House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was auto.


7:05 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, on March 25, 2009, I asked a question about the CBC in this House.

Mr. Speaker, today the government's failure to come to the assistance of the CBC has led to the elimination of 800 full-time jobs. By refusing to provide the corporation with financial flexibility, the minister has contributed to this disastrous situation.

In these hard times, will the minister [of Canadian Heritage] not agree that his role consists in providing public institutions with the resources needed to retain jobs rather than helping, through his insensitivity, to abolish them?

The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages gave me an odd answer:

—year after year our government has increased the CBC budget, that is from early 2006 to the present. We have raised the CBC budget.

That is not at all the truth. The CBC's budget has not increased since the Conservatives came to power. The organization Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has a great table that shows how the budget has decreased since the Conservatives came to power in 2006.

According to this table, when the Conservatives were elected, the CBC budget was $1.1 billion. In 2006-07 it was exactly $1,171,700,000.

Today, it is $1,052,600,000, a decrease of approximately $100 million.

If I had unanimous consent, I could table this table titled “Change in Parliamentary Appropriation to CBC (in 2009 dollars)”.

I have another quote from the Minister of Canadian Heritage in reply to the same question on March 25.

The Bloc Québécois is talking about the 2009-10 budget, our budget for this year. We again increased the CBC budget. The Bloc Québécois voted against it. We made campaign promises and we kept those promises. We are delivering the goods to the CBC.

I find that this is the scariest argument the minister could give. When he refers to maintaining CBC budgets as a campaign promise, I always sense regret on his part: we did it because we promised we would, but we would not have done so otherwise. That is the feeling one gets when one hears that argument, which he keeps serving up to us over and over during question period.

What is more, I always get the impression that the minister is saying this to his own people, telling them that he is obliged to state publicly that he is in favour of good budgets for the CBC because it was a campaign promise, but will not be promised next time. That scares me.

I have seen and heard it here in this House: the Conservatives applauding when reference was made to the disappearance of the CBC.

I wondered whether we should see this unrelenting attack on the CBC as more fallout from his reform ideology?

The other argument they keep trotting out, year after year, is that the Bloc voted against it. Those are not my words; the Minister of Canadian Heritage says that, year after year, the Bloc Québécois votes against it. On March 27, 2007, the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of it. I could not pull dates like that out of a hat.

People will understand that, when so many arguments are false, the rest is not very credible.

7:10 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that this government is investing more in culture than any other government in Canadian history.

We understand the importance of culture for our communities, identity and economy. The fact is that this government is providing more than $1.1 billion annually in public funding to CBC/Radio-Canada. This shows that we are more than willing to work with the CBC, contrary to the misleading statements made by the member opposite.

Canada has built a broadcasting system that works, and it stands as one of the great achievements of our nation. Since it was first established by the Conservatives in 1936, CBC/Radio-Canada has been a core public institution and a unique component of the Canadian broadcasting system. Canadians expect their national public broadcaster to be a source for news, information and entertainment.

CBC/Radio-Canada is a unique provider of Canadian content, providing services in French, English and eight aboriginal languages. This being said, I must reiterate that this government provides over $1.1 billion annually to the corporation so that it can fulfill its mandate. Moreover, this government has confirmed an additional $60 million for Canadian programming, and it is prepared to collaborate with CBC/Radio-Canada in its efforts to respond to these difficult times.

We are working closely with the corporation. We expect CBC/Radio-Canada to continue to be creative in finding ways to protect its core services and the level of service that Canadians expect. However, let me be clear. This government campaigned on maintaining or increasing funding for the CBC, and that is exactly what we have done every year since 2006, regardless of what that member has to say. Formulas can be spewed out by any organization one wants to find to negate this.

The facts and numbers speak for themselves. The $1.1 billion for the national broadcaster this year is something that the Bloc member voted against. When it comes to maintaining our election promises, by increasing funds to the CBC, we have set ourselves apart from the Liberals of the 1990s, who were responsible for over $400 million worth of severe cuts to the CBC budget that forced our beloved national broadcaster to make over 4,000 layoffs.

We have made significant improvements. Speaking in current terms, I would also like to point out that Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of English services, admitted a number of weeks ago that had the government come forward with any proposed bridge financing the jobs still would have been lost. This is why our government is working with CBC/Radio-Canada to find positive solutions that will fix the long-term structural problems it is currently facing.

7:15 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I have to contradict the member. Under the Mulroney government, the CBC received $1,589,700,000, and now it is getting just $1,052,000,000. Therefore, the member cannot say that this Conservative government has given more money to the CBC than any other.

I would like her to tell us again whether she agrees with the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last year. The committee said that the CBC should not be privatized, and that it should receive stable, predictable, multi-year funding with a 7-year memorandum of understanding and $40 per person. It also recommended adding the $60 million in supplementary funding to the broadcaster's core funding instead of making it beg for the money every year. The committee also recommended maintaining some distance with respect to the financial management of the crown corporation, which reports to Parliament, not to the minister, by not requiring the 5% from the strategic program review to be reimbursed and used for other purposes.

7:15 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, once again, I repeat that the Liberals are the ones who cut the CBC's funding by over $400 million in the 1990s. Some 4,000 jobs were lost. The NDP has voted against every Conservative budget, each of which included funding provisions for CBC. Moreover, the Bloc's recent economic recovery program did not even mention CBC, arts and culture or any plan to help them get through these tough economic times.

On June 7, we saw that the Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition is still alive. Together, they drafted an opinion piece on the CBC that included illogical information far removed from the truth. We have done our best by the CBC and we will continue to do so.

7:15 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, each member of this Chamber is charged with the responsibility of coming to the House and sharing the importance of various issues from the ridings they represent with other decision-makers. Certainly the people in Cape Breton—Canso have charged me with the responsibility of bringing what is going on in the region to this Chamber.

With the difficulty we are facing in the lobster industry and the entire fishery, many families, many Canadians, are facing hardships they have never experienced before.

When we speak with fishermen at the end of the wharf, whether it is in Torbay, Glace Bay, Grand Digue, Grand Etang, Wadden's Cove or Baxters Cove, the fishery is in a great deal of peril. The fishermen are concerned about the lack of interest on the part of the government and the lack of investment. The recent investment of $65 million does very little to impact on their personal situation. The fishermen are also concerned about the helpers who work on the boats with them and whether they are going to qualify for employment insurance following this meagre season.

When the revenues are down, the catch is down, the price is down, fishermen have to cut back on their expenses. Sometimes the first one to go is the helper on the boat and they have to do more by themselves.

These people are certainly going to be challenged in the weeks ahead, as they are faced with the reality of not having enough to qualify for employment insurance.

I have spoken with people in the industry. I spoke with Sandy Evans today. He is a great champion for workers within the fishery and the industry. I have spoken with Judy Smith and Patsy Jamieson from the Canso area, who I do not really agree with sometimes, but we have had some very clear and frank discussions. However, one thing we can agree on unanimously is that people are going to be hurting this year. People are going to face hardship this year if actions are not taken, even if there are interim actions to address the current situation within the fishery.

If the government does not move, if the government does not take some type of action, people are going to be hurting.

The position of this party has been clear. Our leader has articulated this very clearly to the government. It was something we put forward and we would have hoped the government would have been able to act on it. A uniform national standard of 360 hours is something we continue to advocate for. We think this would be a great stimulus to put money in the hands of those who most need it.

These people are facing peril in very challenging times. I know that the parliamentary secretary is a good, decent honourable man. What is his government going to tell these people when they are up against it, when they cannot put food in fridge when they do not qualify for employment insurance? What is the response of this government going to be to those people?

7:20 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 responded to the member's question in question period. Our government is absolutely committed to helping Canadians who are going through difficult times through no fault of their own. We are always concerned when people lose their job. This is why we have already taken unprecedented steps to ensure Canadians in need get the help they deserve when they need it.

The reality is the current employment insurance program automatically adjusts to the downturn in the economy and allows for increased access to EI, while providing longer benefits. In fact, 41 of the 58 EI regions now have easier access to EI than in October 2008. This translates to over 85% of Canadians having easier access to EI now compared to October of last year. To this extent, the system is working. It is designed to work that way. It is working just as the previous Liberal government designed it to work.

As to how the EI critic from that member's party wants it to work, or at least how he wanted it to work last year in committee, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said the following, “when you reduce to the flat rate of 360 hours”, as suggested by the member, “the cost is pretty significant”. He said, “keep the regional rates. This is to protect those people in high unemployment areas”. The Liberal EI critic was not in favour of this national standard idea, this coalition 45-day work year idea. He acknowledged the high cost. He said that we should keep the regional rates because they helped protect Canadians in areas that had historic or chronic high unemployment.

The Liberal EI critic thought this was a bad idea just last year. It is not just a bad idea but an irresponsible one. The fact is this 45-day work year scheme will cost untold billions. How would the Liberals pay for it? With job-killing payroll taxes on hard-working employers, employees and businesses.

That is not something our government will do. It is not the way to go. Higher taxes are not what Canadians need right now, but that is exactly what the Liberals want to give to them. In fact, the Liberal leader promised to raise taxes.

On this side of the House, through our Conservative government's economic action plan, we have lowered taxes. We have made unprecedented investments to help vulnerable and unemployed Canadians. We have added five weeks to EI benefits, taking the pilot project national. We have increased EI's maximum duration to 50 weeks. We are preserving over 130,000 jobs through better work-sharing. We have added significant funds to help speed up processing. We are investing heavily in skills training for Canadians so they can get the jobs of the future. We will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of these measures. We will be introducing further changes to EI later this year.

The Liberal opposition should get behind our government's efforts, support effective and responsible help for Canadians and ensure that its designs on power does not end up hurting Canadians just as our economy is showing some signs of renewed strength.

7:25 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, if the government is looking at some economic stimulus, if it is looking at a bit of job creation, maybe one place it could start is with the Conservative research bureau. It should tell it to get off its duff and maybe try to actually answer a question.

That is shameful. He gave the same answer last night to my colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming on a question about EI.

The people in my riding, the people across the country want to know what the government will do when they do not qualify for EI. I am not alone on this. Premiers Brad Wall from Saskatchewan, Gordon Campbell from B.C., even Dalton McGuinty from Ontario are all on the same page with this.

The government has to do something to provide for these people who are exposed right now, not just come back and regurgitate the same answers. Please, what is the government going to do to help these people?

7:25 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member can put all the rhetoric together he wants, but the fact is the ill-conceived, ill-advised 45-day work year is not something that will wash with Canadians. It only will result in increasing taxes, job-killing payroll taxes, something Canadians do not want, something Canadians do not need. In fact, it will kill jobs. As the Liberal member from Kings—Hants suggested, it is a bad way to go.

We have done a number of things such as increasing the benefits by five weeks and ensuring the maximum goes from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. We have taken steps to preserve jobs to ensure that they continue. For those who do not qualify for EI, we have ensured that they have the ability to receive job training, skills upgrading, something the member should get behind and support.

Rather than trying to realign the system on the back of an envelope in two or three days, the Liberals should get behind a reasoned approach to EI.

7:25 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on April 20 of this year, I raised a question of the government's commitment to providing aid to the victims of the conflict in Sri Lanka, which has waged for over two decades.

As everyone in the House knows, violence escalated tremendously this past year. It was not until the third week of May that the government of Sri Lanka claimed victory over the LTTE, which in turn conceded defeat the next day.

This violent civil war has left a path of destruction. In addition to the tens of thousands of people, mostly Tamil civilians, who have been killed, there are reports of as many as 300,000 internally displaced persons living in temporary shelters.

While it is still difficult to get independent accounts, there are credible reports from NGOs of malnutrition, the lack of potable water, untreated injuries and continued violence against civilians, including the rape of women and girls. The war may have ended, but the violence continues.

On February 4, just as the opposition was calling for an emergency debate on the situation, the Minister of International Cooperation announced $3 million in aid. This was significantly less than many of our Commonwealth partners. During the emergency debate, I expressed my disappointment both to the House and to the minister personally. Since then, on February 23, the minister pledged an additional $1.5 million. Then on May 4, after her visit to Sri Lanka, she added an additional $3 million.

I commend the minister for moving the aid in the right direction, but I want to challenge her to keep up the pressure on her colleagues to further our collective commitment to the people of this war-torn country. Canadians need to know that our government has heard the pleas of the people of Sri Lanka and will increase funding to a much more substantial level, not only pledge the money but ensure that it gets to the people who need it the most.

With respect to the amount of money pledged, the government's commitment still represents only about 25¢ per Canadian. Think about this. It is not only embarrassing, but I would suggest it is immoral. We pay our taxes to ensure that those who have much less than we have can share in a fraction of our wealth. Canadians are a generous people and want to hear that their government is reflecting this same generosity.

Canadians of Tamil descent have repeatedly told us the stories of their families and their friends who have been caught in this conflict. They are living this tragedy daily and want to be sure that all Canadians, regardless of our country of origin, our language, our religion, our colour, share in the challenge of feeding and healing that country. The task is quite simple. We need to increase our aid to a much more reasonable level.

However, it is not only the amount of aid that concerns me, it is also about whether the aid is actually getting delivered. I understand the government has chosen four highly reputable agencies to deliver the aid. While I trust these agencies, I have doubts that the Sri Lankan government has a willingness or a capacity to ensure that it is delivered.

Last week, we were all horrified that one of the members of the House, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, was denied entry to Sri Lanka. I was pleased that the government expressed at least some outrage about this affront to all Canadians. The hon. member's expulsion is a stern reminder of the fact that we are dealing with a regime that simply does not understand its obligations and, at the very least, it appears that it has something to hide. Witnesses are critical in a crisis like this. Independent ears and eyes and voices are necessary.

How much more aid can the government give and will it give to that country and how can it ensure that it gets to the people who need it the most?

7:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his very thoughtful presentation this evening. I think he will find that he and the government are on the same page. I am proud to say that Canada has a strong history of listening to people around the world and answering calls for help.

In the case of Sri Lanka, as the member knows, the Government of Canada has done exactly that. The government has been continually monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka and we have deep concern for the violence that has swept through the country and the impact this has had on the people of Sri Lanka.

Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Cooperation, in addition to myself, remain engaged and committed to helping those in need. It is important to recognize that the last few years have been particularly challenging for the Sri Lankans, which is why Canada has been integral in providing support for those in need.

As the member noted, the Minister of International Cooperation has committed a total of $7.5 million in support for those caught in the crisis in Sri Lanka. In addition, he would know that the minister also travelled to Sri Lanka and met with the prime minister and members of the government to deliver a clear message to the Government of Sri Lanka.

The minister called at that time for an immediate ceasefire and for those in need to be able to receive much needed international aid.

Thanks to the strong leadership that we have shown today, international aid workers continue to do necessary work in the region with the support of our Canadian government. Canada is continuing to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka closely, as we have in the past, offering much-needed support.

As the member noted, in 2008, Canada supported the people of Sri Lanka with almost $3 million in humanitarian assistance, including $1.5 million for food aid through the World Food Programme. The announced support of $7.5 million helps to support Sri Lankans with emergency medical supplies, food, water and other necessities.

Canada remains a proud partner with organizations such as the Red Cross, CARE Canada, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision and the World Food Programme that are working hard to alleviate the suffering of the people affected in the region.

Access to basic needs, food, water, shelter and medical care continue to be a challenge, which is why Canada is working to ensure our aid reaches the people who need it most and that those self-sacrificing aid workers are safe to return to their homes when the necessary help they are providing has been delivered.

I am also proud to say that the government is engaged with the members of the Tamil community in Canada. An important dialogue has been opened with concerned members of the community.

In working toward a positive and peaceful future in Sri Lanka, the government will continue to work with all parties in this situation, including citizens, international bodies and other government.

The government has called on all parties in the conflict in Sri Lanka to respect international law and for the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the safety of its citizens. I would agree with the member that the turning away of the member for Toronto Centre was deeply regrettable, as was the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka declined a visa for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Now that the conflict in Sri Lanka has dissipated, we can help the citizens of Sri Lanka return to their normal lives and begin a process of reconciliation and rebuilding, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Canadian development experts are working with other humanitarian agencies in Sri Lanka to ensure an effective and coordinated overall response.

7:35 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation for his response, which I think is fair, honourable and displays a sincerity. I want to thank him very genuinely.

The aid is something that is a concern on both sides of this House and I appreciate that the government is taking steps. I want to push a little further, though, because there are a couple of other things we can do. We can provide more aid. We can keep the monitoring situation going. However, there is also the issue of the loan from the International Monetary Fund.

There is a $1.7 billion loan coming up for negotiation and I would like it if the government began to express some concerns about delivering that money to Sri Lanka until its government has met certain conditions. Some of those conditions can be about humanitarian access to aid, about keeping channels open, and about international co-operation from a number of partners.

So I would like to have the government consider that option as well.

7:35 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, I find the member's comments very helpful. I would suggest that one of the difficulties that there is in any of these situations is to ensure that the aid in fact is getting through or that in fact the IMF dollars that the member is talking about will actually achieve their intended objective.

One of the difficulties is that if we end up cutting back, there is the difficulty for the people on the ground for whom this assistance is destined. We have to be sure that whatever we are doing is going to be helpful. We owe it to the Canadian taxpayer even as much as we owe it to the Tamils and the people in the Sri Lankan community.

7:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

(The House adjourned at 7:38 p.m.)