Madam Speaker, I am very pleased this afternoon to have an opportunity to speak briefly in support of the bill that is before the House, a bill introduced by my colleague from the federal riding of Churchill, which I might remind all members is the NDP province of Manitoba. I congratulate the member for Churchill for having taken this important initiative to remedy what clearly is an injustice and a sort of double injury to workers who are injured or diseased on the job.
I do not think it is an accident that the member for Churchill has taken this initiative. Not only is she a health care worker who has seen injured and diseased workers being discriminated against in a very particular way, but she also represents a riding that is very heavily dependent upon resource industries.
It is a well-known fact that a great number of workers are injured in the course of doing their jobs in the mining sector for example, and in the forestry sector. I believe the forestry sector has the highest incidence of worker injuries of any economic sector. She of course has seen the amount of hardship that is imposed on people's lives through any discriminatory measures that are inherent in our current public policies. I congratulate her for bringing the concerns forward.
Of course it is self-evident that if there is discrimination economically against individual injured workers and a higher incidence of injury in the workplace in a particular area, then it becomes a matter that has a discriminatory effect economically on the whole community. Therefore, it is first and foremost a bill that attempts to address the negative economic impact, the double penalty in effect, on injured workers for their Canada pension plan benefits to be affected negatively in the future, but it is also an attempt to remedy the fact that there is a discriminatory impact in some cases on particular communities that are dependent upon industries where there is a higher level of workplace injury or disease.
I think members are very clear on the purpose of the bill. It is quite a straightforward, simple remedy that is being proposed here. My colleague from Dartmouth has reminded us that what is being sought by the Churchill member's bill is an amendment to the definition of what constitutes pensionable employment for purposes of determining one's future Canada pension plan benefits. This is really a matter of simple justice. I do not think those of us in this corner of the House like to use the terminology common sense as it conjures up images of the Mike Harris government, but it really is a reasonable measure that is fairly straightforward to deal with a form of discrimination that exists now that rears its ugly head in one's retirement years.
We have a Canada pension plan in the first place, something we should be proud of, something for which the New Democratic Party fought very long and hard in the early years to get into place and continues to fight hard to ensure is maintained at adequate levels so that seniors are lifted out of poverty, but also that it remains in the public domain. This has not been an easy struggle in the current climate.
On the other hand, I think there is reason to be optimistic that we have turned the corner somewhat on a climate over the last 10 years which has constantly eroded the value of our public provisions, like the Canada pension plan.
This pension is in place because it recognizes that all workers should have the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a pension plan that will be in place for them in their senior years.
The reality is that because pensionable income is not now defined to include workers' compensation benefits, we have the situation where workers, first, suffer the penalty of being injured or diseased in the workplace, then second, find themselves unable to have their workers' compensation benefits deemed to be pensionable so that there is the double injury, and then third, when they reach the retirement years, find their pensions are actually lower than they would otherwise have been.
That clearly does not meet the intentions of the Canada pension plan, nor is it simple justice.
I know that several other members who have spoken have taken the opportunity, which is perfectly in order, to raise some concerns about other aspects of our broad income security system, our disability pensions and unemployment insurance provisions, all of which have effectively been under assault by the government in a number of different ways.
I think we need to be clear that with respect to this particular issue we are talking about recognizing that workers who are injured or diseased on the job, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to go to work and therefore the substitute income, which is in place and to which they and their employer have contributed, should be considered pensionable income for calculating the level of their Canada pension plan benefits when they reach their retirement years.
I know the Alliance members never fail to take an opportunity, and in this I guess we can say at least they are consistent. It is as if every single problem that presents itself is best solved by lower taxes.
However I think it is a ridiculous to go down that path when we are talking about dealing specifically with a pan-Canadian Canada pension plan and the very particular way in which workers' compensation income is calculated, or, in this case, fails to be calculated, for the purpose of determining the pension for which they are eligible in their senior years.
It really is a matter of agreeing that there is an important principle: workers should not be discriminated against in their retirement years because they suffered a workplace injury or disease. It is not as though we do not know how to do this.
I appreciate that the Alliance member said that he understood the problem and that he was interested in knowing how it could be solved but that a lot of questions needed to be addressed to solve it. That is fair game. That is part of our jobs as members of Parliament. If we are going to support a particular measure we should know how the matter can be dealt with.
I take the opportunity to say, without hesitation, that one fortunately can look at the Province of Quebec and say that it has already addressed the problem. It is my understanding that the Quebec government, in having availed itself of the opportunity to opt out of the Canada pension plan, has put in place its own Quebec pension plan to address the problem. It recognized the discriminatory element in the current workers' compensation program in every other province and it simply said that there ought to be the opportunity for injured or diseased workers who are on workers' compensation to maintain their level of contributions to the Canada pension plan.
The question was raised by government members as well. How would it be paid for? I am not saying that the way in which the Quebec government is now paying for this is the only way to do it but I think it does show that the Quebec government has recognized the double injury involved and said that through the CSST, basically the health and social security commission, that provision will be made to pay for those benefits. That in turn removes the discriminatory element. Perhaps there are other ways in which it can be done.
Let me reiterate a point that the member for Churchill and every other member who has spoken from the NDP caucus in support of this private member's bill have made, and that is that this is not a simple matter of the federal government legislating a solution.
This is a case of where there is a federal presence in the Canada pension plan. There are provincial workers compensation programs. Clearly, we would have to negotiate the way in which this would be implemented. Quebec has already shown that where there is a will there is a way. There is every reason for the provinces to be receptive to this important improvement in the existing provisions for injured workers who are being discriminated against under the Canada pension plan.
I hope other members will continue to help us address the problem. It is fundamentally a moral issue that has to do with treating all Canadian workers equally.