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House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Canada PostOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the community mailboxes that Canada Post has been installing are a bad deal for communities across Canada. These mailboxes are being placed in neighbourhoods without considering the well-being of members of these communities who do not feel safe accessing their mail while traffic moves around them. Senior citizens often do not have the ability to go to a community mailbox to pick up their mail.

The government has not been looking out for the communities where these mailboxes have been installed. Why has the government put its own convenience ahead of that of the citizens and communities of Canada?

Canada PostOral Questions

3 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Once again, Mr. Speaker, it is important to recall what we have done as the Parliament of Canada. We have instructed Canada Post to maintain rural mail delivery from coast to coast to coast. That is exactly our intention and that is exactly what we are going to do.

Urban TransitOral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Conservative Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government is looking for realistic, long-term solutions for cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the health of Canadians. As a UNESCO world heritage site, the historic district of Old Quebec welcomes over 4 million visitors every year, 90% of whom get there by car.

Can the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities tell the House about the government's new commitments to sustainable urban transit in Canadian cities?

Urban TransitOral Questions

3 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent question. We have to tackle this problem.

Yesterday at a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities I accepted the accolades of mayors who are, naturally, very pleased that we have extended the gas tax. I also had the opportunity to participate in the inauguration of a fleet of electric buses which, thanks to the financial participation of the Government of Canada, will soon be on the roads of the Quebec City region, especially Old Quebec.

We are keeping our promises and taking action.

Canada Summer JobsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Independent

Blair Wilson Independent West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, many organizations in my riding and across British Columbia have not been granted funding from the 2008 Canada summer jobs program. These include organizations such as the Whistler Public Library, the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, the Gibsons Landing Harbour Authority, the Kay Meek Centre, the Squamish Chamber of Commerce, the Powell River Academy of Music, and I could go on.

My question is for the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. Given the overwhelming number of applicants this year, the dire need for more funding, and with the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games only 619 days away, will he and his government commit today in the House to increase funding for summer jobs?

Canada Summer JobsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I note that we have made important changes to Canada summer jobs. Members around the House have responded and thanked us for the changes.

I want to point out that the member himself signed off on every single page of his summer jobs applications. He assented to every one of them. The problem is not the program. The problem is the member.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

June 3rd, 2008 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I wish to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of the Hon. Chris d'Entremont, Minister of Health for Nova Scotia.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

The House resumed from May 29 consideration of the motion.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It being 3:05 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #122

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There were some serious errors committed today during question period having to do with the interpretation of the Canada Elections Act. It is important for the House to know that today is not any deadline for repaying leadership loans. It is a date upon which leadership loans and repayment arrangements must be reported to Elections Canada.

Therefore, I would seek the consent of the House to table for the information of members section 435.29 of the Canada Elections Act, and I would ask the Conservative Party to disclose all of the donations to the Prime Minister's leadership campaign, including those from climate change deniers and United States Republicans.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent for the tabling of this document?

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is important that somebody tell the truth about what the law says. It is clear in the Canada Elections Act that there is an 18 month repayment period for all loans that are taken out for leadership campaigns.

That period starts from the time the leadership race ends, and therefore, June 3, this day, which happens to be my birthday, is also deadline day for the leader of the Liberal Party. We expect that he has an hour and a half to make that payment. I have full confidence that he will do that or Elections Canada will hold him to account.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

We really are getting into a debate. I do not hear much of a point of order. It was one thing to ask for the tabling of a document, but the consent has been refused, so I am afraid this matter has come to an end, aside from birthday greetings if members wish to extend them later.

I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded divisions government orders will be extended by eight minutes.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, be read the third time and passed, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster had the floor when we were last on this debate. He has three minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am tragically bound to comment on Bill C-50, the corporate handout act.

We talked earlier in the day about the tens of billions of dollars that the Conservatives, through this bill, are giving to wealthy corporate CEOs rather than providing that money for health care, post-secondary education, housing and the variety of needs that working Canadian families have. Instead, the Conservatives are shovelling money off the back of a truck to the corporate sector.

I spoke a bit about the indentured servitude provisions that bring in temporary foreign workers.

I would like to address in my final few minutes the legalized theft act, which is essentially diverting $54 billion in insurance premiums paid by hard-working Canadian families into employment insurance. The Conservatives are now diverting that away. They are simply writing off $52 billion of that $54 billion total.

This is contrary to the advice of the Auditor General. It has changed the employment insurance system from what existed before the Liberals started taking money from the insurance fund. It has changed it from an insurance system to a lottery system.

Essentially what we have today when people are unemployed is a system in which, instead of people having insurance when they need it, they have a lottery. One out of every three women actually has access to the employment insurance she has paid for.

It is a shameful situation. For me, it is unbelievable that the Liberals are voting to support this Conservative measure. They essentially are allowing this budgetary measure as well as the immigration changes and the corporate handouts of tens of billions of dollars going to the corporate sector. The Liberals are allowing all of that to pass. The leader of the Liberal Party is ensuring that all of that passes and becomes law. That is the most disgraceful aspect of all of this.

When we know that changes to the immigration act are going to lead to underpaid temporary foreign workers who are not subject to health and safety regulations, the Liberals support it. When we see the theft of money that was paid by hard-working Canadian families into employment insurance, the Liberals support it. When tens of billions of dollars are going to corporate CEOs, which now take almost half of all income in this country, we see the Liberals supporting that.

In fact, the Liberals go even further. They say they want to push down corporate taxes even more despite the fact that we are seeing record levels of profit and most working families are earning less now than they were 20 years ago. Two-thirds of Canadian families are earning less now than they were 20 years ago.

The Liberals are supporting all of these Conservative schemes. All I can say from the one corner of the House where there is opposition to the Conservative agenda is that the Liberals should be ashamed of themselves.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his dissertation on Bill C-50. It is certainly one that we have spoken to many times in the past in the House.

When we look at the state of economy that we have heard coming forward in the last report on the gross domestic product, for instance, which has slipped by 0.3% over the last three months, even at a time when our resource profits and the huge increase in the price of oil and natural gas have occurred in the country, one would think that these types of activities in the economy would by themselves create a positive nature in the gross domestic product. However, we are seeing a drop.

Quite clearly, the losers are losing and the winners are winning very strongly with this budget. Where is the fairness in the budget, in the corporate sector at least, where so many companies that are trying so hard now to remain afloat are having such great difficulty?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Western Arctic is, as usual, very eloquent and is absolutely right.

In study after study by KPMG and Price Waterhouse, it has been confirmed that the corporate sector gets its major source of subsidy from Canada's health care system. Therefore, the primary level of competitiveness that comes from Canadian companies is due to our publicly subsidized health care system. A company in Canada does not have to pay the health care premiums that a company in the United States or in other countries has to pay. Our public health care system is a major source of subsidy and support to Canadian companies.

What happens? Because we obviously have a mathematically challenged finance minister and a Prime Minister who learned his economics from a textbook and never actually had to meet a payroll in his life, instead of adjusting corporate income taxes so the corporate sector picks up part of the cost of that extensive subsidy, they give more money to the corporate CEOs.

On the one hand, we subsidize, through public support, health care, but as health care declines, instead of providing more funds for that, which would be a greater support for Canadian companies at the same time as it is greater support for ordinary Canadian working families, we see the opposite. The Conservatives cut back in health care and make the health care system worse but they give tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts; $6 in corporate tax cuts for every $1 in new program funding. That is absolutely disgraceful.

However, I did find one element in the budget that purports to help working people and it is the announcement the minister made about a tax-free savings account. He compared it to RRSPs. Canadians would assume that means that the money going into a savings account is tax free. That is not at all the case. This is just another case of Conservative snake oil. The money going into that tax-free savings account is fully taxed. It is only the small interest income that the individual gets that is tax-free.

That is just another example of how little the Conservative government does for ordinary working families. It is a disaster. It is as bad as the former Liberal government and that is saying a lot.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to engage in the debate on third reading, particularly as it pertains to section 6 of Bill C-50, which deals with the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The changes that are being proposed are major structural and draconian changes to our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. To put such important structural changes in conjunction with a budget implementation bill shows the government's contempt for the institution of Parliament, the citizenship and immigration committee, new Canadians and all Canadians.

I need not remind the government that immigration has been the lifeblood of this country, that immigration is the lifeblood of this country and that immigration will continue to be the lifeblood of this country.

Any thoughtful person in Canada knows that we are faced with serious demographic challenges. Within the next four years, 100% of our net growth in labour will be met through immigration. This issue is one of great importance to the future of our country.

When section 6 was put into the budget implementation act, it is amazing that no reference was made by the government to the citizenship and immigration committee. The reason we have standing committees of Parliament is to hold the government, the minister and the bureaucracy accountable. That is the very basis of our parliamentary system. The government tried to bypass that process and, to a large extent, it has bypassed the process.

It so happened that the finance committee of this House of Commons referred a question pertaining to changes to the Immigration Act, section 6, over to the citizenship and immigration committee and asked us to respond to it. In considering the changes, the committee tripled its number of sittings. It held extraordinary sittings to ensure we could hear from Canadians.

I will tell members what happened. When the government announced Bill C-50, the committee was just starting to undertake a cross country consultation in every capital city on the issues of undocumented workers, temporary foreign workers and immigration consultants. The Conservative members on the committee would not allow us to talk about Bill C-50 as it pertained to the changes to the Immigration Act.

Members can just imagine the incredible wasted opportunity we had at that point not to be able to talk to Canadians. Every time we got into the issue of witnesses trying to make representation on Bill C-50, the parliamentary secretary objected very strongly.

We need to revisit the rules because it puts us in disrepute as a parliamentary committee conducting consultations across the country and we are not talking about the most important issue on the parliamentary agenda, which is section 6 of Bill C-50. However, as I mentioned, we did the best we could. We held hearings and extended the hours of those hearings.

I want to share with members of the House what one witness said to the committee. The name of this witness was submitted by the parliamentary secretary as being someone who should be speaking to Bill C-50.

Mr. Warren Creates, head of the Immigration Law Group with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, said:

Thanks for asking me to participate in this important piece of your parliamentary business.

When this legislation was introduced on March 14, I was on national television that night--it was a Friday--speaking in support of it. With reflection and in the fullness of time, I have considered it more carefully and want to share my thoughts with you.

The minister announced on that day that this legislation would reduce the backlog; would restrict the size and cost of maintaining a large and outdated inventory; would result in faster processing; would result in improved service--or, as she was quoted saying, just-in-time inventory--aimed at reducing the wait time to an average of one year; would make the system more responsive and nimble to immediate regional economic needs by listing and selecting strategic or priority occupations; and really, we couldn't continue to build a warehouse that would occupy these hundreds of thousands of applications, when every year we were selecting only about 250,000 to get visas.

Those were the political comments made at the time in support of the legislation, and I was one who then supported the initiative. Now I'm a very different person as I appear in front of you today. I've gone 180 degrees, because it's clear to me now what effect this legislation is going to have.

First of all, it's going to move some categories of applicants to the front of the line and delay other categories. As the minister continues to move categories to the front of the line, including the Canada experience class that we'll see at the end of this summer, there is no front of the line any more. There are so many priority silos in the business of this government now. I'll list them for you: interdiction, enforcement, refugees, visitors, students, work permits, spouses, children, provincial nominee programs, and soon the expanded Canada experience class. It's not going to be possible, with this legislation and the existing platform of resources, to deliver the promises of this minister. There is no front of the line.

What I find particularly heinous or egregious is proposed subsection 87.3(2), which talks about the opinion of the minister. The legislation says:

The processing of applications and requests is to be conducted in a manner that, in the opinion of the Minister, will best support the attainment of the immigration goals.

Since when do we live in a country where the minister decides what happens with something as important as the immigration program?

Our immigration officers in Canada and outside Canada should never be accountable to the minister. They should instead be accountable to our Constitution, our charter, the legislation and laws of this country, this House, and this parliamentary process that gets the views of stakeholders. That's what's important.

We're going to see in this legislation the erosion of the sacred rule of law principle that this country is built on. Democracy is shrinking because of Bill C-50. Processing priorities, which we have already decided by a tried, tested, and true established and transparent parliamentary procedure for both legislative and regulatory change, will now be reduced to stakeholder input.

I will not read any more of that but I will say that this person, when he first heard the announcement around section 6 of Bill C-50, stood and applauded it and supported it. As soon as he was able to examine what it really meant we see the results. That is what I quoted and he was very much in opposition.

Another issue which the person talked about, and it should be talked about, is what the government claims it was going to accomplish.

The government has taken the unprecedented step of spending $4 million to spread misinformation to Canadians, by buying ads in the ethnic media. It is making the same kinds of claims that were made to that gentleman, who is a lawyer and who, upon examination, rejected those claims. The minister said, and this is an important issue, “Currently, the immigration backlog sits at 925,000 applications. This means that the wait time for an application can be as long a six years”.

The skilled workers class, which is essentially where the growth happened, had a waiting list of 615,000 at the end of 2007. This is essentially the backlog. Those are the numbers that are important in this debate. It so happens that since the Conservatives have been in office, they have grown this category by over 100,000 in two years. The minister is responsible for 85,000 of that growth. Here we have a minister saying that she is going to reduce the backlog, but the reality is that it was on her watch that the backlog grew.

Regarding the claim made by the Conservatives in terms of dealing with the backlog, let us take a look at another standard of performance. What has happened to the backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board?

When the Liberals left office, there was a backlog of less than 20,000. The processing time was being reduced. It was less than a year and we had hoped to get it down to six months. For the first time we had turned the corner on the program. It had been put in place initially by the Conservatives under Brian Mulroney and actually was a beehive of patronage appointments, but we changed it to a merit based system and the Liberal government did not interfere in the appointment of IRB members.

The Conservative government came in and it failed to fill the vacant positions. Of a 160 member Immigration and Refugee Board, there were about 100 members. The Conservatives grew the backlog from less than 20,000 to about 45,000 today, which is going to hit 60,000 or 62,000 by the end of the year.

The time to process the claims has increased to 18 months and that is if there is no appeal. If there is an appeal, because of the shortage of IRB members, they cannot even take time to make a booking because they just do not have the people power to process it.

That is one claim the minister made. I think I have shed some light on the fact that the rhetoric does not meet the record of the government.

The government in this ad, upon which the government is in the process of spending $4 million, promises more resources. It states, “More resources: An additional $109 million to speed up the application process”. That is over five years. That works out to something like $22 million a year. The Liberals put in $700 million, which breaks down to $140 million a year to deal with the backlog and make the system more efficient. The Conservative government got rid of the $700 million and put back $109 million. That is a cut of $600 million.

The government is promising faster processing times. We know the reality. The processing times have gone up under the Conservative government's watch. While I talk about the processing times going up, I might also mention that the government missed the number of immigration landings that the Conservatives themselves promised would take place in 2007. This was the first time in the past decade that the targets were not met.

The government talked about complete processing, that all applications currently in the backlog would be processed. There is really no credibility in the claim by the government. It is really an insult to all parliamentarians, to this institution itself, and to Canadians that the government would do advertising on legislation that still has not been passed. I can only say that we expected better from a government that promised transparency, that promised to do things differently, that promised accountability, that promised parliamentary reform. What we have are promises upon which the government has not delivered.

In closing, the open and transparent process of objectively selecting immigrants coming to this country was pioneered by Canada. It is a process that has been copied by Australia, by New Zealand and by many nations in Europe. The United States Senate is studying it because it looks to us as the leaders in this area. What we are doing is walking away from that process.

The reason we have that process is steeped in our history. It is steeped in the reality of the evolution of this country. I remind the House of the Asian exclusion act, the Chinese head tax, the internment of Ukrainians, the Komagata Maru, the SS St. Louis. I remind the House of a time when immigration policy essentially discriminated against people from various countries because of the colour of their skin or because of their religion. That is why, because of our sorry history and the sufferings of many Canadians, we pioneered a process that was open and transparent, where it was done objectively. The Conservative government is walking away from that process, a process that we should be proud of. We pioneered this process.

What do we have? We have a Conservative government which, when it came into office, did it reach out to a member of its party who is competent and knowledgeable on these issues to help with the necessary reforms? The member for Calgary—Nose Hill is a very experienced member. She served on the citizenship and immigration committee. She knows the portfolio. Did the Conservatives appoint her? No, they appointed a rookie minister who has no previous experience in the immigration and citizenship portfolio, none, zero, zilch. That person was in office for less than a year and the Conservatives replaced him. Did they replace him with someone who is knowledgeable on the portfolio, such as the member for Calgary—Nose Hill? No, sir. They replaced that person with another minister who has absolutely no understanding or knowledge of citizenship and immigration, but who gets high ranking in the Conservative hierarchy because her husband happens to be a major organizer for the Prime Minister, the leader of the Conservative Party.

As I said before, immigration has been, is and will continue to be the lifeblood of this country. I call upon the government to come to its senses and make the necessary changes that we can embrace in order to maintain objectivity and transparency. Let us continue to be leaders.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague. I appreciate the sacrifices that he has made. He was the only member of the Liberal Party, aside from a small group of the leadership, who actually voted against Bill C-50 and for the NDP amendments that would have taken out the most egregious aspects of the immigration changes and the theft from the employment insurance fund. Essentially, he was the one Liberal who said, “I am going to vote along with the NDP for these amendments and I will vote against Bill C-50”.

The appalling results last night were that aside from the hon. member, there were only 11 other Liberals who were in the House and Bill C-50 was allowed to move from report stage to third reading. Because somewhere around 84 or 85 Liberals were absent last night, that essentially allowed the Conservative government to move forward with an agenda, which the hon. member has said very clearly is not a good agenda for Canada, and I admire him for it. I realize he has been punished by his leader for having spoken up. I am grateful that there is one Liberal who is willing to stand up in the House and show some backbone.

My question for him is very simple. What can he do when his own leader refuses to stop any aspect of the Conservative Party agenda? For over a year now in confidence vote after confidence vote we have seen Liberals endorsing the Conservatives' agenda. Every single time, all the Conservatives have to do is mention the “c” word, confidence, and the Liberals and the Liberal leader automatically vote for whatever it is, regardless of the consequences for the country, regardless of what it means for ordinary working families.

How does the member feel about his own party simply not standing up for the principles that he has enunciated in this House and for which he actually voted last night, principles on which the NDP has led, amendments to this bad, bad bill in order to move forward with a budget that actually would do something for working people? When his own party has left him, where does that leave him?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to look back to December 2005 when a choice had to be made. At that time the NDP and the Bloc joined forces to bring down the then Liberal government. This was done after ignoring the pleas of most progressive forces in this country, be it the Sierra Club, environmentalists, child care advocates, first nations, and the list goes on.

The Liberal Party is opposed to Bill C-50. My party is also cognizant of the political reality that the Conservative government wants an election on Bill C-50, particularly as it relates to part 6.

Conservative members observed what happened in the last provincial election where the ADQ used immigrant bashing in the province of Quebec and almost formed the government. We saw that intolerance generated during the course of the reasonable accommodation debate. Make no mistake about it, the Conservative Party had this very much in mind in terms of trying to trigger an election on Bill C-50.

The decision to trigger an election belongs to the official opposition because without it there will be no election and our leader is cognizant of that. As much as I counselled our leader at the time of the Throne Speech and on numerous other occasions that we should go to an election, thinking better now than letting the Conservatives do any damage, I have to be cognizant of the fact that we have a responsibility to make sure that those folks across the way, the neo-conservative party in the House, never form a majority government.

It is the job of the leader to frame the question on what the next election is going to be fought on. That day is coming. I see an election being called around the issue of the carbon tax because most opposition parties want to reduce our carbon output. It would shift the economy to reward things that are good and would penalize things that we want less.

I am not the leader of my party, but I do have a strong interest in citizenship and immigration and issues related to the charter. I do occupy a place in the House that no member with my years of experience occupies. This gives me a good view of what is going on and it also affords me the opportunity to get a bird's eye view not only of all members from the backbenches forward but in the opposition as well.