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House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.

Topics

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On May 31, 2006, you invited members to comment on whether Bill C-303 would require a royal recommendation. Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, it is the government's view that the bill does require a royal recommendation.

Subclause 5(1) of the bill provides that:

The Minister of Finance may make a child care transfer payment directly to a province or territory in each fiscal year to support the early learning and child care program of the province or territory....

That would happen if certain conditions were met. These conditions are expanded upon in subclauses 5(2) and 5(5) and clause 6. In other words, subclause 5(1) would provide authority for transfer payments.

Some members could argue that a royal recommendation is not needed because the bill defines “child care transfer payment” in clause 2 to mean:

a cash contribution or financial transfer in respect of early learning and child care services that may be provided under an Act of Parliament to a province, territory, institution or corporate entity.

However, the bill would still have an effect on appropriations made to provinces for early learning and child care under any other federal act, including future appropriation acts. It thereby affects the purpose for which those appropriations are made.

Mr. Speaker, you have reminded the House that the principle of the financial initiative of the Crown requires that a royal recommendation be supplied for an appropriation as well as for any change in the financial purpose of an act. This is clearly the case with Bill C-303. Even though it purports not to appropriate money directly, it would alter the purpose of an appropriation granted through another act.

I would also like to raise a second question with regard to the bill, which is that it reopens a question already dealt with by the House in the 2006 budget and the budget implementation bill, Bill C-13, which received royal assent on June 22, 2006, namely, the question of funding for early learning and child care.

It is a well recognized principle that the House cannot be asked to make a decision on a question, such as the second reading of a bill, if it has already voted on the same or a substantially similar question. Standing Order 18 is explicit that:

No Member may reflect upon any vote of the House, except for the purpose of moving that such vote be rescinded.

This bill was introduced seven days after the House adopted ways and means for the Budget Implementation Act, 2006, which provided funds for early learning and child care without strings and which provided explicitly in paragraph 5(c) of part 6 that the funds could not be retained or constrained in any way. The bill is clearly an attempt to reopen that question through the back door.

On this basis, Mr. Speaker, you may also wish to consider whether the bill should be ruled out of order at second reading. We thank you for your attention. We look forward to an early ruling on this matter.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find the position of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons vis-à-vis this bill to be quite ironic, not to say distinctly odd.

Let me explain. The second point he raised had to do with the fact that the House has already voted on this bill and therefore it should not receive royal assent.

With all due respect to my colleague, he is confusing two totally different concepts.

In terms of whether the House has already voted on the matter, we are currently considering a private member's bill under private members' business. Furthermore, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure and the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business are looking into whether the bill is votable and in order. I am sorry, but the subcommittee has met. We cannot vote on something that the House has already decided on; it is one of the criteria. The subcommittee decided that this bill was completely in order and quite acceptable for the purposes of discussion during private members' business.

That was the second point my colleague raised.

The first point he raised was that this would have an effect on appropriations. Mr. Speaker, when you make your ruling you will have to give this some serious thought.

It is quite ironic to see the Conservative Party attitude toward this. When the Liberals were in power, in the previous government, the Conservatives were incensed by arguments like the ones it is making today. That explains why so many people have lost confidence in politics. Once a party comes into power it sings a different tune than when it was in the opposition.

I maintain that this is an important bill. Why will the Bloc Québécois be in favour of it? This bill give's Quebec the right to opt out with full compensation, that is why. The Bloc considers child care to be a provincial responsibility, or Quebec's responsibility where we are concerned. In the case of Quebec, it is a matter of $807 million earmarked by the former government.

I wanted to add these points for you to ponder.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh rising on the same point of order?

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, in terms of past practice this motion clearly is premature. The House has not pronounced on this bill. Members have every right to have the debate, the first two hours of it, at which point hopefully the bill will be sent over to committee and perhaps amended there, perhaps in part to deal with the concerns being raised by the government.

The decision itself as to whether a royal prerogative is required here will be made and should be made at that time, I would argue, not at this time. That has been the pattern on a number of rulings we have had both in this Parliament and the previous Parliament.

In particular, and I want to echo the comments from the whip for the Bloc, it is really quite hypocritical to hear the government party stand and make these kind of submissions when in the last Parliament it repeatedly brought forth bills that, quite frankly, very clearly required royal prerogatives. We went ahead and dealt with them and in some occasions amended them to the degree that the royal prerogative was not necessary. For those members to make the argument at this stage is completely contrary to the practice they followed in the last Parliament when they were in official opposition.

What we should be doing and what I would urge you to do is simply put off making any decision on this issue of the necessity of the royal prerogative until the House has had its due process, until it has had the opportunity to fully consider this legislation and decide then whether the royal prerogative is required or not.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, very quickly, in response to my two colleagues, I would remind the Speaker that it was the Speaker's invitation for members to comment on whether we felt Bill C-303 required a royal recommendation. That is clearly what we are doing here. We thank the Speaker for his invitation and we hope he will make a speedy ruling on this.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for their interventions. They will be taken under advisement and the Speaker will report back to the House with a ruling.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to support the NDP's bill on early learning and child care programs. Canadians have been waiting a long time, 10 years, for the federal government to enact such legislation. I would like to use my time today to present an overview of the issue.

This year, Raffi Cavoukian, the award-winning children's songwriter and recipient of the Order of Canada, gave me a book entitled Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around, which has inspired me to present this bill. This is not a book that is either particularly for or against child care, but it expresses the extreme vulnerability of children to their environment in the early years. In the Dalai Lama's preface to the book, he states that societies will advance only by putting children front and centre in our policies and our program development.

The debate today is about the policies that are best able to achieve that goal in helping us advance.

Canadian parents desperately need affordable, high quality child care to ensure those key early learning opportunities. Canada's economy and social fabric are best served with a quality early learning system that gets our children off to the best possible start.

Instead, the Conservatives have chosen a child care program that has nothing to do with child care. According to their research, and by their own admission, their plan will have very little impact on parents' child care choices. It is nothing more than a tiny subsidy for daycares, a vote-buying plan that might look good on the surface but that, in reality, fails to create a single daycare space for families who need them.

This empty plan seems to be a clear reflection of the Conservative Party of Canada's narrow vision of a federal government whose only role in social policy is to reduce taxes.

Canadians need a national preschool education and child care program that gives all Canadian children affordable, good-quality opportunities, regardless of the province or territory they live in or their family's income.

The NDP child care act in the bill is actually about child care and early learning. With this bill, we will ensure reliable provincial and territorial transfers for child care spaces, while enshrining in law the principles of accessibility, universality, accountability, inclusiveness, quality and educational development. The early learning and child care act can be a cornerstone of social policy for Canadian families.

I would like first to speak to the need in Canada. Studies have repeatedly found that child care programs in Canada are simply inadequate in comparison to other countries. An OECD study recently put Canada at the bottom. Over the summer, my conversation with hundreds of Canadian parents across Canada painfully confirmed the inadequacy of child care. Hundreds of parents like Cathy Rikley, who has a 15 and a half month old baby, spent months searching for quality day care that had available space that she could afford on her salary. She worried incessantly about leaving her baby in less than ideal situations.

In my riding of Victoria the cost for day care is $800 a month. In one Victoria day care centre, the Cridge Centre, there are 47 babies and 50 on the waiting list. The group day care has 56 spots for three to five year olds and 66 children on the waiting list. Another day care surveyed had over 80 on the waiting list. Some day care workers told me parents register as soon as they know they are expecting a child in the hope of securing a space. That is shameful.

For all the trumpeting the Conservatives do about choice in child care, they entirely ignore how stressed and stretched parents are. In the perfect Conservative world it seems there is never a single parent family and in two parent families they can always afford the second parent to stay at home. However, in a complicated and increasingly unregulated market economy, juggling family and work is an overwhelming task for very many Canadian families. If they cannot make it, the Conservatives will tell them it is their fault. They are not working hard enough. Let it be said that it is precisely this kind of unregulated market that Conservatives support through their policies that is forcing many parents back to work.

The $100 a month and pennies in GST savings do not cut it with most Canadian families. Look at Victoria's housing costs. The average price for a single family home in greater Victoria last month, August 2006, was $510,000. Families simply cannot cope.

The role of the federal government in this case should be to pool collective resources together and work collaboratively with provinces according to their needs to ensure all Canadians have access to basic social programs.

This child care bill represents Canadians working together to make a better life for our families, to give the best possible life to our children. It is needed. Our children are worth it and Canadians agree.

A 2002 national poll found that 86% of all Canadians believe that there can be a publicly funded child care system that makes quality child care available to all children in Canada.

The arguments are not only social, they are also economic, something maybe the Conservatives think they understand. For every $1 spent on child care there is a $2 economic benefit. At a recent OECD conference, every economist there argued that the single most important investment in long term competitiveness is to invest in early childhood learning.

If we want highly skilled adults with the literacy skills to survive and compete in an increasingly complex global economy, we must begin with a strong start for our children. The Ontario Public School Boards' Association said that investing in our youngest children in the early years represents the most far-reaching responsible investment we can make in Canada's future.

It argues that:

A child's readiness to learn at the start of grade one is the single strongest predictor of how well the child will do in every grade, whether they will graduate successfully, what their earning potential will be, how positive their contribution to society will be and even how healthy they will be.

That is health care costs. Saving government spending, surely that will get the Conservatives' attention. The Alberta's Commission on Learning says that ignoring the early years and focussing on fixing problems when children come to the school is short-sighted and a wrong-headed approach.

There is much to be learned about the importance of early childhood development in determining long term health, well-being, and general adjustment in life, like the research done by the human early learning partnerships in B.C. universities. We have to take advantage of that knowledge, not simply throw a cheque at parents.

Basically, the Conservatives' vision involves minimizing the federal government's involvement in social policy and its commitment to foreign affairs and the armed forces. My vision of Canada differs dramatically from the Conservatives' vision.

I believe the federal government has a fundamental role to play in our country, including a responsibility to protect the equality and social rights of all Canadians, to offer a comparable range of opportunities—which have become anything but equal because of an imperfect market, to ensure that all Canadians have shelter and sufficient income to support their family, and to ensure that they have access to health care and learning opportunities.

The Conservative plan simply does not work. The major flaw in its child care plan, which is not one at all, was summed up on a sign that I saw at a child care rally on the steps of the B.C. legislature in Victoria the day before I introduced this child care bill. It read: “$100 buys a month of child care”. That was in 1986. It seems that the Conservatives are behind the times. The Conservatives own research showed that:

The general consensus was that the $1,200 will not have any real impact on child care choices...While parents may choose how to spend the allowance, it is not sufficient to have an impact upon parents' choices: No one is going to be in a position to go back to work or stay at home to raise children because of the $1,200.

That information cost the government $123,000. I could have told the Conservatives that for a cup of coffee and saved them the time.

Indeed, the Conservatives' plan is taxable. I will call it a scheme. It is taxable, thus negatively affecting many parents' eligibility for the child tax benefit, the GST refund, employment insurance during maternity leave, subsidized housing, et cetera, and for those families who could most use the extra money. The true value of the proposed allowance could be as little a dollar a day per child aged one to six years.

The Conservatives' own research sums it up concluding that “The allowance is not seen as a national child care solution”.

Indeed, the government is now placing radio ads suggesting that parents use the cash to cover babysitting costs. Let us call it what it is, a babysitting bonus, a cynical vote-buying handout. So let us return to the task of building a national child care and early learning system that is universally accessible, affordable, not-for-profit and high quality for our children today, and for generations to come.

With the challenges currently facing our society, child care should not be a luxury. The child care act before us today makes the right of our children to a headstart a universal one. Let us pass this act and as the Ontario Public School Boards' Association puts it: “every child deserves the best possible start”.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. I would like to ask the indulgence of the House, before I recognize a member, that all those that wish to ask questions in this instance rise now, so that I can gauge timing.

The hon. member for Abbotsford.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's comments and I note she implied that Canadians do not support our new government's universal child care plan. I want to remind her that on January 23, Canadians elected not a failed Liberal government, not an NDP government, but they elected a new Conservative government. We were very clear that we would be providing $1,200 per year, per child.

The reality is that Canadians appreciate our efforts to support working families. In fact, a resident of Victoria, right in the member's own riding, recently wrote the Prime Minister to say: “Being a work at home mom with two small children, the extra money is going to make a huge difference to our family, allowing us and our children to enjoy a better life and future”.

While the member and her NDP colleagues mock the $1,200 per year, per child, and she herself referred to it as puny and an empty plan, when will she admit that her party is completely out of touch with the reality of working families in Canada?

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative claim of providing choice in child care is entirely bogus. There is nothing to show that giving people a small or even a medium amount of money creates or sustains choice. The person that the member was referring to is a very lucky person, but how many people in Victoria have that choice? I would suggest perhaps one in 100,000 across Canada.

A small payment to parents will not create new early learning and child care services, or even allow parents to afford and access the services that their children need. A real plan would have standards and goals, and timelines for building. Building a hospital does not provide the needed services of doctors and nurses or in fact all the workers in the same way that the Conservative plan will not create those early learning opportunities that are so needed to give our children a head start.

As a result of it being taxed back, the allowance will give a wealthy banker's wife more money than the single parent. It is entirely appropriate for parents who can stay at home and wish to do so and be as involved as they can be in the parenting part. Parenting and child support are completely supportive of each other.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member and her assessment that child care is expensive, especially in urban centres. The previous Liberal plan created approximately 200 spaces in my riding of Don Valley East. The Conservative government's plan of $100 per month is really unfair, especially for the two parent working family. It is taxable, which amounts to $60 to $80. It is unfair because the Conservatives have increased the income tax rate for the working poor as well. Their plan gives money to the ultra-rich.

The Liberal government invested and made deals with all the provincial jurisdictions for the early learning and child care strategy. The Liberal government decreased taxes for middle income earners. The Liberal government increased the personal income threshold by $500. Given all this, why would the NDP agree with the Conservatives and bring the previous Liberal government down, when the Conservative only agenda is an ideology and an empty plan?

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I sure wish the Liberals would get new talking points. They need to remember that it was the Canadian people who made that decision, not the NDP with 19 members.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on Bill C-303, the proposed early learning and child care act introduced by the member for Victoria. This is a crucial issue.

Canada's new government recognizes that one of the most important investments we can make as a country is to give parents choices when it comes to caring for their children. We take the commitment to support parents' choices in child care very seriously, and choice is definitely the operative word here.

Canadians voted for a platform that put choice in child care as one of their top five priorities. We promised choice in child care in the Speech from the Throne. We committed to it in budget 2006, and now we are delivering on that commitment to Canadian families through our universal child care plan.

Our plan represents a flexible, balanced approach that enables parents and communities to develop the child care solutions that work best for them. This is a plan founded on respect for parents' expertise in deciding what is best for their children and for the roles and responsibilities of the provinces and territories in delivering child care services.

Bill C-303, in contrast, lacks the flexibility that would enable parents to make choices they want. The legislation fails to properly respect the expertise of parents or the established roles and responsibilities of the provinces and territories in the realm of child care service delivery.

On the contrary, what Bill C-303 proposes is tantamount to an intrusion into provincial and territorial jurisdictions. The bill would impose singular, one size fits all criteria and conditions on provincial and territorial governments in order for them to qualify for federal early learning and child care funding.

Unlike the inadequate and ineffective approach envisioned in Bill C-303, our new universal child care plan recognizes that no two Canadian families are alike. We understand that parents with young children balance their work and family lives in different ways and for different reasons. We are very aware, for example, that the services provided by day care facilities that are open from nine to five are simply not an option for the many Canadian parents whose schedules require that they work evenings, weekends, split shifts or 12 hour shifts. Neither is standard day care the answer for parents taking evening courses to enhance their skills.

Standard day care is an equally unrealistic option for farming families, for families working in the fisheries and for the many Canadians with young children who live in rural or remote communities. Moreover, as a recent Statistics Canada study confirmed, almost half of Canadian parents continue to find ways to stay at home to care for their preschoolers themselves.

Given this wide range of parents' situations and needs, we have developed and, more important, acted on a child care plan that responds to the diverse circumstances and real needs of Canadian families.

As the House is aware, our universal child care plan has two parts: a universal child care benefit and a child care spaces initiative. Together, these two components represent an investment of close to $12 billion over five years to improve the lives of Canadian families, an investment that is more than twice that proposed by the former Liberal government.

Allow me to elaborate for a moment on the first component of the universal child care benefit.

This direct benefit to Canadian families helps them choose the type of child care that works best for them. I am pleased to inform the House that this past July, parents across Canada began receiving the benefit of $100 a month for each child under the age of six, a benefit they are free to use in the best interests of their own children. For example, they can apply the $1,200 a year toward the cost of formal day care, they can use the benefit to pay for occasional babysitting or for child care help from a grandparent or a neighbour. If parents so choose, they can purchase educational resources, like an educational DVD, for their preschoolers, or they can use the benefit to pay for special outings to a museum, for example.

As I noted earlier, we respect parents' choices and this is what the benefit delivers. Some 1.6 million families with 2.1 million children will receive the benefit. Families who are already registered for the Canada child tax benefit, accounting for more than 90% of families, received the universal child care benefit automatically.

However, we want to ensure that all parents with preschoolers receive the benefit. To this end, the government has been very active in reaching out to the families not currently registered for Canada child care tax benefits to encourage them to apply. Our outreach efforts include a special website, radio ads, print ads in national and local daily papers, and special efforts directed at aboriginal, minority French language and ethnocultural communities.

The government is proud to support the choices of all Canadian parents trying to give their preschoolers a strong start in life. Canada's new government is equally committed to the second component of our universal child care plan that will provide a flexible approach to child care spaces that meet Canadian parents diverse needs. The new child care spaces initiative will provide incentives that can be translated into more child care options in large urban centres and rural areas. It can also provide flexible hours for many parents whose work hours do not fit the standard nine to five model.

In designing this initiative, we have been consulting with the provinces and territories, as well as businesses, communities and non-profit organizations to tap into their expertise. Furthermore, a ministerial advisory committee was recently named by the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development to advise her on the design of a child care spaces initiative.

Chosen for expertise in child care, work-family issues, community organizations and the needs of employers, the committee will present the minister with a report outlining its advice and recommendations this fall. I would like to note for the interest of the House that this report will be available to the general public.

This responsive, flexible approach which respects parents' choices and parents' expertise, along with the roles and the responsibilities for other provinces and territories, is in keeping with our promise to Canadians and Canada's own promise for the future.

For those reasons we are unable to support Bill C-303 proposed by the member for Victoria.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I speak today in favour of Bill C-303 which establishes criteria and conditions that must be met before a transfer payment may be made to a province or territory to support an early learning and child care program. Of course, I support the bill. It is almost a replica of the Liberal program for early learning and child care which began in 2004.

In 2005, all 10 provinces signed on to our program, indicating a cross-Canada recognition of the societal need for this program and a commitment of cooperation to achieve it. These signed agreements were the first steps toward putting in place the foundation of a national early learning and child care program and serve as the framework on which Bill C-303 is built.

The framework includes the values of equality, universality, accessibility and development; values that are upheld in Bill C-303, values that we, the Liberals, support.

How strange it is that the sponsoring party of the bill, the NDP, chose just last December not to support an almost identical program but chose instead to join with the Conservatives and the Bloc and cause the government to fall. Canadian parents who have told us about the desperate shortage of child care spaces and were thrilled by our program were not amused by the antics of the NDP at that time. However, here we are, less than a year later, with an NDP bill seeking to resuscitate a program that it helped to kill.

We all know that one of the NDP members travelled to the Middle East in the summer. It was very well publicized. In retrospect, I think she must have taken the road to Damascus while over there. She must have seen the light, converted her colleagues on her return and now we have the bill.

Is it a sign of the NDP repentance for its cynical vote last December, a vote that dashed the hopes of Canadian parents desperate to find quality child care for their children? I do not know about that but I do know the Liberals are committed to helping parents.

We brought in the child care expense deduction years ago to help offset the cost of child care. We also introduced the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement to help parents. We allocated $5 billion for child care for 2006 through to 2010. In the election campaign, we promised another $6 billion to take this program forward to 2015.

When one considers the additional money that would have been invested by the provinces and by the municipalities over those years, one can safely assume that Canada would have been building a good child care system for its citizens. Now instead, from the NDP, we have a piece of paper, Bill C-303, but no money. Only the government has money to allocate, which takes us to the Conservatives.

The Conservative Party did not want to spend $11 billion on early learning and child care and instead cancelled the hard won agreements with the provinces and now send out cheques to parents of $100 per month per child. There is no early learning component attached to this money and it is such a paltry sum that it might only pay for two or three hours of babysitting each week. In addition, it is taxable. Whatever parents do, I can say to them that they should not spend it because when April comes they will receive a bill from the revenue agency.

The Conservative program is a deception. It is called the universal child care benefit. It is not universal. First, the parents of more than 100,000 children do not receive it because information about how to access it was so poorly done.

Second, it has little to do with child care because the amount is so small it does not make a dint in real child care costs.

Third, it has absolutely no early learning component. Early learning, both social and cognitive, is the critical component in a good early childhood experience. The OECD report released last week shows Canada last out of 20 nations in public spending on child care.

Now, with the cancellation of the Liberal agreements with the provinces and territories, Canada is the only country in the OECD without a goal, a plan and a budget for early learning and child care.

The journalist, Susan Riley, said it in the Ottawa Citizen better than I can. Last March she said:

When it comes to practical results...and even Conservative fiscal orthodoxy, [the Conservative] child-care plan makes no sense. Critics say it won't do much to give young children a head start....

So why is the prime minister, and...the minister so unwilling to compromise? In the absence of other compelling arguments, the answer has to be ideological. [He] doesn't...believe “the state” should “replace” parents when it comes to child-rearing [and] said...“the only experts on raising children were called Mom and Dad”.

This is a divisive and dishonest characterization of a complex issue, and many working parents, who make up the significant majority, [of parents in Canada], know it. Same goes for the [minister's] insulting suggestion that the Tory program will help parents “who want to raise their own children”--as if moms and dads who have to work full-time are some derelicts, or not really parenting.

This language will appeal to social conservatives...having been forced to comprise on samesex marriage and abortion, this may be the Prime Minister 's gesture his long-suffering “family values” caucus.

She concludes that the Conservative cheques are “no substitute for a national network of well-designed, well-staffed [child care] centres”.

Here we are today with a piece of paper, Bill C-303, from the NDP and the government opposite ideologically opposed to implementing it. I predict that Bill C-303 will pass both in the House and in the Senate, but that the government will not reallocate the necessary funds to change the words of the bill into reality for Canadian families.

How can we work to bring that reality to Canadians when the bill is the opposite of Conservative ideology? Maybe we can fit it into another piece of Conservative ideology. Let us examine where the Conservatives are spending taxpayer money.

To an observer, it might seem they are in love with uniforms and weapons because most new spending is going to the military to increase the number of servicemen and women, to buy more transport for them and new equipment for active combat. In addition, border guards will get new guns and training to use them. The finance minister has also set aside considerable funds for prisons, in his words, “for the anticipated increase in the number of prisoners”. More people in uniform.

Yes, the government loves uniforms and guns.

Therefore, with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, may I suggest that the government might fund child care if we make a few amendments to Bill C-303.

First, I think the government would like it if we made uniforms mandatory. Second, it would also like it if we made marching to martial music a part of the curriculum. Third, story time could revolve around war stories. Fourth, target shooting could begin at age three.

Yes, the government might support such a program but, unfortunately, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc would probably not because it would go against their shared desire to build for Canada a peaceable kingdom.

In summary, I do support Bill C-303. I reject the vision of the government for Canada's future. I prefer the vision articulated in Bill C-303 based on the Liberals' child care policy and plan.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak about child care. First, I would like to talk about Quebec and its family policy. According to the 2001 census, Quebec had 450,000 children under the age of 6. Of this number, 200,000 are already in the provincial day care network. In addition, it is estimated that 110,000 children are in full- or part-time care outside the network. This family policy therefore clearly meets a real need.

The family policy is built on three main pillars: early childhood centres, the refundable tax credit and parental leave. The refundable tax credit is a quarterly allowance paid by the Government of Quebec, based on family income, household income and number of children. A refundable tax credit does not have the disadvantage of the $1,200 paid out by the Conservative Party. Families receive this tax credit, and it is not clawed back at the end of the year, regardless of their income. Parental leave allows mothers and fathers to stay home longer after a child is born.

In all, Quebec spends $4.5 billion annually on family support, in addition to parental leave, which is funded by Quebec pension plan contributions. In our opinion, day care goes hand in hand with family policy. We also think that a true family policy is a provincial responsibility exclusively. Parental leave, income support and the day care network must be combined in a coherent whole. In our view, for the sake of efficiency, this entire network, all these family policies, must come under provincial jurisdiction alone.

One function of day care centres is to pass on values, culture and language. That is why we maintain that the government closest to the people is better able to meet those needs.

Last week, at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, francophones living outside Quebec told us how much they would like to have French-language child care to facilitate early language learning and promote the survival of the language.

We know in this House that the Bloc Québécois opposed the taxable $1,200 allowance and suggested a refundable tax credit for all families. Lower-income families would have benefited from this deductible amount.

We feel that this measure is definitely not a child care service. It represents a social program, at most, and not enough money to be useful. I was infuriated to learn that, in July and August, the government sent out paper cheques in the amount of $100, rather than send them electronically. The operation cost $2 million.

Doing it that way allowed the minister to attach to the cheque a message for the parents, indicating that the universal child care benefit was paid directly to families because the government believes that parents know better than anyone what is best for their children.

In my opinion, the government is clearly trying to play politics at the expense of Canadian children. This must not be tolerated.

Bill C-303 has proven to be quite a matter of conscience for the Bloc Québécois.

On one hand, this bill does not respect the federal-provincial jurisdictions as set out in the Constitution. In our opinion, the Constitution clearly states that education and family policies are not federal jurisdictions. Furthermore, under this bill, child care service providers would have to commit to respecting a series of federal criteria regarding child care. The provinces would also have to commit, given the purported spending power, the legitimacy of which has always been contested by the Quebec government. In our opinion, this bill clearly was not introduced in the right Parliament.

On the other hand, this bill excludes Quebec entirely from this federalizing of family policies.

It respects the motion unanimously passed in Quebec's National Assembly on November 3, 2004, which states:

That, in the negotiations with the federal government on the implementation of a new Canada-wide child care program, the National Assembly support the Government of Quebec in its efforts to obtain funding with no strings attached and in the respect of Quebec's constitutional jurisdictions.

We also see that by accepting the social union agreement and by agreeing to align their family support policy with child tax benefits, the provinces, except Quebec, have allowed the federal government to take the leadership role in matters of family policy. Outside Quebec, the federal government has truly become the master of family policy.

We believe that passing this bill would allow Quebec to recoup the $807 million the Conservative government is denying us as a result of tearing up the agreement on funding child care. That is why we are in favour of this bill.

When the Liberal child care program was announced in 2004, reaction from defenders of this child care service truly showed us the difference in where Quebeckers and Canadians stand. In Canada, this announcement was seen as a promise to create the Canada-wide network of child care centres that people were looking for, and we can understand that. However, in Quebec, the child care service network already existed. The only thing Quebeckers saw in the child care program was just another unconditional transfer.

We would like to be relieved of the financial burden we are suffering as a result of the fiscal imbalance. We are making a tremendous investment in our children and families and we want proper financial compensation for our efforts.

Bill C-303 takes into account, which is quite rare—we have not seen much of this at the federal level—these two opposing tendencies in federal-provincial relations. In Quebec, we reject interference, but outside Quebec, Ottawa is seen as the guarantor of social progress, which is highly conducive to centralization.

In Bill C-303, with clause 4 allowing a right to opt out with full financial compensation, we believe this takes into account these opposite views of Canada; these two very different ways of seeing things.

We believe Bill C-303 recognizes the unique expertise of the Government of Quebec in the area of day care in North America. This recognition comes three years after the OECD had already stated the following in a study on day care:

There are, however, positive developments that are important to underline:

The extraordinary advance made by Quebec, which has launched one of the most ambitious and interesting early education and care policies in North America. ... none of these provinces showed the same clarity of vision as Quebec in addressing the needs of young children and families.

Therefore we support this bill. We only want the best for all Canadian children. Let us create a day care program that will meet those expectations.

When the member for Victoria spoke of equality and inclusiveness, it was clear that creating a policy enabling children to grow and to develops is very important to her. In my opinion, by investing in day care we are visionaries and we are thinking about the future. By supporting day cares activities focussing on socialization that lead to learning at a very early age, we will eliminate a great deal of illiteracy and violence in our societies. It is important to have a vision for the future. It allows us to create a progressive society, a society where education is a priority.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, all members of the House should ask themselves two questions that go to the very heart of our duty as members of Parliament. Do we want the best for our children of Canada? Do we want a bright future for Canadians? Those are simple questions but I urge all members to think about them seriously.

If any member says no to either question, let that member go on the record and tell Canadians that he or she does not want the best for children and does not care about the future of our children. Let members say it loud and clear. Let them admit it and then resign because the only business of the House is to work for a better future for all Canadians. That is what we are here for.

With this early learning and child care bill we have the opportunity to confirm our commitment to the future. We have the opportunity to support and build Canadian leadership in the world. We have the opportunity to invest in success.

Passing this legislation would ensure reliable provincial transfers for child care spaces while entrenching the principles of quality, universality, accessibility, accountability and educational development. These are national standards for this vitally needed service, like the standards for health care. This would establish early learning and child care as a cornerstone of Canada, as it should be and must be.

If we fail to enshrine this commitment to early learning and child care in legislation, then we would be saying no to those questions. We would be saying no to children, no to the future and no to Canada. We would be giving up on the future, failing our duty and embracing complete failure.

When it comes to early learning and child care, Canada already has a failing grade and dismal performance. We are at the bottom of the heap of industrialized nations. It is not just the NDP that is saying that; it is the OECD, the international community as well. Canada is completely failing our children and the OECD confirms this.

The previous Liberal government neglected this whole area for years, even though it spoke about the importance of early learning and child care. It committed transfers to the provinces last year. Finally there was some prospect of progress, but the last Parliament failed to enshrine the principles of our national commitment in legislation.

Now the new Conservative government has wiped out the provincial agreements. In a few months' time when the transfers end, the bit of progress we have made will be gone. Then Canada will continue its downward spiral, falling behind the rest of the world, unless we take action.

The OECD has put a global spotlight on Canada's dirty little secret. We have a failing grade in early education and child care. We have tumbled down below the rankings of other countries. We are way behind the leaders. We are way behind other western democracies not just in spending, but in the very nature of child care and early learning.

Too much of Canadian child care is unregulated babysitting with no quality educational components. That is another failing grade. That is what the OECD has said. That is the very course the new Conservative government seems determined to follow, providing an impetus to big box profiteers to fail our children even further.

Throwing a bit of money at parents and then clawing back a big chunk of it in taxes is not early learning and child care. No wonder the new government is desperate for an early election. It does not want to face the rage of parents next April after they are presented with their tax bills. That is when Canadians will see that there is a lot less to that $1,200 promise than meets the eye. It is a lot less money and no new early learning and child care spaces, no new spaces at all, nothing for children, no investment in the future. It is a complete dismal failure for Canada.

The OECD has made a clear link between national investments in quality child care and early learning and productivity and economic growth, not to mention that the OECD demonstrates that early learning and child care is also a social good. It has a positive impact on the health of children and society and it alleviates poverty. Child poverty remains a terrible reality in this country, another dismal failure.

Again, this is not just the NDP speaking. This is not just child care and educational experts talking. This is not just parents desperate for child care for their kids. This is not just the employers who want a productive workforce. The OECD is saying that we must deal with child care and invest in our children.

The OECD has recommended 1% of the GDP as a minimum government investment. We are at a dismal .03%, a fraction of the OECD benchmark. Some countries even invest 2%. No wonder Canadians' productivity is just slipping. No wonder Canadian businesses and industries are worried about our competitiveness and the competitiveness of the workforce.

Members of the new Conservative government like to boast about their business expertise and their economic stewardship. This is just as bogus as their so-called child care plan. When they rip the money away from provincial programs next year, in March 2007, Canada will be even worse in the OECD tables and the long term harm to our economy will be devastating.

This is why it is so important to enshrine the principles of early learning and child care in legislation. We can do that by supporting this bill. This is not a luxury; it is an urgent necessity. We cannot afford to let Canada fall further behind. Parliament must understand the urgency. Canada's future depends on it.

This is an action we must take. We must make it as an investment in leadership. The Prime Minister may think the best way to demonstrate Canadian leadership is to flex our military muscles, but surely the best way to show leadership is to support our children and our future. This is an area where Canada should be number one. There is no excuse for this. We urge the government and all members of the House to strive for excellence and success and not failure.

Remember the two questions I asked earlier: Do we want the best for the children of Canada? Do we want a bright future? I believe that every member of the House knows what his or her answer should be. Let us agree and move forward. Let us support Canada's early learning and child care bill. Canada's children are relying on us. Let us show them what true leadership is all about.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-303 introduced by the member for Victoria.

This bill has a number of flaws. A closer review reveals that this bill would represent a significant intrusion into provincial and territorial jurisdictions by imposing criteria and conditions on provincial and territorial governments in order for them to qualify for federal early learning and child care funding. Putting aside for a moment the legal challenges which this bill would face, the imposition of the standards referenced in this bill speak to a larger philosophical difference between the NDP and Canada's new government on the subject of support for Canadian families. While I believe we share a common belief that the federal government has a role to play in supporting the child care needs of Canadian families, we differ with respect to what form such support should take.

The former Liberal government's one size fits all program did not work for the diverse needs of Canadian families. Now the NDP is proposing one size fits all child care legislation. In distinct contrast, Canada's new government has brought forth, and more important, acted on a universal child care plan based on providing choice for parents. This plan also recognizes and respects the roles and responsibilities of the provinces and territories for delivering child care services. Parents in the provinces need flexibility and freedom to choose the type of child care that works best for them. Our universal child care program allows them to do just that.

I would also note that the program we have delivered as a government is one that recognizes the whole issue of choice. For many years Canadian families have been requesting, in fact demanding, that there be equity and fairness in the support that Canada's government delivers for families. Unfortunately, that support has not been forthcoming until very recently.

In our recent budget we fulfilled an election promise that we would deliver $1,200 per child under the age of six, per year. A family with two children would receive double that amount, and with three children, triple that amount. It is a significant amount of money and much more than was ever delivered under any previous government.

Unfortunately, the member for Victoria is actually proposing a bill which runs counter to the promises we made to the Canadian public in the last election. What she forgets is that on January 23 Canada elected not a failed Liberal government, not an NDP government, but a new Conservative government which was going to live up to its promises. That promise was to deliver equity and fairness to families across Canada, hard-working moms and dads who try to deliver enough resources to their family, to raise respectful children and to provide them with a lifestyle consistent with Canadian standards. We have delivered on that promise. We intend to continue to do that as we put the emphasis on young children in our society. The House will notice more legislation coming forward from our government which will put the focus on protecting children. For example, I have brought forward a private member's bill that will address the issue of luring children over the Internet.

Our child care policy is focused again on the child. It is focused on the very families that need the help, the ones trying to raise respectable citizens for our country, children who are going to be future leaders.

Bill C-303 is simply the old solutions being regurgitated. It would address the issue of the administrative costs of delivering child care through government agencies. What we have chosen to do with our plan is to focus in on driving and delivering the resources and the funds directly to the parents who need it.

Unfortunately, I have to speak against the bill. I strongly support our government's move toward providing the $1,200 per child per year child care allowance.

Early Learning and Child Care ActPrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

When this item comes back for consideration, the hon. member for Abbotsford will have another four and a half minutes.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Vancouver Kingsway B.C.

Conservative

David Emerson ConservativeMinister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

moved that Bill C-24, An Act to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and a charge on refunds of certain duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize certain payments, to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other Acts as a consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour today to speak to the legislation to enable the Government of Canada to implement the softwood lumber agreement reached this past summer with the United States. Softwood lumber for Canadian softwood lumber producers has been an industry that has been plagued by trade disputes, border measures and various types of trade harassment for basically a quarter of a century.

The agreement will provide stability and dispute-free market access to the United States market. It will provide stability for a period of at least eight to nine years. I also believe it will provide a trajectory for the evolution of the softwood lumber industry to a world of complete free trade. This is not unlike what happened in the automotive industry in the 1960s and 1970s where a sector, which was once subject to significant protection, gradually, through a sector specific agreement, evolved into a successful sector that is subject to almost complete free trade today.

I would ask hon. members to consider the softwood lumber agreement, not in the context of whether this is better than or as good as complete free trade. We know the answer to that. What we also know is that complete free trade is not the option that we have before us. It has not been the option for the last 24 years and it is not the option today. We are not one legal victory away from free trade.

In fact, when we look at the softwood lumber industry, it is a highly cyclical industry. We have just been through a very positive part of the cycle. We are now going into a negative part of the cycle where lumber prices will be lower than their normal trend price. During the low part of the cycle, trade actions not only proliferate, they become more robust. In this softwood lumber dispute, we are dealing with not just countervailing duties based on allegations of subsidies of Canadian softwood lumber producers, we are also dealing with anti-dumping duties.

When we get into a weak market, the ability of American protectionists to launch new cases or to raise the duty rates on existing cases, it becomes much more severe, much more difficult and much more problematic. Without this agreement we would be looking at a difficult period of trade litigation over the months and years ahead.

Let us talk about the agreement for a moment and some of the highlights of the agreement. The agreement is long term in nature. It provides for eight to nine years of dispute free trade with the United States. During good lumber markets, which, based on the history of the last 10 years, would be about 50% of the time or maybe a little bit more, we would have complete free trade. There would be no border measures, no quotas and no export taxes.

We are also looking at an agreement that puts much needed cash into the hands of companies, businesses and communities. Under this agreement, 81% of the duties on deposit with the United States would come back to Canadian companies. That is more than 5 billion Canadian dollars coming back into companies at a time when they badly need the cash and badly need to invest in their businesses.

In addition, as a Canadian initiative and as part of the agreement, we have included an accelerated deposit recovery mechanism. Through the Export Development Corporation of Canada, producers will be able to obtain their cash deposit within four to eight weeks of them filing their documents with Export Development Canada. That is compared to a normal time period that could take in excess of six months, possibly more than two years, to recover deposits through the U.S. customs.

The agreement has major exemptions in it. The entire Atlantic Canadian industry would be exempt from any border measures under the agreement which includes dumping duties. As hon. members will know, unlike previous trade disputes, Atlantic Canadian companies, while they have not been subject to countervailing duties, have been subject to dumping duties. Dumping duties are pernicious in weak markets. Dumping duties grow. An administrative review indicates that dumping duties will grow this fall. Even if we continue to win current litigation, that litigation will be appealed. Dumping duties will continue to be applied and Canadian companies, including those in Atlantic Canada, would be subject to continuing trade harassment. The territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, are also exempt from the provisions of the agreement, with no border measures there.

A very important part of the agreement is the unprecedented protection of provincial forest policies as a result of the agreement. In the past, what is called anti-circumvention language in past agreements had basically prevented provincial governments from implementing changes in forest policies and, indeed, any measure that a province would take under past agreements that had the effect of reducing timber stumpage, would have been subject to countervail and would have been a circumvention of the last softwood lumber agreement.

In the agreement, those policies are protected. We can in fact have a market based timber pricing system, as has been implemented in British Columbia, that now will be protected. Timber prices can go up when markets are good and timber prices can go down when markets are bad. Timber prices can also reflect conditions such as an export tax, an exchange rate change, hydro rates or any other kind of economic circumstance that changes the value of timber. The agreement protects those policies that allow timber pricing mechanisms to play their role as shock absorbers as we go through the vagaries of the lumber market and those factors which affect it.

The agreement also provides flexibility. In that part of the market when prices are low, the agreement provides provinces with significant flexibility as to how they wish to implement the agreement. In some parts of the country there will be a desire to restrict volume because they are actually reducing their allowable cut for other reasons. In provinces like Quebec, in a weak market they can pay duties no higher than 5% and complement that by reductions in volume shipped into the U.S. market.

In other regions, such as British Columbia, we have the option of not reducing our volume but paying a higher export tax, which is what the province of British Columbia and certain other provinces wanted. They wanted that flexibility built into the agreement and it is built into the agreement. We now have the ability, in different parts of the country where the industry is subject to different factors, to respond quite differently to the circumstances of a weak lumber market.

To the degree that there are export taxes collected, those revenues are not going to go into the U.S. treasury. Those revenues are going to stay here in Canada. They are to go back to the provinces where the lumber originated. Again, this will continue to protect Canadian companies, Canadian governments and Canadian economic interests.

Let us talk about dispute resolution. Many members of the House have spoken about chapter 19 of NAFTA, often critically and with some valid issues to be dealt with over time in regard to chapter 19, but this agreement provides a separate dispute resolution mechanism. That dispute resolution mechanism will deal quickly and in a binding way with issues that come up in the context of this softwood lumber agreement. So again, we have improved our position in terms of dispute resolution.

On termination, we have heard people speak about the need for a termination clause. Some have said we should not have a termination clause. Some have said we should have a long termination clause. We have negotiated in this agreement the best and most secure termination language in any trade agreement that Canada or the United States has.

In fact, one cannot terminate this agreement for 18 months. After 18 months, there must be six months' notice. After the six months' notice there is a 12-month standstill during which no trade action can be brought against Canadian companies. This six months' notice and 12-month standstill will continue through the agreement. At the end of the seventh year, if the United States were not to renew this agreement for the full nine years, the 12-month standstill would continue to apply. In effect, at a minimum, we get eight years of dispute-free trade.

This agreement will evolve. It is not going to be a static agreement.

There are mechanisms built into this agreement that will allow government-to-government committees to work on critical policy issues to improve the agreement, to look at issues like the British Columbia coastal industry and the issue with respect to exports of lumber from logs harvested off private lands. It will deal with issues of running rules to ensure that the agreement operates in a commercially viable manner. And it will give a very clear and immediate focus to what we call off-ramps.

Government-to-government discussions will look at the policy changes that provincial governments can put in place to find relief from the measures included in this softwood lumber agreement. That is a very important part of this agreement, because it will allow the agreement to be improved and to migrate gradually to full free trade over time.

There is also a binational mechanism at the industry level so industry can work together to determine how better to improve the competitiveness and the market position of the North American softwood lumber industry. Again, the analogy to autos or the steel sector, where the sector gradually evolves to full free trade, is readily apparent.

This is an agreement that is good for Atlantic Canada. It will give the provinces of Atlantic Canada full exemption. It will get them away from the threat of dumping duties that are sure to grow and become much more burdensome going forward without this agreement.

This agreement will be good for Quebec. It meets Quebec's needs in terms of the option and the kind of agreement Quebec was seeking to best support its industry. And let us remember that 32 border mills in Quebec will be completely exempt from border measures under this agreement.

Again, Ontario is supportive. There is an option that meets Ontario's needs.

It is the same thing for the Prairies.

British Columbia is very well positioned under this agreement. It is well positioned because the number one issue that British Columbia had was to protect its new regulatory measures for timber pricing and forest management in British Columbia. Those policies have been fully protected under this agreement.

British Columbia is now able to have a market-based timber pricing system. Timber prices will go up and down to reflect the true economics of doing business in the U.S. market. That is something we have never had before.

Remanners will be better off. They will not be charged any duties on the value added portion of their production.

High value producers will be better off because there will be a $500 limit over which duties will not be increased beyond that which would apply to a $500 per 1,000 board foot product.

This is a good deal and it has broad support from both industry and provinces. Over 90% of the industry, when polled in August, said it supported this agreement. Companies are now coming in and working with us. They are very happy with the work we are doing toward implementation of this agreement. They are working with us, not against us. They believe this is an agreement that will enable them to get back to managing their businesses, building their companies, and supporting the communities and the jobs in those communities.

It also clears the table for Canada to get back to doing business in North America, to get back to rectifying some of the issues that need to be addressed in Canada's best interest as we strengthen and improve the workings of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I would remiss if I did not pay tribute to the people who have worked so hard and have been so dedicated in bringing this agreement about.

Without the Prime Minister's intervention at the very highest levels to set a new tone to make sure that Canada was able to do business in a way that would benefit Canadians, without that new tone, this agreement could not have happened.

It could not have happened without Ambassador Wilson and the good work that he and Claude Carrière in the embassy in Washington did in the negotiation of this agreement.

Ambassador Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, has been very supportive, very helpful and a very constructive participant.

My colleague, the Minister of Industry, has been a very strong contributor to the work that has gone into this agreement.

As for my own staff, my deputy minister, Marie-Lucie Morin, has been a stellar contributor to this agreement. Andrea Lyon in my department has been tireless. She spent her whole spring and her whole summer, right into the fall, doing nothing but this.

The Export Development Corporation of Canada has been stellar in cooperating and providing for an accelerated mechanism for refund of deposits.

I call on members to support this agreement, to support the stability and the ability to grow and develop the softwood lumber industry. Let us get back to business. Let us get back to protecting and creating jobs and getting investment back into the forest industry and all those communities that depend on it.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like to ask the minister three specific questions.

I think the House would be interested in hearing the minister on three specific questions.

First, I wonder if the minister could tell us exactly how much money is in fact left in the United States. We have seen $1 billion. We have seen more than $1 billion. I am wondering if the government has a dollar figure for the amount of Canadian money left in Washington as a result of this agreement.

In that same vein, we believe that some $500 million, half a billion dollars, will end up in the hands of the American Lumber Coalition, the American lumber producers who have caused such grief over the last number of years in terms of their harassment of Canadian companies. At a time when the Byrd amendment is in fact sunsetting and disappearing, I am wondering how the minister can explain that the government decided to leave that half billion dollars directly in the hands of American companies sort of as a reward, so to speak, for their harassment.

Finally, and again, the other half of the money being left in the United States is going for meritorious purposes, we are told. We would be curious to hear what precisely the minister and the government understand to be the kind of use this money will see. Some observers before a committee of this House have said that it in fact could be used for partisan purposes in the United States, a rather loose definition. I wonder if the minister could explain exactly where the meritorious portion of the money will be spent.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Conservative Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a negotiated settlement. This is what we ultimately will have to do, or would have had to do, to resolve the softwood lumber dispute. The dispute will never be resolved through litigation. Litigation will always be based on U.S. law, there will always be new cases brought, and U.S. law can be changed if the U.S. feels we are winning and does not want us to win. So let us be clear: we must have a negotiated solution in softwood lumber. We hope for a day when that will not be the case. I believe this agreement gets us there.

The agreement clearly calls for basically $1 billion to stay in the U.S. and the rest to come back to Canada, which is about 81% of all the duties. There is $5.4 billion in total deposits, with $4.4 billion dollars U.S. or over $5 billion Canadian that comes back to Canadian companies and Canadian communities and will be put to work right here in Canada.

Of the $1 billion that stays in the U.S., as the hon. member said, half of that, or $450 million, will go to meritorious initiatives. We have been working with the United States and it was envisaged that if there were to be any kind of political involvement it would be bipartisan and it would be done through a charitable organization. I am informed that the latest thinking is that this charitable organization would have nothing whatever to do with politics in the United States.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to ask the minister how he could have agreed to negotiate and sign an agreement like this, particularly given the results at the tribunals.

The tribunals found for the Canadian policy and against the United States, and said that there had been no prejudice arising from subsidies or dumping. In addition, if the United States is agreeing to repay $4.4 billion to Canada, it is practically saying that it admits this money was taken dishonestly from Canadian companies. This action is an admission by the United States.

Now, on top of that, we are signing an agreement that provides that duties will have to be paid—not in all circumstances, but still in some—when we know for a fact that there were no subsidies or dumping by Canadian and Quebec companies.

I therefore have to ask what could have prompted the minister to sign an agreement like this. He was probably the only Conservative who agreed to it, since, as we will recall, the Conservatives’ election platform clearly said that they would take this all the way so that Canadians would get 100 per cent of their money.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Conservative Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that the allegations of subsidies by Canadian provinces on the softwood lumber have been going on for decades. Those allegations of subsidies stem fundamentally from the fact that Canadian timber is largely harvested off Crown land. They continue to make allegations that the fact it is harvested off Crown land, that the revenues go to government, the government is somehow not taking the full market value of the timber.

Those debates go on and on. We continue to win them, but the dispute never ends and it never will. Under U.S. law, which is what these disputes are adjudicated on when we use a NAFTA framework, they can continue to make allegations, to bring more suits, whether it is an allegation of subsidy. Absolutely for sure, if there were not this agreement and the federal or provincial governments attempted to assist the softwood lumber industry in any way, there would be more countervailing duty cases brought.

A new part of this dispute is the dumping side, which has just come in. The hon. member ought to know that even in Canada, we bring dumping cases. All it requires is that it can be demonstrated there is a loss, that the companies are losing money on shipments into a market. Particularly in bad markets, those cases will be sustained and it will be very damaging for Canada.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister talked about clearing the table. This agreement essentially gives the table away along with the whole rest of the house.

There have been a whole series of questions that have been asked by industry around this. A meeting last week in Vancouver was botched. Industry spokespeople came forward and asked important questions, but could not get answers because the government was not prepared. We certainly have seen that with this bill. We will have a chance to debate this throughout the course of this week: that the bill itself does not correspond to the actual agreement.

I could ask many questions of the minister, but I will restrict myself to one for the moment. Around the Export Development Canada administrative charges, people have asked what the charge is. They have been getting no answers. This is just one component of a very botched negotiation and a very bad agreement. Could the minister answer in the House what the EDC charge will be? What is the penalty the companies will pay?