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House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret interrupting the hon. member but the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member will have two and a half minutes remaining to end his debate properly when it resumes.

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

7 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, on March 2, I asked the Minister of Natural Resources whether the government had a plan to ensure a secure supply of medical radioisotopes. This was in the wake of another report coming out of the Chalk River Nuclear Facility, saying that there would be another medical radioisotope shortage. This report came just after the minister had assured the House that Canada's supply of medical radioisotopes was secure.

It is clear that the government has failed to act upon the recommendations of the lessons learned panel to ensure that there is a plan to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Instead, since the beginning of the Chalk River fiasco, the government has sought to cover up its own incompetence. It has interfered with the work of the independent tribunal, which was seeking to get to the bottom of the issue and make recommendations on how to prevent a similar crisis in the future, to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to invest in the research necessary for a truly made in Canada solution.

Unfortunately the world has lost confidence in Canada's supply. Other countries are now making plans for their other sources. We clearly have no plan.

The dichotomy between the government and the Obama administration is striking. While President Obama has guaranteed scientific integrity in federal policy-making and made huge investments to science and technology research as a part of the stimulus package, the Conservative government picks its scientific advisers on the basis of ideology rather than evidence, fails to fund innovation and threatens our competitive advantage in the field of cutting edge research.

Rather than examining how lax regulatory regimes lead to a crisis, as we have seen in the debates regarding the banking sector south of the border, the government prefers to dismantle the regulations intended to protect Canadians. Rather than offering whistleblower protection to employees who expose the misuse or suppression of scientific information, the government has threatened the reputation and integrity of scientists and regulators who are simply doing their jobs in seeking to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

As President Obama stated earlier this month, medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. Rather they result from years of painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error and from a government willing to support its work. By the same token, medical fiascos do not happen by accident either. They result from governments that refuse to support research, refuse to create contingency plans to prepare for and prevent crisis and governments that do not see a role for science, innovation and research in federal policy-making. Therefore, there is no plan for a long-term Canadian innovation solution.

I draw to the attention of the government an article in the Ottawa Citizen, on November 17, 2008, by Margaret Munro, which said:

Scientists believe they have hit on a “uniquely Canadian solution” to the world's medical isotope woes.

They say intense beams of light should be able to generate isotopes for nuclear medicine, and eliminate the security risks associated with making the medicines with weapons-grade uranium at the aging nuclear reactor in Chalk River.

They lament that the 58-page report that was released that day recommended the federal government back a “strong and focused” research program to “support proof-of-principle demonstrations” for this exciting photofission solution. It says that half a dozen accelerators would cost “upwards of $50 million each” to supply isotopes across North America. The 51-year-old Chalk River reactor produces almost half the isotopes in the world and we know it will not last.

The article goes on to say:

It was a short-term fix, say the scientists and nuclear medical specialists, who see photo-fission as a possible long-term solution.

I urge the government to look at this and to spend some money on the research.

7:05 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, the member really needs to work hard to put reality ahead of rhetoric and fiction. We can assure the House and the member for St. Paul's that the health and safety of Canadians is our government's top priority, and she is well aware of that. We had a discussion earlier this afternoon about health and safety issues and she knows that we put the health and safety of Canadians ahead of everything else.

All members know that AECL's Chalk River reactor plays a vital role in supplying medical isotopes worldwide. Our government has taken decisive steps to assist AECL in meeting these important obligations.

However, we are also aware that a coordinated international approach is required to improve the global system for producing and distributing medical isotopes. That is why, at Canada's request, all the key players in medical isotopes production and distribution met in Paris in January to discuss our common challenges and responsibilities. Eighty participants from 16 countries answered Canada's request and participated in a global dialogue to find global solutions to secure the safe and reliable supply of medical isotopes over both the short and the long term.

Our government was proud to initiate this international forum and our government worked to ensure its success.

I am proud to report that the participants at the Paris meeting agreed to a number of things. They agreed to work collaboratively to foster contingency plans for dealing with disruptions of supply of medical isotopes and to share information about its production. They agreed to coordinate reactor maintenance schedules in order to ensure that facilities are not taken out of service simultaneously so as to not compromise supply.

They agreed to explore options for using existing reactors to increase production of medical isotopes during global shortages; to address impediments to the distribution of isotopes, such as transport restrictions; to increase the transparency of the isotope supply chain and improve the efficiency of the distribution system; and to work closely with the medical community to explore options for efficient patient scheduling and the best utilization of the available isotope supply.

In addition, participants agreed to support the creation of a new working group under the leadership of the Nuclear Energy Association to carry forward this important agenda.

AECL Chalk River is responding to global demand by ramping up production of medical isotopes by nearly 20% to help alleviate an isotope shortfall, mainly in Europe, due to reactor maintenance issues.

At the same time, AECL is providing MDS Nordion with sufficient supplies of isotopes to meet nearly all of the company's North American demand.

As well, Natural Resources Canada, in partnership with Health Canada, is continuing to monitor the distribution of isotope supplies to ensure that AECL and isotope distributors continue to meet the needs of Canadians and Canada's medical community.

As all members can see, the health and safety of Canadians is a top priority of this government.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I fail to hear anything new and exciting about the future.

We know that the task force said that photofission will eliminate the need for a highly enriched uranium, or HEU. The weapons grade uranium is now imported to Chalk River, and the licence will expire in 2011, under tight security from Tennessee. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed the export but is under huge pressure to halt these shipments because of the proliferation and terrorism concerns.

I ask the government to look to the future for a change and to fund the absolutely necessary research that would allow the support of proof of principle demonstration of this photofission.

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, I do not know why the member opposite cannot celebrate Canadian success. We talked to her about the fact that we did initiate an international forum to discuss these very issues. I will go through again what happened there. It was very successful.

We worked collaboratively to foster contingency plans to deal with disruptions in supply of medical isotopes. She asked about that. We coordinated reactor maintenance schedules around the world to ensure that facilities would not be taken out of service so the supply would not be compromised. We explored options for using existing reactors to increase the production of medical isotopes around the world. That should make her much happier than she is. We talked about addressing impediments to the distribution of isotopes in order to ensure there is a steady supply.

Those are the kinds of things we have done and we are proud of them.

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my question about the housing crisis in our country.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation announced a significant decrease in housing starts in January 2009, compared to January 2008. This trend is continuing, especially in urban areas. The slowdown has led to major job losses in the construction industry.

In responding to my question, the minister hid behind his government's recent economic action plan and said that the money would flow. The government actually had the means and the money to take action earlier, but did nothing to prevent the collapse of the housing market. The current government makes repeated announcements about funding for infrastructure projects. However, in reality, it has not lived up to its commitments and has not provided the funding for tangible assistance to the housing sector.

This is confirmed by the federal government's public accounts records, which indicate that there is more than $2 billion in unused infrastructure money. This unused amount will undoubtedly increase during the 2008-09 fiscal year. Only a fraction of the $926 million earmarked for infrastructure programs under the building Canada fund for the current year has been allocated. An additional $1,141 billion in funding for infrastructure programs from previous Liberal budgets will expire.

In 2007 the Conservative government launched its $8.8 billion building Canada fund. In its first year however, the building Canada fund flowed zero funding to infrastructure projects. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that the BCF has flowed less than $300 million of the $1.5 billion announced in its first two years of budgeted spending.

The money is in the bank and the housing industry is in crisis, yet the government will not let the money be spent. Why?

Since coming to power in 2006, and up to March 31, 2008, the Conservatives' chronic inability to keep their word when it comes to helping our economy resulted in the disappearance of $3 billion in economic stimulus that was wholly financed and has prevented the creation of jobs.

Job losses continue to mount in the construction sector. In early November 2008, when the Conservatives finally realized that there was an economic slowdown and that our stock market was in a free fall, they began to speed up funding for infrastructure, particularly the housing sector. Their promises have not resulted in spending or assistance for the housing industry.

Furthermore, the government has done nothing to address its own ongoing mismanagement of previously allocated funds. Conservatives have committed to throwing more money at this problem in budget 2009, but will the money ever get spent or will we simply see more mismanagement on behalf of the government?

Why is this government not spending the money? We know that there was money for housing in the last budget. Why is this money, already approved by this Parliament, not being immediately turned over to a housing industry in serious trouble?

7:10 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

Madam Speaker, I certainly welcome the member's remarks, although at the same time, her party has been long on rhetoric and short on action. She says that nothing has been done. That is not quite correct. The facts show that a lot has been done and a number of initiatives have been taken not only through the budget but through funding.

Having a safe and affordable place to call home is important to all Canadians. It is fundamental to Canadians' well-being and it is important to communities. Our government has taken a multi-pronged approach with the specific purpose of providing housing for all Canadians from all walks of life in all parts of our country while at the same time stimulating our economy and ensuring that jobs are created. In Canada the housing needs of 80% of Canadians are met through the marketplace. Canadians use their own resources either by obtaining a mortgage and buying a home or by renting.

For those Canadians who need some help to find housing they can afford, our government provides $1.7 billion each and every year in support of some 630,000 existing social housing households. In September 2008, our government committed more than $1.9 billion over five years to improve and build new affordable housing and to help the homeless. Building on this, Canada's economic action plan will provide a significant investment of $2 billion over two years to build new social housing and to repair and energy retrofit existing social housing.

These investments will improve the quality of life for low-income families, aboriginal Canadians, seniors, persons with disabilities and people living in the north. These are real actions and real help for those who most need it. This new funding will also help the economy. Building and renovating homes is a good way to get people working quickly. Most of the materials and supplies for these activities are made right here in Canada. In order to ensure quick implementation of our action plan respecting these measures, we will use existing programs and agreements. In this way, funding for social housing projects will flow quickly to those who need the help most.

I am especially pleased that Bill C-10, the Budget Implementation Act, was passed and received royal assent recently. It was not without some opposition in the other house and members of the opposition stalling its passage. However, its passage means that these funds will begin to flow very soon and that will provide help to Canadians who need it the most and who live in social housing.

We know that housing builds strong communities. These communities need strong infrastructure to thrive. In addition, Canada's economic action plan will provide up to $2 billion in direct low-cost loans to municipalities over two years through CMHC for housing related infrastructure projects in towns and cities across the country. There will be a focus on funding projects that are shovel ready. As this is a targeted, short-term, temporary measure intended to create jobs quickly, it will happen as the funds begin to flow. The types of eligible projects include sewers, water lines and neighbourhood regeneration projects.

Our economic action plan also includes measures that support home ownership in the housing sector. Through the insured mortgage purchase program, CMHC will take further steps to ensure there is stable long-term funding to lenders, allowing them to continue lending to Canadian consumers and businesses.

In addition, both the housing sector and homeowners will benefit from several important measures our government is taking. These measures include the home renovation tax credit that will provide up to $1,350 in tax relief, the first-time home buyers' tax credit, funds to enhance the energy efficiency of our homes, and increases to the withdrawal limits under the home buyers' plan. These are very positive, concrete steps that our government is taking.

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, the problem is that the money has not been flowing. That is the whole point. We are asking the minister why the funds budgeted in previous budgets have not been allocated and actually spent. That is the question. The three previous budgets already allocated this money. Why has it not been used? More specifically, the building Canada fund has not in any way been spent the way it was meant to be spent.

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it is rather interesting that the member has said that the money has not been flowing. When we asked that $3 billion actually flow between now and the beginning of June, members of her party were opposed to that happening. They were blowing hot and cold at the same.

We have not only allocated funds but they are in significant numbers. When one looks at the economic action plan, there is $7.8 billion in total to build quality housing for Canadians. In addition, about $400 million of that is specifically targeted to seniors and $75 million to those with disabilities. In two years—

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

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