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House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the question this way. I really do not care whether the department is divided in two, three or four. If the government chooses to make two small departments out of one big one, so be it.

What I am saying is that we put forward anti-scab legislation and we would like it to be supported be every party in the House to ensure fairness for all workers across Canada, and not only for those lucky ones living in a province where there is anti-scab legislation. Every worker in Canada should be afforded that protection, whether in Quebec or elsewhere.

It could have been done under the bigger department. I believe people across the way have the necessary resources and competent staff to move on that legislation. By the way, it was put to a vote in the House of Commons and defeated. We are pushing the issue because we believe it is very important to have a fair balance of powers between workers and employers. The situation today is unfair: one person, the employer, decides for all the others, and the workers have no say.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate, as did my colleague from the NDP, the member's interest in this matter and in the anti-strike legislation. I appreciate his knowledge of it and his passion for it.

When he says, “this side of the House” doing something, I would say two things. First, as I said, this legislation has come from a standing committee that unanimously supported the idea of dividing the department. Second, in this day and age, when the two parties over there have finished voting, if they vote against this side, this side is lost. Therefore the power lies on that side.

I would simply repeat that I think he has a better opportunity to get a hearing for his anti-strike legislation under the bill which we are debating today than he did before.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe Canadians elected people to make decisions. They expect MPs to make enlightened decisions.

That is way I am trying to convince my colleagues on the other side of the House that anti-scab legislation is needed. It would address the unfairness in the current balance of powers between two groups, namely the employers and the workers.

For their constituents' sake, members on that side of the House would be well advised to support a fair balance of powers. When the time comes to put the question to the House, they should all rise and vote in favour of the legislation.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to participate in the debate on the bill to create the human resources and skills development segment of the whole human resources movement, and the next bill to deal with Social Development Canada.

As a municipal member for a number of years in other places, I found how important it was to understand the very basics of how a community interacts and recognizes its issues and concerns, and how a community in a social development context comes to grips with those issues with other levels of government and the non-profit and non-governmental organizations and sectors. As a result of that, earlier on we had a bill that dealt with closing the accountability loop for the non-profit sector because it is so important as part of community development strategies.

I think members of the House should undergo sort of an apprenticeship with respect to being able to use the tools that will help them do the job with communities in their constituencies. It occurred to me that the apprenticeship would not be complete without serving and participating, to some extent, on the human resources and skills development committee. I had the opportunity to do that. Certainly it is indicative of the deep understanding of the parliamentary secretary who chaired that committee for a number of years on how knowledgeable, conversant and how intimately aware the parliamentary secretary is with respect to community development models.

I am very interested and I think all members of the House share the interest in how HRSD in this bill evolves such that its framework better serves the community.

I think a little history would be helpful. The House will be reminded that last December the Prime Minister announced that Human Resources Development Canada would be reorganized into two departments, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Social Development Canada. Since that time we have been working together to ensure Canadians are well-served, while at the same time strengthening Canada's social foundations and building, through the decades of the 21st century, the capacity for communities to self-identify the issues that are important to them such that they become part of the strategy that makes the community strong, the cities and municipalities strong, the provinces strong and our country strong for engaging the global community in a competitive way.

The human resources and skills development act outlines the mandate, which is:

--to improving thestandard of living and quality of life of all Canadians by promoting a highly skilled andmobile workforce and an efficient and inclusivelabour market.

That is the mission statement. Any of us who have had experience with non-governmental or non-profit organizations, be it whatever organizations that serve the community, know how very important it is to have fundamental truth built in to that sense of mission and to promote in the global context a highly skilled and mobile workforce.

An efficient and inclusive labour market means that there is not one Canadian, either today or in the future, who should fall through the cracks of our system. Each and every Canadian has to fulfill his or her capabilities and potentialities to become a constructive, involved and committed part of our Canadian mosaic. Nothing is more important to that end than having the skills and tools to do the job and to be able to compete in a fulfilling way in our job markets.

Besides providing a foundation and rationale for the department's programs, the legislation includes a proposed harmonized code governing the disclosure of personal information. It also outlines joint responsibility for shared delivery of services with Social Development Canada. It ensures that the department has all the legal powers and tools it needs to fulfill this new mandate and responsibility.

It is not the intent to start to spill over into the edges of the discussion in Bill C-22, which is dealing with Social Development Canada. In my humble estimation, there has always been, I believe, a shortage of applicable research that is then brought to bear in terms of best practices on the development of the new tools, the skills development programs. As a sidebar comment, it is my hope when we are going to be discussing Bill C-22 that in the continuity or the bridging or the linking between Skills Development Canada, there is that very important component, which is the absolute requirement to link the best available research in terms of models and best practices that work best and then are implemented through the skills development and human resources component.

Let me take a few minutes also to speak about these additional responsibilities and what HRSDC is striving to achieve. First and foremost, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is an organization that values and cultivates partnerships to accomplish its goals.

I cannot emphasize how important that is, because every member in the chamber can reflect on the best practices that work and work best with high value-added in their communities. They are the initiatives that find partnerships, be it with the unions and the labour components within our constituencies or be it through sector agreements that bring the critical mass of activities together in an integrated way. It is these partnerships with education, community colleges, post-secondary education and institutions that really are the strength of community development models, and the reorganization of the department will recognize that these need to be cultivated within a more strategic framework.

The new department is working with the provincial and territorial governments, the private sector, unions, educational institutions, communities and local organizations to achieve objectives that matter to each and every Canadian, regardless of where they live and whatever their age or their aim, dream or ambition for their lives and families.

HRDC's primary goal, working with a broad range of committed partners, is to help Canadians acquire the skills and learning they need to find productive, meaningful work. The new name sums up the new department's mandate precisely. The term “human resources” acknowledges that the strength of our economy and our quality of life depends on the strength of all Canadians. We are in fact more than just the sum of our parts. We need, as I have said before, to cultivate, enrich, vitalize and nurture every bit of capacity we have within individuals across this country. Our economy depends absolutely on Canadians' learning and skills and the opportunities they create for themselves and, in doing that, opportunities for others.

This is why the skills development component of the department's name is so crucial to the well-being of Canadians. It behooves us just for a moment to think about skills development, because the term recognizes the most pressing fact of our 21st century economy. Our economy is knowledge based. It is intensely competitive. It is ever-changing with respect to the demands for new and enhanced skills and learning.

In the past, Canadians could rely on 12 years of publicly funded education and then live off that educational investment for the rest of their lives. We can all reflect with respect to our families and our neighbours and their families that Canadians today must continue to learn continuously throughout their lives to keep pace with the evolving technologies and the challenges of labour market demands.

When we refer to the new technologies we are not talking just about the people in skyscrapers moving billions of dollars around the globe in nanoseconds. We are actually talking about the day to day working environments of all Canadians, whether they are employed in fish processing plants, libraries, mines, hospitals or cabinet making shops, the full spectrum of economic activity, of employment and labouring activity that takes place across our country.

Today, every sector of every economy is becoming computerized. There is a vastly different set of skills at play here and a different scope, if we will, to the concept of literacy. If we want a strong, healthy economy and a strong and vibrant nation, we have to stay adaptable and develop these new skills. To say that is to understate the nature of change in our global society with respect to not only those skills that are needed by young people who are entering the workforce, but the skills of people who become redundant to one part or one phase in their working career and need to be retrained to re-enter the workforce.

The government and I believe, and I am sure all members of the House believe, that it is crucial for Canadians to start thinking about skills development and learning as a wonderful attribute that can contribute immeasurably to their jobs, their personal lives and their communities. Skills and learning stimulate the economy, obviously, but give value and a sense of worth to every single individual within the community. This is why it is so important to emphasize in our human resources strategies that the aim is to cultivate the individual and the individual's worth, to give that individual a sense of identity, role, capacity and capability within our various employee sectors.

We have talked about the term lifelong learning. Within the context, then, of what I have described as the challenges facing our citizens in a global community, lifelong learning surely therefore is the key to good jobs and Canadians' personal security. Their sense of fulfillment has a better chance of actualizing, of actually happening, if we are strategic in terms of developing skills in a community development model with these kinds of partnerships. This is the goal the government is striving for, working in partnership with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, labour, industry, the academic community and the many local associations and organizations dedicated to helping our citizens realize their full potential.

Within five years, 70% of jobs in Canada will require post-secondary education, yet currently too many Canadians drop out of school too early. As a result, today only 41% of our population has post-secondary qualifications.

We have seen various sectors where that is an even a larger anomaly, as it were, with respect to our statistics. We have long been aware that our first nations and aboriginal communities are so important to tapping into the true potential which in turn will contribute to their own self-actualization and in fact to the kind of success we want for our country.

We are facing an enormous challenge as a nation. That is why the Government of Canada has devoted about a quarter of all new federal spending to education and innovation initiatives since first balancing the books in 1997-98. That adds up to more than $36 billion in spending. These dollars have helped, I would suggest, but we will and we must continue to do more. I would like to highlight some of the department's priorities which support Canadian skills development and lifelong learning.

As hon. members are aware, budget 2004 improved the Canada student loans program; others have spoken about this. We know that this includes a grant of up to $3,000 for students from low income families to cover a portion of tuition for first year students.

The government is also working on the development of a workplace skills strategy to help Canadians improve their skills in the workplace.

Under the active measures of the employment insurance program, in 2003-04 we helped almost 700,000 Canadians under the employment benefits and support measures of part II of the Employment Insurance Act. That is accomplished in partnership with communities and organizations across the country. I know constituents and I know that all members of the House have met with constituents who are using these opportunities to get back on their feet and achieve personal security for themselves and their families and the sense of well-being that a good job can provide.

Millions of Canadians are helped each year by programs under EI and through our youth employment strategy, YES. YES is a strategy that helps young people aged 15 to 30 get valuable work experience and the skills they need to succeed. It also assists young people who have had particular difficulties in entering the labour market to forge a productive future for themselves. Talking about YES and my experience, there is a group within my constituency and bordering constituencies which, under the labour sector council, has established in partnership with the unions specific apprenticeship programs that are helping young people.

As the House is aware, literacy also is one of the key foundation skills we need for sustainable employment and for a fulfilling personal community life. Literacy and other essential foundation skills are absolutely important, to be bridged with computer skills, as part of our workplace skills strategy.

To conclude, I know that we all share a common objective as a government, as members of this House and as citizens of this vast country, that is, to help Canadians fulfill their potential so that we can ensure our nation's well-being for generations to come.

For all these reasons, I am pleased to support this legislation. I hope the House will support it. It focuses the mandate of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development on, among other things, the absolute needs of Canadian workers in the labour market.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the comments by the hon. member, the efforts of the government in the human resources and skills development initiative. This is a small step, but it is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, there is lots to be done in the human resources and skills development area.

This is triggered by the shortage of skills in our country as well as the brain drain that has been taking place for a period of time. We know that there is brain drain, but there has been little effort by the government to capitalize on brain gain. What I mean by brain gain is the newer immigrants who migrate to Canada, who choose to come to this country to contribute and be meaningful participants.

There are many people who have lots of skills. Their degrees are properly recognized in other countries, but in Canada they are not recognized. I tabled a motion in 1998-99, which was debated in the House. In fact I am the only one who brought this issue to the House at the federal level and initiated the debate about the recognition of foreign academic credentials.

At that time I asked for two things from the government. One was that we need to standardize some sort of post-secondary education within the country. A person may have certain qualifications from one province, but if the person goes to another province, he or she cannot utilize that education. For example, a diploma for dental surgery from another province is not recognized by my province of British Columbia. I asked the government to ask the council of universities to develop a national standard for professional education and thereafter to use that standard in recognizing foreign academic credentials and experience.

When immigrants come to Canada they bring with them a lot of good education, professional skills and professional experience, but due to our system, which is lacking, those degrees are not recognized. As a result, doctors, engineers, professors and scientists have to work at menial jobs. They drive taxis, do janitorial work or work at gas stations. What happens to their skills they brought with them? Because of a lack of recognition in Canada, those skills are wasted. That is a shame. Both ways we lose; as a nation, we lose, and as new immigrants, they lose.

Ottawa pledged $50 million for skills development or language skills, I would say. For many years the government has been dancing around this issue. When my motion was opposed by the Liberals, they realized that they made a mistake and they included in the following throne speech a paragraph regarding recognizing foreign academic credentials. Time has passed and there has been no action.

I ask the member, rather than just dancing around the issue, what concrete steps has the government taken in recognizing those professional skills and experience newer immigrants bring to this country?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly congratulate the member on his interest and, in fact, his vision and foresight with respect to this issue. It was a huge opportunity lost if in 1998-99 the wherewithal did exist to look at the whole issue of foreign credentials and to take action which may have alleviated some of the skill shortages that we are suffering in key sectors.

The member's comments become even more graphic and profound when we think that between 2011 and 2016 immigration is expected to account for 100% of Canada's net labour force growth.

It is absolutely important that we maximize the credentials that immigrants bring to this country. We do not want them relegated to doing things they are not trained for and which are not self-fulfilling.

The 2003 budget also invested $40 million over five years to improve foreign credentials. There was another $5 million per year committed in the 2004 budget.

Through the foreign credentials program we are working to try and make up for actions that perhaps we should have taken and opportunities lost because we did not act in the past. We are acting now. We are meeting with territorial sector councils and with other partners to accelerate the integration of internationally trained professionals.

I think that is what all Canadians want us to do. Canadians want us to bring into the mainstream of professional and labour life those people with qualifications, such that they can add to the quality of life of all Canadians.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, we finished yesterday at 6.30 p.m. with the Liberal member for West Nova. I would like to go over a few things he mentioned during his speech.

Yesterday, you could have knocked me over with a feather. This is not saying much about the risk of industrial accidents pervading the House. The member for West Nova was bragging about his government's sound management of public finances, as it had shown a $45 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, and I quote:

Now, we cannot talk about a fund, say that this is workers' money and that it is not being given back to them. If we now have a surplus in that program, which has more revenues than expenses, it is because we had a good government.

Incidentally, I would point out that he should use this line with his government. The way he puts it, with more being taken than given back, it is fiscal imbalance. The government will then understand that you have fiscal imbalance when you take more than you give.

The Liberal government is proud to produce a surplus to the detriment of the poorest in our society, even as new entrants into the labour force must complete more hours than others before having access to benefits, which penalizes the poorest and the youngest. Not only that, but seasonal workers are without benefits for about five weeks before going back to work. Also, self-employed people, who account for 16% of the workforce, are uninsurable under this legislation.

If this is not being dishonest toward the public, I wonder what it is. Yet, the Bloc Québécois is proposing concrete solutions to solve these problems. On one hand, we demand that the government reimburse the content of the employment insurance fund over 10 years in order to improve the plan and to ensure a reasonable reserve should there be an economic crisis. On the other hand, the government must establish a separate employment insurance fund to ensure the unemployed have access to benefits and to be more transparent in this accessibility process. We also demand that the maximum benefit period go from 45 to 50 weeks.

Here is my question. How can the member for York South—Weston be proud of his government, which appropriates the $45 billion to the detriment of workers and employers? How can the Liberals sleep when they are so insensitive toward the victims of this outrageous pillage?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the Auditor General reviewed, on two occasions since I have been in the House, the use of the employment insurance fund, the Auditor General's criticism was in two basic areas.

One was that there was not an exact accounting out of the fund for the reimbursement back into job training, skills development and related activities. It was an accounting aspect that the Auditor General was putting her finger on. The second thing as I recall was the charge that the government, as a result of that, was taking money and putting it into general revenues and then spending it on a variety of unrelated activities.

I may be wrong but it is my belief that the government is now acting with respect to the recommendations that were made. If the $45 billion had been accounted for according to accounting procedures in terms of what amount of that money actually went into employment development and to regional programs that would attempt to deal with regional employment issues, in fact it would have accounted for a great deal of that money.

To answer the other question with respect to reimbursing the fund, I think that what we want to do is get actual value in accounting terms for the money that is being taken in from employers and employees and accounting for that as we reinvest in Canadians. In fact that is the objective of the bill.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

On December 12, 2003, in keeping with the wishes of the Prime Minister, the Department of Human Resources Development was divided into the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Social Development.

According to the Prime Minister, the justification for this was to strengthen our social foundations. As a result, 14,000 public servants who manage more than $20 billion, supposedly in order to strengthen the social foundations of Canada, will be mandated to build the economy of the 21st century.

Human Resources and Skills Development will therefore hold a mandate to promote the development of highly skilled workers. As far as I know, however, this is already being done in Quebec and successfully done at that, until there is any evidence to the contrary.

What then lies behind this endless desire of the central government to interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction, on the pretext of improving Canadians' quality of life, especially when the Employment Insurance mess is obviously not a good advertisement for massive intrusion into an area that would definitely merit being brought into line with the needs of the provinces, the regions of Quebec in particular?

Whether the topic is employment insurance rules, setting up an independent fund, or community housing needs, I can see no need at all to change the rules of the game.

The real issue is this: How is this new approach likely to improve the lot of individuals, when we have not talked at all about correcting the eligibility criteria for the vulnerable people who are EI clients, or about improving the current, inadequate structure?

Bill C-280 introduced by the Bloc Québécois deserves to be adopted, because it establishes the composition of the Employment Insurance Commission. The commission would be far sighted enough to incorporate in its structure representatives of employees and employers appointed by the governor in council, a chairperson appointed by the House of Commons, and vice-chairpersons selected from among the deputy ministers or associate deputy ministers of Human Resources Development Canada.

The second part of Bill C-23 deals with the appointment of a Minister of Labour and all his powers, duties and functions, all for the purpose of improving the standard of living and quality of life of Canadians by promoting, among other things, a highly skilled and mobile workforce, and reinforcing the social foundations of Canada.

How, then, can we explain the government's stubborn opposition to passing an anti-strike-breaker law in the past, the bill now reintroduced by one of our hon. members as Bill C-263? Logically, Bills C-23 and C-263 should be considered together if we want to improve the quality of life of working people.

As for manpower development, the Government of Quebec has no lessons to learn from Ottawa, especially since the four client groups that escaped its grip in 1997—young people, people with disabilities, immigrants and older workers—are not receiving the attention they need for their freedom.

As for the section of the bill dedicated to the national homelessness initiative, whose purpose is to establish support mechanisms for the homeless, especially to help them settle and prevent other people at risk from joining their ranks, the proposed federal initiative itself has no permanence, which is clearly a necessity under the circumstances.

Needless to say, in my riding like in any riding with an inner city, social housing and homelessness are major problems. That is why the proposed measures will have to take into account this new dynamic. Both in terms of approach and funding, we will be expecting long-term solutions, and not ad hoc programs like the ones we are unfortunately seeing all too often these days.

There is nothing in this bill guaranteeing anything substantive to promote housing development in order to make housing more accessible and in particular to ensure that it not take up too much of the tenants' monthly budget. As for measures to improve the employment insurance program, efforts must be made particularly to ensure that they are geared toward helping the target clientele made up of young people, people with disabilities, seasonal workers and older workers who all too often face the sudden closure of their places of work.

It must be recognized once and for all that the solution is not always to question existing programs, be they federal or provincial, but rather to ensure that programs complement one another and respect the jurisdictions of each level of government. If as much energy was put into bringing each existing program, regardless of its origin, in line with the others as is put into claiming paternity for programs, this would go a long way toward facilitating the well-being of all citizens.

In a nutshell, there is nothing in this legislation to ensure a better world in terms of industrial relations, employment insurance and social housing, given that the funding for acceptable solutions is not provided. In this bill as in many others, one of the problems may be insufficient reliance on the available human potential because, in many cases, administrative constraints hinder creativity.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague with great interest. I would like to ask him the question that I have asked one or two of his colleagues.

We are discussing legislation which would establish the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Under Bill C-22, we will be discussing the establishment of the new Department of Social Development. The division of the old department of HRDC was recommended unanimously by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

We are discussing the unanimous will of the House of Commons, including the Bloc. The standing committee, that considered the legislation at the time, felt that the department, which had been set up by the Mulroney government and consisted of four or five old federal departments, was too large. Its budget was well over $60 billion. Much more importantly, it was much too diverse. The Canada pension plan, employment insurance, literacy, child care, and a whole variety of things were brought together in that department in such a way that it was difficult to manage them all. The House of Commons as a whole agreed that the old department should be split and we should establish two new departments.

We have been debating the establishment of one of these two new departments for two days. As I mentioned earlier, this division has not cost any money. It will not cost more money to run the two departments than it did to run the huge, previous single department.

I know my colleague is interested in these things. Given the fact that the Bloc supported the division of that department, why is it that he and his party are not going to support this legislation? This new department will deliver services to the unemployed in a much more effective way than before. It will deliver literacy programs to children, immigrants, seniors, and older workers, and deliver those services in a much more efficient way. Why is it that the Bloc, having supported the division of the department, is so adamant now that it will not support Bill C-23?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer my colleague's question, I will say that what we mostly want is to ensure that the funds allocated to the improvement of the quality of life of our fellow citizens are shared fairly and above all be brought back under the authority of the Government of Quebec.

In the course of my last interventions, I have had opportunities to allude, in particular, to the closing of factories in my riding or in the neighbouring riding. We end up with a shipyard, for example, where the majority of workers are more than 50 years old. In the neighbouring riding, there is a factory where, the majority of the 600 workers were more than 50 years old.

We had thus to ensure that social measures were really implemented, through specific programs, to ensure that those people could enjoy, for however many years, a certain quality of life. In short, if there is disagreement, it is not so much over the principle as the fact that there are already services, within each level of government, likely to help all those who face specific problems.

In the case of Quebec, we want the money, because we are able to manage it better. Indeed, we are better aware of the regional problems in Quebec. You must always look at what is going on. To be frank, let me tell you that, in my riding there is practically no such thing as seasonal unemployment. This means...

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I am sorry to interrupt the member. The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-23, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. We must all keep in mind that, in order to know where we are headed, we must know where we are coming from. It is also important to understand where the employment insurance program in Canada comes from. Let us never forget that employment insurance is a social measure. Under the Constitution of 1867, that responsibility was given to the provinces. This was the reality then.

In 1940, the provinces and the federal government agreed to transfer the unemployment insurance program to the federal government. Why did this take place in 1940? It was the beginning of World War II and we had just gone through the 1929 Great Depression. So, the decision to give to the federal government the responsibility for unemployment insurance was made by all the partners under the Constitution.

Of course, over the years, things got a little messy, because the federal government wanted to throw its weight around and go further than what had been negotiated in 1940, which involved only unemployment insurance. This is why we are now debating this issue and why the Bloc Québécois is being asked why it is so dead set against the establishment of two new departments. In fact, the responsibility given to the federal government in 1940 has become a huge snowball that will never stop rolling, for the simple reason that, politically speaking, Ottawa is finding it profitable to invest in all kinds of jurisdictions that do not belong to it. This is where we have a problem.

Indeed, Bill C-23 mentions all the activities that these two new separate departments of Human Resources and Skills Development could perform. These include areas such as employment programs, the workplace, learning, the homeless and the redistribution of benefits in all these sectors. This is where we say “Wait a minute: except for employment insurance, the other jurisdictions or initiatives mentioned in the bill come under the provinces”.

Some might ask us why we are acting like the great defenders of the provinces' interests. Actually, it is because provinces are closer to the real life issues the public faces. The simple truth is that the better service can only be provided by the level of government which is closer to the public. So, the Quebec government is closer to the interests of Quebeckers. Moreover, this is all in accordance with the various jurisdictions which were established in the Constitution of 1867.

This needs to be constantly explained because, too often, Liberal members centralize and are absolutely bent on getting good press or on investing in jurisdictions they do not possess. Obviously, that is the fight we are waging. In addition, the worthiest fight has to do with the jurisdiction that was granted to the federal government in 1940, namely unemployment insurance, which has become employment insurance. Instead of splitting this department and trying to achieve a better distribution of the enormous work load that this department has taken on above and beyond the jurisdictions that were set in 1940, we should look for ways to improve the employment insurance system. This all the Bloc and all its members in this House are asking for.

I know that my colleagues have been doing so ever since the Bloc Québécois arrived here in this House, that is, in 1993. It is a fact that the government is making money at the expense of the workers as far as employment insurance is concerned. Since 1996, the federal government has not put one red cent into it. The funds come from contributions by employers and workers, which are making the fund bigger.

The federal government of course tells us there is no fund. It is absolutely right. It has done away with it. So these contributions merely go into the coffers of the government and are used for other purposes. Other purposes have been created in response to numerous criticisms. This is why the Department of Human Resources has become so large and why it is getting involved in so many things that are not its responsibility. In fact, with a surplus of $3 billion or $4 billion, an average of $3.5 billion from the EI fund since 1996, it has decided to invest in such areas of learning, work, homelessness and back to work programs.

All of these are provincial jurisdictions. All it needed to do, if it wanted to administer properly, and this was the advice the government was given, was to create an independent fund administered in large part by employer and employee representatives. They would be better placed to decide what an EI system ought to be like.

In fact, quite simply, as its name suggests, it is insurance paid into by employees and employers. It is likely the only insurance program where contributors do not have a word to say about it. The federal government is the one to decide what it is going to do with the premiums it collects, and it has decided to invest them in things other than improvements to the program.

I do not want to hear how the program is not in particular need of improvement. We know that, in sectors like forestry, agriculture and tourism, work is seasonal, not the worker but the work. It is not the fault of the people in these areas, who work for three, four, five or six months a year, that they have no work, it is the nature of the sector. It operates when it is profitable, when it will make money. Often in forestry, agriculture or tourism, the weather is the determining factor.

That is why all the members of the Bloc Québécois, the men and women who represent Quebeckers, were prepared to improve this system. We have tabled bills. My learned colleagues, critics for various issues, have tabled bills to amend the employment insurance system.

What the Liberal government is proposing is not changes or improvements to the employment insurance system. It is proposing to change the departments. I understand that.

I had a chance to go through the directory of federal agencies. The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development has more than a dozen separate sections each with its own internal auditor. Just imagine. When you read the directory, you notice that each section of this department has an internal auditor and yet they find a way, year in year out, to be reprimanded by the auditor general.

In other words, the department has become so big that they want to split it up. The problem is that there are too many programs to manage. Why is that? It is because the federal Liberal government has made too much money and has given this department so many new responsibilities that it now wants to divide the department in two. It will probably be easier to monitor it that way.

It is very difficult to manage. Earlier I heard the Liberal member tell us that people agreed. Yes, we agree and we understand. The department has become so big that it has to be divided in two to make two even bigger snowballs. That is what will happen if we do not stop them.

That is why the Bloc Québécois is here to say, and to make the Liberal members realize, that they have to stop. The departments they are in the process of creating, Human Resources and Skills Development, have jurisdictions that do not belong them. These jurisdictions belong to the provinces, as stipulated in the Constitution Act, 1867.

From the outset I have been saying that we have to look to our history if we want to know where we are headed. This department was created by a single agreement in 1940. It had only one responsibility and that was to manage unemployment insurance at the time. Today we have a bill to divide the department in two because it has become too big with too many responsibilities that do not belong to it.

Listen to the Bloc Québécois for once. Give money to the provinces, give up some of your responsibilities and there will be enough of a department left to manage employment insurance, which should thereby be improved for seasonal workers.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I know the members of the Bloc are very interested in the Canada-Quebec labour market agreement. The federal government and the Government of Quebec are interested in the labour market development agreement mechanism.

The Government of Quebec has submitted expenses under the Canada-Quebec labour market agreement for workplace based training for employed workers. This is the first formal request to use the employment insurance part II funds to help employers train employed people. Officials of both governments are having discussions aimed at clarifying admissible expenses for workplace training for employed workers.

We are committed to support eligible unemployed persons through employment insurance part II. Annual funding for Quebec has increased considerably since 1996. It was $427 million in 1996-97. In the last year it is almost $600 million. This is particularly notable when over the same period of time, unemployment rates have fallen substantially, from 11.9% in 1996 to 7.2% in June of this year, as has the province of Quebec social assistant client caseload.

In 2004-05 Quebec will again receive $596 million under employment insurance part II. Does the member not think we are debating the formation of a new streamlined department which will focus more effectively on the problems of the unemployed? Why is his party not supporting the development of a better mechanism to deliver funds of this magnitude?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I thank my Liberal colleague for his question. This will give me the opportunity to speak about a certain sector.

He gave the example of transfer in the workplace. As a matter of fact, the Quebec government created local employment centres. It is true that there was an agreement with the federal government, but it is the Quebec government that manages this sector, while the federal government gives it a cheque.

This is a very good example. He should go on and use the example that he just gave to show that this is done in Quebec and was done at the time of the Parti Québécois government, in cooperation with the Government of Canada. It shows that we are not always quarrelling with the federal government. However, each one respected its jurisdictions.

What I am saying to my colleague is that, if the government had done so in all the areas of jurisdiction mentioned in this bill, it would not have to divide the department in two to create two big snowballs. Instead, it would only approve funds and transfer them to the provinces, which could provide the service to the public in the best way possible.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been here all day, and I understand the interest and concern of Bloc members for the unemployed, I understand their concern that people, who are in transition between jobs or who are at the end of their career too early, be served as well as is humanly possible. I am less sympathetic to some of their arguments, but I understand their concerns about jurisdiction.

I favour lifelong learning and it is a matter for every Canadian. Education is the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. However, one of the roles of the federal government is to encourage the best practices in lifelong learning across the country. I do not see a federal government moving in and taking over from Quebec any jurisdiction of lifelong learning.

I understand the member's concerns. We are debating a specific bill, Bill C-23 on the creation of this new department, which I believe will be more effective in delivering the federal government's roles in these various areas. There is no change in jurisdiction. The new department is taking over part of the jurisdiction of the programs of the old department, which the House unanimously agreed was too large and to diverse.

Given that there is no change in jurisdiction and given there is no greater infringement in jurisdiction in the new department than there was in the old, why is the Bloc is opposing this legislation? In committee the Bloc members unanimously supported it, and the House of Commons recommended the division of the old department.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would need a lot of time to reply to the hon. member's question and to set him straight as some would say.

However, I will simply use one example to explain why we are opposed. I will just give the example of the proposed employment insurance commission in the bill.

Bloc Québécois members have always been clear in this House. They have been clear since 1993. They are asking that the employment insurance fund be put in the hands of employers' and employees' representatives.

Once again, the government is proposing an employment insurance commission, which would consist of four commissioners appointed by the federal government, when it should be the employees' and employers' representatives who appoint their respective commissioners. Why? Because since 1996, the federal government has not invested one penny in the fund. Of course, the problem is that it will not let the fund be managed by those who contribute to it; instead, it manages it and it keeps the money.

Auditor General's ReportGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Auditor General of Canada for the year 2004.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3) (g) , this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Har Ranjit Singh KalkatStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform all members in the House that Lieutenant General H.R.S. Kalkat of India is visiting Canada and is in Ottawa. He and his wife are visiting their daughter who is a Canadian citizen.

Prior to his retirement, General Kalkat was the top general in charge of the eastern command in India. He is known for his expertise in mountain warfare and exceptional organizational skills. He is a veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. General Kalkat is a graduate of the Defence Service Staff College and the National Defence College, and holds a post-graduate degree in military service. He also served as the military, naval and air adviser of the south Pacific region and was posted to Australia from 1982-86.

I ask all hon. members to welcome Lieutenant General H.R.S. Kalkat to Canada. He is a distinguished soldier, diplomat and citizen of India.

AlbertaStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate Premier Ralph Klein and his Conservative team on their 10th consecutive win in Alberta.

I would especially like to congratulate Doug Griffiths, LeRoy Johnson, the hon. Shirley McClellan, Richard Marz, Ray Prins, George Rogers, Lyle Oberg and Carol Haley for their resounding victories which are a direct testimony of the dedication and hard work of their campaigns, and also their hard work as incumbent MLAs.

Yesterday the people of Alberta also democratically elected three people to represent them in the Senate. We now encourage the Prime Minister to do the right thing and appoint these three deserving candidates to the Senate.

Because the Conservative Party of Canada wholeheartedly agrees with other Albertans, we too want an effective, elected and equally representated Senate. Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric about the democratic deficit, we are not confident the Prime Minister agrees. For all his talk about democratic reform, there appears to be very little action. Hopefully, this will change with this Alberta Senate election.

Mining IndustryStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Bonin Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, mineral exploration is the lifeblood of the Canadian mining industry. Over the last 25 years, the systematic decline in reserves provides clear evidence of the need for a more competitive environment to stimulate greater exploration and development.

In October 2000 the Liberal government introduced the investment tax credit for exploration in Canada. The estimated $1 billion raised by the program has had a significant impact in the economic prosperity of rural and northern regions.

In Sudbury there have been several successful discoveries by junior mineral exploration companies financed through this program: two by FNX Mining and Dynatec Corporation joint venture and one by Wallbridge Mining.

Today, being Mining Day on the Hill, I call upon the government to continue with this program and give assurances to Canadians living in rural and northern regions that they too can enjoy the benefits of a good paying job while living in some of the most beautiful areas of this great country.

Université LavalStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Clavet Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, Université Laval has added a new jewel to its crown. It has just received a prestigious award from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Scotiabank-AUCC Award for Excellence in Internationalization.

This latest honour recognizes its excellence in providing students with experience in developing countries while earning credits towards their degrees through Le stage international et interculturel.

After three years in existence, Laval's program has established 22 partnerships in 11 developing countries. So far, 137 students have benefited from this program, and have helped their host countries reap over $215,000 in spin-offs and services.

Congratulations to Laval, a university with its roots in the riding of Louis-Hébert and an international reputation that is the pride of all Quebeckers.

Fire SafetyStatements By Members

November 23rd, 2004 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to introduce members to an organization called Staying Alive Inc. Staying Alive is a non profit, volunteer driven program that promotes fire safety education for children. It is a Winnipeg based initiative started by Shane Ferguson, a local firefighter.

Shane started the program after a terrible house fire cost the life a young girl who decided to hide under the bed to escape the smoke. The family had working smoke alarms in the home but no home escape plan that the child could follow.

Shane and a group of 100 dedicated volunteers have developed an interactive CD-ROM called The Great Escape. It helps children learn what to do at home when the smoke alarm sounds. Staying Alive is now in the process of developing a curriculum so that The Great Escape can be taught in every primary school in Canada.

Congratulations to Shane, Dan Choy, Mitch Dorge and Jeff Derraugh, and the many others for creating such a worthwhile and most important lifesaving program.

The EnvironmentStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson Conservative St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, 30 years ago the Government of Canada said no to the transport of tankers through Head Harbour Passage to a proposed oil refinery in Eastport, Maine, U.S.A. The government of the day took the strong position to protect Canada's environment by refusing the passage of tankers through internal Canadian waters, the only route possible. The project died.

Today a similar project is being considered in the United States. This time it is a liquefied natural gas project. Canada has everything to lose and nothing to gain from this proposal.

I urge the Government of Canada to once again stand up and protect our citizens and our environment, and say no to the transport of LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage.

Welland CanalStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, on November 30 the Niagara region will celebrate William Hamilton Meritt Day and the 175th anniversary of the Welland Canal.

Every year approximately 3,000 ocean and lake vessels carry 40 million tonnes of cargo. Ships move up and down the Niagara Escarpment through the brilliant, yet simple, engineering feat of utilizing an abundant water source and the earth's gravity.

In 1824 William Hamilton Meritt, the great-great-great-grandfather of St. Catharines' current mayor, Tim Rigby, had a vision for his community: to link Lake Ontario and Lake Erie for the purpose of trade. This canal would bypass Niagara Falls and would provide a more reliable water supply for the saw and gristmills along Twelve Mile Creek. Construction began on November 24, 1824, and it was officially opened in 1829. The canal generated a shipbuilding industry which bolstered the local economy and saw three additional canals built between 1842 and 1932.

I am sure that all members will join me in wishing the Welland Canal Committee a happy 175th anniversary. May it bring another 175 years of prosperity to the Niagara region.