House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was park.


Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member with interest. He pointed out that he would want to make certain that a fair distribution of projects would exist between Ottawa and the Gatineau area. I think we can all agree that we should encourage that not all the development should occur on one side or the other, that there should be a good balance between those.

However, the minister indicated that under the new bill we would not need cabinet approval for real estate acquisitions. Could that be of some concern as well? Now that we are relying on the commission to make decisions, we are putting a lot of trust on it. In addition, the whole area of the green space is a big interest to my colleagues in the NDP. We want to ensure that green space is protected at all costs. We would not want to see the development and diminution of the green space over time.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the New Democratic Party for his question. Certainly, people have been asking for this for a very long time. Taxpayers' money should be spent fairly by the federal government. That is a basic principle. In the Gatineau-Ottawa region, there must be a 25/75 distribution if we are to reflect the population distribution fairly. We know that 25% of the population of the greater federal capital region is in Gatineau and 75% is in Ottawa. We do not want more than that, but we certainly do not want less. This is very important in the case of the National Capital Commission.

A great deal of Quebec land has been included. That is very important. The environmental aspect is also important. We are in favour, but the environmental laws of Quebec must be respected.

Let me come back to the topic of highway development. When the building of new bridges is considered, where the two cities, the governments of Ontario and Quebec, the federal government as well as the National Capital Commission are involved, the process is very cumbersome. With coordination, we can usually get results.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raised the question of bridges, an issue that concerns us deeply in this region.

As we all know, there is a proposal in the works to build at least one more bridge in order, we hope, to one day be able to get heavy trucks out of the downtown core of the national capital.

My question relates to the potential construction of a second bridge, which could allow us to create a ring road around the national capital region.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts and his point of view on the existence of a ring road around the national capital region in the future. A ring road would allow us to effectively manage traffic in the region.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, since I have lived in both Saskatoon and Regina, cities that have ring roads, I think it is an excellent idea. In fact, ring roads help unclog the cities. They also give better access to specific areas of the city.

However, I will start by addressing the first point. The National Capital Commission presented three possibilities: a bridge linking the Canotek industrial park on the Ontario side with the Gatineau airport; another possibility with Lorrain Boulevard on the Gatineau side; and also Kettle Island around Manor Park on the other side of the river.

Since 1951-52 when the Gréber plan was implemented, Gatineau has worked towards building a bridge at Kettle Island. Unfortunately, the City of Ottawa has not done its part.

Where does that leave us? We will have to wait three or four years to see how things will turn out. Nonetheless, the bridge issue is fundamental, and we must consider the work done by the people of Gatineau and the Quebec ministry of transportation to widen Montée Paiement Boulevard in order to build a bridge at Kettle Island. We must remember that this work has been done. We know that it is currently being examined as one of the options for a future bridge.

That said, it is smart to think about a ring road. It is a way to get around. But we must look at the work done by the different partners, since there are a number of partners in this project.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, we know that Gatineau Park has been affected in recent years by golf course development and the construction of highways through the park.

Does the member believe that this bill will protect everything in Gatineau Park, which is a jewel?

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is the reason we want Bill C-37 to be referred to committee. We want the legislation to include guarantees, and we want the land in Gatineau Park to be protected to the same extent as the integrity of Quebec's territory, for which the National Assembly of Quebec and the City of Gatineau are responsible.

The committee will have to work very hard to ensure that such protection is in place.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the government for bringing this bill forward. I think this is a bill that will need some study at committee. It is a bill that will require us to hear witnesses. However, I want to thank the government for bringing forward a bill that will do what I think many of us want to see done.

Gatineau Park will actually be protected. The park will be given the proper designation. It will have someone who is going to be a steward to make sure that this park is there for generations. I also want to acknowledge a number of people who were the driving forces behind this bill getting to this place so that we will hopefully have protection for the park.

I want to acknowledge my predecessor, Ed Broadbent, who brought his private member's bill forward to do what this bill is attempting to do, which is protect Gatineau Park. After Mr. Broadbent's retirement, I was able to get the confidence of the people of Ottawa Centre and be elected to the House of Commons. I brought this forward as my first private member's bill and have since brought it forward to this Parliament after the last election. Some changes have been made, but it is essentially the same design.

I brought forward two bills. One was Bill C-207, which was to reform the NCC, and Bill C-367, to protect Gatineau Park. The government has done some good things in its bill that have brought these two component parts together.

I would hope that certain amendments are considered, but a good thing about the bill is that it opens up the National Capital Commission board meetings to the public. That is something that had been long overdue. It sounds strange to be saying that in 2009, but for far too long the NCC did its business behind closed doors.

The bill will also legislate boundaries for Gatineau Park. It may be strange to know that, prior to this, there were no boundaries for Gatineau Park. In fact, most Canadians would not have been aware of that. Indeed, people who have lived their whole lives in this region would not have known that there were no boundaries. Now, we have that and those are good things.

There are a couple of things I would like to see and I will enumerate those. We can certainly bring these to committee. In Bill C-207, that I brought forward on the reformation of the NCC, I recommended that we reduce the number of people on the board to make it a little more functional and hands on, and that we ensure that there would be city councillors from both the Gatineau side and the Ottawa side, nominated by the respective councils and represented on the board of the NCC.

Right now we do not have a democratic representation on the board. There are appointments made by governor in council. I thought this would be a smart thing to do. Consultations that I held here in the community recommended that we have someone who represents the interests of the people in the region, from the council perspective in both Gatineau and Ottawa. It would also still have people who were appointed to make sure that the national view was incorporated.

I also wanted to make sure, and this is connected to Bill C-367, my private member's bill on Gatineau Park, that we not only legislated the park boundaries as is contemplated in this bill but give it the same protection as a national park, so that no new developments or encroachments on the park would take place without the approval of Parliament. That is a very important piece. It is not in the bill and I hope that we can amend the bill to do that.

Gatineau Park is an incredibly important piece of our country's history. It is the residence of the Speaker and a former residence of one of our prime ministers. Interestingly enough, it was one of the first parks that was to be contemplated as a national park. Yet, because of reasons I will get into in a little bit, it was never able to achieve its right as a national park.

It was created back in 1938, as we know, but its history goes much further back than that. It was a very vibrant place for logging and other industry. It was a place, however, that people knew from the beginning, going back to 1912, that there needed to be some protection. There were park officials who said, “Look, we have to keep an eye on the development here. There's some industry happening”.

There were deep concerns around forest fires and how that related to industry, and the fact that the actual park itself might not be around without protection. Over many years and the persistence of people in the area, there was a push on the government of the day to contemplate protection.

Interestingly enough, and I will get back to the point of the former prime minister, it was his concern that it would be seen to his benefit because of his residence there. He did not want to be seen as having put a national park there. He did not want to be attacked by the opposition parties of the day. So it was left unprotected.

There were many studies. Sparks Street, just down the way, is actually named after Percy Sparks. Percy Sparks was with the Federal Woodlands Preservation League. He was someone who was very clear about the need for protection. In fact, one of the recommendations that he made to the government of the day was to make sure that there were boundaries and protection but for reasons, as I mentioned, of politics. However, it was never actualized.

There had been great work done in the Rockies to protect natural green space, but we were not doing it in the foothills beyond Parliament. However, over time there were considerations about how to protect the area. By and large these ideas worked and they were considered by many as a workable solution.

The development encroachment of recent years has stressed the park, be it through roadways that were built or through the development of recreation that was not really sustainable. People have been kind of chipping away at developing the park. It was very clear to many that the park needed protection.

We know that green space is limited. We know that the habitats that exist there are very diverse, the flora and the fauna. We know that when we talk to people from the Sierra Club, CPAWS, and the Friends of Gatineau Park, these groups have been extremely active in making sure that there is protection for the park. All have done inventories of Gatineau Park. It is one of the most diverse areas that we have in the country. The biodiversity there is extremely important. There is a very vibrant fish habitat.

However, if industry and development are allowed to encroach upon habitat, and we do not put in sufficient protections, then we will see that lost.

One of the things we need to note about Gatineau Park is that it has done a very good job. People have done a very good job of keeping a balance with the exception of the development that I mentioned. Right now in Gatineau Park there are recreational opportunities and people are able to enjoy the park as a leisurely place, but there are also people who are interested in biodiversity and protection who want to ensure that we do have some diversity and protection of the green space. Without protection of the park, without legislative protection of the park, it will be lost.

Growing up in this city, it was common practice for us to get on our bikes and go up to Pink Lake and some of the other lakes and go for a swim. It would take us about 35 to 40 minutes on our bikes and enjoy pristine nature. I have seen that change since I was a kid. We need to ensure that the beauty of the park and the diversity of the park is kept. Without protection, without legislative protection, and without resources, that will not happen. The pristine beauty and the opportunities I had when I was growing up will not be there for my children or grandchildren unless we protect the park.

When we look at what is in the bill, there are extremely important components to protect the park. One of the things that is important to note, and I give some credit to the NCC, is that recently CEO Madame Lemay and Russ Mills, as the chair, are looking at opportunities to acquire land to ensure that we grow the park. As I mentioned, we have seen development chip away at the park. Recently, there has been an acquisition of lands. That must be a mandate for the NCC. We must make sure that the park grows and is protected. We must make sure that the kind of development we saw in the past does not happen again.

When we consider the protections that are contemplated in the bill, there must be a balance by making sure that the park grows, making sure that people can use the park for recreational purposes, making sure that the biodiversity is protected, and making sure there is a plan for the future. Those component parts must be realized by the bill.

While many from outside the region would be surprised that Gatineau Park is a park, they may say to go ahead and provide it with the protection it needs. We must appreciate that this is a very diverse place, that it needs strong protection. This has to be thought out well and that is why it is important that we send the bill to committee.

I began my speech by mentioning the fact that I was giving credit to the government for bringing the bill forward and there was applause from the government side. When we get things right, let us mention it.

What needs to be done at committee is to look at those component parts I just mentioned. We need to look at biodiversity and the environmental interests of the park and ensure they are going to be protected. We must ensure that we have the necessary structures in place to be sure that happens. We must ensure that the recreational opportunities are there for people, and that we ensure that the biodiversity is going to be there and that we grow the park.

If we look at what is happening around the world and certainly across the country when it comes to green space, we need to reclaim green space and grow parks. We have had numerous decades where we have just used our green space in ways that have not been helpful.

That is why it is incredibly important that this go to committee, to hear from witnesses to ensure that we can make this park continue not only the history that I mentioned in the short time I had but to make sure that it is going to protect the biodiversity that is going to ensure the future of the park. We must ensure there are mechanisms in place for many, many years.

I want to close by saying that too often in our country we do not preserve our history. We forget the past. With this bill and with this park preserved we will preserve our history and protect the past. We will also look to the horizon and the future to make sure that we do the right thing, preserve the biosphere that is Gatineau Park. It is one that is worth preserving to make sure that this is something for all to see. When my children, grandchildren and others visit the park in the future, they will know we did the right thing with this bill. We protected the park. We protected our history and we protected the environment that is so pristine.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:30 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

moved that Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), be read the second time and referred to committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to participate in this debate once again. I say once again because, as I will have the opportunity to explain, this is the second time I am tabling this bill. Of course, it has now changed its number. Previously, it was Bill C-445. It has become Bill C-290.

So I am truly very happy to take part in this debate this evening. I also thank my colleague for having seconded this bill. Once again we are returning to the task and not letting up. I am sure that the people watching us at home right now who are affected by this bill are also very happy that we have come back to it before the summer break to have the first hour of debate on the second reading of this bill.

On May 17, 2007, as I was saying, I took the floor in this House to table Bill C-445. One year later, that bill had passed second reading and was about to be debated in committee. It was going to be submitted to the Standing Committee on Finance when elections inopportunely, as I would put it, interrupted the entire process. The people from our region with whom we worked on this bill were aware of the parliamentary process, whereby the bill and the entire initiative could be interrupted by the calling of an election. This delayed all of our work. We always said it was like building a house: you have to go about it brick by brick, and at some point the job might have to be interrupted. However we began again immediately after the election, and two years later, here I am again with Bill C-290, which reintroduces the full text of Bill C-445. You will recall that that bill was intended to grant a refundable tax credit to taxpayers who are the victims of a failure of an employer or certain employees of that employer to make contributions to a registered pension plan.

Bill C-290 is a bill to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income). That is now its title. I must explain that there has been a minor change to the bill, and that was to its title only. Initially, Bill C-445 referred to a tax benefit, whereas now we refer to a tax credit. The legislative drafters said that it was more correct to speak of a tax credit than a tax benefit. For the rest, this is precisely the same bill, which I tabled again last February after promising to do so. In fact I see this as a commitment. One must always pay attention to one’s election promises. Our people knew very well, at the time of the last election campaign, that I was making this commitment in order to keep it. I had to be re-elected, and fortunately I was. I have kept my promise with the tabling of the bill which now bears the number C-290.

This bill proposes a refundable tax credit, as I said earlier, for loss of retirement income equivalent to 22% of lost revenues. The credit would have no impact on the retiree's income, whether or not he pays taxes. In addition, the credit could always be transferred to a surviving spouse, and it would apply to both a determined contribution plan and to a determined benefit plan. The usual example given is that of a retiree whose income would drop from $30,000 to $22,000. That is a loss of $8,000. If we take 22% of this $8,000 loss, as provided in the bill, a non taxable amount of $1,760 would go to this person whose pension was reduced because his company went bankrupt or closed.

This was what happened with the 1,200 retirees of the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, in my riding. That is why I spoke of my electoral commitment to these people, naturally. It happened as well to the 300 people working at Atlas Steel in Sorel, in the riding of the seconder of this bill, my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. He too told his fellow citizens that the Bloc was going on the attack. Even if the bill unfortunately died on the order paper when the last election was called, we were not going to let go.

Another thing happened as well. We know how it works, but I want to explain it to our viewers. There is the famous draw, in the case of private members' bills, which allows each member the opportunity to introduce a bill at one time or another. My colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour and I decided that whichever of us was chosen first would introduce the bill again. I do not want to monopolize this bill. We are working as a team.

It did not matter which colleague introduced it, what counted was to move it forward as quickly as possible. I am not very lucky in the lottery or in draws, but this time I was lucky and I was drawn first. So, I reintroduced the bill, and now we have a chance to debate it for the first hour at second reading before the summer recess. I am therefore very happy. My colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour was drawn right after me. It would not have made much difference. But I won and so I stand before you. You will still have an opportunity to hear my colleague in a few minutes.

The retirees from the Jeffrey mine and Atlas Steel worked hard and honestly all their life. They contributed to a pension fund that was drastically cut through no fault of their own. This is important to say. We have the option of helping them, and this is what we are trying to do with Bill C-290, by giving them part of their loss. Or we could leave them to their fate. Unfortunately, that is what the people in the Conservative government did with Bill C-445, while the Liberals and the NDP supported the Bloc to have it sent to committee.

I want to remind this House that the Conservatives told us that this bill would cost a fortune. Despite my requests, I never did find out how they came up with figures as outrageous as $10 billion. I can talk about this later if I have time, but I asked the people at the Library of Parliament to do some research. I was told that it would take an absolutely unbelievable catastrophe for the figures to reach such incredible levels, even though the economic situation today is not what it was when I first introduced this bill. Other retirees could certainly benefit from this tax credit, but if more people who have been penalized can benefit, then that is good.

I am certain that my Liberal and NDP colleagues will continue to support us. At least, I hope so. Perhaps there will be speeches later to confirm this. Perhaps the Conservatives have changed their minds since this bill was first introduced in 2007 and will recognize that these retirees deserve the little boost that the measure in Bill C-290 will give them.

I want to give some background on this bill to show how the idea came about. The bill was the result of extraordinary cooperation between the subcommittee of retirees from the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos and from Atlas Steel and my colleagues from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour and Chambly—Borduas. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas attended the initial meetings here in Ottawa. The retirees came to meet with us, and we asked our human resources and social development critic to come with us to see whether we could find any common ground. Our former labour critic was also present. We wanted to try to see what we could do to help these people. It is all well and good to say that we support them, but can we do something tangible to help them?

When they explained their problem to us we did not have an immediate solution. It would not have been fair to these people, who have certain expectations of their elected members when they tell them their problems, to present a bill and not have a tangible solution. Thus, we took our time and had discussions with them and, finally, agreed that it would be possible to present a bill. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas was very involved from the beginning and quite active in the discussions that led to the idea of a bill for a refundable tax credit for people who lose retirement income when the company closes its doors or goes bankrupt.

Creating a tax credit was the idea of Gaston Fréchette, the chair of the Jeffrey Mine retirees subcommittee in Asbestos, who lives in my riding. We had been talking about this for quite some time. Not only is he very involved in this matter but he is also helping retirees with something else. Mr. Fréchette is working very hard to help people with a legal battle. He is also very involved in his community.

I would have to say that it was rewarding. At the same time, we realized that we might have something that one day could be put on the table as a real solution. As I said earlier, Rome was not built in a day and we had to start somewhere. This is what we finally came up with. The parliamentary process is somewhat difficult and it can also be lengthy. That is obvious from the fact that two elections have taken place since we started this.

As for me, this is my third term. It was during my second that I introduced this bill for the first time, and here we go again. There is no doubt that there will be another vote this fall to see whether there is agreement to refer this bill to committee. That was the solution we had, and there was no other solution anyway for us to get this file through the federal government.

As I said, Mr. Fréchette worked very hard on the first introduction of this bill and we will certainly hear from him again just before we vote on it in the fall, when we will of course be seeking the support of my 307 colleagues in this House of Commons for our bill.

Back when we introduced Bill C-445, Mr. Fréchette sent a letter to each member, as well as taking time to personally phone every Quebec member, regardless of party, soliciting their support for the bill. He also circulated a petition, which originated in my riding, calling for public support for our bill. That was a great success, with more than 2,000 signatures gathered in a relatively short period of time from people willing to sign in favour of Bill C-445.

As I said, exactly the same bill has now become Bill C-290. In my opinion, if people signed the petition on Bill C-445, it is abundantly clear that they still support the demands made in the petition which circulated immediately after the first bill was introduced.

So this has been a team effort involving people from both Sorel-Tracy and Asbestos. There was great solidarity and they focused their efforts on enabling us to advance this idea, introduce it here in the House of Commons, get it through an initial vote and to achieve the right to have it go to committee. I know that the pensioners are prepared to appear before the committee. This is something we have been waiting for for a long time, and I hope that it will become reality when the time comes to vote on it, which will, as I said, likely be in October. It is always a bit risky to set a date, but it ought to be somewhere around that time .

The people who have supported us, the ones who signed the petition, believe that no retiree should have trouble making ends meet because he is not receiving the retirement income to which he contributed all those years.

Since 2003, Asbestos retirees have lost $55 million from their pension fund and $30 million in benefits. With Bill C-290, compensation will be available to retirees whose supplementary pension funds have been cut.

I see that I have one minute left, so I will get to my conclusion. I must say that surviving spouses would also be eligible if their spouse was entitled to part of the pension.

In addition to all the support we have in our respective ridings, we also have the support of the NDP and Liberal members in this House. Also, just recently, Ernest Boyer, the president of the FADOQ network, the Quebec federation of seniors, said:

Too often, in such a situation, we hear the same old arguments: retirees who have a supplementary defined benefit pension fund are very lucky, almost like the bosses who got generous bonuses from their companies, so the Quebec government [or the Canadian government] does not need to assist these so-called fat cats.

He said that on the contrary, they believe these retirees need assistance.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:45 p.m.


Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, has the hon. member submitted this bill to the Parliamentary Budget Officer for costing and analysis, and if so, could he share these findings with the House?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:45 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I hardly had enough time to understand the question.

But I think that the member was probably trying to say the same thing the Conservatives said last time, which is that this bill would cost the government a fortune. I know that last time, we were talking about $10 billion, which, as I said in my speech, was completely ridiculous.

I had the Library of Parliament come up with some hypotheses to arrive at those figures. For these figures to make sense, all of the pension funds in Canada would have to fall, all of these companies would have to shut down or go bankrupt, and all retirees would have to have lost money they were owed by their pension funds. It is a catastrophic scenario that we might see in a Hollywood movie, but not here.

I must say that by decreasing the GST by 2%, the Conservative government deprived itself of $12 billion to $13 billion a year. That is real. It happened. They decided to do it.

I do not see why amounts of money, which would never reach that level, could not be allocated to help the pensioners who were cheated out of part of their pension.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:45 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I like this bill and would be very pleased to support it and see it go to committee.

It is an earth-shattering experience when people lose pension funds at any time. We have to look at a whole revamp of the Canadian pension system. This is probably a very good opportunity to do that.

One of the areas that we support and are looking at is the whole idea of insuring pension funds. It makes sense to me. People insure their bank deposits with CDIC. We insure our homes, cars and everything else. It seems only reasonable that we work out a system in this country to insure pension plans so that if a company goes bankrupt, the workers should not suffer the losses they have been suffering, and all the stress that goes with it, and the doubts that arise when people potentially are going to lose all or part of their pension funds.

I know the government has a task force studying this right now. I am confident that over time we will be able to get a proper insurance plan for pension funds.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:45 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate my colleague's comments, especially since the committee has always said it remains very open to receiving not only comments, but also possible solutions. We are even willing to see if some amendments could be proposed in order to improve my bill.

However, I think the member is talking about something else altogether, namely, some sort of insurance that could complement this kind of bill. In the case I presented, those people had already lost their money as a result of their company going bankrupt or shutting down. They had paid in for a certain amount of money that they thought they would get back during their retirement years. That was not the case. They have much less money. I think the kind of insurance the member was talking about would provide additional protection, which would be very beneficial. I congratulate him on the idea, especially since there are other projects in the works. I think there is already a bill in this House concerning the protection of pension funds. Such protection already exists in Ontario and Quebec. We also want pensioners to be on the list of preferred creditors when businesses go bankrupt or close their doors. These are all welcome improvements.

I think it is our duty as legislators to take a very serious look at these issues so that people are not left to face uncertainty when it is time for them to retire. On the contrary, we want them to have some degree of assurance that they will be able to live decently, especially since they have contributed out of their own pockets for so many years towards their retirement. And I am not talking about fat pensions; I am talking about just getting by.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:50 p.m.


Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about this Bloc proposal.

Bill C-290 proposes a costly refundable tax credit related to pension income at an estimated cost of about $10 billion per year. Such a costly measure would be untenable at any time, but it is particularly unsupportable in the current fiscal context. However, the cost of this proposal is not its only problem. It also raises serious issues, such as serving as a disincentive for employers in financial difficulty to properly manage their pension plans to control risks.

Clearly, having adequate retirement savings is important to all Canadians. While Canada's retirement income system is strong, with a balanced mix of public and private retirement savings programs, with both compulsory and voluntary components, our government has sought, and will continue to seek, improvements.

Indeed, our Conservative government has introduced a litany of tax-cutting measures to provide much needed relief to seniors and those saving for retirement.

We doubled the amount of eligible income that can be claimed under the pension income tax credit to $2,000. It is the first time the credit amount has been increased since it was introduced in 1975.

To improve work and savings incentives, we increased the maximum age to 71 by which Canadians must convert their RRSPs to registered retirement income funds and begin receiving pension payments.

We brought in tax changes to permit employers to offer more flexible phased retirement programs in order to retain older experienced workers and ease succession planning measures.

We introduced the landmark pension income splitting, a move that Cynthia Kett of Stewart and Kett Financial Advisors Inc. called “a huge gift from the government that more and more senior Canadians are taking into consideration in their financial and retirement planning”. And we increased the age credit by $2,000.

Our Conservative government's tax-cutting agenda since we formed government in 2006 has provided nearly $2 billion in tax relief every year for Canadian pensioners and seniors.

Additionally, we provided a 25% one-time reduction in the required minimum withdrawal amount for registered retirement income funds for 2008. This will provide approximately $200 million in tax relief to RRIF holders, while allowing retirees to keep more of their savings in their RRIFs sheltered during an extraordinary drop in market conditions.

We also recognize that Canadians need stronger incentives to help meet ongoing savings needs. As a recent HSBC Insurance Agency survey indicated, almost half of Canadians think, “The best way the government can support aging people planning for their retirement is to give them tax breaks and to allow them to look after themselves”.

This is one of the many reasons our government introduced the historic tax-free savings account, or TFSA. The TFSA is a flexible savings vehicle that complements existing registered savings plans by allowing Canadians to earn tax-free investment income to more easily meet their lifetime savings needs.

Starting this year, Canadians 18 or older can contribute up to $5,000 annually to a TFSA, with unused room being carried forward. While contributions to a TFSA are not tax deductible, all investment income, including capital gains, earned in the account will be tax-free even when withdrawn.

Important TFSA features for retirees include the fact that TFSAs have no upper age limit and that neither investment income earned in a TFSA nor withdrawals affect a senior's eligibility for federal income tested benefits, such as OAS or GIS. It is little wonder then that renowned financial author Gordon Pape has proclaimed that TFSAs are “a welcome tax shelter for Canadian seniors”.

Clearly, our Conservative government has worked aggressively to ensure that the retirement income system is responsive to the needs of savers, pensioners and seniors. We will continue to build upon and enhance the system in a way that supports its objectives, consistent with sound pension and economic policy principles.

This brings us to the Bloc's flawed proposal outlined in Bill C-290.

The measure proposed here would go far beyond its stated intent. Not only would it provide a refundable tax credit in respect of shortfalls and pension income, but it would also effectively provide a refundable credit on the full amount of pension benefits received by most retirees. This is because, as drafted, the proposed credit would be based on the difference between the pension benefits payable to an individual from a registered pension plan and the amount of benefits received by the individual from a retirement compensation arrangement.

As a result, the proposed credit would cost approximately $10 billion per year. This represents a major and ongoing cost, and one that is clearly irresponsible in the current fiscal context. For this reason alone, I submit that the proposal should not be supported.

Regardless of whether the bill has been drafted properly to achieve its intended result, its objective is to provide a partial government-backed guarantee for pension benefits. Such a guarantee would reduce the incentive for employers to properly fund and manage their pension plans to control financial risks. This is because sponsors may exercise less due diligence with respect to prudential goals, knowing that benefits are backstopped to some degree by the government.

The fact that pension plan sponsors would not be required to contribute anything whatsoever to cover the cost of this refundable credit would exacerbate this effect.

Moreover, this proposal would place on the federal government's shoulders the responsibility for providing compensation in respect of all pension plans that reduce pension benefits. It is important to note that the federal government is only responsible for pension benefit standards for plans sponsored by federally regulated employers. Indeed, nearly 10% of all pension plan members participate in federally regulated plans.

Since provinces are responsible for the protection of pension benefits for plans sponsored by provincially regulated employers, the onus placed on the federal government for such compensation would be unjustified.

Furthermore, the best way of ensuring that promised pension benefits are secure is to have healthy plans with good supervision.

At the federal level, pension plans are regulated under the Pension Benefits Standards Act, which sets forth a number of requirements in respect of the funding and administration of pension plans.

Providing any kind of guarantee or compensation for pension benefits, whether through the tax system or otherwise, would be extremely costly for taxpayers. It also raises issues of fairness, since the costs would be borne by all taxpayers while the benefits would accrue only to a minority of those participating in pension plans.

A refundable tax credit in respect of shortfalls of pension income would not be the best way to promote the security of pension benefits. It would create undesirable economic incentives for pension plan sponsors and be an improper use of the tax system. It would also be costly and unfair.

Therefore, I strongly urge members not to support this proposal as drafted.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:55 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to debate Bill C-290, which is an act to amend the Income Tax Act to compensate for the loss of retirement income. The bill is a reintroduction of Bill C-445, which was on its way to finance committee last year before the Prime Minister broke his own fixed election date law and called the 40th general election.

At its heart, Bill C-290 has a very laudable goal, to help protect Canadians' pensions when a business fails and it can no longer meet its pension obligation in full. It would provide a 22% tax credit on the portion of a pension that was promised but not delivered.

Having a pension suddenly reduced or cancelled entirely can be devastating to seniors. A great many of them do not have the option of going back to work to supplement their lost pension income. Instead, they are forced to lower their standard of living, eat less food, keep the thermostat a bit lower in the winter. Nothing about it is pleasant.

Despite the emotional, sociological, and economic toll that loss of retirement income can take, the Conservatives deliberately put thousands of seniors in that exact position two and a half years ago when they hiked taxes on income trusts by 31.5%. In one fell swoop the Conservatives killed an investment vehicle that thousands of seniors relied on for regular monthly distributions to live out their retirement in dignity.

To make matters worse, 10 months before destroying $25 billion of seniors' hard-earned savings, the Prime Minister promised up and down that a Conservative government would never, ever tax income trusts. As a result, seniors flocked to income trusts, putting their life savings in them, only to watch the Prime Minister break his promise and destroy their hopes and dreams.

The worry and the dread of the seniors who suffered at the hands of the Prime Minister is very similar to the worry that seniors who lose their defined benefit pension plan experience. Bill C-290 seeks to alleviate some of that worry. As a result, I am happy to say that my position has not changed since the last Parliament. I do have some concerns about the bill, but it certainly deserves to be sent to the finance committee where MPs can hear from experts and hopefully improve the bill.

Once it arrives in committee, I would specifically like to hear from finance officials about how much the bill would cost the treasury. This is particularly important now because we currently have a Conservative government.

As every Canadian knows, a Conservative government means that Canada is currently running a deficit. The two go hand in hand and they have become synonymous in the minds of voters.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Tory times are tough times.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

5:55 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Tory times are tough times, as my colleague so wisely says, Mr. Speaker.

As long as Canada has a Conservative government, Canada will have a Conservative deficit. Because we have a big, fat, juicy Conservative deficit, Bill C-290 would reduce taxes for today's pensioners, but our children and grandchildren would pay those taxes down the road. If we are going to ask a teenager in Richmond—Arthabaska to pay taxes 10 years from now in order for a senior in Prince George to use this tax credit today, we should know how much tax we are talking about. Before a third reading vote, it would be vital that members know how much revenue the bill would cost the government, and more important, our children.

During the second reading of Bill C-290's predecessor, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance suggested that the cost would be upward of $10 billion a year. That number is suspiciously round. It is reminiscent of the alleged $50 billion deficit created by the finance minister, and I suspect it may be equally inaccurate. When the government says $10 billion, it may be $10 million or $2,000. The government is not good with numbers.

It is our position that the bill should be sent to committee. Then we can hear from real experts, finance department officials, not the Minister of Finance and his friends, as to what the costs of the bill are in reality.

Let us be clear: there is no doubt that we need to take action on pension reform in this country. Today, at the finance committee, we heard from Nortel employees and retirees. As we all know, Nortel is currently in bankruptcy protection and there are some serious concerns about the pensions of current and former employees. They have concerns that their underfunded pension plan does not have preferred creditor status in bankruptcy negotiations.

We also heard from many experts at the finance committee that the 110% maximum funding limit on pension plans acts against the interests of retirees. For this and many other reasons there is much more work to be done on the subject of pensions.

Few things could be more nerve racking than having one's pension reduced, especially in the years when one cannot return to the workforce to supplement that lost income. While that reason alone is sufficient, I believe that the principle of the bill certainly merits further study. Therefore, we in the Liberal Party believe that the bill should be sent to the finance committee where members can determine if it is the best way to go about helping retired individuals whose pension benefits are reduced.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:05 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, as the NDP critic for seniors and pensions, I am very pleased to participate in tonight's debate on Bill C-290.

Let me begin by thanking the Bloc member for Richmond—Arthabaska for bringing forward this bill.

For those who may have just turned on their televisions, I would like to add some commentary to help them understand what we are talking about.

Bill C-290 would grant a refundable tax credit equal to 22% of the reduction in pension benefits experienced by beneficiaries of registered pension plans, other than trusts, who suffer a loss of pension benefits when their pension plans are wound up in whole or in part. It applies to both a defined benefit plan and a defined contribution plan. Bill C-290 would also allow taxpayers to apply for a reassessment of taxation if they voluntarily request reassessment on or before 10 calendar days after the end of the taxation year.

Without the legalese, that essentially means that if the income of a retiree's pension drops from, say, $30,000 to $22,000, he or she would receive 22% of the $8,000 loss, which would be a non-taxable amount of $1,760.

This bill is particularly timely. It allows us to discuss pension protection and retirement security on the cusp of a demographic change that we will see very soon. In fact by 2014, one-quarter of Canada's population will be over the age of 65.

This bill is equally timely because of the NDP motion that was just put before us. Members will know that the motion passed on Tuesday of this week, which was an NDP opposition day. It was my motion in fact, which I am very pleased with. It called upon the Conservative government to expand and increase CPP, OAS and GIS, to establish a self-financing pension insurance program, to ensure that workers' pension funds go to the front of the line of creditors in the event of bankruptcy proceedings, and to end the practice of rewarding bonuses to CPP investment managers and recover the $7 million in bonuses paid out this year when they lost $24 billion.

Bill C-290 is very much in keeping with the spirit of my party's own work, and my work, and as such we will be supporting it.

To hear some Conservative MPs in this place tonight, one would think the debate over retirement security is mostly about containing costs. For more progressive voices, it represents an opportunity to re-examine the growing gap between the rich and the rest of Canadians and to make decisions that protect the public interest instead of the interests of the wealthy few.

At a time when more wealth is being created in this country than at any other time in our history, people in Canada are working longer and harder, not to get ahead, but just to keep up. In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing out 200 more hours of work each year than they did nine years ago.

Until recently, a few people at the top were enjoying the benefits of the current economy while everybody else was not. We have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages and purchasing power for everyone else are essentially stagnant or falling. The working people and retirees are falling farther and farther behind.

One of the reasons of course is tied to what is happening in our economy. In the manufacturing sector, our economy lost over 350,000 jobs between 2002 and 2007, and since October 2008, an additional 406,000 jobs were lost in Canadian forestry, industry and manufacturing.

This week, in fairness to the government, we did see an announcement of an infusion of $1 billion into the forestry industry. I do hope that money flows faster than the infrastructure dollars.

It is absolutely essential that the government sit down with leaders from both the labour movement and the business community to develop a plan to maintain and build both the manufacturing and resource sectors of our economy. Not only are those jobs crucial for sustaining families, but we know empirically that the highest level of pension coverage is associated with union memberships in those jobs.

About 80% of union members belong to workplace pension plans, compared to just under 30% of non-union members. With the overall percentage of people who belong to workplace pensions being in a continual decline, it is imperative that we continue to fight for unionized jobs and to maintain the struggle at the bargaining table for defined benefit plans. It is the only way to ensure predictable retirement incomes for workers.

What is happening now is not sustainable. I am from Hamilton. I have witnessed the economic insecurity faced by industrial workers in Hamilton. One can see the shock on their faces and the fear in their eyes. Every time a plant closes down, the pensions and benefits of workers are threatened. Anyone in the House who followed the CCAA proceedings at Stelco, which is now U.S. Steel, will know what I am talking about. Sadly, that is but one of many local examples where restructuring or plants closures have created pension uncertainty for workers.

It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. They are not bonuses paid to workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed-on compensation package for hours worked. That is why the NDP has been pushing the government to finally enact certain clauses in the Wage Earner Protection Program Act that is already the law of the land.

The purpose of that act was to ensure that workers' pension funds go to the front of the line of creditors in the event of bankruptcy proceedings. The Wage Earner Protection Program Act sets out provisions to ensure that unpaid wages in the event of a bankruptcy are paid to workers and that super creditor status is set up for unpaid pension contributions.

Elements of the amendments to the above pieces of legislation were enacted by the Governor in Council in the summer of 2008. However, not all aspects of the changes were implemented. That left some glaring loopholes that our party's leader made it his mission to close.

On May 13, the member for Toronto—Danforth said:

Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the government will not act even when it is the law.

In December 2007, Parliament took action to protect Canadian pensions by adopting Bill C-12 to amend bankruptcy laws. Section 39(2) prioritizes unpaid pension contributions in the case of bankruptcy. Sections 44 and 131 ensures that the court cannot unilaterally overturn a collective agreement. Section 126 prohibits a court from sanctioning restructuring plans unless all unpaid wage claims and pension obligations have been met. It is the law but the government has refused to put it into force. Why?

At the root of that bill, of course, is the vision that workers must receive the pensions they have earned. Bill C-290 shares that vision as well. I would suggest that, for that reason alone, this bill deserves the support of all members of the House.

Yes, there are some areas that merit further examination. However, the Bloc members who have participated in the debate thus far have acknowledged that and have expressed their willingness to explore these issues further at the committee stage. For example, public data detailing the number of pension plan beneficiaries who would be eligible to claim the tax credit proposed in Bill C-290 is not available.

We do know that in 2003 there were approximately 3 million members of private sector registered plans, of which 73% were members of defined benefit plans. However, at present, no one collects the data on this, so it is really hard to say just what the amount of cost would be. The government does say $10 billion in costs. That is certainly conjecture and I think this bill should be moved to the committee for review.

I call upon my Conservative and Liberal colleagues now to walk the talk. They supported our opposition day motion, which really meant, in its commitment to principles, they should continue in that frame of thought and support Bill C-290. They voted for my motion; they should now vote for Bill C-290. The principles are the same.

I would remind my colleagues that the House also supported the most recent incarnation of Bill C-445 in the 39th Parliament.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:15 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to support Bill C-290, tabled by the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

We worked hard on this issue together, and we met the former workers of Atlas Steel and the Jeffrey mine on several occasions. I also want to mention that we had an exceptional partner from the Bloc Québécois, namely the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas, who helped us a lot with his experience in this area, and who supported us, as did the researchers working for the Bloc Québécois. We also consulted senior officials from the Department of Finance and from the House, as well as our law clerks, who provided advice to us.

The Conservative member who spoke earlier said that today's bill was a botched piece of legislation. He asked whether we had consulted people. Does he think that one can table a bill here, in the House of Commons, without checking the facts? Before a bill can be introduced, it must comply with the financial regulations, and also with the other regulations. It is a requirement. It is an obligation. We did what we had to do and we were advised by senior officials from his government, from Parliament, and by law clerks who told us that this legislation is very consistent with Canadian laws. Therefore, our bill is financially and legally acceptable.

I also want to congratulate the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, who, earlier, conveyed so well the trauma of these former workers, because of the awful situation that they are experiencing. They have been receiving a pension for 10 to 12 years and then, all of a sudden, that pension is reduced by one third. We are not talking about a commitment that had been made, but could no longer be met: that pension fund was started many years ago.

I should also point out to the Conservative member who spoke earlier that it is not 1,000 or 10,000 plants that are affected in Canada, but only two, namely Atlas Steel and the Jeffrey mine. So, this is very much an isolated problem. If these people find themselves in this situation, it is because of government measures that allowed contributions to be stopped for a while in these plants, in an attempt to save the companies. However, we did not manage to save them and they went bankrupt, with the result that the fund found itself in a deficit and that these people's pensions had to be cut by one third.

So, this measure would not cost $10 billion. In one case, we are talking about some 300 workers, and 800 or 900 in the other case. The tax credit that the government would provide has been estimated at about $1.7 million. This amount would gradually diminish because, like everyone else, these people are going to die some day. They have already reached a certain age, since they are retired. So, at some point, this measure would no longer cost anything.

We want to correct a mistake that was not made by workers who might have gambled their money away, or made bad investments. No, the mistake was made by a government. So, we must correct it with the help of a government. We got the support of the Quebec government. If this bill is adopted here, it will also be passed by the Quebec National Assembly, with the result that these 22% would become 44%. This would help workers recover a significant part of their annual loss, as the member for Richmond—Arthabaska explained in the example that he provided earlier.

I want to thank the Liberal member who spoke a little while ago. He raised questions—and we will be able to answer those questions when the bill is referred to committee—but he has nevertheless agreed, in good faith, to referring this legislation to committee. In order to do so, the bill must get the support of a majority in the House at second reading.

He agreed to that on the Liberals' behalf. We will check and discuss it in committee. It will take about a week and we will have a chance to hear from witnesses.

I would also like to thank my NDP colleague who expressed himself so honourably earlier when he said that the bill was timely and would give us cause to consider pension funds as a whole. That might not happen when we discuss this particular bill, but it might be a starting point for us to do some more looking into the complex world of pension funds.

I would also like to express how disappointed I am in the Conservative members from Quebec. I have not heard a single Conservative member discuss this issue or stand up in support of it. This is an issue that affects Quebec workers, some of whom have cousins, brothers and sisters in my riding. It also affects the people in their ridings. The Quebec members have not said a word. That is remarkable. Every time we talk about social measures, compassionate measures, measures to help people in need, they are nowhere to be found. But when we talk about protecting oil companies by giving them $2.5 billion, they give the minister a standing ovation. They are in league with those profiteers.

I have a question that I want to ask them one by one. I want to ask the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, who is always ready to take a stand when it comes to helping the well-off, the member for Beauport—Limoilou, the member for Pontiac, the members for Beauce, Jonquière—Alma, Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, Mégantic—L'Érable, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and Louis-Saint-Laurent, what are you waiting for? You made a choice. I made the choice to come here and stand with the other members of the Bloc Québécois to defend the interests of Quebeckers, including the Atlas Steel and Jeffrey mine workers and other workers. I am here to stand up for National Assembly consensus issues, such as demanding $2.6 billion in equalization—which is what Ontario and Nova Scotia got—and whatever else might be in Quebec's interest. You made a different choice. That was your right, and when you made that choice, you were saying: “I will get elected as a member of the party in power and I will be able to influence decisions made by the party in power when I am part of that caucus”.

Well now, it is time to act. So far, the 10 Conservative members from Quebec have not said a word. As the second hour of debate on this issue will not take place until October, you will have until then to think about whether you are representing Quebec's interests here in Ottawa.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would remind the hon. member to address his comments through the Chair and not directly to other members.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:20 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Madam Speaker, since I only have a minute left, I would simply like to express my wish that this honourable House show some compassion in examining the problems faced by the workers of Atlas Steel and the Jeffrey Mine. These workers have seen their pensions cut unfairly and are simply asking for compensation for the few years they have left. They want to live out those years decently, which they deserve, since it was their own money that has been taken from them.

I thank the Liberal Party and the NDP for having already said they will vote in favour of the bill. I would again ask the Conservative members to think again before they say no to these workers who deserve to live with dignity.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:25 p.m.

Macleod Alberta


Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to Bill C-290, the proposal for a refundable tax credit related to pension income.

This extremely flawed proposal raises a number of concerns, primarily the one that was referred to earlier. This proposal would easily cost $10 billion, which is a very substantial sum, especially considering the significant pressure on fiscal resources at the present time.

I would refer back to a question by my colleague from Mississauga—Erindale. He asked the honourable sponsor of this bill, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, if he had put in a request to the Parliamentary Budget Officer to have a costing done on this proposal. The hon. member was unable to or did not provide an answer as to whether he had or had not.

As we know, part of the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to cost out private members' bills, proposals that private members bring forward, to see whether they require a royal recommendation, which I would suggest this one does, but also to tell the House whether this is a reasonable request. The number we have now is $10 billion. We did not receive an answer and I would encourage the hon. member to proceed with that process.

He suggested that $10 billion was too large an amount. The critic for the Liberal Party, the member for Markham—Unionville, also suggested it was too large an amount. However, they did not back that up with anything, other than saying that number was wrong. There are facts available. The Parliamentary Budget Officer could provide those facts and I would encourage the hon. member to do it. If he thinks the number is not accurate, then he should ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer to provide us with the realistic number.

Not only that, the bill would reduce the employer incentive to properly fund and manage its pension plans to control financial risks. Overwhelmingly, the benefit of a small group of taxpayers would benefit, while the costs would be borne by all taxpayers. This ignores the strengths of our present retirement income system.

It also fails to take into account our government's action to improve the retirement savings system for Canadians.

First, this proposal would entail substantial costs, as I say, a projected $10 billion. Not only would it provide a refundable tax credit for pension income shortfalls, but it suggests that it would in fact effectively provide a refundable credit on the full amount of pension benefits received by most retirees. This is because, as drafted, the proposed credit would be based on the difference between the pension benefits payable to an individual from a registered pension plan and the amount of benefits received by the individual from a retirement pension compensation arrangement. As a result, the proposed credit would cost about, as I say, $10 billion annually. Clearly, such a costly measure would be untenable.

Second, by providing a partial government-backed guarantee for pension benefits, we would be creating a disincentive for employers to properly fund and manage their pension plans to control financial risks.

Third, such a guarantee would raise issues of fairness because the costs would be borne by all taxpayers, while benefiting a minority of those participating in pension plans. For example, RRSP savers or those in defined contribution pension plans who do not achieve the pension income they expect because of poor investments could demand similar compensation.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret having to interrupt the member. The hon. member will have approximately five minutes remaining when this debate resumes.

The time provided for 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.

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

6:30 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, in 2008, the federal government awarded contracts for goods and services worth $3 billion to suppliers in the national capital region.

Only $38 million, or 1.4%, was awarded to Gatineau companies, whereas 98.6% was awarded to Ottawa companies. This situation is unacceptable and scandalous. It is unfair.

Gatineau companies are even opening offices in Ottawa so that they show up on the federal radar. It works for some.

When I reported this problem to the Minister of Public Works, Michael Fortier, at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on April 24, 2007, he could not believe it and said, “In fact, it would be unacceptable to force people to move, to change postal codes, in order to be taken into consideration.” And yet, the situation has not changed.

In 2005, Gatineau received only 0.9% of these contracts; in 2006, only 1.8%; in 2007, 2.1%; and in 2008, 1.4%. And yet Gatineau and Ottawa are separated by only a river, not an ocean or a continent.

The Mayor of Gatineau, Marc Bureau, finds this situation unacceptable. Speaking to a coalition of businesspeople on February 6, 2008, he said, “This situation is not normal...Our companies are getting only 2% of $2 billion in total spending. Something must be done.”

Even worse, the federal government itself is competing with contractors from Gatineau. I am thinking of Traduction Houle inc., a Gatineau company that employs 40 people. This company, which was created in 1981, has seen its sales to the federal government decline every year since 2004. Traduction Houle cannot understand why the government's Translation Bureau is competing unfairly with private enterprise.

The federal government takes the vast majority of translation contracts, without a competitive process, and goes to small and medium-sized translation firms for its human resources.

What is more, these small and medium-sized companies have to go through a long and complicated contracting process that adds considerably to their administrative burden. For example, here are some data for 2007-08 on money that went to the Translation Bureau compared to the private sector.

The Department of Transport paid the Translation Bureau $5 million for translation services, compared to $700,000 to the private sector; the Canadian Food Inspection Agency paid $4 million to the Translation Bureau, compared to $300,000 to the private sector; and Foreign Affairs and International Trade paid $7 million to the Translation Bureau, compared to $700,000 to the private sector.

But there are solutions, such as informing suppliers of all the officials who have the authority to award goods and services contracts valued at less than $25,000 and construction contracts valued at less than $100,000; using the agreement on internal trade, which allows a specific policy for a region; or supporting not-for-profit organizations with an economic mandate, in order to help SMEs win federal contracts. Consider Solutions Antenne in Gatineau.

What is the federal government doing to address this situation? It is moving its office to help SMEs from the sixth floor to the ground floor—