House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was french.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 4, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

In accordance with Standing Order 38, and pursuant to an order made Tuesday, October 27, 2009, a motion to adjourn the House deemed to have been moved.

6:50 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for taking the time to respond to questions on the very important matter of employment insurance and, in particular, its impact on women.

On June 9, 2006, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development why her government had refused to remove the barriers that prevent women from accessing EI. In response, the minister declared that our EI system treats everyone equally.

I am afraid the minister was incorrect. Statistics from the Caledon Institute make it clear that more men than women receive regular EI benefits. In 2008, 292,308 men received regular EI benefits as opposed to 191,502 women. In other words, about one-third more men receive regular EI benefits than women.

The Caledon Institute further explains that employment insurance covers only employees with significant attachment to the labour force and excludes many workers who cannot accumulate enough EI insurable hours due to their type of employment, own job preferences, family responsibilities or activity limitations due to disabilities.

The groups that tend to be excluded are: the long term unemployed, the underemployed, persons with disabilities, new workers, part-time workers and employees; mainly women who leave the work force to care for their children or aging family members.

The parliamentary secretary should be well aware that the status of women committee completed a detailed study on employment insurance in June of this year. In case the parliamentary secretary has missed that report, I would like to highlight a few things.

The committee found that, overall, the EI program does benefit women who are in full-time employment. The committee heard, however, that women's labour market realities are not accounted for under the current EI program. One of the main reasons women are unable to access benefits is that they predominate in part-time employment.

Among other initiatives, the committee recommended that the maximum benefit entitlement for regular benefits be extended to 50 weeks on a permanent basis and that additional weeks of entitlement should be considered by HRSD; that HRSD increase the benefit rate from 55% to 60% or more of average weekly insurable earnings for both regular and special benefits and that would help women; and that the government, based on the preliminary results of the best 14 weeks pilot project, adopt a new rate of calculation period equal to the qualifying period.

I would like to highlight one final recommendation. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women recommended that the government modify the employment insurance program for women who are laid off during or following maternity-parental leave so that benefits are calculated based on the number of hours worked prior to that maternity-parental leave.

How will the government use the recommendations from the status of women committee to make employment insurance more fair and accessible to women?

6:50 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that our employment insurance system treats everyone equally. It treats men the same as women. There are no gender differences. Everyone pays into the system at the same premium rate. Everyone receives the benefits for which they qualify on the same basis, regardless of whether they are men or women.

We have made a number of changes to the EI system in the past year, changes that are providing additional benefits to more Canadians, more quickly and for a longer period of time. Those extra benefits we offered to both men and women to help them through these difficult and challenging times were in the budget and the New Democratic Party voted against that, and its members were proud of voting against it.

They were proud to vote against providing five extra weeks of benefits across the country to everyone, both men and women. They were proud to vote against freezing EI premium rates for this year and next. They voted against literally billions of dollars of extra help for Canadians to get more training, skills upgrading or to help them in their transition to new careers. They voted against all of those provisions that apply to men and women. How do they justify the statements now being made today?

They were proud to vote against all of the other stimulus measures and help that our Conservative government is providing through Canada's economic action plan. Why is that? They said that it was not good enough. They were mistaken.

The kinds of things our Conservative government has done on EI are good and many Canadians also think we did the right thing. However, the New Democrats rejected that because, in their view, it was not perfect. Not always will a program be perfect but it does address the issues at hand.

In the case of Canada's economic action plan and our measures to help the unemployed, the NDP voted against what most Canadians thought were good steps. Unfortunately for the NDP, the idea of perfect is very far from what most Canadians want or are prepared to accept.

I am encouraged, however, by the fact that our New Democratic colleagues have seen the error of their ways and are supporting the government's recent actions to help Canadians through Bill C-50, which would provide between five and twenty weeks of additional EI benefits to Canadian workers who have worked for years and have paid into the system during that time.

We hope they will support legislation that we have signalled we will introduce, legislation to give self-employed Canadians access to EI's special benefits. An increasing number of Canadians are self-employed or have self-employment income, and many of them are women. This will be another positive step for Canadians, especially during the beginning of our economic recovery.

I do want to touch on something my colleague said in her original question back in June. She said:

Coverage rates for unemployed women have declined from 82% in 1989 to 39% in 2008....

In fact, women's access to EI regular benefits is high. In 2007, 81% of unemployed women who had been paying premiums and who were laid off or quit with cause were eligible for regular benefits. In 2007, more than 56% of permanent part-time workers were eligible for EI regular benefits.

Women's access to EI special benefits, such as maternity and parental benefits, is very high. Ninety-seven per cent of women working full-time have enough hours to qualify for special benefits. This is the same level of access as men. It is important to note that among women working part-time, 62% have enough hours to qualify for special benefits compared to 59% for men.

Our government is doing a lot for unemployed Canadians, for men and women alike. I am glad the NDP has understood that our government's actions are good for Canadians and will be supporting Bill C-50. I hope it will continue with that type of support.

6:55 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the parliamentary secretary understood my question. Unfortunately, I came here looking for answers and I did not get them.

I would like to point out that women do not have the same standard full-time work as men. Their situations are different and, instead of talking about equality, we should be talking about equity.

It is not just women who are affected by the current EI rules. Sadly, women from groups that tend to include aboriginal Canadians, visible minorities, youth, persons with disabilities and recent immigrants are struggling and they are hit by the poverty that the lack of proper employment insurance creates in our society.

I am wondering when the government will stand up for vulnerable Canadians. I see no signs of it, or very little sign of it.

In terms of the suggestions in regard to supporting legislation, we will support anything where people are protected. I am waiting to see.

6:55 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting how the hon. member voted against the budget, which had protection for unemployed Canadians and provisions for them, without actually reading the budget. Members would need to do at least that much before deciding whether they support it or not.

Getting back to the specific issue, as I said, women's access to EI is high. We are working hard to extend benefits to long tenured workers and to self-employed Canadians. This will be good for self-employed Canadian women.

We are getting Canadians back to work through historic investments in infrastructure and through the steps we have taken on the economic action plan to help unemployed Canadians, be they men or women.

We are focused on what matters to Canadians and are working hard to ensure Canadians are well-served by their government. We extended to five weeks of extra benefits that applies to everyone equally. We put the skills training program together and that applies to everyone. The work-sharing agreement preserves those jobs, both for men and women.

7 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, in May 2009, I asked a question about the auto industry. As the House will recall, this Reform-Conservative government was unable to defend the interests of Canadians during the massive upheaval of the auto industry. What the crisis needed was a coordinated response and this government dragged its feet in communicating with American officials to come up with a joint plan.

When he appeared before the Subcommittee on the Automotive Industry in Canada, the president of General Motors Canada confirmed that GM had committed all of its available worldwide assets, including its assets in Canada, as collateral for U.S. loans. That left General Motors with few assets to secure the amounts loaned by the Government of Canada. The Conservative government was not at the negotiating table to defend the interests of Canada.

In response to the proposal from the President of the United States, the Minister of Industry said that the American President had “some new ideas on the auto industry” that he was willing to look at. If the minister had been there for the talks, these measures would not have been new to him.

From the start of the crisis at GM, the Liberals have been worried about auto workers and their families, and we have wanted to protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers, because the money will end up coming out of their pockets.

Finally, the Conservative government announced a plan to bail out General Motors. How much will that plan cost Canadians? It will cost $7.1 billion, in addition to the $3.5 billion Ontarians will shell out.

And what collateral will the government have for this huge investment? The government will own 7.9% of the company. Yes, an investment of $7.1 billion buys a mere 7.9% share.

Moreover, we are concerned about the terms of the agreement. The Prime Minister said that the $7.1 billion loan to General Motors would account for the bulk of the expected rise in the federal deficit.

People have a right to know the terms of this agreement with GM. Everyone agrees that the governments of Ontario and Canada had to take action. But any good investment must be well protected. Federal officials apparently agreed that there would be no guarantees if the economic recovery did not go as planned.

In addition, the Conservatives had no plan at the time for the laid-off workers, the dealers who had to close their doors or the parts manufacturers who were in trouble.

On August 19, the CEO of the Corporation des concessionnaires d'automobiles du Québec wrote to the Minister of Industry about the thousands of jobs lost because of the closure of more than 200 General Motors of Canada dealers, including more than 60 in Quebec.

After restructuring its dealer network, GM Canada had written to some 200 Canadian dealers to tell them that it would not be renewing their contracts when they expired.

In his letter, the CEO quotes an excerpt from a GM press release. It reads: “GM Canada, at the request of the federal and Ontario governments, accelerated its restructuring and released a revised, more aggressive Operating Plan on April 27th, which included plans to reduce the number of GM dealerships in Canada by approximately 42%.”

In conclusion, the question I asked on May 25 is still relevant, because the Corporation des concessionnaires still has not received an answer from the Government of Canada. Did Canada force General Motors to reduce the number of GM dealers in Canada?

7 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta


Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the hon. member talk about the subcommittee on the auto sector. He spoke as if he was actually there. If he had been there and sitting on that committee, he would have heard Stephen Beatty, the managing director of Toyota, say:

--there's no other country I'd rather be in. The Canadian automotive marketplace last year grew, so it is unlike every other industrialized nation. There has been some fundamental health in the Canadian economy. And that's been the result of hard work by government and by industry--

Of course, those types of comments were echoed throughout the hearings.

I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for the opportunity to speak about our government's record on the automotive industry in Canada. I would like to assure him that we are holding firm on our commitment to the industry and all of the families and communities that depend on it.

We have been proactive in our support for Canada's automotive sector, including restructuring assistance to both Chrysler and GM. The funds we provided to both companies was given under the guiding principles that it would be proportionate and parallel with those announced in the U.S., and that it would maintain Canada's share of North American production.

Ken Lewenza, the president of the CAW, summed up how critical the situation was when he said:

--we all understand that this government support was instrumental in maintaining the industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it provides.

It is a real shame, though admittedly not unexpected, that when the Canadian auto industry came to Parliament for help, the Leader of the Opposition was not up to the challenge. Rather than support workers in the auto sector, he sold them out the moment he was out of earshot of Ontario voters. One might remember that when he was in British Columbia on March 28, 2009, the Leader of the Opposition stated:

No voter in B.C. wants to throw money into the auto sector and neither do I.

That was certainly a very different message than he was sending here in Ontario. I think it is a perfect example of what the member for Papineau said about his own leader, when he said:

--he's a little all over the place sometimes. He says this, he says that--he contradicts himself.

That was what the member for Papineau had to say about his own leader.

Instead of refusing to believe in the value of the auto industry and the families and communities it supports, which has been the position of record of the Leader of the Opposition, our government recognizes that the automotive industry employs thousands of engineers and tens of thousands of highly skilled technicians.

There are no easy answers to the challenges currently facing the auto industry. We regret that GM has found it necessary to close some of its auto dealerships. I have to say, though, that the member for Hull—Aylmer's suggestion that the government somehow instructed GM to close dealerships is simply not true. I would encourage him to withdraw such a baseless statement. Maybe he will do such a thing with his minute rebuttal.

My colleague for Hull—Aylmer also raised a question about the Canada secured credit facility. This facility was fully operational by early May 2009 and a number of Canadian lenders from a cross-section of the vehicles and equipment financing industry have since received allocations. This group includes the financing arms of major auto and equipment manufacturers in Canada.

These companies are now well positioned to increase lending volumes backed by facility commitments. As an example of how effective the Canada secured credit facility has been, I would like to point out that private investors and financial institutions are now competing with the CSCF for auto securities. This is certainly good news for both the industry and consumers.

Our government's long-term goal remains the same: to ensure that there is a sustainable and viable North American auto sector in which Canada maintains its share of auto production and jobs, and secures a strong investment in R and D and innovation.

7:05 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada's participation is minimal compared to that of the U.S. government, which will control 60% of the company's capital for an investment of $30.1 billion.

In that same August 19 letter, considering the thousands of workers at General Motors dealerships who had lost their jobs or would lose their jobs over the coming months, and in an attempt to keep its member's employees informed, the corporation asked the Government of Canada whether it had forced General Motors to close so many dealerships in Canada.

The member opposite perfunctorily said that his government did not force General Motors to close dealerships. So I have to wonder why the government has not had the guts to give the Corporation des concessionnaires d'automobiles du Québec a clear answer in writing.

7:05 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think I answered that question fairly clearly the first time.

If I may, I will use this opportunity to talk about what commentators have said about our approach in general to this global economic crisis. The World Economic Forum has said that Canada will be one of only two industrialized countries in the world to come out in a more competitive situation than we were in when we went into this global circumstance. We have had the OECD and IMF reiterate the fact that Canada will be one of the strongest countries coming out of this recession and will in fact lead the way.

We have had organizations, media outlets and commentators like the Daily Telegraph which wrote, “The Canadian Tories are a model of how to behave during a downturn”. That article, which lamented the lack of leadership among G8 leaders, ended by saying, “If the rest of the world had comported itself with similar modesty and prudence, we might not be in this mess”.

We had Newsweek, for example, write in the spring, “If President Obama is looking for smart government, there is much he, and all of us, could learn from our...neighbor to the north”.

7:10 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will remember my question on June 9 to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, a question regarding federal government support for infrastructure renewal in Toronto, and the minister's use of vulgar language when referring to Toronto and Torontonians.

I am happy to have the opportunity tonight to delve into this question a bit more thoroughly. Let me preface my remarks with a comment about the city that I love and that some Canadians, including this Conservative government, seem to love to hate. The minister's off-colour language was indicative of an attitude that I fear is deep-set in the psyche of the government. I know the minister apologized, and I thank him for that, but this is my opportunity to remind him and the government about Toronto and the role that Toronto plays in the Canadian economy.

Toronto is Canada's first city. It is the city in Canada that connects. It connects buyers to sellers, people to business, business to banks, banks to foreign markets and the economic engines of Canada to the international trade markets of the world.

While much of this is done virtually, even in 2009 people still need to move physically from place to place, from home to business, from business to business. The City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario have developed a long-term plan for infrastructure renewal of our transit system that requires a financial partnership with our federal government. This plan is also a significant environmental initiative which will significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

I of course appreciate the government's help with the renewal of Union Station, improvements to GO Transit, the extension of the Spadina subway, and hopefully the Sheppard light rail line, but the complete disregard of the City of Toronto's priority, a fleet of renewed streetcars, still concerns me. Fortunately the minister, when responding with this litany of spending announcements, indicated that the best is yet to come.

I am hoping that the best that was yet to come on June 9 does not mean the $46,000 used to turn two GO train cars into rolling advertisements for the Conservative agenda, or the $34 million of Canadian taxpayers' money, at a minimum, that has been used to promote the government itself politically. Rather I hope that the best that is yet to come includes funds for the Eglinton LRT, which goes through my riding of Don Valley West and is badly needed to move people from the east side of Toronto to the Yonge Street subway line.

I hope that the best that is yet to come is not more favouritism shown to Conservative ridings, which on average are promised $2.1 million in funding, while opposition ridings have been allocated only $1.6 million on average. Rather, I hope that the best that is yet to come shows a non-partisan recognition that Toronto has 21% of the population of Ontario and both needs and deserves that proportion of funding.

I hope that the best that is yet to come includes actually getting real dollars flowing to cities, real money flowing to municipalities, as with the gas transfer tax, and I hope that the best that is yet to come means real, significant, shovel-ready projects like streetcars for Toronto, rather than screwdriver-ready projects that are just routine measures of maintenance dressed up as economic action.

The government has a real opportunity to improve the lives of all Canadians through government intervention in the economy and through the support of public transit in Toronto and elsewhere. Can the minister elaborate on what he means when he says, “The best is yet to come”?

7:10 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my friend. I am happy to rise today to answer that exact question.

As the member opposite should be aware, our government has made significant contributions to the greater Toronto area. Our government has committed $622 million, for instance, to the Toronto-York Spadina subway extension. Indeed, this will run through the ridings of the member for York Centre and the member for York West, two Liberal ridings.

We have also committed more than $333 million to the Sheppard East LRT line, which will run through three ridings, again all held by the Liberal Party: Don Valley East, Scarborough—Agincourt and Scarborough—Rouge River. However, it does not stop there.

In September of this year, Canada's transport minister, together with Toronto Mayor David Miller, announced more than $600 million for more than 500 projects throughout the city of Toronto.

I myself have a nephew and good friend that lives in Toronto and has for many years. We all have family in Toronto. When we in the Conservative Party support Toronto, we support family members from coast to coast and it does not matter what political stripe. Indeed, I would suggest to the member that his accounting is, quite frankly, off and I suggest that the member who did that accounting should re-address that issue.

Toronto Mayor David Miller, in fact, applauded these investments, saying, “These investments will be used to put people in Toronto and Ontario to work, and to build the public infrastructure needed to enable future growth and prosperity”. Indeed, he went to say, “The City of Toronto is proud to be partnering with the Federal government to do our part to stimulate Canada's economy”.

These historic investments will create jobs today. They will create jobs tomorrow and into the future for our children and grandchildren. It will create economic prosperity and a quality of life second to none in the world.

Our government, in conjunction with the city of Toronto, is also aiming to improve drinking water, waste water treatment plants, and to make our roads and bridges far more reliable for our citizens to use on a daily basis.

We are doing this by funding projects like: the Mount Pleasant Bridge rehabilitation, the Gardiner-Bathurst/Strachan Bridge rehabilitation, the Deanewood Pedestrian Bridge rehabilitation, Steeles Avenue resurfacing, Don Valley Parkway resurfacing, laneway improvements and resurfacing to many other major roads in the GTA, water cooling for Front Street, downtown Toronto lead water service replacement-Aldergrove, Spadina-Wellington trunk water main improvements, emergency repair of Coxwell sanitary sewer, Earl Bales Park stormwater management facility, Coatsworth cut water quality improvements, Eastern Beaches water quality improvements, and the replacement of vintage cast iron water mains in Alexdon Road.

The list is too exhaustive to go through in the short period of time I have, but let me just say the people of Toronto are very happy. The mayor of Toronto is very happy. The Premier of Ontario is very happy. That is because we are working with our partners at all levels, no matter what political stripe, to deliver the goods to Canadians.

7:15 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments very much. I want to make it clear, however, I did not give an accounting. I believe that is the government's job. Its job is to report back to us and I will be looking forward to an accounting.

I would also like to take him on a tour of Toronto one day. We would probably have a very good tour. I would take him to some of those places. He did his best with some of the pronunciations of the names, but I can help him a bit with those because I know that Toronto is not known to the government. It is not sure exactly where Spadina is or where Agincourt is or where Strachan is. I would be delighted to host a small gathering of Conservative members to help them understand what it means to actually live in Canada's largest city with the crumbling infrastructure we deal with.

Of course the mayor is pleased with some largesse coming from the government, of course the Premier of Ontario is pleased with some largesse, but I am talking about an attitude of partnership that is escaping the government. It is an attitude that I think was exhibited by the minister's language and is still exhibited in its ongoing efforts.

7:15 p.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the member was not listening thoroughly. I certainly could have some pronunciation issues but only because I am not as familiar as he possibly is, just as he is not familiar with northern Alberta and some of the pronunciations of towns in that area.

I know that I am familiar with Toronto. I have been to Toronto two or three times this year already. I visited family in Toronto. I visited the CN Tower almost every time I have been to Toronto, probably three or four times in the last year. We in this Conservative government like Toronto just as we like all communities across Canada because we are Canadians and we support Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

When David Miller can clearly indicate to this government, the people of Ontario and all Canadians that he appreciates the support we have given, I think that speaks clearly for itself.

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:20 p.m.)