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House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was documents.

Topics

Supplementary Estimates (C)Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Supplementary Estimates (C)Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, just to be clear, in the list of business given by the government House leader, he made mention of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement implementation legislation. Could he say again which day he intends to call that legislation?

Supplementary Estimates (C)Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, recognizing that there are consultations ongoing on that particular bill, it would be my intention to consider that next Wednesday.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

March 18th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a point of order with respect to something I saw and heard during oral question period. It involved a member of the opposition, the member for Québec, and was directed at our minister responsible for the Quebec City region.

When the minister spoke, the Bloc member for Québec made inappropriate gestures and used unparliamentary language in remarks about our minister.

I was completely offended by what I saw and heard. I believe the member from Quebec owes the minister a sincere apology. I do not believe we should put up with that kind of behaviour here in this honourable place.

I am here to work very hard for this country. The minister is working very hard for the country as well and particularly for the province of Quebec. To have to put up with those kinds of remarks, which I cannot even repeat in the House, is absolutely unparliamentary.

I would encourage you, Mr. Speaker, to view the tape and consider what the Bloc Québécois member had to say and what she was gesturing toward the minister, and ask that she apologize to the minister as quickly as possible.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, our colleague opposite is evidently unable to relay the specific remarks of the member for Québec. I know that we are not supposed to speak about the absence of colleagues, but I will say that she is not here at present as she had to catch a flight to return to her riding.

However, in points of order, knowing what was said is necessary to determine whether remarks are unparliamentary. In the case of inappropriate gestures, the burden of proof falls on the member raising the point of order.

Therefore, I believe that you should at least wait for the member for Québec to return in order to obtain an explanation.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, the gestures made by the member for Québec were so unacceptable that it would be inappropriate for me to repeat them for you. I am asking you to look at the video. If you wish, after this exchange, I could meet with you to show you the gestures she made. I can also repeat the words she used but it would be very inappropriate to use such unparliamentary language in the House. However, I am prepared to speak to you, one-on-one, after this exchange, if you wish.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for her diligence. We can certainly discuss this and I could also see what shows up on the video. That concludes this point of order for the time being.

The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before question period the hon. member for Charlottetown had the floor for his remarks. There are six and half minutes remaining in the time allotted to him for his comments. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Charlottetown.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, when I started my remarks prior to question period, I said that this is a strange debate because there really is not anything in the Speech from the Throne that I would consider has anything to do with an agenda, a vision or futuristic programs. It is a compilation of things that might have been done in the last three or four years. It talks about the situation in Haiti and it talks about the Olympic Games, but really there is nothing there at all.

There is probably a reason for that. This is the third Speech from the Throne in 14 months. It makes a mockery of the whole thing. Anyway, this is what is in front of us. There are several issues that we should be having a public discussion about and which should be in the Speech from the Throne.

The first one is the major demographic transition that is going on in Canada which will have dramatic effects on our labour force, on our future health care costs, on our pensions, on our care of the elderly. There is no public discussion going on about that at all. Some think tanks are writing reports, and some of them are quite alarming, but in the Speech from the Throne and the budget, there is dead silence. I find that alarming.

That leads to the second point, and that is the whole issue of pensions. This has become a very important issue for Canadians from coast to coast. Statistics indicate that approximately two-thirds of Canadians do not have sufficient savings for their retirement. There were no proposals in the Speech from the Throne. There was nothing in the budget. I know that some discussions are going on and there is a lot of hiding behind this jurisdictional shield. The federal government has the power to convene and to show leadership. I am looking for leadership on this particular issue and I know that all Canadians are as well.

As we look forward as a society with a declining workforce we have to look for greater productivity. Our productivity is substantially lower than that of the United States and it is falling lower. Forty per cent of all Canadians do not have the literacy and numeracy skills to compete in the knowledge economy. Nothing is being done about it. No leadership is being shown by the government. Very little leadership is being shown by any of the provincial governments. The universities are not involved in this issue. The community colleges seem to be ignoring it. It just does not get any public discussion anywhere. This issue will affect dramatically the future productivity of this nation. It is an issue that I thought would have been mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.

Dealing with the issue of productivity, there are significant barriers to post-secondary education developing in Canadian society. A lot of high school graduates are deciding not to go to university or to a community college. Their decision is based upon income. They do not want to incur the significant debt that is required. That is becoming a determinant for people to go to university. The country will suffer because of that. That issue should have been included in the Speech from the Throne as we look at the business and agenda of this House going forward.

Perhaps the item that is most blatantly not in the Speech from the Throne is the whole issue of the environment and climate change. The Conservative government is in its fifth year of governing. There have been three environment ministers. There have been three plans.

The first environment minister's agenda was to create a made in Canada plan. Did we ever get it? No. Did we get anything done at all on the environment or climate change? No.

When she was dismissed, she was replaced with the second environment minister. His program was to bring forward very tough regulations so that the largest emitters in Canada would be regulated. Was this ever done? No, it was not done. Was anything ever done? No, nothing was done.

Then there is the third environment minister. His plan is to start a dialogue with the Obama administration. Has this dialogue started? We do not know. The other day he was reported in the press as saying that the dialogue may take two or three years, and in the meantime we cannot do anything.

I, and I believe most Canadians, find it troubling that we can go from one year to two years to three years to four years and not do anything about climate change, other than suggest that at some point in time we are going to start a dialogue with the Obama administration.

I know there is a certain percentage of Canadians who do not believe in climate change. They support the remarks of the Prime Minister that this is an unproven science and it is a socialist plot. However, the majority of Canadians do not support that thought. There should have been something in the Speech from the Throne dealing with environmental issues, dealing with climate change and dealing with a future agenda and programs that this country would expect to see from the government in power regarding the environment.

I come from the political ideology that I believe there is a positive role for the federal government to play. A country as large and as diverse as Canada cannot function if there is not a strong federal government. I am not seeing it, and I am certainly not seeing it in this Speech from the Throne. I really do not see anything. It is disappointing, but there is some explanation for it. This is the third throne speech in 14 or 15 months. That is probably one of the biggest issues that I would have liked to see in the Speech from the Throne, that is, the constant attacks on democracy and the institutions of democracy, such as this institution, Parliament.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by the Liberal member, who spoke about climate change and said that a number of Conservatives did not believe in climate change. While the entire world believes that the future is in a knowledge-based and green economy, the Conservatives continue to turn a deaf ear.

This $280 billion budget allocates $180 million to energy efficiency and $25 million to renewable energies.

On a per capita basis, China invests four times more than Canada in green and renewable energies, while Europe invests seven times more, Korea invests 16 times more, and the United States invests 18 times more.

How can the Liberals support the throne speech and the budget when the Conservatives deny the existence of climate change and are not investing any significant amounts of money into green and renewable energies?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the comments made by the questioner. There is a certain segment and depending on whose numbers we believe, probably 20% of Canadians do not believe in climate change. They share the comments of the Prime Minister. They think it is an unproven science and it is a socialist plot for the developing countries to take money from the developed countries.

The member makes a very interesting point that a lot of countries, such as Germany, China and the United States, are really into developing the green economy. Most economists believe that is the future, that we have to transition from carbon-based fuels to alternate sources of energy. Technology is what is going to take us there. A lot of countries are ahead of us. Canada is not doing very much. Some of the provinces are doing some things, but it is disappointing to see the role taken by the current federal government.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member to be an excellent chair of the public accounts committee. As a matter of fact, he has been the chairman now for about four years. I knew him from before I even got to this place.

I liked what he had to say about the lack of initiative on the part of the government to negotiate with the United States. We know that tourism on both sides of the border has dropped off a lot since the imposition of the new passport regulations, and here we have the government wanting to introduce a new biometric passport when it cannot even get the old passport to work properly. It should be negotiating with the American government to have a reduction in the price of the passports on both sides of the border for a six-month period or perhaps a two for one promotion, anything to get the tourism business back on track along the border.

I wonder whether the member would like to comment on that aspect of the throne speech.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue. The member is quite right. Over the past 6 to 10 years we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of United States tourists coming to Canada. It is not just one issue that is behind it; there are a number of issues. There is the thickening of the border. There was the confusion over passports, do people need them, do they not need them. There is the marketing issue. There is the price. Another issue was the whole way the government handled the GST rebates for foreign visitors. Altogether this has led to a dramatic reduction, unfortunately, for our tourism industry. It is just not a priority.

This is one of those issues the government has backed away from because it thinks it is a provincial jurisdiction. I take the contrary point of view that this is very much a federal jurisdiction. The federal government ought to show leadership. It has the power to come forward with national strategies. It could be doing a lot more to assist our businesses in the tourist industry.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, every so often around this place as members of Parliament, we get a chance to advance the aspirations and dreams of the people we meet, the folks we represent. This is one of those occasions for me.

Some months ago I was door knocking in the former township of Osgoode which is in the south end of the amalgamated city of Ottawa. I knocked on the door of a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan. When left for Afghanistan, he left behind a five-day-old newborn with his wife and he went to serve out his mission in one of the most dangerous places in the world. He came back and applied for parental leave under the employment insurance system, and why would he not? The employment insurance program provides parental benefits to individuals who are adopting a child or caring for a newborn, which he was. The only problem is that during the time when he was risking his life overseas on our behalf, the period of eligibility for collecting parental benefits had expired. While he was sacrificing for us, the system expired the benefits he had paid for his entire life as a working Canadian through EI premiums.

It struck me as an incredible injustice that we could ask people first to pay into the employment insurance system with the promise that one day they might draw from it in order to extract the parental benefits that are part of the program and then send them into harm's way and tell them when they got back that the benefits for which they had paid would no longer be theirs.

I brought this matter to the Minister of Human Resources and she acted swiftly and decisively to have the finance minister put the following words into the budget documents:

For Canadian Forces members whose parental leave is deferred or interrupted because of the military requirements, the Government will extend the period in which they are eligible by another 52 weeks.

That is the right thing to do. It is about families and soldiers. We are all here because of those who sacrificed before us. We have a great duty to work every day and in our own small way to try and repay that sacrifice. If members look at the budget documents that I just cited, they will find that is exactly what we have done here.

I want to thank that soldier who brought this concern to my attention. It is due to his work that we were able to identify this problem and fix it for soldiers who make similar sacrifices in the future. I thank him and I thank the House for giving the occasion to serve people like the gentleman on whose doorstep I learned of this problem. I hope that we can all put aside our differences on an issue as unifying as this one to help our soldiers and our families, to uphold the great pillars of what make our country so great: hard work, family, patriotism, sacrifice.

With the passage of this budget and this particular provision, I hope we can do that.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member sits on the public accounts committee as well. I want to ask him about the shifting of the tax burden from corporations to individuals. I guess if the government could offer some proof that this strategy actually works, more people may be converted to the idea.

However, the government has simply reduced its corporate tax from 40% down to 15% over the last few years, while the Americans are still at around 35%. There is no need for our country to be that much lower than the United States, especially when corporate taxes in some of the Nordic countries are at 50%.

If there were results coming out of this, the government would have an argument, but Statistics Canada and Finance Canada have said that business spending on machinery and equipment has declined as a share of GDP. Kevin Lynch, former Clerk of the Privy Council and cabinet secretary, said that IT use by Canadian business is only half of the United States.

Despite Canadian corporate taxes, the productivity growth is actually worse. Experts are exposing the government's policy as not working the way it says that it will. Why does it keep blindly following Ronald Reagan economics, or what George Bush called voodoo economics, when it has been proven not to have the desired effect?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I should say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Red Deer.

The NDP member believes in taking an American style approach to the economy. He lauded the fact that Americans tax their businesses at much higher rates than we do in Canada. He is pointing to a system in the United States that has led to massive deficits and unemployment rates that are much higher than in Canada.

In this country, we have our own economic action plan. We do not want to go down the American road of overspending and overtaxation, which is why we are lowering taxes. We cut the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. We lowered income taxes, lifted hundreds of thousands of poor Canadians off the tax rolls altogether and brought in tax credits for kids sports, student textbooks, tradesmen tools and passenger bus passes.

Those are all tax measures that help middle-class, hard-working Canadians and the NDP voted against them. I notice that the NDP and the other coalition parties are now supporting a new tax on iPods that will hammer everyday Canadians who are simply trying to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy music and culture. We believe in music and culture here. We do not believe in taxing people for using an iPod.

That is the fundamental difference. We take a proud Canadian approach. They are seeking inspiration on the other side from other countries that have failed.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have a note here from Tom Shoebridge, the founder and executive director of the Canadian Screen Training Centre, the Summer Institute of Film and Television. It reads, “It is with personal and professional sadness that I announce the permanent closure of the Canadian Screen Training Centre after 29 successful years, effective April 1, 2010. The cutbacks by the federal Conservative government to all of the national film schools in 2008...”.

We listened to the remarks of the parliamentary secretary and agree with them in terms of the veterans. However, there are so many areas that, in previous budgets and this budget, the government has cut, which injures the ability to get into arts and culture.

Being that he is parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, would the government consider changing its mind on these cuts, as it has done on the CAP and the anthem that was in the throne speech?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course we support the cultural sectors in this country but we do not support the iPod tax that the coalition parties are proposing. I think that would hurt middle-class Canadians who are trying to enjoy Canadian culture.

I thank the hon. member for agreeing with us in our efforts to extend employment insurance parental leave to soldiers who return and have small children who they had originally left behind. It is an opportunity to allow those soldiers to spend more time with their children, much deserved time in light of the enormous sacrifice they make for us every day. I am encouraged that the member will support us on that initiative.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton for sharing his time with me. I am pleased to participate in the debate on our government's Speech from the Throne.

Just over a year ago, I gave my maiden speech on budget 2009 just before it was passed by this esteemed House. After that vote, in a moment of reflection I stood outside the Centennial Flame and looked back at the beauty of Parliament's Peace Tower. As I phoned home to speak to my family, it struck me just how significant our role is in charting the future of our country and how important a strong Canada is in leading the way in a world that is beset by strife and chaos.

In participating in this debate today, I have the same sense of pride, a sense of pride in our nation's past accomplishments, a sense of pride in the way in which we are handling the myriad of issues that we as Canadians face today and a sense of pride in the plans that our government has for facing new challenges as they will no doubt occur in the future.

I know that this throne speech, as well as budget 2010 that was passed last week, were crafted after an extensive consultation process. It was my honour to accept the invitations from both the Prime Minister and the finance minister to participate in this consultation process.

I am also delighted to see that many of the points raised by my constituents have made it both into budget 2010 and the Speech from the Throne.

I also thank my constituents for their ongoing advice and support. I am honoured to act as their voice here in Ottawa and I am proud to play my part in ensuring that all Canadians can share in the dream of a strong and united Canada.

The advice given to me from municipal councils and chambers of commerce was for a budget that continues with targeted stimulus spending, a budget that protects core spending and transfer payments and finds savings in departments through program reviews and the elimination of inefficient programming. The budget that we just passed, the second half of Canada's economic action plan, does exactly that.

I agree with the people of Red Deer that the needed investments in core public infrastructure and services that are being addressed through our economic action plan, coupled with the competitive tax regime promised in the throne speech, will give them the freedom to be innovative, productive and independent. It also gives them confidence that we will be able to restore our fiscal balance while still respecting the health and social transfers that our provinces, territories and municipalities so desperately depend upon.

Red Deer has many economic advantages but it is not without challenges. A rapid growth rate during the past decade had strained infrastructure budgets by inflating costs for both labour and materials. Then, as the recession hit, we found that current investments were being put in jeopardy, capital had vanished and people had lost their jobs.

However, our economic action plan has been able to help. Many people are taking advantage of new programs that were introduced, such as extended EI benefits and training, and will continue to do so with the new measures that our government has announced in this throne speech.

Our government is also creating jobs by commissioning important infrastructure projects with the help of provincial and municipal governments. These partnerships have supported our investments with matching funds, thereby expanding the scope of the many job-creating projects that are helping Canadians all across our country.

Our government's commitment to communities through our economic action plan, stimulus funding, the Building Canada fund and RInC program have provided improvements to local recreational centres and infrastructure in the communities of Red Deer, Penhold, Innisfail, Sylvan Lake, Delburne and Bowden.

With the help of the Government of Alberta and municipal councils, we are also making essential investments in waste treatment systems in Red Deer, Benalto, Lousana and Red Lodge.

Recently I was pleased to join my provincial and municipal counterparts to address the construction of pipelines underneath the Red Deer River. This infrastructure will allow for continued growth in the southeast corner of Red Deer and provide a sewer link between southern communities and the waste water treatment plant.

Waste water and sewage system projects may not sound very interesting, but in the words of Mayor Morris Flewwelling of Red Deer, “although it's not very exciting stuff, it's very necessary stuff”. The same co-operation has been experienced by all municipal councils and those projects that were shovel-ready are proceeding as planned. Another example is in Red Deer county where, under the leadership of Mayor Earl Kinsella, essential improvements to roads and waste water systems will also be completed.

With the support of the Alberta government and our local representatives, the hon. Luke Ouellette, the hon. Maryanne Jablonski and MLA Cal Dallas, these and other projects in our community have highlighted the true co-operation of all three levels of government.

Exciting opportunities are ahead for Red Deer. Red Deer's Regional Airport Authority is working hard to enhance its service to meet the present and future needs of our communities.

Red Deer College, under its new president, Joel Ward. is looking at new and exciting plans for its institution that will ensure that RDC continues to lead the way in both innovation and service delivery. Our government is doubling the budget of the college and community innovations program with an additional $15 million per year. This program, as well as our ongoing commitment to specialized trades training and applied research, will enhance opportunities for both students and local businesses alike.

Agriculture is also vital to our community and our government recognizes the Canadian agriculture sector is a key economic driver for all rural communities. Our government has launched many initiatives in our economic action plan to help the agricultural sector deal with the pressures and improve its competitiveness, including the $500 million agriculture flexibility fund and the rest of the suite of business risk management programs.

We have a commitment of $75 million over three years to support slaughter operations to ensure that our ranchers have access to competitive processing plants within Canada. With this plan we will help reduce costs of production, improve environmental sustainability, promote innovation and be able to better respond to market challenges.

The government is promoting access to foreign markets for Canadian agriculture products through the establishment of a market access secretariat. We have also extended support to the hog industry in order to assist it with restructuring.

We know that Mother Nature can wreak havoc on the agricultural industry. It was this government that recognized the need for a disaster assistance program for Canadian producers and, in consultation with the provinces, we implemented the agrirecovery program so that we are able to quickly respond to producers involved in agriculture disasters.

Canada's hard-working farmers and ranchers will continue to persevere in these difficult economic times. As we approach seeding and calving season, I know the producers in my riding will be very busy but, as always, I will be looking forward to their advice and comments, even from the seats of their tractors, as our government works to secure market access for our agricultural products and works to ensure freedom of choice for western Canadian grain farmers.

Our government has taken numerous measures to ensure that senior citizens of Canada have a retirement income. Among these measures, our government has introduced tax free savings accounts and income splitting for Canada's pensioners. To support seniors and those planning for retirement, our government will continue to work with the provinces and territories on options to further strengthen Canada's retirement income system.

In addition to these measures, designed to allow seniors to keep more of their own money, we are also ensuring that community level supports exist so that seniors have the opportunity to participate in social activities. Initiatives, such as the new horizon seniors program, will keep seniors together and active in their communities. Our government has committed an extra $10 million in this initiative to assist these community level programs.

We have evidence that Canada's economic action plan is working. I have seen the results in my riding. However, we must continue on course for the next fiscal year to ensure the stability of all of the work and investments that we have made.

Our government's Speech from the Throne has set the direction for this session of Parliament. As we come out of this recession, we can be comforted that Canada has weathered the storm and will emerge stronger than ever.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's speech. He spoke about seniors and said that the government would be creating a seniors day.

The Bloc Québécois was saddened to see that there was nothing in the budget to improve the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. That is an important demand. If we want seniors to celebrate on their day, we should be able to guarantee them a decent minimum income, which is not the case currently.

Can our colleague explain why they want to establish a seniors day but not necessarily support seniors who are living in poverty and in need?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, seniors truly are the backbone of our communities and throughout the country. To pick the aspect of establishing a senior's day, although it is important and recognizes the commitment that seniors have given to our communities, I think there is a lot more that is being done. As I said in my speech, we are talking about the retirement income system and the changes that are being made there

We are also ensuring that when we look at things like the tax free savings account and income splitting, that seniors have access to these programs as well.

Those are the types of things that we are looking at to help seniors but we are also ensuring that we have community supports so that those who are in dire need, as was mentioned, have the opportunity to feel as though they are part of that community.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing missing from the throne speech is any talk of equality. Economists would tell us that if we want to have the best incomes, regardless of what measurement we talk about, whether it is the crime rate, or health, or trust or happiness, the more equal a society is the better the outcome. For example, at one end of the equality scale would be the Nordic countries and Japan. At the most unequal end would be the United States with Canada falling somewhere in between.

In an effort to make Canada a more equal society and to have a better outcome, what would the hon. think about investing in seniors? For example, a $700 million investment to double the GIS would lift every senior in our country out of poverty and serve to make our society more equal and have a better outcome.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important we look at the types of programs we have for our seniors.

With respect to the guaranteed income supplement, it is important for seniors to have the money they require. The key thing is to ensure that costs are down and that investments are such that our tax structure is able to deal with this. We have to be careful to look at the tax structure as well as some of the expenditures.

Back in the 1990s, I was involved with the Elnora Hospital board. That was a time when 25% of the funding for health transfers was taken away from our communities, which was a mistake. It is very vivid in my memory. The government at the time more or less blamed the provinces for the difficulties that were taking place in health care, even though it had downloaded those problems to them. It is important we realize that manipulation of dollars coming into our communities is a serious concern when it comes to looking after our seniors.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Elmwood—Transcona.

For the second time in a year, the Conservatives shut down the work of Parliament. We know they did it to avoid the very important issues of Afghanistan and what happened to detainees.

I was very proud to attend the anti-prorogation rally that took place in Vancouver on January 23. It was wonderful to see the young people who came out to the rally. Some people had not been to a political protest before, but they came because they absolutely did not buy the very flimsy and transparent reasons the Prime Minister gave for proroguing the House.

Yesterday we debated the NDP motion to place limits on prorogation and prevent the abuses we have seen take place under the Conservative government. The NDP motion basically stated that if the House was to be prorogued for more than seven days, there had to be a resolution and vote in Parliament on the reasons for prorogation. I am very pleased the motion passed.

The reason the House was prorogued for five weeks was the government was supposedly recalibrating its agenda and setting a new agenda, with promises to listen to Canadians. When we heard the Speech from the Throne and the budget, there was no other conclusion but to say that it did not come up with anything new.

The things people in my community of Vancouver East need and have called for, whether it is child care reform, an end to homelessness, the need for affordable housing, protection for seniors or an end to the HST, none of those are included in the Speech from the Throne or the budget.

Several major organizations in Vancouver, child care groups like First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, when asked in the prebudget consultations, made it very clear to “Give priority to federal tax and program spending that will increase Canada’s investment in early childhood development”. They pointed out that for every dollar invested in child care, we put something like $2.30 back into the economy. That is an important economic and social investment, which helps women in the labour force and families overall.

When we compare the economic investment and the positive results, consider that the OECD and UNICEF rank Canada dead last in the provision of early learning and child care. We should be ashamed of that.

What did the Speech from the Throne and the budget produce in that regard? In terms of the Speech from the Throne, child care was mentioned exactly twice. Housing was only mentioned once compared to the crime agenda, which was mentioned 12 times. We begin to get a bit of a comparison of where the emphasis is by the government.

The only changes made in terms of anything to do with child care was a measly increase of $3.35 per week for the universal child care benefit. That will not create a single day care space, not in my riding, not anywhere else across the country. In fact, the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC called this measure one of the greatest failures, saying that the taxable $100 a month baby bonus “is NOT a child care program”.

This is a huge issue for working families. After housing in British Columbia, child care is the second highest cost facing B.C. families. That is astounding. I am going to speak about this in a couple of minutes. Housing is bad enough, but the second highest cost facing families is the cost of child care. In fact, $1,200 per month is the average cost of care for a child under three years.

In 2010 a metro Vancouver family with a four-year-old and a two-year-old in full-time child care will pay $23,700 annually in fees. That is astounding. For the average working family, that digs a big hole in its pockets and monthly income. Even for the child care spaces that are available, there are huge waiting lists.

Right across from my constituency office in Kingsway in Vancouver, the brand new Mount Pleasant Community Centre 3 Corners Child Care Centre was forced to shut down its waiting list. Why? It has over 400 names on the waiting list and it decided it did not want to give parents a false hope about getting their child into care when the list was already so long.

That is a pretty dismal record. It really disturbs me that this daily reality that the average family faces around child care and housing was not even addressed in the throne speech or the budget.

I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about the housing issue. In my community of east Vancouver and the downtown eastside and in Vancouver generally, a crisis is taking place. I participated in some of the events during the Olympic period in Vancouver. For example, the Red Tent Campaign, which was organized by the Pivot Legal Society, had 500 emergency red tents established. A tent village was set up in a vacant lot on East Hastings Street that was to be used for parking for Vanoc vehicles because people were so desperate for housing.

We and other groups appealed to BC Housing to help find people shelter so they could move out of the tents into appropriate space. About 70 people did secure housing, but there is still a number of tents sitting in that vacant lot, on the mud, waiting for a proper housing solution to come forward. It is so outrageous, in a country as wealthy was Canada, that the Conservative government cannot give housing a priority.

I have a housing bill, Bill C-304, which calls for a national housing strategy and for the participation of all levels of government. It has huge support across the country, from municipalities, from first nations, from housing organizations, from faith groups. I hope when the bill comes back to the House for report stage and third reading, it will go through.

I could not believe there was nothing in the budget for housing. People in the downtown eastside, students, seniors, even families making modest incomes cannot afford affordable housing, whether it is in Vancouver or metro Vancouver generally. This was a huge failure in the Speech from the Throne.

It has been same with pensions. Our pension critic, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, has done a tremendous job in bringing forward the issue of pensions and the fact that people are getting ripped off in their private pension plans and that the public pension plan itself is not doing justice to people. Many seniors are living below the poverty line.

We know a modest investment of $700 million toward guaranteed income supplement payments would close the gap of poverty among seniors. It would be such a dignified and important thing to do. Did we see it? No. What did we see? Instead we saw the mad race to the bottom by the government giving away another $6 billion in corporate tax cuts that are scheduled for this year. It is the hypocrisy and contradictions. The people who actually need the help, who should be the priority in our country, are somehow left out on the margins in the cold. Yet these wealthy corporations are doing very well. We know the banks have doubled their profits, for example, but they still get these big corporate tax breaks. I just find it very shameful.

As the member for Elmwood—Transcona pointed out a few moments ago, how can the Conservatives live in good conscience with this kind of massive tax shift that is taking place?

Another point is the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is coming to an end March 31. This is so important in my community. Groups like Healing our Spirit BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Society and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society have used this money to help with the healing process. Every day I see the impact of residential schools on survivors and what it means to people in my community. Why is this program coming to an end? Why was it not included in the budget for a further commitment? It is so essential to the respect and dignity of aboriginal people.