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House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industries.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 6:15 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

February 8th, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

moved that Bill C-280, an Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. I must advise the House of a ruling by the Chair with regard to Bill C-280.

The Chair has examined Bill C-280, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another act in consequence to determine whether its provisions would require a royal recommendation and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question at third reading.

Among other provisions, this bill mandates the appointment of 13 new commissioners to the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. The parent Act, in respect of this amending provision, namely the Department of Human Resources Development Act, provides that the members of this commission are to receive remuneration for their services.

Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (and Standing Order 79) prohibits votes on bills appropriating public revenues without royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues.

Where it is clear that the legislative objective of a bill cannot be accomplished without the dedication of public funds to that objective, the bill must be seen as the equivalent of a bill effecting an appropriation. The amending provision requiring a royal recommendation is found in clause 5 of the bill and appears to be the only provision requiring a royal recommendation.

Therefore, in its present form, I will decline to put the question on third reading unless a royal recommendation is received for this bill.

Today, the debate is on the motion for second reading and will continue as scheduled.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today, not only as Bloc Québécois member for the riding of Manicouagan, but also on behalf of Quebec voters, to whom the Bloc Québécois have been making a commitment on this issue during election campaigns since 1993, to rise to ask the federal government to give back to workers the money from the employment insurance account.

Today, I am pleased to take part in the debate, at second reading, of Bill C-280, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another act in consequence, which provides for the establishment of an independent fund managed by a commission. The commission would also have the power to set the premium rate.

First, the advantage to commissioners in managing an independent fund is that they would manage a real insurance program. As we know, employment insurance is an insurance for workers who lose their job, or whose employment is terminated. As regards these commissioners, the chairperson would be appointed by the House of Commons; the two vice-chairpersons could be the deputy ministers of the departments involved; seven representatives would be chosen by employees and seven by employers. After all, it is the employees and employers who contribute to the employment insurance account. The federal government does not invest any money in it. It only plays an administrative role with the fund.

The committee, which would report once a year to the Department of Human Resources and Development Skills, could also submit a report to the House of Commons. This means that the report could be made public, and those who contribute to the employment insurance account, namely employees and employers, would have access to it and would be able to see what is happening with the money that they paid through their premiums.

The government must also show greater transparency as regards the employment insurance fund. The fund must not be used, as it has since 1994, to fill the government's coffers. The Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance says that, this year, there is a surplus of $9.1 billion. There is a $4 billion in the employment insurance account. This means that the excess money in the EI fund is used to increase the surplus of the government, which then uses that money for purposes other than those for which it was intended.

The situation is similar in Quebec. I am addressing now voters in Quebec, who pay premiums to the Régie des rentes du Québec. All workers pay RRQ premiums. When they retire, they receive retirement benefits through the independently-managed RRQ.

Thus, we believe that the government should be clear and transparent and ensure that the money paid toward a certain end is not used toward another. We also believe that at least $15 billion per year should be set aside in the EI fund in case of an economic crisis. However, in 2004, according to the Auditor General, the government collected $48 billion in surplus from the EI fund.

The Bloc Québécois is proposing that the government hand back these funds to the employment insurance account management committee, into an independent fund managed by administrators completely independent of the government. This way the government could refund $4.6 billion per year. It would create a management fund and would give that commission the authority to set the premium levels.

The price is not the same when someone thinks he has insurance but in fact does not. This is what happens with respect to the EI fund. One hundred per cent of workers pay premiums; they have no choice, it is the law. However, only four out of ten workers are entitled to it.

The commission would also have the power to determine not only premium rates but to make recommendations to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The government could make a whole slew of recommendations. Now, this government took the money from workers who contribute to the employment insurance fund in order to increase its surplus and be seen as a good administrator. This reform was brought in under minister Axworthy and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Actually, the Axworthy reform was much too stringent. The year following the introduction of the reform, the employment insurance fund generated a surplus of $6 billion. In the following years, there was a succession of ministers. After minister Axworthy, there was minister Young. Then we had the present Foreign Affairs Minister, minister Jane Stewart. After her, we had the present Minister of Immigration, who administered the Human Resources Department. Finally, a new minister has been appointed, a member from Quebec and former Minister of Immigration. We hope she will understand workers of Quebec and give them the money which belongs to them.

When Prime Minister Chrétien decided to pay off the deficit with the surplus of the employment insurance fund, it became public robbery. Today, we have a commission of inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. There should also be a commission on the misappropriation of the $46 billion which served for purposes other than those intended.

Contributors to the employment insurance fund, employees and employers, have paid insurance to workers in case of job loss or severance. Now, those surpluses ended up in the consolidated revenue fund of the government, which was therefore able to increase its yearly surpluses by using those funds to pay off the deficit.

Therefore, this is a disguised tax for those who have access to employment insurance, since they contribute, not only as workers but also through their income tax and taxes like GST and PST. In fact, they are paying contributions which will be of no benefit to them. Only four workers out of ten will be paid employment insurance benefits.

The misappropriation of $46 billion justifies a public inquiry. In fact, it is a bigger scandal than that of the sponsorships. I would like the auditor general or even us, in Parliament, to ask publicly for an inquiry commission that could tell us how the government could take the workers money from their employment insurance fund to use it for other purposes.

The government remains insensitive to the situation of seasonal workers and we see more and more poverty in Canada because of the cuts in the employment insurance. Many families in the Manicouagan and Charlevoix areas and in the 75 ridings of Quebec and in fact, in the Maritimes and all of Canada, were penalized by the employment insurance reform.

With its bill, the Bloc Quebecois is calling for the creation of an independent fund that would be managed by independent managers and that could not be used to play politics at the expenses of the unemployed and the workers.

The commission could make many recommendations to the government. We already have a slew of unanimous reports from our human resources committee here, which include 17 recommendations.

The eight recommendations made recently include the creation of an independent fund. It is about time the Liberal government stopped playing politics at the expense of the poorest in our society. People who work two to three months a year do not contribute $20,000 to $25,000 a year to an RRSP. They have difficulty making ends meet. What is important for them, as the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst put it so well, is to put bread and butter on the table and to send their kids to school to get an education. They paid for insurance but, unfortunately, the government prevents them from getting their benefits.

I said earlier that it was a disguised tax. It is a disguised tax when people pay insurance premiums but are prevented from getting insurance benefits and when the money they pay goes to the government's consolidated fund and is used for other purposes namely to reduce the deficit. It is clear then that it is a disguised tax imposed on the unemployed.

Furthermore, it is incredible to think that only four people out of 10 are entitled to EI benefits, that is, six people out of 10 or 60% are not entitled. The majority of these are women, young people, seasonal workers, contract workers. By the way, more and more employers provide contract jobs to workers on call, part-time workers, casual workers, replacements for workers on holidays.

The Employment Insurance Commission is so ridiculous that it imposes contributions on students who interrupt their university or college education in May, enter the workforce during the summer and go back to school in August. The law forces them to contribute to the EI fund during their summer employment, knowing very well that these students will never receive EI benefits, since they must have worked 910 hours to qualify.

Let us take the example of a student who enters the workforce. He is a seasonal, on call, casual or temporary worker. As he cannot spend his whole life doing this, he decides to go back to school. The government, through the Department of Human Resources Development and Skills Development, does not give him employment insurance benefits. The first reason is that it is voluntary termination of employment. The second is that he is not available for employment. The young guy decides to go back to university to take an engineering, a technician's course or some other course required to be able to work in a trade on a longer term the year round. Once again, the student contributed for a few months or a year, or even more, to the EI fund. When, for some reason, he decides to quit his work to go back to university or college, he is not entitled to EI benefits.

Today, with early retirement systems, people are retiring younger and younger, for example, at 55, 58 or 60 years old. Young people will replace them. When these young people enter the workforce, which, by the way, is not easy in the regions, they must work at least 910 hours to qualify for EI benefits.

With the establishment of an independent committee and of an independent fund, non-politicized managers would have to issue recommendations with a view to improve the employment insurance benefits system. The 910-hour criterion is unacceptable for women and young people who are on the labour market.

This was not the first time that former Prime Minister Chrétien was grabbing jobless people by the throat. And yet, seasonal workers in the construction, fishing, tourism, forestry or paper industries need employment insurance. Jobs are seasonal, not the workers.

In closing, I would like to submit a request about the royal recommendation concerning this bill.

We have a majority in the House. Both the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party support this bill, which was brought forward by the Bloc Québécois. I ask the Senate to allow the government to consider the bill at third reading. The Liberal government may be in the minority in this House, but it holds the majority in the Senate.

If the government wants to send the right signals, if it really wants to debate this bill and bring amendments, let it give instructions to the Senate. We are ready to debate the bill and to vote at third reading.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know and it may be important for this House to know why this bill mentions a change in the composition of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. I think that, currently, four commissioners sit on the commission and the bill would raise that number to 17. How did the member get to that number of 17 commissioners for that commission?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, we are proposing an independent and transparent fund whose sole mandate would be to manage the employment insurance program. To that end, we propose the appointment of commissioners. It is a proposal. To ensure that the government can vote in favour of the bill, we can always propose to amend the number of commissioners.

What we are proposing for discussion is that there be a chairman. Any true commission is run par a chairman; the two vice-chairmen would be the deputy ministers of the Treasury Board and of Human Resources Development. Employers could recommend seven representatives and employees could also recommend seven representatives.

Employers and employees who are contributing to the employment insurance fund would administer the fund and their contributions to it.

If the hon. member is not comfortable with the appointment of 17 commissioners and if, for that reason, he cannot support the bill, I suggest that he comes up with an amendment. We would be ready to accept an uneven number, whether it be 17, 15, 13 or 11. I have no problem with that. The idea is to create an independent fund.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to your comments on the ruling as to whether this legislation would require additional expenditures. I wonder if my colleague would care to address that with respect to the point made about increasing the size of the commission. I would assume that a commission of 17 persons would cost more than a commission of 4 persons.

Does he expect that it would not cause an increase in expenditures and therefore those extra administrative costs would come out of money which could be going toward benefits? If so, this legislation would be quite in order at third reading in the way the Speaker described it. Does he propose adding additional moneys to the envelope in order to pay for the 17 person commission? If so, the legislation would therefore be out of order.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy that two Liberal members have stood up to ask questions. First of all, members across do not seem against the establishment of an independent fund, nor against giving the commission the power to set the premium rate. They do not seem to be against giving the commission the ability to make recommendations in order to improve the employment insurance system. They are much more concerned about the administration cost of this commission composed of 17 members.

I am thinking about the surpluses accumulated to date and the administration cost for the program. The government is not into volunteerism. It has much more civil servants than we think. We could multiply the number 17 by a rather large number and the result would be the number of people currently managing the Employment Insurance Commission and the department, namely the deputy minister, the minister, all the civil servants, all those who are responsible for issuing cheques. In other words, the whole administration.

We might even save money. However, with regard to the number of commissioners, this is only a proposal. There could be amendments, changes and even discussions. I suppose the bill will be referred to a committee where members of other parties will be able to make proposals and reach unanimous consent.

I remind the Liberal government that at the Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, all the members, whether they were from the Liberal Party or any other party, voted in favour of the creation of an independent fund. The employee, the employer and all the witnesses heard it.

The Prime Minister, who once was finance minister, carried out consultations just before the elections. Everywhere he went, be it in the Maritimes, in Quebec or in Nova Scotia, he was told that the current plan did not make sense. He was told to stop taking money out of the employment insurance fund to pay down the deficit and to give this money to those who had contributed to the plan. One senator even dissented from the report of the bogus committee set up by the Prime Minister, which was written before the consultations were even completed.

I think that the Liberals are now through making electoral promises because this has now been going on for the last three elections. It is time for the Prime Minister and the new elected and appointed minister to take a position and to look at the unanimous recommendations made by the House of Commons committee. They should examine the recommendations the Prime Minister got from his small committee.

They will see that our position is easily supported throughout Canada and that the employees and the employers are calling for an independent fund. This money should not be used for anything else. It is a disgrace. It is worst than the sponsorship scandal.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:35 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to address the subject of the Employment Insurance Act. I want to thank the member for Manicouagan for giving us an opportunity to debate these important issues.

Bill C-280 proposes some fundamental amendments to the EI act and I think it is important to provide some historical context for the present structure. This historical context I think will illustrate the importance, complexity and challenges presented by the proposals contained in the bill.

Let me begin with the employment insurance account, which the member mentioned. It is important to appreciate why the EI account is reported within the consolidated revenue fund and not, as the bill proposes, separate from the accounts of Canada.

In the early 1980s, the Auditor General of the time expressed concerns about the fragmented reporting of government activities. To rectify the situation, that Auditor General was of the opinion that the EI premiums paid by employers and employees were federal revenues that, given the government's control over EI policy and programs, should be included in the reported Government of Canada revenues.

That was a decision of the Auditor General of the day. I know the member respects the Auditor General. The change in accounting was a response by the government of the day to what the Auditor General said.

On the Auditor General's advice, in 1986 the EI account was fully integrated into the government's general finances. This practice follows appropriate accounting methods consistent with the standards of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This reasoning still holds true with today's Auditor General. Ms. Fraser indicated support for the current EI accounting procedure at last November's public accounts committee meeting.

At that meeting Ms. Fraser said:

In our view, this is the correct method of accounting, and it complies with accounting standards for government...Employment insurance is considered to be a government program: government determines the rate of premiums, eligibility criteria and benefits....

She went on to say:

--I have trouble imagining that the employment insurance program could be excluded from the government's summary financial statements, which include all government activities.

Clearly the Auditor General of Canada strongly endorses current accounting procedures for the EI account.

It is important to note that because the EI account has been consolidated with other accounts of Canada in reality it is not an actual account containing cash, but rather it is a bookkeeping tool.

However, this government is committed to transparency. That is why the reply to the Speech from the Throne contained an order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities instructing it to recommend measures which would ensure that all future uses of the employment insurance program would only be for the benefit of workers and not for any other purpose. The committee is seized with that at the present time.

The standing committee tabled its report with its unanimous recommendations last December. We intend to analyze these recommendations carefully and give them serious consideration before responding to the committee. I am confident that the government's response will represent improvements and address some of the concerns raised by the member in Bill C-280.

I would now, however, like to note particular elements contained in the bill that require careful consideration. One of these refers to ensuring that the difference between the assets of the employment insurance account and its liabilities does not exceed $15 billion. The member mentioned this.

Placing a cap on the account is something that would need to be examined carefully to ensure that it meets the test of time and future cyclical needs of the EI program. In other words, unemployment demands vary with the economy. Does this cap which is being mentioned cope with those variations?

This point raises the larger issue of an independent fund as recommended in the bill, requiring the replacement of the federal government's at present unlimited obligation to pay EI benefits with the liability of a separate account. Although the bill recommends that the federal government should still be required to lend the account money if it was unable to meet its obligations, this would mean that the account could not be operated at arm's length from government.

It is clear, therefore, that the changes proposed in the bill would be sufficient to cause EI account activities to be outside of the consolidated revenues.

I would now like to return to the other major proposal of this bill: the establishment of the new 17 member tripartite Canada employment insurance commission.

This proposition raises several potential issues, not the least of which is that an independent commission could have important effects on the capacity of government to set direction on the policy and program elements of the EI program. It is important that the government have the ability to ensure the program responds to the labour market needs of all Canadians.

EI plays a key role in Canada's economy and social safety net by providing temporary income support and helping workers adjust to the labour market. It is crucial that the government retain the ability to serve the labour market needs of Canadians.

In addition, a jump from a commission of 4 members to one of 17 could affect the commission's ability to reach consensus and get issues resolved in an efficient and effective manner. My colleague raised that question earlier. Departing from the commission's present composition of the Deputy Minister and Associate Deputy Minister of HRSD, as well as a commissioner of workers and a commissioner of employers, requires careful analysis and needs to be cost effective.

Finally, the establishment of an ongoing administration of a 17 member commission that would operate and oversee the EI account would be a costly undertaking. Canadian premium payers do not want their money spent on administration. They want it spent on benefits. That said, it is an important issue and one that the government will consider carefully in developing a response.

Returning to the issue of EI premium rate setting, the government is reviewing the rate setting process and will be considering approaches for a new mechanism in responding to the standing committee. It would therefore be premature to make changes to the process prior to the completion of that work.

That said, it is important to note that the government has demonstrated prudent financial management over the EI account. Over the past 11 years, premium rates have steadily gone down while the benefits to Canadians have been steadily enriched since 2000.

Just last December, the Government of Canada announced that the 2005 rate for employees is $1.95 and for employers $2.73 per $100 of insurable earnings. As a result of these rate reductions, employers and employees will pay $10.5 billion less in premiums than they did under the 1994 rate when this government came to power.

Canadians can be proud of their efforts to strengthen the Canadian economy. It is that strength and the number of Canadians working that have allowed us to lower the rate yet again.

While I appreciate the member's contribution to the debate on the EI Act and welcome this opportunity, as I said, to share ideas, for the reasons that I have outlined I believe that it would be premature to move forward with this bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party supports the principles set out in this bill.

In supporting the principles of the bill, we look at the fundamental values behind it, the values of fairness. We look at helping those genuinely in need in society. We believe that people should be able to enjoy the fruits of their own labour. We also believe that the best form of employment insurance is a strong economy that creates jobs so people never have to be unemployed.

I thought I would start by first responding to some things that my friend the parliamentary secretary said about why the employment insurance fund was rolled into the consolidated revenues of the government. He pointed to the Auditor General's reference to certain accounting principles.

However, what happened is that the Liberal government then used that technical approach once the fund was rolled into consolidated revenues as a free ticket to raid the employment insurance fund to the tune of some $46 billion over 10 years.

That is $46 billion that the government took from employers and employees who contributed in the hopes of having their work and their future secured. The government used that money, diverting it for other purposes, perhaps including, as my friend pointed out, supporting the sponsorship scandal that has drawn such attention in recent days.

What my friend also failed to mention was the role that the Auditor General played in exposing the inappropriateness of that government diversion of funds from the employment insurance purposes for which they were intended to other purposes. That was condemned by the Auditor General one year after another and in one report after another.

It was not until this government faced a minority situation, where opposition parties could bind together to bring to the fore the importance of this issue, that once and for all the government is being held to account. That theft from workers and employers who paid in that money is hopefully going to be brought to a halt.

Certainly this private member's bill put forward by my friend from Manicouagan is a good example of how we are working on this side of the House, regardless of the party we belong to, to try to bring an end to the theft of those moneys by the Liberal government.

The $46 billion accumulated notional surplus from the employment insurance system reflects what was, over the past decade, a deliberate program of overtaxing workers and employers in order to divert those moneys to fund other government priorities.

As has been mentioned, the Conservative Party worked very hard at committee to have the first eight recommendations of the employment insurance subcommittee approved and adopted. The recommendations were designed to bring the system into fiscal responsibility. We were pleased to see that happen.

Those are only recommendations out of the committee. We are concerned that the government may not respond appropriately. When I hear the comments from the parliamentary secretary, I am concerned that it may not. That is why this private member's bill from the member for Manicouagan is most timely.

The practice of diverting those funds to other purposes, as has occurred with the $46 billion out of employment insurance, is intellectually dishonest. It violates the law. That is exactly what the Auditor General found. That practice has attracted her criticism repeatedly. It also represents, most profoundly, an unfair and regressive form of taxation.

Instead of funding government spending increases out of more progressive forms of taxation such as income taxes, the use of this EI surplus for that purpose takes proportionately more from the working poor and from small businesses. As such, it taxes those who can afford it least, shifting the burden from those who have means.

The reason is simple. When someone pays into employment insurance and they achieve a certain income level there is a cap that they run into. Those who have high incomes and earn far more than the cap stop paying into employment insurance. As a result, the burden falls disproportionately on those with lower incomes.

That may make sense in an employment insurance system where only a certain portion of earnings is insured, but when that money is taken and used instead for the general programs of the government, it represents a replacement of what would otherwise be income taxes, a much more progressive form of taxation, a much fairer way of funding government programs.

For that reason, we find the approach taken by the government in the past 10 years of diverting these employment insurance funds to be an unacceptable, punitive approach that has hurt workers more than anybody else. On the other hand, it could only have happened by having insurance premiums that were too high. That was the other thing the government did over the past decade to achieve the $46 billion surplus. Consistently, illegally, year after year, the premiums were set far above what was necessary to maintain the system as viable, resulting in a surplus. In so doing, what effectively was occurring was that those taxes themselves, those premiums, were too high. That is a job killing payroll tax. It stifled and continues today to stifle the ability of employers to create new jobs and economic growth.

As I have said, the best form of employment insurance is the creation of new jobs. That has been harmed consistently by the $46 billion in overtaxation through EI premiums in the past decade, something that has yet to stop. Even in the new premium which has been set, any basic math tells us that a surplus will continue to be generated. Our priority is to stop the unfair practice which hurts working families and the businesses that have had their money taken by the government under false pretences. The theft must stop and the money must be returned.

Some items trouble us about the proposed legislation. It is the commission with its 17 members and a potential policy-making role.

We feel that the fundamental structure of employment insurance as a program should remain primarily a matter of government policy. The number of 17 commissioners perhaps seems to us an unwieldy and large number. For that reason, I am somewhat encouraged by the Speaker's ruling and would encourage my friend from Manicouagan to consider shutting that portion of the legislation which stands as a barrier to its passage. This would make it possible for us to embrace the bill with a full enthusiasm completely.

There are other problems with the employment insurance system as it works today. One of the biggest problem is that people fall through the cracks. Increasingly the government in an effort again to shift that burden out of their own revenues has layered program after program, what are essentially social programs, on to the employment insurance mechanism as a vehicle to deliver those social services, whether they be maternity leave or extended maternity leave, compassionate care leave and the like.

The problem is that increasingly more and more Canadians are not part of the employment insurance system or, if they are, they are not eligible in the special, unique circumstances that arise. People fall through the cracks. This increasing reliance on employment insurance to deliver things like maternity care, compassionate care and sickness leave and the like results in a discriminatory situation where many Canadians simply do not have the support they need. That has to be addressed in the long term.

Similarly, the reliance on using employment insurance as the vehicle to deliver training means we are delivering training that often is not aimed at increasing the productivity of society or ensuring that people actually are better off after the training and better equipped to get a job. Rather, it treats it as an extension of the employment insurance system. Decisions are made on what training to pursue based on length of eligibility and whether we can extend our eligibility, rather than will this help us to contribute more to the economy. Will this mean we end up with a more productive workforce? Will this mean we will have overall economic growth?

Those issues have to be addressed in the long term. While they may not be addressed in this bill, these are things I think are important priorities and they certainly are for the Conservative Party. I am not sure they are for the government yet, but we will continue to press them to make it so.

Finally, I wanted to address the issue of long term viability of the employment insurance system. We think it is important that the management of the system, the premiums, the rate setting mechanism which has been politicized in the past decade be restored to accountability. This has to be the number one priority. Before we start looking at major changes to the system, we have to ensure we have corrected the mismanagement, the fiscal theft that this government has engaged in for years. We have to ensure that the new structure of it can be viable.

Before we tinker with it massively, we have to ensure it is viable and works and can be sustainable. Our concern is that if one makes too many changes too quickly, we may face a situation where the long term viability of the system is in jeopardy.

I am confident that the proposed legislation before us in Bill C-280 does not do that. I am confident the legislation would help to contribute to restoring fiscal accountability in the system, putting an end to the consistent theft of workers' and employers' contributions to employment insurance and their diversion to other purposes by this government.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Before resuming debate, may I remind members to be absolutely careful with the words being used. We all know that all members of this House are honourable or very honourable.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that I will not be saying this evening that the government has stolen the workers' money. It has only taken it without asking.

It is my pleasure to rise to speak on Bill C-280 moved by the hon. member for Manicouagan. This is a very important bill for the House of Commons.

It appears that the employment insurance fund, which has been taken without permission, is something the government is still interested in. The government would still like to take it without asking. I have checked and the words I am now using are proper.

That is why the government has invoked the idea that if there is no royal recommendation the bill will not be accepted. A minority government has to find a back door to do what it cannot do by the front door.

It is unfortunate that the government wants to base itself on a matter of procedure we could call a little loophole, in order to reject the bill from the hon. member for Manicouagan, a bill that is so important for the working people.

Other colleagues have said so. In 1986, it is true that the Auditor General mentioned that it should remain in the consolidated revenue fund. I do not think that when the Auditor General made those remarks he believed that the government would take that money for other purposes. That was not the point at the time. He was saying that it should be there and it should perhaps be better managed. It is now 2005 and we notice that $46 billion has disappeared. That $46 billion amount is made up of the contributions from working men, working women and their employers.

That is why all Canadians, all workers and employers, are worried. We have had meetings of the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on this topic.

Even the employers have said that this fund has to be removed from the government's hands. It must be taken out of consolidated revenue fund. It is our fund, We pay for that fund. It is insurance for the working people and we are the ones who should look after it, under government supervision; the government's responsibility will be to ensure that the money is truly going in the right direction.

If it were not in the consolidated fund, the government would be more inclined to do the right thing. It will do the right thing and I think we put it back on the right track.

The Auditor General had said to put it in the consolidated fund. Yet, 10 years later, the Auditor said that in the past 3 years the government has come very close to breaking the law. That is where we are today. There should be $15 billion in the employment insurance fund in order to run it properly and we have a $46 billion surplus.

I have to hand it to the government. I hope I am allowed to say so. I find that at least this is a little more honest. They are telling us they used the money for something else. They never used to be so open. At least now they are willing to admit they used the money for social programs or job creation. Finally, they put it on paper. They tell us in black and white that they took the money without asking. They did what they wanted with the money and that is too bad for us.

It is unfortunate and that is where I disagree with the Conservative member. He said he likes the eight proposals made in December and that is the direction they want to take. However, they have problems with the rest and say we must wait.

Workers in Canada have been waiting and suffering for 10 years now. People have been punished for 10 years now. Statistics show that there are 800,000 people paying employment insurance who do not qualify to receive benefits.

In the past 10 years, we have reached a point where there are 1.4 billion children who go hungry in Canada. I maintain that the changes made to employment insurance in 1996 led to this poverty in Canada. These are members of single parent families, who work from morning to night and, when they lose their job, do not qualify for employment insurance benefits. It is usually women who head single parent families. They have a hard time working the required number of hours to be eligible for employment insurance, a program that belongs to them.

In the meantime, as for the business aspect of the issue, I do not agree with the Conservative member when he says this does not create jobs. That is not true.

Most people—let us say between 95 and 99%, not to state that they are perfect—who work from morning to evening in a seasonal pattern, when they receive an employment insurance cheque, do not travel to Florida for a vacation. These people receive their cheque and will spend it in the community. This money ends up in the hands of storekeepers, car sellers, small business owners in the community. This way, it is good for the region.

If one wants to solve the employment insurance problem, it is simple; one has to create jobs. The former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, said in 1993, when he was in the opposition and Brian Mulroney, of the Conservative party, was heading the country, that one had to solve the employment problem if one wanted to solve the employment insurance problem. That is what he told Conservatives at that time. He said that there was no need to make changes to employment insurance, but rather that there was a need to put in place a stronger economy in order to foster economic development, to invest in regions and to create jobs. People needed to be put to work and, automatically, they would not have to be dependent on employment insurance.

For a change, I agreed with Jean Chrétien; he was right. However, when he came to power, it was as though someone had injected him with something and he had suddenly become a Conservative. Therein lay the problem.

In that connection, he had even sent a letter to an unemployment action group in Trois-Rivières. I have it in my office. That letter says very clearly that the Conservative government was not acting properly at that time. The pity is that he followed in the Conservatives' footsteps. Both parties have the same positions when it comes to workers: they are on the right.

In his speech, a while ago, my Conservative colleague stated that everything was good for the employer, that he could save money while creating jobs. On the other hand, he remained silent on ways by which we could lighten the burden of the employment insurance program so that young people who pay premiums can qualify to receive benefits. This is what is important. It is insurance for which both employees and employers pay premiums, because this latter group is not able to guarantee the former work throughout the 12 months of the year.

For example, no matter in what area of a province a company is, it must pay employer's liability insurance in case a work accident happens. The employer pays the totality of the premiums because he or she must offer a safe working environment where nobody gets hurt. However, when an accident does happen, the employer pays a compensation to the employee so that he or she gets a revenue if that accident forces him or her to stay home.

It is the same thing here. In our great country, we must recognize that we must help each other. I read in a newspaper that in New Brunswick people receive more benefits than what they paid in premiums. That is normal, that is what insurance is all about. It means that the federal government did not do what it was supposed to do in terms of job creation in that province. That is why people are so poor that they must leave their province and their families to look for work in Toronto, Barrie, Niagara Falls or Calgary. It is a shame.

The government should work very hard to make sure that these people have a job and are not forced to rely on employment insurance benefits. That is my opinion. That is the thing to do instead of cutting benefits paid to men and women who lose their job. That is cruel, outrageous and unacceptable. Liberals played a role in that since they adopted Brian Mulroney's line of thought when he was prime minister of Canada and leader of the Conservatives in place.

Once again, the Conservatives of today are not saying that workers should be able to qualify for employment insurance benefits. They prefer to take sides with the big employers and big companies which are far from being poor. Presidents of companies who receive $10 million a year are not poor and I have no pity for them. I am sorry but I must say that frankly and publicly to all Canadians.

On the other hand, I have a great deal of sympathy for the workers who lost their job and found themselves in the street. In the past, we never saw people sleeping in front of Toronto's or Montreal's town hall, but it is something we see now.

Let us hope that Parliament will vote in favour of this bill, because it is very important for the people, the working people in Canada.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. I must inform her, however, that she has only seven minutes to speak.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

That is better than nothing, Mr. Speaker.

Bill C-280 introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Manicouagan, is designed to put an end to government interference in the use of a fund that belongs to the unemployed. This bill establishes, on the one hand, an independent commission responsible for setting the EI premium rate annually and, on the other hand, an independent EI fund, that is separate from government funds, to be used exclusively for the stated purposes of the EI program.

During the 2004 election campaign, the FTQ, CSN and CSQ central labour bodies got together to form the Sans-chemise coalition. They displayed instructive signs in the vicinity of Liberal panels to show how outraged they were by the misappropriation of EI funds. The coalition took objection to the fund's loss of independence, with more than $46 billion having been misappropriated.

Extending the insult beyond the party, the MP for Outremont's campaign team acted in a way that was contrary to the freedom of expression and to Canadian election law by removing the signs of the Sans-chemise.

As the signs of the Sans-chemise said, “The Unemployed have been Robbed”. By setting the premium rate too high, the Liberals have accumulated huge profits at the expense of the unemployed. Indeed, $46 billion has been used for purposes other than those originally intended. This bill will ensure that the EI fund is finally a fund separate from public accounts, to be managed in the interest of the recipients of the EI program, by them and for them.

This independent employment insurance fund is designed to be used exclusively for EI purposes, with the rates being adjusted to avoid running huge deficits or surpluses, as is happening right now. In other words, the money raised for employment insurance could not be used to finance health, heritage, defence and other non-EI related programs.

Many witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, including Mrs. Sheila Fraser. The Auditor General of Canada stated that “the government did not respect the spirit of the Employment Insurance Act” in using the money in the EI fund for something outside the program.

The workers and union representatives who appeared before the committee are in favour of Bill C-280. They all want to see an independent EI fund. These witnesses say that the surplus belongs to the people who paid into the fund.

Indeed, the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities are unanimous. There was also unanimity among committee members from all four parties. All these favourable responses to the idea of setting up an independent EI fund must translate into unequivocal support for this bill presented by the Bloc Québécois.

If we all agree, in committee at least, on the creation of an independent fund, we must also make changes to the employment insurance commission and to the way in which premium levels are set. This bill includes these vital elements of a sound EI plan.

The bill put forward by my colleague from Manicouagan seeks to establish a neutral and impartial Employment Insurance Commission. This bill proposes the establishment of a tripartite commission composed of 17 members where employers and employees would formed the majority. These are the people who benefit from the EI Fund and who pay into that fund, and it makes sense that they would have a majority as far as the management of the program goes. Moreover, having groups of employers and employees represented on the Commission would make it more independent from the government.

By proposing the creation of such a commission, the Bloc Québécois is responding to the request of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

We still have to deal with the setting of the premium rates. The EI account is not supposed to make astronomical profits, nor is it supposed to make deficits. It should maintain a certain balance and keep a reserve in case of an economic crisis.

Currently the premium rate is too high and the surpluses are not properly redistributed. To thank the unemployed for their $46 billion contribution, last fall the government announced it was lowering premiums by 3 cents per $100 of insurable income. This was a purely arbitrary decision. This government is laughing in the unemployed workers' face.

To prevent the government from arbitrarily setting the premium rate according to which way the wind blows and what its electoral promises hold, Bill C-280 proposes that the premium rate be set by the Employment Insurance Commission.

The commission would determine a rate that would ensure a fair premium during a three-year business cycle. In this annual report, the commission would explain its decision and analysis, a decision that would ensure that there is enough revenue to pay the expenses authorized on the employment insurance account.

I remind you that, between 1972 and 1996, it is the commission, not the government, that was setting the premium rate. During these years, the employment insurance account was viable and was doing well, without merrily taking advantage of workers and the unemployed. The calculation formula of the basic premium rate was very simple. It was the average basic cost of the benefits, minus the amount required to reduce or eliminate the deficit or the surplus in the employment insurance account.

With this formula, it was impossible to have a cumulative balance such as the one that we now have. In any case, since 1990, the employment insurance system is self-supporting, because the federal treasury stopped contributing to it, but is merrily dipping into it.

Consequently, I suggest to all my colleagues who take the interests of their constituents to heart and who want a fair balance in the employment insurance system to vote for the creation of an independent employment insurance fund, for the creation of the employment insurance commission and for Bill C-280.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Bills

7:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

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

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

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to raise again the issue of Canada's response to the suppression of religious freedoms in Vietnam and elsewhere. More specifically the question is whether CIDA, which is responsible for delivering 80% of Canada's foreign aid, does enough by way of policy or practice to improve the deplorable record of abuse in countries such as Vietnam.

In my earlier question I referred to an incident in October 2004 when the Government of Vietnam demolished a Mennonite chapel, and the situation is not improving. In fact, despite the tight control of public information by the communist government, there are numerous reports of human rights violations being released.

This past Christmas for example, as all of us were freely celebrating this important religious holiday, 144 Montagnard Christians in the central highlands were arrested by Vietnamese soldiers. Human Rights Watch reported that many of the arrested were church leaders who were simply organizing Christmas gatherings. As well as arresting and torturing them, many Christians from villages throughout the area were forced to sign pledges renouncing their religion and their claim to their land. The current whereabouts of most of those arrested are still unknown.

When I asked about the government's rationale for giving foreign aid to offending totalitarian regimes such as Vietnam, the Minister of International Cooperation justified CIDA's contribution by saying that it does not give any money directly to the government of such countries; rather, she said, it gives to projects that reduce poverty or help it to grow in governance. By the government's reasoning, this will lead to an end to human rights violations, but it appears that this is not working in Vietnam.

Interestingly, CIDA's own policy acknowledges that this will not always work. In reference to serious human rights violations, the document “Policy for CIDA on Human Rights, Democratization and Good Governance” states:

Canada may need to implement additional measures when the first course of action is insufficient. To the extent possible, the Government implements measures in concert with other countries, coordinating through such organizations as the Commonwealth, la Francophonie and the United Nations.

The question that comes to mind is: Has the minister in fact had discussions with other officials from these organizations? The document goes on to say:

In its approach to serious human rights situations, CIDA seeks to...coordinate development assistance measures with other foreign policy measures as part of an overall Government strategy--

Is CIDA doing that in the case of Vietnam? I know that it is easier just to hope that things will get better, or worse to turn a blind eye, but that is not acceptable.

The Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade understood the need for Canada to play a stronger role in promoting human rights when it passed a motion last December to instruct the international policy review to examine ways in which the government could make the protection and promotion of the right to freedom and religion and belief a central element of its efforts to defend human rights internationally. How is it to do this? The motion went on to state:

--including in its international development assistance policy and programs; and, in particular, look at ways of making the receipt of Canadian aid conditional upon the absence of abuse of religious and other fundamental human rights.

What initiatives is the government taking to address the suppression of religious freedoms and other human rights in Vietnam? By doing nothing it appears that the government does not care very much about religious freedoms. Is the minister prepared to link foreign aid to demonstrable progress in respecting religious freedoms?

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Paddy Torsney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to contribute to our dialogue about Canadian aid to Vietnam.

As a number of members know it, at the end of the 1980's, the Vietnam government undertook a series of important economic reforms. Those reforms, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Vietnamese people, will enable their country to switch from a planned economy to a market economy.

These are important changes. The rate of poverty has in fact dropped from over 70% of the population to some 29% of the population as of 2002. It is still a significant portion of people but it is an improvement.

Despite the growth in the economy, Vietnam remains a poor country and many Vietnamese still live marginally above the poverty line. The member opposite will be interested to know that this is especially true for disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities living in remote regions of the country.

In 2002 the Government of Vietnam released the country's comprehensive poverty reduction and growth strategy around which the international donor community, including Canada, rallied its support.

We do not give money, as the member opposite has recognized, directly to the Government of Vietnam. CIDA works with NGO partners. It makes a difference in implementing programs for these affected people.

As we have seen in the outpouring of compassion and generosity after the tsunami disaster, Canadians care deeply about the well-being of people around the world. Canadians believe very strongly in helping others to help themselves and CIDA is mandated to do just that. We are working hard to support Vietnam's efforts to ensure that its economic growth is equitable to reduce the number of poor among its population.

The Government of Vietnam is expanding its social services and targeting poverty reduction efforts to disadvantaged groups and regions. The world community is working to ensure that Vietnam is accelerating its legal and regulatory reforms with a view to further integrating its economy with the region and the world as it moves toward its goal of WTO accession this year.

Vietnam is working to improve its professionalism, its capacity and accountability so that effective and equitable policies can be developed and successfully implemented. Its strategy advocates the rule of law and the member will be pleased to know that it calls for an end to corruption and waste.

How does CIDA help in tackling these efforts? The Minister of International Cooperation approved CIDA's new country development programming framework, CDPF, for Vietnam in May 2004. It supports Vietnam's transition through programming in governance, agriculture and rural development, and basic education.

Our program is implemented through various partners: NGOs who are on the ground; and, organizations that work with individuals, some of which will be working with minority and religious populations or faith based populations.

More specifically, the program supports equitable economic growth through reforms that promote transparent and accountable governance. It improves rural livelihoods through support for agriculture and rural development. It improves access to quality basic education, especially for the rural poor and disadvantaged girls.

We support legal reform and will provide judicial training through a Canada Corps initiative in Vietnam so that the rights of all Vietnamese citizens can be respected, promoted and protected in a more equitable manner.

CIDA is supporting Canada's overall foreign policy efforts to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law. Canada is among members of the international community, as the member has recognized, to engage in dialogue with Vietnamese authorities on issues of human rights. Recently there has been significant progress on this front.

On February 1 of this year the Government of Vietnam announced that five well-known political prisoners were to be released, along with 8,428 others.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, we heard a lot about economic growth and economic development but not very much about human rights other than the sort of general affirmation of wanting to promote respect for human rights. The question I have is: How? How is it trying to promote that? It has one vehicle that it does not want to use, and that is foreign aid.

For example, the House of Representatives in the U.S. recently passed the Vietnam human rights act and it has decided that if it goes ahead with that it will withhold non-humanitarian aid dollars from the dictatorial regime until it gets its house in order.

Why can Canada not do something the same? I am not talking about humanitarian aid and cutting off those things that go to alleviate poverty and so on, but there are many other things--

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, to my way of thinking, one actually does not get economic growth or have a viable economy unless one has respect for human rights and one works toward educating, in particular, minority populations.

That is why our programming focuses on those individuals. That is why we partner with organizations like World Vision and others who are working on the ground with individuals to make a difference. That is how they are going to be successful. We can show, through our inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights and religious freedom in Canada, a way forward for Vietnam and other countries.

It is how one gets a more successful economy, as demonstrated by Canada.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, the question I brought to the House some time ago in question period related to the Auditor General and support for the Auditor General.

Let me reaffirm that on this side of the House we have always valued the work and the integrity of the Auditor General. It is rare when members on this side of the House call for massive spending increases, but in the last election campaign we called for a $50 million increase for the Auditor General for the work that she does in saving the public money. That is why I brought the question to the House.

My question was about a 15% cut to the budget of the Auditor General. Specifically, the question came from the following quotes from the Auditor General's testimony:

Looking ahead, Mr. Chair...our financial position is less rosy. There are two related issues I would like to bring to your attention today: our funding...and the mechanism for...funding....

Specifically, the Auditor General noted at that time that her budget was to be reduced by $11.5 million to $60 million.

I am very concerned about this because the Office of the Auditor General is a very important institution.

Not only does the Auditor General save taxpayers' dollars by investigating and being involved in the small details, but the Auditor General brings to light breaches in ethics, as we have seen involved with the Gomery inquiry. This is an inquiry which reaches not only to the spending and the problems with the spending in a program, but is now beginning, as we see in the testimony, to talk about moving funds to political organizations. These are funds that were spent to subvert democracy.

The question I brought to the House was whether the government, instead of cutting the Auditor General's funds, would support her instead, possibly, as I hope some day to hear, as the Conservatives have advocated, with a $50 million increase to the Auditor General's budget. I hope to hear that from the parliamentary secretary tonight. Not only am I calling for more support for the Auditor General, but also for a broader mandate. The money must be spent efficiently and the Auditor General will see to that.

I am very pleased to see that the Auditor General has been effectively fighting for the rights of Canadians. We on this side of the House will always stand up for that.

We also call for the Auditor General to have a broader and more accountable ability to look into other aspects of government that are completely hidden, areas such as foundations. Tonight I call on the parliamentary secretary to call for an increased and expanded mandate for the Auditor General.

Again, instead of looking to cut the Auditor General's budget by 15%, the government should have called on the Auditor General's funding to be increased, to be spent wisely and to be delivered to the people. In this country we have seen too many abuses of spending by the government. We have seen the gun registry, the sponsorship inquiry and many other smaller scandals over the years.

To reiterate, we need accountability. The Auditor General is the instrument for accountability. I call on this government to give the Auditor General its full support instead of obstructing her. I ask the government to give the Auditor General the support that the Conservative Party has brought to the work of the Auditor General. I will appreciate hearing the parliamentary secretary's response.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Sudbury Ontario

Liberal

Diane Marleau LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians respect the Auditor General, and we on this side of the House do as well. We believe that the work of the Auditor General is very important and we are fully committed to ensuring that the necessary resources are made available to enable her to carry out her duties. In fact, a permanent increase of $11.5 million for the Auditor General's office was recently approved.

The Auditor General has stated that her current resources are sufficient to fulfill her mandate. We want to ensure that this continues to be the case for the Auditor General as well as any of the other officers of Parliament. There will be no disruption in funding to her office.

In fact, the government has increased the Auditor General's budget by 35% in the past several years. Seven separate increases have been made to the office's budget since 2000-01, including the latest approval. All funding requests by the Auditor General have been approved.

The government firmly supports the work of the Auditor General of Canada and we will ensure that she has access to all the resources she needs in order to help her carry out her important mandate.

Concerns have been raised with respect to the manner in which the budgets of officers of Parliament, including the Office of the Auditor General, are determined.

The government is conscious of the need to strike the right balance between the independence of offices of Parliament, the accountability of federal institutions and the responsibility of the government to manage public resources.

We are sensitive to any concerns with respect to the degree of independence of officers of Parliament. Indeed, no government wishes to inadvertently influence or appear to influence the substantive work of these officers.

In this regard, the government is currently reviewing financing arrangements for agents of Parliament, including associated oversight and accountability provisions. In doing so, the government is taking fully into account the particular circumstances of these agents, the views of Parliament, as well as the government's overall approach to public expenditure.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what my hon. friend had to say and as I listened I made a few notes.

While it is true that the government is increasing the permanent funding of $11.5 million, that is only the same amount as the temporary funding that was continually brought forward year by year. The Auditor General had been told that would be fixed by fall 2002. It was not and, may I say, perhaps it was not because there was a majority government on that side of the House and not a minority government.

I will state fairly clearly that the only reason the Auditor General has the support of the House is because of the minority situation, because of the strength supplied by the opposition parties to her office and to her resources.

I would call on the government to expand her mandate and continue to support her so she may be able to look into other areas of government funding that are currently not open for accountability and so all taxpayer dollars may be wisely and prudently spent.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fact that the Auditor General has had increases and has never been denied funding just goes to show that this government does support the Auditor General.

The Auditor General has also stated that the funding she is receiving is adequate for the job that she is doing. She is quite capable of asking for more money if the need occurs. She even has the opportunity of appealing to members of Parliament and to any one of us. That is her prerogative and we will of course listen.

She chooses what she audits and what she looks at, and we welcome that, as do, I am sure, the members on the opposite side. We want to thank her for her work and we will continue to support her.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Anders Conservative Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a follow up on a question that I previously asked in the House of Commons. I would like to repeat it.

The government of China is trying to buy Canada's largest mining company and has now also expressed interest in Alberta's oil sands. It would be state ownership of Canada's natural resources. It sounds like the national energy program all over again, except this time by a totalitarian regime with an appalling human rights record.

Government ownership was a disaster for western Canada that destroyed businesses and families, and ended up costing Albertans $60 billion. Why is the government supporting NEP 2?

That was my original question to which I received an unsatisfactory response. Hence the reason why I would like to raise some of the following issues and ask questions in relation to them, and go into greater depth.

I would like to talk about national security concerns or considerations. These are increased cooperation with China, including technology transfers and resource acquisition that are a threat to our national security.

First, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has warned that foreign agents have illegally targeted Canadian science and technology sectors and used visiting Chinese students and scientists to obtain classified information.

Second, there is significant evidence to suggest that the Chinese government has been one of the worst offenders in the proliferation of nuclear high technology. Credible evidence points to China as playing an instrumental role in the development of the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and North Korea.

Third, China has 600 missiles pointed at Taiwan and has threatened to use them. During Taiwan's 1996 election China launched two missiles over Taiwan.

Fourth, and this is a quote from Lt. Gen Xiong Guangkai, Deputy Chief of China's General Staff in January 1996. He said, “...you care a lot more about Los Angeles than Taipei”. He was making a threat that if China were to launch an invasion of Taiwan, an amphibious assault, that the possibility of using nuclear strikes against the United States would prevent people coming to the aid of Taiwan in its hour of need.

The second big category that I would like to talk about is national interest.

Canada needs a review mechanism with some teeth to protect the national interest. The investment review division has reviewed 11,000 transactions since it was established and has rejected zero. Government acquisition of strategic natural resources is an important issue. If it is not okay for the Canadian government to own it, why is it okay for a foreign government? That is one of the questions I put across the way.

Why did the federal government enter into an agreement with the government of China on energy without having consulted the provinces? Why have the agreements not been released? Will the government commit to releasing them? I have those agreements with me here. They were on January 19 and January 20. They are agreements that deal with minerals and metals.

The second agreement deals with increased energy security and new technologies, particularly the oil sands, uranium resources, oil sand technologies, collaboration in the nuclear energy sector, extensive capabilities in nuclear research, advanced nuclear energy technologies, et cetera. That was talked about and put out as a press release on January 20.

I would also like to note--