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House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

National Cemetery of Canada ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of the Environment

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-17, An Act to recognize Beechwood Cemetery as the national cemetery of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a bill entitled, “An Act to recognize Beechwood Cemetery as the national cemetery of Canada”, also known as the National Cemetery of Canada Act. It is a historic piece of legislation for our country.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(v), I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding matters related to webcasting of the House and its committees.

If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in this report later today.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled, “Report on the Baha'i Community in Iran”.

Prevention of Torture ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-334, An Act prohibiting the commission, abetting or exploitation of torture by Canadian officials and ensuring freedom from torture for all Canadians at home and abroad and making consequential amendments to other Acts.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reintroduce this important piece of legislation which unfortunately, although it came very close, did not make it to a vote in the last Parliament before the election was called.

I appreciate the help and support of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association which gave me a great deal of help in drafting the bill.

The bill is a comprehensive attempt to address the issue of torture. It makes it a criminal offence to use information known to be obtained using torture. It stops any officials from Canada from transferring prisoners into the hands of those who are suspected or known to use torture. It creates a government watch list of countries that are known to engage in torture. It prevents the use of national security provisions as a measure to withhold information about torture, which happened for months during the Afghan detainees scandal last year.

I urge all members of the House to join together to reject torture in all its forms and to support this very important bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canada Labour CodeRoutine Proceedings

March 5th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-335, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (illness or injury).

Mr. Speaker, this bill will extend the allowable period of absence for illness and ensure that a worker cannot be dismissed, suspended, laid off, demoted or disciplined by an employer if the worker misses work due to serious illness for a period of up to 52 weeks. I believe this bill is fair and will protect seriously ill workers while ensuring that businesses remain viable.

This bill, if passed, will make a tremendous difference in the lives of many families right across Canada. I hope it receives the support of all the members.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives it consent, I move that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier this day be concurred in. This report concerns a change to the Speaker's permission regarding the reproduction of the proceedings of the House of Commons and its committees.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

(Motion agreed to)

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That, notwithstanding the Standing Orders or usual practices of the House, at the conclusion of today's debate on the opposition motion in the name of the member for Hamilton Mountain, all questions necessary to dispose of this motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Tuesday, March 10, 2009.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

(Motion agreed to)

Income TrustsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present what I believe is the 100th petition presented in the House in the last two Parliaments on the subject matter of the income trust broken promise. It comes to me from Mr. Robert Cherry in my riding of Mississauga South. Of course, this petition is being presented pursuant to Standing Order 36 and it is certified by the clerk of petitions.

Mr. Cherry and the other petitioners remember the Prime Minister's commitment to accountability when the Prime Minister said, “The greatest fraud is a promise not kept”. The petitioners want to remind the Prime Minister that he promised never to tax income trusts, that he recklessly broke that promise, and that he imposed a 31.5% punitive tax which permanently wiped out $25 billion of the hard-earned retirement savings of over two million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners call upon the Conservative minority government to admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions, as was demonstrated in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, to apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by this broken promise, and to repeal the 31.5% tax on income trusts.

Members will recall that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance indicated that this was not a problem because the markets have recovered. I wonder what they would say today.

Income Tax ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two more petitions, both of which were circulated by members and supporters of the building trades. The petitioners come from all over Ontario, but many of them are from my riding of Hamilton Mountain.

Building trades across the country have lobbied successive governments for over 30 years to achieve some basic fairness for their members. They want tradespeople and indentured apprentices to be able to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes so that they can secure and maintain employment at construction sites that are more than 80 kilometres from their homes.

It makes no sense, especially during this economic crisis, for tradespeople to be out of work in one area of the country while another region suffers from temporary shortages of skilled tradespeople simply because the cost of travelling is too high. To that end, they have gathered hundreds of signatures in support of my bill, which would allow for precisely the kinds of deductions their members have been asking for.

I am pleased to table these petitions on their behalf and share their disappointment that this item was not addressed in the last federal budget.

Adult Television ChannelPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I am pleased to present a petition from my constituents, largely those from the district of Mission in British Columbia. They draw the attention of the House of Commons to the fact that the CRTC has approved another Canadian pay television pornographic channel called Northern Peaks, which they believe will lead to the creation of a pornography industry in Canada.

They point out that pornography is not a victimless activity. It is addictive, leads to changes in behaviour and causes harmful acts that hurt and undermine women, children and society as a whole. Therefore, they call upon Parliament to review the approval of this type of channel and the approval policies of the CRTC.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker Mr. Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government must address the alarming growth in the number of unemployed Canadians and the increasing number of Employment Insurance claimants; confirm its commitment to a social safety net to help regular Canadians through tough times and bring forward reforms to Employment Insurance rules to expand eligibility and improve benefits, including:

(a) eliminate the two-week waiting period;

(b) reduce the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment;

(c) allow self-employed workers to participate in the plan;

(d) raise the rate of benefits to 60% and base benefits on the best 12 weeks in the qualifying period; and

(e) encourage training and re-training.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Let me at the outset thank the Canadian Labour Congress and its affiliated unions for being tireless champions of working people in this country and for making EI reform a cornerstone of its campaign to ensure that the involuntarily unemployed will not be forgotten in the new investments that are to drive our economic recovery.

The motion that is before us today is a testament to its dedication and determination. I am proud to table it in this House on behalf of all of the hard-working Canadians who now, more than ever, need the government's support.

I do not think there is anyone in this House anymore who would not acknowledge that our economy is in one of the worst recessions since the 1930s, but since we are also not yet prepared to use the D word, depression, to describe the current state of the Canadian economy, perhaps we could all just agree that we are in the great recession.

As leaders throughout the G20 have acknowledged, at times like these, history teaches us that governments have a critical role to play in protecting the jobs of today, creating the jobs of tomorrow, and helping the innocent victims of this economic crisis. Unfortunately, the Conservative government in this country has only turned its mind to part of that challenge.

New Democrats have detailed the shortcomings of its budget in great detail and I do not have the luxury of time to repeat all of those arguments here. Suffice it to say that neither the government nor its Liberal allies, who supported the budget, believe that the economy is designed to create better lives for all. Rather, they believe that the economy is designed to create higher profits for the few.

If that is the premise that underlies their plan to bring Canada back to economic health, then it should come as no surprise that the plan would be all but silent on helping the innocent victims of corporate restructurings, plant closures and layoffs.

It speaks to an ideological predisposition to view it as a moral hazard to provide too much assistance to unemployed workers. That is why the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is on the record stating, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it--”. This is from the minister in charge of EI. It is absolutely shameful.

Darcy Rezak, managing director of the Vancouver Board of Trade, expressed the same sentiment about EI's purported erosion of Canadians' work ethic even more bluntly:

Improved insurance always carries with it a moral hazard. We could see more unemployment because the richer benefits would make some people choose to stay on EI instead of moving to where work is available or taking lower paying jobs.

That may be the logic of the right, but it is completely out of touch with reality. I would invite members of the government, and indeed of the Liberal Party, all of whom supported the federal budget, to come to my hometown of Hamilton.

This week, 1,500 additional workers lost their jobs at U.S. Steel. It made the national news, but sadly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There were earlier layoffs at U.S. Steel and there were layoffs at National Steel Car, Tinnerman, Stelwire, MultiServ, Samuel-Kent, Tamarack Lumber, Triple M Metal, Global GIX Canada, Decor, Samuel Plate Sales, North American Tillage Tools, Georgia-Pacific and HD Industries.

These are just the layoffs since April of last year and only in plants organized by the United Steelworkers. They do not include the jobs lost in nursing, the auto sector, small manufacturing, the service industry, health care, construction, or any of the hundreds of non-unionized workplaces that make up our complex local economy.

Across the nation, we lost 129,000 jobs in January of this year alone, but these newly unemployed workers in Hamilton and right across the country are not mere statistics. They are the innocent victims of decisions made elsewhere. They are family members. They are consumers who support our small businesses. They are property taxpayers who support our municipalities and they are income taxpayers who support our schools and health care system. They deserve the attention and support of the government.

It is not just New Democrats who are saying that. Economists of all stripes agree that we must pay attention to the victims of this recession. They all agree that a crucial component of charting the road to economic recovery is to provide support to those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own.

In fact, they eloquently make the case that employment insurance is a key macroeconomy automatic stabilizer. EI benefits are spent in local communities and provide the economic stimulus that stabilizes hard-hit communities. EI benefits stabilize individual and family incomes, something which of course is also critically important for women's equality, and EI benefits provide the much needed temporary income support for active job searching or training.

It is for all of these reasons that the motion before us today is so critically important. While we criticize the government for not having included meaningful employment insurance reform in its budget, we in the NDP firmly believe that in order to be an effective force in this House we cannot just oppose, but we must propose as well.

The proposition before the House today invites all members of Parliament to recognize that the budget further victimized the already innocent victims of this recession by ignoring their need for support and invites us to correct that wrong now by adopting comprehensive EI reform.

The motion itself is very straightforward. It simply seeks to take some concrete steps in expanding EI eligibility and improving benefits so that we can stop the fraying of Canada's social safety net.

First, the motion calls for the elimination of the two week waiting period. The Prime Minister disgraced himself by suggesting that workers should consider this the deductible on their insurance. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development then added insult to injury by suggesting that the government needed those two weeks to ensure that laid-off workers were not trying to cheat the system.

We are talking about a benefit that is paid to the involuntarily unemployed. Their rent and mortgage payments cannot wait two weeks. The empty stomachs of their children cannot wait two weeks and their benefits should not have to wait either.

The second thing the motion calls for is a reduction and standardization of the hours of qualification to 360 hours of work. Compared to previous recessions, EI today will leave many in the cold. As of October last year, less than half of the unemployed, 43% to be exact, qualified for EI benefits. Only 32% in Ontario and 35% in B.C. Only 40% of men collect and an even lower 32% of women get any support from EI.

While it is true that some unemployed will always be ineligible for EI, perhaps because they are new entrants to the workforce, the main reason for these numbers is the grid. EI operates under an inordinately complex system of rules that bases eligibility and the duration of benefits on the local unemployment rate. Currently, the range is anywhere from 420 to 910 hours. That system is neither equitable nor accessible and it is high time that Canadians from coast to coast to coast were treated equally.

Third, the motion calls for self-employed workers to be allowed to participate in the plan. That part of the motion is plainly self-explanatory so I will not spend a lot of time on it here. Suffice it to say that it would make a profoundly positive difference for thousands of Canadians and especially women who operate the small businesses that we count on to drive our economy in good times, but they are now being caught up in a tsunami of job losses that is cascading across our country.

The fourth part of the motion calls for an increase in the weekly benefits that unemployed workers would receive. Specifically, it calls for the benefits to be based on the best 12 weeks of earnings before a layoff with the replacement rate of 60% of insured earnings. By adopting the 12 week criteria, we can eliminate the benefit reductions that often result from shorter hours before layoffs. By raising the benefit levels to 60%, we may begin to catch up in real dollars to the benefit levels that were being paid before the then Liberal government tinkered with EI in the 1990s. The current maximum rate of $447 per week has been heavily eroded by inflation. The equivalent in 1996 would have been $604. If we want EI to be a stabilizer in this recession, it is time to adjust the rates.

Finally, our motion speaks to the need for training and retraining. Contrary to the minister's assertion, EI is not so lucrative as to make workers want to stay at home. Quite the opposite, they do not want to stay at home, they want to work so they can save their home. But our economy is in transition and we must provide and support the training opportunities that will allow workers to participate fully in the jobs of the new economy when this recession is over.

I know that the set of proposals is not free of costs, but it is an effective form of economic stimulus and it is the most effective way to help the victims of this economic crisis. Failure to act now will simply download the costs to municipalities and ultimately to property taxpayers, a trend we are already seeing in Hamilton as workers ineligible for EI turn to social assistance to support their families.

For years, both Liberals and Conservatives have misused the then surpluses of the EI fund dedicating them to debt and deficit reduction. Last year's budget legalized that theft, but that does not make it moral.

The money was contributed by workers and employers to provide support during economic rainy days. Well, it is raining. In fact, the monsoon season has arrived. We have a moral obligation to restore the integrity of the Employment Insurance Act. I am counting on all members to join with us in the NDP today and support this motion on behalf of Canadian workers.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.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 was listening to the member who indicated that the NDP cannot just oppose. As we all know, the budget implementation bill contains a number of provisions regarding EI, like an extra five weeks of EI benefits helping some 400,000 Canadians.

Did the member vote against the budget implementation bill? How can she say she is concerned when part of it is the extension of the work sharing program from 38 to 52 weeks worth $200 million. There is $500 million for long-tenured workers over two years giving up to 10,000 long-tenured workers additional time, and there is training for those who do not even qualify for EI.

How can the member suggest that she cares when she opposes a variety of programs that surely must be helpful in a time like this, in a global economic--

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe I am being lectured by a member on the opposite side about employment insurance.

Yes, we welcome the additional five weeks of support, but my goodness, five weeks of additional support is not going to be enough help. Moreover, the government limited those extra five weeks to a two year window. Employment insurance has been entirely paid for by workers and employers in this country. It is not the government's money to play with.

However, I guess it is now because in last year's budget the government legalized the theft of the EI surplus, $54 billion worth. We need to increase the number of people who are eligible for EI. We had that opportunity in the budget. The government did not take advantage of that and it is time to do the right thing now.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for bringing forward this motion today. Much of what she said I agree with.

One thing that is not in the motion that is causing a great deal of concern for Canadians is how long they have to wait to get their EI cheques.

Before Christmas I sent a letter to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development indicating that I was hearing not only from people in my riding but across the country that the standard waiting time had gone from 28 days to something more like 40 days, and it may have gone beyond that. Since that time I have had emails from across the country from people who have given us stories of how long they have had to wait for their employment benefits cheque.

Therefore, not only should we look at doing something on the two week waiting period but perhaps we should be doing something to ensure timely access. The member is correct. EI is a great form of stimulus in a sad way because the people who get it have to spend it. However, they need to get it right away and I wonder if the member has a comment on that.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with the sentiment that the processing time for people to be able to access their EI benefits is unbelievably long. People who have just lost their jobs need access to that money now. Nothing in my constituency office is creating more of a panic frankly among constituents than their desire to get access to benefits in a timely way.

However, I have to say to the member first of all that this does not require a legislative change. It requires proper resourcing by the ministry to be able to ensure that EI claimants get access to the money they deserve. Moreover, this is not a new problem. In the recessions in the eighties, when that member's party was in the government, the same delays were happening. Workers were equally having to wait for benefits. It is a systemic problem.

I would agree with the member that it is something we desperately need to address on behalf of working families in our communities, but it is not something that requires legislative change. For that reason, it is not part of this motion.