Madam Speaker, I would like to begin my statement by addressing yesterday's announcement by Xstrata Nickel that it would be laying off 686 permanent workers in Sudbury.
In July 2006, as part of Swiss-based Xstrata's takeover of Canadian owned Falconbridge mines, the company made a commitment to the Minister of Industry that it would not lay off a single Canadian worker for at least three years. Neither Xstrata nor the Minister of Industry dispute this agreement. In fact, a copy of the agreement can still be found on Xstrata's website.
Yesterday, when the hon. member for Sudbury and I asked the Minister of Industry if he was going to stand up for Sudbury and put an end to Xstrata's layoffs, we received a less than adequate answer. The Minister of Industry made comments regarding commitments to continue the operation of nickel rim by Xstrata. This is of small comfort to the hundreds of families who have found themselves with a pink slip instead of a paycheque this week.
For every job in the mining sector there are at least four spinoff jobs within the local economy that are lost. These layoffs will be devastating to the communities in Nickel Belt and greater Sudbury.
When a foreign company takes over a Canadian company certain commitments are made. These companies must be held accountable by the Government of Canada. What good are rules when they are not being enforced? What is to stop other foreign companies from reneging on their commitments? The government has set a dangerous precedent and Canadian workers will be the ones to suffer.
In the government's budget implementation bill, the government has set out to loosen foreign ownership legislation by amending the Canada Transportation Act. It would increase maximum foreign ownership levels by a whopping 49%. In this economic recession we need to protect Canadian companies from aggressive foreign takeovers.
As I was reading through Bill C-10, page after page, I became more and more shocked. Each new announcement was more meanspirited than the first. The Conservatives have held nothing back. As soon as they secured Liberal support, they filled the implementation bill with attacks on pay equity, the environment, collective agreements, debt burdened students, and employment insurance pilot programs.
I urge members of the Liberal Party to carefully read the full 551 pages, or at least the summary of the bill, before supporting it. I think many of them would be surprised to see what their leader is more than happy to let slide in order to prop up the neo-conservative agenda.
Under the guise of modernizing pay equity programs, the government is removing the rights of public sector workers from making pay equity complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. For decades, Canada has been moving forward on recognizing the rights of oppressed groups and now, with these measures, we are moving backward. Shame.
Women in traditionally female positions have been fighting to have pay equity recognized. They have educated employers, the government, and the public about the need for equal pay for work of equal value. The government is simply being meanspirited by going after this group of workers whose contributions are undervalued.
Next, the government has set out to allow certain projects to be approved without completing a thorough environmental assessment. Again, the government is using the guise that this will speed up infrastructure spending.
If the government was serious about speeding up infrastructure spending, it would abandon the flawed building Canada fund that requires municipalities and provinces to seek out private investments and match federal dollars. The municipality of greater Sudbury has a growing infrastructure deficit of $480 million.
Many municipalities are uneasy, and rightfully so, about partnering with private, profit-driven companies to build public infrastructure, like water treatment plants. Greater Sudbury has planned a Levack water treatment centre, but has been unable to secure adequate funding. This project is shovel-ready and legally must be completed. This water treatment centre is greatly needed in my riding of Nickel Belt.
A much more efficient and direct way for the government to invest in shovel-ready projects would be through increasing the direct gas tax transfer to municipalities. We have heard from municipalities throughout the country how appreciated this transfer has been. This transfer was secured through the negotiations of the 2005 NDP-Liberal budget.
This budget implementation bill goes after debt burdened students. I am not sure why the government has decided to go in this direction. There is no logic to it. Students and recent graduates are going to be the drivers of our new economy. As a country we should be encouraging post-secondary education. There are no measures to relieve students. The minister will only provide debt relief should a student die or disappear. I am sure students struggling to make student loan payments will be thrilled to learn this. This is truly shameful.
Could the government not provide more significantly relief for student loans especially during an economic recession? The government bailed out the banks that administer the loans. Surely, it can spare more than crumbs for our students.
One area in which I have several questions for the minister is in regional economic development. The government has announced in its budget the creation of the southern Ontario economic development agency which is expected to receive $1 billion over the next five years. The New Democrats campaigned on the creation of such an agency and we are pleased that it is included in the budget. My questions concerns FedNor and how it will be impacted by this new agency for southern Ontario? Will any of the workers employed by FedNor be laid off or transferred to the south as a result of this newly created agency? Will SODA be an independent economic agency or one that is hidden under many layers within the Department of Industry like FedNor? Will any of the infrastructure funding within the budget be administered through FedNor and will the application process be streamlined in response to the unprecedented need in northern Ontario for infrastructure projects?
During this recession the government has an opportunity to make FedNor a fully funded independent economic development agency similar to ACOA. This would increase its funding and mandate. Then maybe worthy projects like the centre for excellence in mining innovation and the long-term care facility in Chelmsford would finally receive the funding they deserve. Now is the time to make these changes.
The last issue I want to raise is the employment insurance program. The employment insurance program can be a great economic stabilizer. Unfortunately, after a decade of Liberal gutting of the program only 40% of workers can qualify for employment insurance benefits despite paying into the insurance policy for years.
The Conservatives had an opportunity in the budget to broaden the employment insurance program to help absorb some of the fallout from the economic recession. Instead, not one additional worker will become eligible for benefits despite a record 7.2% unemployment rate across the country.
Laid off workers will still need to wait two weeks before they become eligible for benefits. The government should know that the hydro bills and mortgage payments will not wait two weeks. Instead of treating laid off workers with dignity, the government has insulted them by refusing to reform the employment insurance program for fear that it may become lucrative for individuals to stay home and not look for work. Shame.
The government has also ended a pilot project that was examining the effects of extending benefits. I am not sure why it would do this except to punish laid off workers and their families.
Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, goes well beyond the budget and sneaks through the backdoor to bring neo-conservative measures that have nothing to do with stimulating the economy. The government and the Liberal Party should be ashamed of its contents. The attacks on women, students, workers and the environment have gone too far.
This bill is just another reason why we in the NDP caucus have lost confidence in the Conservatives.
The Liberals have given the Conservatives the very blank cheque Canadian voters refused to give them in October. The Liberals have sold out Canadians and their families in exchange for propping up the Conservatives. This budget fails to protect the vulnerable, safeguard the jobs of today or create the jobs of tomorrow.
As part of the real, effective New Democratic opposition I will be voting against this bill.