House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.


6:50 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak in this adjournment debate.

I have chosen to take part this evening because I asked a question in this House on February 4 of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and did not get a satisfactory answer. I asked him how it was that he preferred to spend $25 million to bring foreign artists to Toronto and to cut $45 million from artists here who promote Quebec and Canadian culture abroad. As a result, the entire arts community is against him. I asked him how he could claim to be listening to artists and the cultural community, and how he could have the gall to say that the budget that had just been tabled in the House was a good thing. It was a good thing for his two chums in Toronto who were raking in a lot of money from the investment of $25 million of this government's money.

I went on to say that Quebec's entire cultural community was opposed to this approach and to making this a priority. The money for artists must go first of all to the artists. What is more, that same week, within days, it was reported in a study commissioned and released by the Minister of Canadian Heritage that artists were living in deplorable conditions on an average annual income of barely $20,000. There we have the minister taking $25 million and handing it over to some people in Toronto to create the Canada Prizes, six-figure awards to foreign artists, while our own are barely making ends meet. They make an average of $20,000 a year. That made no sense to me then, and it makes no more today. The minister did not give me a satisfactory answer to that.

Obviously, the minister will say this is not true, and that everyone is not against him; one person said he was OK. That is what he told me. One person as opposed to all of Quebec. That is an absolutely ridiculous answer. I understand he is required to give an answer when I ask questions, but he ought to make a better choice of words. He also said that he had invested unprecedented amounts in the history of this country in arts and culture.

Seriously though: “unprecedented amounts”. The amounts he invested are basically the same, give or take a few million dollars, as in previous years. I have not done the math, but I am sure that, in constant dollars, today's artists are losing out, particularly because they have just lost $45 million. Last year, the government cut $45 million from its programs, $26 million of that in August. Trade Routes and PromArt were important programs that enabled artists, cultural organizations, and dance and theatre companies to travel abroad, pay their bills and make it to the end of the fiscal year. Now they cannot do any of that because these programs no longer exist.

On November 20, the minister told me that he had transferred $21 million to the Olympic torch relay. During question period, he said: “We gave that money to the torch relay”.

6:55 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, you are putting in a long day today. I have a great appreciation for your work ethic. You were here this morning and you are here tonight. It is very impressive.

With respect to the question before the House, the hon. member has not put forward the numbers accurately to reflect what has actually occurred. She mentioned the figure of $45 million, but she knows that is not what actually was taken in trade routes. Trade routes was a $7 million program. We have reallocated that money and provided record funding in support of arts and culture in this country. In fact, the Canada Council for the Arts received a 17% increase, record funding of $181 million annually.

Frankly, we have heard from artists around the country who have celebrated that increase to the Canada Council. Those are artists helping artists. Those are artists promoting the arts right here in Canada. That is an arm's length organization that we have heard an awful lot of good things about at committee. The artists are happy with it. Our government is the one that has provided record funding to the Canada Council. I hope the people in Quebec are listening to that. They should not have to listen to constant misrepresentation of those numbers. Those are the facts. The Canada Council is receiving record funding.

However, we did not stop there. Just this year we added $276 million to the arts over the next two years. Our record investments include $540 million in support of the arts. That is in this year's economic action plan. Of course, as we all know, the Bloc voted against that. We also brought in $100 million in support for festivals. I know the member is aware that there are festivals in Quebec. Some of the festivals are having a difficult time raising advertising revenue for this year. We want to make sure that those Quebec festivals and festivals from coast to coast across Canada go ahead as planned. We know how much they mean to the communities. We know how much they mean to artists. That is why this government has stepped up in a major way to support those festivals.

Of course, the Bloc members went the opposite way. They said they did not want to support those festivals. That is what they did when they voted against the economic action plan. They said they did not want to support magazines. That is what they voted against. They said they did not want to support expanded funding to the Canada Council. That is what they voted against. They said they did not want to support the new funding for the Department of Canadian Heritage and support for arts and culture. That is what they did when they voted against the budget.

It is very difficult at committee where we fight for truth. People come in and put forward the truth. Then the truth is manipulated and comes out the other side and it is no longer reflective of what the witnesses said. For example, the member mentioned the figure of $45 million. She knows full well that figure is not reflective of arts and culture. She knows full well that is not accurate, but we continue to hear it in the House.

I think that is unfortunate, because I would like to talk about the investment the government is putting behind artists. I would like to talk about the record amount of investment that we put behind artists. The Bloc has no interest in talking about that, because if the Bloc members went back to their ridings and indicated that it is this Conservative government that is putting record funding behind arts and culture and into support of artists from coast to coast to coast in this country, frankly, there would not be as many of the Bloc members here.

6:55 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, first of all, I never said that Trade Routes cost $45 million. That is not what I said. I said that some 20 subsidy programs totaling $45 million were cut in 2008. The programs cut in August cost $26 million, and Trade Routes cost $7 million in two instalments, one for $5 million and the other for $2 million. My figures are correct.

The member can trumpet his record-breaking allocations to the Council for the Arts all he wants, but artists know that he has nothing to be proud of. The Council for the Arts needed $300 million, and the government increased its budget to $181 million. That is a $120 million shortfall. He should have mentioned that too.

He should also have mentioned that festivals do not give a penny to artists. Festivals are nice, and everybody likes them, but artists do not get a penny out of them. Festivals are good for tourism, and that makes people happy.

The member said that we voted against his party, but I would like to point out two dates. On May 10—

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

7 p.m.


Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Once again, Madam Speaker, I take issue with the quoting of the number of $45 million. The member knows full well that the overwhelming majority of that amount was for programs where those funds were no longer required because they had achieved the objective and had nothing to do with the arts or artists. We are talking about accurately reflecting what those numbers actually mean.

There is one thing I will never apologize for in the House, and, in fact, I am very proud of. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to responsibly spending taxpayer dollars and ensuring we get the best possible result for every hard-earned taxpayer dollar that is sent to the Government of Canada in support of not just the arts but every facet that government is called upon to serve. The government must be responsible in how it spends dollars. Our government is doing that and I am proud of it.

7 p.m.


Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity this evening to follow up on a question that I asked in the House regarding the CEDAW declaration that the Prime Minister signed during the election campaign of 2006. As most will know, CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a UN document that all leaders in the election campaign signed.

The response I received at the time did not even begin to address the obligations under CEDAW. Therefore, I am pleased to have the opportunity to ask the question again tonight.

As many in the House know, since the Conservative government has come into power, Canada has been somewhat of an international embarrassment. It failed to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it obstructed climate change at the UN, it failed to take the recommendations from the universal peer review of Canada seriously and, most certainly, it has failed to uphold the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in spite of the fact that the Prime Minister, in an election campaign, signed a pledge card, which many of us as candidates saw, and has woefully neglected to address.

The government has cut funding to women's advocacy. It took the word “equality” from the mandate of the Status of Women. It eliminated funding for research under the Status of Women, research, ironically, that it has been referring to and trumpeting.

Earlier this month, women across the country voiced their displeasure with the government's lack of action for Canadian women and protested the Minister of State for the Status of Women when she took the stage at the UN Commission on the Status of Women last month, another embarrassment.

Representatives of Canadian women's organizations, labour unions, and not-for-profits gathered at the front gates of the United Nations to protest the government's regressive policies towards women. At the protest the women announced their intent to file a complaint against the government with the UN.

It has been nearly six months since CEDAW issued its observations on Canada's record. It has asked for Canada to respond within a year, and to the best of my knowledge, little progress has been made on the response to date.

The committee's comments have been described by many as serious, disturbing and scathing. So far, there has been no action. Budget 2009 was the time to advance the equality of women and to address concretely some of the recommendations in the CEDAW document, or at least to reference them and acknowledge them.

The committee made about 20 recommendations to Canada that are detailed and reasonable. It spoke certainly to the closing of the Status of Women Canada offices across the country and the limited accessibility for women. It talked about the government's revision of status of women guidelines and its doing away with advocacy and research.

Because of the extraordinary circumstances, CEDAW asked for a report within one year on the social assistance levels across the country and action on the growing problem of violence against aboriginal women. More specifically, CEDAW spoke to the 500 missing and murdered aboriginal women. It spoke to the status of women under Bill C-31 of the first session of the 33rd Parliament and to many other issues.

Most particularly I want to emphasize the court challenges program and the elimination of that program.

7:05 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Madam Speaker, Canada remains a world leader in this fight to end gender discrimination and we take this leadership role very seriously, both within our borders and internationally.

Our commitment to women's equality at home and abroad was recently demonstrated when our Minister of State led Canada's delegation to the UN. There she met with her counterparts from around the world to share best practices and to continue Canada's leadership role.

Last week, the Minister of State also met with Valerie Jarrett, head of the newly formed inter-agency White House Council on Women and Girls. During the meeting, they discussed best practices on advancing women's equality within their own countries. This meeting is yet another example of Canada demonstrating leadership on the global stage.

The Government of Canada is taking leadership to bring about equality for women because we want nothing less than women's full and equal participation in the economic, social and democratic life of the country.

Our commitment to women's equality is demonstrated by the Prime Minister's recent appointment of the highest percentage of women to cabinet in Canada's history.

As well, we increased status of women funding by 42%, bringing it to its highest level ever. This funding increase means that more women are receiving the skills and services they need to participate fully in Canadian life.

We are witnessing significant progress in a number of areas, including women's employment and labour force participation rates, which are approaching record highs. Women are increasingly represented in a wide range of professional fields as well as in careers and fields of study traditionally dominated by men.

Violence against women also remains an issue of grave concern. Having worked in the male-dominated field of policing for almost 19 years, I understand intimately the needs in terms of this violence issue, and that is why I am a Conservative. It is because we recognize that more work needs to be done to address this problem, which affects all communities in Canada.

We believe that those who commit such crimes against girls and women must be held accountable. That is why we passed the Tackling Violent Crime Act and made significant investments in policing, youth crime prevention, the renewal of federal corrections, combatting gun crime, and supporting victims of crime. We also put an end to conditional sentences, including house arrest for serious offences such as violent or sexual crimes.

This government is currently implementing many of the recommendations put forward by CEDAW, including working to end violence against women, providing women with the skills they need to take on leadership roles and participate equally in the economy, and protecting the human rights of aboriginal women.

We are responding to the issue of missing aboriginal women by funding the Sisters in Spirit initiative. Addressing violence against aboriginal women is a serious concern for this government, which is why we endorsed the federal-provincial-territorial Iqaluit declaration, which recognizes that sustained and coordinated action is required to reduce sexualized violence against aboriginal women. We have also co-sponsored the National Aboriginal Women's Summits, which focused on violence and other quality of life issues.

Our government has also demonstrated leadership on the issue of human trafficking. Under our leadership, we changed the rules regarding visas to victims of trafficking, and immigration officers are now able to grant temporary resident permits for up to 180 days to trafficking victims.

This government has, time and time again, demonstrated its commitment to addressing women's equality. We have made important strides, and I can assure the House that we will continue to work to create the conditions for success for all Canadian women.

7:05 p.m.


Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives do not have a monopoly on virtue when it comes to the issue of violence against women. I think that is a concern of all members of all parties and not solely that of Conservatives.

My colleague across references the minister's appearance at the UN. I would be ashamed to be a minister at an international meeting where the people and the women of my own country demonstrating against me. The Conservatives have co-opted the word “equality” and re-tooled it to fit their own needs as to what constitutes equality.

We must remember that the Prime Minister signed the CEDAW pledge. He understood what the CEDAW pledge meant in terms of the elimination of discrimination against women.

When the minister and the Prime Minister represent Canada abroad, they should remember the words of Gandhi, “We must be the change we want to see in the world”.

7:10 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Madam Speaker, the member opposite can spin her misleading messages any which way she chooses, but the facts are consistent. This government is taking a leadership role to advance equality for women.

For example, personal tax relief will put money back in women's pockets. New tax measures and access to start-up funding will stimulate business for women-owned enterprises. Improvements to maternity, parental and E.I. benefits will ensure self-employed and non-standard workers and their families access to the supports and benefits they require.

Investments in social housing, totalling more than $2 billion, will particularly benefit aboriginal women, senior women, women with disabilities, lone parent women and women living in poverty. It is a Conservative government that will finally empower aboriginal women through the changes to the marital property issue on reserves.

We have taken action and we will continue to take action until we reach our goal.

7:10 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the issue of employment insurance, which was not adequately addressed by the government in question period.

As we well know, we are living through one of the worst economic crisis of our existence. Certainly it is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It is a crisis that developed very gradually. Over the past 20 years, we have seen a huge erosion in family income. It has come into sharp relief over the last few months due to the economic crisis that has hit home in Canada because of a complete lack of industrial strategy or job strategy. It is hitting people in every part of the country, including my constituency of Burnaby—New Westminster.

We are seeing hundreds of cases for requests for employment insurance and most of those Canadians are being denied Employment Insurance.

The government has billions of dollars to bail out banking and corporate CEOs. They shovel money off the back of a truck when it comes to a small number of wealthy Canadians, but what has it done for ordinary Canadians?

It is very clear that the Conservatives have betrayed the trust that ordinary Canadians have placed in our national government. Back 20 years ago, the eligibility rate for employment insurance was 75%. In other words, about 75% of those who were unemployed could access the insurance fund into which they had paid.

I am not completely blaming the Conservatives. Under the Liberals that eroded back to about 38%. In other words, just over one-third of those who were unemployed could actually access the money they had paid into employment insurance.

Now, as the Caledon Institute of Social Policy has very clearly said, about 44% of unemployed Canadians qualify for benefits under employment insurance. This is an insurance program into which Canadians have paid.

We have heard referenced many times the $54 billion taken out of the fund, first by the Liberals and now under the Conservatives. That means only 44% of unemployed Canadians qualified for benefits.

It is absolutely absurd. These are people in Burnaby--New Westminster who, through no fault of their own, have seen local softwood mills close. Three of them have closed in my area because of the softwood lumber sellout, which was an absolutely irresponsible piece of policy that never should have been signed. Mills have closed as a result that. A couple of thousand people were thrown out of work directly. If we add the indirect jobs, we are talking about hundreds and hundreds more, yet, according to what has been a very serious analysis of employment insurance, most of those people do not qualify.

It is worse in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia than elsewhere. It is estimated, again by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, that only about 28% of people in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia qualify for employment insurance. In areas that voted Conservative, such as Calgary and Regina, it is even lower. It is 19% in Calgary and 18.9% in Regina.

It is absolutely absurd that we have a situation where hard-working Canadians pay into employment insurance, yet they cannot access it. They cannot access it to feed their families when they are in dire need. They cannot access it to keep a roof over their heads. This is absolutely deplorable.

The government throws out these figures, saying that 80% or 90% of those who qualify get employment insurance. The question is right there. It is because the qualifications are so stringent that most people do not qualify even though they pay into the fund. That is why this constitutes a betrayal of ordinary, hard-working Canadians. They have worked hard. They deserve employment insurance.

7:15 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

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's party and the NDP leader said that they would oppose the budget even before they read it. Now that the budget is before the House, they either do not know, or they are misinformed, or they do not want to know what the economic action plan will do for those who are unemployed.

Our government is taking action to help Canadians weather the global economic crisis through our economic action plan. We want to help ensure that Canada emerges from the current economic downturn in a stronger position.

Under the plan, we are investing $8.3 billion, not an insignificant amount, in the Canada skills and transition strategy. This strategy will strengthen employment insurance benefits and expand skills training opportunities.

We recognize that many Canadians, who find themselves out of work, are looking to employment insurance to help make ends meet. Our plan is designed to help people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own by providing them with the benefits they need during these difficult times. That is why, among other things, we have extended the duration of EI benefits by expanding nationally a pilot project, which already provided five extra weeks of EI benefits to EI claimants in areas of high unemployment. That alone constitutes additional estimated costs of $1.15 billion.

In addition to this measure, for a period of two years, we have increased the maximum duration of EI benefits available under the EI program from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. Over 400,000 Canadians will benefit from these measures in the first year alone.

In terms of the number of people who can access EI, it is important to note that, according to the Statistics Canada employment insurance coverage survey, over 82% of those who paid into the program and either lost their jobs or quit with cause were eligible for benefits.

Unfortunately, often the opposition cites numbers that are misleading based on something known as the beneficiary to unemployment ratio, or the BU ratio for short. These statistics are not a good measure of EI access. They include persons whom the program was not designed to serve, such as the self-employed, and there is some action being taken in that regard, as well as students, those who quit without cause, or even those who have never worked.

However, statistics aside, the member opposite should know that the EI system automatically responds to changes in the labour market. As unemployment rates increase, claimants can access EI with fewer hours and have additional weeks of benefits, and that is a fact. Where the need is greater, that is where the money flows.

For example, over the last year, the unemployed in the Oshawa region can now access four additional weeks of EI benefits, while working approximately two weeks less. In fact, since October 2008, 26 regions across the country, like Oshawa, have seen their entrance requirements decrease and their benefit durations increase.

Our government recognizes the need to further increase access to EI benefits. That is why our economic action plan also includes a $500 million strategic training and transition fund to support the particular needs of individuals, including those who do not qualify for EI. There are other amounts of dollars, not insignificant but substantial investments that the member chooses to ignore.

These are just a few of the measures we have taken to help Canadians get through these tough times. However, the member opposite and his party voted against each and every one of these measures to help Canadians. They are not helping Canadians with their opposition. Now that the Budget Implementation Act has passed, this help can be provided to Canadians.

Our economic action plan is designed to put Canadians back to work and put our economy back on track. We are happy our economic action plan can now be put to work, helping Canadians.

7:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, the New Democratic Party caucus was the only caucus where every member actually read the budget.

What we found out, like everyone else who understood what the budget said, was not a single additional new person would qualify for employment insurance after the budget was presented than before the budget. The budget did not change anything.

The parliamentary secretary references that there is some extension in benefits for those who already qualify, but most people do not qualify, and that is the problem.

The parliamentary secretary cited the BU ratio. That ratio should have in its title B as well as S. Essentially it does not allow any additional Canadian to qualify for employment insurance. That is the problem. That is why Canadians are losing their homes. That is why Canadians are unable to feed their families. That is why the unemployed are suffering so much because—

7:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

7:15 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the New Democratic Party said that he would vote against the budget even before the budget was tabled and filed in the House. I find that remarkable.

We know Canadians have been affected by these economic troubles. We know many have lost jobs through circumstances beyond their control. We understand that these are tough and uncertain times for many Canadians.

That is why, among other things, our economic action plan does a number of things. We will help over 400,000 people benefit from an additional five weeks of EI benefits that were not there before. We will help 190,000 people, including long-tenured and older workers, get retrained to find a new job and put food on the table for their families.

We are providing more in terms of expanded work-sharing so workers can continue working to support their families during this uncertain time.

Our government has heard the needs of Canadians. We are delivering on the kind of action they want us to deliver during this tough economic times.

7:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

(The House adjourned at 7:18 p.m.)