what if you suffered financially because of the concern and love you have for your child? Madam Speaker, what if your employer could not let you go because of constraints or some other reason? You would then have to make a very difficult choice.

I know what most Canadians who are loving parents would do. They would worry about the money aspect later and would concentrate on the here and now which is the care and love for the child.

Madam Speaker, if you were pregnant and gave birth to a wonderful child you could take a year off with pay under the maternity leave provisions in the employment insurance program. There are paternity leave provisions as well. This is a great program to have at the beginning of a person's life. That nurturing for the first year of a child's life is wonderful and I do not think anyone wants to take that away.

But what do we have at the end of someone's life? Nothing. That is what the bill is meant to correct. Bill C-206 is not perfect. What I am asking is that members send the bill to committee so we can debate the issue more thoroughly and carefully. I am asking for a full year but if members of Parliament feel that is a little much and that we should start slowly and work up, I would agree with that.

I am trying to start the debate on palliative care, end of life care, and severe rehabilitative care, and there is hope. It has been mentioned recently in two throne speeches given by the Liberal government. In his report Senator Kirby has dedicated a whole chapter, either chapter 8 or chapter 9, to this issue. Commissioner Romanow in his recent report on health care mentioned it on pages 184 to 188. There is hope. The debate is out there.

We recently sent out letters to over 500 organizations across the country looking for their support. In the span of two days we received close to 200 e-mails saying that we absolutely have to do this. Those e-mails came from across Canada.

Again, for those who are watching, my bill would allow a person who leaves their place of employment to care for a dying loved one to have job protection. The person would be able to stay at home and care for their dying loved one, under a physician's care. The physician would have to indicate that if that person was not getting the care at home, the person would need to be institutionalized.

We all know how much institutional care costs. Depending where one is in the country and depending on the level of care, it could cost $180 a day, $700 a day, or even more.

We are asking that an individual be able to collect employment insurance so they can leave their place of employment in order to provide that care. It would save money. In fact we have hard evidence from very good sources that for every dollar spent on the employment insurance program we would save five to six dollars in health care. Who would be the biggest winners financially? The provinces.

I was very pleased to see on CBC National after the federal and provincial health ministers met that Mr. Gary Mar of Alberta said he was more than willing to work with the federal government on a palliative care leave program. Gary Mar and I may come from different walks of life politically but I was very proud of him for having said that. He knows that something has to happen.

The burden of care is really hard on a lot of people. In fact, an awful lot of employees feel they have to fudge their statistics at work, that they have to lie. They have to claim sick leave or take stress leave. That costs the economy almost $2.6 billion a year. Employees have had to leave because of the tremendous stress they are under providing that type of care.

Financially, the provisions in the bill would make it a win-win situation for the country. It would be a win situation for the families.

There are companies doing this already, for example, GlaxoSmithKline, a big pharmaceutical company. I called Leanne Kitchen the other day. That company has a 13 week program that allows its employees leave with pay in order to assist a relative under palliative care in an end of life situation. GlaxoSmithKline is quite large and very profitable so it can afford to do that. Many businesses cannot afford to do that, so we need the federal government to step in and show leadership.

The House of Commons can show leadership. Every single program we have has come with a struggle but nothing compares to the struggle that families have in making decisions when it comes to their loved ones.

I want to state four points. Every Canadian has the right to die with dignity. Every Canadian has the right to be free of pain. Every Canadian has the right to be surrounded by their loved ones. Every Canadian has the right to die in the setting of their choice.

On a personal note, I cannot thank my sister enough for the care she gave my father when he was dying. I was fortunate that my mother and father lived in the basement suite of my sister's and her husband's house. When my father was dying it took a long time but my sister and my mother provided the care for him when he was dying. I was lucky because members of my family could do that.

Think of that woman from Newfoundland who did not have family members to do that and think of the choice she had to make. She had to quit her job and move back to Newfoundland because of her love for her mother. She watched her mother die knowing she was out of work and wondering what she was going to do when her mother did pass on. Fortunately, after a year she was able to find work again and she is back on her feet but what a struggle. She has asked me not to use her name because of her pride. That is just one story of many others.

I cannot thank enough Gail Broom, of the Family Caregivers Association of Nova Scotia, who has been helpful in assisting me in drafting the bill knowing full well that the bill is just one aspect of caregiving. There are many aspects of caregiving, from Alzheimer's to physical disabilities to mental disabilities, and so on. We can talk for a long time in the House on all aspects of that.

Again, I am concentrating more on the end of life care and severe rehabilitation. If we were to move toward that effort it would be wonderful.

I wish to mention another aspect that we tend to forget sometimes, that of seniors who in many cases are looking after more elderly seniors, especially in rural areas. Those of us who come from rural areas know that the access to medical care and facilities is not as available as it is in major urban centres.

A classical example is my good friend Floyd Day from the Eastern Shore in Nova Scotia. He is 72 years old, his mother is 92. His wife is elderly as well. His wife and mother are not doing well and he has to provide the care for both of them.

This particular bill would not assist him in that particular case, but it would show the possibilities of what we can do to assist people like Floyd Day, when seniors care for seniors, especially in rural areas.

Approximately 220,000 Canadians die every year. A recent poll said that 90% of Canadians, if they had the choice, would prefer to stay in the comfort of their own home and be able to die in their own home. About 6% of caregivers in the country feel that they could adequately care for their loved ones under that circumstance. Nearly 75% of those 220,000 people die in strange places, such as hospitals and long term care facilities.

We will all get old one day. Dying is something we should not be afraid to discuss or talk about. It is a fact of life.

Madam Speaker, if you had the choice, where would you prefer to die? Would you not want to be free of pain? Would you not want to be surrounded by your loved ones? Would you not want to die in a setting of your choice? Would you not want to know that your caregiver was not suffering under financial strain, or respite strain, or whatever requirement to be able to provide you with high quality care?

We all know that when people enter a strange building, such as a long term care facility or a hospital, right away they are emotionally drained and are looking around, saying, “Is this it? Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life?” No.

When the time comes for me to die I hope that I am surrounded by my daughters--hopefully they would have kids of their own--my dog, or if my dog is not around maybe another one, my beautiful wife, my brothers and sisters, and my good friends. I do not want my caregivers to suffer financially because there was no program in place that would assist them.

I want to thank the members of the House of Commons for listening today. I want to thank my seconder, the hon. member for Vancouver East, who has personal experience with this issue. I want to thank Floyd Day, and Doug and Pearl Fleming for their stories, and for the ability to meet with them and share with them their experiences.

I encourage the House to move the bill along. If it needs to be amended, so be it. But let us work on it together and let us give Canadians truly a beautiful and blessed Christmas present. God love you.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore has introduced a relevant bill at an appropriate time. I am talking about Bill C-206, to amend the Employment Insurance Act, which deals with one of the most important issues raised in the recent Speech from the Throne. This issue was also raised in both the Romanow report and the Kirby report.

This is a relevant bill because, as we know, a growing number of Canadians have to strike a balance between their work responsibilities and the need to care for family members. It is timely, and I congratulate my hon. colleague on drawing attention to such an important commitment made by the Government of Canada in the Speech from the Throne.

Obviously, the government shares his concerns about those who have to balance family responsibilities of this sort with work responsibilities. I can confirm for the hon. member that officials are looking into the matter.

While we appreciate his interest in this issue, we do have reasonable concerns about the proposals contained in this bill.

We are starting from the premise that Canadians ought not to have to choose between keeping their job and looking after a family member. In the Speech from the Throne, the government stated its intention of ensuring that workers were not forced to make that choice.

Nevertheless, the amendments proposed in Bill C-206 would require people in such a predicament to choose between leaving their job or being let go so that they could collect benefits while looking after a family member.

Instead of this, we want to encourage people to retain their connections with the job market, particularly with a shortage of skills looming. However, we want to proceed by acknowledging the specific requirements, often temporary, that occur.

As a result, we oppose the provisions of Bill C-206, which would oblige workers to leave their jobs or be let go in order to be eligible for benefits.

Then there is the question of costs, or at least an estimate of costs for this type of measure. It is one thing to propose new measures if one sits on the opposition benches, but those of us who sit on the government side also have to be concerned about the potential costs of such proposals.

For example, this bill calls for benefits to be paid for up to 52 weeks. It is not easy to imagine a worker being able to draw 52 weeks of benefits to look after a family member, when if he or she were ill, there would be only 15 weeks of eligibility. As well, we need estimates of what the cost of such a long benefit period would be.

I wonder if the member has looked at the potential costs of such a proposal. They might be very high, particularly given the wider definition of family member that is being proposed as part of the amendments to section 23 of Part 1 of the Act. In addition to listing immediate family members such as children, parents and spouse, this bill includes in its definition brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and even members of the spouse's family and those of the common-law spouse's family.

This definition could include a very large segment of the population, particularly in the context of an aging population. We must ask ourselves seriously who should be included in the definition of family, since we must be able to support the costs involved.

We know that Canadians are experiencing increasing difficulties in balancing the conflicting obligations of their work, on the one hand, and their family, on the other, and we want to do something about it. However, we do not think that the approach proposed in Bill C-206 is the solution.

We must re-examine this issue together.

Close to half of all Canadians are experiencing moderate to severe stress because of their professional responsibilities. Workers who must care for children or elderly people say that they experience much greater conflicts between their professional and private lives than do other workers. Many employers recognize the importance of providing temporary help to these workers, but they cannot fully meet their needs.

A survey conducted among medium and large businesses showed that 59% of them provide some form of leave for family obligations, but that only about half of them had an official policy. Usually, the support provided by employers is largely non-monetary, unofficial and short term.

The data shows that 77% of Canadians who provide care to a family member have taken a leave of absence. Among them, 69% were absent from work for more than two weeks. In 56% of the cases, they were on leave without pay.

The challenge for the government is to take advantage of existing supports in the workplace, so as to establish a program which will ensure that workers can remain in contact with the labour market during a period of temporary family related stress, and which will also be affordable.

Therefore, we are pleased to discuss the proposals included in Bill C-206 and we are quite prepared to continue to work with all members of the House.

Temporary income support and employment security are appropriate roles for the federal government. This is an opportunity to set an example by meeting the needs of Canadian workers and their families, and by adding an important feature as a support measure for an improved health care program.

Again, I applaud the initiative of the NDP member, and I am sure this is just the beginning of the debate.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to debate Bill C-206 and to congratulate my colleague, the member from Nova Scotia, for bringing this forward.

I do not think there is anyone in this place who has not, at one time or another, either personally faced, heard about or had someone close to them who has faced a situation where a family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. All of a sudden big life choices must be made about how to deal with that and how to look after that person. We would not have a heart if we were not concerned about that and did not want to find ways to help. My friend has done a good job of starting the debate by introducing Bill C-206 and asking how we address those types of issues.

Not too long ago I was in my office and I had a lady come in who had a family member who was gravely ill. She made a very good point. She said that she had home care coming in to look after this person, but that it was hugely expensive. It was something like $2,500 for a home care person. She said that if someone would give her $700 to stay home, she would do it herself. I thought that was pretty interesting.

There are lots of people thinking about this and my friend is correct when he suggests that this would be a money saver for the health care system. I do not quibble with any of that. It is important that we find a way to deal with those sorts of issues. My friend mentioned that it was raised in the Kirby report. Obviously people from the health care perspective are thinking about this and that is very important.

Where I differ from my friend is with respect to how this should be funded. During his speech my friend mentioned that right now, maternity benefits have been greatly improved. They allow people who have just had a child to spend some time with their new child. I do not think anyone would quibble with that. Everyone wants to see a new mother or father spend some time with their children, especially right after birth. That is a good thing. The question is, how do we fund it?

The reason I do not agree completely with my friend's bill is that I do not think this should be funded out of employment insurance. Employment insurance started out as an insurance program to look after people in the event they lost their jobs through not fault of their own. The premiums would match the payouts and it was pretty simple. Since that time all kinds of new aspects have been added on. The original intent of the program is no longer respected at all in many different ways. I talked about that a little earlier today in the prebudget debate when I said that even the Auditor General said that the intent of the Employment Insurance Act was no longer respected with respect to premiums equalling benefits.

The question is, how do we fund this? The country wants to put money into this. Clearly Gary Mar is talking about this in Alberta. As the population ages and a lot of elderly people at some point in the not too distant future will be facing that last chapter of their lives, how do we address this so that our children have a way to deal with this? I would argue that we should address it through the health care side. That is where we should address it.

The same thing applies, frankly, with respect to maternity benefits. We should not continually ask employers and workers to fund maternity benefits. It should be a separate program. We should make it a social program. We should do the same thing with this issue if that is the will of the provinces and the country. If that is what they want to do, let us hive it off and make it a different program. Let us keep EI for what it was intended. That is what I would rather do.

We could have a big debate about how it is funded. I do not believe we should get away from the original intent of the employment insurance program because it serves us well. The further we get away, the more chance we have of destroying what is a good program. If it were funded through EI then what would we do for people who are self-employed? For example, if a consultant or a farmer has a situation that comes along, that individual would not be eligible for EI benefits. It may make more sense to take that money out of the health care component to fund this.

My friend knows I plan to raise the issue of 52 weeks. He said it might be too long or too short. All I am suggesting is that instead of picking an arbitrary number such as 52 weeks, it may make sense to do some research. First of all it is obvious we need to find out how much this would cost after having gone through the firearms thing. It is important that we nail those facts down so that we know how much we would have to budget.

We should find out for instance what is the average amount of time home care would be needed for palliative care? That should be the figure used rather than an arbitrary 52 weeks.

This issue could be benefited by more study. My friend has mentioned he would like to get it to committee so that it can all be discussed. I do not have a problem with that. We need to have these kinds of discussions. I am not sure if it should be discussed in the human resources committee or perhaps in the health committee. Let us find a way to get it to committee and have some discussion on it.

I will conclude by again congratulating my friend for bringing forward this important issue. It would be one of the most meaningful things in our lives to spend some time with our parents before they pass away and it does not necessarily have to be only parents. We need to find a way to accommodate that. My party strongly believes in family. We must find a way to support families. I know my friend believes in that as well and I applaud him for that.

I would like to wish all my colleagues in the House a Merry Christmas and all the best over the holiday season.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak on this important bill. I must congratulate my colleague from the NDP for having introduced Bill C-206 as well as for having managed to convince the subcommittee on private members' business that it should be votable.

I am a bit constrained by the need for secrecy on the deliberations of that subcommittee, being a member of it. I do want my colleague to know, however, that this bill will be voted on because its subject was found to be highly relevant.

We must point out that, above all else, a Parliament is a forum for individuals of varying backgrounds, varying visions, and varying political ideologies and allegiances.

In the case of the Bloc Quebecois sovereignists, we have a different vision of the relationship that should exist between a sovereign Quebec and the rest of Canada. I believe that this is democracy, and it is within this view of democracy that our two new colleagues were elected in the Monday December 9 byelections in Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay and Berthier—Montcalm.

The reason I have referred to these differences in backgrounds is that the member's bill transcends party lines and political ideologies and allegiances.

When a bill addresses compensation, remuneration for natural caregivers, someone who has had to leave a job in order to look after a sick person, there must be no attempts at partisan politics. Our approach has to be people-centred. In matters such as this, we cannot be technocratic or number-obsessed. We cannot start asking how it will be funded. In this connection, I do have some suggestions as to how it could be financed, but that ought not to be the focus of the debate.

I am convinced that the question we have to answer as parliamentarians—and I am basing this on what I have heard from the colleagues who preceded me—is whether we would be capable of obtaining a unanimous vote in this assembly so that this matter can be settled. I am sure that, with some good will, this bill could be passed.

I have been fortunate in that I have not had to deal with this situation in my own family. I do, however, have friends who have had to leave a job in order to take care of a sick father or mother or some other close relative, or to be with a child with cancer during the child's last days on earth.

It is important to ensure that these people are compensated. This will not cure the sick; it cannot ease the terrible suffering of the caregiver. However, it can, at the very least, ease someone's mind, quiet a concern, and it might allow the caregiver to face the terrible illness of the person under their care with greater peace of mind.

So, this would eliminate all financial worries. Then again, when I say all financial worries, I should say some financial worries, because it is not possible to reimburse all the expenses incurred when someone loses their job.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the lawyers who help us parliamentarians draft bills, because we do not all have a law degree. Fortunately, we have benefited from the assistance of very competent lawyers, although unfortunately there were too few of them. I think that there are plans to increase the number.

The purpose of the bill is to introduce important definitions. Among them, we find “caregiver”. I want to quote subsection 23(1) of the bill:

“caregiver” means a person who leaves employment voluntarily or whose employment is terminated because the person is unable to carry out work or attend work at the times required by the employer by reason of caring for a member of the person's family—

Further on, the word “family” is defined. It says, and I quote:

“family”, with respect to a person, includes

(a) a spouse or common-law partner; and

(b) a child, grandchild, parent—

Most eventualities are covered.

The bill would also allow the person to collect employment insurance benefits. This is found in clause 4 of the bill. It reads:

—no benefit is payable to a major attachment claimant under this section—for more than 52 weeks in total in one or more periods in any two year period.

Finally, another important element of this bill is that it also refers to caring for a person who:

(a) has an impairment as defined in section 118.3 of the Income Tax Act; and

(b) is not an in-patient in a medical facility or a resident of a long term care facility or home.

This refers to situations where people make the decision to live out their final days at home, among their things, in their own bed. I have had the opportunity to visit people—not in my own family—whose families had to literally adapt a room, for example, having a hospital bed. Some diseases, such as bone cancer, are so painful that a normal bed cannot be used. The family must get a special bed.

It is more and more common in our society for people who know they have a terminal illness to say they would like to end their days surrounded by family at home. I think this should be encouraged.

I believe that the surplus in the EI fund—I talked about this with my hon. colleague in charge of the file—is currently around $6 billion. Let us not forget that the Liberal government helped itself to more than $42 billion of the EI fund surpluses. Let no one say that the current regime is unable to take on these new responsibilities and fund these new measures. I think that with the EI fund surplus, we now have enough to compensate these people. That is basically what I wanted to say.

As this is probably my last intervention on a bill, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my colleagues in this House a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2003. I would also like to wish a happy holiday season to those watching. This year, fresh from this bill, I would like us to take a moment to think about those who will be spending the holidays alone, or those who are sick and staying in long term care or in a hospital.

As parliamentarians, let us try to take the time for someone who might not otherwise receive any visitors over the holidays. Evidently, the holiday season is a very difficult time to spend alone. Food for thought.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, it is a delight to speak on this bill introduced by my friend from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, and saying that takes up half my speech time.

It is an extremely important bill. I have noticed, as each person spoke, that he or she had positive comments particularly when starting off, which leads one to believe that there is something here with which everybody agrees.

It is unfortunate that the Liberals immediately put up a red flag, and that is no reflection on the clothes that the hon. member was wearing. However, they always have this way of coming at us, saying, “This is a wonderful idea”. Then we suddenly think, wow, they are believing in something for a change, they have a bit of a vision. Then there are the buts: “but it doesn't fit regulations”; “but it is going to be costly”; “but it is going to take people out of the workforce”, but et cetera.

The crux of the proposal put forward by the member is that his bill is meant to generate talk and discussion. He made it quite clear throughout his discussion that the bill could easily be amended. There may be all kinds of things, whether it be the amount of time or a combination of other ideas that people come up with, but the bottom line to it all is that proper care, kind, considerate family care, can be provided to those who are in need. There is nobody in the House, if they think at all, who can disagree with what has been suggested.

One of the reasons we in opposition, and all of us I guess collectively feel this way, are always given by government is this: “Sorry, it costs money”. What do we do in life these days that does not cost money? And here we are not talking about just any old people. We are talking here about our parents, our loved ones, family individuals who are at the end of their lives. We are not talking about somebody who gets a toothache so we will take a year off of work because that person has had a root canal or something. We are talking about people who are basically on their deathbed. Usually it does not take a long time; however, some people do have very lengthy illnesses.

Some of us have experienced it. By that, I do not mean being at that stage in life but being by the side of people who are in their last days. No one realizes the value of being comforted by someone who that person knows. People who are sick, people who are dying, do not want to end up their last days in an institution where they do not know anybody. Even though they might have all kinds of care, it is not the loving, personal family care given by their relatives. The setting is not the home where these people have lived all their lives.

A person very close to me who is getting very old turned to her family just recently and said, “Please do not put me in a home. Do not put me in a hospital. If I get sick and I die, I want to die in my own home”. We all know there comes a time occasionally when because of the medical needs of an individual the person has to go to the hospital or to some place where the care is such that we would not be able to provide it within the home, but quite often that is the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately from a government perspective, it is becoming a rule rather than the exception.

The government talks about the cost of home care. If anybody looks at the cost of looking after someone in a nursing home, or in a hospital where a person quite often ends up taking a bed from somebody else who needs to get in for short emergency care, simply lying in that bed because there is no other place to put the person, the individual would rather be home. The family would rather have the person home as long as there is somebody there to assist. Who can better do it than the family?

I think it was probably the member from the Alliance Party who mentioned that perhaps we should look at this through the health care sector. There are programs within the health care sector to assist in home care. Unfortunately, one is not allowed to hire anybody from the family or anybody who is closely connected. I guess the reason for this is that it is felt somebody will try to rip off the system. If a person is diagnosed with a certain illness or if in the health care assessments that are being done the person is determined to be eligible for care, then does it matter to the government who looks after the person? It certainly matters to the person who is sick and I think that is what we should be looking at.

Time will run out, and there are so many aspects to this, but let me come back to the premise of the hon. member. I know I am paraphrasing him, but I am putting this idea on the floor for discussion purposes. Let it go to the committee. Let it be analyzed. Let us pick the nuts and bolts apart. But within the bill there is an idea. The idea is that we should be providing for those who have given so much to us, to our country, those who are at death's door, the possibility, within every reason that we can come up with, the possibility of living their last days in peace and happiness with their own people.

Now if in order to be able to do this we have to take present regulations and throw them out the window, what difference does it make? We have to dream. We have to find better ways of doing things. We cannot give bureaucratic answers like “the regulations prevent it”.

The regulations do not prevent it. Madam Speaker, I was a minister in government. When people came to me with that, if the regulations were no good I asked if a new set could be ready for the next cabinet meeting, which might have been a day away. If it is legislation, that is why we are here. We are getting paid to create legislation which is beneficial to the people of Canada.

If we have to take some aspect of the health care regulations and some aspect of the EI regulations and, in certain particulars perhaps, we have the assistance of the private sector that provides time and leave depending on the situation, a combination of factors can create the type of general environment that enables those who want to care for people. As long as it is clearly determined that the care is needed and that it is close to the end, the mechanism should be there. Money or costs should not be the reason for not doing it, because the way we are doing it now is a lot more costly, an analysis would show, than keeping the person in the home even if government subsidizes the caregiver through employment insurance.

Really, bottom line, what is the difference between subsidizing wages through employment insurance or the department of health or the department of fisheries? It is government money collected from the people of this country so that government can provide the services that are needed.

Let us be subjective about this. All of us will see the day, and many of us have already, when our parents and loved ones are on death's door. If we took a poll and asked, “Do you want to see these people cared for and cared for well”, we would not get many noes.

The will should be there to do it. It certainly is on this side of the House. The mechanism is there provided we who make these rules make it possible. Through putting the idea forward on the floor, through the efforts of committee and through a little vision for a change, we could ask if there is a better way. Robert Kennedy once said, “Some people see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not”.

In conclusion, what we should ask is not why or how this can be done. The question is: why can we not do it?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I first want to thank the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore for bringing this issue of great concern to many Canadians to the House. It is such an issue of concern that the Speech from the Throne introduced last September specifically referenced the need to have compassionate care leave. It stated:

The government will also modify existing programs to ensure that Canadians can provide compassionate care for a gravely ill or dying child, parent or spouse without putting their jobs or incomes at risk.

Consultations have already begun on that point. We already know that 56% of caregivers work full time and 12% work part time. Four in ten Canadians say that they have been in the situation where they have had to care for a gravely ill or dying family member and the majority of Canadians, in fact something like 80% of Canadians, support this kind of initiative.

While the member for St. John's West may not like it, the question is which piece of legislation is the best way to do it and how to get there. We on this side will be responsible by ensuring that it is the best legislation and that it covers all kinds of compassionate care which are important to Canadians. He only referenced end of life care. It could be somebody much younger who needs care as well.

Many Canadians are juggling and dealing with the stress of having to deal with their own children who are healthy and their parents. We need to find a solution that is in the interest of all Canadians.

Therefore I am pleased to support the initiative of the member opposite. I share his interest in compassionate family care leave and trust that all members of the House believe in the importance of this issue.

Finally, members have referenced merry Christmas and happy holidays to everybody. I specifically want to thank all the people who work with us in the House and in these complexes for the great job they do. I am sure all of us send a specific set of good wishes to our pages who are writing their first set of university exams. To all young people across Canada, the best of luck. They will get through them and it will be a nice Christmas. Have a good time.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

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

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, on October 9 of this year, a young Chinese student in Burnaby, British Columbia, in my constituency, tragically died. Amanda Zhao was murdered on October 9. For some days afterwards, there was no public notification of her disappearance. Many of my constituents raised concerns about the circumstances of Ms. Zhao's death and, more important, about the way in which the public notification took place in this instance.

Last month I spoke out on behalf of my constituents and raised these concerns directly with the Solicitor General. Last week I raised additional concerns about the importance of seeking the return from China of the person who is now the prime suspect in her murder, her former boyfriend, Mr. Ang Li.

On the issue of the RCMP's handling of the initial complaint, I want to be very clear that the RCMP conducted an extensive internal investigation into the circumstances. It appears that it has acknowledged that there was an internal communications problem. In its words, it said that an internal communications problem occurred in the process of information dissemination, specifically how information was transferred among civilian employees and regular members of the RCMP. Unfortunately, there appeared to have been a breakdown in communication, which led to the delay of a week before the public was notified of the tragic death of Zhao.

However it is important to emphasize that when the RCMP attended to the call around the disappearance of Amanda Zhao, the investigation and the information gathering subsequent to that was first rate.

I understand that the RCMP members involved in the case conducted detailed interviews. They gathered DNA samples from her home. They made a thorough examination of the route that she walked. They immediately obtained security videotapes from the food market where she was heading. They left messages on her e-mail account in the chance that she might be accessing the system after she had disappeared.

I do not want to in any way fault that investigation. I am pleased that the RCMP has indicated that it has taken steps to deal with the communications breakdown, as well as the manner in which it responds to missing persons complaints. There will no longer be an automatic 24 hour delay in those circumstances.

I want to stress the importance of Canada seeking China's full assistance and cooperation in returning Ang Li to Canada to face trial for the murder of Amanda Zhao, assuming that an arrest warrant will be issued in this case. We assume that is the case because the RCMP has issued a sworn statement in an indictment charging Ang Li's cousin and roommate Han Zhang as being an accessory after the fact in Zhao's murder. In that statement, they swore that “Li Ang had murdered Zhao Wei”, the young woman.

I am appealing once again to the government to do the right thing and ensure that he is returned to Canada to face trial for this tragic murder.

It has been a very difficult time for the family. I want to extend my condolences to the family of Amanda Zhao, her friends and her fellow students at the college at which she studied. This was a terrible thing that she had to go through.

I would also note that there have been a number of other murders and attacks on young Asian women. I do not suggest that there is in any way some kind of epidemic here. Indeed the RCMP in the Burnaby detachment has responded to the concerns that have been raised on this point as well, around the number of Asian females who are victims of serious crime. However we do want to emphasize that we want to ensure that justice is done in this case.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the victim in this case for their loss under such very tragic circumstances. My hon. colleague referred to the tragedy that this is and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

I believe the RCMP is in contact with the Chinese consulate regarding its investigation. The RCMP is pursuing this investigation and gathering evidence related to any further charges in this case.

In addition, the RCMP will remain in contact with representatives from the departments of justice in Canada and China, and will call on them for assistance if it deems it appropriate.

As the House knows, the RCMP has arrested one individual in this matter and as this is before the courts it would be inappropriate for me to comment further. In addition, of course, the RCMP is continuing to conduct a criminal investigation into this matter and, as such, again it would be inappropriate for me to comment.

In response to public concerns regarding the handling of phone calls related to the victim's disappearance, this matter has been the subject of an internal review by the RCMP. The results of that review were made public and the RCMP has undertaken action to address the issues of timeliness.

The RCMP in E Division are continuing to keep the public informed of developments where appropriate and have asked the public's help in providing any information via the tip line. Since this matter falls under the responsibility of the solicitor general of British Columbia, any further questions should be directed to his office.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for his response on this and for recognizing the seriousness of the issue.

I really want to pursue one particular area and that is with respect to the question of the importance of Canada seeking the full cooperation of China in the event that an arrest warrant is issued for the arrest of Ang Li, the former boyfriend of Amanda Zhao.

As my friend will know, there is no extradition treaty in place between Canada and China but clearly there have been a number of precedents in similar circumstances for seeking the return of an individual who is charged with an offence to stand trial in Canada.

I would simply ask for his assurance that Canada will make every possible effort to do that in the event that an arrest warrant is issued, in order that he face justice and stand trial in Canada.