House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was goods.


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

6:30 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be able to take part in this adjournment debate, which will give us an opportunity to shed light on a situation I condemned last week in this House.

More and more, immigration lawyers in Quebec are reporting that they are having difficulty proceeding in French before the Immigration and Refugee Board. This situation has been dragging on for several months and reached a head recently when a lawyer was denied the right to proceed in French.

He was denied that right even though he had complied with procedure by giving five days' notice as required by law, even though the board member was francophone, even though the hearing was taking place in Quebec and even though the lawyer was proceeding in French at his client's request.

In this House, I asked the minister whether he intended to take action. He consulted his officials and spoke to us again in committee this week. Today, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration unanimously condemned this situation, which is completely unacceptable.

It was a unanimous decision. There is not agreement, however, as to whether the government can and must act. The minister told us in committee that he could not intervene directly in a board member's ruling, since it is a quasi judicial proceeding. The board member therefore plays the same role as a judge. I am not kidding.

However, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration act as interested parties in such cases. The government can therefore do something by instructing government representatives to encourage the use of French and accept French as the language of work.

In the case before us, Mr. Handfield from Montreal asked, on behalf of his client, to proceed in French. The documentation produced by the agency was in English, and it is the agency that approaches the board. The agency therefore could easily say that it has no objection to proceeding in French, that it will translate all the documents and that it will also ask to proceed in French.

That is my question for the parliamentary secretary today. Are those the instructions that the government gives its officials? I am not talking about the board members, who, I realize, are independent.

Are officials instructed to give their consent to proceed in French when counsel so requests?

6:30 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to thank the hon. member for his intervention. I share with him the commitment to ensure that the Official Languages Act is respected by all government bodies, but I must acknowledge that it would be inappropriate for the government to comment on this current case, as it is currently before the Immigration and Refugee Board. As the member knows, the IRB operates independently of government.

As the immigration minister has said, the government obviously expects all agencies and boards, including the IRB, to operate in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of the Official Languages Act and the charter in allowing individuals to be represented in the language of their choice.

As the member knows and acknowledges, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration unanimously passed a motion earlier today speaking against the decision of the IRB not to allow an applicant to proceed in the official language of his choice. All four parties concurrred.

Also, as the member knows, this case is under investigation by the official languages commissioner. Every year the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada renders more than 50,000 decisions. I can assure the House that it is required to do so in a manner that is consistent with the charter and in a manner that is consistent with the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is required to respect the right of everyone who appears before it to use either official language. This means that every person appearing before the board has the right to choose the official language of his or her choice.

The position of our government is very clear. We expect and anticipate that all agencies and boards, including the IRB, will operate in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the Official Languages Act and the charter in allowing individuals to be represented in the language of their choice.

Certain cases have attracted media attention. As I have said, it would be inappropriate for the government to comment on such specifics. It is worth noting again that this case is currently being investigated by the official languages commissioner, and I would further note that the board has asked for final submissions from all parties on this matter.

Our government is working cooperatively with the Government of Quebec to make our immigration system work well and serve the unique needs of the Province of Quebec. That is why we support the Canada-Quebec accord, which allows the province of Quebec to determine its own immigration needs with federal funding assistance.

Our government will always support the rights of Canadians in Quebec and in other provinces and territories to relate to the government and its independent agencies in the official language of their choice.

6:35 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will ask my question again but perhaps I can be more specific. Naturally, I realize that the department does not give instructions to the members of the board. It would be ill-advised and would constitute interference.

However, what about the officials who are interested parties. I do not wish to refer to a specific case. Suppose that the Border Services Agency issues an inadmissibility report. Are the department's instructions to accept the request to change the language of proceedings to French or, on the contrary, to refuse the request? There are two parties before the Board. The government is one of the two parties.

What instructions are given by the department in the matter of language? That is where it can intervene. I want to know what its instructions it are.

6:35 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the concern, the effort and the work that the member opposite has done, especially at committee. I want to touch on that, because it is important to recognize here that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is getting off to what I think is a pretty good start. It is not a bad example, actually, of how we here in Ottawa need to work a lot more closely with each other in these very difficult economic times.

As vice-chair of the committee, the member put forward a motion that would seek support for the individual to have the case heard, and it would certainly bring forward a perspective and a view as to what we thought of that decision from an all-party perspective.

That was passed unanimously. I think the answer to his question is--

6:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

6:35 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow up on a question I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. It came from a newspaper article where she was quoted, and she has never denied it, saying that she did not want to make EI too lucrative or pay people not to work. I see members on the government side are shocked at that. I can see in their faces that some members cannot believe she would say something like that, but she did. It is an appalling statement to make about the unemployed workers of Canada.

We have a lot of issues with EI, but one of the key ones right now is that EI is a very effective form of stimulus. Ian Lee, an economist and director of the MBA program at the Sprott School of Business, talked about a study that ranked the different types of stimuli. Out of tax cuts, infrastructure and the different types of stimuli, the most effective form would be employment insurance.

In today's Toronto Star is the headline, “Welfare 'stimulus' touted. Want bang for buck in economic package? Give the poor a hand...” The same goes for employment insurance. This is money goes to people who absolutely need it. The problem is they are not getting it. Not enough Canadians have access to it.

According to the Caledon Institute in 1976, 84% of unemployed Canadians could receive EI benefits, and I do not think anybody has ever disputed this. Now it is 44%. It is just not right.

On top of that, we have the disgrace of delays by Service Canada. It is not the fault of the wonderful employees of Service Canada that people do not get their benefits on time. I do not think anybody on the government side, particularly the minister, is standing up for people waiting for EI.

A number of members on this side are. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche raised a question in the House yesterday and spoke to this need. He said in a press release that the waiting period for receiving the first EI cheque had been increasing. He said that they were no longer talking about two weeks but more like seven to eight weeks. He added that some people had even waited 55 days or more before receiving their first EI benefit.

I spoke to him as the critic and he told me about a specific person who, I think he indicated, had contacted him on Facebook and had asked for help. My colleague and friend, the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, brought it to the floor of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the answers are not particularly forthcoming. That is the concern we have on this side.

Employment insurance is an absolute necessity in these difficult times. There are so many things the government could do to improve it. It could have eliminated the two-week waiting period; it did not do it. It could have increased benefits; it did not do it. It would have equalized access for people who need assistance; it did not do it. It added five weeks at the end and that is small comfort to people who do not qualify at all.

The government needs to step up and represent the people who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. It is not lucrative to be on employment insurance. Nobody wants to be on it at a fraction of his or her previous salary. I wish the government would not be so out of touch and insensitive to the needs of those workers.

6:40 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate hearing the comments of the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. He raised some of these issues just a couple of nights ago. We addressed what we are doing with respect to EI in terms of extending benefits and other matters. I certainly appreciate the fact that although he sees some problems with it, he did vote for the budget implementation bill today. That bill will put into effect many of the positive measures with respect to the employment insurance program and the items we have set out in our economic action plan.

As I have already said, our government is very concerned with helping those who are worried or who are having trouble making ends meet. We recognize that they are worried about keeping their jobs. We understand that many are worried about being able to pay their mortgage. We know that many are worried about being able to care for their families. 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 of Human Resources and Skills Development has stated 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. I would ask the member to focus on those improvements.

In this regard, the member opposite will be comforted to know that not only he supported budget 2009, but there were others. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the support we have received for the very important measures contained in our economic action plan.

Here is what the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada had to say:

We are pleased to see measures that will support those Canadians most affected by the economic downturn by helping them to weather and recover from this economic storm. Measures such as personal tax relief and extended Employment Insurance benefits will put more money in their hands at this crucial time. The Canadian Skills and Transition Strategy is important to ensure that when Canada emerges from this recession, it has a skilled and knowledgeable workforce.

Here is what the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association had to say about our economic action plan:

CRFA strongly supports.... The steps the government has taken to ensure unemployed Canadians have access to the EI benefits they need without increasing costs for employers.

The Forest Products Association of Canada said:

The investments in worker training through EI, the extension of the EI work-sharing program and support to communities that have been affected by the economic downturn, are welcome initiatives that will help more Canadians keep their jobs and employers hold onto talented workers.

Our government understands that unemployed Canadians are worried about putting food on the table and finding work to keep their homes and provide for their families. We understand that. That is why through our economic action plan we will help over 400,000 people benefit from an additional five weeks of EI benefits. We will help 160,000 people, including long-tenured and older workers, get retrained to find a new job and to provide for their families. We will help create tens of thousands of new jobs while building and renovating the many homes for those most in need.

This government has heard the needs of Canadian workers and is going to deliver the protection they need to get through these difficult times.

6:45 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I enjoy serving with my hon. colleague on the human resources committee. He mentioned that we are supporting the budget and that is very true, but he also has to understand that it is not a carte blanche endorsement of the budget. In fact, the day that our leader, the Leader of the Opposition and soon to be prime minister, indicated that he would provide grudging support for this, he said:

It [meaning the budget] extends EI benefits but fails to extend EI eligibility.... It doesn't go far enough to protect Canadians who have lost--or will lose--their jobs.... We will be watching like hawks to make sure the investments Canadians need actually reach them. And should [the Prime Minister] fail to satisfy the expectations of Canadians, we will be ready to defeat him and lead in his place.

EI will be part of that discussion, I am sure, as we go forward. We want to see better treatment of Canadian workers who are losing their jobs. So far, we have not seen enough. It is going to have to get better really quickly.

6:45 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for supporting our economic action plan and for voting in favour of our budget, which contains a number of enhancements to the EI program. Obviously, he felt those were something he could support because he did. What other reason would he have? I take his party's support for our economic action plan as a vote of confidence in our government and I welcome his support.

Through these measures we are acting to protect jobs. We are acting to create jobs. We are acting to protect and help the most vulnerable to get back on their feet. We have extended the period by five weeks. We have made provisions for older workers, for long-tenured workers. We have invested a significant amount of dollars for skills upgrading and retraining. We have done the kinds of things that people have asked us to do through broad consultation. That is what they want us to do. We will be there to help them during these difficult times. Once again, I thank the member for supporting us.

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

(The House adjourned at 6:48 p.m.)