House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was counsellor.


Business of the House

September 22nd, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 81(14) to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House the Prime Minister should convene and lead a multi-party delegation, including representatives of the industry, to Washington at the earliest possible date to discuss with officials of the Congress and the Government of the United States all possible means to fully reopen the U.S. border to shipments of Canadian livestock.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Perth—Middlesex, is votable.

Copies of the motion are available on the table.

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and to fully support the motion this morning.

The family supplement was brought in to replace the old UI dependency provision and to better target and improve benefits for unemployed parents in low income families.

The EI family supplement provides additional financial support by topping up the basic EI benefit rate. This means that claimants who qualify can receive up to 80% of their insurable earnings instead of the regular 55% level.

Last year's EI monitoring and assessment report found that the family supplement was more effective at targeting benefits to low income families than the old UI approach, but it has also found that the number of EI family supplement recipients is declining.

For example, the report shows that in 2000-01 family supplement claims represented 10.7% of all EI claims. That was down from 11.4% the year earlier.

The average weekly benefit in 2000-01 increased from $254 to $255 but because the number of claimants went down, total payments under the EI family supplement declined by 2.3%, to $157.4 million. No doubt some of this reduction is due to the good economy and the fact that more people are working. However we must continue to ensure that all families living in low income situations can benefit from this important supplement.

For example, when we look at the experience of the national child benefit supplement we see the number of children qualifying as living in low income families, as defined by the Canada child tax benefit, is going up.

Data presented in last year`s national child benefit progress report showed that the number of children receiving the NCB supplement because they live in low income under the Canada child tax benefit criteria actually went up by over 90,000 in 2000-01.

In other words, according the national child benefit supplement criteria, many more children were living in low income circumstances during the same period that fewer families were qualifying for support under the EI family supplement.

This apparent disconnect raises a number of questions.

Is the difference occurring because the qualifying income level for the NCB supplement is indexed but the EI family supplement is not?

Is the EI threshold income level that was set in 1996 too low?

Does it mean that families who need extra help from the EI family supplement no longer qualify?

Or, is the EI family supplement still meeting the needs of those it was designed to meet in 1996?

The EI family supplement is an integral element of the overall EI system. Granted, we must also look at any proposals for change in terms of their impact on the rest of the system.

For example, there is the question of how to index the family supplement. The motion proposes that this be done by linking it to the cost of living, which I believe is a very reasonable solution to ensure that all Canadian families and their children in low income situations can benefit from the temporary support of this important supplement if a member of the family suffers a job loss through no fault of their own.

However I am certain that these questions will be resolved once a bill is presented. This motion represents a first step to seek all parliamentarians' support on this important issue.

The government has a long track record of support for women. Doubling EI parental leave from six months to a year helps a lot of working women. Eighty-eight per cent of parent benefit claims in 2001-02 were women, for example.

EI reform in 1996 introduced provisions that better reflected the changing labour market and recognized that working families and, in particular, women who work part time, contribute enormously to Canadian society and the labour force. Employment growth for women continues to rise. Over 80% of women between 24 and 54 years of age were in the labour force in 2002, and women's unemployment rate has consistently stayed below that of men.

Clearly, claimants with children who work part time, possibly in lower paying jobs, and are eligible for EI may only have limited income, and that is why the family supplement is there. It only make sense that it, like the Canadian child tax benefit, should be indexed to inflation.

Old age security benefits and Canada pension plan benefits are indexed and, thankfully, this helps our seniors. The family supplement should also be indexed.

I thank the member for Ahuntsic for bringing this motion forward and for giving us the opportunity to examine the family supplement to better support working families with children.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Canadian Alliance Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this topic today. It is my first opportunity to speak to a topic pertaining to my new portfolio as chief critic of HRDC. It is pleasing to have the chance to show our support for this resolution and to thank the member for bringing it forward.

We in the Canadian Alliance believe very strongly that the programs we offer through HRDC are important ones. They offer support to those citizens who are less fortunate, those who have been placed in a situation where they and their families are dependent on these programs for support, although we hope temporarily. However that remains a significant problem today in Canada as unemployment rates are on the increase and as, unfortunately, a growing number of families find themselves needing to use these programs to sustain some reasonable level of income and standard of living for themselves and their children.

What the motion is designed to do, as was mentioned by the previous speaker, is index the family supplement to the cost of living in the next federal budget. Though we are curious as to why this should not be done on a regular basis, on a statutory basis, we do support the intent of the motion. It is in keeping with the recommendations the member has made but, more important, from my standpoint it is in keeping with Canadian Alliance policies as to fair taxation and the fair structuring of benefits that will support families.

Right now the family supplement is paid to EI recipients who are in low income families. That means families making less than $25,921, families with children and those who receive the child tax benefit.

Canadians may not be aware of this but recipients of the family supplement have an EI benefit rate of 80% of their insurable earnings instead of the 55% that most claimants are paid. Persons receiving the family supplement are subject to a maximum weekly benefit of $413, as are all other claimants.

That being said, according to the 2001 monitoring assessment report, about 11% of all EI claims receive higher weekly benefits because of the family supplement. With the family supplement not being indexed to inflation, we are eroding those recipients' ability to support their families and themselves at the level that they previously could. Obviously this is sort of similar to the old bracket creep problem that we had under this government for many years whereby people were thrust into higher income tax situations even though their purchasing power was not going up.

It is logical and it seems fair that we take into account the impact of reduced purchasing power on a level dollar for Canadian families and that we index according to the levels that the member has recommended in her proposal.

I will cite some statistics here. In 2000-01 the number of claims that included the family supplement declined by 4% and total payments declined by 2.3% over the previous reporting period, but the fact remains that most other federal programs, their requirements, their payments, are already indexed to inflation, including the child tax benefit.

What the member is proposing is not a costly proposal. We believe it would direct around $7 million for the first full fiscal year of implementation to those in Canada who are most in need. When one considers that in the context of the current situation with regard to EI, particularly since the previous finance minister took away the arm's length rate setting mechanisms for EI, we have a situation where working Canadians and employers are being asked to submit billions of dollars more than is necessary to sustain the EI program. We are taking money away from some of the working poor, particularly the lower income people who suffer as a consequence of higher EI premiums. Yet, under the previous finance minister, we removed the arm's length mechanisms for setting those rates and gave them to the political masters of our country.

What they have done is maintained a higher than necessary rate for working Canadian men and women and for employers. It is a shell game. It takes billions of dollars more out of the pockets of working people, puts it in the hands of the government, which it can use it out of general revenue for anything it wishes. I would suggest this slush fund is a worthwhile place from which to take $7 million. It is a worthwhile place and a very defensible way in which to use the money that has been taken from these people, many of whom were paying into the EI program for years before needing these benefits. This is a worthwhile reciprocation of the trust they showed in the program when they paid into it to now offer them fair compensation based on and reflective of the rate of inflation.

Just to use an example, in 2002 and 2003 the total cost for the EI program, that is the expenditures under it, were estimated to be about $16.6 billion and total revenues were $19.6 billion. Therefore it follows that there was a surplus in that year alone of $3 billion. The accumulated surplus in the EI account projected for this fiscal year end is an unbelievable $45.6 billion.

We all understand there needs to be a reserve for higher unemployment demands that may occur, in particular under the management of this government it is necessary to have a reserve in that account, but the Chief Actuary of Canada says that a sufficient reserve would be in the area of $10 billion to $15 billion.

What about the other $30 billion or $35 billion that has been taken from working people across Canada on the basis that it would be required for EI program expenditures? That is not the case nor has it been the case for years. The reality is that for 2003-04 the finance minister has projected that $2.5 billion will come out of working Canadians' pockets to be given to the government.

This is a $7 million proposal and a very good one. Based on the context of our policies, which require that the taxation system and the benefit structures of the country be fair, we believe this is a very good proposal with a tremendous amount of merit and we support it.

Just to conclude I would like to allude briefly to some other issues that we will be advancing that we think are critical regarding EI in a broader context. We in the Alliance believe that the premiums for EI should be set by an independent commission, not by the politicians in the country, and they should be based on the recommendations of the Chief Actuary. The Chief Actuary's recommendations have been ignored by the previous finance minister and, as a result, to his advantage, I suppose, strategically some might say, he has built this giant slush fund that makes him look good, but at what price to Canadian working people?

Second, we would want to see a separate hard reserve established that would ensure the payment of benefits in difficult times.

Third, employer premiums should be experience rated so that employers who have a record of fewer layoffs than other employers in the same sector would pay lower premiums.

Finally, we believe that the frequency of maternity leave and sickness leave will not affect employer premiums.

We think those are compassionate proposals. We believe they will help the most deserving and the most needy among our population. We believe they are constructive and, in the context of today's discussion and this proposal, as one aspect of these larger proposals, we ask other members of the House to support the Canadian Alliance and support the member's resolution. We believe this will be well received by the Canadian people.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak this morning in the debate on Motion No.395 brought forward by my hon. colleague for Ahuntsic. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should index the family supplement to the cost of living in the next Federal Budget.

First, I will remind the House and our listeners that last spring, in a previous hour of debate on this motion, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay clearly expressed the position of the Bloc Quebecois, which I shall summarize.

The Bloc Quebecois supports Motion M-395. As my party's critic on this subject, I have recommended that my colleagues vote in favour of this motion, as did my hon. colleague for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay in the spring when he replaced me on this issue during my long absence.

I should like to take this opportunity, if I may, to express my special thanks to the hon. members for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay and for Laurentides, who shared my duties in addition to their own heavy workloads.

Getting back to the motion and the Bloc Quebecois position on it, the members of the Bloc should vote in favour of this motion, because it is important that all the various programs which support families be indexed to the cost of living.

Clearly, if the amount of money destined for families is not indexed to the cost of living, some families will become poorer.

It is also important to remember that the family supplement is paid to low-income families. Most of our fellow citizens would agree that these families suffer the most from cost of living increases. Indexing the family supplement should be an obvious step.

The Bloc Quebecois still has reservations, however, about some of the measures affected by the motion. For example, several aspects of the family supplement, a federal program, unfortunately infringe on Quebec's jurisdiction.

That is why Quebec has obtained a right to opt out with financial compensation with respect to some of these programs.

And if this motion were to be taken up in the next budget, I would ask the hon. member for Ahuntsic to be particularly vigilant to ensure that her government also transfers an amount equivalent to the cost of living indexing on amounts transferred to Quebec under the agreement on the right to opt out with financial compensation.

Finally, the Bloc Quebecois would have liked the motion for cost of living indexing to go beyond the next federal budget and for this provision to be added to family supplement legislation to make indexing automatic.

Let us look at the list of programs that, at first glance, could be affected by this motion.

There is the Canada Child Tax Benefit, with two types of benefits going directly to families: the National Child Benefit and the Child Disability Benefit.

In the case of the National Child Benefit, the Government of Quebec signed an agreement with the federal government giving it the right to opt out with compensation for this benefit. The Government of Quebec pays the benefit rather than the federal government.

The Child Disability Benefit is a new program that came into effect in July 2003. The federal government says that it will work together with the provinces and territories to implement this program. We hope the government will keep this promise and uphold the jurisdictions of each level of government.

The Early Childhood Development Initiative is another type of program. This initiative is based on the September 2000 agreement promising Quebec it could opt out with compensation.

First, there are early learning programs, which are also available to first nations children on reserves.

The Early Childhood Development Initiative includes daycare programs. Discussions are underway with Quebec, among others, to reach an agreement on this. Once they are finalized, the provisions relating to Quebec and first nations children on reserves will be made public.

Given that Quebec and the provinces have jurisdiction over early childhood development—since it is essentially the foundation for education—this is consequently and unquestionably an area over which Quebec, the provinces and the territories have jurisdiction. The federal government must therefore conclude agreements so as not to infringe on jurisdictions that are not its own.

There is a third type of program, which is the child-centred family justice strategy. This totally new program is being administered by the Minister of Justice. Its primary aim is to assist children during the separation or divorce of their parents. This is therefore a program which falls fully under federal jurisdiction, and we recognize this.

Finally, I want to thank the hon. member for Ahuntsic for moving this motion in the House, and I want to express two wishes. First, I hope that the future prime minister of Canada will be as sensitive to the needs of young children and their families—primarily those most in need—as he is with regard to the rich, tax havens and major businesses that have given him the millions of dollars required to buy him the position he has long coveted. His sensitivity must be followed by action in the next budget, since the current Minister of Finance has stated that the prime minister's guidance is essential to drafting a budget. This explains the government's current inability to make any budget-related decisions.

My second wish directly relates to the responsibility of the hon. member. Since she represents a Quebec riding, she is, to a certain extent, morally and socially responsible for representing the consensus of Quebeckers. Therefore, she must ensure—and I hope that she will re-read my speech since she is doing something else while I talk—that the federal government signs agreements with the Quebec government guaranteeing that its jurisdiction will be respected and that it can opt out with financial compensation as it wishes and as promised.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to enter some remarks on this motion on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The motion is indeed immensely flexible and is moderate in nature. I think it is a motion that all members of the House should be very comfortable in supporting.

The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should index the family supplement to the cost of living in the next Federal Budget.

One could even argue that this should be done in all future budgets to ensure that the intent and the value of this particular supplement is there for Canadians in the way in which it was designed in the first place.

Members likely are aware that some EI claimants with children can get more money because of the family supplement. Employment insurance's family supplement provides additional benefits to low income families with children by providing them, in some cases, with up to 80% of their weekly earnings instead of the usual 55% of earnings for most recipients. The amount of the family supplement depends on family income and the number and ages of the children in the family. In 1999 and in 2000, the last year for which we have statistics on this particular program, 195,000 families received the family supplement.

To be eligible, an individual, spouse or common law partner must receive the Canada child tax benefit and the annual family income must not be more than $25,921. That is a very paltry amount of money. The intent of this program really is to try to help those low income families who indeed need a hand up. To ensure the effectiveness of the program, it seems only logical that the supplement be indexed to the cost of living. Otherwise, the families are not receiving the full benefit of the program.

The motion calls upon the government to review this essential program by indexing the family supplement to the cost of living. As the mover of the motion pointed out, it has been six years since the family supplement was established and it would seem only reasonable that a review be performed to determine whether changes like the introduction of indexing are in fact required.

The program targets individuals in need. It is geared primarily to women and children in low income families. I will point out the issue with respect to women, if I may. Figures from 2001 and 2002 indicate that $175 million was paid in family supplement benefits to a total of approximately 187,000 recipients, of which 134,000 were women. It is a point of fact that 16% of Canadians are one parent families. This initiative really does speak to the progressive nature of the country, if I dare say it, the progressive and liberal nature of the country, to ensure that we give those individuals a hand up where it is indeed needed. Families that are already in desperate situations with one or both parents out of work and collecting employment insurance need this extra benefit.

The motion asks the government to index the family supplement to the inflation level. I support the motion on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada because if we examine family incomes we see that the income ceiling for receiving the family supplement has been frozen at $26,000 for over the last six years since its inception in 1996. Inflation is eating away at the family supplement. Unless we index it, we are taking away from the maximum assistance the program could be providing. Inflation erodes support payments, which have not changed in nominal terms. I think every party that supported this initiative at second reading should indeed go down that track as we move forward at this stage of the debate in this process.

I would like to add that there are some other initiatives the Government of Canada should be using, which would really follow and dovetail with the efforts of the hon. member who has moved this very constructive motion. I believe we should increase the basic personal exemption in order to take these individuals, those Canadians earning the lowest incomes, off the tax rolls altogether.

In our platform, which we tabled before Canadians in November 2000, we advocated that the basic personal exemption be raised to $12,000. That would ensure that not a nickel, not a dollar of tax, would be collected from a family earning $24,000. Even in a one parent family situation, the equivalent of spouse could be claimed. That would be the threshold at which it would begin.

In the debate on the motion we are discussing now, it could possibly become irrelevant from that one initiative but it is possible for us to dovetail the efforts in that regard.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, since its Quebec policy conference in Quebec City in 2000, has been advocating that the Government of Canada endure a very rigorous process of Canadian social audit. The intent of that process is we would have a social auditor who would work in the same way the Auditor General does and who would collect the inventory of our social programs to assist Canadians and ensure we get the outcomes that we seek. This could be done in a very constructive way.

To the member who moved the motion, if that social auditor were in place already, the issue pertaining to inflation, of indexing the family supplement to the inflation rate, may have already been done. Therefore, this is a process that we should continue to pursue for another day, the process of ensuring we provide the financial needs for families and our young. We know the more we invest in our young people at earlier ages to ensure they are healthy and educated is an immense social benefit for our society. Beyond that, it is just the right thing to do from a moral perspective as well.

Ensuring the best possible development opportunities for children and young people is not only the right thing to do but it makes sense for the social and economic future of this great country.

I am pleased to support the motion. I hope the government will act quickly upon it. I must take the opportunity to ask the government to do more to help Canadians who need it and above all, I compliment the member for moving the motion in the first place.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, like those who have already spoken in this debate, I too am very pleased that we have this proposition before us today. I want to add my congratulations to the member for Ahuntsic for the initiative in introducing the motion to the House.

At the outset, I want to indicate my support for the motion and echo the words of members of all sides of the House in urging the House to adopt the motion as quickly as possible.

This is pretty basic to what we are all about in this place. We are talking about indexation of a benefit that helps families in times of unemployment. We are talking about the policy that should have been part of the government's initial proposition, its initial program revamping back in 1996. Its absence was clearly either an oversight or an indication of the government's lack of commitment to address the needs of low income families and particularly the needs of women in our society today.

I was particularly excited about the fact that so many members in the House today are recognizing and addressing this issue from the point of view that most of the beneficiaries of this family supplement, of this program, are women. They make up the bulk of the low wage workforce in Canada today.

I want to indicate my support and suggest that this debate be not only a time to agree with the motion but also be a time to look at the broad range of issues facing women in the newly revamped EI program today.

As others have said, the family supplement was introduced back in 1996 as part of some extremely controversial changes to the EI program, some changes that we have taken great exception to in the House. Many would say that the family supplement was simply a sop to those who were hurt by those changes and it was a way to make some otherwise very egregious changes to the program more palatable.

Having said that, and notwithstanding the motivations around this aspect of the EI program, we must all recognize of course that it does add important income support to low income EI recipients. There is no question about that. In terms of the roughly 183,000 people who are affected by this program, this helps top up the income and takes them from about 55% of job income to about 80%, so it is important.

However the fact of the matter is that today, just as it was the day it was introduced, to qualify total family incomes must be under $25,921. The critical issue here today is the fact that there has been no indexation to reflect cost of living, the fact that more and more families are losing out on the benefit because of the absence of an indexation policy.

Let us be clear. The family benefit supplement does not replace an adequate, full employment strategy. The family benefit does not compensate for the inadequate basic level of employment insurance. What it does do, and this has been outlined in the 2001-02 monitoring and assessment report issued in March of this past year, is raise the weekly EI benefit income to over 187,000 recipients, three-quarters of whom are women. It is important to recognize that this program is of specific importance to women who make up the bulk of Canada's low wage earners.

I want to reiterate the fact that this is a self-evident proposition, if we look at the fact that indexation is a part of so many other programs. It has been recognized as an absolute necessity for programs that support Canadians in terms of income and economic security. The Canada pension plan, guaranteed income supplement, child tax benefit, to name a few, are indexed to the cost of living.

The report to which I just referred, which was issued in March of this year, shows the negative impact that the lack of indexing is having. I want to quote from that report. It states:

--the proportion of beneficiaries receiving the Family Supplement declined from 10.7% to 9.7%, which is attributable to family income increasing while the Family Supplement threshold remains fixed at $25,921.

Specifically, if we look at it relating to EI maternity and parental benefits, 22% of maternity recipients and 21% of parental recipients receive the family supplement. That means, taking this report into account, in 2001-02 the number of those receiving maternity benefits together with the family supplement declined by 0.7% and those receiving parental benefits declined by 1.1%.

This has to be taken into account. The decline can be traced to family income increasing while the family supplement thresholds remains fixed. The fact that the family supplement was not indexed from the beginning is indicative of the government's half-hearted attitude toward employment insurance and its reluctance to make changes that are meaningful to low income Canadians, particularly women in low wage, part time and irregular work situations.

That brings me to my final point as part of this debate, which is the failure of the employment insurance system to meet the needs of women today. The indexation issue is an important one. We would hope the government would act on it immediately, but the indexation of benefits is a moot point to those many working Canadians who do not qualify for benefits at all. Only 38% of unemployed workers qualify for benefits from the program supposedly established for their benefit.

I want to reference again a recent study by the Canadian Labour Congress earlier this month which showed that the government's changes to the employment insurance system actually increased women's disadvantage. The gender gap between women and men receiving benefits has almost doubled. A status of women study earlier this year shows that the EI system has failed to adequately protect the growing number of women in part time and irregular or non-traditional employment situations. We only have to look as far as the Kelly Lesiuk case for members to appreciate the significance of this point. Kelly Lesiuk is the mother from Winnipeg who was working part time and had to take time off to look after a newborn child who was born earlier than expected. The government refused to allow her to collect employment insurance to help her through that time. Why? Because she was short a few hours, even though she had shown a clear attachment to the labour force over a period of time.

EI income support is becoming more critical as unemployment is again rising under this government with no sign of it on the government's agenda of the new, soon to be announced leader of the government. Certainly it is not among the priorities listed, as we heard this week, in the former finance minister's speech.

New Democrats in the House will be on the government's case, the government under the former finance minister, about this issue, just as we have pressed his predecessor and the former finance minister when he was directing fiscal policy.

Finally, let us not forget that it was under the direction of the bride to be that the EI fund built up most of its $40 billion surplus to the neglect of those excluded from coverage or those who needed training to stay in the employment game. Let us be clear about that. Let us get on with this indexation motion and work to ensure that our EI system is of benefit to all Canadians, particularly women who desperately try to juggle work and family responsibilities and who have been ignored so much by the government.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too am thrilled, as are all other members of the House, to speak in favour of the motion put forward by the member for Ahuntsic. The government has done some terrific things in terms of supporting families and making meaningful changes, and as one member has already mentioned more can be done. We need to continue to look at these things.

The indexing of benefits and tax rates was stopped a number of years ago based on a low inflation rate, and that was an accomplishment. However, over a period of time it had a devastating effect on families and individuals. Thankfully, that was changed in the most recent budget, but these benefits have not been changed. The member for Ahuntsic has done a good job in bringing forth this issue.

This kind of benefit is a meaningful difference for families who need our help. There is a reason for government to support families and people in difficult times. We want to ensure that they have the possibility of getting into meaningful employment.

I am sure the member for Ahuntsic, as most members, finds it difficult dealing with families who are in a period of difficulty, families who are struggling after the loss of a job, and dealing with creditors, hydro and telephone companies, all wanting their payments. My office, and I am sure the offices of other members, spends far too much time trying to help people out because they are in such difficulties. This benefit was brought in to support families and to ensure there is still food on the table. This is something that I fully support.

As the member mentioned, this benefit is something that the government introduced following extensive consultations right across the country after we took office in 1993. However the discussions were somewhat contentious. Many of our offices were inundated by people who did not support the change and thought the old system worked best. We are now seeing, however, that benefits like this are making a difference, and I know the current minister definitely supports this kind of initiative for families.

Only one spouse in the family can receive the family benefit at one time. This has been effective at targeting low income families who are dependent on this provision under EI. Low income families with children whose annual income is less than $26,000 are already struggling in this country. This is an important opportunity for them to get this supplement as well as the Canada child tax benefit which has done an amazing job in lifting a number of children out of poverty. As the member for the New Democratic Party has identified, this is an area where we could do a better job.

The EI monitoring and assessment report for 2002 indicated that the family supplement was effective and was responding as it was designed to do. The benefits in 2001-02 amounted to $176 million with 187,000 low income people receiving them. That is a significant number of Canadians who needed our support. Approximately 10% of all EI recipients are receiving a higher benefit because of this family supplement, and hopefully, with the support of the House for the motion put forward by the member for Ahuntsic, those families will receive a better benefit.

Obviously, we want more people to be working and not depending on EI. However, for those who are in need, that is the role of the government. We must support people in their time of need and help them get to the next job. We must help their families and their children in particular.

This EI monitoring has shown that benefits for families receiving the family supplement are 38% higher than they were under the old system. For all the people who opposed the changes, that is the proof that the benefit is an important benefit and that the system is working. There is no argument that the family supplement works. With the member for Ahuntsic's motion, it will work even better and help those people.

The benefit has been frozen since 1996. Inflation and salary increases have eroded the number of eligible recipients. It is not the tradition of the government to sit by and not take steps to adjust programs when improvements can be made and when those improvements will make a significant difference in families' lives.

We have witnessed such measures as adjusting the EI programs to take into account small weeks of earnings, eliminating the intensity rule, modifying the clawback provisions, and repealing the undeclared earnings rule. These are important steps that have made a difference the life of every Canadian and particularly in the life of every child.

Certainly, the member has demonstrated, as have other members of the House, the merits of this proposal. It particularly benefits low income women and children who, sadly, are two-thirds of low income Canadians in this country. We do not want anyone to have to be in that particular position. However, it is clear that women and children are the majority of poor Canadians. We must do more to get them job ready and support them in their time of need.

The family supplement is an important part of our government's effort to alleviate poverty. It complements the federal contributions to many provincial programs aimed at diminishing poverty. I know that is something that is certainly important in my province as we are in an election period. We must be able to support families in need.

The member for Ahuntsic has done a good job in her motion. I fully support her. All colleagues on this side of the House and most colleagues on the other side of the House have also demonstrated their support in this debate.

We are able to see and Canadians can be proud that parliamentarians are getting together and working on progressive ideas and supporting each other to make a difference for all Canadians.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the motion brought forward by the member for Ahuntsic. It is well timed and well received by the House. We are certainly going to support it.

It gives me great pleasure to address Motion No. 395 in regard to indexing of the family supplement. Motion No. 395 represents everything that the government stands for. It represents our firm belief in supporting children and families. It represents our commitment to providing financial support to those in need and it represents the government's effort to ensure a fair society.

These claims are not an idle boast. Since forming the government in 1993, there have been a number of measures on a number of fronts that have improved the lives of families and children. In 2002-03 alone federal investment and child benefits through the national child benefit and the Canada child tax benefit amounted to $8.2 billion. Approximately $5.9 billion of this sum went to low income families.

The Canada child tax benefit is already indexed to inflation. This indexing indicates that the government is not adverse to the idea presented in Motion No. 395 with respect to the family supplement. Budget 2003 also reflected that support to children and families as a fundamental plank in the government's program. The budget increased the national child benefits supplement to $965 million a year by 2007, and committed $900 million over five years to improve early learning and child care programs and services.

Employment insurance also plays a major role in providing families with low income support in their time of need whether it is owing to job loss, sickness or temporary maternity or parental leave from work. The current employment insurance program is a reflection of the government's willingness to take action to keep government programs and services in tune with the current needs of Canadians.

When the government replaced unemployment insurance with employment insurance, after extensive consultation with citizens, it committed to monitor and assess the new program to ensure that it kept abreast of the changing needs. That is precisely what we are doing now in discussing this motion on indexing the family supplement.

The family supplement was implemented as part of the major 1996 reform. It replaced the UI dependency provision and was designed to provide more targeted support to unemployed low income families. Under the previous legislation, eligibility was based solely on the income of the claimant and not total family income or the earnings of the spouse.

The EI family supplement, however, is based on family income. Only one spouse in a family can receive the family supplement at a given time. This method has been proven by the EI monitoring and assessment report to be a more effective targeting to low income households than the dependency provision under UI.

The family supplement tops up the benefits to employment insurance claimants in low income families with children whose annual family income is less than $25,921, thus providing these families with added support.

As well, for those who receive the family supplement, the employment insurance benefit rate is 80% of insurable earnings compared with the regular rate of 55%. Recipients of the family supplement also receive the Canada child tax benefit. The 2002 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report indicated that the family supplement was effective and was responding as it was designed to do.

The 2001-02 family supplement benefits amounted to $176 million. The number of low income people receiving them was 187,000. This translates into 10% of all employment insurance recipients receiving a higher benefit as a result of the family supplement.

Indeed, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes, and as a result of the introduction of this reform, benefits for families receiving the family supplement are 38% higher than they were under the old system prior to 1996.

There is no argument that the family supplement works. The question then is, is it working as effectively as it might? The income ceiling for receiving the family supplement has been frozen at $25,921 since 1996. In the intervening years, inflation and salary increases have eroded the number of recipients eligible for this benefit.

Let me close by congratulating the member for Ahuntsic for bringing forward this motion. I know it will receive broad support. Certainly the people of Haliburton—Victoria—Brock support it 100%.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to start by thanking all my colleagues who participated in the second hour of this debate, especially the member for Beaches—East York and the members for Portage—Lisgar, Rimouski-Neigette-et-la Mitis, Fundy—Royal and Winnipeg North Centre. I thank them for their support.

It is fitting that we discuss this issue today, six years later, and that we address what is happening with the EI Family Supplement. I agree to a certain extent with all the recommendations of my three colleagues, who made suggestions to improve our system. One of the recommendations that I find very attractive—and I think should be reviewed by the government—is the one that we lower taxes for low-income families.

I think the suggestion from the hon. member for Fundy—Royal that we should in fact re-examine where we draw the poverty line in this country is a very important recommendation. When I began this process, the member for Portage—Lisgar asked why it was necessary to bring forward this motion. It was necessary because after a few attempts at having it become part of the budget process and also part of the budget on the government side--and I am a member of the government, of course--I was unsuccessful. I felt it was an important enough issue, as based on everything we have heard today, that I should bring forward this motion to draw attention to the fact that it has not been done.

In the present context of having a surplus and having taken care of the deficit and the debt in this country, I believe we should be looking at ways of improving the situation of low income families. In my opinion, this is just one step in a series of other steps that have been taken by the government in order to ensure that low income families in fact have enough money to be able to live decently in this country.

I do not want to repeat a lot of what was said during the debate, but I again would like to make it clear that in 2000 and 2001, the most recent statistics show that $157.4 million was paid out in family supplement benefits. In addition to the regular employment insurance benefit, low income recipients with children received on average an additional $44 per week. According to the 2001 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report, nearly 11% of all EI claimants received higher weekly benefits through the family supplement.

Again, as other colleagues have said, women and youth benefit especially from the family supplement. Approximately two-thirds of recipients are women and 14% are youth. Women also accounted for 88% of the growth in family supplement top-ups paid to sickness benefits claimants.

I just gave the House an example of a situation concerning the family supplement that shows its obvious advantages for low-income families. It is a good program and I believe the support I received from all my colleagues from both sides of the house shows there is a need for this change. The members may wonder why we are asking for this again. As I already said, there is an obvious need.

The commitment to do more has to be our commitment in this place. We came here to do more and to do better for low income families and for children and women. We should keep what I consider our tradition and our promise on the government side: that we will do everything possible, especially in this time where we do have a surplus in terms of the budget, to make sure that the ceiling for receiving the family supplement is not frozen. It has been frozen since 1996 at $25,921.

I would like to close by first of all thanking all the hon. members who took part in this debate and also those who seconded the motion, the members for Beaches—East York, Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, Vancouver East, and St. John's West. I wish to thank everyone who took part in this debate. I want to thank them for their support and for the fact that they seconded the motion.

And since, as Acting Speaker, I do not often have the opportunity to do so, I would like to thank my constituents, who gave me the honour and privilege of representing them here in the House of Commons.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 12:05 p.m., the period set aside for debate on Motion No. 395 has expired.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


An hon. member


Family SupplementPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we move on to the debate under government orders, I would like to make a statement and draw the attention of all the members to an important issue.

Members should note that since the adoption on September 19, 2003, of the fourth report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, the length of speeches at second and third reading of government bills has changed.

Essentially, the length of speeches for the first three speakers has changed. Instead of 40 minutes, the first member of each recognized party will have 20 minutes and the speeches may be the subject of questions and comments for a period of 10 minutes.

The first round of speeches will be followed by the usual five hours of debate of 20 minute speeches, followed by a 10 minute question and comment period. As in the past, after this period of five hours, the speeches will be of 10 minutes maximum.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other acts in consequence be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to third reading of Bill C-34, the bill to establish an independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament.

The bill implements all—and I do mean all—of the recommendations the Procedure and House Affairs Committee made to a draft bill that was tabled last October.

When the committee reported the bill on June 11 of this year, it did not propose any amendments, or at least not the second time.

The government has accepted the House committee's recommendation to make the appointment process subject to consultation with other party leaders--I think that was a very good amendment and we agreed with it--and of course the approval of the appointment process by a resolution of the House. This is essentially the same now as what we have for all officers of the House and that is the formula we have accepted in the House modernization committee. All parties have agreed to the formula.

We just had the fourth modernization committee report last week. By unanimity we have made a number of improvements to the House rules. Of course at the time we had not addressed this particular position because it did not exist, but now this position will be subject to rules that are very similar to what we have adopted unanimously.

I want to the thank the chair and the members of the committee for their excellent work on this issue. I also want to thank the Senate committee that studied the draft bill. It recommended, as we know, a separate Senate ethics officer. That is certainly appropriate as well. There are a number of officers of Parliament common to both Houses, but there are also a number of officers of Parliament that are distinct in each House. An example, of course, is those who serve at the table in this House, such as the sergeant-at-arms, the clerk and others. They are distinct in each House. That is certainly another model which is very acceptable and we agreed with the Senate committee's recommendation.

That being said, it means we have accepted all recommendations that have come from the House and the recommendation that came from the Senate as well about having a separate Senate ethics officer as it pertains to someone distinct from the official appointed to deal with this side.

In light of these recommendations, all of which we passed at the draft stage, and in light as well of the fact that the parliamentary committee did not make any recommendations for amendments when the formal version was referred to it, and particularly in light of the years of work that have gone into this, I feel it is high time to move on and pass the bill.

Mr. Speaker, I recall our days in opposition, a very long time ago. We examined some initiatives of this type at that time. Conservative MP Donald Blenkarn, who has not been in the House for the past ten years—so it was before he retired, a pretty long time ago now—had presented a report recommending creation of this position. I was a member of the parliamentary committee at that time. The co-chair was Senator Donald Oliver. After we did all that work, the present Speaker of this House also carried out a study, when he was the head of a parliamentary committee.

Today we are at last seeing the culmination of the efforts of all members and senators who have worked on the creation of an ethics commissioner position.

I congratulate all members on their work on this issue and recommend this bill to the House. I wish to thank in advance all those members who will work on implementation of the code, which is nearly complete, from what I hear in committee. I am certain we will have those tools in hand in the very near future. Once again, my thanks to all hon. members who have worked on this over the years. They will, I am sure, all be pleased and proud that it will be available to us from now on.

Now that amendments have been proposed and everything is done, I recommend that all members, regardless of party affiliation—I know that at least three parties voted in favour of the bill at report stage—rally round this bill in order to create this position with the support of all members of this House. That is what I recommend, anyway. In future, of course, a candidate will be proposed for the position, and at that time we will have the procedure in place to create our own ethics commissioner, appointed by this House, for this House.

In the meantime, I thank members in advance for the support they will be giving to this bill.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pose a couple of specific questions to the government House leader, particularly as they relate to the appointment of the ethics commissioner. The government is saying that this is a fulfillment of its promise, way back in the first red book, of an independent ethics commissioner, something that government members themselves voted against when the Alliance introduced this motion.

We on this side of the House have some concerns with respect to the appointment of this person. We do not see it being an independent ethics commissioner, particularly as it relates to the consultation that is to take place. Therefore, I would like the government House leader to specify the type of consultation that will take place with the Prime Minister and the other leaders.

Specifically, if the Prime Minister puts forward a name and the Leader of the Opposition disagrees with that name, what then is the process? Will the government House leader answer that question? He knows that it then is a majority vote in the House of Commons to approve the independent ethics commissioner, that is, apparently independent but obviously not. If the Leader of the Opposition disagrees with the name put forward by the Prime Minister, what then is the process? And will the Prime Minister then withdraw the name?

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that we are talking about a process that his House leader and all the other House leaders and I have developed and have adopted unanimously. He said that he was not sure that this is sufficiently independent. We have voted. The hon. member says it is not true. I beg to differ. I would beg him to find the report of the first modernization committee. That report was adopted unanimously in committee and it was adopted unanimously by the House.

Standing Order 111 gives effect to that particular provision. Almost word for word his House leader and I wrote that provision.

How it came about was for the appointment process of Dr. Dyane Adam, the Commissioner of Official Languages. We had a process before. Opposition members were asking how they could consult for this. It was a couple of House leaders removed, the member for Langley--Abbotsford is actually the person in committee who said “Why do we not hear who you propose and we will bring the person to committee. We will quiz the individual and we will see whether we can support that individual and then you can submit the candidate to the House”. That is what we did.

When it came time to revise the standing orders in the modernization committee report, again we said “Wait a minute. This is the process we used informally before. Why not put it in the standing orders and we will do them all this way?” That is what we did. We formalized it in the standing orders. In the standing orders we said we would make all of them subject to consultation and all of them subject to a vote of the House on a non-debatable motion. The debate occurs in committee.

There were about five different formulas of doing it, depending upon which officer of Parliament we were talking about. In some cases, there was no consultation with the opposition. In some cases, there was consultation with the opposition. In some cases, there was a vote of the House but not the Senate. In some cases, there was a vote of both Houses. No two of them were the same. We standardized them in a way with which we all agreed.

That is the process we used. Members should ask themselves the question it is so obvious. It will ensure that the individuals we choose are those who enjoy the support of all members of the House.

We used it again to appoint Mr. Reid as the Information Commissioner. The name was actually proposed, even though he is a former Liberal MP, by an opposition MP. That is the process we use.

The hon. member will know of the case in Alberta. The ethics commissioner there is a former cabinet minister supported by everybody. That is the kind of person we need to hold that position. Should that person be a retired justice of the Supreme Court, or a retired member of the House or the other place? I have no idea. It has to be the person that we support as an institution.

That is the structure we have established. I did not invent that model; I will not even take that credit. The model was invented by the House leaders together in the modernization committee chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the House, but in the preceding Parliament it was modernization phase one.

That is the structure. And believe me it was unanimous because the modernization committee could only report on those things where there was unanimity, otherwise they were automatically expunged. I ask the member to refer to the House order that created the first modernization committee. And if he does not believe me, he can always check with the hon. member for Langley--Abbotsford.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask the government House leader a question on Bill C-34. He will know it has been important to our caucus for some time, with earlier versions having been introduced by the former member for Halifax West and by the present member for Halifax.

Obviously we are interested in having the bill passed, although there are some flaws in it and we still have concerns. We are interested in having the bill passed and having it come into effect. Given some of the indications coming from the former finance minister, who obviously after this weekend is slated to become the leader of the Liberal Party and the prime minister of this country, I would like to ask the government House leader how long he expects this legislation to last under the new regime.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think any of the House officer positions that have been created by Parliament have ever been withdrawn in the history of Canada.

When the position of Commissioner of Official Languages was created, that office was not abolished later. It is the same with privacy, access to information and officers that sit in this chamber. I do not believe there has ever been a recorded case of creating a position of an officer of Parliament and then a government cancelling that process. Of course, if a government wanted to do that, it would have to pass legislation and get the legislation through both Houses should that be the case.

I do not know if that is the question the hon. member was asking. If it is, I think the antecedents would prove that it has never been done. I have no fear. It will not be done. We will create the position and it will be filled. It will be going as soon as we can.

There is one note though. Both Houses still have to produce their codes. I understand the Senate has completed its code. I think the House committee is almost finished with its code. I believe these two codes have to be complete before we get the ethics commissioner. It could very well be that a particular candidate will look at the codes and say “I am not going to administer a code such as that. I do not want the job”.

We have to complete both codes and then seek out candidates. Because of the new structure there will be one for the House and one for the Senate, different officers. Then we will offer them to the House once that work is complete. I understand that it will be only a matter of weeks in any case before we will have that.

In terms of the actual date of an appointment, I can only say to the hon. member that as government leader I have consulted every step of the way with every officer of Parliament that has been appointed since I have been leader. I think I am the second longest serving one in Canadian history. I have been at this for a while.

I have consulted the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, even the interim Privacy Commissioner. I have consulted at every step of the way. If I have anything to do with it, I will ensure that things are done, as would any other House leader for that matter, in a way that respects all the traditions of the House and to have the highest quality of individual.

When we are talking about someone who will be that close to MPs and the conduct of MPs, I do not think there is any doubt we all have to believe in the individual. Otherwise it would be a near impossible task to try and perform the very important duty that the particular official will have.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to talk about Bill C-34 which is an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and other acts in consequence in respect of providing for the appointment of a Senate ethics officer and providing for the appointment of an ethics commissioner for the House of Commons regarding the conduct of its members.

There is a jurisdiction in Canada that has really been at the forefront in terms of conflict of interest and behaviour of its elected officials and that is the province of British Columbia. I would like to quote from a commentary prepared by Gregory J. Levine, who is general counsel for the Office of the Ombudsman for the province of British Columbia. The following is an interesting capsule from his commentary on Bill C-34:

The current package is part of a dance of denial, a dithering that does not instill confidence. The Canadian people deserve better. What circumstances demand are clear rules forthrightly enforced by an ethics commissioner who is truly independent and powerful.

In other words, the bill simply does not cut it. It was brought forward in June of last year amid allegations of scandal and corruption in the seventh year of the reign of an ethics counsellor who has become known in the media as a lapdog, not a watchdog. He was appointed by the Prime Minister and reports to the Prime Minister. There are multiple scandals which have never been gotten to the bottom of and the cynicism within the public has expanded over the term of the Prime Minister. In many ways the current Prime Minister's legacy will be all about the abuses that were allowed to occur in this place despite the fact that for the first time there was somebody whose mandate was ethics. It was an abysmal failure.

That sets the stage for the fact that this legislation really does not do it. While the high-sounding bill would suggest that it is addressing a real problem in an objective manner, the reality is quite different. It is essentially smoke and mirrors.

Any of the scandals that have occurred around the government would not be addressed by the new scenario. The ethics commissioner envisioned by the bill for the House of Commons would not be independent. The ethics counsellor who has been in place for a number of years was not independent and neither would he be under the new scenario.

What has become abundantly clear is that the current Prime Minister has placed his personal interests and the interests of the Liberal Party of Canada ahead of the interests of Canadians and the national interest.

I can point to the loophole we addressed last week. The Bloc supply day motion had to do with the well known Barbados loophole utilized by the former finance minister's company, CSL. We now know that hundreds of Canadian companies are utilizing that loophole and exploiting it.

We know that this was all a part of the Liberal Party of Canada's courting of some interests within the business community. These friends of the former finance minister were well-informed as to the existence of the loophole. This glaring exception was allowed to continue to and it became and continues to be a glaring problem for the country.

The bill would not address the democratic deficit. It would contribute to it, from the standpoint that our committees are still overwhelmed by government members. We know that in almost every case appeals to the ethics commissioner have been largely not useful.

This initiative would create two new officers, which I consider to be largely window-dressing. One could ask the question: Why all of a sudden are backbench and opposition members of Parliament somehow responsible to someone who reports essentially to cabinet and the Prime Minister? This is ripe for abuse. As an opposition member of Parliament, I believe this is ripe for my privileges being abused and is an inherent conflict of interest in itself.

If we want to look at an example of how we could change all that, let us make an officer of Parliament who is elected in the same way as the House of Commons elects our Speaker. That is the model we should follow. Not the model that was promoted in this legislation or the model that the previous speaker suggested this morning. Let us fix this because what we have in place in this bill is completely inadequate.

The ethics counsellor envisioned by this would be appointed by the Prime Minister, would report to the Prime Minister and would be responsible to the Prime Minister and his cabinet. That essentially is still the way it is.

This conflict of interest is so obvious as to laughable. It breaks the Liberal red book promise of 1993 and has thoroughly discredited the office, in the public mind. One can only assume that the Prime Minister wishes to divert attention onto these two new ethics officers without fixing the crucial ethical questions which hang over the Prime Minister and his cabinet, despite government spin.

The Prime Minister would make the choice of this new commissioner. There would be so-called consultation with the leaders of the parties in the House and there would be a confirming vote in the House. Of course all this means that the Prime Minister would determine who would be appointed and the government members of Parliament would vote in favour of the Prime Minister's choice. Remember, the Prime Minister likes to say that he consulted with opposition leaders before appointing Howard Wilson, as his personal ethics commissioner, and we all know where that has led.

Contrast this with the red book promise and the way the House of Commons chooses the Speakers, as I just mentioned: a secret ballot and a Speaker who is responsible to the members, not to the Prime Minister, not to the cabinet, not to the Prime Minister and cabinet.

One might ask the question: What would happen under the legislation to address any of the scandals that have plagued the government? Would the new arrangement somehow make any of that any different? I think it is very clear that it would not prevent this activity. Nor would it make it any more subject to exposure.

I am very concerned about potential abuse of the new power because we now have a situation where complaints from members of Parliament, or in the case of the Senate officer, must be acted upon. We see, now that opposition members of Parliament are covered under the new umbrella, an opportunity for misbehaviour on the part of the government which basically controls the process. Through the Prime Minister and cabinet, there is now an opportunity to manipulate this with a timing such that it can be used for mischief making during critical times such as elections. We think this is a very obvious abuse and a singular enough reason why it needs to be changed.

Bill C-34 would also create a situation that would be problematic from the standpoint that we would now have the growth of two standards, one for the House of Commons and one for the Senate, simply because we would have two different appointees. Objective concerns about the bill have been expressed by people dealing with conflict of interest in ethics. They suggest this is very problematic. I subscribe to that as well.

Another issue deals with payment for services. The remuneration for both officers is to be set by cabinet. This is also a law inconsistent with removing a conflict of interest and government control over this process because obviously remuneration levels can be used as a lever. The mere fact that can occur or would have the appearance of being able to occur is enough to suggest that it is a conflict of interest and that should not be allowed to occur. Therefore it is one more reason why we would oppose the legislation.

The two individuals who would be given these new positions would also be given the rank of deputy heads of a government department for the purpose of operating their respective offices. It is very unclear and completely unaddressed as to what this really means in terms of independence because it would suggest that they are tied to government process. Once again, we have to make a clear distinction here.

We are opposition members of Parliament. We are not members of the government. This is another conflict of interest. This is a natural problem. This has not been well thought out. This is not addressed appropriately in the way the legislation is put forward. I object because I believe this is one more way in which opposition members of Parliament's privileges are being abused potentially by the legislation.

We currently have rules regarding our conduct within the Parliament of Canada Act which pertain to the Senate and the House of Commons and the members. These rules of conduct prohibit involvement in government contracts, prohibit employment in government services and prohibit us from taking money with respect to issues before the Senate or the House of Commons. Many of these rules will be repealed under the bill. Once again, objective, independent analysis of the bill suggests that we are weakening the rules of conduct with this proposed legislation and not strengthening them.

Once again this gives currency to my opening statement which is that the bill is an abysmal performance that does not do what it purports to do in terms of strengthening our ethics situation which we know has been very tarnished by the performance of the government over the last 10 years, 10 years next month. Those are some of the broader aspects of the bill.

I would like to remind people who are listening to the debate of some of the problems that are inherent in how the government has been operating. For example, we have heard major criticism in the last week or two about Charles Boyer and his expense accounts and the fact that the Minister of Canadian Heritage signed for every one of his expense accounts on the account of the taxpayers.

This has really resonated with the public. When George Radwanski carried on this kind of behaviour, the statement I got from the public was “Under this government as a senior employee we expect that kind of behaviour”. However when they saw the same kind of behaviour from a junior employee, directly approved by a minister who should know better, it drove them wild. There is no direction from the government to change it.

As a matter of fact, I quote from the Winnipeg Sun . It states, “Leading the nation by shining example, [the current finance minister] has given his blessing to fellow cabinet colleagues who routinely file hefty expense claims without providing a single receipt. Heck, he does it himself”. Other ministers are mentioned also.

There are many other references to ethical lapses in the government. We know Alfonso Gagliano, the former minister of public works, now enshrined in Denmark, was never ever caught up in his ethical lapses because the Prime Minister got him out of the country. We have seen similar behaviour and the ethics commissioner has certainly not been as independent as we would like to see.

In summary, the bill does not do it. Canadians deserve better and parliamentarians deserve better.