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House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was democratic.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-287, An Act respecting a National Peacekeepers' Day, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in at report stage.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

National Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

The division on the motion stands deferred until Wednesday, October 24, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

That therefore concludes private members' business for the moment.

Suspension of SittingNational Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it agreed that the sitting be suspended until 12 o'clock?

Suspension of SittingNational Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Suspension of SittingNational Peacekeepers' Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:05 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, and of the amendment.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

Noon

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join the debate in the response to the Speech from the Throne.

I commend our leader on the position he has taken in not voting down the government on the throne speech. I think it is wise, because there really was nothing in the speech overall. It was pretty much innocuous. If we were to change 25 words it could be a past Liberal Speech from the Throne.

For the most part, throne speeches try to be positive. They try to set out a bit of a template. This one sort of did it from about 35,000 feet. Nonetheless, I think where we are going to run into trouble is where we drill down into the specific issues, where we look at the details of some of the actions and some of the legislation being put forward by the government.

It is always contended that the devil is in the details and I think that is what we are going to find. As long as this Parliament lasts, as long as the session goes forward, I think what we will find is that the people on this side will stand and fight on an issue by issue basis. That has been our contention, to make Parliament work and to make it work for Canadians, but when we see that the better needs and the best needs of Canadians are being compromised, that is when we will call the government to task.

There are certainly a number of issues like this in the throne speech. When I look at the statement that the government is going to review aspects of the EI system, I personally am greatly concerned. I think a number of Canadians somewhat suspect actions taken by the government in the way it has addressed employment insurance. As the government brings this forward, we are certainly going to try to represent what is best in regard to the needs of workers.

I should state from the outset that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Davenport.

Let us think back to the last time that a Conservative government had control of EI. We can look back to the late 1980s. We know that the EI fund of that time had been exhausted. It was from there, from the Auditor General's report, when we did have a stand-alone EI system, that once that program had been decimated through the late 1980s because of high unemployment rates and the draw on that fund at the time, the Auditor General said we had to take that program and put it back into the general accounts. That is what was done.

We know that through the mid-1990s the unemployment rate came down. More Canadians got back to work. There was less of a draw on the EI fund. There were changes made to the unemployment insurance act back in the mid-1990s. Over time, the premium rates paid by workers and employees went down. The economy took hold and grew. As a country we began to prosper and more money was paid into the fund.

I shared some time with my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on an all party committee in the last Parliament. We put forward some recommendations on changes to EI. Some very worthwhile things came out of those consultations and that committee. Certainly the dropping of the divisor rule and going to the best 14 weeks are things that I think better serve the workers in this country.

We saw the response of the Conservatives at that time. They wanted no part of that. They wanted an in-out, stand-alone system, like an insurance policy. Canadians have come to expect more from that system. A great piece of EI legislation came forward in the last session. As a matter of fact, it was put forward by my colleague from Sydney—Victoria. It would extend sick benefits to those who are undergoing cancer treatment or perhaps are debilitated from heart and stroke illnesses. These are devastating illnesses to experience. They sometimes yield catastrophic outcomes for a family.

I thought the legislation made sense, but we saw that the government had no use for it. The government saw no purpose in it and voted against it, which was very disappointing. I am sure it was disappointing not just to the other three parties in this House, but to working Canadians, because all they are trying to do is provide for their families.

I think it is telling about the Conservative government as well when we read through the throne speech but do not see the words “student”, “university” or “post-secondary”. Those words are nowhere to be found in the Speech from the Throne. Our young students can draw no kind of hope or optimism from this throne speech.

Certainly we saw the government show a total disregard for the students of this country when it decimated and gutted the student employment program last year. It was the opposition parties in the House that fought to have at least a bit more money put back into that program. Community groups from coast to coast supported that program and had offered summer employment opportunities to students for many years. It was a great program, well served, and was subscribed to by many businesses and not for profit groups from coast to coast. Yet it was decimated by the Conservative government.

This showed a total lack of caring and understanding by the government about the needs of students in this country and a lack of understanding of the needs of not for profit groups in this country. Giving extra money to students is necessary to help them pay their way through university, but for many of these students this program is their first opportunity for a summer job to build skills and to start developing a resumé. I do not think there is anything better that we can give our youth. That was torn away from them by the government last spring.

While on the topic of universities, I note that I come from the province of Nova Scotia, which has a great reputation for having some of the top post-secondary institutions in this country, such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Mary's and Dalhousie. The post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia are at the forefront of a lot of research. These post-secondary institutions have pretty much been pillaged by the Conservative government. That is what concerns me about the throne speech.

The government is changing the way it supports these institutions in transfers from the federal government to provincial governments. It did put in a bit more money, and I commend the government for doing so, but when it changes the system from an equity based system to a per capita based system, it is the small Atlantic provinces that are going to be hurt. In this change alone, Nova Scotia will receive $28 million less under the new system that was adopted by the Conservative government. Over the 10 year term of this change, Nova Scotians will receive $65 million. The province of Alberta will receive $3.5 billion. The minister's own province is doing okay, but where is the equity? Where is the fairness? Why should Nova Scotia be left behind? That is the unfairness that I see. That is pitting one region against another. We have seen this time and again from the government. There is a true unfairness there.

I can assure the government that we on this side of the House, on an issue by issue basis when that legislation comes forward, will stand and defend the rights of Nova Scotians. We will defend fairness. We will make sure that whatever the Conservatives bring forward will be scrutinized. If it is going to hurt Nova Scotians and if it is going to hurt Canadians, we will stand here and we will defeat it.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct a question to my colleague across the House. Throughout the time that our new government has been in office, many things have occurred but on this side of the House and we get the job done.

However, there has been a problem in the Senate. Would the member comment on whether or not he supports Senate reform?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I guess this is what we see from the government. I take my 10 minutes here in the House and I talk about EI reform and ask what the government is going to do for students, but the member throws a little bit of smoke over it and asks about that big, bad Senate. The government says that the Senate is tying everything up.

I could say that the Senate reflects the government. The government put nothing in the Speech from the Throne for students or for post-secondary schooling. There is no hope at all for students in this country and then the member tries to gloss over it with a question about the Senate. I am embarrassed to even respond to that question.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member talks about the cuts to employment insurance and how bad it is and how it hurts workers. When the Liberals were in government for 13 years, they had a $50 billion surplus and still did not do anything.

I say that the Liberals did nothing because my colleague was with me on the human resources committee. We voted to make changes to employment insurance but his own party voted against the recommendations of the committee. I congratulate the member for voting for the changes but some of his own colleagues who were on the committee recommended changes to employment insurance but when it came time to vote in the House, they voted against their own recommendations.

This is pitiful when there is a surplus of $50 billion. Do they not think it is about time to stop cutting EI and taking money from working people? The money was in the general revenue fund and they used it to pay down the debt.

The member is right when he talks about the throne speech. I am aware that in the throne speech the government wants to look at how it can manage the EI fund instead of giving benefits to the workers. The member's own party will vote for the throne speech which will not help working people.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, when the change in the legislation comes forward and if the government wants to alter the EI system there may be aspects of it that the Liberal Party has advocated for quite some time, which is that additional moneys should be put into training and the approach to training should be different.

We best serve Canadians when we do that on an issue by issue basis, which is why I support our leader for taking the tact that he did. I do not see the wisdom in the NDP's position that they were going to vote against the throne speech two weeks before the speech was tabled.

When those pieces of legislation come forward, I would hope that I can stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleague because we are very similar on a number of issues that pertain to the Employment Insurance Act. Hopefully, together can ensure this system is not decimated by the government.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned the Canada summer students job program. We fought for it in the House, largely by the Liberal opposition but also, to some extent, the other parties, and changes were made, but they were not significant.

We heard from the government that big corporations received all the money previously. It turns out that this past summer it was Conservative ridings that received most of the big money grants.

Could my colleague tell us of a few organizations that did not get money in the end that should have received money?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact as we speak my staff is doing a survey in the riding to identify who was successful and who was not. Those details do not come out from the government. It is not willing to share those types of statistics.

The other group that was jeopardized here--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Davenport.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is an ancient Chinese proverb that states, “we are cursed to live in interesting times”, and these are certainly interesting times. The Speech from the Throne is a general statement of the government's objectives. These speeches are often remembered more for what they do not address as opposed to the issues they actual raise.

Notwithstanding all of this bluster, what of the content in the Speech from the Throne? What about the issues of importance to Canadians? We hear a great deal of chatter in the speech with respect to our national sovereignty and yet in practice the government action leaves a great deal to be desired.

For example, where is the government in regard to the recent outrageous proposal from the United States administration with respect to airline passenger lists? What could be more important to our sovereignty than protecting the privacy and personal rights of our nation's citizens? We hear no challenge from the government to the Bush administration's demand that Canadian airlines provide names, dates of birth, gender, travel itinerary and track information for passengers originating in Canada even though they do not even land in the United States.

If the Prime Minister wants to protect our sovereignty, I suggest he start by refusing to provide this information to the Bush administration. This is clearly an issue of sovereignty and the rights of Canadians need to be protected by their own government. Speaking of sovereignty, we need only to look at the issue of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples to see the issue of the actual level of commitment to the basic rights of our first nations peoples.

While I commend the government for some of the statements made in the throne speech with respect to aboriginal issues, there is so much more of substance that needs to be done.

We all remember the Kelowna accord. It was a landmark agreement between the previous Liberal government, provincial leaders and first nations peoples.

When the members of the New Democratic Party joined with the Conservative Party to defeat the Liberal government in 2005, the fate of this historic accord was sealed along, I might add, with so many other progressive initiatives. It was a tragedy that the NDP would so easily cast its soul on the altar of political expediency but that is a debate for another day.

The Prime Minister did indeed withdraw from the Kelowna accord and effectively ended an historic opportunity to deal fairly with first nations peoples.

This past September, the United Nations General Assembly voted on whether to adopt the United declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Only four countries voted against the declaration and Canada was one of them.

The Conservative government reversed the previous Liberal government's commitment and voted against the measure. We need only listen to the words of Mr. Gary Highland, the national director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation to know why. He speaks of the role of his country's prime minister, John Howard, a good friend of our Prime Minister.

He said:

It's common knowledge in Australia that Howard was responsible or had a major influence in changing the Canadian government's position.

Where is the leadership from Canada's government when foreign heads of government direct our government on how to vote at the United Nations?

I have met with various labour leaders in recent months to hear their increasing concerns about the need to protect manufacturing jobs in this country, among them, Gus Goncalves and Maria Pinto of the Canadian Auto Workers at the Bombardier Aerospace plant in Downsview, Ontario, who know that these jobs are threatened.

Manufacturing jobs in Canada are being lost at an alarming rate and urgent action needs to be taken. However, the message of these labour leaders and that of millions of Canadians is falling upon the deaf ears of the government. We had hoped there would be a real commitment in the throne speech to address this issue but again there were only platitudes and lack of substance.

Our environment is under siege. Climate change and greenhouse gases are real issues to be addressed, not political headaches to be shuffled aside as the government continually does.

It is truly disheartening that Canada, under the Conservative government, will be the only major signing nation to the Kyoto accord that is to withdraw from the commitment we made. The government needs to implement our Kyoto commitments and not spend so much energy finding ways to avoid them.

What about our role as a peacekeeping nation, one that the world looks to for leadership? We need to take action where action is so desperately needed. What about Darfur? Why does the government not take a role in helping to alleviate the suffering of so many millions of people in this region of the world? This is the most pressing humanitarian crisis facing the world community and yet the government continues its policy of inaction.

I commend the government's decision to bestow honorary citizenship upon Aung San Suu Kyi whose courage, perseverance and commitment to freedom is beyond exemplary. However, Canada should also be taking substantive steps to hold the military leadership in Burma to account for the terrible abuses taking place in that country.

Where in the speech is the commitment to students who are increasingly leaving school with enormous student debt? The previous Liberal government was putting in place the help they needed but the present government has done nothing of substance to assist Canada's students.

Many of our country's senior citizens are finding it increasingly more difficult to manage and yet there is no real help for them either. Where is the help for these great Canadians who have built our nation?

Families across the country continue to struggle. What about the national child care program that the previous Liberal government was implementing? Again, nothing.

In essence, we are speaking about the basic human rights of all Canadians, whether they are travelling abroad, are first nations peoples, older Canadians, students, parents and the list goes on.

I would note, speaking of human rights, that the government made reference to several anniversaries to be celebrated this year in Canada. While those noted in the throne speech are of significance, what about the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why was there no mention of one of Canada's greatest achievements? Would this be inconvenient for the government?

Those are but a few of the issues that the Speech from the Throne simply fails to deliver upon. There is no passion for the values of Canadians in this speech and no vision of what Canadians want to aspire to. It is really the remonstrations of managers when what we need is leaders.

I am reminded of a comment by the former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. He was asked by a young member of the British Parliament how he could put more fire into his speech. Churchill replied, “What you should have done is put the speech into the fire”.

I have spoken today on many issues of importance to Canadians. We can only hope in the months to come that these real concerns of Canadians will be addressed by the government.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member quoted different parts of the speech and I want to quote one part of the speech and ask his opinion. It reads:

To ensure that our institutions reflect our shared commitment to democracy, our Government will continue its agenda of democratic reform by reintroducing important pieces of legislation from the last session, including direct consultations with voters on the selection of Senators and limitations on their tenure.

Does the member have the commitment to democracy that we have on this side and is he willing to making changes to the Senate that are much needed and overdue?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes I am. This party is committed to democratic reform, democracy in our institution and respect for our institution, which I find is so lacking on the government side.

One thing that concerns me is that the Prime Minister, when he was a member of the Reform Party, talked about giving a greater role to members of Parliament and yet his total caucus is silent on all issues. They cannot speak unless they get authorization from the Prime Minister's Office. His ministers cannot even have press conferences unless they first have everything vetted and get a personal stamp of approval by the PMO. I find this is totally outrageous. It belittles the work and the responsibility of ministers of the crown. It also belittles the work of members of Parliament who are here to represent their constituencies.

We have seen so many examples of members of Parliament who have been tossed out by the government when they do speak their mind. This is totally outrageous.

Having a vote of confidence on every issue and clause that goes before this House and the committee is totally outrageous. It is an affront to Parliament to say to members of Parliament and to this House that we cannot amend a bill from the government because that would be a vote of confidence and it will go before the electorate. That is an affront to this Parliament and it is totally unjust. It speaks of a Prime Minister who speaks of democracy but who is a control freak and who is totally opposed to democracy and our democratic institutions.