House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fraud.


Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to deal with the item the member mentioned in this intervention and in previous interventions when he stood in questions and comments and suggested that there was no electoral fraud in Canada. The Chief Electoral Officer presented himself to the committee and that was not what he said.

Initially he said, “We will prosecute and we are prosecuting electoral fraud vigorously”. I asked him to tell us how much had actually been done and to send the committee the information. Having been the Chief Electoral Officer for five elections, I asked him how many prosecutions there had been. His answer was that there had been less than one prosecution per election.

I do not think the member is actually suggesting that less than one case of actual fraud occurs in the entire country over the course of more than one election. A more plausible scenario is that basically the way the law is written it is impossible to prosecute electoral fraud. The problem is that it is impossible to hunt down the multiple voting that occurs because there is no record left behind. This is an attempt to deal with that problem.

I want to give an idea of how bad the problem is. In the riding of Trinity—Spadina in the last election we were told that thousands of people turned up on election day who did not have any record of their existence on the voters rolls but were allowed to vote because the choice came down to either allowing them to vote en masse or basically freezing out large numbers.

One man, James DiFiori, said that he voted three times, once for the Liberals, once for the Conservatives and once for the New Democrats. He is the only person being prosecuted by the Chief Electoral Officer after the last election because he was the only one for whom they had any hard evidence whatsoever.

This is an attempt to deal with the fact that there is no evidence by creating a paper trail, by creating ways to allow people to vote legally and preventing others from voting multiple times or illegally when they are not eligible. I wonder if there is a response from the member to this particular problem.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to make light of the matter but the fact that one person was caught because he voted for the Tories, the Liberals and the New Democrats in the same poll does not to me constitute proof that there are thousands of people running around the streets trying to vote from poll to poll to poll. We do not have the evidence. We need convictions.

I do not think the law is lax. The bigger issue, which goes back to my original point, is that we know that people are disenfranchised from their ability to vote. What are we doing to ensure that more people are brought into the electoral system and made to feel that they can vote? That is the number one issue.

If we are talking about the major issue that we need to deal with in terms of electoral reform in this Parliament, then going after Joe with three personalities in Trinity—Spadina or wherever he was, I do not think is the priority.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand some of the sensitivities about a date of birth. I am pretty sure all members would agree that should there be any question of someone identifying their date of birth might give them the information they need to do it.

The argument that there has only been one or two frauds, et cetera, does not necessarily reflect how much fraud there is. If we do not have the tools to detect fraud, how will we know unless we provide more tools?

I think we have done too much work over the years to raise the level of respectability of this profession. For the member to suggest that if we give the list to the political parties, all MPs will use it to phone people to wish them a happy birthday, is absolutely ludicrous. Our ridings have 100,000-plus people in them. The parties do have access to the list because that is part of the political process.

The issue here is that we need to pick our priorities. There are certain benefits in terms of providing the scrutiny process of electoral day by having that additional piece of information, even for the simple case where two persons have identical names, to make that identification proper.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the member is running at cross purposes here. If we are talking about electoral scrutiny, that is one issue, but that is not what is being debated right now.

What has been added to the bill, thanks to the interventions by some of the other parties, is that not only do we take the election scrutineering information, but we turn it over to political parties. I think that is crass and it is something that engenders cynicism. That is not what we should be looking at.

If we are looking for further information to ensure fair scrutiny, I would be more than open to talking about it, but I am certainly not very keen on the image that it gives out that we will be turning this information over to political parties so they can mine it for political partisan purposes by sending out the crass little birthday cards after the election. That is an extra abuse of the system.

It is incumbent upon us in the House to ensure that we go after abuse in the system because we certainly do not want people having the touch put on them, three and four years after they are dead, to support certain candidates and certain political parties because we do have an ethical standard--

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

It is important at the outset to give accolades to Elections Canada and the men and women who serve in that institution. What is probably not well-known by many listeners today is that the people who work at Elections Canada are world-class individuals who do world-class work. The proof in the pudding is that they have been asked time and time again to lend their expertise to countries that are trying to get out of environments that were highly undemocratic and often fraught with individuals who grossly abused their power and often dictatorships. Canada, through Elections Canada, has given those countries the ability to move from a dictatorship to a democracy.

One individual who is more responsible for that happening than anyone else, someone who is one of the best and brightest, is the head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley. He has led Elections Canada and, under his 16 year tenure, has moved it into an institution that is world-class.

Elections Canada has served in many areas. I remember during the time when South Africa was moving from its dark days of apartheid into a rainbow nation and a democracy, it was Canada that came to the forefront to help out the South Africans to do something that was utterly inspiring and quite remarkable in moving from a draconian system into one that is a democracy without bloodshed.

All of us remember those times so long ago when we saw lineups of people that would extend for kilometres, individuals who for the first time in their life were able to exercise that most remarkable of democratic rights, the right to vote. Canada played an extraordinary role in that, as did Elections Canada. In fact, Jean-Pierre Kingsley and his team had a lot to do with it, as they did in the Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Aceh and so many others.

Unfortunately, the government has, ironically, squeezed Mr. Kingsley out of his position. No longer will Jean-Pierre Kingsley be Canada's Chief Electoral Officer and, in that, we all lose.

If we are to have electoral reform, what is one thing that we could do to dramatically improve the ability of individuals to exercise that mighty right to put their check mark against somebody's name they want to represent them? It is electronic voting. In this era of new Windows operating systems, in these powerful computers that we have today and powerful operating systems, does it make sense that we cannot use the technologies that we have today to enable Canadians to vote electronically? There is no reason whatsoever, without putting the appropriate checks and balances in place, that we cannot have electronic voting.

One can just imagine what we could do if that were an option for Canadians to vote in a federal election. One can just imagine what that would do in terms of being able to garner and allow a greater number of people to exercise this right that so many have gone before and given their lives to enable us to do.

It would be a remarkable thing and, in particular, for a couple of populations: first, populations that are isolated, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, as members have mentioned before; and, second, youth. We know that many youth are not getting their information and news from traditional media. They are getting it through other means, often through computers and through the Internet. Why not tap into that and enable people to vote electronically which would enable people to exercise their democratic right and strengthen the democratic pillars of our country. It would be a remarkable thing.

Perhaps what is more important than how we elect individuals is the ability of those who we choose to come to this mighty House to exercise their ability to represent their constituents. I am talking about democratic reform. The Conservative Party's roots were in the Reform Party, and I was a member of that party. In part we came to this House to democratize it. What happen to those ideals of that party long ago?

What happened to enabling all members of Parliament to innovate, to drive and implement ideas, to work with members across party lines, to work with the bureaucracy, to work with the best and brightest in our country to implement the solutions that Canadians need?

Our constituents have less patience for the shenanigans that take place in this House. They have much more interest in their elected officials doing their jobs and implementing solutions in the best interests of the public. All of us here are trying to do that.

Mr. Speaker, you sir, have been here much longer than many of us and have seen that the system has declined over time. Particularly over the last year there has been a precipitous decline.

The Prime Minister was a member of the Reform Party. He knows from where I came. His view is different from that party's. His view is the opposite of reforming Parliament. He is an acolyte of the Straussian view of the world and believes that a small group of people are destined to rule. This is a dangerous thing. We see it now where decisions are not being made among the Conservative caucus but decisions are being dictated to the caucus by the Prime Minister's Office. A tiny group of people in the Prime Minister's Office is making decisions for everybody. It has to be disheartening for members who can serve their constituents, their communities, this House, and our country well with their individual expertise. They are innovative and they have solutions to offer that can be implemented in the public interest. Why is that no happening?

The government is being utterly remiss in not offering solutions that we can work on. My colleague from Vancouver Quadra is a world-class innovator. He knows how we can democratize and liberate Parliament. He knows how we can draw the best and brightest to the House in the interests of the public. The Prime Minister and his caucus could tap into the expertise and knowledge of individuals like my colleague from Vancouver-Quadra. There are others who can offer similar solutions.

Why can we not reform the committees of the House? Why can we not allow individuals on those committees to do a better job for their constituents? There is no reason that cannot happen.

One of the things the government could do with respect to the public service that would be innovative would be to abolish the mandatory age of retirement. The mandatory age of retirement was set when the lifespan of individuals was in the late fifties, not today's lifespan which is 79 years for a man and 81 years for a woman. That would be an innovative way to reform the public service act. That is not included in this bill but it ought to be.

On the issue of accountability which the government speaks about, one of the big lies is the government's Federal Accountability Act. It is one of the government's initiatives where it is pulling the wool over people's eyes. The Federal Accountability Act is causing gridlock in the public service. It will not enable the public service to do its job and liberate the innovation that resides in the outstanding men and women who serve in our public service. That is a shame. The public is not aware of this. The Federal Accountability Act works counter to the public interest.

It is important that--

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening to the debate all day and this is the first time a member has stood up and used House time to write his next householder. I wonder if the member could focus on the issue before the House so that other members who are putting in their time here could have a constructive debate. The member can write his householder tonight.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am not sure that was a point of order. The hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, for the member's information, my householder was written a few weeks ago. If he wants a copy, I would be happy to send him one.

The reality is that this particular bill is part of a larger pattern of behaviour on the part of the government. It tells the public one thing but does something entirely different.

For example, the government cut EnerGuide saying that it was a useless program and then resurrected it as something else but watered it down to a pale shadow of its former self. The government claims to be in favour of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The government gives parents $1,200 for child care, but the reality is there is tax on that. The government is not telling the public. The government has also talked about the Pacific gateway strategy--

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to inform the hon. member that his time is over and had he been speaking to the bill, I might even have allowed him a little bit more time. Questions and comments.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

January 31st, 2007 / 5:25 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I will get an answer to this question, but it is sincere. It is quite obvious that the member did not do his research on the bill but as I mentioned just a moment ago on a point of order, he has chosen to use his time to write some good quality work for the next edition of his householder.

Is the member aware of the all-party committee that studied the bill intensively and which invited experts from all over the country and indeed some from around the world? The committee had video conferences and we spoke about a number of the issues about which the member obviously has no clue.

Is the member aware that his own party supported this? It was not just the members opposite but rather the Liberal Party of Canada that supported it and brought forward a number of incidents of fraud.

Why is the member so unprepared for the debate and so poorly researched? Is the member not embarrassed to waste taxpayers' dollars while we all sit here trying to debate a different bill? This is planet Earth. Is he not embarrassed to behave like this in the House?

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously the member's head was plunged down on his desk and he was not listening to what I was saying.

For the sake of clarity I would be very happy to provide the member with a constructive solution that he may wish to take back to his caucus on the issue of electoral reform.

All of us have been speaking about how we can involve more Canadians and increase voter participation. We are all concerned about that, as I am sure the member is, so let me suggest one thing that was at the beginning of my speech.

I would strongly urge the member to suggest that his caucus investigate the use of electronic voting for people who live in faraway remote areas and also, as members of my caucus and members of the NDP were mentioning, people who have been disenfranchised, people who feel that they do not have a voice. In particular, as I said in my speech, I think of the youth. The youth, as the member may or may not be aware, are not getting their information from the traditional media. They are getting their information by other means. I would strongly advise the member--

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

There are others rising to ask questions. The hon. member for Ottawa Centre.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to see if the member believes in the amendment that we put forward to take away the propriety of privacy concerns that we have, that is, the birth date information. The amendment put forward by the Bloc was supported by Liberals, and now I am hearing the Conservative Party saying it is okay, as well. Does he not share our concerns that political parties would have private information of citizens, such as their birth dates? If he does not have a problem with that, I would be curious to know why he does not have a problem with that.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was an issue that I never had an opportunity to address because my time unfortunately ran out. I wish I had 20 minutes to speak on this very important topic. I know members would love to give me that time.

I want to propose something that has to do with census. A lot of our constituents are very concerned with the census and the identification issues to which the member referred.

One of the things I hope the government does is to really look at the census that just took place on two counts. One is the non-core questions that the census asked. A number of my constituents, in their words, are being harassed by Census Canada in obliging them to take part in ancillary aspects of the census which really have little to do with the kind of core information that the census has always been about.

The second issue is the identification mechanisms that are being used and which companies are being allowed to access this information. It was an ancillary company attached to an American company, and I believe that a lot of our constituents have been quite concerned about that.

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will do my best to speak to the bill and talk about the issues related to the Canada Elections Act.

We are here to talk about Bill C-31, in case anyone who has tuned in may be mixed up given the debate we just heard. The object of Bill C-31, as I understand it in my reading, is to amend the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud. At least that is one of the elements of Bill C-31.

To start from that basis we must be of the view that there is widespread fraud that justifies the introduction of this bill and justifies our being preoccupied with it today. When I used to negotiate collective agreements for the carpenters union I would sit down at the bargaining table and say that we wanted to change a clause in our agreement. The first question the employer would always ask was, “What has the experience been? Has this clause been a problem that warrants amending it?”

My colleague from Timmins—James Bay pointed out that the actual empirical evidence, the incidence of electoral fraud, at least the convicted cases, is so insignificant and minuscule that it makes me wonder why we would burn up our political energy, our political capital and House of Commons resources to address this particular issue. In the context of all of the things we could be talking about in terms of elections, how we conduct them and electoral reform, we have seized on this issue of fraud.

I would argue, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre has pointed out, that voter turnout is a far more compelling problem in this country than the almost insignificant incidence of convicted fraud. About 60% of all registered voters in the last election voted, but only 50% of all eligible people voted. I would think that would be a cause of grave concern to anyone who embraces democracy and espouses to want to use our time to enhance the process.

Even the Chief Electoral Officer when he testified before the committee testified that on electoral fraud he did not see the need for these measures, if I can paraphrase him.

My colleague from Timmins--James Bay went through the actual incidents. In the last federal election, of the 10 million people who voted, only one person was actually convicted of fraud. It turned out he was not yet a Canadian citizen. Perhaps he misunderstood the rules. He was a landed immigrant, but he did not have his citizenship. Somehow he did manage to cast a ballot. The system caught him. He was given an absolute discharge. I guess the Chief Electoral Officer determined this was not malicious. It was in fact erroneous. It was more in error. We are glad that the system was working such that the person got tripped up. I believe he received 30 days of community service and then it ultimately wound up in an absolute discharge.

The NDP is passionate about this issue for a number of good reasons. Anyone who heard the speech by the member for Vancouver East would have been moved. My colleague from Vancouver East has tried to address the issue of disenfranchisement and to enable more low income people to vote who otherwise may fall through the cracks. She has gone to enormous lengths. She has even set up voter registration tables with lawyers working pro bono to help people who may not have their requisite pieces of ID, or may for whatever reason not have been enumerated.

I could point out that one of the things that does deserve our attention is the appalling condition of the permanent voters list and the lack of enumeration that goes on in the current regime. As the member representing the riding of Winnipeg Centre where there is a high incidence of low income people and a transient population, the permanent voters list is of almost no value to us in certain neighbourhoods. When the door to door enumeration stopped, we lost track of tens of thousands of people. I say that with no fear of exaggeration or being accused of any contradiction.

The permanent voters list and the full door to door enumeration, those are areas we should be debating in the House of Commons today. I am not sure we should be debating this non-issue, this notion that there is widespread fraud.

As my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas pointed out, if we did want to write a new law about electoral fraud, we should have pulled together a committee of failed Conservative and Liberal candidates who may be authorities on the subject. Given the way some nominations we know of are run in this country, maybe there are people who have had personally frustrating experiences within their own parties but do not extrapolate that on to the population as a whole.

I am the spokesperson for my party for ethics, privacy and access to information. Under the privacy category, I am appalled that we are considering putting the date of birth on the voter's list. We will now have a voter's list with a name, address, phone number and date of birth. That is a recipe for identity theft. We might as well hand somebody a kit stating that this is all they need to steal somebody's identity and get credit cards, et cetera. This is appalling.

We are in the process at our committee of reviewing PIPA, the Personal Information Protecting Act. It is all about the obligation, the duty, to protect personal identities that we have in our possession. I know how voter's lists end up getting distributed within election campaigns. Sometimes a page gets torn out and given to a canvasser who is told to go canvass a couple of blocks. It gets circulated widely and freely. That alone would make this particular bill subject to a number of legal challenges.

I believe the stricter requirements about identification will have the net effect of disenfranchising people to the point where those barriers will be deemed to be in violation of the charter and the right to cast one's ballot. I believe there is enough in the bill that it will be challenged and probably will not survive that challenge.

The privacy issue alone is enough reason to condemn the bill. The idea is that we are throwing up barriers for low income people, marginalized people, and people with unstable addresses and a lack of ID to vote, which I believe could constitute a charter issue.

The third thing, the most frustrating thing, perhaps, is that in the context of this 39th Parliament it is unlikely that electoral reform will come back to us, although there is a private--

Motions in amendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but the time allotted for orders of the day has expired. The hon. member will have two minutes left when the House resumes debating this bill at some future point.

It being 5:42 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

moved that Bill C-207, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, in order to curb the exodus of young graduates to large urban centres and to encourage them to move to the regions to begin their professional careers, I am proposing an amendment to the Income Tax Act to introduce a non-refundable tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions. I myself live in a resource region in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and I see first-hand everyday the impact of the exodus of young people on our region.

The tax credit would be for individuals who, in the 24 months following the date on which they successfully complete the courses leading to the awarding of a recognized diploma, begin to hold employment in their field of specialization in a designated region.

Recognized diplomas generally mean those awarded for technical training, or college, occupational or university studies. This bill allows individuals, for a maximum of 52 weeks, to benefit from a tax credit totalling a maximum of $8,000. Based on this year's taxation table, here are a few examples of how beneficial such a tax credit could be.

For an individual earning $30,000, the amount of federal income tax payable will be $2,695. This amount will be credited in full with the implementation of such a tax measure for new graduates. If the individual has income of $40,000, the amount of the credit will be $4,172, whereas someone who makes $50,000 will receive a tax credit of $6,000. I would like to specify that this is a credit for new graduates working in designated regions and that these figures represent the situation of a taxpayer without a basic personal tax credit.

I would like to inform the members of the House of Commons that the Quebec government adopted a similar measure in 2003. In the first year after it was implemented, 2,500 individuals benefited from the new Quebec government tax measure. The year after, the number rose substantially, to 9,700 individuals. The measure had a definite impact on several administrative regions in Quebec.

In 2005, many individuals benefited from this tax credit: more than 1,200 in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, more than 1,600 in the Lower St. Lawrence, almost 800 in Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, more than 1,000 on the North Shore and more than 4,000 in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. In the second year, almost 10,000 individuals took advantage of the tax credit.

These people might not otherwise have come to the regions to take their first job after graduating. In many cases, they came with spouses who decided to look for work in the regions as well.

Last spring, the Government of Quebec changed the tax credit, which is now a maximum of $3,000 per year and can reach $8,000 over three years, rather than over one year. Bill C-207 provides only for a credit for a one-year period. This will make it easier for us to assess the impact of this sort of measure on young people and will let us make any changes that are needed in due course.

In addition to the large number of young people who are leaving our regions, the shortage of skilled labour is a real problem for the regions, which are losing workers to larger centres. Putting this sort of measure in place will stop the population drain and make it easier to develop processing industries by providing businesspeople with the skilled labour they need.

Specialized workers are needed for many regional jobs, especially in primary resource processing and secondary and tertiary processing in forestry, metallurgy, electrical technology and other fields.

Unfortunately, specialized labour is often easier to find in major centres than in the regions, forcing many businesses to move to large cities or close their doors. Without the labour they need, many businesses in the regions are forced to stay small or have trouble expanding. But there is hope for our young people in the regions.

People who do not live in a resource region cannot truly understand the demographic problems many regions are experiencing. Out-migration is having a devastating impact on regional economies. Young people leaving the regions and new arrivals prefer to settle in major centres. We cannot abandon the men and women living outside these centres. Smaller communities are beginning to decline, with the exodus of young people and the aging of the population.

The exodus of young people is not a new phenomenon, but for many years the birth rate compensated for it. That is no longer the case. That is why, for the past few years, the Government of Quebec has been trying to bring young people back to the regions and encourage them to stay there. Some municipalities have decided to follow suit by offering new residents property tax breaks for a certain number of years. For example, the City of Mont-Joli, in Gaspésie, was offering a three-year property tax holiday to everyone who decided to build a new home there. Businesses are also offering a number of incentives to new property owners. This is just one example to illustrate the urgency of the situation.

The Government of Quebec, some municipalities and some businesses are doing everything they can to save the cities and towns that are part of our shared heritage. The federal government must do its part to keep our young people in the regions and encourage them to settle there. That is why I have decided to introduce Bill C-207 on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois. I myself am from a resource region, so it is clear to me that both the Saguenay—Lac Saint-Jean and my riding, Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, are in an unenviable position.

In 2006, the Government of Quebec's tax credit for new graduates cost about $30 million. We can therefore assume that a similar program on a national scale would cost about four to five times as much. The Government of Canada can afford such a measure, which is sure to benefit all Canadians and Quebeckers.

Although the situation is not as serious everywhere in Canada, economic activity has gradually been moving from resource and rural regions to larger centres, a phenomenon that, in places like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is creating economic difficulty in regions with shrinking populations. This situation remains a concern for every one of Canada's provinces.

I would invite members of this House to support this bill so we can help our resource regions and rural communities keep their young people who, in many cases, want to stay.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the work accomplished by the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, because introducing a bill of this kind is a good illustration of the great challenges we face. One of these great challenges is to ensure that our regions—and I come from what is called a resource region—can have access to this development.

I have the following question for the hon. member, even though I think he already mentioned it clearly and eloquently: does his bill to help communities like ours come under federal jurisdiction? I understand full well that the answer is yes, but I would like my colleague to say a few words on the positive aspects of this bill. I know full well that there are some and I want to give the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord the opportunity to talk about the positive aspects of this bill which, in my opinion, is important.

This shows, yet again, that the people of the Bloc Québécois act with discipline and responsibility.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

It is true that this bill fits into the regional development policy of the Government of Quebec. Nonetheless, within the constitutional framework, we are currently paying taxes to two levels of government, and so it is only normal that the Government of Canada contribute its share.

We must also recognize that the negative growth in some resource regions is not just occurring in Quebec, but elsewhere as well. This measure has some advantages. Among other things, it offers a financial incentive for a young person to settle in a region. He or she can make plans, invest their money in a home or buy a car. It is an incentive to encourage a young person to settle in a resource region to work and create a home.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an interesting private member's initiative on the part of my colleague, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. Any initiative that encourages and promotes further growth and investment in the regions is one I feel compelled to engage in, study, and give it my foremost attention.

I share many of the same concerns as my colleague. Certainly, I believe in the importance of the regions. That is where we grow our crops, harvest our fish, and mine our minerals. From the regions we make a great contribution the economy of this country and, indeed, to the overall fabric and mosaic of this great nation. Certainly, some regions are better prepared and are faring better than others, but sometimes initiatives have to be undertaken in order for all Canadians to have the opportunity to engage and share in the wealth of this great nation.

As I said, a great number of areas in the country are doing extremely well. In my area of the country, Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia, there has been a tremendous engagement in the Alberta tar sands. The phenomenon of the Alberta tar sands in Fort McMurray is a great resource that is being shared by all Canadians, which is evidenced by the number of people we are seeing go west to work.

I know that many employers in the west now are getting much better at accommodating eastern workers, workers from Quebec and other regions of this country. We see them now going out for six weeks and two weeks back home. The wealth is coming back to the communities and that is a positive thing.

There is a bit of a social void where people are out of the community and away from their families for an extended period of time and that certainly causes concern. They are not able to do volunteer work with the minor hockey associations and various other associations, but at least the income and benefits are coming back into the community. I see that as a positive thing. I do not see it as the answer for the regions. I share the opinion as well that there is a responsibility on the part of the federal government to do all in its power to allow the regions to continue to grow and prosper.

My constituency of Cape Breton—Canso has been a benefactor in recent years of some valuable investments within the community. My colleague identified several that had been undertaken within his constituency. My constituency has benefited from Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation. I recognize that there is no miracle plan, there is no magic cure in developing regions. It is a constant hard work, learn from experience type of initiative and that is how one grows the region.

There has been success and over the last 8 to 10 years the unemployment rate has dropped in my community from 25% to 12.5%. A significant portion of that is because some people have left the area, which is unfortunate, but still we have had growth in the job sector. We have made some good investments and had access to some tools.

The essence of this private member's bill is really giving the regions another tool in order to recruit and retain some of the young human resource. Any time we can add another tool to the kit to grow the regions, it is imperative that we do.

Nova Scotia has the payroll tax credit. That was a program that was set up by a past Liberal provincial government under the stewardship of former economic development minister Manning MacDonald. That has been a tool that the province of Nova Scotia has really made use of and any companies coming in that invest in that province have really identified that as a tool that has certainly paid benefit to them and has enticed them to come and invest in the province of Nova Scotia.

The past government was committed to regional economic development. We identified in budget 2005 over $800 million to be allocated to regional economic development from FedNor, ACOA, and other regional economic development agencies. Certainly, that was a testament to the belief the past government had in regional economic development.

Through Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation and ACOA we have been able to invest in infrastructure. There are a couple of communities like Inverness in my constituency where the federal government invested in access to water. A business in our community wanted to expand its capability to process crab. It was very noble. It had a business plan put forward, which meant the purchase of equipment and the investment in human capital, but it also involved access to an incredible supply of fresh water in order to process the crab. The company was not able to make that investment because its business plan was to invest in the equipment for the processing. As a federal agency, we were able to partner with the municipality and allow access to the fresh water. This enabled the business to go forward and create the additional jobs. That was a good partnership.

Preferred loans are another important aspect. We can sometimes access capital in the regions. I am sure anybody who lives in the region or has a business there will know that if a person wants to make an investment in a building in downtown Toronto or Mississauga, there will be no problem getting the banks to line up, but if a person is in a region of this country, it is very tough to get access to capital.

One of the great tools we have used is preferred loans. We can make an investment or a loan to a company, which comes in on the back end of a project. We loan the company money at a lower interest rate and there are a couple of years of holiday before the repayments have to be made. Let me state here that the repayment of these loans is of the same calibre as the repayment loans of the major banks, the major lending organizations. We have had that type because we have been able to stand with those business operators and work with them in the early days of their business.

The final one is targeted investment with which we have had great success. If we want to bring these young people my colleague talked about to the regions, they have to have the opportunities in the regions to which they come.

A lot of times a project may be so vast. We had a $24 million project in Glace Bay. The company that came in was very willing to roll up its sleeves and make an investment, but it could not carry the entire burden, and some investments had to be made in the structure. We made those key investments in the form of a forgivable loan and we created 1,200 jobs in downtown Glace Bay five years ago. Those people continue to earn wages, receive benefits and contribute to that community. It has been a great investment, and certainly the federal government got its money back twice over.

These tools all go together to increase activity in the regions, to impact on the economy of the regions, and this particular initiative may prove to have some merit. We are not willing to support it outright, but I think it deserves the opportunity to go before committee.

There are a couple of concerns we have. Employment related to a degree is one of the aspects of the bill and we would like to see the criteria on that fleshed out considerably more. With any regulation or program that goes forward, there is an opportunity for abuse, and we certainly do not want that to happen.

However, this particular bill deserves the opportunity to go before the committee. It should be studied. If the proper criteria could be placed in the bill, then we will certainly look at supporting it, but I think I can join with my Liberal caucus colleagues in supporting it going forward to committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Calgary Nose Hill Alberta


Diane Ablonczy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to engage in debate today with my hon. colleagues on Bill C-207, sponsored by the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

The bill proposes to provide a non-refundable tax credit to new graduates who engage in “qualifying employment” within two years of graduation. I will get into what that means in a minute. The credit would be the lesser of 40% of earnings in the first 52 weeks of qualifying employment or $8,000 and could be used over two years.

For the purposes of the credit, qualifying employment would involve duties related to the skills the new graduate attained during his or her education or training, and this work would have to be carried out in a “designated region”, which refers to any of the regions listed in the Regional Development Incentives Act. The proposed definition of designated region is one of the things that I will be talking about in a minute.

I think that all of us in the House want to make sure that all regions of the country flourish and have the workers and the skills they need and we also want to encourage young people to look at not just the big centres, the hot centres, but at the advantages of being in another part of the country. I commend my colleague for addressing this issue.

However, although the proposal before us sounds good in theory, there are a number of inconvenient and rather cold practical facts that I think the House needs to consider when looking at this measure.

The first concern is that there appears to be no clear rationale or specific necessity behind the proposed tax credit. There is a kind of feeling that it would be nice to help young people settle wherever they want even if it is not in a hot centre, but there are no demonstrated facts.

The hon. member has not shown that there is a particular shortage of skilled workers in these designated areas. There are no facts to show that employers in the regions are unable to find the skilled workers they need. There is no evidence to show that even if employers are offering good compensation and working conditions skilled workers are unwilling to come.

If there is a real need for skilled workers, then why a measure that only targets new graduates? All skilled workers wanting to relocate into such a region should be considered.

Why propose a tax credit available to recent graduates if there is no demand for their newly acquired skills in a particular region?

Above all, we need to remember that we are the Government of Canada, so a government putting forward a measure to entice recent graduates to work in certain regions rather than others can hardly be called a good national policy.

These are just some of the gaps in the proposed credit brought forward in this bill. There does not appear to be any concrete reason to provide additional incentives, just some suggestion that maybe people could settle and raise families in certain regions, but they could do that anyway.

I think we have to question the effectiveness of the time-limited credit that would provide tax relief for the first 52 weeks of a new graduate's qualifying employment but then would stop. I fail to see how a 52 week tax credit would really be able to attract and retain skilled workers. I fail to see how we would have people settling and raising families, as the member has talked about, for just a 52 week tax credit. It is more likely that a tax credit might bring people into a particular region for a short term, but they then would move on to greener pastures.

If it is true that a tax credit is helpful, then the very generous tax incentives would be needed for skilled workers to choose work in these regions. If that is the case, if there are generous tax credits needed, then would they stay when those credits are no longer available? Is it good policy? Is it a good use of public funds to pay large subsidies that will clearly produce no lasting benefits? I think we would have to conclude that the answer is no.

One also has to question the appropriateness and fairness of using the tax system to provide benefits to graduates choosing to work in certain regions but also to exclude graduates who choose to work in other regions. A new graduate working in one of these designated regions would be able to earn up to about $56,000 in their first year of employment without paying any federal tax at all, but the same graduate doing the same work a mere kilometre outside the boundary of one these regions would pay an extra $8,000 in federal income tax on the same earnings, and the co-worker of this new recruit would also pay $8,000 in federal tax.

This can hardly be considerable equitable from anyone's standpoint. I think members of this House would certainly expect to hear complaints from those who do not qualify for the credit. This, of course, would result in pressure to greatly expand the existing list of special designated regions and extend it to all workers who are not recent graduates.

One of the other problems is that the bill does not identify specific occupations or skills that are supposed to be in short supply in any of the designated regions. The bill uses some broad language about eligible work being that for which the duties relate to the graduate's training or education, but that would be extremely difficult to enforce.

In practice, those with training and skills in low demand would receive the same tax credit as those with training and skills that are strongly needed. This goes against the supposed purpose of ensuring that designated regions have better access to needed skills. New graduates could come into these regions with unneeded skills or with low demand for their skills and get the very same $8,000 tax credit as those that the regions actually really need, so the bill would not help to encourage specific graduates to stay and relocate where they are needed most.

Another issue to be considered is that the proposed credit may cause undue strain on other regions of the country that are also trying to attract Canada's recent graduates. There would be an $8,000 disparity in the tax burden between new graduates who worked in these designated regions and those who did not. This could mean that regions not fortunate enough to be included in the list of designated regions could experience greater difficulty attracting new talent, especially if they are located near designated regions.

How could it possibly be the role of the Government of Canada to provide incentives to recent recruits to locate in certain regions of the country to the detriment of other regions?

The definition of a designated region leads me to another point, an important point, because the list of these special regions is found in a supplementary section to the Regional Development Incentives Act, which I already have mentioned.

This act has quite an interesting list of regions. For example, the list in this act includes whole provinces and territories: Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

All of those are designated regions under the act, so every single graduate working in any part of these provinces would be eligible for an $8,000 credit against federal income tax.

Every part of the country that needs equal opportunity to attract workers based on current economic conditions and labour market needs would lose out because of the arrangement being suggested in this bill.

For example, the entire province of Saskatchewan is a designated region under the act, where, says the act, “existing opportunities for productive employment in the region are exceptionally inadequate”. But the fact is that unemployment in Saskatchewan is currently at 3.9%, well below the national unemployment average, which is just over 6%.

Another example is Manitoba. It is included in the list, but its unemployment rate is 4.2%, again well below the national average.

The proposed credit would provide inequity among the regions. It would involve significant costs. It would also be a disincentive for areas that need particular skills in being able to attract them.

Because this measure is not shown to be necessary, is poorly targeted and is manifestly unfair, I am unable to support this private member's bill. I trust that my colleagues will carefully consider the points I have raised today and also vote against the bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak on Bill C-207 put forward by the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. This bill amends the Income Tax Act for the purpose of giving tax credits to new graduates working in designated regions. It is designed to encourage new graduates from universities, colleges and other institutions to settle in economically depressed areas by offering them a non-refundable tax credit for the first year.

I happen to represent a region where employment is very high and the economy very strong, but it was not always so. Could this kind of measure have helped, I wondered? It was also helpful, in considering this bill, to have the opportunity, last week, to meet 30 or so young people from rural British Columbia. Among them were new graduates as well as soon to be graduates. This fuelled my thought process and led me to the following conclusions.

In my opinion, the NDP could, with some reservation, support this bill in principle because it would level the playing field for rural communities, given that urban centres have a clear advantage over them when it comes to recruiting qualified workers. The bill would benefit low and middle income families in rural communities across Canada and help consolidate the social and economic situation of these communities by addressing depopulation and youth out-migration.

That said, it should be pointed out that this bill is but a tiny step in the right direction. For example, it encourages graduates to find work in economically depressed areas, but does so only for one year, as our colleague said a moment ago. The Quebec program from which this bill draws, if I heard correctly, takes a more gradual approach, providing a maximum credit of $3,000 per year, up to a lifetime maximum of $8,000. It also includes a financial incentive for three years or more. Personally, I am not sure that a one-year financial incentive would be sufficient to achieve the objectives sought by the hon. member.

Our second reservation about the program has to do with the fact that it could prove to be extremely ineffective if it is not rounded out by a comprehensive regional development plan. The proposed tax credit would be granted to recent graduates working in a region that is, pursuant to the terms of the Regional Development Incentives Act:

...determined to require special measures to facilitate economic expansion and social adjustment.

And, more precisely, a region where:

...existing opportunities for productive employment in the region are exceptionally inadequate.

Is it wise to send recent graduates to regions where employment opportunities are exceptionally inadequate, according to the terms in the act? For the people who already live in such areas, we should be finding ways to create more jobs before trying to draw more workers.

Instead or perhaps in addition to this tax credit incentive, it would be wiser to enhance the summer career placement program as opposed to cutting it in half, as the Conservatives are proposing to do. This would have the benefit of increasing employment opportunities in economically depressed regions.

The Conservatives saw some flaws in this program that are real but should have and could have been remedied. Rural and low employment communities as well as non-profit sector employers in urban areas should continue to benefit from this program, especially in light of the enormous student debt that new graduates are facing at the moment.

In the last Parliament an all-party committee in a unanimous report by the human resources committee recommended substantial changes to the funding allocation formula for the summer career placement program which is presently based on the number of students in the riding.

When the 2001 census numbers were factored into the formula, there were significant cuts in several ridings, especially the rural, northern, inner city or smaller ones. The committee recommended that disadvantaged and rural populations be factored into riding allocation formulas. The committee also recommended that students over 30, often single mothers, be eligible. Right now only students 15 to 30 may apply.

The summer career placement program is a very valuable one for numerous non-profit groups who could not otherwise offer competitive wages or afford to hire students at all to do valuable work in the community; as well, for small town rural business people to help students avoid having to go to bigger cities to find work.

The government is saying it will better target the program to at risk youth and to ensure that profitable businesses who can afford to pay higher wages do not get subsidized.

I agree that the program could be better targeted but targeting does not mean cutting. The government could target better at current funding levels and have a far greater impact.

The NDP would propose instead to restore full funding for the summer career placement program and implement the committee's recommendations that I have already mentioned. The NDP would also get to work in tackling the root of the problem and that is unaffordable post-secondary education especially for rural and low income families. If we want to attract graduates to economically depressed areas, ideally they should be from these regions and be coming home to work.

Right now tuition and other education costs have grown out of reach for even middle income families in Canada. That is the problem that we must tackle. Debt burdens are overwhelming for Canadian graduates and just as they begin their careers they are foreclosing their options and their career choices.

The traditional Liberal-Conservative answer has been to make student loans more accessible and therefore dramatically increase student debt in Canada. It has allowed students from rural areas to benefit and to get post-secondary education, but they simply complete their program burdened with unacceptable debt.

As I said, what we would propose is to tackle the root of the problem by making post-secondary education more affordable, by creating a national program of non-repayable grants that would prevent these huge debt levels. We would also propose to overhaul the student loan system which has become very inflexible.

Retargeting to those in greater need is really a piece of the solution that I hope my colleague from the Bloc, who has proposed this bill, would consider as a partial solution to the problem that is faced in certain areas.

The intention behind the bill is commendable. The bill represents the beginnings of a solution to a serious problem in certain regions of Canada. However, I urge the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord to convince his colleagues from the Bloc and all members of the House to support the NDP's vision for post-secondary education, which proposes a global, comprehensive view, in order to inspire hope in our students and in Canada's rural areas and small communities.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was surprised at the speech the parliamentary secretary gave earlier. I had the feeling I was in another world or on another planet.

It was the sort of speech I would expect from someone who had no idea what the regions are going through or what has been happening in this country for the past 50 or 60 years. I am talking not just about Quebec, but about the whole country. It was the sort of speech I would expect from someone who had not visited the regions across the country and did not understand that the populations of these regions are dwindling.

Earlier, the member mentioned Newfoundland. If there is one place that has a problem with depopulation and the loss of its young people, it is Newfoundland. Across the province, the population—especially the youth population—is declining at an alarming rate. This points to what I would call the old myths about the regions. As these myths would have it, larger centres support the so-called outlying, remote or resource regions—they have been called by so many names over the years that it is confusing. This is absolutely false. The opposite is true. These regions are called resource regions because they provide products and natural resources that allow industry and commerce in larger centres to prosper. We talk about resource regions, but we could also talk about the human resources the regions have provided for larger centres. This assistance is extremely important. Often, the regions lose their most skilled, best trained young people, who leave to train in larger centres and are working there today. They are the lifeblood of the larger centres. There is a myth about the regions.

There is another myth. I regularly hear that there is less entrepreneurship in the regions. This is also absolutely false. That is why my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord introduced this bill. It is absolutely not true that there is less entrepreneurship in the regions. The opposite is true, relatively speaking. All the studies that have been conducted over the years by the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec prove it.

I would just like to invite the parliamentary secretary, if she ever has the time, to read a Senate report released in December 2006, entitled “Understanding Freefall: The Challenge of the Rural Poor”. It talks about the entire country.

The report shows what is happening right now. It is an excellent snapshot, published in December 2006, and I read it during the holiday break. I was very happy to have read it, because it confirmed exactly what I already knew. It confirms exactly what is happening in the regions of this country. In fact, the regions are becoming less populated. The population is aging. The population decline is both increasing and accelerating in the regions. For a country, as much for Quebec as for Canada, this is extremely dangerous, because our territory must be populated. It must be populated wisely. It must be populated while supporting rural communities and all communities of the regions.

But how do we support them? Of course, the bill introduced by my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord is step in the right direction. It has been quite successful in Quebec. Quebec is not only area to experiment with such a measure. It was also tried internationally, in some European countries. And it has produced results. In fact, to suggest that there is no evidence of a lack of qualified labourers in the regions is to ignore the facts at all cost.

Consider this example concerning health care. At present, there is a desperate shortage of qualified personnel in the regions, to the point that it is becoming nearly impossible to offer all services in all regions. This is happening not only in Gaspésie and the Bas-Saint-Laurent, but also in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and all rural regions of the country.

There is more. The declining population of the regions and the departure of young people mean that, as the population ages, there is constantly growing pressure to increase services.

Another phenomenon has to do with the services that should be offered by all governments. Sometimes the cost of these services increase and then the services are dropped. Rural roads and transportation services are being dropped. That is what is happening where I come from.

This afternoon, during question period, I asked a question. I had a good example and I asked a question about the Mont-Joli airport. This is a very concrete example of a region that is being penalized because the transportation system has been abandoned. The transportation system has been privatized and now the government is washing its hands of it.

My region has a major company that is well known by everyone. I do not want to advertise, but I am talking about the Telus head office. The head office of this company is currently threatening to leave Rimouski, which is right next to Mont-Joli, because the plane that arrives from Vancouver—carrying the big bosses—can no longer land in Mont-Joli. It is as simple as this: the airport no longer has the necessary instruments. If there is bad weather, they land in Quebec City. People are currently threatening to leave the region. This head office is extremely important. I am not talking about a head office that employs 20 or 30 people. I am talking about an very large head office. That is an example of what the federal government can do, and an example of what the federal government did not do.

I can give another example cited by my colleague for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine recently, and that is rail transportation. Establishing companies in an area where there is no longer any rail transportation and where roads are inadequate is a challenge. Yet that is what regions are asked to do. Today, regions are asked to make that effort. They are asked to be even more creative than major centres, and to get by with the little they are given. If we wish to build a country such as Quebec, people must live in the regions, our land must be populated, there must be quality of life, people must have services. For example, a young pregnant woman from Sainte-Anne-des-Monts must have access to a gynecologist. This is a good example of specialized employment in the health field. If the individual has to travel 200 km because her pregnancy is high risk, I do not think that she will stay in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts for long. We must help her, we must help these young people return to the regions. Jobs are available. It is not a waste of time for the regions. It is not a waste of time provided that measures such as those presented by my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord are implemented. We must realize that the federal government must assume a role like the one presently taken by the Government of Quebec. That is not the case. We must realize that the federal government must support regional development measures proposed by the Government of Quebec and by other provincial governments. It is extremely important because if the federal government does not support these measures, that means that we are paying taxes for absolutely no reason, and I am more and more convinced of that.

You know to which party I belong. I hope that Quebec will become sovereign so that we can truly go ahead with regional development in our area, so that young people can return and so that we can build a country throughout the territory, for the well-being of all those living in Quebec.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to engage in debate today in the House on Bill C-207 sponsored by the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

Bill C-207 proposes an income tax credit for new graduates taking employment in certain regions. The credit would be equal to 40% of earnings from the first 52 weeks of qualifying employment to a maximum credit of $8,000. “Qualifying employment” would be employment in a “designated region” and employment duties would need to be related to the graduate's education. A “designated region”, for the purpose of the credit, is an area defined in section 3 of the Regional Development Incentives Act.

There are a number of very significant problems with this bill that should be of concern to the members of the House. The bill proposes to create a tax credit to address skill shortages in designated regions but no evidence is provided as to the existence of these shortages. The “designated regions” that the bill references are drawn from a list that has not been updated in more than two decades. It simply does not account for the economic changes that have taken place during that period of time.

The credit proposed in the bill would also introduce very serious inequities in the tax system: inequities between recent graduates and those who graduated early, and inequities between new graduates who work in different regions.

Finally, the credit would entail a very large fiscal cost for a tax measure that would ultimately not result in new jobs for new graduates anywhere in the country. This squanders public money and diverts fiscal resources away from measures that could actually help regional development that do create the type of economic environment within all regions of Canada to help them grow and prosper.

The bill tries to use the tax system to encourage new graduates to work in certain regions of Canada in order to address perceived skill shortages but attempts to do that in ways that, in the end, would make the tax measure ineffective. The bill, for example, would only provide tax relief with respect to a new graduate's first 52 weeks of qualified employment, but if the proposed credit were truly needed to encourage new graduates to work in designated regions, what would happen after the initial 52 weeks when the credit is no longer available?

Why would incentives not be provided to other skilled workers who are not new graduates if the concern is skill shortages in these regions? Clearly, this type of measure cannot yield long term benefits to regions and I am not even sure it would have an incremental impact in the short term beyond reducing taxes for a selected group of workers.

Another concern with the bill is that it does not make any attempt to target skill sets that are in short supply in a “designated region” or could benefit from its development. This makes me question what the economic rationale is behind the bill.

This brings me to a concern regarding the definition of “designated region”. The credit is only provided to new graduates who take up work in a “designated region”, a term taken from the Regional Development Incentives Act. The term refers to a region in which “existing opportunities for productive employment in the region are exceptionally inadequate”.

The list of regions from this act has not been updated in 20 years. This certainly does not reflect the current economic situation of Canada's regions. Let me give two examples to support my point.

On this list, the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are included in their entirety and yet, in October 2006, both provinces had unemployment rates two full percentage points below the national average, which is presently slightly above 6%. With facts like these, I find it hard to support the idea that these are regions with limited employment opportunities and that new graduates in these provinces should pay up to $8,000 less in federal income tax than those not working in designated regions.

This leads me to my next point, which concerns the significant inequities that would be created if Bill C-207 were adopted. The bill could create inequities in the tax system by discriminating between regions and groups of graduates. Graduates who finish their programs around the same time but live in different regions could face entirely different income tax burdens during their first year of employment. As well, two graduates working in the same job and region but whose graduation dates are a year apart would also face an $8,000 gap in their respective tax burdens. This is patently unfair.

Finally, Bill C-207 proposes a tax credit that is also incredibly expensive. Estimates suggest that the credit could cost up to $600 million each year to the federal government. These are funds that would be taken away from other priorities, such as measures to help make the tax system fairer, foster economic growth and benefit all Canadians, regardless of where they work or live.

I am aware that some provinces have credits or, in some cases, tuition rebates for new graduates who work in their home provinces or who relocate there. Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and, most recently, Manitoba, have introduced these. Most of these measures are fairly recent and there is no evidence to date that they have had an impact on graduates' choices of where to work and yet Bill C-207 proposes to spend $600 million on a tax measure for which the outcome is completely uncertain.

The success of Canada's economy is well-known by the members of the House. We have the strongest growth on record of the G-7 since 1996 and we are currently enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years. Given the current economic climate, new graduates can generally find excellent opportunities to work in many parts of the country, including regions that the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord seeks to support with generous and unwarranted tax incentives.

An efficient and effective labour market is necessary for a country to succeed in a highly competitive global economy. Workers must be able to pursue the best employment opportunities across the country and practise their occupation wherever those opportunities exist. However, Bill C-207 strives for the opposite. It attempts to use the tax system to reduce labour mobility.

I am sure all members of the House would agree that it is important to support the creation of economic opportunities all across Canada, opportunities that help to keep our best and brightest in this country. I am sure all members of the House would also agree that it is important to provide a helping hand to those who need support in joining the workforce, to attract the immigrants Canada will need in the years ahead and to provide our young people with the training and education opportunities they need to compete in a knowledge-based economy.