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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

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, we find ourselves in an interesting time, certainly in the global context, dealing with the unprecedented downturn in the global economy.

One word that has become much more common in our vocabulary, certainly in the political realm, is the word “hope”. This word was frequently used in the election campaign held by our neighbours to the south. It is a word that inspired not only millions of Americans but inspired people all around the world, as well as those here in Canada. As people face unprecedented job losses, the dangers to their savings and the threats to their well-being, they are desperately looking for hope.

Hope was something that we were all looking for in the budget. Our leader and our party talked about what we would like to see in the budget to deal with the hope Canadians were looking for.

I would like to begin my speech by speaking about Canadians in the area that I represent. We are actually feeling quite hopeless when it comes to the budget. I would like to paint a picture of some of the issues that my region is facing.

First, we are dealing with the loss of jobs in the forestry industry, following on a dynamic that crosses our country. People have lost well paying jobs, jobs that are at the root of the well-being of our communities.

While great effort was made by provincial and municipal governments, the federal government was not at the table. It was the softwood lumber deal, or the softwood sell out as we call it, that created the job losses in our area. These jobs have gone elsewhere because Canadians certainly are not benefiting from the softwood lumber sell out.

Jobs are also being lost in the mining sector. As the price of our mining resources goes down, hundreds of people in our area have either lost their jobs or are about to lose their jobs.

We also have in our area a number of first nations communities that have failed to see any kind of job creation and have certainly not benefited from any economic development on a national level. In terms of these areas, people were looking to the budget for some support.

With respect to regional development, I applaud the government for putting emphasis on southern Ontario, but it did not look at other regions. The federal government did not take a leadership role in partnering with the provincial or territorial governments in terms of truly creating broader regional development. We in northern Manitoba consider ourselves to be northern Canada. We would like to see the federal government come to the table and look at some of the economic development opportunities in our region. I can assure members of the House that there are many opportunities and some very promising ones.

Another disappointment was that the government did not address the challenges facing the mining community.While the government issued a press release in December indicating that it would be there for the forestry and mining communities, mining was almost entirely left out of the budget.

I am glad to see support for mining exploration but there is nothing in the budget to deal with the severe job losses that the mining industry is facing and there is nothing for these communities. Hundreds of jobs are being lost in our neighbouring province and many of us fear that it will continue to get worse in our region as well.

I have a great deal of concern with respect to first nations. I am glad to see a positive commitment to housing and education, but I am concerned as to how the money will become realized in terms of tangible changes in infrastructure and the quality of life for first nations. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on private housing. This is not a reality for first nations in Canada. The reality is that many first nations do not have the money to invest in private housing. In order to deal with the shameful third world conditions on many first nations, we need the government to step up and work along with band governments to ensure that first nations have adequate housing.

One of the biggest areas absent in the budget to deal with the challenges facing first nations is that of job creation. I think many of us recognize that job creation and economic development opportunities can help many of these communities become self-sufficient. They certainly stand to benefit from the resources in their areas and of their people, while partaking in the 21st century economy that the rest of Canada takes for granted.

This is an area where the federal government could play a much more substantial role. It would also serve to look at the future and how communities all across Canada can be part of moving ahead as the economy moves forward out of this downturn.

On EI reform, as hundreds of people lose their jobs in our area and across the country, there is a huge concern around the waiting times, with which the government has yet to be deal. The fact is many people, certainly in northern Canada, are not in positions to accumulate enough hours to access EI. There is a need to recognize that these injustices take place and are most often dealt to people who have, year after year, paid into a fund that they hope to access if they are in the unfortunate position of losing their jobs.

My hometown of Thompson, Manitoba has been calling for partnerships in housing for quite some time. We need affordable housing. We need housing for students who are attending University College of the North. We need housing for single parents who are raising their families. We need housing for professionals who are coming into our communities and participating in our industries. Those kinds of investments are not going to be a reality, given the significant lack of funding toward housing as a result of the budget.

We hope many of the commitments in infrastructure are realized in tangible projects and communities. With respect to some of the shovel ready projects, municipalities and the province will need to be at the table. In the case of some of our municipalities, they are unable to come up with some of the funds. There is also the need to look at building some projects that perhaps might be more long term than the two year parameter that has been set up.

On the more national level, and moving beyond the regional piece, there is a number of other areas where this budget poses a great deal of concern. Much has been said today about the rollback of rights, whether it is women's rights or the rights to collective bargaining. That speaks to a real failure to move away from dealing with the economic reality that people are facing. In fact, it brings Canada even further back in the quality of the tangible human rights that we all deserve to enjoy in a country such as ours.

On pay equity, much has been said about following the Manitoba model. Coming from Manitoba, it is important for me to point out that there are some significant differences in our model. Complaining to the Human Rights Commission is prevented as a result of these changes.

These are some of the areas that concern us. I will come back to the initial word that has brought us so much energy at a time of so much despair: hope. Unfortunately, it seems it has not been taken into consideration when looking at the long-term results and impacts of the budget. It seems Canada will be left a lot more hopeless than it began.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member's speech with some interest. I want to point out a number of inconsistencies in her speech.

First, she said that members of her party were looking to the budget with hope. Actually, they were not looking to the budget for hope. They were voting against it before they ever saw it.

Second, she cited a number of measures in the United States. The United States is our number one trading partner. I am a member of a party that has always been supportive of a positive relationship with the United States. During my first three years in Parliament, her party spent its time bashing the United States every time it had an opportunity to so. That was not productive in our relationship.

Has the NDP looked outside of Canada's borders? Does it understand what is going on? Does it understand that places like Great Britain are having great difficulty? The United States is not the only other nation that is encountering difficulty. Canada has been insulated by the measures of this government, the proactive actions that we have taken. Does the hon. member understand that? Does she look outside of Canada's borders, or does she just look within and see nothing?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, all members come with the sentiment of hope that all our constituents bring to us. This has been a guiding force in the work that I take on before Parliament and after Parliament.

As far as being insular, for a moment it seemed that Canada was being portrayed as insular.

In terms of some of the measures the government has not taken, whether it is the failure to adequately invest in research and development or the failure to act in a cutting edge way when it comes to the environment, that reflects some insular modes of looking inside rather than looking at the leadership role Europe and the United States are taking in those areas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member mentioned two things.

The first was mining, which is as important to her riding as it is to mine. Could she comment on the effect of the one year extension of the mining exploration tax credit on her riding?

The second is she mentioned hope for people around the world. I hope the people who are near death in the Congo, Darfur and Burma, as well as the Baha'is in Iran, who are being persecuted and murdered, are not forgotten.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, on the mining exploration tax credit, we think it is a great idea to support some of the initial steps in mining exploration, and I pointed that out.

I want to be clear. People in mining communities are losing their jobs in the thousands. Many of these companies provide a great deal of tax revenue to the federal government. It is because of the hard work of people in communities in our area, in Thompson, Flin Flon, Snow Lake, that the Government of Canada and that Canada in general benefit. It is a huge stimulant for northern Canada as well.

Why is the government not responding to and supporting these communities that are facing great difficulties?

On the international front, we need to look at our role, the leadership role that Canada has been very proud of for years and that it has taken across the world. We are seeing that slip. As we look forward, this is another example of how we are losing hope in our ability to participate in the respectful way. We have had a history of doing this across our borders.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, during the last campaign, many parents told me of their need for quality, accessible and affordable child care to assist them in meeting their work obligations and to ensure their children had access to the best education and educational starts we could give them.

One of my constituents, Sharon Gregson, is a member of the school board and runs the daycare at Collingwood Neighbourhood House—

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Churchill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has worked hard to push for child care and to look at the well-being of all our communities. However, it is unfortunate that it has been forgotten in the budget.

Many of us will continue to fight hard for it. We work closely as colleagues. We would like to see the government recognize how important it is to the social infrastructure of our country and most definitely the future of our country as well.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not have much time to address the House here this evening, but I would nevertheless like to summarize what has happened over the last few weeks regarding this budget.

A few weeks ago, three opposition parties did something rather exceptional. They completely abandoned their partisan interests in order to come together and do their best to bring down this ideological and dogmatic government, and provide Quebeckers and Canadians with a more interesting alternative. Unfortunately, a few days later, the Liberals pitifully caved in, putting their party's interests ahead of the interests of citizens, the interests of the people they represent. What we now have is a Conservative-Liberal coalition. This new coalition is especially shameful for the Liberals, who received nothing in exchange.

They proposed an amendment and got reports. They probably also got an end to legal action and a new coat rack in the lobby. They did not get much else. In their amendment, they asked for reports, which they said would help monitor the government. That is funny, because I always thought it was the role of the members of this Parliament, of this House, to monitor the government. If we understand the Liberal motion correctly, they are asking the government to produce reports so that they can monitor it. It is a bit ridiculous, and it does nothing for the people who really need help.

One might ask what happened to the Liberals' green shift. How could a party that supposedly campaigned on the environment support a budget that includes no environmental measures that are serious or worthy of the name? The only measure this government is trying to pass off as an environmental measure is the assistance to the oil companies for carbon storage, which is not nearly enough.

The coalition agreement drawn up by the three opposition parties talked about introducing the POWA, as it was formerly called, a program for older worker adjustment. Obviously, in the new Liberal-Conservative coalition, there is no such program. What was this program? It used to exist, but it was abolished by the Liberals and never reinstated by the Conservatives. This program enabled older workers who were victims of mass layoffs in their community to bridge the gap between the end of their employment income and the start of their retirement income. Now, people are forced to sell everything, give up all their assets and go on social assistance until their pension kicks in. I submit that this is a sad end for people who worked their whole lives to build this country, their country.

All we asked was that the government reinstate this program to enable these people, who worked hard, to live out their days in dignity. The Liberals failed miserably. They were not even able—

Budget Implementation Act, 2009Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I must interrupt the hon. member. He will have six minutes left when debate resumes tomorrow.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, on January 27, I asked a question in the House, and I did not receive a satisfactory answer from the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. I told him that Quebec's minister of culture, communications and status of women, Christine St-Pierre, had reiterated that artists should get back the money the federal government cut last year so that they could continue to augment their international presence. She has made the request again since then. The Minister of Canadian Heritage did not really give her an answer.

I asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages if he would reinstate the funding for tours abroad. This is something that artists really need. Clearly, the response was unsatisfactory. I said so earlier. This government is incapable of understanding how much the Quebec nation cares about its artists becoming well-known abroad. The Minister of Canadian Heritage should think about working harder—that is what I told him then, and I am repeating it now—to convince his colleagues to transfer all responsibility for arts and culture, along with the associated funding, to Quebec.

The January 27 budget was extremely disappointing for artists and the cultural community. Naturally, some were satisfied. Some were polite. Others were relieved that their program was not eliminated but renewed.

Even though the minister has said that he has provided an unprecedented amount of money and is patting himself on the back for it, we should look at the cold facts of this budget, which renews existing programs. For example, he says that he will inject $200 million into a program over the next two years. This program usually received $100 million per year. He is not making cuts but he is calling it new money.

The budget does not provide direct financial assistance to artists. The Bloc Québécois has been asking the government to increase Canada Council funding to $300 million. Since its creation, all governments have increased its funding by dribs and drabs. This government also opened its wallet, but that was not enough. It invested $30 million two years ago and we have been hearing about it for the past two years as though it were the end of the world. At present the Canada Council budget is $180 million; artists need $300 million. Thus there is no direct assistance for artists and people are hurting.

As I only have one minute left, I will conclude my speech. In short, this government has told us that studies explain why it eliminated the seven programs in August. However, it will not show us these studies and it wants us to take its word. Everything they have said to date does not lead us to believe them. We are asking to see these studies, but more importantly, we are asking that responsibility for the arts and culture, and the associated funding, be transferred to Quebec. In Quebec, we love artists, we understand them and we will look after them.

6:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will be very encouraged to know that we like artists and our government is very supportive of artists. In fact, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our government's record with respect to support for arts and culture because it is a great story. It is a wonderful story. I am proud of our record. It is record investment in the arts.

Our government acknowledges how essential arts and culture is to our communities, our identity, our economy, particularly in challenging economic times. We know exactly how important a vibrant cultural sector is to Canada's economy.

Just for your own information, Mr. Speaker, and you are probably aware of this, but in 2007 arts and culture contributed $46 billion to Canada's GDP and 660,000 jobs nation-wide. It is a big industry. It is an important industry.

In the current economic context the long-term sustainability takes on greater importance. We recognize the challenges that creators, producers and arts organizations face across Canada. That is why we made a $30 million investment to the Canada Council for the Arts permanent several years ago. That is an additional $30 million investment to the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Canada Council for the Arts is an arm's length organization. That is artists helping artists. That fund now sits at $180 million, record funding for the Canada Council.

That is why in budget 2009 we have announced an investment of more than $.5 billion, record funding for arts and culture and $276 million. For the benefit of the Bloc member that is $276 million of new investment in this budget in support of arts and culture.

Where are we going to invest that money? We are going to build on that recent investment in the Canada Council for the Arts. We are going to focus on ensuring that we have a solid base for arts and culture right across Canada.

Central to this is $100 million to support festivals and cultural events, including cultural events and festivals in the province of Quebec and right across Canada because our government is a national government. We support things in the national interest. Arts and culture is in the national interest.

We have also invested $200 million in the Canadian Television Fund, $30 million in magazines and community newspapers, and $28 million in new media. These are considerable amounts of investment.

I could go on and on. I am so proud of so many of the things that we did in this budget. Canada prizes is an example. Members of the opposition have questioned the Canada prizes. Let me tell the House what Canada Prizes is all about. It is about establishing a centre of excellence where the world will come and compete for these exclusive prizes here in Canada and Canadians will compete with them. We will put Canadians on an international stage where they will broadcast around the world and they will do it from Canada, establishing a cultural centre of excellence right here in Canada.

We know culture. We know the arts. We have incredibly talented people and we want the world to know it.

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, what the hon. member for Peterborough has just said is a clear demonstration of his lack of understanding of the arts and artists. Helping festivals is not the way to provide direct help to artists. Inaugurating the Canada Prizes , about which he is bursting with such pride, will not give our artists here anything.

A study last week reported that our artists were indeed very poor. They barely manage to earn $22,000 a year on average. The minister tells us he has injected $25 million into a fund for artists who will come from countries the world over. What we were asking of the minister was not money for artists from abroad, but money for our artists to allow them to go abroad. Clearly, the minister understood nothing at all.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

That is very interesting, Mr. Speaker. The member wants us to send artists abroad, but I assume when they get abroad she does not want foreign governments or foreign people to spend anything on them. She does not want them to make any investment when they go abroad. She just wants them to arrive abroad and no one to care if they are there. If it is wrong for Canada to try to assist in promoting the arts broadly and also allowing a stage for Canadians, then it must clearly be wrong for those in foreign countries to support our artists when they get there. That is the Bloc mentality. That is what I am hearing from the Bloc. It is absolutely ridiculous.

Let me take this to another step. The member mentioned that Quebec would like to take control of culture because it is not happy and it wants the money reinstated. I have only been here three years, Mr. Speaker, and not as long as you, but despite all the challenges that provincial governments have, and I give them a lot of credit for the work that they do, I do not remember a provincial delegation coming to Ottawa yet and saying, “Please spend less. Please don't send us so much money”. They always ask for more.

It is our responsibility to budget, to be responsible, to be accountable, and if there is--

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Windsor West.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to add to a question I had asked in the House of Commons with regard to a buy Canadian procurement policy.

What is important to recognize is that we have been suggesting that Canada investigate and bring forward a policy that complies with our international agreements and mirrors some of our partners, including the United States, which not only has a policy in place for defence procurement but has the Jones act for shipping and a buy American policy for stimulus package announcements that will be forthcoming. We are suggesting that Canada examine that and to not only open the door to potential and better trading relationships but also to support Canadian workers.

I have often used the example of the Navistar truck plant that is located in Chatham, Ontario. The government gave a $300 million contract to Navistar and Navistar decided to invest in the Texas facility as opposed to Chatham, Ontario, which is a plant that we helped support and bring back from the brink just a few years ago. What is interesting in this development is that the government has decided to support the Texas workforce versus the Chatham workforce, especially when it comes to military vehicle procurement of which the people in the Chatham-Kent area would be very proud to be participants.

It is important to recognize the latest chapter on this. It is because of the government's decision to say no to the workers of Canada that the analysis coming in now show that around $19 million will be paid out in employment insurance benefits. Therefore, as that facility closes and people are thrown out into the streets of Chatham and surrounding areas, it will cost around $20 million in employment insurance benefits. Ironically, the cost to actually retool the facility is estimated at around $800,000.

Today, at the industry committee, we had another breaking component to this story. When I asked the Minister of Industry whether the government had done any analysis of the cost of retooling, he said no. He did not know about the other departments, but his department said no, which is the responsible department at the end of the day.

How could we have a $300 million project to produce military vehicles? The way it works in the United States is that if the Americans decide they need more of those trucks, they can actually bump the Canadians down the line. We may not even get our vehicles in the fashion that we are supposed to because under American legislation, they can bump other types of production for other countries, and that has happened in the past before.

We have a workforce that is capable, willing and wanting to do the job here but it is being shunned and, on top of that, we have a defence procurement policy that is actually putting our procurement at risk and giving us less control.

I would argue that the government should work toward a buy Canadian strategy. The discussion on the steel industry is what led the United States to the whole buy American explosion in the media. We are a net importer of steel and we had a waiver on that back in 2002 when the United States moved forward on a similar initiative.

However, instead of working out our own strategy, the government has decided to turn its back on the Canadian workforce, and I say shame to that. The people of this country can build and be part of the solution. Our partners will respect that because we will not be doing anything different from they themselves.

6:40 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to the member for Windsor West. The issue is quite plain, fairly straightforward and basic. The issue is whether Canada will move into a protectionist mode as the NDP would like us to do, or whether Canada will accept and abide by free trade agreements we signed with countries around the world and will continue to pursue free trade and rules-based trading.

It is easy to say that we can be protectionist and somehow save jobs, but at the end of the day we are going to lose jobs through protectionism. We can take a look at what is going on the world. Today our largest trading partner and our closest neighbour passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the American Senate, with $838 billion committed to the economy. During this process we have been a very close ally and trading partner, but we have looked at it from Canada's perspective and we have pursued an outcome that is in Canada's favour.

We monitored the process very closely. We have been active on the file. At an early point, ministers expressed concern regarding protectionist provisions in the original house and Senate bills that would have expanded on the existing buy American requirements. Buy American requirements are exactly what the NDP is talking about for Canada, and exactly what we are asking the Americans not to do. It is exactly some of the measures and some of the improvements that we have made in this bill that will allow Canada to have rules-based trading with the United States.

Our ministers and officials at all levels engaged their U.S. counterparts. We did this politically. We did it diplomatically. We did it through our business channels and we did it through academia. We emphasized the need for a coordinated approach to stimulate the North American and global economies. We are not an island. We cannot think as if we do not ever have to trade in the world marketplace, because we do. We have to sell and we have to buy in the world marketplace.

It is particularly important to avoid protectionist measures, which could exacerbate this global crisis. Those are the very measures the member is talking about, the very measures that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those are the very measures that will turn this economic crisis we are facing into a catastrophe instead of permitting us to find a way through it and a way beyond it.

We heard the member. The NDP has proposed that Canada should develop its own buy Canada provisions, but increased protectionism at this point would certainly increase the pain of the economic downturn. Allow me to quote Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve. He is an American who understands the folly of following the road in the wrong direction. He said, “Let me just be blunt. Protectionism is the crack cocaine of economics. It may provide a high, it's addictive and it leads to economic death.

Let me be clear. It is critical during this economic downturn that we do not turn to protectionism, that we continue to be free traders, and that we continue to advance Canada's interests at home and around the world. If we do that, we will come out the other side of this economic downturn in good shape.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the member, we all know that the Great Depression was caused by deregulation, and then the Smoot-Hawley act came in later. It was after the fact. That is a protectionism element that was added after the Great Depression started, and it made it worse. It was different from today's situation. Today we have an economic stimulus package that is going forward.

What is important for people to understand as well is that nothing changes in the United States. Right now it still has the buy American act, which was established in 1939 and revised several times. It also provides percentages of procurement for state and local governments, and there are no changes to this. That is going to continue no matter what. Nothing changes.

They are going to continue to have these policies, and our having our own policy is not protectionism. It is a tool that we can have and that the United States uses to create local economies. It is also important for the environment. I believe we can move forward, and it is not protectionism.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about protectionism and the benefit of creating a local economy. The Americans created a local economy with their tax system that allowed within the income tax system people to write off investments and interest on their homes. They created that. Most Americans think it is a great deal. However, the member should take a look at what happened in the United States by creating a local economy. The housing market crashed and it led the United States into the situation it is in today, that very thing, creating a local economy that everyone else was shut out of.

Canada is not an island. Our country cannot afford to be an island. We have to look at the global marketplace. We have to make sure our doors are open and that our neighbours' doors are open. That does not mean we turn our backs on Canadian workers or Canadian business. It means that we protect our own interests while we continue to look beyond our own borders.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, on January 29 the Minister of Human Resources made a comment about EI, which was quoted in the newspaper. When asked why she did not do more to stimulate the economy and to help unemployed workers, she stated, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it”. She used the word “lucrative”.

That is taken not just by opposition members but by people across the country, particularly unemployed Canadians, as an affront to Canadian workers. It implies that workers actually want to be unemployed. It reminds people of the culture of defeat comment that the Prime Minister made about Atlantic Canada some time ago. It implies that people would rather be unemployed and receive a fraction of their salaries than to be working.

It is important to note that according to Statistics Canada the average unemployed worker who is receiving benefits, and we have to understand that is a lot lower percentage of the workforce than it used to be, makes $331 a week. That amount is so far from being lucrative that one cannot even see lucrative from that place.

In advance of the budget, there was much discussion about what could be done to improve EI. It seemed as though everybody was saying that something had to be done about EI. We have to stimulate the economy and there is no better way than employment insurance because those who receive it have to spend it. They have no choice; they have nothing else.

We could eliminate or reduce the two-week waiting period. We could increase the rate of benefit, which is now 55%. We could go to the best 12 weeks. We could standardize EI across the country so that everybody has access to EI having worked for the same number of qualifying hours. That is an idea as well. The government could perhaps do something for the people who are waiting to receive their benefits.

I am getting calls as is probably every member of Parliament from people saying that it is taking too long. The standard is supposed to be 28 days to process EI. There are people in my constituency who are waiting 40 to 45 days.

Now the economy is tanking and there is talk of stimulus. A study was done for the U.S. Senate banking committee just two weeks ago about what would be the best stimulative impact for the economy. One could look at infrastructure, tax cuts and employment insurance. The best is employment insurance because every $1 put in actually generates $1.61 for the economy.

After the budget came out, Finn Poschmann of the C.D. Howe Institute, said:

It's surprising, given how much money is being spent on initiatives of one kind or another that the government couldn't find ways to ease access for laid off workers....

Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated:

Six out of 10 Canadians don't get EI and everyone agrees that's a problem, but this government inexplicably decided to ignore the problem - and that will lead to disaster for many.

Let me say to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, whom I respect and I look forward to working with him on committee, that this is like a bad movie for Canadian workers. Does he agree with the minister's comments that we are anywhere close to making employment insurance too lucrative for Canadian workers?

6:50 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his comments and views with respect to improvements to the employment insurance program, and certainly I look forward to working with him as well.

I am pleased to address our government's actions to improve the employment insurance program to help Canadians through these uncertain economic times. As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said at committee today, our government knows that many people are worried about making ends meet. Many are worried and concerned about keeping their jobs, about being able to pay their mortgages, worried and concerned about being able to take care of their families. We understand that and we empathize with them as a government.

It is during these difficult times that Canadians need to know that their government is listening to them and that we have an action plan that will help them. As the minister said, through our economic action plan, we will help those facing unemployment. We will protect jobs. We will invest in training and skills development. To help cushion the impact of these difficult economic times, our government is delivering significant improvements to employment insurance that focus on where the need is greatest right now.

We are expanding the duration of EI benefits to support those facing challenges in looking for work so that people can get back to work to provide for their families. For the next two years, we are making available nationally the five weeks of extended EI benefits that have previously been available through a pilot project only in regions with the highest unemployment. We will increase the maximum duration of EI benefits to 50 weeks.

This measure is on top of the automatic adjustments in the employment insurance program that respond quickly to changes or a swing in economic conditions in each region. As unemployment rates rise, fewer hours are needed to qualify for EI benefits and additional weeks of benefits will become available to those who need them. Many regions have already seen their entrance requirements decrease and their benefit durations increase.

That is exactly the way it should be. If the unemployment rate rises, additional benefits of EI will become available with fewer hours needed to qualify. That is the flexibility built into the EI system and it is working for Canadians.

We have also frozen EI rates because to let those rates increase is to raise job-killing taxes on businesses. That would not be appropriate. We are ensuring these businesses are not burdened any further in this tough economic environment. This will protect jobs.

We are also extending work sharing agreements and increasing their accessibility. The result will be that more Canadians continue to work while companies experience temporary slowdowns before recovering.

We are looking into the future as well to ensure our economy can create jobs of the future while protecting the jobs of today. Helping Canadians receive training is essential to helping them get back into the work force. That is why our measures for training older and long-tenured workers are very important. For tens of thousands of these workers, we will extend support for the duration of their retraining and make sure they are not penalized for using severance to pay for it.

Again, as the minister said, we understand and sympathize with those who are going through difficult times. That is a fact. Following the most extensive prebudget consultations our country has ever seen, we have heard from them and we are delivering to Canadians through our economic action plan. The plan will stimulate the economy. It will help to create and maintain jobs.

As parliamentarians, we owe it to Canadians to pass the legislation as soon as possible. I would ask the hon. member to vote for the passage of the implementation of the measures set out in the budget.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague but the point here is that we could extend benefits for five weeks, but if people do not qualify for benefits it does no good. It is like saying we are going to have income tax deductions, but one's last name has to begin with P to get it. It does not apply to most Canadians. It does not make enough of a difference.

In the United States in fact, the United States Congress has already passed two extensions to employment benefits, and a new bill could see American workers who are laid off collect benefits for up to two years. When the C.D. Howe Institute says to the government that it has not gone far enough, surely the government needs to pay attention to that.

I know my colleague has the speaking notes from the department and he read them very well. He has a wonderful voice. I want to ask him this. From his heart, does he believe the minister was right to say that EI could get too lucrative?

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, as a government we understand the challenges and the fears of many Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. We as a government will be there to help them get through this tough economic time. We have an economic action plan that will help the unemployed and help them get back into the workforce so they can provide for their families.

We understand what they are going through. We empathize with them and we are working with them. We are acting to protect jobs. We are acting to create jobs. We are acting to protect and help the most vulnerable get back on their feet.

Everyone is concerned about what is happening. Everyone knows about the challenges people are facing. This is not a time to play politics, but to get together to help those who need it most. I would ask the member to get behind the budget implementation bill. Let us get it passed as soon as we can to ensure that help is there when our workers need it.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:59 p.m.)