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House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and related fiscal measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to comment on how the infrastructure programs in the budget will affect his riding. While he is doing that, I want to go on the record, while the Minister of Infrastructure is here, to make sure he gets the message that municipalities and first nations want to ensure they get their fair allotment of the infrastructure funds.

I have been making this case for over a year but I have been worried recently. In talking to officials, they have suggested that there is no policing mechanism to ensure that first nations and municipalities, which have such a huge task of delivering infrastructure and the lowest tax base, get the fair share that they did in the past. The genesis of these programs in the past was to help these junior governments.

I know the minister has met with them, and I appreciate that, and I know there is a generous amount in the budget, but it is important that municipalities and first nations get their fair share to do the jobs they need to do with their limited resources.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, the comments made by the hon. member for Yukon were perhaps meant more for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

But one thing is certain, as I was saying in my speech—and I am glad he mentioned this part of the budget—not everything in a budget is bad, nor is everything ever perfect. Although the government would have us believe that it will solve all our problems, that is not the case. Although the Liberals support it, the budget is not perfect. We saw this in question period, as well in the speeches we heard.

However, according to all the experts, in a time of economic crisis, it is completely reasonable to invest in infrastructure. That is one positive aspect of this budget.

I agree with my colleague: this must be done as quickly and straightforwardly as possible. In a time of economic crisis, we cannot wait for endless criteria to be met. The money must be available immediately and quickly for Quebec and for the other provinces, in order to get this work underway.

I spoke with the minister who said himself that any work that is already ready to begin will be given priority. I think that is a very good idea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague further to something he said regarding what women are going through during this economic crisis. He talked about the fact that many women work in part time jobs. This is their reality, and we see that the government is not responding to it. What is more, we see that the government is taking steps that truly go against the most fundamental human rights enjoyed by everyone, enjoyed by all women in Canada for many years, in the area of pay equity.

I would like to hear my hon. colleague's point of view on the matter.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that very pertinent question. What we are witnessing is typical of so-called right-wing governments all over the world. In times of economic crisis, as in times of economic growth, right-wing governments adopt a laissez-faire philosophy. We should not expect the Conservatives to take measures to help the most vulnerable members of society. The Conservatives tell people who have lost their jobs to go out and get another one. I once heard the current Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Minister of National Revenue and Minister of State (Agriculture), CPC), when he was minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for Quebec Regions, tell people who had lost their jobs to go and work in Alberta because there was work there. Talk about a heartless thing to say.

As for women, as I said earlier, this would have been a good time—and anytime is a good time—for the government to introduce measures to improve access to employment insurance, because statistically, women most often hold part time jobs.

I said in my speech that pay equity is not negotiable. Pay equity is a right. You do not negotiate a right. Unfortunately, this government does not see things this way.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-10, the budget implementation act.

First, on behalf of my constituents of Don Valley East and indeed all Canadians, I would like to express our condolences to the friends and families of the victims of the brush firestorm that has swept across the state of Victoria in southern Australia. As a fellow Commonwealth nation, we share the shock and sadness of the greatest natural disaster in Australian history. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them and, as parliamentarians, I want to assure the people of Australia that the people of Canada stand ready to assist them in any possible way.

Now on to the topic at hand, the budget implementation act.

My constituents are asking why the Liberal Party has decided to support this budget. The simple answer lies in the fact that in this time of global economic turmoil, Canadians want politicians of all political stripes to work together so that we can put the country back on the road to prosperity. Unfortunately, this has been a bumpy road indeed and it seems that the government continues to hit guardrails at every turn.

First we had an economic update in November that created the greatest political crisis in political history since the King-Byng affair. While the Prime Minister fumbled at the steering wheel, the Conservative government had to face the embarrassment of withdrawing its own economic statement that was penned entirely by partisan zealots in the PMO without any consultation with officials at the Department of Finance. We then learned that instead of running a modest surplus in the coming fiscal year, Canada would, instead, run a deficit of $64 billion over two years, even before a stimulus package was ever contemplated.

In order to make a meaningful contribution toward the shaping of the budget, Liberals fanned out across the country to consult widely with Canadians in all walks of life. People told us that we must come up with an action plan that would, first and foremost, stimulate the economy and protect the most vulnerable in our society.

I know that it is not in the DNA of the Conservatives to make social housing a priority, but that is exactly what the Liberal Party advocated as an investment in our future. To that end, the Liberal opposition welcomes the following: over $400 million over two years for the construction of social housing units for low-income seniors; $75 million over two years for the construction of social housing units for persons with disabilities; $400 million over two years for new and existing housing stock on first nation reserves; and $200 million over two years for social housing in the north.

These are the types of constructive contributions the Liberal Party supports. However, the leader of the Liberal Party has made it clear that Liberal Party support is conditional and contingent upon the proper management of taxpayer dollars.

While we do welcome the extension of EI benefits, there is a real problem with access for many workers in my riding of Don Valley East, and in Ontario in general.

In 2006, the City of Toronto commissioned a task force on modernizing income security. It discovered that the first social safety net, employment insurance, is so full of holes that only 27% of workers who pay into the system are eligible to collect benefits. In a prospering economy, that is a serious problem, but in a recession, it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Last week I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Human Resources after one of my constituents complained that it is virtually impossible to get through to the EI call centre by telephone. I received assurances from the minister that more resources are being allocated to relieve the call volume, but this speaks to the question of access.

Minimum hour requirements vary from region to region across Canada, but the government must not exclude a certain class of workers who have paid into the system for years yet receive no benefits. Before the federal government begins to download the victims of this recession on to the provinces, I suggest that the Conservatives begin to rethink access to EI benefits.

The Liberal Party also supports raising the national child tax benefit and doubling tax relief provided by the working income tax benefit to encourage low-income Canadians to find and retain jobs.

We also asked for and strongly support a provision that will reduce the minimum withdrawal rate for RRIFs by 25%.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the leader of the Liberal Party has indicated that Liberal support for this budget is conditional and we will be reviewing the government's use of taxpayers' dollars quite closely.

Accountability and transparency are key. As the official critic for national revenue, I must draw members' attention to the results of an internal audit by the Canada Revenue Agency. It revealed that paycheque errors are costing the tax department millions of dollars each year by issuing cheques to people who no longer work for CRA. As of February last year, approximately $3 million had been paid out to 2,258 employees. This translates into a 5% error rate.

Similarly, the Liberal Party is deeply concerned with how the government will properly account for the home renovation tax credit. This tax expenditure has the potential for disaster and we in the Liberal Party will insist upon proper accountability and transparency mechanisms, because it is possible that people could misuse the system, abuse the system, and leave the taxpayers with a lot of boondoggle.

It is this kind of dismal performance that has driven Conservative allies such as the National Citizens Coalition, an organization once headed by the Prime Minister, to disparage the government for poor management. In fact, the head of the NCC has called upon grassroots support of the Conservative Party, many of whom are already tapped out, to withhold political donations until they see a form of improvement on the part of the government.

I have consulted my constituents from far and wide, and they have insisted that there are major issues they want the budget to address. Some of these issues include protection of the vulnerable, protection of their pensions, protection of the jobs of today, protection of job creation and the jobs of tomorrow, and access by small businesses to credit.

Some of the initiatives the government has taken have been in response to our input to the Minister of Finance. However, 1.2 million Canadians have lost or are facing losing their jobs. Out of that number, only 27% to 30% are able to access EI. For those vulnerable Canadians, it is important that we as parliamentarians revisit the EI eligibility rules and ensure that in an economic recession, we are there to help people.

The Minister of Finance had committed some funds for access to credit by small businesses, and the Liberal Party as the official opposition will ensure that that money does transfer to the small and medium size businesses.

My time is drawing to a close, so I will now answer questions and comments.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my province of British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a long and storied tradition of public service, delivering broad-based community police services to the people of our province. In fact, we are fortunate enough to have the headquarters of the RCMP detachment located within the confines of my riding of Vancouver Kingsway.

The RCMP was promised wage increases by the government. The RCMP officers were counting on those wage increases. However, after the election and with this budget, the RCMP wage increases that those officers were relying on in good faith have been rolled back.

I would like to know what the member's position is on that, as well as on the other collective agreement wage rollbacks that have been slipped in under the cover of this so-called economic action plan, which again simply is an attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for asking this question because it is a very valid question. I agree with him that the RCMP was supposed to have received its wage, but it was rolled back. My hon. colleague from Ajax—Pickering posed a question and did not seem to have received a very good response from the minister at that time. I firmly believe that members of Parliament have to ensure that there is a protection of people, that we maintain our word, and we ensure that Parliament respects the rights of people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, my good friend from Don Valley East, said the Conservative Party in its DNA does not have social housing. The more I read this budget, it is not in its DNA to support seniors, youth, heath care or education.

I want to ask a specific question on EI, if I may. In my neck of the woods in the great city of Toronto, Scarborough, where I come from, I am proud of Ontarians. They work to earn a living. They do not work for unemployment, but in these difficult and unusual times, unfortunately some of them are getting laid off, companies are closing, et cetera.

I want to know, because they are asking me, why are we in Ontario being treated differently in terms of EI than other provinces?

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was under the Harris government, which slashed, burned and destroyed Ontario, and now he has come to the federal side. What it took us 12 years to do, the Conservatives have undone in two and a half years. They have literally brought Canada--I was not going in that direction, Mr. Speaker, but I am prepared to go toe to toe with my good friend. It is just that this is not the time nor the place.

Nevertheless, I want to know. Because their understanding is that the same dollar they pay in Toronto is the same Canadian dollar they pay in B.C., Charlottetown or wherever. Why are we treated differently?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very relevant question, and we have had a lot of questions and concerns about EI.

As I mentioned in my speech, there were people calling my constituency office demanding that we do something to change EI. Access is not available. We have to change rules and Ontario has been shortchanged.

I would like to bring attention to the heckling that was done by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

When the Liberal government was in power from 1993 to 2005, we had to clean up the absolute total mess that the Conservatives had left us. They had left a bankrupt country. IMF told us that we were the economic basket case, and therefore it was important to turn things around. When we have no money, when we are bankrupt, we need to first get our economic health back. Once we get our economic health back, then we address issues.

At that time there were many provinces that were have not provinces and they needed that formula. Now that we have come to an economic crisis, I think it is important that Ontario be treated as fairly as other provinces.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity. I think there was a far better speech in the offing a few minutes ago than may happen now.

I am glad my colleague, the member for Don Valley East, began her speech remembering the folks in Victoria state, Australia, and the terrible fires that are happening there. It is an area that I know very well, having travelled very extensively in Victoria over the years. I know the communities of Healesville, Lake Mary, Gippsland, Beechworth and the neighbouring communities very well. I am constantly thinking of the people who have died and their families, and the people who have faced such terribly destructive fires in the last few weeks.

The budget and Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, are what we are debating now in this House. It comes as no surprise that someone sitting in this corner of the House, a member of the New Democratic Party, will be voting against this piece of legislation, as we voted against the bill.

It comes as no surprise to Canadians because we knew it was going to be a stretch to find a way to support the budget and the government, given its past record, given its complete dismissal of the economic crisis that Canada and the world were facing not so very long ago.

I am not going to make any apologies for saying before the budget was tabled that I was going to be hard pressed to support it. I have lost complete confidence in the government to address the issues that Canadians are facing and to address this economic crisis. Certainly, the budget that is before us and the budget implementation bill have done nothing to restore my confidence or make me change my mind about that. I will make no apologies for the decision I have made in that regard.

If we look at the Conservative budget in the very biggest picture, just how much money, how much of a stimulus is this piece of legislation and this budget going to offer to Canada in this period of economic crisis? Other countries, other international organizations have suggested rates that should be allocated toward appropriate stimulation in this time.

Even at the G20 meeting that the Prime Minister attended last fall, a conclusion was made there that 2% of GDP would be an appropriate level of spending to stimulate an economy and help deal with this economic crisis. We have fallen very short of that in this budget from the Conservative government.

President Obama's American economic stimulus package is at least 3% of the GDP of the United States. The Americans have taken that message from the G20 and actually increased their commitment to helping Americans get out of the troubles that have been caused by the current economic crisis.

In Canada, our economic stimulus package, as offered by the Conservative government, is only .7% of the GDP. That statistic comes from the parliamentary budget officer, a non-partisan officer of Parliament who has looked at the budget figures and looked at those calculations.

That is one third, proportionally, to what the Americans are spending to help Americans deal with this economic crisis, to help the United States get out of the crisis. It is only half of what the G20 recommended and what the Prime Minister apparently agreed to at the G20 meeting.

Even in the very broadest picture that we could look at, this economic stimulus package falls short of what is required by the analysis from experts all around the world to actually deal with the current economic crisis.

The crisis is absolute across this country. That was made very clear with the most recent job loss statistics that came out for the month of January. In British Columbia alone, the net job losses were 35,000 jobs lost in the month of January. That figure of 35,000 jobs lost really does not tell us the full impact of what is going in British Columbia.

The reality in British Columbia is that 68,000 full-time jobs were lost in the month of January. Now there were 33,000 part-time jobs created in that period for that net loss of 35,000 jobs in British Columbia.

I think we have to be very careful in how we look at those statistics. We all know that a part-time job does not replace a full-time job. It does not replace the wages of a full-time job, the salary of a full-time job, and it does not replace the benefits that are available to a full-time worker as opposed to a part-time worker. This statistic for British Columbia really tells of a very serious economic dislocation in my home province.

The rate of unemployment in British Columbia is increasing dramatically. It is now 6.1%. That is up from 5.3% in December and it is up very sharply over March 2008 when British Columbia had an all-time low unemployment rate of 3.8%. That is a very dramatic almost 3% increase over the past 10 months in terms of the unemployment rate in British Columbia.

British Columbian families are suffering in this economic downturn in very dramatic ways. Losing their jobs is one key way they are being affected by this economic downturn.

What is the government's response? In an economic downturn when people are losing their jobs, employment insurance is a key program to assist people at least initially with the effects of losing their jobs. Unfortunately, the government has chosen to almost completely ignore employment insurance in its budget and in the budget bill we are debating.

There is one measure. The government has decided that those people who qualify for EI will be entitled to another five weeks of benefits. That is something, I suppose, but it does not ensure that anyone who does not qualify for EI will be able to. It does not increase the rates of employment insurance that people are paid and it does not get rid of the two weeks that people have to wait through before their benefits start to flow.

The whole commitment around extending the five weeks is really a very tiny commitment. There were figures from one of the deputy ministers in the Department of Human Resources presented recently to a committee. It seems it is less than $15 million a year in terms of increased assistance to the employment insurance program in Canada.

That is less than $15 million a year to some of the most vulnerable people in Canada who have lost their jobs. At the same time, the government continues with its massive $1 billion program of corporate tax cuts to the most profitable corporations in Canada. There is no excuse for not having done better to help workers who lose their jobs through difficult periods and for not having better utilized the EI program.

We know that EI has been gutted over the years. It is not the program that it once was in Canada when it offered real assistance to Canadian workers. We know that far too many people who actually pay into EI are never eligible to collect it. We know that far too many Canadians never contribute to EI, either, and are not even eligible to engage the program at any level. That needed to be addressed in the budget, especially given the economic downturn and job losses being suffered across this country.

Employment insurance stimulates the economy in the sense that when people are on EI they are not saving money. They are spending every dollar they have. That money goes back into the communities that are affected by layoffs, and plant and mill closures. That money is important to communities, the broader community and the businesses in those communities to ensure the economic well-being of those communities. It is a crucial program and a huge opportunity has been lost. If for no other reason, the failure to address the EI program is reason enough not to support this budget and the bill before the House.

There is another problem arising out of the increased layoffs and job losses in British Columbia. The people who deliver what remains of the EI program do not have the resources to do the job properly. The processing centre located in my riding of Burnaby—Douglas was receiving 7,500 new applications for EI a week and it does not have the staff to keep up with that number of new applications.

Therefore, people are having to wait longer and the people delivering that program are working overtime. One can imagine, with that kind of workload and delivering an important program like this, the stress on those workers is very significant because they know how important it is to the people they deal with who need this program and the employment insurance income.

The government is totally unprepared to meet the challenge of even delivering the existing EI program given the changed circumstances that we have in Canada and British Columbia. Attention needs to be given to that immediately.

An aspect of the budget that I think is also severely lacking is the attention to the housing crisis in Canada. We know that a significant number of Canadians are homeless. We know that other Canadians are couch surfing. We know that others are underhoused and that their housing is overcrowded. We know that health conditions in a significant part of Canadian housing leave a lot to be desired.

While there are some measures in the budget, such as measures for housing for seniors, not one of these measures even comes close to being what is actually needed to address the housing crisis in Canada. Sadly, a lot of them are one-off programs. We do not yet have a long-term national housing strategy for Canada, a national housing program for Canada that commits to building homes for Canadians over a long period of time.

New Democrats have called for a 10-year national housing program that would actually build homes for Canadians. That is not delivered in the budget, and it is still an absolute requirement to help Canadians deal with the circumstances they face and are increasingly going to face because of this economic downturn.

There is no long-term national planning for housing in Canada. That is a huge failure of the government and of the budget. We need that kind of support in communities across Canada. Every weekend on street corners in greater Vancouver and around British Columbia, citizens do silent protests called Stands for Housing. Their slogan is “Homes for All”. That began before the economic downturn. It was a crisis then, and those silent witness protests are continuing.

Regarding infrastructure programs, we know there is a huge limitation on what the government has proposed. A lot of it depends on matching funds from municipalities and provinces. Unfortunately, not all municipalities in Canada have the ability to match funds.

An infrastructure program in Burnaby, the Burnaby Lake dredging program, has been readied. The environmental approvals are done, the province has kicked in, the municipality has kicked in and we are still waiting for a commitment from the federal government. That one is shovel-ready, and I hope that shortly the federal government will approve funding for that important project.

I know that all political parties have called for that in the recent election. I hope the government will move on it shortly.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Burnaby—Douglas quite closely. He was talking about the same province I am from, British Columbia.

I live in a riding that has had a lot of job loss. There is a very significant forestry community there. Our job losses do not make headlines in the same way as some of the job losses in other parts of the country. It is just a fact of life in rural British Columbia that we do not get regional or national news coverage when we lose thousands of skilled jobs.

However, I would like to talk about the fallout that occurs from that and put a different complexion on it. The reality is that the federal government has done a lot in terms of bridging to retirement programs. It is through the provincial administration, but it is federal money. We have also done a lot a lot in terms of retraining, which has gone a huge way toward addressing the concerns of people who have lost jobs that they were expecting to have for a lifetime.

I hear the member giving no credit at all to the foresight of the government in not going into a--

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised. Ridings such as Vancouver Island North have had very serious economic problems with the downturn in the forest industry. The current government and the previous government have been done very little to support the forestry industry in British Columbia. We have this horrible softwood lumber agreement because we caved and did not stand up for that industry and for those workers as a government. That has led to some of the terrible problems that have faced the people of that region.

We are allowing the export of raw logs when those logs could be manufactured into a viable product here in Canada, thus keeping Canadian workers employed. There is no excuse for allowing raw log exports in a time of crisis in an industry in British Columbia.

We have seen the failure of the federal government to deliver on the pine beetle programs. There are 103 aboriginal communities in Canada that list themselves as endangered communities because they have not been able to access the money the federal government promised was there to assist communities in responding to the crisis started by the pine beetle. They have not been able to that. They have not been able to prepare for the kinds of fires that might result, or even to do the firebreak work around their communities to protect those communities, because they cannot--

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway may have a short question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about education.

In good times or bad, a country needs a strong educational system. I notice in the budget that one of the target groups the government is going after is students who have student loans. I also want to mention that an important infrastructure project in B.C. has to do with the seismic upgrading of schools, which is important to keep our children safe. Would the member for Burnaby—Douglas comment on the educational impact of the budget and what it does and does not do?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that in the budget implementation act there are new provisions around the Canada student loan program that are punitive. They go after students who are in difficulty with their student loans. They require them to provide documentation to the government. It is actually a punitive measure against a very small percentage of students, those who do not make the payments on their student loans. This kind of measure has no place in the budget implement act. It is not an economic stimulus measure. It is not an economic measure. If the Conservatives were looking to recover money owed to the government, why not go after some of the business loans that are outstanding in programs in which only a very tiny percentage is ever repaid? The government should not go after students who need assistance in getting their education.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House. I am here today because of the citizens in my riding of Saint-Lambert and because of the trust they have put in me. They know that I will never go back on the principles and values that have always carried me through. And it is these principles and values that will keep me from voting for this budget. This budget has brutally attacked the concepts of social justice and solidarity in too many ways. This budget goes against the responsibilities I believe in and that guide my judgment, as well as those of the party I am pleased to be a part of, the Bloc Québécois.

Let us first look at what is planned for women. For the status of women, the budget continues the assault that the Conservatives began when they came to power. By making pay equity negotiable, the Conservatives have trampled a right that many, with good reason, consider to be a fundamental right, a vested right. This serves as a reminder that wilful ignorance, which they do so well, should be denounced at every opportunity, as the Bloc Québécois did when this same government announced cuts to the 2006 budget of Status of Women Canada. Do we need to be reminded that these cuts led to the closure of 12 of the 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, one of which was in Quebec City?

We could also mention the abolition of the court challenges program, another shameful tactic to silence citizens' claims against the government. Women's groups made extensive use of this program to assert their rights. I could also talk about this government's decision to reject the recommendations of the pay equity task force. Some years ago, it instructed the government to adopt proactive pay equity legislation, modelled after the existing Quebec law, which provides that pay equity disputes must not be settled through collective bargaining. That law is fundamentally different from the legislation proposed by the government.

No matter, I will continue to add my voice to those unconditionally defending women's rights, as long as I am able to stand, as will all Bloc Québécois members.

I cannot ignore the fact that women are most vulnerable when it comes to employment insurance benefits. In fact, only one out of three women qualifies for employment insurance benefits when she loses her job. Why? Simply because more women hold part-time or temporary jobs, work on contract or on an occasional basis, or are self-employed. In fact, approximately 40% of women hold a so-called atypical job, which considerably decreases their chances of receiving employment insurance benefits. I cannot stress enough how devastating these rules can be for certain families, especially mother-led single-parent families.

But women were not the only ones forgotten in the most recent budget. All manner of unemployed people were forgotten despite what this government may say. Adding five weeks of employment insurance benefits when more than half the unemployed do not meet the program's eligibility criteria will not make much difference for half the workers and will make no difference at all for the other half.

The Conservative government can go ahead and accuse the Bloc Québécois of not working with it, but the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for major changes to the employment insurance system, changes that would certainly have made it possible to provide unemployed men and women with substantial assistance. This morning, in fact, my colleague from Chambly—Borduas has introduced a bill in that connection. I will employ a formula much favoured by the hon. members over the way and invite them to work with us to ensure that the changes he proposes are accepted as promptly as possible. In fact, the main proposals in this bill are: reduction of the minimum qualifying period to 360 hours worked, regardless of the regional unemployment rate; increasing the weekly benefit rates from 55% to 60% ; abolition of the waiting period; and making it possible for self-employed workers to belong to the program on a voluntary basis. There are other measures besides.

After helping themselves to over $54 billion from this fund—to which the unemployed have contributed while working, week in and week out, year in and year out—the least they could do would be to make amends and restore the spirit that lay behind this program when it was created.

The unemployed have suffered for years from this undue hardship, and now that the number of people needing EI benefits will be greater than ever, this government does nothing to improve access to benefits—it does the opposite.

What is there in this budget to remove these inequalities, this profound injustice? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This has led many people to say that the Canadian employment insurance program has been a real joke for more than a decade, but the least funny joke imaginable. It is a very lame joke, indeed. Lame, because everybody has heard it before, and lame, because the consequences are not an imaginary situation, as they are in a really funny joke, but very real. And above all, because those consequences have been rubber stamped, endorsed, and approved by one government after another that ruled this country.

By handing out mind-boggling—not to mention permanent—tax cuts, this government is depriving itself of precious revenues, just as it did when it cut the GST by 2%. These generous donations, which do nothing to help the less well-off who, in many cases, do not pay taxes, have a minimal effect on domestic spending and on gross domestic product, as the government itself admitted in its budget. In fact, every dollar spent on employment insurance contributions returns two times more than a dollar invested in tax cuts, and every dollar invested in infrastructure returns 10 times more than a dollar invested in tax cuts. However, it seems that this government would much rather line the pockets of the rich than help those hit hardest by the economic crisis, which, let us not forget, is still in its early days.

January 2009 was the most devastating month in Canadian history in terms of job losses: 129,000 jobs were lost. If the current trend persists—and there is, unfortunately, no reason to expect it to change—nearly 70,000 of the newly unemployed will not be eligible for employment insurance. What will they do? Where will they go? Where will older workers who cannot be retrained go? The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development continues to deny reality, just as she did in the House last Friday, and insists on creating a false dichotomy between retraining workers and paying out income support benefits for older workers.

The fact that we are asking for this program—a program that worked well in the past and would cost the federal government less than $50 million per year—does not mean that we do not want older workers who have been laid off to get back into the workforce. We are simply recognizing the harsh reality these people are facing: having to change jobs, perhaps even fields that late in life when getting back into the labour force is certainly more difficult.

In 2005, the Employment Insurance Commission reported that approximately 40% of older workers have not completed their high school education. The result is simple: according to the commission's report, when older workers lose their jobs, they are more likely to remain unemployed longer than younger workers. After spending their entire life working to give the next generation the means to succeed, and as they are approaching a new phase of life, is the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development prepared to tell them what the member for Jonquière—Alma and the Minister of National Revenue did, that they should move to Alberta where the unemployment rate is lower? Does this government not have any empathy for older workers or will it simply tell them to pack their bags and move if they want to find work?

In closing, I would simply like to say that I appreciate this government's efforts to build concrete infrastructures. However, as women's advocacy groups have said, we must not overlook social infrastructures, which are essential to human development. Their value cannot necessarily be calculated in dollars and cents, but it is nonetheless real. And because I believe such social infrastructures have been overlooked in this budget, I cannot bring myself to vote in favour of Bill C-10, Budget Implementation Act, 2009.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for the member. Does she not think that one of the most effective ways the government can actually help those most in need, those people who have lost their jobs, would be to modernize the EI system by ensuring that EI is equitable across Canada, that individuals receive the same benefits in the same way as others who have lost their jobs across the country and to put more money into the processing aspect right now? Many of our constituents are waiting two months or more for their cheque, which means they are losing their homes, the assets they need to live and they are becoming destitute. The loss of jobs is being compounded by the inadequate administration at the EI level.

Does my colleague not think that those would be effective solutions to deal with this problem?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, the very thing we should be doing during an economic crisis is improving the employment insurance system. My colleague introduced a bill this morning with a view to improving this system.

Last Sunday, I took my son to his soccer game and I spoke with two parents who are seasonally employed. They explained to me that, even though they had made claims for employment insurance in December, they were still waiting to receive their benefits. They told me that this was the first time in 10 years that it has taken this long and that it made no sense.

Meanwhile, these people often use their credit cards to buy food, pay the rent and pay for the daily needs of their family, knowing that the interest rates on these cards have gone up. Imagine when these people receive their first payments—they will already be up to their ears in debt.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. Bloc Québécois member for her speech, which brought forward many excellent reasons not to support the budget.

I would like to ask her a question. What impact would the budget—supported by the Liberals—have on Quebec women and their children?

On this side of the House, starting at the middle, we know that this budget will not support families.

Why does the budget not support them?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. And I neglected to thank the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his question earlier.

In my opinion, this budget is extremely disturbing, especially when it comes to the plight of families, because it includes nothing for families. It talks about renovating social housing, and I know that there is a huge need for more housing, so new social housing should be built.

I seriously wonder what sort of society the government wants. Everything is backwards. The government is abandoning workers and undermining women who have ideas and plans. The government wants to train our older workers. In fact, it wants to hold on to older workers while our young people drop out, and we are calling on the government to make transfers for post-secondary education. It is high time we pushed this issue.

At the same time, the government is not doing anything about the guaranteed income supplement for our workers, for our seniors. Everything is backwards, and I am extremely concerned by this budget. That is why I will not vote in favour.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague from Saint-Lambert on her excellent speech. She really covered the waterfront and explained why we in the Bloc Québécois will not support this budget.

Can my colleague from Saint-Lambert tell me how measures such as abolishing the waiting period would benefit people who receive employment insurance?

Why are such measures needed?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that if the Conservative government wanted to rapidly take action to help workers in a quick and effective manner, it could decide right now to abolish the waiting period. That does not require a bill. They could implement an administrative measure that would take effect quickly.

If the waiting period were eliminated, employment insurance benefits would be paid on the first day of unemployment. That is very important for anyone who loses their job. That is the reason for putting this measure in place.

There is the additional five weeks of benefits. But not all workers will have access to these five weeks because they may not be available in some regions. How does that help? I repeat that we must help our workers who lose their jobs as soon as they become unemployed.