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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

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

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, on June 12 I asked a question of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. That question concerned the plight of older workers within the fishery. When he was on the opposition bench the minister was a member who showed a great deal of concern for this issue and he brought it up a number of times.

When I posed the question, the response that came back from the minister was very disappointing. What he shared with me was that as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans he had nothing to do with any kind of program for older workers within that fishery. I will not use the blues, but to paraphrase he said, “It is not my file. That issue is up to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development”.

We saw the stark clarity of how the minister perceives older workers in this country. We have just seen it executed here in a vote on a motion that was put forward that could have supported older workers across the country. It was not supported by the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, it was not supported by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and it was not supported by the government.

Fish plant workers in this country, certainly on the Atlantic coast, are experiencing some very tough times. Some people in the industry say they are the toughest times since the cod closure in 1992. There are a number of factors and they certainly are beyond the control of the workers in this industry. These factors include the value of the Canadian dollar, the competition from the Chinese markets, and tariffs placed by European nations. The lion's share of that burden has been taken up by the older workers in the industry.

In the former government, we made provisions for retraining workers in this industry. There have been some success stories. People have gone into other trades and have gone on with their lives.

It is certainly understood on this side of the House that not all can take advantage of those training opportunities. Many of those people have worked in this industry for their entire lives. The fishery is a tough industry. People often work in cold, damp and very inclement conditions. There is heavy lifting. It takes a toll on one's body. It is an industry that is meant for younger workers. For the good of the industry, some type of adaptive program for older workers is much needed.

I want to talk about the workers. There are people who are 57, 58 and 60 years old who have worked their entire lives in the industry. For what should they be retrained? They are tied to that industry. They are tied to their communities. They want to retire with some dignity.

That is what the motion we voted on this evening was about. That is why this side of the House supported the motion.

When I asked the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans about this, his response was, “It is not my file”. He hid behind the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. He was nowhere to be found on this file.

That is not the first time the minister has responded in that way. When that group across the way cut a billion dollars out of social programs, when it made cuts to adult literacy and CAP site investments, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, when questioned on DFO cuts, turned it over to the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

The parliamentary secretary will be answering on behalf of the minister. I ask the parliamentary secretary, when will the government move to implement a retirement program for older fish plant workers?

7:20 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso for his ongoing interest in these issues that are of great importance to Canada's rural fishing communities.

After record landed values in 2004, Canada's commercial fishing industries are facing significant challenges that continue to affect the viability of both the fish harvesting and processing sectors, particularly in Atlantic Canada.

Globalization of rural fisheries is generating significant competition from countries such as China, as the member says, where labour is both abundant and cheap. This is rapidly squeezing out the ability of Canadian processing companies to compete in an international market.

The high Canadian dollar and the rising cost of fuel are also having a significant impact on the industry. Coupled with this are the declining prices for some of our more lucrative species such as crab and shrimp. For example, crab fishers enjoyed a price of close to $3 per pound in 2004 and this year faced prices as low as $1 per pound.

In light of these challenges, many commercial fishers and fish processing workers are struggling day to day to make ends meet and maintain their jobs.

I should note, though, that there are some signs of encouragement. Prices for fuel have dropped from recent highs. As well, the decline in prices for landing crab has slowed and has, in certain areas, rebounded. These are positive signs, but as we know they can change again, for the worse, and we need to help industry so it can better respond to these pressures.

Canada, like all countries around the world, is facing continuous economic adjustment pressures. Our population is aging. While some of our industries are in decline, others are experiencing labour shortages. The impact of these challenges has not been evenly distributed across communities, regions or provinces in Canada and there is no easy solution.

In Canada older workers have become the principal source of labour force growth in recent years. As the Canadian population ages, encouraging their participation will play an important role in ensuring growth and rising living standards. However, some unemployed older workers face special difficulties in today's labour market. For example, some do not have the education or transferrable skills needed for today's jobs and many older workers are employed in declining industries.

As my hon. colleague knows, the federal government announced in budget 2006 that it would conduct, in partnership with provinces and territories, a feasibility study to evaluate current and potential measures to address the challenges faced by displaced older workers, including the need for improved training and enhanced income support, such as early retirement benefits. This feasibility study will provide recommendations on how to best assist older workers over the long term.

However, our work does not stop there. Earlier this spring the province of Newfoundland and Labrador hosted a summit that included federal and provincial ministers alike as well as industry representatives and stakeholders to discuss these important issues and seek to identify possible solutions. Federal and provincial officials continue to work with industry and stakeholders on all aspects of the industry, harvesting and processing, to establish an ocean to plate approach that will ensure an economically viable industry. As we know, a similar summit was held in Prince Edward Island.

I can assure my hon. colleague that we are committed to continuing our important work with provinces, industry and other stakeholders toward our goal of an economically viable and sustainable industry that will continue to benefit our vibrant coastal fishing communities.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, we know the situation with the industry and we know the challenges it has gone through. My point today is the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans stood in the House, as an opposition member, and set himself up as a champion for older fish plant workers. Now he has the opportunity. He is in cabinet and he has the power of a cabinet position to sit down with his colleague, the Minister of HRDC. Let us take that to the cabinet table.

Many of these workers, as was said by the parliamentary secretary, do not have the confidence nor the transferrable skills to move forward. We need a program that can accommodate them so they can retire with dignity within their communities with their families.

I ask the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to do his job, to do as he proposed to do on the opposition bench, to take that forward to cabinet and let us get this done for the older workers in the fishery.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hope the hon. member will agree that the problems facing displaced older workers cannot be tackled by any single department nor even one level of government.

Cooperation and commitment among governments is key. That is why the government is taking action on two fronts. As I said earlier, we are pursuing options with our provincial and territorial colleagues to help displaced older workers. We are looking into a variety of measures and we are looking forward to the recommendations that come from this feasibility study. In other words, we are ensuring that older, displaced workers receive the best help possible.

The second part of the strategy has to be to build a stronger and more sustainable fishery and we have already had constructive discussions to that end as well.

I can assure my hon. colleague that we are committed to building on this momentum and toward a healthier and more vibrant fishing industry for the coastal communities of Canada.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, my topic of discussion today is supply management.

On June 7, I questioned the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food with a view to ascertaining how he planned to protect the supply management system in Canada.

Last week, like colleagues, I was in my riding and had a chance to speak to a lot of people, in particular to poultry and dairy farmers who are concerned about supply management and how we will protect them going forward in the future. One of the interesting questions they asked me was about how we saw the government's position on the Wheat Board and how the government was reacting to the Wheat Board. This is very interesting. This is the barometer that the Atlantic supply management people are watching, because it shows them how the federal government is going to--if it will--protect supply management.

Dairy farmers, chicken farmers and egg producers in Atlantic Canada do not want to tell western wheat producers how they should market their wheat and whether they should have a single desk or multi-desk system. That is not their intention. What they are concerned about is how the government is dealing with the western wheat producers.

They want to know if the government is listening to the producers or if it is starting with the preconceived idea of what it is going to do. These farmers see this as their barometer of how supply management will be dealt with. They remember the terms of the leader of the Conservative Party in 1998, the current Prime Minister, the terms denouncing the supply management model as a “government sponsored, price fixing cartel”.

What these farmers would like to know with respect to the Wheat Board is whether the Prime Minister is going to let each farmer vote. Is he going to follow the laws of our country and give a free vote to each farmer, not weighted in accordance with protection but everybody with a permit book having one vote in a democratic system? We know there is 73% support for the Wheat Board across the western prairies. Is the Prime Minister going to test that?

The second question they asked me was whether the government is committed and ready to use article 28 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Members will remember this question coming to the House before, under the previous government, and the answer at the time was that we were not ready to use article 28 to protect against blended dairy products, sugar, all sorts of products, because we were negotiating at the WTO through the Doha round.

The discussion at that time was that it was probably dangerous to do this while we were in negotiations. The agricultural community agreed. However, those negotiations have failed. The current government and the international community have not been able to level the playing field around the world. The current government has not been able to protect supply management in Canada as it sought to do. The G-6 countries could not agree. The gaps were too wide. The discussions were called off.

Now is the time to step up and protect our supply management system by using article 28 and making sure that all definitions of the import of dairy products are covered. Now is the time to step up and protect our supply management industry. Our communities depend on it. Rural communities depend on dairy producers, feather farmers, chicken producers and egg producers as the economic base of their communities. They will not survive without them.

If we go with what the Conservative leader always has said in the past--that we should have a competitive model, no “government sponsored, price fixing cartel”--then the industry will certainly fail and consumers will lose, because now supply management protects consumers as well.

My two-part question is simple. Is the government committed to using article 28 to protect supply management? Will it give all wheat producers equal votes and all of them a vote before making any changes to the single desk marketing system?

7:30 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased for this opportunity to address this government's strong commitment to the success of the WTO Doha round, and to advancing Canada's interests—including with regard to the defence of our supply management system.

As a trading nation with an agriculture sector which will benefit enormously from a more fair and rules-based international trading system, Canada has a major stake in the success of the Doha round. That is why the Government of Canada is disappointed at the impasse reached in the Doha negotiations.

Canada wants the WTO agriculture negotiations to resume so that we can continue to press for the elimination of all forms of export subsidies, the substantial reduction of trade-distorting domestic support, and real and significant market access improvements.

Our agriculture and agri-food industry knows that it will benefit from the achievement of these objectives. This government agrees, and we have been working hard on their behalf to achieve these outcomes. Canada stands ready to re-engage actively in the WTO agriculture negotiations, if and when key WTO members are able to find a way forward.

Like every other WTO member, Canada has both offensive and defensive interests at the WTO. Canada is not alone in this circumstance. Like all WTO members, our negotiating position reflects the diversity of interests in our agriculture sector. And so, as we seek to expand opportunities for our exporters at the WTO, this government also very strongly supports Canada's supply management system.

As the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board has indicated, Canada has faced very strong pressure at the WTO on key issues of importance to our supply managed sectors. It is true that, in the market access negotiations, all 148 other WTO members agreed to accept at least a degree of tariff cuts and tariff quota expansion for all sensitive products.

Nevertheless, the minister has made clear that this government will continue to stand in support of supply management, and that we will continue to aggressively defend our interests. At the same time, he has also made clear that Canada will remain committed to the WTO and will continue to press for the best possible outcome for all of Canadian agriculture.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, perhaps one day we could ask the member to explain that WTO discussions failed. The time has come to take other measures, to be proactive and to ensure that Canada is protecting its interests.

I asked him a simple question: Is the government prepared to invoke article 28 to protect our dairy products? Are we ready to do that?

I have a second, very simple question, this one regarding the Canadian Wheat Board. Will we guarantee a vote to all wheat producers who sell individually through that board before making any decisions? We are all familiar with the Prime Minister's study group or task force, whose members are predisposed to eliminate the board. Those individuals have decided. Before even conducting the studies, they know the results.

During today's Question Period, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board refused to answer this question, as to whether these farmers will be allowed to vote under Canadian legislation.

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, the suspension of WTO negotiations in July 2006 represents a real step backwards given the economic advantages for Canada had it attained its ambitious objectives, particularly those for the Canadian agricultural sector. We will continue to work with the WTO Director General, Mr. Pascal Lamy, and other members of the WTO in order to find a solution to the impasse.

Canada stands to gain a great deal from the WTO agriculture negotiations. We will continue to work hard to achieve our objectives and defend our interests.

This government has clearly indicated that Canada cannot quit the WTO. The outcome of Doha round negotiations will have international repercussions and, consequently, affect Canadian agriculture. It would be unrealistic for Canada to leave the negotiating table or to act as though the negotiations will have no impact on Canadian agriculture. That is why this government is determined to liberalize trade, to establish a system of multilateral trade based on rules and to achieve the objectives of the Doha round.

The government will continue to consult the provinces and industry representatives regarding the preferred approach to defending our interests and it will continue to exert pressure in order to negotiate the best possible outcome for our sector, which includes industries that export as well as those subject to supply management.

7:35 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, over the past few days, I have had the opportunity to ask a relatively simple question that is nevertheless a heartfelt plea concerning the region I represent and the portfolio I am responsible for: fisheries. This is the reality of the situation.

My question was for the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Unfortunately, his answer was anything but satisfactory, and I hope that the member for Beauport—Limoilou, who is preparing her response to this adjournment debate, can shed some light on the very concrete reality that fisheries sectors, such as lobster, crab, groundfish, shrimp and pelagic species, need concrete, serious help from the federal government.

I am sure you will agree that the federal government is responsible for fisheries. We should therefore automatically be hearing from the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec that real help is on the way for this sector in particular, which is experiencing its own unique problems.

Last year a program was announced by the Liberal government, but it did not respond to all the problems in a concrete manner. Nonetheless, at least it gave a response, which was circumstantial in a way, but also specific to the fishery and covered the regions in particular, the Gaspé and Magdalen Islands region and the North Shore region. You will agree that these two regions in Quebec are affected by the fisheries. It was entirely natural for the government to have these regions in its sights for providing assistance.

A $34 million subsidy was allocated over five years. It was a done deal. In the five-year program announced last year, we can presume there is still a lot of money left. We would have been satisfied or, at least, we would have been grateful if this new government, which fortunately is in a minority, also had a little sensitivity to the fisheries.

Unfortunately, we see this story a lot differently because the answer from the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec was that programs would just be recycled; six new programs were announced without new money and they completely left out the fishery and the forestry sectors.

The fishery sector was very specifically left out. As for the $34 million over five years, previously reserved for companies or projects that would help these people in crisis, it has been dropped.

It is for this reason that I am saying that the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou need not present us with these programs again because it would be extremely disappointing to the people of the region that I represent and to people in the fisheries in general.

7:40 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, in the absence of Jean-Pierre Blackburn, my teammate in the House of Commons, I would like to provide a more detailed answer to my friend from the Bloc Québécois.

The hon. member wrongly believes that the Government of Canada no longer cares about the fishing industry. He said, among other things, that the budget envelope of $34 million over five years allocated to the fishing communities economic development initiative for the Gaspésie, Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Côte-Nord regions had disappeared.

That is incorrect and totally inconsistent with reality, as evidenced by the new regional economic development measures recently announced by Minister Blackburn.

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member keeps referring to the minister by his name. I ignored it once; it happened again. I would ask the hon. member not to do that.

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

In fact, the government announced that it would provide six new tools to strengthen the economies of the Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine region and of Quebec.

One of these tools, called the Community Economic Diversification Initiative–Vitality (CEDI-VITALITY), will be particularly useful. Unlike the initiative mentioned by the hon. member, Fishing CEDI, which helped only the fishing industry, the new measure is aimed at a broader public and comes with a larger envelope. In other words, with CEDI-VITALITY, Economic Development Canada has improved on its previous initiative. In fact, in order to be more efficient, the government has merged Fishing CEDI and CEDI–Coulombe Report, combining them into a single, more effective and better-funded program.

In its new format, this measure covers more communities—a total of 795 municipalities—and groups together all of those previous covered by Fishing CEDI and CEDI–Coulombe Report.

The new funding, $85 million, is available for the next four years in order to complete projects in the seven regions of Quebec: Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Côte-Nord, Gaspésie, Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Mauricie, northern Québec and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. Added to those regions are 21 regional county municipalities, which are also covered by this initiative.

The CEDI-VITALITY targets 21% of Quebec's population and gives the government much greater flexibility in terms of financial assistance.

The previous initiative provided for repayable or non-repayable contributions. With this new initiative, we can now make a non-repayable contribution, up to a maximum of $100,000, and pair it with a repayable, but interest-free contribution. I repeat: what is new is that we can make a non-repayable contribution, up to a maximum of $100,000, and pair it with a repayable but interest-free contribution.

This new measure therefore lets us contribute more to a project and yet remain able to provide funding in the form of non-repayable contributions.

The CEDI-VITALITY will support activities aimed at diversifying the economy and assisting SMEs, such as consultants' studies, projects involving the development of strategies and action plans, business startups and much more.

As the government and as a stakeholder in economic development, we have a duty to provide our SMEs and our communities with tools and resources to strengthen, renew and stimulate their economies.

Regarding assistance—

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

7:45 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Chair for putting a stop to this string of statements which, unfortunately, reflect the insensitivity of this government towards what coastal communities and fisheries are going through.

When people are faced with a crisis, the first thing we expect from a responsible government is to acknowledge that there is indeed a crisis.

But when the government vehemently denies the existence of this crisis, removes the exclusive nature of a program that could have helped fisheries and decides that subsidies will now replace loans, it comes up with an inadequate solution that completely ignores the problem in the fishing industry.

This is why I am going to give the hon. member one last chance to get back on track and to recognize that there is indeed a crisis in the fisheries and that we need an adequate and specific program for that industry, not a program that is lost among other ones.

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

The answer to my friend from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine is that, in a crisis, we did what no other previous government was able to do. We are stimulating the economy with programs that work.

The tool provided at this time combines both, which is much better for those in the fisheries sector who need more money as their projects take shape. More money is always needed in difficult times. Previously, they paid interest; this is no longer the case. By juxtaposing these initiatives we are providing better tools for our fisheries.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been adopted. The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:48 p.m.)