House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pope.


Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would not propose to speak for Mr. Clark or anyone else in history. Certainly this government is not supporting that.

One of the member's colleagues in the NDP raised the issue of universality of pensions and felt that in some fashion prisoners are entitled to receive pensions. I am certainly not an advocate of that. I do not think they are entitled to them or that universality is a challenge to that. If a person commits a crime, there are consequences that follow.

Pensions are not taken away from prisoners forever. Pensions are suspended only for the time the individuals are incarcerated. We have gone so far as to ensure that their spouses or common law partners are not disadvantaged and receive entitlements based on their income and not the incomes of both parties.

This is a fair piece of legislation. It is legislation the public expects. This government has been very quick to respond to this issue. For 13 years the Liberal government did nothing on this issue, but we took action in weeks or months. It has been a very quick and precise response to the public and one which the public expects not in years but weeks and months to get the bill through. If we had a modicum of co-operation, we could do it even quicker.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to be here to speak to issues, especially things that we went on record some months ago as supporting, without having to listen to some of the rhetoric. I heard my colleague behind me use words that are inappropriate in the House, and I will just leave it at that.

It has been suggested that we on this side of the House are not supporting this bill. It has also been suggested that this has been a fast process. The bill was introduced in June. This issue was brought up first by the media, by the way, not by anybody else, in March. It took until June for the legislation to be introduced. Here we are on November 16 finally getting a bill passed. That has a lot to do with the fact that the committee worked very well with the intent of getting the bill back into the House. Otherwise who knows how long it would take to get it here?

Some of us are concerned and frustrated when we hear the other side say that we are not helping. We are the ones who have been pushing this forward since it was first announced in the media. The government has been advancing it at nothing short of a snail's pace. Let us be clear on that point.

The committee has done a good job. After all, it was a little more than a month since the committee was asked to examine Bill C-31. Members of the committee took the bill seriously. They did their homework and asked questions to make sure that we avoided unintended consequences. Hence the bill is now before us and it could be passed very quickly here and in the other place. It is fair to say that the committee members did a quick and thorough job of reviewing the bill, contrary to, as I indicated earlier, what the government did not do.

My primary concern stems back to the pace that business is being advanced in the House. A proactive government would move quickly on issues that concern Canadians and parliamentarians.

Most members know that Bill C-31 is legislation that is relatively simplistic from a legal perspective, which does not happen too often. It is not particularly controversial, nor is it divisive in its scope. After all, the entire bill, in both English and French, is less than six pages in total length. It is a very small bill.

Put another way, after more than five months of working on this legislation, we have successfully completed just 25% of the legislative process. Imagine, just 25% in five months; that is a snail's pace if there ever were one. If this is the best we can do, Bill C-31 will not pass into law until July 2012, long after when every reasonable person expects the next election to be held. We know what will happen. An election will be called; everything will die on the order paper and nothing will ever get done. This could have been done in September. The bill could have passed in September and gone to the other place. It is not often that we are asking the government why it is not moving something forward faster, but this is a very simple and small bill and it could have been passed by both houses by now.

This means the government wants to talk about this bill more than it wants to pass it. It wants to say that it is tough on crime more than it wants to back its rhetoric with real action. Most particularly, the government is clearly more interested in optics than it is in the elements of governing as responsible Canadians.

Permit me to be completely clear though. We are of the belief that the changes are long overdue and we do not oppose them. In fact, we support them. As I have said before, from the Liberals' perspective, we are certainly prepared to fast-track this legislation. I indicated in June when the minister introduced the legislation that we were prepared to fast-track this bill.

When I last spoke in this House on Bill C-31, my primary concern was simple. I wanted to make sure there were no unintended consequences attached to the bill. It is a requirement for all of us as legislators to ensure there are no unintended consequences on any legislation that is introduced in the House. Even though many of us had strong feelings from the start when the media flagged this issue, our government was not aware of this issue any more than anybody else was. It was members of the media, in the kind of work they do, who discovered Mr. Olson was receiving old age security cheques, which clearly bothered all of us.

While I was anxious to punish the guilty and to ensure that tax dollars were not being wasted, I also needed to be sure we were not punishing the spouses for the crimes of their partners. We all know that the spouses pay a big enough price and I do not believe any of us wanted to add to that difficulty.

It seems that the committee members were satisfied by hearing witnesses from various organizations throughout Canada. They listened to all sides of the issues to make sure that Bill C-31 would not have a negative impact on the spouses, and that the spouses, families and children would be protected.

In my mind there would seem to be no other reason that we would not send Bill C-31 to the other place. If the Prime Minister were truly committed to its speedy passage, he could direct his Conservative-dominated Senate to pass the legislation immediately. It could all be done before we rose for Christmas, if he really wanted it done. Of course, the Prime Minister has little interest in this approach, so one would wonder how serious he is about the issue, or is he just more interested in looking as though he were serious about the issue? That is for the Canadian people to decide at the appropriate time. After all, this is just another in a recent string of examples of the government's relentless drive for good optics.

According to the recently released public accounts, lapsed funding for the victims of crime initiative last year amounted to just under $4 million, or 45% of the available funds. That means in 2009-10, the Conservatives spent $4.8 million helping victims of crime versus $6 million which they spent this year to advertise how they helped those victims of crime.

One of the motions that was introduced at committee was that the $2 million, the amount of money saved by not sending the pension to the likes of Mr. Olson, should be given to the victims of crime organization so that we could help victims in as many ways as possible. However, my understanding is that the amendment was not passed at committee.

Those commercials we continue to see in the government's massive advertising campaign fail to mention that when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, he killed his entire crime agenda that we had heard so much about for so many years, much of which had the Liberals' support. However, once Parliament was prorogued, all of that fell off the agenda, just as this bill would if the Prime Minister were to prorogue Parliament tomorrow.

People have to understand what proroguing Parliament really does. The legislation that all of us work for, although not all of us necessarily support, is lost once Parliament prorogues. Every single bill at that time was back to square one. When Parliament resumed sitting in the spring, each one of them had to be reintroduced, one by one. That delays them, because they have to go through the same process again: first reading, second reading, consideration at committee, report stage, third reading and then they go to the other place. All that so-called big crime agenda that was necessary was lost. Some of it was not as good as it could have been; there were lots of problems with some of it, but we were supporting it. Then we had to start all over again in the spring. Yet if we listen to the Prime Minister's multi-million dollar ad campaign, we would swear that all of that legislation was in effect right now, which is simply untrue.

Call it retail politics, spin, wedge politics or whatever one wishes, but Canadians are being misinformed again and again by the government. I say it is time for that nonsense to stop and for the government to be honest about the kind of legislation that is being passed and the timelines in doing that.

In simple terms, Bill C-31 seeks to amend the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under this act and at the same time to maintain entitlement to benefits for their spouse or common law partner. When we talk about unintended consequences, we had to ensure that the spouses and children of these individuals would not be harmed with the passage of Bill C-31.

As I have already said, the latter of these elements is, in my estimation, a pivotal thrust of this particular piece of legislation. We should never be too eager to cast a net without first ensuring that only those deserving of punishment are actually forced to endure it, and not their spouses and children.

Despite our often fierce partisan differences in the House, today we are looking at an issue that should unite all of us regardless of our political affiliation.

As we know, the old age security pension is intended to help seniors pay for their housing, clothing, food and transportation, which are expectations that many seniors struggle with each and every day.

I just came from a meeting at the industry committee where we were talking about Bill C-501. This is a bill that was put forward by one of my colleagues in the other party to try to deal with pensioners and bankruptcy collapse, to deal with what happens to people who work for companies that go bankrupt. This bill deals with the impacts on current pensioners and would-be pensioners. It deals with the devastation of trying to live on $1,200 a month and the many pensioners who are in poverty as a result of their company's going bankrupt.

This is a call on the government and all parliamentarians, and we were all very serious this morning regardless of party, to try to find solutions to the problem of Nortel, for example, and other companies. How do we better protect pensions and people's contributions in this country?

For thousands of seniors who are struggling with these growing bills on a fixed income, the thought that convicted and imprisoned criminals would be eligible for the same OAS benefit as they are is quite offensive and totally unacceptable for all of us.

Moreover, given that the old age security is meant to help a recipient pay for housing, clothing, food and transportation, it seems unnecessary for prisoners to get a cheque given that their housing, clothing, food and transportation are already paid for as a condition of their incarceration. It does not make a lot of sense that we give the same amount of money to seniors out there having to pay rent and buy their own groceries and clothing and all the rest of it, and yet people in prison, regardless of what they are there for, get all of that plus their old age security.

One senior said, “Maybe I should go to jail. At least I would have some extra money and all of my needs would be taken care of”. I assured that senior that once the gate was closed it might not seem like such a good idea.

As a legislator, I see the current reality to be redundant, unacceptable and, as I indicated earlier, something that should be changed without delay, without delay. I would like to hear the government move this through at votes tonight, move it into the Senate and ask the Conservative-dominated Senate to pass Bill C-31 immediately. This is precisely why I am of the belief that Bill C-31 should be advanced, as I indicated before.

I last addressed this issue in June when the minister introduced the legislation. I said at that time that I would not seek to draw this process out for the sake of speaking longer in the House. I did not intend to do that then, nor do I intend to do it today. What is needed today is action and it is needed now.

For the sake of clarity, contrary to my colleague's asking if we would vote for it, the Liberal position has been on the record since June, maybe before that, that we would support this kind of legislation. So that there is no question whether we will, the Liberal side of the House supports the stated notions of Bill C-31 unequivocally.

The next thing we know, though, there will be a massive email campaign going around to everybody in Canada saying to go after the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc because they may not support Bill C-31. Let me be clear. We have indicated from the beginning that we support it. We are going to continue to support it. In fact, we are asking the government to fast-track it through the Senate.

We agree that convicted and incarcerated criminals should not receive societal benefits, like the monthly old age security cheque. On a purely personal note, I would take this belief one step further.

I, like most Canadians, was horrified as I watched the trial of the former Colonel Williams. This person is now sitting in jail, but upon his formal retirement he could be eligible for a pension that he earned while a member of the Canadian Forces, a time that coincides with the time he committed his heinous crimes. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion that he will be rewarded on the same scale as Canada's veterans of the war in Afghanistan. There is something terribly wrong with that.

Canada's pension systems, both public and private, need a great deal of attention. The Canada pension plan, old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the various private options available are good. We are grateful that we have them and that the investments were made, but we need to do better.

We need to examine all facets of these systems in a way that will close the gaps, reduce the redundancies and enhance the benefits for all Canadians. I recently released a white paper on pension reform. That document was the product of more than a year of work by nearly 20 industry and pension specialists of every partisan stripe.

Whether we addressed the creation of a supplementary Canada pension plan, the tightening of regulatory loopholes, the enhancement of regular Canada pension plan benefits or the establishment of a pension bill of rights, the focus was not on politics. It was on substantive pension reform. Our primary focus was, and is, finding ways to make pensions stronger. Some days I wish that example could be adopted more often by the government and this House.

Twenty-eight recommendations later, I am convinced that we have a winning strategy, a comprehensive, multi-generational plan that puts people and their pensions first. The white paper, which can be found on my web page, fits hand-in-glove with Bill C-574, which I introduced on October 1.

Bill C-574 is a pensioners' bill of rights. Since the Mackenzie King government, a Liberal government I should remind the House, first introduced the Old Age Pensions Act 83 years ago, Liberals have fostered a long history of creating, enhancing and expanding pensions available to Canadian seniors.

From old age security, introduced by the Liberal government, to the Canada pension plan of previous Liberal governments and the supplement, also from a previous Liberal government, we understand the extreme importance of protecting and preserving pension security, adequacy and coverage for all deserving and law-abiding Canadians.

Bill C-574 is the next step in that process. Too often, financial illiteracy, inadequate opportunity and economic instability strip away the hard-earned savings of our seniors. That must stop.

Bill C-574 is the first bill of its kind ever proposed to better protect our seniors and their nest eggs. I am proud to have presented it. I clearly hope that all members in this House will adopt it at the appropriate time. I would urge colleagues to take part in that debate on November 23. As always, our seniors are counting on us.

Bill C-31 is yet another step that could be taken down this road. I stand ready to do whatever it takes to achieve these goals, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and with the government to pass measures geared to the same.

With the help of the government, I am hopeful that we can advance Bill C-31 quickly in this House and then, with the help of the Prime Minister, quickly through the other place.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate our hon. colleague from York West on her speech. I think we have reached the same conclusions about Bill C-31. She raised the issue of protecting victims. It would be interesting to hear more of her thoughts on this.

We are used to seeing the Conservatives introduce bills to penalize criminals even more, but they almost never introduce anything to prevent crime. Some things, it goes without saying, we can agree on, such as Bill C-31, but the Conservatives rarely or never introduce bills to protect victims.

Can the member tell us if this bill contains any elements to protect victims? If not, what measures should be brought forward to protect the victims of crime?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the committee my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour spoke to me about introducing a motion that would divert the dollars being saved in this bill to the victims of crime. That budget for the victims of crime gets cut on a continuous basis. More money needs to be made available to those very victims who have suffered so much.

I have a wonderful young mother in my riding by the name of Louise Russo. Many members in the House are aware of her. She was picking up a sandwich at a sandwich bar for her daughter after night school and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was a mob hit. Somebody went by and sprayed bullets into this upscale coffee shop with the intention of getting someone else but unfortunately happened to get Ms. Russo, as she entered to get that sandwich for her daughter that fatal night. She nearly died. She is paralyzed from the breast bone down. She is a young mother with a severely disabled child. Now there are two people in wheelchairs, Ms. Russo and her daughter.

When I inquired about what was available in the way of support for people like Ms. Russo, I found out that the maximum amount was $25,000. We have a woman who had been actively working and had a disabled child, and the only kind of compensation available to her was $25,000.

Victims of crime need to be supported in a variety of ways. Emotional support needs to be there, but clearly, financial support has to be there as well. Her ability to be employed, to have a successful job, has been taken away. In Bill C-31, some of the money could have been diverted for the victims of crime.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, a little earlier I asked the parliamentary secretary why the Conservative government of Joe Clark started sending federal prisoners OAS and GIS payments in the first place, in 1979.

It seems to me that if a government is trying to undo a measure that is on the books right now, it would first research the history of it. We know it has done it. It seems to me that it would try to find out when the measure was brought into force and why it was brought into force, and on that basis it would frame its legislative initiative. We know the government has done it, but every time I ask the government the question, I get an evasive answer. The answer is, “Well, the Liberals had 13 years and they did not do anything about it”. The parliamentary secretary did not say that his government has had five years and is just starting to look at the issue.

What prompted Joe Clark to change the rules in 1979 in the first place? Was it a court judgment that was made? Was it a caucus discussion? What were the reasons the government started sending pension cheques to federal prisoners in the first place? It is incumbent upon the government to answer that question.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I were a member of the government I would answer the question, but I am not a member of the government and I cannot give the member the answer. Maybe one of our colleagues might call Mr. Clark and ask him exactly what happened back then.

I am sure this was not done casually. I am sure there was a serious amount of investigation and study into it. This did not come up because the government of the day found out about it. It came up because the media found out about it and flagged the issue. All of us in the House were concerned about it and we felt that changes needed to be made.

If money is to be spent, it should be spent on victims of crime to try to help those very people who are victimized by the likes of Clifford Olson and others.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on an excellent job. I also congratulate the work being done through the committee, such as zeroing in on the unintended consequences of something like this.

At the very outset, of course, we do not want to punish those who are receiving the money outside of the individuals themselves. We may have people living in poverty where the consequences were of no fault of their own and yet they are the ones being punished because they are not the ones receiving the public subsidy or receiving money from the government to survive, such as those who are incarcerated. Therefore, I congratulate the member and the committee on their work.

I found it very strange and disingenuous of the parliamentary secretary to raise the issue of 13 long years. It has been four years, for goodness sake. On a three page bill, someone should have flagged at some point that this should have been done. How much time has to elapse before we realize that we are now the author of our own demise and no one else wrote that for us.

It goes back to the debate we had earlier. In the other bill dealing with tough on crime, all of these small items could have been done through the Criminal Code on a larger basis. We could have one piece of legislation that takes care of all of that if there were a vision in place by which the government wants to tackle or fight crime.

However, there does not seem to be a vision because it does not go lockstep with anything else. It is incarceration. However, eliminating that crime before it actually begins is just not a part of the vision.

Could my hon. colleague comment on that please?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe there was a recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer concerning the billions of dollars, I think it was $12 billion, that it will cost both federally and provincially for all the new prisons that will be required after all this legislation is passed.

It seems to me that investing in crime prevention and organizations like that are the way we need to be going so we can get rid of these criminals so that maybe they are not created. Maybe we could put more money into schools.

I represent a riding that has many challenges and, clearly, from what I understand, investing in early childhood education, showing kids that they have opportunities in the future and giving them hope does far more than building more prisons. We could take that $12 billion and put it into everything from early learning opportunities to providing hope for people so that, no matter what their background is, there is opportunity for them to move ahead in our society. Whatever challenges they are facing, there are ways to get out of that.

As a society, we should be doing more to help people achieve their goals instead of building so many prisons.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate it if you would delay the time for questions so that I can finish my speech. My colleague from Hochelaga agrees with me.

I am pleased to speak to this important bill. It is important because it shows the true face of this government and it lets us see the government for what it is.

This bill, which was introduced on June 1, 2010, would eliminate old age security benefits for prisoners. From the outset, the Bloc was clear that it would support this new measure in principle, contrary to what our Conservative colleagues are trying to insinuate. We support this bill in principle.

We also said from the outset that we wanted the bill to go to committee, and it was studied by the committee I have the honour to sit on, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. We made a unanimous recommendation in this House that would correct this flaw that allows prisoners, who are fed and housed at public expense, to receive old age security benefits, which are not earned through employment or otherwise.

The government made this an urgent issue, even though we did not see it as urgent. We saw the need but not the urgency, because no one was threatened or hurt by this situation. It was a matter of recovering the money these people had received unfairly. We discovered along the way that the Conservatives were just paying lip service to the idea of urgency, because they tried and are still trying to drag out the debate so that they can make purely demagogic arguments implying that the opposition parties disagree with the principle of this bill. Clearly, we are talking about something that went unnoticed for years and only came to light because of Mr. Wilson's situation.

A more urgent issue would be the situation of seniors who are not incarcerated, but who live in the community and have to make do with an income that is not enough to let them live in dignity.

I will talk about two specific measures. The first is the guaranteed income supplement, including income security. One seniors advocacy group, FADOQ, has brought this issue forward on a number of occasions, and started a petition that I tabled in this House a week or two ago. My Bloc Québécois colleagues have also filed petitions from each of their ridings.

We find ourselves in this House with petitions presented by Bloc colleagues. These petitions, started and sponsored by seniors groups, are calling urgently for an increase in seniors' income, which consists of basic income security, known as the old age pension, and the guaranteed income supplement for those who receive old age security but still do not have enough income to pay for housing, food, clothing and medication.

In Quebec alone, 78,000 seniors find themselves in this situation; in Canada, the number is threefold.

Therefore, this is of concern to us. A well-known Quebecker said that a society is judged on how it treats its children and its seniors. Given that we can identify 78,000 Quebeckers and more than 200,000 Canadians living not just below the poverty line, but below the level of income considered necessary to live with dignity, something is not working properly in our society.

This is an indication that the laws are poorly designed or not being enforced.

In the case of the guaranteed income supplement, the legislation is being misapplied, perhaps even deliberately misapplied. Eight years ago in 2002, it was discovered that 83,000 eligible people in Quebec alone were not receiving the guaranteed income supplement. And yet, they were entitled to it.

Year after year, we have asked the government why these people are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement even though the government receives their income tax returns and has knowledge of their income. Almost none of these people are aware of their entitlement. They are isolated in the community and lack the necessary knowledge and education. And yet, the government knows who these people are.

Bloc Québécois members including Marcel Gagnon, the former member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, campaigned to make people aware of their GIS eligibility. Tens of thousands of people discovered that they were entitled to the GIS as a result of this campaign. And yet, these people were living in poverty—which I will not describe as abject, because they are proud people—but in poverty that was barely tolerable. The upshot was that over 40,000 people found out about their entitlement and filed applications.

At this very moment, there are still 42,000 people in Quebec and three times that many in the rest of Canada who have fallen through the cracks. There is the very familiar case of the woman from Toronto who had been living in absolute poverty and found out only two years ago that she had qualified for the guaranteed income supplement for the past 10 years or more. News of our campaign spread to Toronto, where she found out about her entitlement and was also discovered. Her story made headlines. That is just one case. There have been tens of thousands of similar cases.

There is a lot of urgency around this first measure. Not only does this situation require urgent attention so that these people get the guaranteed income supplement, but also, benefits must immediately be paid retroactively since over $3 billion has been misappropriated. That money belongs to seniors. This wrong must be righted immediately.

To correct this injustice, in April, my colleague, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, introduced Bill C-516, which includes the following measures. We in the Bloc Québécois truly hope that all members of the House will support this bill and, when the time comes, vote for it. The bill would increase the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month. It proposes a six-month extension to the pension and surviving spouse or common-law partner benefit. This six-month extension would ensure that a survivor is able to bridge the gap after the death of his or her spouse. Also included is automatic enrolment for those over the age of 65 who are eligible for the GIS—which I mentioned earlier, and it is ridiculous that this has not yet been done—retroactive guaranteed income supplement payments to seniors, and a surviving spouse benefit increase to match GIS levels.

These are the measures that must be taken immediately with respect to my first example.

My second example has to do with the people who have not reached the age of eligibility for the income security pension, that is, the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement, and who lose their jobs while still under the age of 65. Beginning in 1989, we had a program for older worker adjustment, the POWA, for workers aged 55 and up who lost their jobs and were not able to find new employment, particularly in one-industry regions. These people were left with nothing once their employment insurance benefits and benefit period ran out, and they ended up on welfare.

From 1989 to 1997, we had a program called POWA, the program for older worker adjustment, which enabled these people, for whom there were no jobs available, to receive income from employment insurance to allow them to live decently.

In 1997, the Liberal government cut that program completely, and it has not existed since then, which means that factories have been shut down in many regions in Quebec and elsewhere. Other members can speak for what has gone on in other provinces.

There is Whirlpool, for example, which shut down in Montmagny in 2004. Nearly 30% of the 245 employees were over 55. The primary employer in the region closed its doors and there were no jobs for the employees who were over 55. The younger ones could always find work elsewhere, but it was a difficult time. What happened to these people? They ended up on welfare. These people had worked and paid into employment insurance their entire lives, and the government did not even support them with a measure that was paid for out of their own pockets.

What happened during that time? The employment insurance fund was generating surpluses every year. In 1997, the same year the government cut the POWA, a surplus of over $7 billion had accumulated in that fund. Yet over 50% of the employees who had paid into the EI fund were not eligible to receive EI benefits. As a matter of fact, surpluses accumulated year after year, thereby allowing both parties that formed successive governments to misappropriate over $57 billion from the EI fund over a period of 13 or 14 years. During that time, older workers were losing their jobs and not receiving any benefits, even though they had paid into the EI fund their entire lives.

As we know, some measures were taken during what has been called the economic crisis. These include the stimulus plans for municipal infrastructure, special measures for the automotive industry, and so on. Then again, even if there is no national economic crisis, people who lose their jobs go through their own economic crisis and so do their families.

On behalf of my party, I introduced Bill C-308 to correct the situation, but the Liberals sided with the Conservatives to defeat that bill.

To be fair, some Liberal members voted in favour of the bill, but they arranged, as they so often do, to have enough members absent—including the Liberal Party leader, first and foremost—to ensure it did not pass. We had just won an opposition vote on a Liberal motion, and the Liberal Party leader practically ran down the aisle to leave so he would not have to vote. It was a little pathetic.

So, yes, there are victims who need to be taken care of, victims of crime, of course, and victims of the economic situation. I illustrated this with two very specific cases.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to know when I will be able to finish my speech.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have four minutes to finish his speech after question period. We will now proceed to statements by members.

Louis RielStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, today marks the 125th anniversary of the death of Louis Riel, one of Canada's foremost Métis leaders.

I, as a Métis woman, am truly honoured to acknowledge his contributions, both to the Métis Nation and to Canada as a whole.

Louis Riel is regarded by many as the father of Manitoba, because he led negotiations with the Government of Canada in 1870 that resulted in the formation of Manitoba as the fifth province to join Confederation.

Sadly, at the young age of 41 years, Louis Riel faced death while declaring, “I have nothing but my heart and I have given it long ago to my country”.

Although today is a solemn declaration of his death, we are proud as Canadians to reflect on Louis Riel's accomplishments and his efforts to ensure justice and recognition for all Métis people.

Today we pay tribute to a francophone Métis leader who was born in Saint Boniface, died in Regina and was buried in his homeland. Louis Riel was a remarkable and unforgettable man. Meegwitch.

Saint-Quentin Chamber of CommerceStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, on November 13, 2010, I had the opportunity to attend the Saint-Quentin chamber of commerce's annual banquet.

Each year, the banquet is an opportunity to pay tribute to the region's entrepreneurial community. This year, the chamber added a young entrepreneur award to highlight the work of our young people and their role as the future of our community.

I would like to acknowledge the four recipients of the 2010 awards: business of the year—Denis Banville Excavation Inc.; female entrepreneur—Anne Mallais, Résidence AM; volunteer entrepreneur, Raoul Couturier, Motel chez RA-LY; and young entrepreneur—Frédéric Perron, Chapiteaux Fred.

I want to take a moment to recognize the time and effort that you have put into your personal and business success. Your leadership and drive make you remarkable people. I would like to congratulate you and thank you for what you bring to the community of Saint-Quentin and the surrounding area. On behalf of the people of Madawaska—Restigouche, be proud of your achievements. I am proud of you.

Saint-Isidore-de-CliftonStatements By Members

2 p.m.


France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, the municipality of Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton was established in 1910, and thus is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Its dynamic inhabitants makes Saint-Isidore a unique place. Well known for its breathtaking views, this municipality in the Haut-St-François RCM is a jewel in the crown of the forestry industry.

On August 7, I had the opportunity to participate in the parade organized for the celebrations. I saw for myself all the talent and know-how of the people of Saint-Isidore. That is why I would like to offer my most sincere congratulations to the organizations and volunteers who are making the centennial of this municipality an unforgettable event. I am proud to be able to represent the citizens of Saint-Isidore in the House of Commons on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.

Thank you and happy anniversary Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton.

PensionsStatements By Members

2 p.m.


John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, today the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology began two weeks of debate on an important piece of legislation, Bill C-501. It was sent to committee with strong support from members of all parties in the House. I want to extend my thanks to my colleagues for that support, for their participation so far, and for their further participation over the next two weeks.

I invite all members of the House to speak with me about concerns, bring their ideas forward, and explore ways in which we can work together to improve pension security in Canada and pass Bill C-501.

Every member of the House represents constituents who have defined pension benefit plans and who are presently stuck at the back of the line when a company runs into difficulty. Together we can protect the pensions of six million Canadians who have worked hard, played by the rules, and earned the right to retire with dignity.

I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to pass a bill that will serve as a shining example for Canadians of how we can all work together in this place and do the right thing for the people whom we have the honour of serving.

Military FamiliesStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadian soldiers have served our country with distinction through world wars and in Korea. They have served in many peacekeeping missions and currently serve in Afghanistan and 15 other operations around the world.

Last week, we paused to remember our soldiers past and present, many of whom never came home. Canadians are grateful for their commitment and we honour their service. Today, I wish to acknowledge Canada's unsung patriots. I am speaking of the families of our soldiers. These patriots do not volunteer service and they did not set foot on a battlefield, but they have made incredible sacrifices. They have given our country their husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children.

This is a debt impossible to repay. That is why I support our military family resource centres. They provide programs designed to meet the needs of military families and to give them opportunities to make use of what the centres have to offer. I am pleased today to stand and honour our Canadian military families. They are the strength behind the uniform.

Hassanali LakhaniStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to a truly visionary Canadian, Dr. Hassanali Lakhani, who died this past week.

Dr. Lakhani was born in Kenya in 1921, lived in England, but made Canada his home since 1988. His successful business career was surpassed only by his sense of philanthropy and support for charities. He was deeply appreciative of Canada's approach to pluralism and multiculturalism.

In 2003, he established the Noor Centre in Don Valley West. There, Dr. Lakhani made the Canadian vision of pluralism a reality with, among other things, countless educational and cultural exchanges among the Abrahamic faiths that we may know each other.

The Noor Centre has funded fellowships and chairs in Islamic studies at York University.

In 2005, Dr. Lakhani was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree and the Canadian Centre for Diversity's prestigious human relations award for his bridge-building efforts.

Dr. Lakhani leaves behind his wife Noor, four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He will be truly missed.

The EconomyStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, Canada's economic action plan is working: almost 430,000 new jobs created and over 260,000 jobs saved through our work share program.

While the Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition looked at ways to spend and increase taxes that would result in killing an estimated 400,000 jobs, we focused on what really matters to Canadians: job growth; expanding the economy; investing in infrastructure and in skills and training.

As a result, hope and opportunity is evident in all parts of Canada but specifically in Souris—Moose Mountain. During break week, I saw vehicles, equipment and workers on the ground busy in construction, from sewer and water projects, road building, housing and events centres to work on the Energy Training Institution in Estevan, Saskatchewan. This institute will provide the skilled and trained workers for future development in the energy and oil sector, not only in Souris—Moose Mountain but in Saskatchewan and beyond.

Hope and opportunity continues to abound in Souris—Moose Mountain and we had an important part to play in it.

Gisèle GiguèreStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, all members of the House know that we owe our positions in large part to the work of our supporters. Thanks to them, I was elected as the member for Hochelaga a year ago.

Today, I would like to pay tribute to an exceptional supporter, Gisèle Giguère, who preferred to simply be called GIGI. Through her hard work, GIGI helped Louise Harel and Carole Poirier get elected to the Quebec National Assembly on a number of occasions, and she also helped our former colleague, Réal Ménard.

GIGI passed away on October 25 and, at her funeral, I committed to honouring her memory. In order to always remember her significant presence at each of our political activities and her advice, which was given so frankly and freely, we will be giving out the GIGI award each year in the Hochelaga riding to recognize the work of a supporter of the sovereignist cause.

It is with the help of people like you, GIGI, that we will achieve our independence.

Rest in peace. You have earned it.

Foreign AffairsStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I am deeply concerned over the sentencing of a woman to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by a local court on November 8. I hope that this judgment and any others like it will be swiftly struck down on appeal.

My colleague, Senator Salma Ataullahjan, who has been visiting Pakistan, registered Canada's concerns with the sentencing of Asia Bibi in a meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister.

Canada has repeatedly urged the Government of Pakistan to repeal laws criminalizing blasphemy which restrict freedom of religion and of expression. These laws are objectionable in themselves but have also disproportionately targeted religious minorities.

Canadian officials will continue to encourage federal and provincial authorities in Pakistan to respect Pakistan's international human rights obligations and to ensure the safety and well-being of all of its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Year of the Métis NationStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, 11 months ago, I asked this House to approve the following motion:

That...the government should utilize next year, 2010, to commemorate the Year of the Métis in recognition of the 125th anniversary of the historic events of 1885 in Saskatchewan; and further, the government should recognize and celebrate the invaluable contributions of the Métis Nation across Canada which have enriched the lives of all Canadians, socially, economically, politically and culturally.

That motion was adopted unanimously.

Now, on this day, November 16, we need to pause in solemn reflection on the death, 125 years ago today, of the founder of the Métis Nation, Louis Riel.

A western MP, father of the province of Manitoba, leader of the northwest rebellion and valiant defender of the identity, culture and rights of the Métis people, Louis Riel is a figure of enduring national importance.

On this day, we in this Parliament honour his memory.

International TradeStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.


Alice Wong Conservative Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadians can count on their government to oppose protectionism and defend free trade on the world stage.

Today the Minister of International Trade was in Delhi to launch the first round of negotiations towards a Canada-India free trade agreement. Protectionism continues to threaten long-term economic recovery for Canada and, indeed, for the whole world. This free trade agreement will help businesses and workers expand market opportunities and promote prosperity and job creation in both countries.

A recent joint study showed that such an agreement could deliver a boost to Canada's economy of $6 billion to $15 billion, increase bilateral trade with India by 50% and directly benefit Canadian sectors ranging from agriculture, resource-related and chemical products to transport equipment, machinery and services.

Both Canada and India recognize we need the kind of benefits and opportunities that a Canada-India free trade agreement would provide.

Louis RielStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, 125 years ago, the Canadian government executed Louis Riel, leader of the Métis, father of Confederation, and founder of Manitoba.

It is never too late for a country like Canada that claims to be founded on the rule of law to acknowledge historic wrongs and make amends. That is what everyone in the House did two years ago when we apologized to aboriginal peoples. If there is a truly Canadian people, it is the Métis, born of the First Nations and the first European settlers.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre would allow Louis Riel to be officially pardoned and would give him his rightful place in history. In 1985, after being ignored for nearly a century, Franco-Manitobans saw their linguistic rights reinstated by the Supreme Court in the Forest case. Today, this House has another opportunity to make a significant gesture of atonement by giving Louis Riel and the Métis people their rightful place in our history.

International TradeStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.


Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, our government continues to make the economy a priority and is committed to opening new markets for Canadian goods and services. Today, the Minister of International Trade was in Delhi to launch the first round of talks on a free trade agreement between Canada and India.

Such an agreement could result in billions of dollars in economic spinoffs for the Canadian economy, increase bilateral trade with India and directly benefit many Canadian industries.

This agreement shows that our government is committed to building on our already strong ties with India to create a partnership that will lead to new jobs, new opportunities and stronger economies for both Canada and India.

Canadians can count on their government to oppose protectionism and to defend international free trade. As our economy continues to recover, we need the benefits and opportunities that would result from a free trade agreement between Canada and India.

Quebec's Federation for the Next Generation of FarmersStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.


Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to welcome the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec to Parliament Hill.

The Bloc Québécois and I agree with and respect the federation's mission, which is to bring together youth who are passionate about agriculture, to defend their interests, to improve conditions for those starting out in agriculture and to attract a new generation to farming.

Like the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec, the Bloc Québécois feels that the federal government should take action quickly in order to encourage family farm transfers and keep farms from being dismantled.

The Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec can count on the support of Bloc members, who will work tirelessly to defend the interests of a new generation of farmers. This is about justice, equality and respect.

HealthStatements By Members

2:15 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, after five years of inaction on public health care, the Prime Minister thinks he can fool Vaughan's voters with an empty promise of federal funding for a new hospital in Vaughan.

After five years of ignoring public health care, the Prime Minister should know better than to pretend that the federal government builds hospitals when it is a provincial jurisdiction.

The Prime Minister is threatening to cut health transfers to the provinces. He broke his election promise to reduce wait times. He refused to defend our health care system when it was under attack by Republican politicians in the United States.

The government is full of cabinet ministers who shut down dozens of hospitals and fired thousands of nurses throughout Ontario. As chair of the York Central Hospital Board, Tony Genco has worked to bring a hospital to Vaughan.

Only Tony Genco understands the collaborative approach needed to deliver on the health needs of Vaughan's families and only the Liberal Party can be trusted to safeguard public health care.