House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.


Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Resuming debate, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am addressing the presentation of the government's proposed Bill C-23, specifically known as an act to establish to the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts.

The bill establishes the department of social development, over which presides the Minister of Social Development. The bill sets out the minister's powers, duties and functions. It also describes the rules for the protection and the making available of personal information obtained under departmental programs, other than those covered by similar codes found in the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act.

The bill proposes to legalize in statute what the government has already done by order in council. The Government of Canada is asking Parliament to approve this human resources and skills development act, but we must never forget the order of things. The governments may propose, but Parliament must ultimately vote the appropriation. Parliament is not the government.

I observe that there have been many within the Liberal orb who have been on the inside and in power positions so long that they think Parliament is just another hurdle in a process, and often just an inconvenience to them for the senior bureaucrats to have their way. Too often it looks like they have their way with these, what I would describe, rather weak Liberal politicians. It seems they are quite comfortable that they can manoeuvre these less than visionary politicians around to have what they want.

It is an approach that says Canada will get what the Liberals deem is good for the country, what they know is best for the rest of us. That whole superior attitude is what I smell in this bill and also with sister Bill C-22. The two bills take care of each part of the old department which was divided into two, and this being the so-called social development side.

Now the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence was made Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development upon appointment to cabinet. One wonders if he has looked more like a deer caught in the headlights about all the manoeuvring around the creation of these two departments out of the former one large department known as HRDC. It certainly was not this minister's decision to do so.

Human Resources Development Canada was reorganized into two new departments: Social Development Canada, SDC, and Human Resources Skills Development Canada, HRSDC. Both departments are presently still governed by the existing Department of Human Resources Development Act.

The Prime Minister, somewhere with his unelected advisers, agreed to what had been put to them by the bureaucracy about this plan. The Commons standing committee from the previous Parliament had also been led along to believe that this was the way to go. However, it remains to be seen just how wise this move is. Any such disturbing change is disruptive to lower level staff. There is always a lot of internal energy wasted with office changes, clarifying mission statements, shuffling of staff and their physical offices, creating new positions and then staffing them with all the subsequent union appeals and the hurt feelings that go along with it. New reporting relationships with new materials in hand with unspecified and unclear budget authorities also come at quite a cost. There is also a huge loss in productivity when there is such so-called reorganization.

I have observed that the Liberals have not been very good managers in the past, so why should this scheme go any better than the others? The best ideas on paper often do not deliver meaningful and productive outcomes for the consumer of the service. The effort to get from point A to destination B and C at the same time, with different parts of an old team, can be quite inefficient.

The Government of Canada has tabled the human resources and skills development act, which contains the mandate of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Minister of Labour and Housing. The mandate is included in the act to provide a foundation and a rationale for the department's programs. For the first time, the legislation includes a proposed harmonized code governing the disclosure of personal information of Canadians. This new code is supposed to provide more consistency in administering personal information than is currently the case, given the various statutory and regulatory provisions governing the disclosure of personal information. The Liberals claim the bill provides a greater degree of transparency for Canadians. We will see about that. If anything, the government has been anything but transparent in the past.

We go back to December 12, 2003, when the government had to do something to look like it was a little different from the previous regime, so it picked on this one. By means of a series of orders in council, made pursuant to the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, various portions of the Department of Human Resources Development and related powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Human Resources Development were transferred to the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC, to a new Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

Therefore, the arrangement on the ground is a done deal, and the shuffling has been going on, money is being spent and lives are being affected, but Parliament has not yet granted its approval. This is the way Liberals do things. They now admit that department legislation is required to address these new mandates and responsibilities of Social Development Canada, SDC, and the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Maybe Parliament should not be blackmailed in this way. Maybe we should say no. Then what? Maybe we should raise the low hurdle around here and make the government really make its case for why this move is wise at this time and why the changes will substantially raise the quality and the value for dollar to the taxpayer. There is absolutely nothing that I have heard about case examples of how this change will help one single individual in his or her specific life situation.

The government says that the drafting of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development legislation provides the opportunity to ensure that the minister and the department have the legal powers and tools needed to fulfill the minister's mandate. When has that ever stopped a Liberal? They Liberals claim that the HRDC is working closely with officials from SDC on legislative issues of mutual interest. I certainly hope so.

The minister then goes on to say that the proposed legislation includes a harmonized code of governing the disclosure of personal information. Liberals say that there are some enhancements here that other statutes of privacy laws do not sufficiently cover. If this is so and more legislation is really needed, that fact poorly reflects on the core law of privacy in Canada. I suppose more will be revealed about this whole mess in due course. They claim that this new code will replace the current five statutory and regulatory regimes that govern the disclosure of personal information. If this is needed, then where is the agenda to fix the whole thing? In a way, it is an admission of legal weakness for privacy law, but they will never admit that now will they?

Liberals assert that the additional new code will provide more consistency in administering personal information than is currently the case, given the various statutory and regulatory provisions governing the disclosure of personal information. They say that it provides a greater degree of transparency for Canadians resulting from this harmonization, and codifies the current administrative practices to protect personal information used for research purposes. It also includes an offence provision for knowingly disclosing personal information violating privacy laws. The code also describes departmental commitments, these nice sounding phrases of reassurance to protect the privacy of Canadians, including both the use of personal information for internal research and the conditions for disclosure of personal information outside the department.

The Liberals say that they are committed to improving the social and economic well-being of all Canadians, including the most disadvantaged, and will deliver accountable and efficient policies and programs. They have not done it yet, so I do not see any evidence that this rearrangement of the deck chairs on the ship will do much in that regard.They have not made its central case.

They put it this way. Liberals say, in the promotional literature, that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada plays a key role in meeting the commitments through its efforts to help Canadians acquire skills to get productive and meaningful jobs. They go on and say that it will enhance the access to a post-secondary education, promote skills development and promote a cultural of lifelong learning. They boast that these efforts will result in a better quality of life for all Canadians. That is quite a mouthful. One can ask those who do not have a job or who cannot afford to upgrade training how they feel about what is out there now for those who want to improve themselves, and one will find quite a different story.

That group has been in power for over 10 years. The situation on the ground is their responsibility.

Then Liberals claim labour and housing programs will continue to promote safe, healthy, stable and cooperative workplaces and will continue efforts to help communities reduce homelessness. Such promises do not make the grade. Any average Canadian knows that homelessness is much worse now than it was, say during the period of 1984 to 1993. Just try to walk to Parliament Hill. One has to be blind not to see the situation. The last Liberal leader actually claimed that he talked to a homeless person. At least our Governor General tried in east side Vancouver this year to do it. When was the last time our Prime Minister ever stopped his limo cavalcade to talk to and tune into what it is like for those sleeping on the sidewalk by which he zooms?

For the bill, there is also the assertion that the legislation will provide the framework to ensure that the Government of Canada continues to make Canadians the best trained and most highly skilled workers in the world. We have never been there internationally as a whole and despite this kind of overblown rhetoric, I am skeptical that the department reorganization will deliver the kind of sensitive and comprehensive help that is really needed to meet those kinds of inflated objectives.

I want to hear the government really make its case for these two bills, Bill C-22 and Bill C-23. I am prepared to compliment the government when it goes in the right direction, but so far what we have seen and heard is a lot of bureaucratese and not much reality selling of substance to Parliament, where the ultimate approval must be made. I wish them well.

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1 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague, and I must have lost the logic somewhere. The department of HRDC, which both the speakers on the other side dislike so much, was set up by a Conservative government. It was set up in a way which did not involve clear legislation, as we have here, showing how the old federal departments were being amalgamated into one huge whole, to the point where it left four or five different privacy arrangements within the same legislation. That is one aspect that my colleague chose to ignore.

The other point is the decision to make a change, and I suppose I have to accept this, did not come from the government or the cabinet; it came from the House. The standing committee conducted hearings for several months and listened to witnesses from all over the country. It was not a Liberal majority or a something else majority pushing it through. The committee unanimously recommended that this very large, overly diverse department, which had been set up by the Conservatives, be divided. What is happening now with the legislation is that the House of Commons itself is dealing with recommendations which it actually made.

My colleague made some disparaging remarks about Canada's higher education and the state of its training. I think most people in the House believe that we have a way to go in terms of lifelong learning. I want us to go further and faster to deal with this matter. It is very urgent. However, Canada has the highest percentage of students in post-secondary education in the world. We have some limitations in other areas of post-secondary education, but that certainly is not one.

We have the world ranking economy at the present time. In any way we look at our economy, it is either first, second or third by the various economic measures. That is not by accident. That is because we are an efficient, highly qualified and diverse workforce already. He should be very careful when he is criticizing these things.

My question is on transparency. Let us take the area of privacy alone, privacy of information provided by Canadians to the federal government. Does the he think the regime of four or five different privacy codes, which were set up by the Conservatives in the old HRDC department, is an advantage? Does he not think that streamlining, and there is other streamlining in the legislation, alone is worth the effort of the House at the present time?

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1:05 p.m.


Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, I did acknowledge the role of the standing committee of the previous Parliament. However, there are ways of bringing a standing committee to its conclusion, especially in view of the very lacklustre administration that we were getting from the government at the time.

What is the practical level of how it is delivered on the street for the average Canadian who pays the bills and who expects some service? They do not care about how departments are organized in Ottawa, but they can certainly measure outcomes by what is going on in the street. I am talking about that aspect.

The history of Liberal administration has been one of missed opportunity and that we are not necessarily in the forefront of innovation, skills training or support for higher education. I put it to the government that it should make the case, using case examples. It should talk about how the average person in my community will see a difference, rather than more departmental shuffling. That is the standard. We measure by actual outcomes at the community level. If we can achieve that and if the government can make the case, I really think that is appropriate. I am not being unreasonably critical about vision for the future, but I have to look at an estimation of future performance based on past behaviour and past results. It has not been particularly good. The history is of government mismanagement, of waste in the public service and not particularly great support for the employees at the lower level. The government has usually been in quite a tangle with its unions rather than developing a supportive work climate.

It is the practical outcome of departments that are supposed to provide benefits and services to Canadians. I am asking the government to make its case in specific examples so that it is not just an academic exercise, but in a simple way that average Canadians can approve of what is being done today.

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1:10 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address this bill on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. I will do so by discussing five specific issues. First, I will present our position. Then, I will examine the objectives set out in this legislation and also its mandate and vision. We will see if, given the stated objectives, this mandate and this vision are in harmony. Finally, I will deal with the programs as such, particularly the employment insurance commission.

The Bloc Québécois disagrees with this bill. We do not share its vision, for two main reasons. First, this bill does not in any way improve the current situation regarding the jobless. On the contrary, it confirms the direction taken so far by the government.

The second fundamental reason is that by splitting the current department into two to create a social development department, the government is increasing its interference in provincial jurisdictions, particularly those of Quebec. Later on, I will explain why I am alluding to Quebec in particular; it is primarily in light of the arguments presented by the hon. member for Peterborough regarding continuing education, among others.

On December 12, 2003, the Prime Minister announced the decision to split the department into two separate parts. The reason that he gave at the time was to achieve better strategic results in management improvement. However, we should, among other things, remember the purpose of the employment insurance fund.

The Prime Minister also contended that he wanted to promote an efficient labour market. The government systematically gets back to this issue and claims that the employment insurance fund works well, when in fact employers, workers and all stakeholders in that sector are unanimous in saying that the system no longer works.

The Prime Minister is also saying that he wants to do more for lifelong learning and student aid. In so doing, he is indicating that the federal government will get even more involved in provincial jurisdictions, particularly those of Quebec.

In order to achieve this goal, the federal government wants to mobilize various groups, including the private sector, government organizations and communities, regarding community development and the social economy. The reason I am reminding hon. members of the statements made by the Prime Minister is that we still do not see what is in it for workers affected by the employment insurance issue.

On that same December 12, 2003, the leader of the official opposition in Quebec announced he would be firmly and categorically opposing this new attack on the prerogatives of the provinces, including Quebec. He stated at the time that he unreservedly opposed the establishment of the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, of the Department of Social Development and of a cities secretariat.

It is my understanding that, administratively, cities do not come under the federal government but the provincial governments. This goes to show how clear and definite the intent is; the government is going as far as wanting to enshrine it in legislation. The structures announced will serve no purpose and clearly reflect, once again, interference from the federal government.

The hon. parliamentary secretary and member for Peterborough is right when he says that these are important departments and that it may be useful to consider a certain division of responsibilities in terms of their missions, particularly the social mission.

It is recognized that the social aspect, as far as day care centres, parental leave, compassionate leave, seniors and so on are concerned, should come under the responsibility of the provinces.

From the moment that attempts are made to make these the responsibility of a given department, this shows the particular nature that is intended to be given to this department with respect to areas of provincial responsibility.

In addition, administratively, this will complicate things instead of easing and simplifying them, as promised. The Secretary of State acknowledged that much when he said we would have a single window for all the services announced.

So, what will change in terms of services? The body, the service delivery organization, remains the same but a second head is attached to it. We end up with a body with two heads, with the drawbacks this normally entails: more complex directives, and often two sets of directives.

I think the member for Peterborough will acknowledge it. Officials from his own department have acknowledged that the legislation is already very difficult to enforce. They have a hard time with it. I am talking about the Employment Insurance Act. If the same approach is used for the other services there will be no end to the problems.

That said, let us look at the vision and mission of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Let me start with the vision. The vision is to build a country where everyone has the opportunity to learn, and to contribute to Canada's success. However, we have the right to expect a policy that would make things easier for people who have the misfortune of losing their job, that would simplify the rules and makes it easier to access employment insurance. We want this department to contribute to Canada's success.

As I was saying earlier, this is interference in entirely provincial jurisdictions. The bill talks about promoting an efficient labour market and a highly skilled workforce. This comes under the area raised earlier by the Secretary of State. This entire area has to do with training the workforce. There is still no measure to correct the whole employment insurance fund problem.

As for the mission, we are still making quite extraordinary discoveries about the government's intention. According to the mission statement, the department will contribute to achieving its two objectives by supporting human capital development, enhancing access to post-secondary education—a jurisdiction of the provinces and Quebec—supporting workplace skills development, and encouraging lifelong learning for Canadians.

This is a niche the federal government created for itself in 1997 through its famous agreement with Quebec. There are four areas of jurisdiction, four well-defined niches that belong to the provinces: on-the-job training, immigration, seniors and young people and persons with disabilities.

This is also very interesting, because the federal government is getting involved in a new jurisdiction, one in which it did not get involved in the past. The government is also promoting a working environment that is safe, sound, fair, stable and cooperative.

So, the act, for those provinces that have one—and heaven knows that Quebec is far ahead in this regard—deals with people who are injured at work and who are affected by occupational diseases, through a body called the CSST.

Quebec also has legislation on the prevention of occupational diseases and accidents on the job, which gives the Quebec government a lot of flexibility to support businesses and workers, to take preventive measures and, when an accident occurs, to ensure that the individual and the company are affected as little as possible.

We have this body called the workplace security and safety commission—the CSST—which operates at arm's length, and in a way that we want to propose to the federal government for the employment insurance fund.

Let us now turn our attention to the employment insurance fund. First, we must look at the programs. The seven programs announced by the government, which will be under the responsibility of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, deal with employment insurance benefits, employment programs, the workplace, learning, work, the homeless, service benefit support and benefit distribution.

Of those areas, there are already four in which there is federal interference in provincial jurisdictions, including, of course, those of Quebec. First, there is employment insurance. The government is once again keeping the whole empty administration shell of the employment insurance fund, by putting responsibility for it in the hands of people who are directly appointed by the government. We know what this way of doing things has led to so far: the government has dipped into the surpluses, thus largely contributing to the fiscal imbalance, and this is unquestionably an infringement on the provinces' ability to use that money for other means, or for the same purposes.

There is also the whole issue of replacement workers in cases of conflicts, the antiscab legislation, which I will not talk about here, in the House, since someone else must probably do so today or in the next few days. The issue of homelessness comes under provincial jurisdiction. As for training and manpower development, I will not say more, because I talked about this earlier.

However, concerning the Employment Insurance Commission, the government is staying the course. What is it telling us here? It is maintaining the commission. It is recommending four commissioners. One commissioner shall be the Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, who shall be the chairperson. The Associate Deputy Minister shall be the vice-chairperson. A person shall be appointed after consultation with organizations representative of labour and representative of employers. They will have no power. It is an empty shell. All they will have to do is manage the what goes on, without having one word to say about what the government is doing with the employment insurance surplus, among other things, but mostly with the premium and benefit issue as such and the whole regulation of employment insurance.

Consequently, the Bloc Québécois, speaking for Quebec, disagrees totally with this approach. What we are favouring and promoting is, of course, the bill we introduced, which calls for a commission consisting of a chairperson, two deputy ministers, an associate deputy minister, seven management representatives and seven labour representatives. Why so many? Because it is these people who invest in the fund. It is for them that the fund was created. Since 1980, the federal government has not invested one cent in the fund.

This is not to make the fund strictly independent and strictly under the jurisdiction of the representatives of the two parties that contribute to it, that is workers and employers. The government will also be involved in its capacity as legislator, in order to ensure follow-up on decisions taken by the House on the recommendation of this new commission.

This approach matches in every aspect the repeated requests from all employers through their respective associations. Again this week, they made requests in subcommittees appointed by this House, and all of the labour organizations and other stakeholders which have voiced an opinion on this commission have done the same. Consequently, we have trouble understanding why the government does not bow to this demand and why there has been no openness on this front so far.

To quote what Hassan Yussuf, senior economist for the Canadian Labour Congress said only days ago:

The Employment Insurance Commission needs to be at arms length from the government. It must be independent in order to supervise the situation and then report to the public. We do not want to see it administered solely by workers and employers, but see it instead as tripartite. The government must be an equal partner.

We agree with that. It is very similar to Bill C-280 introduced in this House by the hon. member for Manicouagan.

In addition to this statement, there was another very important one by the secretary general of the FTQ, who said, “ would be fair for the federal government to join us. So we very much agree on an independent fund, or even a trust.”

He gave as an example a trust like that of the CSST, Quebec's workplace health and safety board.

I will conclude with a brief aside concerning the anti-scab bill recently introduced in this House by the hon. member for Louis-Hébert. It contains one very important measure, given the impact related to the role of labour in working relations.

I can say right now that the government ought to support Bill C-263, since the minister of Labour himself opened up the issue recently.

I have a lot more to say, but I will save it for later. In conclusion our position is this: because it proposes an Employment Insurance Commission without any real power, with the opposite makeup to that outlined in Bill C-280, which I mentioned previously; because it institutionalizes blatant constitutional interference in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, particularly with respect to the National Literacy Secretariat, Learning Initiatives Program, Office of Learning Technologies and the homeless issue, the Bloc Québécois believes that Bill C-280 proposes a more suitable Employment Insurance Commission to respond to the needs and realities of the labour sector.

Therefore, in conclusion, the Bloc Québécois believes that the mandate given to the Department of Labour in Part 2 of Bill C-23 is in harmony with Bill C-263 on replacement workers. Consequently, the Liberal government should support the Bloc's initiative by voting in favour of this bill, thereby amending the Canada Labour Code.

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1:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his speech the member stated that the federal government does not contribute one cent to the EI program but that the premiums are paid by the employees and employers, and self-employed people pay the full amount.

In fact all Canadians who participate in the EI program have federal tax credits for all of the premiums that they do pay. Effectively the federal government is subsidizing, and even for the lowest income Canadians, at a 17% federal tax rate. That is available on every dollar of premium paid. There certainly is a substantial support level by the Government of Canada with regard to EI.

The member also commented about provincial jurisdiction which is something we could talk about for days. There is health care, social welfare, post-secondary education and equalization issues, and the list could go on. Every level of government has a role to play.

I put it in the context that the measure of success of a country is not the measure of its economic condition but rather the measure of the health and well-being of its people. Each and every jurisdiction has a role to play in that. Sometimes the federal government has a direct role to play through research, for instance health research, whereas with regard to health, the provinces deliver the health system. There are also child care and community issues, et cetera.

We all have a role to play in some way, fashion or form because the best interest of the country is to ensure that the health and well-being of Canadians continue to improve. Does the member not agree that there is a very important role for each and every level of government throughout Canada to play in terms of the health and well-being of Canadians?

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1:30 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to remind the hon. member that the Canadian Constitution of 1867 provided that these were provincial jurisdictions. It was only in 1940 that the legislation was changed, with the provinces' consent, to deal with the crisis brought about by the war and all that. Everything would get back to normal over time, but only the employment insurance fund was affected. That is one thing.

On the one hand, with all the infringements that have taken place since, we can see what road the government has taken, using this control over the EI fund to chip away increasingly at the portion of the jurisdiction that belonged to the provinces.

On the other hand, the hon. member said that the government is subsidizing at a 17% federal tax rate the contributions made by employees and employers; this may be true for some workers while others cannot necessarily take advantage of that. All in all, will the hon. member agree with me that, during the past year, of the surplus that was used for other purposes $3.3 billion came exclusively from that fund?

Only employers and employees contribute to this fund. Will the member not agree with me that they are contributing a lot and that this is turning into a disguised tax?

According to the Auditor General, over the past eight years, the portion of the surplus that was used for purposes other than what the EI fund was intended for totalled approximately $46 billion.

If the hon. member wants to deny that, that is his business. This is a fact, however, and facts are stubborn; they tend to catch up to you. For him to say that the government is contributing to the fund is a major mistake. He should look at how the fund is administered and how the surpluses are used.

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1:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my colleague had to say. He is a very thoughtful member of Parliament and I suspect we share many common values, but we do disagree on one important matter. This is the federal government and we are functioning in what is arguably the most efficient and decentralized confederation in the world.

We have to think about what are the appropriate roles of the federal government. I try to go to some trouble to point out that I have no wish to move into areas of provincial jurisdiction. However, in a confederation each partner--and in this case there are three, the municipalities, which my colleague also mentioned, the provinces and the federal government--should be strong. We should protect our own rights and responsibilities, but we should all contribute and ideally cooperate together.

The value of a confederation over a very centralized state is that all sorts of diversity can exist within the same unit. We have the possibility therefore to capture diverse best practices or to avoid worst practices going on. We can capture these things very quickly. One of the reasons we are doing so well as a nation at the present time is just that. Wherever creativity occurs in the country we are able to seize upon it.

We can look at different parts. My colleague knows I greatly admire what Quebec has done in the area of child care. I greatly admire the fact that the CEGEPs are free; there are two free years of college. Those are two examples of best practices. However in the province of Quebec the students pay the highest non-tuition fees in colleges of anywhere in the country. I think that is something which people from Quebec and the rest of the country should note.

I am just giving examples of best practices and less good practices. Quebec is the only province in which university enrolment has levelled out.

British Columbia has a very interesting system of colleges, university colleges and universities. It has very good linkages between the different levels of post-secondary education. I think we should learn from that. On the other hand tuition fees in B.C. are going up in a way that they have not in Quebec. The province of Alberta is an example in apprenticeships. There are these advantages out there.

Does my colleague not think that the new arrangement--and the department existed before but it is now being divided--will not allow us all, including Quebec and Alberta, and other provinces and territories which I could have mentioned, to see what is being done well in one part of the country and take advantage of it, and to see what is not being done so well in another part of the country and to avoid those problems? Is that not a role for the federal government in a system like ours?

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1:35 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and his speech, which offers me an opportunity to add to what I have said.

For example, where the provinces cover tuition, students—and we see this even in Quebec—do everything they can to avoid having to pay new fees.

The hon. member must understand that the problem related to funding, whether health or education, lies in the fact that the bulk of the money collected from the taxpayer according to the responsibilities allocated to the federal and provincial levels, goes to the federal level rather than the provincial. Thus the fiscal imbalance. Everyone acknowledges this except the Prime Minister. It is also obvious from the facts being mentioned in today's speeches.

The Secretary of State is telling us that the provinces and the federal level are forces and resources that complement each other, and this cannot help but be beneficial to both. That might be the case if the funds came back to the provinces in a proper proportion to their responsibilities.

When only one of the parties benefits, only one out of eleven, while the others all get it in the neck, unless they have strong economies like some of the resource-rich western provinces—and we are happy for them—there is only one conclusion: this is not the case for everyone, Quebec included.

I would therefore like the hon. member to explain how he reached the conclusion he has just presented to us. Earlier, I referred to stubborn facts. Fiscal imbalance is one of those, and is acknowledged by everybody. It is not a stubborn fact just because I say so, but because this has been recognized for some years, even by this House. So what is his reaction to that? And how does he plan to deal with it? He cannot just pass it off as a matter of continuing education, as he has. Everything has be to examined thoroughly, the EI fund included.

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1:40 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to obtain the consent of the House to share my time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

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1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the member have unanimous consent to share his time?

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1:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:40 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party, I lend our support to the creation of this new department. As has been said already in the introductory comments, this is a reconstitution of a department that existed before.

I want to speak very directly to one component of this department and underline why I want to give particular emphasis to its saliency, and that is to say that it will narrow the focus and make someone quite accountable for housing.

Today is National Housing Day and I want to say something about that in the context of this new ministerial responsibility we will get for housing. I want to do it particularly by focusing on the situation in housing in the nation's capital.

I had occasion not long ago to go to the capitals of many Scandinavian countries, to Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. I did not do a systematic tour, but I can say that I did not see the signs of homelessness on the downtown streets of those cities that I do on the streets five minutes away from the House of Commons.

One of the reasons for that is that all of those countries, like the majority of industrial countries, have a national housing program. We are the only one in the G-7 without continuing, coherent, stable funding allocated for affordable housing and that is a national disgrace.

This began in 1993 when Brian Mulroney abolished the federal housing program. The error was compounded and worsened when the province of Ontario elected a neo-Conservative government in Mr. Harris who immediately scrapped provincial programs that disastrously affected Ottawa, the nation's capital.

It should not surprise us that in the 1990s in the nation's capital, and I am not only talking about my riding but I am talking about the whole city, we actually had a decline of some 4,000 rental units in the city precisely at the time when the population was mushrooming. This was an inevitable consequence of two governments, one at the federal level and one at the provincial level, abandoning their responsibility for housing.

I want to say to my federal Liberal colleagues that it was a Liberal government in 1976 when I was here that took on the obligations of an international treaty, the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which has within it the obligation of the federal government to move to ensure that as a matter of right, not option, Canadians are entitled to housing. We have had that obligation since 1976 but it certainly has not been lived up to.

Finally, three years ago, eight years after the Liberals were elected in 1993, a new housing program was brought in with $25,000 per unit put on the table, but for that to go out into the community the provinces had to match the funding. Only three provinces took it up. Needless to say, the Conservative government in Ontario did not. Therefore not a single new housing unit in the affordable category has been built in the nation's capital since that period.

I want to say what is needed and what this new department with the new minister responsible ought to be doing. Here in the nation's capital 13,000 households, most of them with children, are waiting for social housing. The waiting period is six to eight years.

On a typical night here in the nation's capital 1,000 people go to bed in a homeless shelter. There are 250,000 Canadians nationally who are homeless. This, I repeat, for a rich industrial democracy is a national disgrace.

What do we say should be put in its place? The government actually boasts about having $61 billion in surpluses and that it has run surpluses for seven years in a row. We actually have a Minister of Finance who boasts that we have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7. Is that not incredible? We have 250,000 homeless families, over a million poor kids and 1,000 homeless people who sleep in shelters here in the nation's capital every night and the Minister of Finance has $61 billion in surpluses but has not spent a bloody cent on the housing that we desperately need in the country and in the nation's capital.

I hope the new minister recognizes that our international obligation in housing is a social right, which should lead to other initiatives. For example, we need a 10 year housing program that would include the building of 20,000 new, affordable units, particularly in the co-op and non-profit sector so low income Canadians could then have access to housing.

We should have lots of renewal of existing housing stock that is in virtual slum conditions. Those houses should be rebuilt and re-established. We could have a program for some 100,000 units there.

As a result of the low income position of many Canadians, we should provide rent supplements for all Canadians. My own party has calculated that there are at least 40,000 low income tenants.

I want to comment about my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois. As a Canadian I understand nationalist sentiment very well. I understand that nationalist sentiment and social democratic philosophy can go hand in hand. Although I respect the arguments put forward by my colleague across the way, it deeply disturbs me, as a social democrat, to note that whenever there is a conflict between a nationalist impulse and a social democratic obligation for everyone from coast to coast, it is always, for the Bloc Québécois, the nationalist impulse that wins out. I appeal to those members to once in a while say that surely our social democracy from time to time should transcend old constitutional restrictions that were first put in place on this continent in the 19th century.

There are Quebeckers and Canadians in the other provinces who are poor. They all have to work together from time to time to benefit everyone.

We have money. We have an accumulated surplus of $61 billion. This has gone on for seven years. We have another surplus now. We now have an obligation to get on with the job of creating affordable housing units that thousands of Canadians, many of them here in the national capital, badly need.

Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a big fan of housing. I spent five years with the housing authority in my own riding where we had rent supplements and rent geared to income programs, half of which were family units and half of which were seniors units. The member will know that the seniors units always are the best kept and the best managed because they take care of them. Unfortunately, 75% of the other units are occupied by mother led families with children. This makes it kind of difficult because there are more problems than simply the need for housing.

I am appealing for some words of wisdom from the member to provide the House with a little insight into the aspect of social housing versus affordable housing.

In my view, social housing has more dimensions simply because it is available but people will not take it because they are afraid, or they have mental health problems or there are other exacerbating circumstances that do not seem to mesh people with the social housing stock that is available.

Affordable housing, on the other hand, is not affordable for the people who legitimately need housing in major centres like Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver. The fact is that housing in urban centres cannot possibly be affordable for those who are living from paycheque to paycheque on a basic minimum wage.

We have to recognize that both of these situations require a more comprehensive approach than just simply providing affordable housing. We have to somehow find a way to get affordable housing to be really affordable but not necessarily in the major urban centres of Canada but to appreciate that there are places to go outside of downtown urban Canada.

Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2004 / 1:50 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is a serious one and I will try to give a serious answer. I think that the approach to housing has to be multi-faceted, as the member suggests.

The reality is that every industrial country has recognized that for roughly 85% of a population the market serves, the market provides housing. Whether we are talking about western European countries or North American countries, the market can serve most of us with above average incomes, or as I say, the top 85% of income. Then there is the other 15%, including, as the member alluded to, the working poor. We are talking about the working poor and other people who may need social housing. I think we need a mix of low income housing, non-profits and co-op housing. We need social housing and it can be provided in an esthetically and functionally attractive way. It is quite acceptable.

In the city of Ottawa we have the LeBreton flats project, a major project in the centre of the city. It happens to be in my riding. I have worked with the NCC on this. There will be a combination of housing in this project.

The member asked if, in effect, we should have all the low income people move out of the centres of the cities. I say no. Any decent city, any good city, ought to have a mix of all income and occupational groups. What we are doing on federal land in the LeBreton flats housing project is that 75% will be marketable housing, housing according to market prices, another 25% will be affordable housing, for the bottom 30% or so of income earners, and then within that there will be an additional 9% or 10% social housing. They will all be able to live as they ought to be able to live.

The people who lived in LeBreton flats before this were low income people, so rather than ostracize them to the suburbs where they do not necessarily want to go, we can accommodate all income groups in an urban development, as we should. But in addition to providing different kinds of housing, as I have said, this also will require, and let us face it, income rent supplements for a lot of low income Canadians to enable them to get by.

Men and women working in the city as couples, if they are at minimum wage, cannot afford things. They have to make decisions. “Do we pay our rent or do we buy food?”, they have to ask. The only way we will be able to deal in a sensible and civilized way with people like that who are working hard is to have some kind of rent supplement program like other industrial countries have.

The member is right. We need a multi-faceted approach to resolving this over time. It is exactly this kind of approach that our party favours and which, I will say with all due respect, his own party has abandoned for the past dozen years.

Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member from Ottawa Centre for agreeing to share his time with me.

He talked a lot about the issue of housing and the homeless. I want to add to what he was saying and I want to talk about how Bill C-23 relates to persons with disabilities in the country. This is an extremely important issue. The NDP is in favour of referring this motion to committee. What we want in particular is for extensive consultations to be held in committee. We want there to be consultations with labour groups across the country, as well as women, first nations, young people and student groups. Equally important: we want groups representing persons with disabilities to be consulted as well.

Some aspects of this legislation have a profound affect on the issue of persons with disabilities. If we improve their situation somehow, then we might improve the general situation for persons with disabilities in Canada. However, if we do nothing, if the legislation is nothing but policy, then their situation will not change at all. After 10 years of having a Liberal government, their situation is not good.

I do want to speak to this bill and speak to the vigilance that is required when we are talking about persons with disabilities in this country. We know that persons with disabilities represent almost 13% of the population and that currently there is a 50% unemployment rate among people with disabilities and one of the highest suicide rates in the country. In my region, homelessness has tripled over the past three years. We also know that nearly half of those who are homeless across this land are people with disabilities.

Obviously their situation is very serious and we need to address it. We need to address it immediately. We are hoping that we will have consultations through the process of the examination of this bill in committee so that we can actually start to address these long-standing issues for people with disabilities.

One thing we would like to see developed is a labour market strategy for persons with disabilities, which would include a plan for increased participation in the federal government workforce. As we know, increasing employment for the disabled would go a long way in improving the quality of living of these Canadians.

We would like to see an independent commissioner reporting directly to Parliament who would monitor the federal government's compliance, in all departments, with policies for persons with disabilities. This commissioner of course could further advise ministers about the effect on persons with disabilities of upcoming legislation or regulations.

We know that increased employment will not be sufficient. Expanded measures are also needed to help employers other than the federal government make workplaces accessible and accommodate persons with disabilities.

Some of the facts are pretty daunting when we look at persons with disabilities in this country. We know that they represent 12% to 13% of the Canadian population and that government programs are the main source of income for the majority of persons with disabilities who are not in the labour force.

I have mentioned the employment rate for persons with disabilities. It is almost half that of their non-disabled peers.

As we know, additional costs are associated with living with a disability and persons with disabilities typically need higher incomes to maintain an adequate standard of living.

Working age persons with disabilities get only 76% of the average household after tax income of all Canadians.

As well, cost has been cited as the main barrier preventing individuals from obtaining the assistive devices they need to be integrated into the workforce.

Less than one-half of the 1.9 million persons with disabilities in Canada over the age of 15 receive the help they require with activities of daily living. Forty-five per cent say they need more help than they are receiving and 10% say that they receive no help, this after more than 10 years of Liberal government. It is clear that the situation for persons with disabilities in this country is shameful.

When we look at sources of income, either from paid employment or from income support, we see that the majority of persons with disabilities continues to experience chronic poverty and inaccessible support.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience food insecurity in this country than their non-disabled peers are, and as I mentioned earlier, 41% of those using food banks have either a disability or a long term illness.

The situation is deplorable. There is so much more we can do. At the committee stage we are hoping to raise some of these issues that are important in the consideration of human resources and social development. More could be done in regard to greater recognition of the extra costs involved in leading a life with a disability. We could look at an expansion of the special opportunity--

Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

2 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. As it is now 2 p.m., we will go to statements by members.

Canadian HeritageStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on an issue that gained prominence recently when Canada's highest military honour was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Victoria Cross, awarded to Corporal Fred Topham for his gallantry while a medic in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, is threatened with becoming a part of a private foreign collection.

Therefore, I am pleased that a provision has been found which will help prevent the export of Canada's military heritage. I find it encouraging that the money is being raised to keep Corporal Topham's medal in Canada.

I thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Minister of Canadian Heritage for their support of the schoolchildren and veterans working to ensure that Corporal Topham's Victoria Cross remains in Canada.

The Government of Canada shares the responsibility to preserve for future generations those symbols of our freedom that were won through the valour of great Canadians like Corporal Fred Topham.

Canada-U.S. RelationsStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Belinda Stronach Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, this past Saturday marked the 18 month anniversary of the BSE border closure, a direct result of this Liberal government's mismanagement of the critical trading relationship with the United States.

To mark that anniversary, the Prime Minister predicted that the border could remain closed for months to come despite the assurance from the U.S. president that the White House will begin to consider the process of reopening our border.

This is finally a piece of welcome news to the thousands of Canadians for whom the BSE crisis has been a nightmare, but it took 18 months to get the president to agree to a specific action because of the poor relationships of both the Prime Minister and his predecessor.

Where is the comprehensive and strategic action plan for a sophisticated political relationship with our largest trading partner, on which Canada's prosperity rests so heavily? Why has the government not been working for the past 10 years to develop the next generation of institutions and wide-reaching political relationships across the United States that would help inoculate against these kinds of border crises?

Canada's national interests demand and deserve better.

Status of WomenStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 1929, thanks to five tenacious individuals, women were recognized as persons in Canada. As a result, Canadian women became eligible for appointment to the Senate, like men were. Today, 65 of the 308 members of the House of Commons, or 20%, are women. This facilitated access to other public positions.

Many women blend work outside the home and family life. All the associations dealing with women's issues must however receive more recognition and more tangible support from governments.

Historically, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been recognized as engines of social development. Thus, we encourage women's associations in Quebec, Canada and the far north, which campaign for the well-being and prosperity of all. These people deserve our respect for their tremendous contribution.

2004 Grey CupStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a 22-year season ticket holder with the Toronto Argonauts, I want to pay tribute to the team of destiny.

The Canadian Football League is our game. With distinctive Canadian rules, it is excitement personified. Since Lord Grey first presented the prize for supremacy in Canadian football 92 years ago, we have seen this game played in snow, rain, fog, sub-zero weather and every other element imaginable.

Today I would like to congratulate Mike “Pinball” Clemons and the entire Argo team. Many thought this team would not even make the playoffs. It was an injury-plagued team, with a quarterback, Damon Allen, who was considered by some to be past his prime.

Yet Damon Allen won most valuable player of the game. He represents Canadian football. He is determined, gritty and a tremendous tactician of the game.

Canadians have rediscovered what many of us already know. There is no game like it. Give me the CFL any day, a league in which we can still afford to take our family to a game without having to take our bank manager. Thanks to Toronto for a tremendous year. Argos!

Jimmy ShelstadStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, words are inadequate to express the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking grief experienced by the family on the death of a child. That emotion is multiplied a million times when the death could have been prevented.

This summer, 17 year old Jimmy Shelstad was tragically killed in a marked crosswalk in Sherwood Park. He was struck by a drunk driver. One cannot imagine the overwhelming burden of grief on Jimmy's parents, Blake and Gladys, grandparents Keith and Carole, and the rest of the family. His school friends have erected a memorial at the intersection where this tragedy happened. I drive by it frequently and grieve for the family.

Jimmy had to pay the supreme price for his killer's mistake, but his killer will probably get a conditional sentence. This has to end. How we all wish that the penalties could be severe enough to actually stop drunks from driving. Then we would have no more shattered dreams and broken hearts.

Daniel Andrew IannuzziStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer my deepest condolences and sympathies to family and friends on the passing of Daniel Andrew Iannuzzi.

Mr. Iannuzzi, known to his friends as Dan, was an exceptional citizen. A third generation Italian Canadian, he grew up fluent in English, French and Italian.

His presence extended well beyond the borders of this nation. His love was Canada.

He was the founder of the world's first multilingual television station broadcasting in 24 languages. He was also the founder of the Ethnic Press Association of Ontario and of Canada's leading Italian language newspaper,

Corriere Canadese.

He was a member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of Ontario.

Dan Iannuzzi was truly a bright light and a beacon for multiculturalism. He understood the country, was a great agent for change, a man ahead of his times.

Canada is a better place to live for all Canadians, thanks to his great efforts. He made a great contribution.

Aline LétourneauStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to acknowledge the extraordinary volunteer efforts of one of my constituents. Aline Létourneau has returned to North Hatley following an assignment abroad for the Canadian Executive Service Organization, or CESO.

Ms. Létourneau travelled to Balti, Moldova, at the request of a non-profit organization providing services to unemployed women, to promote private enterprise development in accordance with international standards. She assisted with staff training, helped develop a project for adolescents and participated in the final stages of a project to reduce the gap for women entrepreneurs.

According to CESO, Aline Létourneau is a dedicated and highly qualified cooperant who works without pay. Her contribution abroad shows what people from here can do for the development of disadvantaged economies. Once again, congratulations to Aline Létourneau.

2004 Grey CupStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to congratulate the organizers of the 92nd Grey Cup festivities in Ottawa.

The nation's capital welcomed football fans from across the country in what turned out to be a truly festive Canadian experience. When we have Canadians from coast to coast to coast picking their favourite teams, cheering them on and all joining in this great Canadian tradition, that is truly a remarkable situation.

Kudos to the Canadian Football League, to Brad Waters and the Renegades Football Club, to the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, to our service clubs, volunteers and organizations for being great hosts, and to the NCC for turning on the Christmas lights early.

Congratulations mostly to the B.C. Lions and the 2004 Grey Cup champions, the Toronto Argonauts.