Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-9, the jobs and economic growth act. As the member for Outremont, our finance critic, has indicated, the New Democrats will be voting against this particular piece of legislation.
When pieces of legislation come before the House, we have responsibilities as members of Parliament to give them full consideration. Although we do support pieces of this legislation, there are other pieces of it that we are fundamentally opposed to. The Conservative government has decided to jam into this piece of legislation things that should properly be considered by other parliamentary standing committees and should have stand-alone legislation.
We have items around Canada Post and the environment that should be stand-alone pieces of legislation. The appropriate committees could deal with those in depth, call the appropriate witnesses and give them the kind of study and due diligence that we have a responsibility to do as members of Parliament. Based on that fact alone, because there are aspects around the environment that we simply could not support, New Democrats are in a position where we have to say no to this piece of legislation.
There are particular aspects of Bill C-9 that are very troubling for my constituents of Nanaimo—Cowichan. I want to touch on a couple of them. One is that there are more changes around softwood lumber. We know that the softwood lumber agreement has had a devastating impact on different parts of the country. Certainly in British Columbia, our forestry sector has undergone a number of changes over the past several years.
The softwood lumber agreement, as it was agreed to by the Conservatives, has eroded the resource industry and forestry industry in Nanaimo—Cowichan and other parts of British Columbia. I would strongly urge members of the House to very carefully review that part of the budget implementation act to see what kinds of effects it would have on their communities.
I know other members have talked about the employment insurance aspect of this piece of legislation, but this is going to take the roughly $57 billion of surplus and wind up that employment insurance account. We know that, in many parts of this country including Nanaimo—Cowichan, there are many workers who have exhausted their employment insurance.
I talked a little bit earlier about forestry workers. We know that forestry workers in my riding, throughout British Columbia and in other parts of Canada have been hit hard. Some of them have either exhausted their employment insurance or were not eligible for some of those provisions that were supposed to protect workers.
If we were going to try to jam employment insurance into this budget implementation act, we would have liked to have seen some of the initiatives that other members, such as the member for Acadie—Bathurst, the member for Hamilton Mountain and the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, have called for. We would like to see an elimination of the two-week waiting period. We want to see a reduction in the number of weeks that are required to qualify. We want to see an adequate length of time that actually allows people that safety net that many of them have paid into their whole lives. We want to see an increase in the benefit rate.
Studies by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Labour Congress have indicated that if we want to talk about economic stimulus, we should provide that social safety net so people have money to spend in their own communities, so they can support their local restaurants and stores. If we ensured people had that safety net through employment insurance, we would make sure our economy stayed more stable.
Another aspect of it is that, as people exhaust their employment insurance benefits, they end up becoming the responsibility of the province. Once the workers have exhausted their employment insurance and then depleted their savings, they then end up going on income assistance. It seems to me that this is another example of the federal government shoving its responsibilities onto the provincial governments, particularly in light of the fact that there was a $57 billion surplus in the EI account, paid for by workers and their employers.
It is very difficult to support a budget that says the government will take the money that workers paid for and make sure it stays in the consolidated revenue fund, with no access to it by workers or their employers.
There are many, many parts of the bill that are simply anathema to New Democrats, but I want to talk very briefly about the environmental assessment part of this legislation. It exempts through legislation rather than regulations certain federally funded infrastructure projects from environmental assessment. This goes well beyond the efforts by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to streamline the environmental assessment process, which was to be the object of a review in 2010. At the outset of my speech, I referenced the fact that parts of this Bill C-9 legislation are taking the responsibility away from standing committees where it appropriately belongs.
Our environment critic, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, is here intently listening and I know she has raised the issues around the fact that there was a process that was going to be under way and this legislation attempts to usurp the authority of the environment committee to do its work. It allows the Minister of the Environment to dictate the scope of the environmental assessment of any project to be reviewed and it allows for, rather than requires, the National Energy Board and the Nuclear Safety Commission to pay for public participations and reviews that they choose to undertake. That is in line with the budget speech, which outlined the plan to remove assessment of energy projects from the Environmental Assessment Agency and give it to the NEB and the NSC.
In British Columbia, we recently had a Supreme Court of Canada ruling where MiningWatch Canada raised an issue. The Supreme Court said that the federal regulators erred when they failed to subject the Red Chris project to a full review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act following its review and approval by the B.C. government. The question this raises is that there are dozens of projects under federal review including mines, highways and pipelines. The court said the so-called responsible authorities including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada must undertake comprehensive reviews of all projects that qualify for CEAA scrutiny.
So the question then becomes, with what is in Bill C-9, what happens to that court ruling. What happens to that responsibility under CEAA to put that kind of assessment review process in place? It is very worrying that the federal government seems to be distancing itself from its responsibility as a federal regulator to oversee these kinds of processes.
In my riding we have a very difficult situation with the Chemainus River and the Halalt First Nation. The Halalt is asking for a judicial review of a water project undertaken by the District of North Cowichan. There had previously been some action by the community because they were so frustrated by their inability to have the District of North Cowichan, the provincial or the federal governments pay attention to their very legitimate concerns.
As Chief James Thomas has said a number of times, their attempt to raise the issue around the Chemainus River aquifer was not just about Halalt First Nation. It was about protecting that aquifer for all of the residents of Chemainus. They had been passionately pleading with all levels of government to come to the table with them as full partners at the table to make sure the aquifer would be protected not only for this generation but for future generations. So they have been forced into the courts. They have a petition asking the courts to order a judicial review of the $3.6 million water project, which has been approved under both the federal and provincial environmental review processes.
Grand Chief Phillip has also commented on this and he has said:
As Indigenous Peoples, we are increasingly alarmed when third party interests are granted access to the resources of our territories, especially fresh water, government and the courts protect those corporate interests at the expense of our Aboriginal Title and Rights and of the environmental values that many British Columbians hold dear.
When we speak about the environmental values, many of us in the House keep in mind that we are not just talking about today. First nations will talk about seven generations into the future and that is what we need to be talking about when we are looking at protecting those valuable environmental assets.
I want to touch on a couple of other items.
I want to speak very briefly about Canada Post. Bill C-9 removes Canada Post's legal monopoly on outgoing international letters. The bill includes some provisions from previous bills, Bill C-14 and Bill C-44. I want to acknowledge the work done by the member for Hamilton Centre in raising concerns around this issue.
I live in a rural community. It is essential that we protect the ability of Canada Post to deliver cost-effective services to all residents in Canada. One way is to continue Canada Post's exclusive privilege to collect, transmit and deliver letters, including international letters, which is what is referenced in this piece of legislation. This would allow Canada Post to maintain its universal obligation. In many communities Canada Post is the lifeline. It is the mechanism by which people receive and send their correspondence at an affordable rate.
The member for Hamilton Mountain identified that where deregulation of that kind has happened in other countries, the costs have gone up and many postal workers have lost their jobs. Surely a piece of legislation called the jobs and economic growth act should look at protecting jobs, and not include measures that would do away with jobs.
Other New Democrats have mentioned that we will not be out of the recession until we have full job recovery. Many communities do not have full job recovery. The kinds of initiatives the government has proposed with respect to Canada Post will see job loss, not job recovery.
I want to touch on a couple of things that are particular to first nations, Métis and Inuit. This week the House had an emergency debate on the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Bill C-9 does not provide any continuation of the funding for it. On Tuesday night, over the several hours we debated this matter, there were passionate pleas for an extension of this funding.
I remind the House once again that the evaluation done on behalf of Indian and Northern Affairs talked about the program's effectiveness. It said that there was almost unanimous agreement among those canvassed that the AHF has been very successful at achieving its objectives in governance and fiscal management. Just to be clear, not only did it achieve its objectives but it has been fiscally responsible.
Every member who spoke on Tuesday night talked about the effectiveness of the AHF. Members mentioned that it is a grassroots community-driven organization and that it is culturally appropriate. Conservative members, without exception, talked about its effectiveness. A member asked me why the Conservative government would cancel a program that it agrees is effective. There simply is no answer to that.
It is very disappointing that the budget does not acknowledge the good work the Aboriginal Healing Foundation has done. The funding should be reinstated so the program can continue until residential school survivors have received the healing they need to become healthy, active, participating members of their communities, socially, culturally and economically. It is an outrage that it was not included in the budget.
With regard to violence against aboriginal women, we know that $10 million was earmarked in the throne speech, but we would like to see a commitment to continue the funding for the Native Women's Association of Canada. The Native Women's Association of Canada has done a Sisters in Spirit follow-up report, which laid out a number of factors that should be included.
At this juncture, we have no confidence that the Native Women's Association of Canada will continue to be funded, included in the action plan and the implementation of it. It needs to be at the table as a full partner in developing the action plan and implementing it.
The association has made a number of recommendations. In my short 20 minutes I will not have time to go through all of them, but I want to touch on a couple.
One is with respect to the reduction of violence against aboriginal women and girls, which results in their disappearance and death.
The association is recommending that the association and all levels of government work collaboratively to review and consolidate existing recommendations from all of the commissions and inquiries that have occurred.
The Native Women's Association needs to participate as a full member in developing a work plan to identify outstanding recommendations and priorities for action. The Native Women's Association, governments and police need to collaborate to develop policies and procedures that address the issues of prostitution, trafficking and sexual exploitation of children by focusing on the perpetrators, preventing the abuse and ensuring that the victims are not penalized, criminalized or had their personal autonomy restricted.
There needs to be a reduction of poverty experienced by aboriginal women and girls that will increase their safety and security, and a reduction in homelessness and an increased ability of aboriginal women to access safe, secure and affordable housing which meets minimum standards of cleanliness and repair. Finally, there needs to be improved access to justice for aboriginal women and girls and their families. There is a whole list of recommendations that fall under that subject.
I want to specifically address the Canada Council on Learning and First Nations University. A letter from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to the Prime Minister indicated:
The research, analysis and reporting capacity of an organisation such as CCL represents an important asset in a knowledge-driven economy. At the OECD, we have watched CCL's rapid evolution with interest. I have been impressed with the above-mentioned Composite Learning Index, which integrates robust measures across varied dimensions of learning and enables individuals and communities to assess the impact of learning on social and economic outcomes.
As we know, investing in a knowledge economy not only supports economic resilience and fuels economic growth, but also improves health levels, strengthens community, and heightens employment prospects.
In light of that letter from the OECD, one would think that the Canada Council on Learning's funding had been extended. Sadly, its funding has been cut. An organization that has raised issues, has monitored, has reported and has evaluated is losing its funding.
Its recent report, “Taking Stock: Lifelong Learning in Canada 2005–2010”, is a very good overview. It indicates that our country has a fundamental data gap in post-secondary education. It states:
Canada has the greatest deficiencies in acquisition and use of data on learning after high school of any OECD country. This renders the country capable of: matching labour market demand to supply; providing adequate information on which students can base study and career decisions; establishing accountability for resources expended and determining how much and what progress is being made.
Another report indicates that the discrepancy in post-secondary education attainment for first nations can be attributed to the university level. Only 8% of aboriginal people age 25 to 64 had completed a university degree compared to 23% of non-aboriginal Canadians.
The CCL has excellent information. One would probably suspect that because the CCL has raised some very troubling issues its funding was cut. Because it has raised some issues around aboriginal people, I want to touch on the report, “Walk In Our Moccasins, A Comprehensive Study of Aboriginal Education Counsellors in Ontario”.
The CCL outlines a number of factors that are essential for aboriginal learners to complete post-secondary and K-12 learning. It talks about a culturally enhanced and supported curriculum taught by caring educators, teaching strategies and assessments that are culturally reinforcing and diverse, and adequate economic well-being.
That leads me to First Nations University of Canada. We know that the provincial and federal governments cut its funding. The provincial government has reinstated it, but the federal government has only reinstated a portion of the funding. The former grand chief of Prince Albert Grand Council, Gary Merasty, wrote a very good op-ed saying that FNUC has turned the corner. He pointed out that in Saskatchewan 50% of the population will be first nations by 2045, and that First Nations University is an essential factor in terms of the economic health and well-being of that province.
Any economy that is going to thrive and grow needs an educated and trained workforce. First Nations University has a vital role to play in that.
For all of the reasons I have outlined, New Democrats will be opposing this budget implementation bill.