House of Commons Hansard #6 of the 40th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.


Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.


Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I remember very well the trip my colleague refers to. In fact, I am a proud member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Few people understand that Canada has one of the oldest democracies in the world. We have a wealth of knowledge to share with developing nations around the world, and that is what that organization does.

The member spent most of his time talking about climate change. I am sure he has heard it mentioned here more than once, but in case he has forgotten, I want to remind him that as was mentioned in the throne speech, we have a plan, the first plan in Canadian history to address the problem of climate change. The throne speech re-emphasized that we are imposing mandatory reductions on big industries. We have one of the most stringent regulatory regimes in the world. We are committed to reducing Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.

While we are proceeding with our commitments and our plan, we are also being prudent during this period of fiscal uncertainty. Unlike the members of the Liberal Party, we completely downplayed and dismissed the irresponsible idea of bringing in a carbon tax, which would have destroyed the economy had the Liberals had an opportunity to form a government. Perhaps the member from the Bloc could at least be appreciative that Canada is not facing the kind of crisis it would have faced had the Liberals been elected to government.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member questions about the common securities regulator referred to in the Speech from the Throne.

The hon. member should be aware that this issue has been discussed for over 10 years now with the provinces, and the small provinces just will not go along with this plan. I would like to know why he thinks things are going to be any different in the future in terms of trying to get a national securities regulator.

I would like to also point out to him that the current Ontario Securities Commission got only two convictions in the last year, whereas in the United States there have been hundreds of convictions. The issue is not the regulatory body so much as the enforcement initiatives that the regulatory body takes. What steps does he plan to take to try to convince these bodies to act more aggressively in taking action against white collar crime?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.


Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome my colleague to the House of Commons. I know he considers it a privilege to be here for the first time, and I acknowledge that.

He has asked additional questions about the importance of a common securities regulator. I have to emphasize that having a common securities regulator is critical to Canada's economic future.

At present each of the provinces and territories has its own system. In these unprecedented times, it is imperative for Canada to have a common voice on issues related to financing. A mismatch of different regulations across the country simply does not cut it.

The IMF, as I pointed out in my speech, has considered this as a primary responsibility of our government to alleviate the burden on companies and the reporting requirements they have. Now more than ever we need to respond swiftly and efficiently to changing circumstances. Having a common securities regulator would allow us to do that.

My colleague also raised the issue of crime. I also talked about that issue in my speech, and about my being part of a safe streets and healthy communities task force that crisscrossed the country getting feedback from Canadians on what they felt was most important in addressing this problem. As I said, the one message we heard time and time again was that in the area of youth crime, young offenders no longer felt there was any consequence to their actions.

In this throne speech we committed to addressing that issue. We are going to take a look at the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We are going to make sure it becomes more stringent for those people on whom it does not really work.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton Mountain.

It is an honour to rise in the House of Commons and present my response to the Speech from the Throne.

I would like to begin by thanking the constituents of Churchill. Having been born and raised in Thompson, Manitoba, I am truly honoured to represent my home region of Churchill.

The Churchill riding is one of the largest in Canada. It has tremendous diversity. From Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay, from the Saskatchewan border to the Ontario border, the riding stretches from a community that is a drive of one and a half hours from Winnipeg to communities across the east and north of Manitoba that do not have all-weather road access.

There is also immense diversity in terms of people. Our riding is made up of first nations and Métis people, as well as Canadians from all across Canada and Canadians from all over the world. There are over 30 first nations in the Churchill riding. They include Cree, Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Dene.

Over the past few years, I have travelled throughout northern Manitoba, and I have had the opportunity to visit and work with many people from regions all around my riding. Travelling and visiting the communities in my region is a priority for me.

My commitment overall is to be a strong voice for northern Manitoba and to bring forward our issues and our concerns to Parliament.

At a time when there is significant focus on the economy, it is important to recognize the experiences of people in northern Manitoba when it comes to the economy. In northern Manitoba, communities that depend on the forestry industry were and continue to be affected as a result of the softwood lumber deal. Mining communities as well as future development across the north have been impacted by the economic downturn. There are also communities that have very high rates of unemployment and have seen the destruction of traditional economic activities.

Along with our concern for the economic well-being of Canadians, we also need to look at their fundamental needs that are not being met. Let me turn to the issues for my riding of Churchill.

In terms of health, we need to look at the shortage of doctors and nurses all across northern Manitoba and across the northern and rural regions of Canada. We need a strong national strategy that assists the provinces in providing the health care that all Canadians deserve. We need to recognize the health needs of first nations where there are high rates of conditions and illness, such as diabetes and tuberculosis that reflect the third world conditions many first peoples encounter. This is unacceptable.

In terms of education, we need to see significant funding increases. As a former instructor for the University College of the North, we need to support institutions such as that one. We need to see an increase in post-secondary funding for first nations students. We talk about education being key; let us step up and make sure there is adequate support for it.

We need to look at primary education on first nations and the increase in spending required for aboriginal education, which is far below the provincial average. We need to look at the building of schools, such as in St. Theresa Point where there is a need for a new elementary school, in Nelson House where improvements need to be made to the high school, in Gods Lake Narrows where we need a new high school, and in Gods River where we need a new school, period.

In terms of transportation, we need to look at the needs of communities that have no roads and where all weather roads are melting at a very alarming rate as a result of the impacts of climate change. We need to look at building airports in communities that have no airports. The recent crash in northern Manitoba speaks to the need for improved transportation security. As someone who survived a plane crash, I see the need for the federal government to step up and make sure there is transportation security and sustainable ways of transportation for people in northern Canada.

We also need to see support from the federal government in terms of the bay line and the port of Churchill, important economic centres for our region. We also need to have a very good discussion in terms of the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board, an institution that supports the economy in northern Canada and benefits Canadians all across the country.

In terms of infrastructure, we need to look at more funding for affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing limits the diversification of many communities across my region. There are shameful housing conditions across first nations communities that need to be dealt with on an urgent basis. We also see the need for seniors housing.

We need to support child care. I come from one of the youngest regions in Canada. We need to make sure that there is funding for child care in terms of capital as well as programming in order to support young families in my region.

On the environment, for us northerners we have a close exposure to the impacts of climate change and the destruction of our environment. We see the ice lasting less and we see the change in wildlife patterns all across our region. Northerners are concerned about the preservation of our environment. We need to see action.

I would also like to bring forward the issues facing youth. In the throne speech we heard tough words on gangs and cracking down on youth crime. How about looking at the opportunities of young people and supporting our young people? As I said, I come from one of the youngest regions of Canada. The median age is 26.4 years. We have communities without recreation centres, without programming, without drop-in centres. We need to look at the positive contributions of young people. The Lance Runners Society, the Island Lake Regional Youth Council, and Tori Yetman are excellent examples of the initiatives being taken in our region. We need to look at building and supporting healthy initiatives and programs for our young people.

When we talk about the status of women, we need to address the inequality between women and men being faced in my region and across Canada. As the former chair of the Thompson Crisis Centre, we need to act and support the efforts being done in the area of domestic violence. We also need to support the important work being done in terms of the Stolen Sisters campaign and the need to eliminate violence against aboriginal women.

When it comes to these areas, people in northern Manitoba ask, where is the federal government? We need economic development, development that benefits communities all across our regions. We need to look into partnering in economic development agreements and supporting initiatives that are currently taking place.

However, there is a lack of vision for building a better Canada for all Canadians. There is a failure to deal with the needs and issues that Canadians face. I would like to see Parliament work together toward a vision for Canada that reflects the needs of Canadians all across this country. We need a vision that aims to realize social and economic justice for all.

We also need Canadians to be involved. First, there is a need to have a more civil Parliament, something which is essential. Canadians are not interested in lowbrow aggressive attacks and are looking toward important work getting done on their behalf. It is difficult to engage Canadians when all they see is negativity and a failure to address their important needs. We saw it in this election where there was one of the lowest turnouts ever and incredible amounts of cynicism.

Second, we need to make our electoral system and our political institutions inclusive and have them truly reflect who we are as a country. For example, the voter ID regulations disenfranchised many people across Canada.

Many of us ask why there are not more young people involved. Let us look at our institutions. Last week I was able to enter the Senate and listen to the throne speech as an MP. Despite the fact that I can be democratically elected to represent Canadians in the House of Commons, I would not, and neither would anybody under the age of the 30, be allowed to become a senator under the proposed reforms.

At the age of 18 one can vote, one can run for office, one can fight and die for one's country, but one cannot become a senator. This is blatant discrimination. The current version of Senate reform is the equivalent of operating on a fossil. This is not 1867; it is 2008. The Senate is an outdated institution that discriminates on the basis of age and should be abolished.

We need more young members in our Parliament. There are very few members under the age of 40. The lack of young female members in this House must also be noted.

I come here with a message for Parliament from the people of Churchill. Why, in the year 2008, in a country like Canada with so much wealth, can we not achieve social and economic justice for all? To quote the words of a great Manitoban, the founder of a political movement that I am proud to be part of, what we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.

I thank my constituents. Euxaristo Ekosi Meegwetch Masi-Cho.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta


Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your recent appointment as Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. It is richly deserved.

I would like to congratulate my colleague from Churchill on her election and on her maiden speech. She obviously brings to this place a great deal of passion for the issues of concern to her constituents and all Canadians. I congratulate her.

I appreciated in particular her undertaking that we should try to be more focused on positive results for Canadians rather than, as she put it, the negativity that Canadians see. Perhaps she could start to demonstrate that at the beginning of her parliamentary career, which I hope will be an effective one. On occasion, perhaps once in a decade, the government actually does something that is worthy of praise. When I was in opposition, even though it pained me, I always tried to praise the government when it did things I agreed with.

For instance, she represents the north. The government increased substantially the northern residents tax credit. Would she care to comment on whether that has been helpful to her constituents?

Second, with respect to the minimum age in the Senate, she may be aware that is actually in the British North America Act. It is a constitutional requirement. It is not something that is at the discretion of this government in terms of legislative reform.

Third, in terms of positive things, we actually have the youngest government caucus in history. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is only 32 years of age and the Deputy Speaker is the youngest member of the House.

Finally, if the Wheat Board as she said is great for all Canadians, then why does it only apply to three provinces?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, people in the north need to deal with the serious issues of social and economic justice that they face.

As I outlined in my speech, there is a serious lack of response in terms of the sheer inequality and, quite frankly, the third world conditions that first nations face in northern Manitoba and all across Canada. We look forward to getting results in terms of realizing the rights and needs of first nations and aboriginal people all across this country.

In terms of age, while it is great to see members of different ages and, as I pointed out, younger members, we need to make sure that our system and our institutions do not discriminate against young people. We need to be looking out for specific legislation that discriminates based on age.

We also need to look at fixing the voter ID regulations which disenfranchise young people all across this country.

I look forward to working with all members in making sure that we have a system in place that truly reflects who we are and which represents our issues.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Churchill on her election and welcome her to the House.

I have a brief comment on her speech as it reflected on the throne speech.

It seems to me that our economy is almost certainly heading for a more conspicuous downturn than anything we have seen in the past. In fact, the throne speech was very much, in my view, an attempt to govern by looking into a rear-view mirror.

The Minister of Finance will tell us everything the government did last year, or the year before, or the year before that. We are looking at a serious economic issue here and some very serious fiscal stimulus needs to be directed into the economy by the government. The throne speech failed utterly to address that. It is imminent, and we will be going into our Christmas break in a couple of weeks.

Would the member care to comment on what I regard as a serious failure in the government's throne speech?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, in response to my colleague's comments, I encourage him and his caucus to vote against the throne speech which fails to deal with the issues that we need to act on for the benefit of Canadians.

We need to look at economic stimulus all across the region. In my speech I mentioned a number of areas, certainly in the area of infrastructure. This would benefit regions all across the country.

Let us not forget that we also need to look at the issue of social justice for Canadians as well. We cannot separate the two. An immense amount of wealth comes out of the regions where first nations, aboriginal people and northern people live, whether it is through mining, forestry, or whatever it might be. We deserve something back and we deserve it now.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate on the government's Speech from the Throne. I know that the number of members who can speak on this matter is limited and severely curtailed by the rules of the House, so I really am delighted to respond.

I am delighted for two reasons. The first one is, frankly, because I am still here and for that I want to thank the people of Hamilton Mountain who have given me the opportunity to be their champion in the House of Commons for a second term. I am deeply grateful for that.

Second, I am delighted to participate in this debate because it is central to setting this Parliament's agenda for dealing with the unprecedented downturn in the Canadian economy. Families in my riding, like Canadians right across the country, are profoundly worried about their jobs, about their pensions and about their savings. They are counting on the federal government to take bold and strategic steps, and they are looking to their members of Parliament to have courage in the face of adversity. Yet, the throne speech, which sets the agenda for this entire session of Parliament, fails to match the urgency or the depth required to protect working families in this economy.

Let me clear, our number one job is to protect Canadians during this economic crisis. I have heard members speak about the need to stimulate the economy. I have heard others rightly point out that we do not just need to stimulate the economy, but we need to stabilize it. The difference of course is more than mere semantics.

However, the bottom line is that the economy and the market are not some supernatural phenomenon. Neither were they created by divine law. They were man-made constructs and as such they are relationships that are governed by the rules that we created. These rules create a framework for determining winners and losers, and that makes it incumbent upon all of us to recognize that the economy is a moral question.

As Tommy Douglas used to say, the economy is made for man, not man for the economy. Yet we have built economic structures that serve powerful global forces acting in their own interest, presenting profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right. The sky was the limit and there seemed to be no concomitant social obligations. We were all led to believe that governments are the problem and that markets are the solution.

If the current economic crisis has proven nothing else, it is that markets cannot do it alone. Yes, markets can bring prosperity, but governments not only have a role to play, they have a responsibility to act. For far too long now our economy has failed to serve the needs and the aspirations of Canadians. In fact, workers in our country have now paid four times for the economic crisis that we are in.

First, they have lost their jobs. Since 2006, Canada has lost over 151,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector alone. Unemployment is projected to rise to 7% by next year and our industrial heartland is decaying around us.

Second, workers have paid with their pensions. Workplace pensions and private pensions have all taken a huge hit as a result of the market collapse and those close to retirement are spending tomorrow's savings to make it through today.

Third, workers no longer have adequate access to protection through employment insurance. Nationally only 38% of unemployed workers receive government benefits, down from 75% in the early nineties. Workers paid for this insurance coverage and yet they cannot count on it when they need it most.

Of course, they are now paying for this economic crisis a fourth time as their tax dollars are going to bail out corporations like the banks. It is time to say enough is enough.

It is time to right the balance and work to stabilize the economy in such a way that it will serve Canadians. It is time to be bold and it is time to be strategic. It is time to roll up our sleeves and work together to build an economy that serves the needs and aspirations of our people.

As the very first step, we have to abandon the Conservative government's policies of throwing money away on unconditional corporate tax cuts. Unconditional tax cuts will not provide the stimulus that our economy requires. Quite the opposite. Tax cuts only benefit those corporations that are profitable enough to pay taxes. If a company is in danger of collapse, it does not pay taxes and blanket tax cuts do nothing to help it to survive.

Moreover, we should not be providing tax breaks to companies that outsource or ship jobs overseas. In my hometown of Hamilton people will remember what happened at the John Deere plant just down the road in Welland. John Deere gladly pocketed the tax breaks and then closed its profitable plant and shipped the jobs down to Mexico.

Unconditional corporate tax cuts are not the answer to revitalizing the Canadian economy, yet these corporate tax cuts will cost the government $7.3 billion in 2009-10 alone. That money would be so much better spent on investing in the inherent productivity that resides in the talent, creativity and energy of Canadians. We need to invest in the real economy.

Let us look again at the four ways, that I mentioned earlier, in which Canada's workers have paid for this economic crisis and let us look for solutions for each.

First and foremost, we need to develop an economic stimulus package to create jobs. In the short term, that means strategic investments in infrastructure. Let us commit to an ambitious plan to partner with communities to repair our crumbling cities, invest in public transit and build affordable housing. I know that the city of Hamilton, for example, is ready to start construction now on a new sewer and water plant. The planning is done. The engineering is done. With the federal government's support, construction could begin immediately. It is good for workers, good for suppliers, and good for the city of Hamilton.

I know that municipalities in other parts of the country have similar jobs that are virtually shovel ready. Projects related to energy retrofitting homes and buildings, expanding our renewable energy capacity, and improving our communications technology backbone also offer economic stimuli. Of course, we need to support the manufacturing and auto sectors, not by writing blank cheques to perpetuate the status quo, but by providing the kind of financial assistance that will transform the industries and keep jobs in Canada.

Second, we need to protect the pensions of hard-working Canadians. This has to be done in consultation with labour, with business and the provinces, so that we can explore programs like a pension insurance program. In the last Parliament, I introduced Bill C-270, which would have given workers' pensions super priority in cases of commercial bankruptcies. Legislation such as this is still a critical part of the solution in safeguarding Canadians' pensions.

For those Canadians who are over the age of 71, let us at least consider a moratorium on mandatory RRIF withdrawals. I think all Canadian retirees were profoundly disappointed that pensions were not even mentioned in last week's Speech from the Throne.

Similarly, the throne speech was silent on reform to Canada's system of employment insurance. As a result of the rule changes that recent governments have made to the system, unemployed people must now all but exhaust their savings before EI is even available to them. Let us fix EI. It is a critical tool for poverty prevention and the money that unemployed Canadians receive will flow directly back into the local economy, thereby helping to create badly needed jobs and keeping small businesses afloat.

There was a time when EI was a vital part of retraining and skills development assistance. That is no longer the case. In fact, we have no national training strategy at all. Tackling the skills shortage must be part of the solution if we do not want to further compound the length and depth of this economic downturn.

Finally, let us talk about the contribution Canadians have already made to ailing sectors of our economy such as financial institutions. To date, they have contributed $75 billion just to secure our banks. They need to be assured that there will be strong oversight that tracks where that money is going. Whenever sectoral assistance is provided, taxpayers need a full and transparent accounting, and where appropriate, an equity stake in return.

These are just four areas for concrete action, and yes, they do represent bold steps, but hard-working Canadians deserve no less. They already know that New Democrats are committed to making the economy work for them, and despite the fact that the throne speech failed to stand up for working families and the middle class, it is not too late to protect their jobs, their pensions and their savings.

In just a couple of days the Minister of Finance will table his economic update. Perhaps that will give Canadians a few more specifics, but if it too remains tepid in its approach to protecting working families in these tough economic times, then we in the NDP will roll up our sleeves and work with our partners in labour, in civil society, and in our own communities to give Canadians the leadership they deserve.

We commit to being constructive and we hope the government will do the same, because as Tommy used to say, it is not too late to build a better world.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, allow me to add my congratulations to your recent appointment. It was well deserved.

I just have a very simple question for my hon. colleague and I thank her for her remarks. The NDP plans to vote against the throne speech. That is clear. Does she encourage all members of the opposition parties to vote against the throne speech and thus bring on another federal election?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question, but I also understand the cynicism in the question that has been posed.

Right now the job that is before us as a Parliament is to protect Canadians. It is to protect their jobs. It is to protect their pensions. It is to protect their savings. I appreciate the fact that some members on the opposite side of the House have said that they are willing to work together. What I aimed to do in my speech today was to make concrete proposals in which we can work together.

The Minister of Finance has unfortunately said that the economic update is going to offer little for Canadian families, but we do have an opportunity between now and the budget in the spring to really show Canadians that we are willing to make this Parliament work, that it is not about us but it is about them. It is about workers in our communities. It is about their families, and in some instances, it is about the very survival of those communities.

I am prepared to work with the government. I am prepared to work with anyone who has the same interests at heart, and I do think we can make this Parliament work.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will carry on with the line of questioning of the hon. member for Edmonton Centre.

First, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain on her re-election.

I am sure the member for Edmonton Centre would also agree that the leader of the NDP is on the campaign trail constantly. In fact, recently he was on the campaign trail and Canadians rejected his application to be the prime minister, and not only his application to be the prime minister, but to be the second or third party in the House.

On one side we see the Prime Minister as being very irresponsible when he put this country into this deficit situation, but on the other hand, the leader of the NDP is constantly campaigning and wants to bring the government down.

Does the member not agree that the NDP leader is equally irresponsible in this House?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for so eloquently pointing out our leader's consistency in not being afraid to be an advocate and a champion for working and middle class families across Canada.

The hon. member is absolutely right, there are huge differences of opinion on this side of the House and the government. He is also absolutely right in pointing out that sometimes the Liberal Party agrees with the government and sometimes it agrees with us. It is never quite clear who the Liberal Party supports.

I do not make any apologies at all for being firmly on the side of working families in this country who are looking to this Parliament right now for help. Their jobs are at stake. Their pensions are at stake. Their savings are at stake. This is not a time to play politics. This is a time to stand firm, so that they know whose corner we are in. I think they know exactly which corner the NDP is in and we are proud of the commitment that we have made to them.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Hamilton Mountain for her speech and, in particular, for speaking about the survival of workers. Where I live, forestry workers are in a lot of trouble. We have had a number of sawmill closures. We have had secondary industry. I wonder if she could speak specifically to some of the solutions that she can see for the forestry sector.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:35 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan is hugely concerned about the future of some of the industries in her community and indeed right across British Columbia. We share a commonality of concern because what is happening to the forestry sector, of course, is also happening to the manufacturing sector in my community.

We will not often find, I do not think, a New Democrat quoting from the Conference Board of Canada in this House, but we actually do agree. One of the things we need to do is to look at ensuring access to credit. That is absolutely critical at this particular time in our economic history. The board states:

Banks are preoccupied with strengthening their balance sheets to withstand a prolonged slowdown. This preoccupation means that many firms are having a harder time accessing the credit they need to stay in business.

What can the government do at this stage? It can help to bridge the current gaps in the financial system by supporting the extension of credit to firms to help them through the economic slowdown. I do not think anybody is suggesting that we do not need to do that with some kind of accountability. It has to be about more than crisis management. We need to look at business plans for the medium and long term, but we need to explore those solutions because the very future of companies and, therefore, thousands of jobs in this country depend on us being bold and innovative at this particular time.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:35 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, as this is my first occasion to address the 40th Parliament, I extend my heartfelt thanks to the voters of Northumberland—Quinte West for returning me to this august place. It is a tremendous honour and privilege to serve them. It is in that interest that I want to remind everyone that the government made commitments in the last election and that we will keep those commitments.

Some of those commitments were in the Speech from the Throne, to which I will speak. The points I will talking about this afternoon include support for transfers, support for Ontario infrastructure, small and medium-sized business and how we will cut red tape, support for industry and transitional help for workers. We need a common securities regulator and, in particular and of special interest to Northumberland—Quinte West, support for our farming community.

One of the hallmarks of our federation has been the balance we have created between the so-called have and have-not provinces. As a member of Parliament for Ontario, I am acutely aware that Ontarians have for many years been a significant contributor to attaining that balance. I have heard from the Premier of Ontario, my local member of provincial Parliament as well as constituents who want and quite frankly need to know what our government is doing in regard to Ontario.

It is about fiscal fairness after all, is it not? It should not be about paternalistic arrangements between the federal and provincial governments, but more a partnership. What our government has strove for, and I believe has achieved, is precisely just that balance. It will change from time to time, but it should always be about fairness. What is good for one partner in confederation should be good for all, and that is the standard we constantly strive to attain.

Fiscal fairness is about ensuring Ontario has the funds and support it needs to meet its responsibility under the constitution, which includes vital programs such as health care, child care, post-secondary education and social programs. We know the federal government plays an important role in supporting Ontario and delivering for Ontarians. We also know that Ontario is and will continue to be a leader among the provinces and that it must be treated equitably by the federal government. Ontario should never have to suffer second-class services because of unfair treatment from Ottawa.

We have been in office for a little over two and a half years. We are the longest continuous minority government, and what have we done?

Budget 2007 established a per capita based formula for the Canada health and social transfers. This is the money the federal government gives to support health and social services in the provinces. Per capita based funding is important to Ontario, as Ontario is Canada’s most populous province and thus changes will significantly approve the ability of Ontario to deliver for Ontarians.

On this plan, no province that receives equalization funding will have a higher fiscal capacity than the province that does not receive the funding. These changes were agreed to by all first ministers, including the Premier of Ontario, and they will come into effect when the current agreement expires in 2014-15.

The question then becomes: How can we help Ontario in the time left in the old agreement? To help transition to this new arrangement, we have implemented an automatic 6% annual escalator in health care transfer funding. The health transfer for 2007-08 to Ontario is $8.5 billion. By 2013-14, this transfer will rise to $11 billion. That is a 30% increase in health funding in just five years.

We have also increased funding for social programs in Ontario through the social transfer, which has been strengthened to $3.7 billion. This amount will grow annually by 3% per year until a new agreement comes into effect. Part of the social transfer, some $411 million, is dedicated to child care spaces and post-secondary education.

However, there is more. The Conservative government also sees that it has an important role in supporting Ontario's municipalities and supporting infrastructure renewal. That is why we have recently signed an agreement with Ontario called “Building Canada”. This is a $6.26 billion agreement to be paid out over the next several years and is dedicated to improvements to infrastructure. The federal government knows that our communities need predictable funding for infrastructure.

At this point, I would like to mention my first meeting with the Northumberland county council in 2006, shortly after that federal election.

When I met with the county councillors, the meeting primarily concerned agriculture. All of the candidates involved in that election attended the meeting. We all renewed our commitment to agriculture. However, during that meeting, several of the councillors, and indeed the warden, indicated to their newly-elected member that they needed some long-term sustainable funding, something that when they were constructing their budgets, they could count on from the federal government. While they appreciated different programs, they needed some long-term sustainable funding.

I heard what they said. Our government heard what they said. I am happy to say that as part of the building Canada agreement, we have made the gas tax refund to our communities permanent. For the county of Northumberland, that means approximately $2.5 million per year from now on, so when it is doing its budgets, it can count on that amount of money. For the municipality or the city of Quinte West, that is a little over $2.6 million. It is significant money because it is using that not only to pave streets and fix bridges, but to bring fresh potable water to communities, to renew infrastructure that had been deteriorating.

This means for our municipalities, both large and small, access to $2.9 billion a year for local roads and other projects.

They also failed to mention some other long-term funding programs that we brought in, and one in particular is the 100% GST rebate to the municipalities. To some that might not seem a lot when we talk about staplers or stationery, but when a small or medium-sized municipality needs to buy a dump trunk or a road grader, that is a significant return.

In addition, we have also agreed to support Ontario with over $3 billion for infrastructure programs, which includes funding for connectivity.

I need not tell the House or I need not tell any Canadian how important connectivity is. In the Speech from the Throne our Prime Minister indicated that connectivity was very important for this government.

I have to take my hat off to the member for Prince Edward—Hastings in his leadership in eastern Ontario in this area. We have been working with the eastern Ontario wardens caucus. We believe that with its help we will be able to continue to work together. I believe we will be able to secure funding for connectivity for eastern Ontario, let alone all of Canada, as the Prime Minister has indicated.

Therefore, we can see that the government has a proven record to address the issues of fiscal fairness. We have a long-term plan to address this, which the Premier of Ontario supports. It is principles-based and it supports important services, from health care, to social programs, to daycare spaces, to post-secondary education and to infrastructure needs.

While we are talking about infrastructure, I was approached shortly after my election by numerous municipal mayors and councillors. They spoke to me in particular about the former Canada-Ontario infrastructure program and the fact that when this program was brought in, there were significant cost overruns because everybody was doing the same thing at the same time.

There were increases in construction costs. In addition, there were some regulatory changes to freshwater in Ontario. That drove up the cost of these projects and there were overruns. This was a one-third shared costing. The municipalities and the provinces agreed to share in the cost overruns, but the previous government did not.

When the Conservatives took office, the mayors reiterated their desire that the federal government come forward with its one-third of the cost overruns. I am happy to say that this government was able to provide $50 million of that for the province of Ontario. In Northumberland—Quinte West announcements have been made, totalling some $3 million to help with those cost overruns.

Also while we are talking about infrastructure, it is important that I remind the residents of Northumberland—Quinte West as well as the greater Quinte area of the tremendous investments that we have been making in the infrastructure at CFB Trenton. We will recall our commitment in 2005-06 to refurbish and rebuild the Canadian Armed Forces which for many years had been neglected.

Part of that refurbishment was the purchase of strategic and tactical lift aircraft. What does that mean for CFB Trenton, which is Canada's air force hub? It meant the necessity of completely renovating and creating new places to store the new aircraft. If anyone drives by CFB Trenton 8 Wing, it is a hub of activity. Hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years will be invested in CFB Trenton. That whole base will be transformed, thus creating hundreds of good paying jobs right across Northumberland—Quinte West and the greater Quinte region.

In addition, the government promised and made an announcement that JTF2 would be relocated to CFB Trenton. This will require significant infrastructure changes also. Again, hundreds of new jobs will be coming into the community.

What does that mean? The spinoffs are tremendous. It means we have to create housing for these hundreds of new families. They are going to purchase new cars and the spinoffs are numerous.

We also promised in the Speech from the Throne to cut red tape for small and medium-sized businesses. Our government will cut the red tape faced by private and not-for-profit sectors when doing business with the government. Our government is committed to reforming and streamlining the way it does business and we will pursue innovative reforms to the administration of programs and services. Reducing the administrative and paper burden on Canadian businesses improves Canada's competitiveness and supports small business.

Our government has committed to reduce the paper burden on companies by 20% so all parties can spend less time and money on paperwork. Our government also will deliver on its promise for formalize a process for measuring, reporting on and decreasing the paper burden over the long term.

In May of 2008 our government announced it was on track to meet this commitment through streamlined regulations, the elimination of duplicate or overlapping obligations and fewer filing requirements. For example, we have already eased the tax compliance burden on businesses by reducing record keeping requirements for automobile expense deductions and taxable benefits. With the resumption of Parliament, we will continue to act.

In June 2008 the government introduced the Canada not-for-profit corporations act, which promises to significantly modernize Canada's not-for-profit legislation for the first time since 1917. It would promote accountability, transparency and good corporate governance for the non-profit sector.

I will now talk about helping workers to re-enter the labour force. The government has committed to funding various measures to help displaced workers in Ontario to re-enter the labour force. One of them includes the labour market development agreement under EI, which is part II of the Employment Insurance Act. It would allow Ontario to assume an expanded role in the design and delivery of labour market development programs.

The labour market agreement provides $1.2 billion over the next several years to Ontario. The agreement stipulates that Ontario will provide programs to labour market participation by assisting individuals to prepare for entry to or return to employment or to otherwise obtain or keep employment or maintain skills for employment. This means more resources for unemployed individuals not eligible for certain employment insurance programs, especially those with lower level skills or who are working in low skill jobs.

With respect to the community development trust, the Province of Ontario will receive just under $360 million to improve productivity and competitiveness, support technology development and assist communities and workers affected by changes in agriculture, forestry and manufacturing.

The $9.2 billion Building Canada announcement made recently will result in the creation of a significant number of infrastructure related jobs.

To further reduce the cost pressures on Canadian business, our government will take measures to encourage companies to invest in new machinery and equipment. The Canadian manufacturing sector, particularly the automotive and aerospace industries, has been under increasing strain as we know. Our government will provide further support for these industries. One example is the accelerated capital cost allowance which permits companies to write down very quickly investments in equipment, buildings, computers, to increase productivity and make them and our country more competitive worldwide.

Through Advantage Canada, our economic plan and recent budgets, we have made significant progress toward creating a business environment aimed at promoting long-term investment, innovation and job creation across all sectors of the Canadian economy.

We recognize the strategic importance of the Canadian manufacturing sector and the challenging financial conditions and global competitiveness it faces.

Our government has already cut taxes to lower costs for business to help them compete and create jobs. By 2012-13, the Government of Canada will have provided more than $9 billion in tax relief to the manufacturing sector.

We are committed to further strengthening financial oversight in Canada. Our government will work with the provinces for a common securities regulator.

Our government's new integrated approach toward farm support provides producers with comprehensive income protection against various hazards ranging from income variability under AgriStability and AgriInvest, to natural hazards under AgriInsurance and disasters under AgriRecovery, as well as easier access to credit through cash advances under the advance payments program.

This government is committed to agriculture. We have a suite of programs. This commitment is significant. Since our government took office some few short years ago, over $4.5 billion has been invested in our agricultural community and we intend to maintain that support to our agricultural community.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:55 p.m.


John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I make my comments, I want to congratulate you on your new assignment. I am confident that you will treat us all in a very fair and equitable way. At the same time, I congratulate the member Northumberland—Quinte West on his re-election.

I want to make a few comments or clarifications before I ask my questions. I want, for the benefit of Canadians, to know this. He talked about CFB Trenton, refurbishing of our military and so on.

I remember asking the then Minister of National Defence and the CDS, General Hillier at that time, because they were talking about the $14 billion in new funding. I asked three times and I finally got their answer to my question, which was: Is that the $14 billion that the Liberals put in, plus $14 billion that you guys put in, for $28 million? For the record, they clarified that it was the $14 billion that the Liberals put in because they put in no new money. That is just for the record.

Secondly, I want to clarify this. The member said that they gave a 100% GST rebate to the cities. For the record, and the member can look it up, that was done under a Liberal administration.

I come from Scarborough in the city of Toronto. My city is being starved. It is having to look at other ways and means and ways to raise money. For example, every person who drives, seniors or young students, must pay an additional $60. Garbage now has additional fees. Therefore, the 2% reduction goes some way. We can talk about England. England charged 19% and it has reduced it by 2%. They might have taken off 2% but they are getting it from the other end.

The member said, “What is good for one partner in Confederation is good for all”. I agree with him but why are Ontarians being treated with second-class services or, as he said, as second class citizens? They get less for health, less for EI and the list goes on. They pay the same Canadian dollars and in the same country. Why is the government and the Prime Minister treating the city of Toronto in an unfair way? Does the member not like Torontonians?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:55 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on his re-election but I find a lot of irony in much of what he says.

He used a big brush in many questions but I will start with Canada's armed forces. No one in this country is under any illusions that this government does not support the armed forces. He is talking about Liberal money and what the Liberals did. It is not Liberal money and it is not Conservative money. It is Canadian taxpayer dollars.

I did not see any orders for any new aircraft under the previous government. The Liberals made a lot of promises for a lot of things but did not deliver. The people in my riding and the people of Canada have seen what we have delivered to the Canadian armed forces: better equipment, more equipment and the kinds of aircraft that we absolutely need, and not just for some of the jobs we do overseas.

I am talking particularly about the C-17. Instead of having three or four of the older style Hercules that we are still using and flying, which are good aircraft but we need to replace them because they are getting old, it used to take two, three or four of those to transport the group from Kingston who have the water, or even an army hospital. Today one C-17 flight will deliver that. The reason we had trouble delivering our aid throughout the world is that we did not have the aircraft available. We now have them.

When we talk about aid for cities, under this government Toronto has received hundreds of millions of dollars for public transportation. We will continue to work with the province of Ontario, as I mentioned, through the Building Canada fund.

While the member would like to take credit for all the good things we have done, quite frankly, we have delivered. It is not just promises.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on his re-election to this House.

My question concerns some of his remarks about unemployed workers. The member was in the House, as was I, earlier when we heard some statistics about employment insurance. We heard that only 38% of workers who pay into the employment insurance fund now qualify for benefits. This is down from 75% in the early 1990s. A decline, I might add, that began under the previous Liberal government which did nothing to repair that problem.

We also saw the employment insurance surplus essentially being confiscated by the government, which amounts to taking premiums that were paid by the workers for their own employment insurance needs and taking those funds improperly away from them.

Even if workers qualify for employment insurance, the amount of money they receive, slightly over $400 a week for a duration, is insufficient. The amount has not been raised in far too many years and it is insufficient to provide the kind of security that workers need.

Employment insurance is just that, it is insurance, but increasingly it is insurance that workers cannot access or collect, notwithstanding that they paid the premiums. Workers are concerned. All economists are saying that there will be increased unemployment over the next year or two. Will the member work with his caucus to address the need to increase employment insurance receipts, to increase the duration of benefits and to ensure more workers qualify?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the hon. member to the House. He has my assurance that I will work with him, his party and all members here to make life better for Canadians, which is why Canadians sent us here. Despite our political affiliations and the fact that we all represent sometimes different philosophies, we all have the same interests at heart and that is this country and the health and well-being of its citizens.

To that end, this government remains committed to helping those who are unemployed. Today we heard during question period the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development answer some questions from the Bloc Québécois with regard to what was happening to older workers in the province of Quebec. We know there are programs that we brought in to help address that.

In addition, in the Speech from the Throne we mentioned the labour market agreement with Ontario, and I think we share those interests. We have invested significant dollars, $1.2 billion in retraining, skills development and upgrading skills. So, yes, he has not only mine but the government's commitment to keep working with him and his party and all Canadians to help develop and bring in those programs that are needed.

However, what we would like to do is bring in the best program that will create jobs for Canadians, which is why we announced the Building Canada program. The province of Ontario will receive $9.2 billion for infrastructure in Ontario, for border crossings, highways and water projects right across the country but our province especially, since we share a province, in order to increase employment and help alleviate the unemployment numbers. I do not think any of us are happy with the numbers so we need to work toward decreasing them.

However, as we look to the future, we need to look at what we have done in the past, unprecedented employment numbers. We will work very hard to maintain that kind--

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for that very wise decision.

The Conservative member spoke a lot about his government's openness towards opposition suggestions. Incidentally, the Bloc Québécois, through its finance critic, made suggestions this week. We keep hearing that the government is very open, that we must work together in the spirit of cooperation and non-partisanship, and I think that is great.

I would simply like to ask the member to give us a list of some examples of measures in the throne speech that came from the opposition—examples that would illustrate this supposed openness, that come from opposition parties and do not reflect the Conservative government's policies.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think today we heard the finance minister thank the leader of the Bloc for his input. I think everybody in the House, over the several days during which we have been speaking about the Speech from the Throne, has been saying that we have to stimulate the economy and we have to invest in our country.

We have already pointed out some of the things which we have done in the past that has helped take the edge off the current crisis that is worldwide, which was not created by Canada but of which we are going to feel the effects. Our promise and our commitment was to listen, and to incorporate some of those suggestions in our plan as we move forward.

In about 48 hours we are going to know the general direction in which that is occurring. I think Canadians are very happy quite frankly that we are co-operating.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.


Claude Guimond Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

It is truly an honour to speak in this House for the first time. I will start by sincerely thanking the voters of the riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who showed their trust in me by choosing me as their representative on October 14. I owe this privilege to them, and I am committed to getting started on the job they elected me to do: representing their interests in Parliament, and being there to listen to their concerns.

I must also say that our campaign would not have been so successful without the hard work of my election committee. I warmly thank each and every one of the members of this team who were dedicated and enthusiastic.

My thanks would not be complete if I did not mention my family. Their support, love and assistance were vital to me during this election campaign, and I thank them very much for being there for me.

Today, in this, my first speech I would like to address some issues that were very much in the forefront during my campaign, yet unfortunately do not seem to have been given the importance they deserve in the Speech from the Throne. I therefore wish to speak for the most part about agriculture, forestry and the funding of not-for-profit organizations. These are vital issues for the people in my riding and for the regions of Quebec in general.

First of all, the agri-food industry is responsible for nearly 20% of all the jobs in the lower St. Lawrence region, and agriculture makes up the bulk of that industry. This in large part explains why my concerns focus on development of the agricultural sector. It is also why I, as a member of Parliament, will be calling for the government to pay particular attention to this issue.

What is more, as a dairy farmer myself, I am well placed to speak about the agricultural reality and the difficulties agricultural producers are facing at this time. There are really a great many challenges: we have to adapt to a demand for more diversified products, to international competition, to stricter environmental requirements. With respect to the latter, even though the farmers of the lower St. Lawrence region have long been environmentally aware and involved, there is always a need for more investment in order to keep abreast of current standards. So what the agricultural sector needs, and what is totally missing from the throne speech, is solid agricultural policies such as adequate federal financial support that will offer all the flexibility Quebec farmers have been demanding for years, and allow them to continue their chosen way of life and to continue to feed the community.

I find that that the Conservative government has a great deal of difficulty understanding that Quebec agriculture is unlike agriculture in the rest of Canada. Quebec has opted for a more people-oriented agriculture, one that is less focused on exports. The Conservative government also does not seem to understand the crucial importance of maintaining supply management for Quebec agriculture. Rather than offering a genuine guarantee that it will defend supply management in international negotiations without making compromises, the government has simply stated that it will defend it. Thus, we are very skeptical about how willing this government really is to protect farmers, especially since some statements by Conservative ministers suggest that they are hoping to reach an agreement at the WTO even if it is to the detriment of supply management.

Thus, agriculture will remain one of the core priorities for me as well as for the Bloc Québécois. We will be vigilant and will not allow the Conservative government's indifference to override the needs of the citizens of Quebec regions.

There is the same disappointment in the forestry sector. There is no substantive assistance program to deal with the crisis. In the throne speech, the government says it wants to continue helping the forestry sector with measures that promote innovation and the sale of goods abroad. In other words, the government is opting for the status quo. It is proposing very modest measures, which had already been announced in the last budget and did not really help the forestry sector get through the crisis.

In my riding, where private producers are in the majority, expectations were much higher. After two troubled years, the forestry producers find themselves in a difficult situation where production costs continue to rise and profits are non-existent.

The very survival of many woodlot-based family businesses is in jeopardy. Business owners and producers in the forestry sector need to be supported in their efforts. Assistance for research and innovation is also needed for the forestry industry, particularly, for secondary and tertiary processing.

It is also important to promote the creation of small businesses through research and development. The government could have used some of the Bloc Québécois' proposals, such as granting loan guarantees to help companies modernize, making the research and development tax credit a refundable credit for existing and new businesses, and enforcing regulations requiring all federal agencies to use forest products in federal building projects. These measures could be very beneficial for the forestry sector, but the Conservative government does not seem to be interested in them.

As a final point, I would like to discuss a third issue my constituents are very concerned about, namely, the funding of not-for-profit organizations of an economic nature. Naturally, I cannot help but mention the cuts announced this year by the former Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, cuts that are already having a serious impact on organizations and research centres in my riding. This shows the Conservative government's completely irresponsible attitude, considering the importance of federal funding in the operational activities of many such organizations. The government should reverse its decision and ensure that the approved funding is maintained and renewed.

Many organizations and centres in the lower St. Lawrence region benefit from this financial support, including the Centre de recherche sur les biotechnologies marines and the Technopole maritime du Québec, which in turn greatly benefit the region and have made Rimouski a leader in the marine sector. The current Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) should reinstate the financial support and, at the very least, give these organizations an alternative to ensure their long-term survival. It is unthinkable that such organizations could disappear for lack of funding when we know that the federal government has the money. The real problem is the government's policy direction. It is the government's lack of vision and its indifference toward regional development in Quebec.

We must not forget that not-for-profit organizations generate economic spinoffs for the region. They respond to community expectations and use people's expertise. These strengths and abilities would otherwise be lost. The government could get smart and take advantage of all the money the organizations have invested in recent years by involving them in a real economic recovery plan. In the coming months, we will see what the Conservative government does about this issue, but we are already very concerned about the insensitivity the government has shown to date. The government was not willing to negotiate, even after many people in Quebec spoke out and condemned the incomprehensible cuts the Conservative government had made.

For all these and other reasons, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the throne speech.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate you. I am pleased to see you are back in the chair. You do a very good job of trying to keep order among a bunch of us who sometimes do get a bit out of hand, so I wish you luck with that.

In listening to the comments from the hon. member, clearly jobs are a big issue in the area he represents, and of course, we are all very concerned about the economy and the possible consequences of the economic downturn.

What particular area in his riding will be the most hit in this economic downturn if it ends up to be to the extent that we are hearing? What would he suggest the government should be doing, since we are trying to work in a positive way in coming up with suggestions as Parliamentarians, so that we can all work toward trying to find some solutions?