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House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the 12 years that the Liberal government was in power, we cleaned up the absolute mess that the previous Conservative government left: a $42 billion deficit and $500 billion in debt. The Conservatives are the most incompetent fiscal managers that Canada has ever seen.

The Conservative government has no vision, no leadership and is totally incompetent. The events of the past five weeks have shown us how incompetent the Conservatives are. If they have no vision, they cannot help the manufacturing sector. In fact, their election promise was that they there would be better cooperation between the feds, Ontario and the other provinces.

How can the government, which promised that type of cooperation, that promised accountability and transparency but has failed in every sector, get up and ask questions when it does not even know what a carbon tax is, what neutrality is, what income is, what--

7:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, if we are going to talk about manufacturing, then we need to question what could be one of the most devastating, punitive taxes that could ravage the sector. The carbon tax would create a huge disadvantage for Ontario's manufacturing sector when it is least able to cope with it.

I think Ontario's environment minister, John Gerretsen, put it best when he recently declared, “I am not sure whether a carbon tax would work in Ontario”.

Even a prominent Ontario federal Liberal, Gerard Kennedy, stated,“I think a carbon tax is the clumsiest of the options that we've got so far”.

It is not just clumsy. It is punitive and regressive, with the potential of devastating Ontario's manufacturing.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, on April 3, I asked several questions of the government about the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act contained in Bill C-50.

Instead of answering my questions, the minister started a taxpayer funded advertising campaign in ethnic media across the country to convince immigrant communities that, despite all evidence, they can trust the government with the future of Canada's immigration policy.

In addition, the Globe and Mail reported yesterday that the minister secretly used Toronto city hall meeting rooms to promote the Conservative Party's views on the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Bill C-50 to ethnic media outlets.

This is despite the minister's rejection of Toronto Mayor David Miller's requests for a consultation on the proposed changes.

Mayor Miller is not the only one who is not being fully consulted. The speed at which these amendments have been pushed through the House and its committees shows the government's lack of respect for the opposition and parliamentary procedure. Given the potential impact of the bill on the future of Canada, the government owes it to Canadians to remove the immigration provisions from Bill C-50 and propose them as separate legislation. Changes of this scale should not be just an afterthought in a budget bill.

The minister has also refused to tell Canadians who she would fast-track and who she would leave behind under the new regulations.

This is not a surprise. It would be nearly impossible to sell Bill C-50 if the minister admitted that she plans to put a cap on family class applications, which she has refused to rule out.

One idea that has the support of many in the immigrant community is my proposal of a visa bond system. Under a bond system, immigration officers could give applicants or sponsors the chance to provide a financial guarantee in borderline visitor visa cases. This would help many applicants wanting to come to Canada for weddings and funerals to avoid the rejection and emotional distress they face under the current system.

Canada's visitor visa process is unfair and discriminatory, especially for applicants from developing countries.

The amendments in Bill C-50 would do nothing to improve the situation for visitor visa applicants and, as such, would not truly fix Canada's immigration system.

The government has attached its immigration proposals to a budget bill and tried to force them through the committee and the House without making amendments and used tax dollars to sell its plan to immigrant communities. These are the actions of a government that knows its views on immigration are at odds with those of the majority of Canadians.

I again ask the government why it is sneaking these reforms in through a budget bill, instead of allowing the House to have an independent debate on this critical issue.

7:30 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, to reply to some of the remarks made by the hon. member, it is obviously important to communicate the intention of the budget bill that relates to Citizenship and Immigration because it will affect a number of members of the ethnic community and it is important to meet with them and to ensure they are aware of what we are proposing. That is what has been done.

The intention with Bill C-50 is to take care of the backlog that grew under the member's government over the past number of years from 50,000 to over 800,000, and continues to grow. No one is served by the fact that we are simply taking in more and more applications. The bill would stop the backlog from growing and then would address the backlog to ensure families are reunited faster, skilled workers are brought in from every country and race, to ensure that those skills that are required in the community are met by those who have the skills, and to ensure that is done fairly quickly, not over a period of six years, but in a period of months. It is important for the bill to go forward so that can happen.

The bill would also ensure dollars are invested to reduce the backlog in a proper fashion. It will not be discriminatory in any way with respect to race, religion or ethnicity. It will be charter compliant and dealt with on an objective basis.

Our party is proud of the fact that we have many members of ethnic communities in our party. We were the first party to have a Muslim elected to Parliament, the current member for Edmonton—Strathcona; the first Japanese Canadian to become a cabinet minister, our Minister of International Cooperation; the first Chinese Canadian MP; the first Hindu MP; the first of two Indo-Canadian women, the member in our party for Fleetwood—Port Kells; and, the first black MP and minister of the Crown. Under the previous Clark government, there was a generous response whereby 77,000 Indo-Chinese refugees entered Canada between the years 1975-81 and, of course, Prime Minister Mulroney introduced the first Multiculturalism Act in 1988.

We have opened our arms and doors to invite people from various cultures and countries to come into our country but the immigration system has been burgeoning and has not been proceeding as efficiently as it should.

Also under the previous government, in which the member was a part of, settlement funding was literally frozen for over a period of 10 years. People were coming in but they were not given the support or language training they needed to become integrated as quickly as possible.

Under previous budgets, the government allocated $1.4 billion over five years to directly address settlement issues and to ensure that those who came here would succeed. We also reduced the head tax on newcomers by cutting it in half in the previous budget. In the new budget, we have allocated $109 million over five years to ensure efficiency is built into the system and that it works the way it was intended.

My sense is that we will have more newcomers joining us quicker, more being reunited with their families quicker and more becoming successful citizens faster.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, no one can dispute that Canada's immigration system must be fixed. What the opposition, immigration experts and Canadians do not agree with is the way in which these amendments have been proposed and the unnecessary powers that they would give to the minister.

Major changes to Canada's immigration system, such as those contained in Bill C-50, must be debated openly, honestly and in a non-partisan fashion. The government has failed to meet these three requirements and has failed to earn the trust of Canadians.

I urge the government to listen to Canadians, remove the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from Bill C-50 and allow them to be debated and voted upon on their own merits.

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the rhetoric of the member and other members of the Liberal Party saying that they oppose the concept of Bill C-50 and the immigration portion that would reform the immigration system so it works better.

However, despite the rhetoric, I appreciate the fact that the Liberals supported us at the finance committee to ensure the bill comes back to the House for a vote, and again today in the main estimates and supplementary estimates, they concurred in approving the injection of additional funds, part of the $109 million that was in the estimates and supplementary estimates, to ensure that goes forward.

They are talking one way in the House with respect to this issue and voting another way to ensure that the bill receives passage. I thank them for that because the bill does need to go forward to address, not only the continuing growth in the backlog that ballooned from 50,000 to over 800,000 under that member and his government's term in office. It needs to be addressed now.

7:35 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the media whirlwind being what it is, the world food crisis lost its spot on the front page some time ago to other news. Do not forget that the cost of basic foods has gone up 48% since the end of 2006. According to the director of the World Food Programme, a “silent tsunami” is threatening to plunge 100 million people into hunger.

The government announced $50 million in additional support for the World Food Programme and then let things run their course, believing that it had done enough.

It put a band-aid on a gaping wound, so to speak, and did nothing to address the root of the problem. Speculation, the use of food sources to produce biofuels, and our irresponsible energy consumption have contributed to the world food crisis, and we know it.

The government must commit to dedicating 0.7% of its GDP to international aid, as it is supposed to. At least it has untied its aid, but we must first and foremost help populations in crisis to produce their own food.

We all know the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In international aid terms, this means: build supply roads so that village crops can get to the cities in developing countries; stop promoting within international organizations the massive cultivation of export crops, which in the end only ruins farmers who adopt the practice and starves the population—in other words, to a certain point, the food sovereignty of developing countries must be respected; immediately stop subsidizing the production of biofuels that directly use food crops—here, the grains in question—to produce ethanol, which causes prices to rise and diverts precious resources to fuel our cars instead of feeding people.

Given the scope of the crisis and the absence of a successful conclusion without a drastic change in energy policies and international aid policies, a number of major players are calling for significant changes.

The director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, sounded the alarm by saying that the current food crisis could lead to war and uprisings. The IMF also estimates that 70% of the rise in the price of corn is because of the use of biofuels and the subsidies granted to biofuel producers.

French foreign affairs minister, Mr. Kouchner, proposed banning speculation on raw food materials, which he described as completely immoral.

What does this government propose? To give money to ease its conscience and continue unhealthy practices? Or does this government really have a long-term, responsible vision that respects the needs of all populations around the globe? That is the question I would like to ask again today.

7:40 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this issue again. It gives me a chance to let Canadians know about the improvements this government has made in terms of international assistance and food aid in general.

This government believes in “compassion for the less fortunate”. The Minister of International Cooperation has been working diligently to ensure Canadian aid is delivered in a focused, efficient, accountable manner, and we are getting the job done.

Canadians can be proud that of all the developed countries in the world Canada is the second largest contributor to the World Food Programme. In fact, it is our compassion for the less fortunate that has guided our vision. As Oxfam said, “Canada is already one of the most generous donors to the [World Food Programme], and we are very pleased that Canada continues to show leadership to the world in responding to humanitarian crises as they arise”.

Since forming government we have met our commitment on food aid each and every year. It is through partnerships with organizations like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that we are helping to address the global food shortage.

Jim Cornelius, executive director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank, said the fresh injections of funds will allow the bank to maintain food programs in such places as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, programs that were in danger of collapsing for lack of funds. He said:

It's not just a Band-Aid. This food aid now is critical because if people don't get food now, they will sell off productive assets, they take their kids out of school, they do all sorts of things that lead to further impoverishment.

The additional $50 million we announced, along with the untying of our food aid, will have an enormous impact on the world's most vulnerable. It is actions like this, our compassion for the less fortunate, that will make a difference to people in Africa, Afghanistan, South America and Haiti.

As the executive director of the World Food Programme said, “This generous contribution by Canada will help protect millions of children from severe malnutrition and hunger”.

Let me tell the member what untied food aid will do. It will make food cheaper when it is brought closer to hunger zones. Shipping costs will be reduced and local producers will be encouraged to build capacity to feed people. As we all know, tied aid is 30% less effective.

This is what Canada has done. It has untied 100% of its food aid.

If we look at what this government has dedicated to food aid this year, which is approximately $230 million, that translates into an additional $35 million more that will be used to directly purchase food for the less fortunate.

Once again, I want to thank the hon. member for the opportunity to discuss this issue she has talked about. We are all concerned about the rising food prices and Canada is doing its part.

7:40 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I heard the parliamentary secretary repeat what I myself said, that the government gave millions of dollars in direct aid.

I would like the parliamentary secretary instead to share with us, on behalf of the government, their long-term vision for countries whose populations are starving because they were asked not to grow crops with the promise that they would be sold grain for practically nothing. Today, those people are unable to produce their own food.

What are we going to do as a responsible state to help them return to farming to feed their people and not to fuel our vehicles?

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member asks a very important question about the long term impact of our aid program. This is precisely why the Government of Canada has untied 100% of its procurement of food aid.

What will this do? Canadian food aid partners can now purchase commodities internationally with a special emphasis on procurement from developing countries. This will help reduce food and transportation costs and speed delivery.

In the long run, actions like this will go a long way to helping the poor underdeveloped countries in bringing their own capacity up when their hands are not tied. We are hoping that this kind of action by other countries will lead to what she is concerned about and what we are concerned about: the rising food costs in the world.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

That concludes the adjournment proceedings. Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been withdrawn and the House will now resolve itself into committee of the whole to study all votes under Finance in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole for consideration of all Votes under Finance in the Main Estimates, Mr. Bill Blaikie in the chair)

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Bill Blaikie

I would like to open this committee of the whole session by making a short statement.

The House yesterday adopted a special order governing tonight's and tomorrow's proceedings as follows:

That, during the debates on May 28 and May 29, 2008 on the business of supply, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair and, within each 15 minute period, each party may allocate time to one or more of its members for speeches or for questions and answers, provided that, in the case of questions and answers, the minister's answer approximately reflects the time taken by the question, and provided that, in the case of speeches, members of the party to which the period is allocated may speak one after the other.

We may now begin tonight's session. The House in committee of the whole pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the first appointed day, consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Finance in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009.

I therefore begin by recognizing for the first 15 minutes the official opposition, starting with the hon. member for Markham--Unionville.

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to share my time with my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood.

I am delighted to see the Minister of Finance in the House. I look forward to a good dialogue this evening.

In our parliamentary system, ministers, not staff, are supposed to assume responsibility when things go wrong, so my first question to the minister is this: why, when he clearly broke the rules on a sole source contract to a friend, did he not stand in his place and apologize to Canadian taxpayers rather than shirk all responsibility and place the blame on his chief of staff?

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty ConservativeMinister of Finance

On the contrary, Mr. Chair, the statement by the member opposite is, as one would expect, inaccurate. From the beginning when I learned of the difficulties with that particular contract, I made it a point in this House and outside of this House consistently to say that work had been done for value, that Canadian taxpayers were well served by the work done, but that administrative functions had not been followed.

As the member knows from my responses to his questions some weeks ago in committee, which I will repeat here in case he has forgotten, when I learned of this we immediately implemented an action plan. That plan involved reviewing all of the contracts and then ensuring that in the future all of the contracts for exempt staff would be referred to the department for comments, and that any comments from the department to my staff, including my chief of staff, would be referred to me. That action plan has been followed.

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to conduct this in a cordial way, but I would remind the minister that his answers are supposed to be of approximately the same length as the questions.

The fact of the matter is that he did not answer my question because he did not apologize to the taxpayers of Canada for breaking the rules, and he did put the blame on the chief of staff and not on himself for that infraction. I would contend that is not consistent with parliamentary practice.

Therefore, I will next ask him why, if the behaviour of his chief of staff was reprehensible and if he was to receive the blame for not following the rules, was the same chief of staff soon after rewarded by the government with a more prestigious and higher-paying job?

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2008 / 7:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Chair, I rise on a point of order. I thought we were dealing with the estimates of the Government of Canada for 2008-09. This particular question pertains to a previous year. It pertains to something that has already been dealt with by the public accounts committee. The minister answered this question in great detail at the public accounts committee.

I thought we were going to have the next four hours of debate on something that is substantive for the nation rather than on dealing with a $122,000 contract that we spent three hours dealing with at the public accounts committee.

Therefore, Mr. Chair, I think you should be directing the opposition to focus the questions on the estimates, because that is why the department is here. Officials are prepared to answer those questions, not some frivolous question that has already been dealt with.

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Bill Blaikie

I have listened to the hon. member's point of order, but the fact is that when we are in estimates, it is an opportunity for members to ask the Minister of Finance about the department. The questions are in order whether or not people on the other side do not particularly care for them.

The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Chair, I submit to the minister and would ask him whether this is a case of plausible deniability. It sounds to me as if the minister said to the chief of staff, “Get me MacPhie, but spare me the details”. Is that what happened?

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

No.

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Chair, the minister will not answer this--

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

Mr. Chair, I responded--

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Chair, the minister will not apologize in this particular case, so my next question is, when he broke his income trust policies and, as a consequence, $25 billion of the hard-earned savings of Canadians went up in smoke, why did he not apologize to those income trust investors?