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House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ndp.

Topics

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, “our Government will continue to invest in our families and our future, and will help those seeking to break free from the cycles of homelessness and poverty.”

We are currently making significant investments to help families and individuals: $13 billion in benefits for families with children, including the universal child care benefit and the new child tax credit; $9 billion in programs for Canadians with disabilities; $30 billion in income support for seniors; budget 2008 includes increased support for low income seniors who are still working; and also $550 million through the working income tax benefit.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a fairly simply question for my hon. colleague with regard to the GST reduction that his government put forward.

The GST reduction will cost the government coffers about $12 billion. It, preferentially, will help those who make more money because, obviously, the more one spends the more one gets back. The people who are the poorest do not derive much of a benefit from it because most of their money is spent on food and rent, which are GST-free.

Rather than reducing the GST two percentage points, does my colleague not think that it would have made more sense to take that money and put it into things such as lowering tuition rates for students; implementing a refundable tax credit for the poor, particularly those who make less than $20,000 a year; working with the provinces to establish a country-wide strategy for affordable housing; or putting money into health care for those issues that affect those who are living on the street?

In my view, those things would have been a much more prudent and effective use of limited taxpayer funds. Twelve billion dollars could go a long way toward helping those people who are the poorest in our country.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, our government has kept its promise to reduce the GST, which has gone from 7% to 5%. The GST cut provides a tax break to all Canadians, even those who do not earn enough to pay taxes.

Keeping the GST credit at the same levels, even though the GST was reduced by 2%, translates into $1.1 billion for Canadians of low and modest income every year.

The government is also ensuring that working is more advantageous for more than 1.2 million low income Canadians, thanks to the working income tax benefit.

Budget 2008 reinforces these measures by making it easier for Canadians of low and modest income to save. More specifically, the new tax-free savings account, TFSA, is not subject to any clawback provisions. Neither the income nor the capital gains accumulated in a TFSA will have repercussions on eligibility for income based benefits, such as the guaranteed income supplement.

Budget 2008 also provides financial assistance measures for low income seniors who are still in the workforce by increasing the amounts they can earn before the guaranteed income supplement starts to decrease.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie for raising the important subject of employment insurance.

I find it amusing when he claims that the government refused to reform the EI program when it was this government that brought about the greatest and most important reforms to the EI program in more than a decade. Our government proposed reforms in budget 2008 to ensure that the pilfering of billions of dollars from the EI surplus by the Liberal Party could no longer occur.

The NDP bemoans that theft every day but when the government made moves to fix it, the NDP voted against every measure.

This government has demonstrated our commitment to ensuring that the EI program continues to serve Canadians for many years to come. The NDP, on the other hand, has supported about a dozen private members' bills that proposed more than $17 billion in new annual program spending from the EI program. Spending that amount would bankrupt the system in just a few short years. I guess that is the benefit of being a party in perpetual opposition. It does not have to worry about the long term consequences of what it proposes.

On this side of the House, we do worry about that, which is why we have made meaningful and important changes to support unemployed Canadians and the EI program now and in the future. This government promised, when we were in opposition, to fix the employment insurance and we have followed through on that commitment.

The commitment includes the announcement in budget 2008 to create a truly independent employment insurance account.

Before discussing these measures, however, I would like to remind the members of the many actions the government has taken on the EI to improve the effectiveness of the program. Our goal and this government's priority has always been to help Canadians participate in the labour market. We believe that the best path out of poverty is to provide people with the skills and the opportunity to acquire good, well-paying jobs, jobs that will allow them to support themselves and their families.

The NDP's priority, on the other hand, is to promise billions in new spending that would bankrupt an important program used by unemployed Canadians in need of temporary support and assistance.

As I said, this government has made several important reforms to the EI program. We have expanded eligibility for compassionate care benefits, making them accessible by recognizing a broader range of family relationships, and improving the administration of the benefits to ease the burden on the gravely ill and their families.

We have also launched a pilot project to examine the effects of providing additional weeks of benefits to those in high unemployment regions and we have extended EI transitional measures for two regions in New Brunswick and Quebec to provide easier access to employment insurance and longer benefits for unemployed workers in those regions.

In making the reforms that I have outlined, the government has taken a measured approach, making specific targeted changes to address specific issues or areas of concern.

The NDP, by contrast, simply supports every proposed measure to increase benefits, which would drain the EI program and leave Canadian workers without an important safety net.

In making these changes, we have always been conscious of the need to protect those individuals who need the program the most. That is why the government has made significant investments in skills development. These investments include labour market agreements with the provinces. Through these agreements, we will invest $3 billion over the next six years to help people get the training they need to find and keep good quality jobs.

In budget 2008, our government delivered on its commitment in the Speech from The Throne to improve the governance and management of the employment insurance account. Going forward, we will establish the Canada employment insurance financing board as a small crown corporation working at arm's length from the government. This will ensure that EI surpluses can no longer be used to fund the political priorities or pet projects of the government of the day. Any EI surplus funds will be used to reduce EI premiums and increase EI benefits.

For too long, EI has been just another tax on employers and employees, a tax that Liberals used to announce legacy projects at election time and a fund they dipped into shamelessly to buy votes and award their corporate friends. That is the kind of thing that will never be permitted to happen again, thanks to the actions of this government.

It is also important to note that budget 2008 committed to funding a cash reserve of $2 billion in this new account. This amount of $2 billion is being established as a contingency fund to ensure that premium rates remain stable and predictable.

In the unlikely event that the reserve is insufficient to cover any deficit in the EI account, Canadians can be assured that the Government of Canada will continue to pay EI benefits with funds from the consolidated revenue fund.

Our approach addresses concerns expressed by a whole range of stakeholders, including employers, employees, labour groups and chambers of commerce across the country.

The Canada employment insurance financing board will be run by directors who have the necessary skills and expertise to effectively carry out the organization's mandate.

The Prime Minister promised to put an end to the era of patronage in Ottawa. That is why the government has mandated that the members of this board will be selected based on merit, following recommendations from a nominating committee that includes the commissioners for workers and employers. Through this process, business and labour will play a role in ensuring that only the most qualified individuals are selected to manage decision making around the setting of EI rates and management of the reserve fund.

Our plan is one that looks to the future and ensures independent decision making regarding the management of employment insurance funds and making sure that these funds are used only to pay for employment insurance benefits. It ensures that premium rates reflect actual program costs and take into account investment returns so that Canadians pay the right premium rate, just sufficient to cover the cost of benefits received, no less, no more. It ensures that the program is on firm financial footing going forward. Finally, it ensures that the program is well positioned to withstand changing economic conditions.

These are responsible and long overdue changes. They are financially sound. They make sense for the workers and employers who pay the premiums and use the program.

I must point out that they are changes the New Democratic Party voted against. Thankfully, the Liberals have seen the error of their past ways and have allowed the budget to pass so that we can finally reform this important program.

Our approach to employment insurance financing is the same as it has been to all the improvements we have made to the EI program. We have combined sound management with good governance. We have sought to protect people while they are unemployed and provide opportunities for them to gain the necessary skills to participate fully in the labour market.

This is the approach we will continue to take. It is an approach that my hon. colleague ignored when he put this motion forward.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member raised a question about this new kind of crown corporation for employment insurance, at arm's length to the government, to decide what the premiums will be.

Here is what I would like to know from the member. When we raise a question in the House about crown corporations, for example, about CBC or Radio-Canada, the minister's answer is always that it is at arm's length to the government and the minister will not answer the question. When we raise a question about Canada Post, for example, it is the same thing. We are told the minister cannot answer and that we should go and see Canada Post because Canada Post is at arm's length to the government.

Is that not what would happen with employment insurance? When elected members of Parliament want to question what is happening to the employment insurance fund, we will not be able to raise questions for Canadians in the House of Commons because we will be treated the same way we get treated with regard to the other crown corporations. That is my first question.

Next, regarding the $2 billion that has been put into the employment insurance account, when the Conservatives were in opposition they were promoting the fact that if they were to be in power they would put back in the EI fund in the next 10 years the $55 billion or $57 billion that was taken away from the working people.

Did they change their minds? Or are they saying, “No, no, start living, member for Acadie—Bathurst, and start to look to the future” because the government has spent all the money already? I would like to hear the hon. member's comments on that position the Conservatives had when they were in opposition.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

First, Mr. Speaker, the member has to understand that the new crown corporation will be there just to manage and govern the $2 billion fund. As parliamentarians, we will be watching over the benefits. Also, the EI programs will still be delivered by the government. He has no worries about having to ask any questions. It will be an independent board that will be overseeing the rates and ensuring that there are no surpluses.

A $54 billion surplus is what has driven us to reforming the EI account. He knows as well as anyone that there is no $54 billion. It has been spent. Just this morning, in fact, we heard from witnesses who continually told us that it was siphoned by the Liberal Party.

I do believe that the member does not have to worry about this being difficult for him to ask any questions about, because it is not going to be dealing with benefits. It will still be the purview of the House.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the debate since it began this morning. People have talked about job losses while we know that jobs have actually been created in record numbers over the last two years and that these jobs have in fact been better jobs. They pay better. Of course that is supported by statistics that the NDP does not want to acknowledge.

Despite the doom and gloom being put forward by the NDP, the member is from Saskatchewan and I would love to hear her talk about what she is seeing in Saskatchewan. I know that the people got rid of the NDP government there. Maybe she could just talk a bit about what she is seeing in Saskatchewan and the new opportunity that has been created there.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, what I saw in Saskatchewan was really sad. I saw an NDP government ruling for 12 or 13 years and I saw everybody move to Alberta.

However, we now have a new conservative government there, and federally we also have encouraged the resources. We have encouraged science and research. Agriculture has benefited from this federal Conservative government. We now have a conservative government in power in Saskatchewan that is going to grow the economy, so we now are dealing with a labour shortage.

Just as I understand that B.C. will be short 350,000 workers, Alberta will require 100,000 and probably more as people all move back home to Saskatchewan. Ontario will need 560,000 more workers by 2030. Quebec will have 1.3 million job openings by 2016.

I just want to put on the record that there are labour shortages from coast to coast to coast and the economy is booming under this Conservative government and this Prime Minister.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, today only one in three unemployed women collects employment insurance benefits. This number is down from 70% of unemployed women who collected in 1990.

Changes to employment insurance in the early 1990s under the Mulroney government reduced EI access for part time, seasonal and low income workers. Women, who account for about seven in ten of all part time employees, were therefore disproportionately and most negatively affected by these changes.

In 1997 the then Liberal government introduced more changes to the EI system. Eligibility for EI used to depend on the number of weeks worked. When the Liberal government converted EI eligibility to depend on total hours worked, it made changes that were grossly unfair to many workers. The government used the 35 hour work week as the average to calculate the new rate, but ignored the fact that women, on average, worked 30 hours a week.

Under the previous system, those working an average 300 hours in a 20 week period were eligible for EI. Devastatingly, the requirement for eligibility doubled or even tripled, excluding women from qualifying from benefits.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 40% of working women work in non-standard work arrangements. They are employed in part time or temporary, casual and contract work.

Many women hold multiple jobs or are self-employed. Those who are self-employed or work on farms will find they are not eligible for employment insurance at all.

On top of this, most women have to work shorter hours because of their caregiving responsibilities. They look after minor children, elderly parents or sometimes both.

Our workplaces are changing. No longer can people depend on finding full time work with an employer that lasts the rest of their lives. Many of my constituents are losing their jobs in the manufacturing sector as jobs are exported overseas and factories shut down.

These manufacturing jobs paid living wages and provided good benefits, allowing workers to retire in dignity with adequate pensions. Unfortunately, these jobs are evaporating, forcing workers, especially women, into non-standard work arrangements.

In 2004, 34% of jobs fell into this category. Some of these jobs are part time, temporary, contract work or casual, or require workers to be self-employed. Many workers need to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Because these non-standard jobs have irregular or part time hours, they reduce eligibility, especially for women, to qualify for EI. Over 40% of women, compared to 29% of men, work in non-standard work arrangements.

Women who have to leave the workforce because of caregiving responsibilities are considered new entrants when they return to work. These women have to start from scratch to accumulate sufficient hours to qualify for employment insurance.

Quite simply, women suffer in our system, where eligibility is based on the number of hours. It is irresponsible.

It was irresponsible for the Liberal government not to take into account the difference in the workplace participation of men and women when redesigning the EI program in 1997. The current Conservative government has refused to make any changes to make EI more inclusive.

To compound the problems, the current government's budgets have failed to invest in strengthening our economy and have opted instead to reduce social spending in favour of tax cuts. Unfortunately, for 68% of Canadian women these cuts are meaningless, because they do not benefit. They do not earn enough to qualify.

Consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments collected EI premiums but forgot to distribute the proceeds.

Mr. Speaker, I need to tell you at this point that I am splitting my time with the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

The $55 billion in EI surplus was not put into the pockets of unemployed workers, the people whose paycheques created that surplus.

Because our maternity and parental leave programs are based on the EI system, women once again are falling further and further behind. As well, due to a lack of safe, affordable housing and early learning and child care programs, women are insecure. It should come as no surprise that the birth rate in Canada is decreasing.

Without security, women and families cannot thrive and this is particularly poignant when we consider that the job losses in London, which number in the thousands and where I am the member of Parliament, include Vytek, Siemens, Beta Brands and auto sector jobs, and have increased with the recent loss of jobs at Jones and Sons. These are the jobs that sustain families and communities.

Manufacturing is a critical piece of the London economy. London is home to 40,600 manufacturing workers. It accounts for one in seven area jobs. It makes a substantial contribution to London's research and development capabilities as well as economic growth.

In 2006, London's manufacturing workers contributed $422 million to provincial and federal income tax, supported $109 million in municipal property tax, and generated $14 billion in economic activity. This is a matter of fairness. These people deserve to have jobs.

There are, of course, solutions. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women in two reports, “The Interim Report on the Maternity and Parental benefits under Employment Insurance: The Exclusion of Self-Employed Workers” and in “Improving the Economic Security of Women: Time to Act” made very clear recommendations.

Some of the recommendations from these two reports included:

That HRSDC remove the two-week waiting period at the beginning of the benefit period for the receipt of maternity and parental benefits, thus making applicants eligible for benefits during the entire 52 week period covered by Employment Insurance.

That the Department of Human Resources and Social Development expand the maternity and parental benefits program to cover two years, and increase the benefit rate to 60%, in order to help parents balance their paid and caring work.

That the federal government extend eligibility for maternity and parental benefits by changing qualifying requirements to allow parents to reach back over the three-to five-year period prior to the birth of the child.

That the federal government change the eligibility criteria under the Employment Insurance Act to increase access to benefits to persons in part-time or part-year work.

That the federal government amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow self-employed persons to opt into the special benefits programs under the Employment Insurance (EI) program, such as maternity and parental benefits and the Compassionate Care Benefit.

The NDP further expanded these recommendations to include: the maximum yearly insurable earnings should be increased to $51,748, the eligibility criteria lowered to 360 hours, the benefit increased to 70% of regular earnings, and that maternity and parental leave become a distinct benefit under EI. Unfortunately, neither the Liberal nor Conservative governments were interested in any of these recommendations.

There are bigger problems for women in this country than just the need to amend the EI program. The government seems to fear women because: it cut the court challenges program; refused to implement pay equity; will not invest in safe, affordable housing; refuses to implement a national child care program; cut the operating budget of Status of Women Canada; and eliminated funding to most major women's organizations.

Just last month, Lise Martin of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women ended her 10 year tenure at the helm of the central women's equality seeking organization. Over its history, CRIAW has helped rethink and redefine women's equality work while challenging successive governments to improve policies. CRIAW's operating budget had been cut in half due to the changes at Status of Women Canada.

CRIAW follows a long list of organizations that have either closed or had to lay off most of their staff including the Women's Future Fund, NAWL, and WISE. These organizations helped to lead the way to improve women's economic security in Canada. Their research, expertise and advice helped inform policy makers of gaps in the system and provided recommendations on how to improve the situation of women in Canada.

Addressing the systematic discrimination that women face is good fiscal policy. The economic cost of violence against women, according to Statistics Canada, varies from $385 million to $15 billion. Each year women are the key contributors to our communities and our economies, but the government does not seem to understand that, that women and children need its understanding and support.

No nation can hope to fully realize its potential, create a strong economy or support successful communities when half of its citizens can be silenced by poverty, lack of services or a sense of powerlessness. Canadians, like New Democrats, quite simply have lost confidence in the government.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and want to remind her that we have done a great deal for women. In particular, if she wants to talk about working women, we have indeed given them opportunities in a growing economy. I found in my own province that if the economy grows, more women will participate in the work force and that is important to us.

We have also expanded the EI benefits and women benefit from that expansion. We have reduced the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%, thereby lowering the taxes for all Canadians. Many of the women who contribute to the economy are in small business and really appreciate us lifting the threshold for small business, for example.

They appreciate that we have streamlined small business in Canada because many women want to work at home. There are many in my constituency who like to work out of home and there is no doubt that some of the things we have done have indeed made women's working lives a little easier. The member has to recognize that creating a strong economy will help many of the women who are trying to get out of poverty.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes, creating a strong economy would help women if the government had indeed created a strong economy. We are looking at layoffs and plant closures. In my community nearly 6,000 jobs have been lost. This creates a profound sense of insecurity.

When the member talks about the government doing a great deal for women, does it include the fact that there is no affordable housing strategy? Does it include the fact that it cut funding to equality seeking groups and that it cut the court challenges program?

Its tax largesse is laughable. Some 68% of Canadian women do not earn enough to benefit from its so-called tax cuts. I remind the member that the GST savings on the basics of living are far different than the GST that her friends save when they go out to buy a new Mercedes.

If we want women to be included in the workforce, if we want women to be able to make their contribution, raise their families and contribute to the economy and society, we would make sure, like in Quebec, they have access to decent, affordable child care.

The rate of involvement of women in the workforce in Quebec is significantly higher than the rest of Canada where there is no child care. Guess what? Quebec has figured out that women want to make a contribution and they can make a contribution, but they have to have a government that cares, that believes, and is willing to invest in them and their families. We have not seen any of that yet.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk for a moment about the mythology that is out there regarding the NDP and fiscal policy. I would like to point out that Gary Doer has been in office since 1999 balancing the books of Manitoba and as did Roy Romanow from 1991 to 2001, followed by Lorne Calvert who also balanced the books in Saskatchewan.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Yes, real prosperous provinces.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

I hear someone talking about prosperity. Saskatchewan moved to the climate of prosperity we see today based on the policies of an NDP government that was in office more than 15 years. That makes it very clear, in my mind. The evidence is there and both Manitoba and Saskatchewan are doing quite well, thanks very much. It was not because of what the current government did in a short two years.

More importantly, the member for London—Fanshawe was talking about women and poverty. I spoke earlier about the 95,000 women and men who live in poverty in Hamilton. We find that most of these people in poverty are women or seniors and of the seniors, 52% are women. With the government giving $14 billion back to the corporations of this country every year, how can it--

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I am going to have to cut off the hon. member to allow the hon. member for London—Fanshawe a chance to respond.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his little history lesson because I too remember the fiscal responsibility policies of great premiers like Tommy Douglas, Roy Romanow and Gary Doer. It seems to me, in terms of Saskatchewan, that the economy was doing very well there and that the government of Lorne Calvert was doing well. Of course this was after all the Conservatives went to jail.

My colleague talks about senior women and the fact that $14.5 billion went to tax cuts. Nothing went to seniors, nothing went to the needy--

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the NDP opposition motion. I would like to thank the sponsor of the motion, the member for Sault Ste. Marie.

The motion reads as follows:

That the House recognize the harmful effects on working and middle-income Canadians of the growing income gap fostered by this government's unbalanced economic agenda, including its failure to reform employment insurance to ensure that people who lose their jobs during economic downturns are protected and trained, and therefore the House has lost confidence in this government.

First, I would like to thank the member for London—Fanshawe for sharing her time with me. She has given a good explanation of the problem faced by women with seasonal jobs. In many cases, these women cannot even work the number of hours they need to qualify for employment insurance.

Before I go any further, I would like to correct something. If I understood correctly—and we can check in the blues—the member for Blackstrap, who comes from Saskatchewan, said that after electing an NDP government for 13 years, that province now had a Conservative government. It is regrettable that the government of Saskatchewan, formed by the SaskParty, is not a Conservative government. It is a government of Conservatives in disguise, who convinced the people of Saskatchewan that they were forming a new party with new policies.

The member for Blackstrap, a Conservative member of the House of Commons from Saskatchewan, admits that the party in power in that province is not the SaskParty, but the Conservative Party. No one really wants to talk about the Conservatives who were in power in the 1980s, before the NDP, because most of them were put in jail as a result of scandals. We have to tell it like it is.

How many times in this House have the Liberals and Conservatives said that if the NDP were in power, we would head straight into debt because we do not know how to manage money. Not very long ago, the Government of Canada had a debt of $535 billion or $565 billion. It was not the NDP, though, that was in power and put the country into debt but the Liberals and Conservatives.

These corrections having been made, I want to start now on the subject up for debate today in the House.

The Conservatives boast that the economy is doing well and thousands of jobs have been created. They never say, though, that 55,000 well paying industrial jobs have been lost.

If the economy is doing well in Alberta, I congratulate them and am happy for them. It is not a matter of jealousy. At the same time, though, there is more to Canada than Alberta. Canada is the entire country. Why does the government not say instead that the economy is doing well in some places but it is worried because things are not going so well in north-eastern New Brunswick?

Four fish-processing plants have closed: two in Grande-Anse, one in Maisonnette and one in Anse-Bleue. The Conservatives do not mention that. They do not say that, at the same time, a paper plant was closing in Bathurst taking with it jobs that paid $30 an hour. They do not mention UPM in Miramichi, which just closed down, taking more than 600 jobs with it. They do not talk about that but just about how well the economy is doing in certain regions.

It is all very well to make fine speeches here and say that jobs have been created. The trouble is that they are minimum wage. People are telling us that they need three jobs to earn a decent income. The government says that jobs have been created, but many of them do not pay very well. I am not talking about Alberta but about other places in Canada. There is more to Canada than Alberta.

In Ontario, right now, they are getting ready to call for transfer payments, because things are not going so well in that province. Jobs have been lost in northern Ontario, in White River, in Hearst, in the factories of Ontario, and in London and Windsor. And there have been jobs lost in the auto industry. Nobody is talking about that.

In a country like ours, people do not agree with what they have been seeing in this government’s recent budgets. On the one hand, they will be giving $14 billion in tax breaks over the new few years to big companies that are making money. On the other hand, when we are talking about all the companies that have closed down, the government says it is going to provide $1 billion to help the manufacturing industry and paper mills in Canada. There is $1 billion to help the entire forestry industry, which is falling apart and where good jobs have been lost.

In my riding, people have had to leave home—and not just in my riding, this is happening in many places—to go and work in Alberta. They have had to leave their families and children behind and go away for three months. Then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development talks about the employment insurance system. Nothing has changed in that system for worker mobility in Canada. Absolutely nothing has changed.

She talks about the pilot project for Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Why has this not been put into law? Why is it a pilot project? The Conservatives say they are the ones who created it. Excuse me, but this project was created by the previous government. The Conservative government has been asked to put it into law, to make regulations that would be permanent. But they are still playing with pilot projects.

The government changes its mind and then it brags about it. When the Conservatives were in opposition, the only thing they wanted to do was to reduce employment insurance premiums, no benefits to help families. They do not want to help families. They are more interested in investing in the big companies that are making millions of dollars in profits, like the oil industry. This year, it has a $22 billion surplus and people are getting robbed at the gas station. They are not getting robbed by the gas station owner, they are getting robbed by the big refineries.

Then we turn around and all those people are doing work with the new industry as cheap labour. That is what we have. There are people who have to work at three jobs. The government says that things are going well in our country and that it has created lots of jobs. But people have to have three jobs in order to survive.

How many women have to work in one restaurant in the morning, in another restaurant at night and in another restaurant on the weekend? How many people have to do that? They do not brag about it, but when we meet those people on the street, they are telling us. When we meet people at the shopping malls or when people phone our offices, they are telling us about the cheap labour occurring across the country.

Yes, it is going well in Alberta. Good for them, but that is not the answer to the economy of our country. The answer is not to take the Atlantic region and move it to Alberta. For those people who want to move from New Brunswick or any other place to work in Alberta, there should be the flexibility in the employment insurance to help them. Only 32% of women qualify for EI in our country. Only 38% of men qualify for EI. There is something wrong with the program.

The gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger and bigger. When the big oil industry makes a $22 billion profit and people cannot even buy food to put on the table for their children, and they have to have three jobs to survive, there is something wrong in our country. There is something wrong with the Conservative Party when it gives a $14 billion tax break to the big corporations and at the same time $1 billion to try to fix all the problems in the pulp and manufacturing industries.

We are not getting our share of economic growth. Ontario itself has proven it. It is not going so well in Ontario. The car industry is not doing well and the government is doing nothing. The only thing the government says is if people do not move to Alberta to go to work, they are lazy. The government says that if it changes the employment insurance program, it will discourage people from going to work in Alberta.

That is wrong for society. We are not building a good society when people in some regions of the country have to separate from their families to go to work for six or three months at a time.

For those reasons we have no confidence in the government.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is something wrong in the House. It is wrong that the NDP does not acknowledge the facts that are out there on the economy.

I take offence at some of the things that have been said, that somehow people are working at more jobs since this government came to power. My father for the most part had three jobs when I was a kid. He always had at least two. My mother also always had at least two jobs. They worked hard and they paid a lot of taxes. They paid a lot toward the establishment of this country.

This government believes in hard-working Canadians. We want to support hard-working Canadians. That is what the government policy has been. What are the results? There are 17 million Canadians working today. It is a record. There is record low unemployment. We reduced taxes to the lowest level in 50 years last October.

What is consistent? The NDP has voted against every credit for families, every credit for small business. The NDP has voted against every hard-working Canadian.

I would love to hear what the member has to say about that.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, what I have to say about that is I feel very bad about his mom who had to have three jobs and not be with her family. Probably the government that was in power was not supporting families. Life is not only about working 24 hours day, seven days a week. People should have the right to be with their families and earn a living too.

The government only thinks about sending people to work in cheap jobs. People have to have three jobs. It is a shame. I feel bad to hear that his father had to have three jobs and his mother had to have three jobs to earn a living.

I believe people have the right to live too. It is not only about big corporations and companies. People should have a family life. What we are losing with the Conservative government is the family life. The people of this country are losing their family lives.

I am very proud that we voted against a budget that gave $14 billion in tax breaks to big corporations when nothing was there for the poor people.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, talking about budgets the member will recall in 2005 when the Liberal government proposed to increase the threshold on tax free income to $10,000 removing off the tax rolls 860,000 of lowest income earners, including 240,000 seniors. The lowest income tax bracket was going to be reduced from 16% to 15%. There was the $5.1 billion Kelowna accord to address poverty among aboriginal Canadians which the member is well aware of. There was the $2.2 billion toward the working income tax benefit to help people on social assistance so they could keep more money in their pockets. The NDP voted against those provisions.

How can the NDP members say they are in favour of supporting the poor and the most needy in our society when in fact they were the ones who defeated that budget, defeated that government for political reasons rather than for political need?

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the only reason we defeated the government was that the government was corrupt. The Liberal Party was corrupt. The Liberals gave a million dollars to their friends in their own organization in Quebec and they got caught. Canadians had the right to decide who would run the country. I am sorry but Canadians democratically decided to put the Liberals out of office. I do not want to be blamed for that. We did what Canadians wanted us to do and they made a decision.

When we look at what the member said about the budget, in 2004 the NDP came in with a budget because the Liberals were giving big corporations breaks, as the Conservatives did in the last budget and on which the Liberals did not vote. The Liberals did not take their responsibility as the official opposition party. They sat here and did not vote. I do not think they should get their pay because they did not do their work. As well, the Liberal government in 1996 cut employment insurance to the point that they took $55 billion out of the pockets of the working people. That is what the Liberal Party has done.

The member wants to talk about the poor people. The Liberals are the ones who have made 1.4 million children go hungry today because 800,000 people do not qualify for employment insurance. Those people have families. Those people have kids. They are poor because they lost their jobs and have no way to make a living. The Liberal Party did it in 1996. What happened? The Conservative Party legalized all the money that was taken in 1996 with this new bill that it passed to have a corporation which is arm's length from the government. It is legalizing the change that the Liberal government made, which made our children poor in this country. It is the fault of the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on this issue which I consider to be extremely important.

The motion talks about the harmful effects of the growing income gap fostered by the government's unbalanced economic agenda. It is my belief that this is one of the most important challenges facing all levels of government today. It is probably an issue on which we as leaders in the federal government and leaders in the provincial governments are going to be judged. The situation is serious and I submit it is getting worse.

The statistics that were released last week confirmed trends which most of us were aware of already: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Presently across Canada, 788,000 children are living in poverty and 244,000 seniors are living in poverty. Statistics Canada has broken down the figures into five strata. Between 1980 and 2005, the income of people in the top 20% increased by 16.4%, using constant dollars. However, the income of the individuals in the bottom one-fifth decreased by 20.6%. We can see the dramatic effect that has happened over the last number of years.

This is an issue that all Canadians should be concerned about. The issue is one of social justice. It has a tremendous effect on our economy, our society and our future.

The correlation between levels of poverty and health care is fully documented. It is well known to people who study this particular issue. The relationship between people living on a low income and crime is also well documented. I do not hear that discussion when we talk about getting tough on crime. The relationship between people living on a low income and lower educational attainment is also well documented. The incidence between people living in poverty and their participation in society, which I call the “demogratic” deficit for lack of another word, is well known. When we combine education and participation in society, we are getting right to the heart of the whole productivity agenda.

This issue has such a dramatic effect on our productivity right now, and will have in the future, that it should concern everyone in this assembly.

The motion talks about the growing income gap, which is extremely important. It also talks about reforming employment insurance. I am going to speak briefly about employment insurance, which is a very important issue to all Canadians, especially seasonal workers, people who do not have income security. However, it is only one part of the overall policy and any changes have to be part of a larger comprehensive strategy.

Over the last five to ten years there have been some significant changes made to the EI regime, some of which are extremely important. The most significant social change I have seen in the EI program has been the institution of paternity benefits. We have seen lower EI rates. We have seen compassionate benefits. Changes have been made to allow five additional weeks of benefits in certain areas. These are steps in the right direction. I submit that paternity benefits are a major step in the right direction. I agree with a lot of the other speakers that further changes are required.

However, this is all part of a larger issue, which must be improving income and income security for lower income Canadians. It does require a comprehensive strategy and the federal government working closely and in cooperation with the provincial governments, some of which are doing more work on this particular issue than others.

Above and beyond EI, it talks about the rates of social assistance that are now being paid to low income Canadians. It talks about the minimum wage and about job opportunities that are not available in many regions. It talks about the need for increased supports for people moving from welfare into the workforce and the disincentives that are there for those people who want to make that jump.

It cries out for the need for increased public transit, supporting individuals. It cries out for the need for increased affordable housing. It talks about the need for affordable early childhood education and affordable child care. It talks about aids and support for children from low income families trying to pursue their goal for post-secondary education. It talks about pensions, child care programs and workforce training.

We see a whole hodgepodge of strategies that the government is not pursuing. As we saw from the statistics that were released last week, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It is my position that that will have a tremendous effect on our future productivity, whether it be health care costs, crime rates, educational attainment or the economy.

What have we seen in the last couple of years? We have had some tax cuts. I certainly supported the corporate tax cuts that were made because they support the productivity of this nation. We saw a very small decrease in the personal income tax rate and the basic personal exemption was raised, but not significantly.

The GST was reduced. Do people earning $14,000, $16,000 or $18,000 a year receive any benefit from the decrease in the GST from 7% to 5%? I do not think so. If the benefit is there, it is very minimal. They do not pay GST on their rent, on their fuel oil or on their food. Any benefit to that class of people is extremely minimal. If, on the other hand, people were to go out and purchase a new Audi, the benefit would be significant.

The Kelowna accord for our aboriginal population was gutted. The early childhood programs that were implemented were gutted. The affordable housing programs were not gutted but they were decreased. Cuts were made to the literacy programs across the country.

Most important, what I have seen happen in this assembly over the last two years is that the fiscal framework of the Government of Canada has been destroyed.

The government in power inherited a surplus of approximately $15 billion a year but now, according to all economists and people who are talking about this issue, we are very close to going into a deficit like we had in 1993. We have lost the ability to respond to issues that come up like this, issues that cry out for a response from the Government of Canada.

I certainly support the announcement made by our leader, the 30-50 plan--

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I regret to interrupt the hon. member but it is 2 o'clock. He can continue his speech after question period.

We will now move on to statements by members.

World Red Cross DayStatements By Members

May 8th, 2008 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the outstanding work of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

As we witness the devastation in Burma, we can see why this world renowned organization remains as vital today as it did at its inception.

Canadians are a very compassionate, caring people. We take pride in the work that we do, both at home and abroad. This government's commitment to humanitarian efforts is a reflection of Canadian society.

I was personally touched by the outpouring of support from Canadians in my riding of Crowfoot during the tsunami. I know families across the country are pledging donations for the mission in Burma.

I am pleased to inform this House, on World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, that Canada will support its courageous efforts with $500,000 of the $2 million set aside for the international humanitarian response to the natural disaster in Burma.

The Government of Canada is a proud partner with the Red Cross.