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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

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I thank the hon. member for his questions, I do not think he has the right to impose one word, yes or no, answers on his colleagues in the House. Nevertheless, I will answer his questions.

Our leader has been absolutely clear that we will not raise the GST when we come to power. He has said that many times. I would question the honesty of the government when it sends out 10-percenters with a 5% picture of the Prime Minister and a 7% picture of our leader because that is absolutely dishonest when he is on the record as having said that he will not raise the GST. That is a very direct answer to your--

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time has expired for answering the other questions.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed the member for Chambly—Borduas, and I am proud to represent the voters and everyone in that riding who is paying attention to this motion here today.

I must first congratulate our colleague from Sault Ste. Marie and thank the NDP for moving this motion here today, which gives us the opportunity to debate an issue that is too often ignored, but that is nonetheless extremely important, especially for the people living in poverty. I would have liked to be able to ask our colleague from Markham—Unionville a question earlier, but I will save it for another time. I will touch on it during my presentation.

The motion is especially important because it links the issue of the gap between the rich and the poor with factors that cause poverty among our citizens. The program most butchered by the Liberals was the employment insurance program. The Conservatives continued the butchering, so much so that people were literally deprived of money owing to them in the form of EI benefits, just so the government could build up the kitty and increase the surplus to pay down the debt or meet other government obligations. Who knows? The Conservatives are probably even using part of the $54 billion diverted from the employment insurance fund for national defence and utterly questionable expenses.

This motion is even more interesting because it reminds us of what our society values and makes us think about the real role we play here in the House of Commons. Above all, we are here to represent the people, and not to represent economic interests that serve to benefit groups, consortiums or, as is currently the case, oil companies, or that would finance the war. That is not it. Our primary concern and focus should be the well-being of the public.

Therefore, the motion before us today is completely appropriate, and we will support it. We will vote in favour of this motion and we urge our colleagues in the House to do the same.

If the member for Markham—Unionville wanted to be credible in this House, he should have said that the Liberals were also going to vote in favour of the motion. Announcing a plan will not convince the House that the Liberal Party is sincere in its desire to eradicate poverty, since in the last 13 or 14 years, more than any other party, it has contributed to the impoverishment of working class people.

I remind members that in 1997—and I am referring to issues raised by the Liberal member for Markham—Unionville—the Liberals eliminated the assistance program for older workers, which was not all that expensive. Workers over the age of 55 were forced into poverty if they could not be retrained. They no longer had any recourse other than social assistance in their respective provinces. This party, along with the Conservatives, also ensured that seniors were not informed that they were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.

The people who are the most isolated, the people who are the most vulnerable because they are unaware of their rights, were deprived of $3.5 billion.

If the hon. member who spoke earlier had wanted to be credible, he should have apologized, acknowledged that he and his party had not done their homework and had been irresponsible, and announced that they were going to vote in favour of the motion before us today. If he had wanted to be credible, our Liberal colleague would have refused to jump on the Conservative bandwagon, he would have acknowledged that the cuts he and his party had made to employment insurance were a bad decision and were unfair to unemployed workers, and he would have announced that the Liberals were going to vote in favour of this motion in order to correct the injustice done to all people who lose their jobs.

By reducing access to employment insurance, the previous government succeeded in excluding nearly 60% of unemployed workers. Barely 40% of all people who lose their jobs qualify. Not only is this an injustice, but it is a very serious economic crime against the unemployed, their families, the regions concerned and the provincial governments.

People who would have been entitled to employment insurance benefits but do not receive them go on welfare, placing a double burden on the provinces. They contributed to the national fund, just like their employers. But over the past 12 years, the federal government has siphoned off the $54 billion surplus to use for other purposes. No, the ministers have not pocketed this money. It has been put to use elsewhere. But it was not tax money to begin with. It consisted of contributions for insurance in case workers lost their jobs. This is totally unfair.

The current Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has admitted that funds were diverted and that it should never have happened. After he admitted funds were diverted and that it was unfair, we expected an announcement saying that they would right this wrong and accept the unanimous recommendation of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities from 2005, which stated that all of the diverted money, the $46 billion that has now become $54 billion, should be refunded to the fund at a rate of $1.5 billion a year. To be sure it is done legally and, above all, legitimately, the funds should be considered a loan just as if the government had borrowed from financial markets.

That was a unanimous recommendation from the committee. We expected the Liberals to accept it, but they turned a deaf ear and continued to loot the fund for other purposes.

The Conservatives have been doing the same thing for two-and-a-half years. They admit now that they should not have. And what have they done to fix it? Nothing. They are just as guilty as the Liberals. There is a saying that the person holding the bag is just as guilty as the one filling it. Right now, it is the Conservatives who are holding the bag. Why are they not putting the cash back into the fund?

We would then find ourselves in a position where the two parties—of course we would urge the Liberals to support the action—would become more credible. But, neither of them has the credibility to do it. When plans or strategies are announced to eliminate poverty, neither party—neither the one in power nor the one forming the official opposition—has any credibility.

The current government, for its part, has added to the burden on the poorest individuals and families. For example, the first thing it did was to eliminate a national child care program. Quebec's national child care program, which is paid for in part by the government and in part by parents, has resulted in a decline of roughly 3% in the poverty level. This is huge.

When the federal government eliminates the program for the rest of Canada, people slip into poverty. In addition, when the government deprives women's groups of the means to defend their rights, it is depriving a segment of our society that has difficulty obtaining recognition of its rights, especially labour rights. The employment insurance policy is a wrong-headed policy, because only 33% of all women who lose their jobs can hope to receive employment insurance.

Anyone who is looking for factors that exacerbate poverty does not have to look any farther than the government, which is continuing to make cuts to measures designed to eliminate poverty. For 18 years, since 1990, the federal government has promised repeatedly to eliminate poverty, yet it has done just the opposite.

Just a week ago, I believe, Statistics Canada announced that the gap between Canada's rich and poor had widened since 1980. The rich have gotten 16% richer, while the poor have gotten 20% poorer. This is no big deal, apparently, because Canada's decision makers, who were elected on the promise that they would do better than the previous government, are supporting the previous government's decisions and adding insult to injury by eliminating existing measures.

Regarding employment insurance benefits, the solution is not very complicated, because measures are available to us. They existed in the past. In terms of a social safety net, one of the most effective ways our society has to prevent poverty from worsening is the employment insurance system. With employment insurance, workers who lose their jobs and have no income have enough money to support their families. Employment insurance is not a gift from the government, because only employers and employees contribute to it.

The purpose of the fund is to insure against unemployment. The previous government changed the name to employment insurance. That change had an impact. It might have seemed as though it was just a name change—maybe it sounded better or something. But there was more to it than that. As soon as the name of the fund was changed, the government started meddling with the fund and using it for other purposes.

That is quite disturbing, so we suggest that the government go back to the main reason for the fund's existence and dedicate it to supporting people who have lost their jobs. What needs to be done? The government has to relax the eligibility criteria. For example, someone who has worked 360 hours should be eligible for employment insurance benefits. Benefits should be calculated based on the 12 best weeks, and people should be able to collect benefits for 50 weeks, not just 45 weeks.

Benefits should also be increased to 60% of an individual's income rather than the current 55%. Some people might say that 60% is a lot, but that is not true. We have to remember that most of the people who lose their jobs are low income earners. Even high income earners living on 60% of their previous income have to change their lifestyle. It is very difficult for people who lose their jobs to lose 45% of their income. People should not have to lose more than 40%. That would at least help them a little.

Here is the situation. We introduced Bill C-269, which covered all of these measures, here in the House. All of these measures were recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, which is a House committee whose mandate is to advise and counsel the House and ministers. The committee approved all of the measures I mentioned, measures that are included in Bill C-269.

What happened? The Conservatives said the bill required royal recommendation and that they would not give it. Imagine that. That money does not belong to the public treasury. It belongs to workers and employers. The Conservatives have decided to prevent this House from studying a Bloc Québécois bill that would lead to measures that are a little more humane and fair and have been paid for by those who contribute to the EI fund, namely workers and employers. The Conservative government has refused to give royal recommendation. In a letter, the Leader of the Bloc Québécois and the Leader of the NDP officially asked the Prime Minister to give royal recommendation. The leader of the official opposition refused to sign the letter. Imagine that.

The Canadian government, the Conservatives and Liberals together—those Liberals who literally destroyed the employment insurance system—now is saying we have to trust it because it has a plan. When it announces a plan, there is cause for concern because people end up even more disadvantaged. The government's past plans are an example of what they are capable of and that is cause for concern. We have to be concerned about both the government and the Liberals. The government wants us to trust it, but we do not.

The interesting thing about the NDP motion is that it expresses the public's general lack of confidence. Why this lost confidence? Because the Liberals and the Conservatives have not lived up to their responsibilities when it comes to protecting the social safety net, in order to ensure a balance between creating wealth and distributing that wealth. They do not care about the working class and the most vulnerable in our society. Not only did they not care, but they have managed to make the situation even worse.

If the Liberals want to gain some credibility today, then they have to vote in favour of this motion. All their fine speeches have nothing to do with their true intention. Their true intention will only be known when they vote. My concern is that they will support the Conservatives' disastrous policy and uphold measures that are totally unfair to the working class and to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

This government is only interested in war, oil companies and nuclear power and not in humanity. I will close there. I invite all my colleagues who truly want to represent their ridings to vote in favour of this motion.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I sit on the committee with the member and I have some respect for the member, although when he talks about confidence and credibility I do wonder about the member because he subordinates everything to separation and to taking Quebec out of Canada. Therefore, I do not really believe that his comments about us are in fact representative of what we are doing with the EI account.

We are improving the governance of the account and the management of it has continued. In the throne speech, we made a commitment to improve the governance of the EI account, but this member is perpetually looking to try to put more money into the reserve fund and to get the $54 billion.

The member suggests that we should reimburse these billions of dollars to the workers. How would he suggest we do it when there is no $54 billion surplus as he hears at committee over and over again? How would he suggest that we implement it? Where would the money come from? Would it be from the workers or would it be from higher taxes? I would like to hear from the member just what his intentions are for reimbursing our revenue fund.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, while waiting for sovereignty to dawn, we will continue to debate and defend the interests of the people we represent. Most of the time, when we defend the interests of the people of Quebec, we are defending the interests of all Canadians. We want to do things in such a way that what is good for Quebec is good for the rest of the country as well. When it is bad, we say so, and that is the case here.

Our colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, sits on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and knows very well what I mean when she asks her question. The minister himself acknowledged it: the $54 billion were siphoned off. That should not have been done. These $54 billion do not belong to the treasury but to working people and their employers. It will not pose any great problem for the treasury if these $54 billion are paid back over the years, as the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities suggested, at a rate of $1.5 billion a year. It also suggested that the new account—as well as the board—should be constituted first from some of these funds.

When the government takes out a loan from someone, it pays the loan back. It does not tell the creditor that it used the funds for some other purpose and now they are gone and the creditor should understand it was money well spent. The creditor would tell the government that it still owes him the money. Why would the government not do the same for employers and working people? It owes them the money. That is how it is entered in the national accounts, that $54 billion from the EI account were used for other purposes. This money should be considered, therefore, as a loan.

The reverse approach, as advocated by our colleague, the parliamentary secretary, is to say that it is okay to cheat. Because it is cheating. If that cannot be done for one particular person, why can it be for someone else? The government says that if it has to help out the EI account, the account will have to pay the treasury back.

Why should the reverse not apply as well when the national treasury dips into the EI account and uses it for other ends?

That is my answer. It seems to me it is as easy as pie. Trying to reason in some other way is contrary to all common sense.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member from the Bloc for his heartfelt and well-informed speech today. Many Canadians will realize that for the last 15 years they have lived under two governments, first the Liberals and now the Conservatives. They have spent most of their time supporting big corporations and very little time on the needs of Canadians.

The member for Markham—Unionville was speaking earlier. He talked about how his leader, the Liberal leader, had called for the very tax cuts, the $14 billion every year in tax cuts from big corporations which has taken away the fiscal capacity of government to enact new programs to help Canadians. We are very concerned about that in the NDP.

We also had the Liberals that had five surpluses, three majority governments and siphoned $50 billion off the EI fund. They did not get it done. In fact, Canadians fell farther and farther behind during that time period.

The Liberals cannot have it both ways. They cannot take $14 billion out of the capacity of the country and expect to do this new program that they are talking about. How can they fund it? They are going to have to raise taxes and there is no doubt about that.

As far as this motion that is before the House today, I heard the passionate call from the Bloc to the Liberals to vote down the government, to stand with the Bloc and the NDP and do that here today. We know that is not likely to happen. The Liberals will likely vote for the interests of the Liberal Party instead of the interests of Canadians.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank our colleague for his question. The Conservatives and the Liberals want us simply to forget the $54 billion. They often use the expression “it is theoretically $54 billion”. But the money that working people and employers put into the account was not theoretical. It was the real thing and it was used for other ends. To the contrary, we must never forget these $54 billion.

They want to push their siphoning further. They say not only that they siphoned this money off but they want to justify it by saying the money was put to good use and should be forgotten now. No, to forget it would be to betray the workers and their employers, and we are not in the habit of doing that.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas very much for his speech. The question that the NDP has raised in the House today is an important one.

I would like to come back to a question we discussed here in the House a year and a half ago: the softwood lumber agreement. A lot of this decline in family income that we are seeing under the Conservatives, as we saw under the Liberals, is due to the fact that there has been a hemorrhage in the softwood lumber industry in Quebec as there has been elsewhere in Canada. We have lost a lot of plants in British Columbia. We have lost thousands and thousands of jobs in Quebec as well because of the ratification of the softwood lumber agreement. The Liberals supported the Conservatives, but so did the Bloc, unfortunately.

I would like to ask the member whether today, now that he knows the devastating effect that the softwood lumber agreement has had on the softwood lumber industry in Quebec, he regrets supporting it and understands that it was obviously not in the interests of Quebeckers.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question, and I am glad that my colleague has asked it because the New Democrats often come back to that question.

It is a question of democracy, and it is based on an understanding of how things work in Quebec. The NDP unfortunately finds it difficult to understand this. The NDP’s name contains the word “democratic”. The New Democratic Party, while it is less new than before, is the democratic party.

In Quebec, everyone was aware of what was happening because a lot of communities—we are talking about 760 or 763 communities—depend on the lumber industry. Everywhere in Quebec, people were watching what was happening. They were very aware of the softwood lumber situation. It was debated. Everyone affected—employees, unions, the industry itself, employer organizations, the whole forum of the industry—unanimously agreed that this settlement had to be made. It was not a good settlement for them, but in the circumstances, it was a settlement that would let them keep their heads just above water, while they waited. It was a strategic choice; they had no choice.

We voted for the agreement because Quebec said unanimously that it had to be done. Is our colleague telling us that we should have gone against the wishes of Quebec? And he persists in saying this. No, Mr. Speaker, we work—

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hard-working member of Parliament for Windsor West.

I am very proud to be speaking today in the House on this motion sponsored by the NDP, which expresses no confidence in the Conservative government for its completely unbalanced economic policy.

It is no surprise that the Conservatives are continuing the same unbalanced economic approach that we saw from the former Liberal government and that we saw from the former Conservative government before the Liberals came to power.

What we have seen essentially over the past 20 years is a steady economic degradation in the lives of working families from coast to coast to coast. The figures are pretty compelling. Most working families sitting around their kitchen tables tonight, after their shifts, are going to be talking about the fact that they are earning less now than they were even 20 years ago.

Two-thirds of Canadian families are earning less than they were in 1989 when the Conservative government pushed through the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Subsequent to that we had the Liberals pushing through, with the Conservatives, the NAFTA. We have essentially seen, through trade policy, that those agreements have benefited the wealthiest citizens in Canada. Most working families are earning less.

The trade policies that the Conservatives put forward, like the Liberals before them, are policies that are structured around the boardroom table and not structured with the interests of those who are sitting around kitchen tables.

Let us talk about what the results of the last 20 years have been because the NDP has been very clear. We want to renegotiate NAFTA. It has not been in the interests of most Canadian working families and we have been very clear about that.

We are the only party in the House that says to Canadians that things have not worked. The bottom line is that these trade agreements have failed and we are going to go back and renegotiate. Happily, as members well know, we now have the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the United States, who are running for president in November, agreeing with the NDP and saying it has to be renegotiated.

As members also well know, the PRD, the major opposition party in Mexico, is also saying the same thing, so what we have is increasingly, progressive forces in all three countries saying it has not worked.

What has happened over the last 20 years is that middle class Canadians essentially have lost about $1,000 in real terms out of their pockets. They are actually earning less now, about a week's wages, than they were back in 1989. For lower middle class Canadians, they have actually lost even more, probably about $1,200 because they have lost on average two weeks of income for each and every year since 1989, and for the poorest Canadians, as my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie said earlier, the income decline has been catastrophic. They have lost a month and a half of income, on average, which is close to $2,000 for each and every working family across the country.

For the Conservatives to pretend that everything is fine is simply ridiculous, but they talk to the wealthy, and the wealthiest of Canadians now take half of all the real income in Canada. Their income has gone up 20% in that same period, so if the Liberals and Conservatives are only talking to corporate lawyers and the wealthiest people in society, I guess they get kind of out of whack. They simply do not understand the economic fundamentals and the failures that we have seen from the current Conservative government and the former Liberal government.

The statistics are compelling. Two-thirds of Canadian families are earning less and we now have levels of income inequality that we have not seen since the Great Depression. It has been a catastrophic failure of economic policy and economic fundamentals. The most catastrophic impact has been on younger Canadians, a generation that has been completely lost by both the Liberals and the Conservatives over the past 20 years.

We know full well now that we are talking about record levels of student debt, levels that are incomprehensible to people in this House who represent the NDP, who see how willingly the Conservatives and Liberals shovel money at the corporate sector in corporate tax cuts. They just never seem to be able to shovel enough money off that truck, yet for poor students in this country, the average debt level is now $26,000. Statistics Canada tells us some other things about that younger generation. Those same individuals now come into a job market with far lower wages than existed 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

Most of the jobs that the Conservatives love to say they are creating are part time and temporary. If someone has three part time jobs for a couple of hours each a week, according to the Conservatives the workforce has been tripled. It simply is not true. We have seen a hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and family sustaining jobs. There have been one-quarter million jobs lost on their watch.

At the same time what they have managed to create is part time, temporary jobs, nothing that will allow students to pay off their record levels of student debt. Another thing the NDP opposes is that those jobs, because they are part time and temporary, do not come with pensions and benefits. The generation that we are sacrificing with record levels of student debt, created by the Liberals and continued by the Conservatives, are the same individuals who are earning less to pay off the debt. When they finally manage to get through the process of paying off their student debt, when they reach retirement age, most of them will not have access to company pensions. What are we doing to the nation's youth when we mortgage them to that appalling extent?

Liberals and Conservatives have been doing the same thing now for 20 years. That takes massive change and that is why I think more and more Canadians are looking to the NDP.

I come from British Columbia where we have seen the effects of Conservative economic policies. I guess that is almost an oxymoron because there is nothing about policy in their economic approach. It is simply one of shovelling money at the corporate sector. We have seen the impact of the softwood lumber agreement. There have been 10,000 jobs lost in British Columbia since the agreement was pushed through with the support of the Liberals and unfortunately the support of the Bloc.

We had a change in government in British Columbia which brought in a Liberal government. The median figures are very compelling of what the Liberals have done provincially, along with the federal Liberals and Conservatives, to British Columbia. For most British Columbians since 2001, since the B.C. Liberals came to power, their median income has gone down. This is for all age categories up to the age of 55. We are seeing that for individuals at the ages of 20, 30, 40 and 50 their real income has gone down. They are earning less now than they were when the NDP was in power. These are compelling economic facts. It is the compelling economic bottom line.

In this corner of the House we are not economic cheerleaders, unlike the Conservatives and Liberals who like to say that everything is going well because the wealthy in Canada are doing well. We are the ones who look at the hard facts. We are the ones who look at the figures. We are the ones who say this has been a fundamental failure of economic policy and that is why we cannot express confidence in the Conservative government.

The Liberals of course, as is their wont, will continue to support the Conservatives, continue to prop up the Prime Minister regardless of what that means for ordinary working families, regardless of what that means for the middle class, regardless of what that means for poor Canadians. The Liberals will simply prop up the Conservatives. But they have an opportunity now, given the hard economic facts that Statistics Canada gave to them last week, to actually stand up in the House and say that these economic failures mean that the government has failed and we need to go back to the Canadian people and have the Canadian people judge based on what is happening to their family income and what is happening when they discuss things around their kitchen tables.

And so solutions do not come about through magic. It is very simple: we need social policies, industrial policies, policies to support our industries, including the manufacturing industry, the auto industry and the softwood lumber industry.

We need the government and the public sector to get involved. Given the weak economic policies we have had for the last 20 years and the total failure of those policies, the NDP is the only party saying essentially that we have to go in a new direction, one that takes into consideration the importance of the public sector and that thinks it is important to raise family income across the country rather than lowering it. The NDP is the only party that is offering this economic alternative.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier I rose after the speech of an NDP member to comment that the motion does not seem to make any sense with the realities of Canada's economy today.

That said, I do respect that the NDP members legitimately stand for what they are speaking about today. We hear Liberal members speaking to issues in which they say they believe, but in 13 years they did nothing about them, and if they were given 13 more years, all indications would point to their continuing to neglect Canadians in the same fashion.

There are over 17 million Canadians, a record number of Canadians, working today. We have created over 800,000 jobs. There is no question there is some weakness within given sectors, but overall the Canadian economy is doing incredibly well.

We are outperforming every economy in the G-7. As I said, we have record low unemployment. Unemployment is at a 33-year low. We are the only country in the G-7 running an ongoing fiscal surplus and paying down debt. We are reducing taxes in every way that the government collects taxes. At the same time we had year over year average wage increases for Canadians of 4.5%. That is a record.

Why would the member support the motion? It is silly.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, a wise person in my riding said, “Yes, I guess the Conservatives are creating some jobs. I've got three of them”. That is exactly the point. The Conservatives have created part time service jobs. A person can get a minimum wage job, or two or three of them for three or four hours each a week, but a person cannot sustain a family, rent an apartment or buy a house with those crappy jobs. That is what the Conservatives are experts at: creating crappy jobs. They have destroyed the good manufacturing jobs, the softwood industry jobs, the jobs that sustain communities, the jobs that actually provide additional positions, because when we create one full time manufacturing job or one full time softwood industry job, we are creating another 2.5 indirect jobs that are good, wage paying jobs. This is the reality.

The Prime Minister learned his economics from a text book. He never had to balance a budget. He never actually had to do any real work. He never had to meet a payroll. He learned his economics from a text book and it shows the lamentable inability of the Prime Minister and the Conservative caucus to actually manage.

The bottom line economic results have been very clear. That is why we are expressing non-confidence.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support the NDP motion. We believe that there are two aspects of the motion that particularly deserve our support.

There is the fact that the government's economic agenda is completely inefficient and does not get the desired results because the government has adopted a laissez-faire attitude. Then, there is the scandal of the $54 billion taken from employment insurance that will remain in the government's coffers. These two reasons alone would justify moving a non-confidence motion and giving the public an opportunity to decide on the outcome in an election.

This just confirms what was in the papers today, about the widespread tax cuts offered to big corporations. Not only will they take away the government's ability to intervene, but they will also have more impact in the oil-producing provinces, which are currently very economically viable.

For example, Alberta and Newfoundland have corporate profits worth almost $16,000 per resident, while the rest of Canada averages $4,500 per capita. When the taxes of multinational companies are reduced, they end up with more money. This will widen the gap between the provinces.

Is the role of the government not to ensure there is leeway to help the manufacturing industries, so that Quebec and Ontario, for example, can grow? The government's role should not be to widen the gap.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right. The Conservatives have the same laissez-faire attitude as the Liberals. They both cut taxes for big business, which benefits only the wealthiest members of society, who now account for half of the income Canadians make. All other Canadian families are now poorer than they were a few years ago. They are certainly poorer than they were 20 years ago. These economic policies are a dismal failure.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster and to support the NDP motion on the economy and jobs in the middle class. It is worth fighting for across the country, not just in Windsor, Ontario which I represent, but in London, Kitchener, all the way along the 401 to Toronto, as well as St. Catharines, all those areas where we have seen economic devastation. It is important to fight for these jobs for the rest of the country as well. People in British Columbia all the way to Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador understand that when Canadians do well, we all do well together.

These policies of the Conservative government supported by the Liberals are shrinking the middle class and it will be very difficult to get it back. There is that element of Canada's history where we have had prosperity and a lot of different elements that created our great social fabric which has made us a leader in the world. That will disappear. We do not want that to happen.

I do not necessarily want to go to another election. I fought in elections in 1997, in 2000 when I was elected to city council, in 2002 in a byelection, in 2004 and in 2006. I do not need another election, but we have to go to one right now because it is necessary to save these jobs.

There are calls to my office every single day. We are witnessing people's dreams going up in smoke because there has not been the proper strategy and economic planning that should have been there during times of prosperity. The policies right now are stripping us of our capability to compete in the world. These are not nameless people. They are people in my constituency.

I have heard Conservative members say in this chamber that they believe in the mobility of work, that a person should just find a job somewhere else. That is no way to build a community. That is no way to raise a family. That is no way to develop a country that competes in the world, that people should have to move all over the place just because the proper policies are not in place.

Let us talk about specific people in my constituency. Jennifer is a 39-year-old single female who has two college degrees and skilled training in the tool and die and mould making industry. She has done everything right. She has invested in and paid for her education. She is a law-abiding citizen. She has been laid off from four different companies, two of which have actually gone bankrupt. Why would that happen when we are the best in the world at tool and die and mould making? Because our economic and trade policies subvert the efforts of workers. They allow other types of merchandise to get into this country, but we have no access to the other market. We have no supports in place.

An example is the rise in the dollar. Because the government wants to have a petrol industry as the sole provider for Canada, it escalates the Canadian dollar. No company or worker can benefit from that. The rise in the dollar cost them their jobs because it happened so quickly. That is not fair for someone like Jennifer. She has done everything right. What did she do? She went on employment insurance. She is one of the few women who can actually apply for employment insurance. That is a scandal in itself, something brought on by the previous administration and supported by the current one, where most women cannot even qualify for employment insurance.

Jennifer has tried. She has gone back to work for a number of different people. Her employment insurance is running out. What will happen now? She is on her last legs, and is selling her car and other assets. Her house is the last thing that she has. That is not fair. She is a skilled tradesperson. What has happened is not acceptable. We have led the world in that industry for many years and can continue to do so but the right policies need to be in place. This is happening at a time of indifference.

Look at the automotive industry. There have been 250,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last number of years, and the automotive industry has taken a big hit in that: people in St. Catharines, Brampton, Oakville, London and Windsor, in southern Ontario we have seen some of the biggest losses. People are worried. They are sitting around the kitchen table looking for solutions, but they cannot do it alone. The government has to do its part.

The government wants to enter into another unfair trade agreement with South Korea and further sell out the automotive sector. Why? Because it is easy for the government to do. It is a feather in its cap. It is interesting because the government will let state owned companies that produce vehicles and subsidize them flood into our markets and cost our workers their jobs. The Conservatives are the people who brought in an eco-auto rebate program that actually sent money to Japan and Seoul, Korea and to those automotive manufacturers that got subsidies. That is wrong. We should be producing those vehicles here. We have the people with the skills and ability in the trades. They are willing to do it.

We have recently seen a number of unions put out good business plans on how to work together. They have led the charge. The CAW has always led the charge to try to bring more automotive jobs. It had to bring the previous administration and the current administration kicking and screaming to the table.

Why do we not have a national auto policy? Why do we not have proper trade policies? The United States does. It protected its shipbuilding and bus industries. It has tariffs on certain vehicles that go in to the United States. It does it because it recognizes those jobs are important, and it is hemorrhaging some of those jobs now too.

There is an opportunity right now for us to work collectively to improve human rights, labour and environmental standards that will protect Canadian citizens, provide jobs and be a better economic trading bloc, but the government wants to shut that down. It does not want to talk about that.

What are people to do in their communities? Are they supposed to all work at Wal-Mart? Is that the way it is supposed to be? It is wrong. Service jobs are fine. They are good for the economy, there is no doubt about it, but manufacturing counts. If people are interested in the real facts, they should go to www.caw.ca, the CAW website, and look at the economic studies that Jim Stanford has done. He is renowned and recognized.

Look at the TD Bank. It is no socialist think tank, but even it has recognized the fact that we are losing good jobs and lower wage jobs are now falling into their place. That is bad for everyone. It is bad when the coffers of Ontario, for example, go down.

I take pride in the fact that Ontario has been able to provide for this nation, not only for my community and province, but for the rest of the country, and build it from coast to coast to coast. We are gutting the manufacturing sector by rapidly accelerating the Canadian dollar and not having manufacturing or auto strategies when other countries have these elements. It is wrong and we lose capacity.

There is one very interesting element that has not been talked about enough in this debate and it should be. When we gut our manufacturing base, we gut our ability as a nation to have full independence. We have to rely on others to do the hard work, when our own people can do that. They can build the tools and moulds and assemble. We have the natural resources. We know that the secondary work, after natural resources, is where the real money is. Why does everything have to be about shipping it out somewhere else for the secondary work to be done? Why can we not do that here like we have in the past?

We have unfair trading practices, for example, in the textile industry, where there has been dumping. The WTO has provided a remedy for that. It had a tariff element that we could have put in place to save some of the jobs here, especially in Quebec. The United States took the WTO up on that, but we did not. We sat around and let it go by, and that is unacceptable.

Other policies are important. I just came from the transport committee. We know the government has tabled Bill C-43. In my riding, as everyone knows, is the busiest international border crossing, with 40,000 vehicles and 10,000 international trucks going through it every day. The public safety minister has tabled a bill that changes the Customs Act.

The transport department has not work with him. What happens if they do not work together? The two separate chambers create laws that add to more backlog and other issues. That is unacceptable. The lack of infrastructure spending is incredible, whether it be the railway, the airline industry or our roads.

I would not get up and say nothing has been done by any of the previous administrations or the current one. Stuff has been done, but we are choosing the wrong priorities right now. Instead of investing in Canada, we have general corporate tax cuts. To stay competitive and prosper, we have to invest. The decision for large corporate tax cuts as opposed to investing in our railway system, our roads and in air is costing us competitive advantage.

It is important to note that. As we make that choice, we lose opportunities. Other nations are making the choice to invest in those things. That is why the NDP supports motion. At the end of the day, the middle class income earners need sustainable jobs in order to raise their families with dignity and send their children for university and college educations so we can compete with the world. If we do not, we will be left behind.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member for Windsor West is definitely on to something. The Conservative government has been in power for two years plus and keeps talking about how it is getting the job done. It is not getting the job done when it comes to the incomes of working and middle class Canadians.

The Conservatives inherited a very strong economy when they formed government in 2006. The Liberals had record surpluses, low unemployment, a strong fiscal capacity, and good growth prospects. What did the Conservative government do? It spent money and left the cupboard bare.

The Bank of Canada estimates that growth this year could be 1.4%. At that rate, we are heading into a deficit.

The Conservatives keep saying that they are getting the job done. What kind of flexibility do they have to deal with the challenges facing low income and middle class Canadians? They have taken away the flexibility our Liberal government gave them in 2006 when they formed government.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member works hard in the House, but with all due respect, it is difficult to hear him and his party continually support these policies. The current tax cuts have basically been led by the Leader of the Opposition from day one. In fact, he called for deeper tax cuts.

Let me explain the difficulty the NDP has with regard to the current system and how the economy is hurt by this. Let me use as an example the auto sector versus the oil and gas sector, which already makes record profits. These tax cuts are going to give the oil and gas sector record windfalls.

A tax cut will not do any good to a tool and dye mould-maker in the manufacturing sector that is losing money. Companies cannot invest in new technology and new resources so they can compete. They wither on the vine, and that has been happening.

This is why the economics sector is saying this is nuts. The sector is saying this does not make any sense. Why should the banks and the oil and gas companies continue to get record windfalls at the expense of working Canadians?

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess we are learning as we go here. The Liberal Party now refers to excess taxation as flexibility. I suppose there were $52 billion in flexibility in EI when the Liberals were government, since they ran enormous surpluses. They did not create a specialized fund for EI. All the money went to general revenue. The $52 billion the Liberals ran in surplus were really a tax. I guess that was flexibility.

When the Liberals talk about flexibility, what they really mean is they like to tax Canadians to death. They like to have enormous surpluses, which they cut up and give to their friends. They only talk about that when they are caught.

The member knows the numbers he has quoted are not accurate. He knows that year over year salary increases are up by 4.5%, so we are creating good paying jobs. Canadians are going into better paying jobs. However, there is no question there is sectoral weakness.

The member talked about the dollar. He knows the Canadian government has no influence over it.

Is the member aware of the economic benefit of the strength of Canada's energy industry to Ontario and to southwestern Ontario? Over $88 billion in procurement for Ontario alone are from Alberta's energy sector. Is he aware of that?

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member can continue to disregard economists, the banks and all those who have come forward with these facts if that is what he wants to do. He can put his head in the sand if he is comfortable with that.

Yes, some industries are prosperous right now, and that is good. We do not have a problem with that. However, that does not mean others should get left behind. That does not mean there is no collateral damage. We need to ensure the men and women who work hard in those industries should not be victims in the crossfire. They should not be the ones to pay the price.

Other countries have policies in place that cost Canada jobs. We need to have policies in place to deal with this. We cannot surrender and throw up the white flag and celebrate because some industries get ahead while some go down. Our country is not made of that. We do not leave people behind in our country. We have to ensure our policies protect Canadian jobs.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, yesterday in question period the member for Timmins—James Bay noted some discrepancies in the proactive disclosure of my expenses while I was minister at Canadian heritage.

I thank the member for pointing out these discrepancies. My expenses have been reviewed and the proactive disclosure is in the process of being updated. These were administrative errors, and we are correcting them.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I think the House appreciates that clarification.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Blackstrap.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to the opposition motion.

There is no doubt that Canada is now facing a number of economic difficulties. The economy of the United States, our primary export market, has slowed, particularly in the housing sector. Global economic growth has also slowed in the wake of turbulence in international credit markets.

Despite these difficulties, we remain strong, and the fact is that the Canadian economy has weathered these times well compared to the United States and other countries. That is clear from the spectacular number of jobs that have been created.

So far this year, the Canadian economy has created over 104,000 new jobs, 14,000 of those last month alone. In the past 12 months, 325,000 new jobs were created, and over 813,000 jobs have been created since we came to power in 2006. I would also like to take this opportunity to remind the members that as a result of this growth in jobs, the unemployment rate has been at its lowest in 33 years.

This increased employment extends to every province of Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, 2,500 people have found jobs since January, and in Ontario, the number of new jobs is more than 57,000. In British Columbia, 25,000 jobs have been created and in Alberta, more than 10,000 new jobs have been created since January. In Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, at least 3,000 new jobs have been created.

In the majority of cases these are full time jobs. Since January, more than 94,000 full time jobs have been created, which amounts to 90% of all new jobs.

These impressive figures on job creation reveal only one aspect of the situation. Automobile sales and consumer spending are increasing. The Canadian economy continues to grow and the finances of Canadian businesses and households are strong. Inflation remains low, stable and predictable and we have reduced the public debt to a level not seen in this country since the 1950s.

This government has worked to create the conditions that will allow the private sector to do what it does best: to create jobs and contribute to the prosperity of Canadians.

Just 18 months ago, the government unveiled Advantage Canada, its long term economic plan to make Canada a world economic leader.

The plan focuses on the creation of five advantages for Canadian companies. The first is a tax advantage that establishes the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G-7. Another fiscal advantage will eliminate Canada’s total government net debt in less than a generation. The third is an entrepreneurial advantage that will reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape. The fourth is a knowledge advantage that will create the best-educated, most-skilled and most flexible workforce in the world. Finally, the infrastructure advantage will consist in investing in modern, world-class infrastructure.

I would like to conclude by commenting on the government’s recent measures to develop Canada’s infrastructure advantage, an advantage that will improve our ability to compete in the automobile sector.

The Canadian automobile sector represents the largest manufacturing activity in the country and accounts for almost one-quarter of our merchandise exports. The sector provides direct employment to more than 150,000 workers. The Canadian automobile industry is part of a closely integrated supply chain network that crosses the border between Canada and the United States. Some parts may cross the border several times before reaching an assembly plant.

The Ambassador Bridge is an essential link in this network, and it is mind-boggling to realize that 40% of all trade between Canada and the United States travels across this infrastructure.

The Ambassador Bridge carries more than 8,000 semi-trailers on a typical day. It is a privately owned structure that was built in 1928, before the Great Depression. It carries more trade annually than the entire trading relationship between the United States and Japan.

As we all know, that bridge is well past capacity. It therefore represents a potentially devastating weak link in the supply chain of our auto trade.

In budget 2008, our government committed $400 million as part of our promise to fund 50% of the eligible costs of improving the Windsor–Detroit crossing.

This will help fund the construction of a new route that will link Highway 401 to the new bridge. The goal is to have a new crossing by 2013, and we are determined to build this bridge as part of building a stronger auto sector, with a view to facilitating the transport of vehicles and parts.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce called the construction of this new route a critical step towards opening this new international crossing. I would like to quote the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Len Crispino, who said improving the flow of traffic at the border is a “matter of national and international urgency”.

I would also like to share with my colleagues what Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, said in response:

It is absolutely crucial for the automotive industry to be assured that the border crossings are reliable and predictable in order to accommodate just-in-time delivery on both sides of the border.

This investment will help support the existing automotive manufacturing in Windsor and across Ontario, and will help make the province more attractive for future jobs and economic growth.

I would like to point out to the members that this investment comes in addition to the $75 million from this government over two years to fund the Canada Border Services Agency in order to further facilitate the movement of goods and services.

It is also in addition to the $250 million we announced in budget 2008 to support innovation in the auto sector.

The Canadian economy has never been so strong. We have taken concrete measures to ensure the competitiveness of Canada's auto industry and we have laid the foundation for Canada's long term economic growth through the delivery of the Advantage Canada plan.

Opposition Motion — The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, with the Liberal leader cheering on the finance minister when the budget was passed, he allowed $14 billion to be taken, each and every year, out of the fiscal capacity of our country, which is a huge loss in the capacity of the current government, or any government, to help those Canadians who are not part of the new jobs the member is talking about.

In Hamilton, in particular, over 93,000 people are living in poverty, mostly women and seniors who are falling further and further behind. We know the private sector will not stand up to protect seniors and women. That is the government's job. When will it take up that challenge and start defending the people who are at the bottom and not those who are at the top all the time, not the corporations it always supports, but the average working family and those who have the misfortune of being unemployed or retired on a fixed income?