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House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff LiberalLeader of the Opposition

moved that Bill C-471, An Act respecting the implementation of the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force and amending another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to present private member's Bill C-471, which relates to putting into operation the recommendations of a 2004 working group on pay equity and modifying another law in consequence.

To come right to the point, hidden in the 2009 budget was a measure that undermined pay equity. This bill, which we support, restores pay equity as a human right. That is paramount for us.

Mr. Speaker, you may at this point, however, have a feeling that you have walked into Groundhog Day because I have been on my feet before on this very project. That is because the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament before Christmas, so we are having a Groundhog Day experience today as I reintroduce this legislation.

The purpose of the government's prorogation of Parliament, of course, was, as it said, to recalibrate. It seems to have now recalibrated its cabinet a bit, but it has not been able to avoid the questions that it sought to avoid when it prorogued Parliament, namely, the questions about Afghan detainees and the other urgent public matters on which it sought to avoid the scrutiny of Canada.

The prorogation attempt failed. All it has managed to do is set back the legislative agenda for several months and, unfortunately, the legislative progress of this worthy measure. That is why I am here today and the House will remember the experience of having lived through this whole thing once before.

Let me enter into the discussion of the matter. Budget 2009, in the dumpster bill aspects of the budget implementation act, introduced measures which would reduce pay equity to a chip on the bargaining table in labour relations. We on this side of the House believe, as a matter of principle, that pay equity is not a labour relations issue but a fundamental human right.

We need to see this measure in the context of a historical anniversary. The House will be aware that this is the 40th anniversary of the report on the status of women, the great commission chaired by Florence Bird, a great Canadian. It was commissioned under the Pearson government that set the agenda for women's issues and equity issues for the next 40 years. That agenda included, let us remember: child care, pay equity, maternal leave and more women in the House and the judiciary.

We can say after 40 years that some progress has been made, but there is an enormous amount of work still to do and on this side of the House we remain fiercely and passionately committed to that agenda. We remain committed to early learning and child care for every Canadian family that wants it. We remain committed to adequate and restored funding for Status of Women Canada.

We remain committed to the idea that it is a stain on our national honour that there are missing aboriginal women who have simply disappeared. We have not even taken the trouble as a country to give their families the answers they need as to what happened to these fellow citizens of our country. That is a wrong that must be righted and we stand for the righting of that wrong.

We also stand for the reintroduction of the court challenges program, which women have used to defend their rights and which the government has undermined. Finally, to put this measure in context, we stand for pay equity for women.

It is abundantly clear that we have a lot of work to do. Women in Canada earn 72¢ for every dollar a man earns.

In the case of a woman with children, it is 52¢.

We think this is in an inequity that must be corrected and it can only be corrected by proactive federal pay legislation. Men outnumber women by 330%. Yes, members heard me right. It is 330% among top earners. This is also a sign that in a country that claims equality, we have much more to do.

We must do better. We can do better. We will do better.

Let us review very briefly the government's record on this issue. It came to the G8 summit with the admirable objective of helping women and children in the developing world, but with nothing on the necessary reproductive health care that will actually make a difference and reduce death in pregnancy and improve maternal and child health. Nothing.

The government has cut the operating budget of Status of Women Canada. Just last week it cut the pay equity commission in New Brunswick. It has abolished the court challenges program. It has eliminated $1 billion of committed federal funding to day care since 2006.

This is the record of the government on the other side of the House. This is where we begin to see the larger design between taking pay equity off the human rights table and putting it on the labour regulations table where it can be traded away.

This is the grander design to which we object. We are taking the pay equity issue as an example of a wider failure of the government to advance the cause of women's equality in Canada.

What does our proposal specifically entail? It entails a federal pay equity commission with jurisdiction over the federal public service, crown corporations and the federally regulated corporations. This commission would have a proactive mandate. It would have a mandate to deliver judgments in a timely fashion. Above all, it would give women the right to advance their claims to pay equity within the framework of human rights.

This is an important matter because the Government of Canada is the largest employer in the country. The Government of Canada can set an example to all employers across the country and it must on the issue of pay equity for women.

In conclusion, this private member's bill will undo what we conceive to be a wrong. It will restore pay equity as a human right with a proactive federal pay equity commission. We urge all members to support it.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Leader of the Opposition decided to vote for the budget, what part did he not understand? That was the budget that took away women's right to pay equity.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question and I also thank her for all the hard work she does as a member of Parliament.

We are very aware of what was in the 2009 budget. We read it carefully, but we found that it contained a fundamental error that undermines pay equity and prevents Canada from protecting people's rights to pay equity. Our position is that a federal pay equity commission must be restored to protect and defend human rights, which are what pay equity is all about.

I would like to say that I would be very happy if the hon. member were to support this bill.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, in his speech today the Leader of the Opposition said that our government has done nothing for aboriginal women. I work very closely with Grand Chief Ron Evans and the aboriginal women and men across this country.

Earlier this year our government gave $100,000 for a conference that was held in Winnipeg on missing women. In addition to that, this money was also used for education materials to help people understand what happens when predators target children.

I am wondering whether the opposition leader knew of this initiative that was so important and why he would not be a bit more careful in his comments instead of being so partisan because our government has done a lot of work.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there is a concern across the House about missing aboriginal women. The question is not whether there is concern. The question is whether there is action.

The hon. colleague opposite is in government. It is up to the government to create a commission of inquiry to get to the truth of this. The funding and the gestures that it has made are commendable. We are saying they are also inadequate and we need to go further.

This is also a government that has been unable to reduce the gap in the funding of education for aboriginal women and unable to reduce the gaps in funding for health care for aboriginal women. This is a government that had to be pressed and pushed by the Government of Saskatchewan and other authorities, and by the distinguished member for Wascana, to step up with the First Nations University. The stepping up is not full and it is not complete. It is begrudging and it is not completed.

All of these measures indicate that the government does not fully understand the importance of advancing the cause: the equality of aboriginal women. That was the point I was trying to make.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives made their attack on pay equity very clear when they came back with that toxic economic update that they threw to the middle of the House and there were three main issues in it. First, there was the attack on pay equity; second, there was the attack on environmental standards; and third, there was the attack on political parties getting financed.

Therefore, we were at a constitutional crisis at that moment and when the Liberals caved, they received one benefit. The only thing that the Conservatives caved on was the fact that the Liberal Party is still getting its election donations through the taxpayer. At the time when we could have made the issue of pay equity an issue to push back, when it was an issue of confidence, the Liberals rolled over. They were missing in action.

Now, we are to believe that a private member's bill that comes in on a Monday morning is action. I would say that the member had the chance to take action and the Liberals refused because they did not want to stand up at the time. Now they are going to walk around the country saying, “Wait, after we voted to kill pay equity, now we have a private member's bill”.

I think that shows a complete lack of concern for the fact that my party and our colleagues in the Bloc were looking to the Liberals to fight for pay equity--

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. We are running out of time. The hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, a brief response.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I note my colleague's comments with interest and some amusement, noting that his party supported the government last September. I would urge him to set aside partisanship and rancour from times past and consider the virtues of supporting a measure, which I am sure aligns with the fundamental principles of his party.

I cannot understand why, if we have a chance to correct what I am sure his party agrees is a serious and grave mistake, he would not seize the opportunity to vote with us on the bill and correct the wrong that he identifies as clearly as we do.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see the Leader of the Opposition back in the House of Commons today.

It is a pleasure to speak today to the issue of pay equity. Contrary to the statements of the hon. member sponsoring the bill we are debating today, our government supports the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Our commitment to this fundamental right is why we acted to ensure a more proactive and timely approach to equitable compensation in the federal public service. Our government's approach has brought much needed reform to the previous complaint based pay equity regime. The previous regime was lengthy, costly and adversarial, and did not serve employees or employers well.

We are fortunate in this country. Canada's public service is among the finest in the world. Canada's public service employs some of the best and brightest people whose work is intimately tied to the well-being of our country. Public service employees work in more than 200 federal organizations and dozens of different occupations, from border guards, to food inspectors and from public health specialists to diplomats. We should never doubt for a moment the importance of what public servants do on behalf of this country.

This point was brought home by the Prime Minister's advisory committee on public service when it stated in its first report:

As a national institution, a high-quality, merit-based Public Service is part of Canada’s comparative advantage and a key to competitiveness in the global economy. It also helps provide the foundation for sound democratic government, which is critical to a positive business climate in Canada.

This proud reputation is what has made the federal public service one of the best and most attractive places to work. Competitive salaries and a full range of family friendly benefits also make the public service attractive for both men and women.

The hon. member raises the issue of gender gap. We have seen significant progress toward greater gender balance in the public service, particularly within the senior ranks. It is worth noting that back in 1983 fewer than 5% of women were in senior management. Today, women make up 43% of the senior and executive ranks of the federal public service. To be sure, women are taking their rightful place in the federal public service. They are not only accessing top jobs but their representation in other categories has also increased dramatically over the years. For example, women now represent nearly 56% of knowledge workers. They also represent about half of the economist group and they represent about 43% of the commerce officer group.

It is safe to say that over the past few years there has been a significant change in the face of Canada's public service and women have played a big role in this change. Today's public service provides women and men with equal access to all positions and identical wages within the same groups and levels. I am proud of the example we are setting for both private and public sector organizations around the world. Remarkable progress has been made in addressing the wage gap between men and women in the federal public service.

The difference between total wages for women and total wages for men has been decreasing steadily. This bodes well for the future. This situation and the need to ensure the strides women have made in the federal public sector continue to be maintained led our government to put in place a more modern approach to pay equity. We took action to end the long and drawn out court cases of the past. It is worth recalling that the last court ruling on pay equity was in 1999, a settlement that took a gruelling 15 years to achieve. We cannot afford any more repeat performances. This is unfair to women. Public service employees deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better.

The root of the problem in the previous system is that pay equity issues were raised after compensation decisions were made. Federal public service employers and unions were not required to take pay equity issues into account during wage setting. These issues were only raised when complaints were made. This has led to ad hoc progress on pay equity, a situation that the Canadian Human Rights Commission lamented in its 2001 special report to Parliament.

Those are some of the reasons that our government passed legislation, with the support of many members opposite, that ensures that old ways become a thing of the past in the public sector. The new system makes employers and bargaining agents jointly accountable for setting fair wages, ensures these decisions are made at the time of collective bargaining for unionized employees and imposes a rigorous process to ensure the federal public service employers address pay equity in a timely way for non-unionized employees.

I will underline a key feature of our reforms. The new system maintains the right of women to launch complaints through an independent oversight organization: the Public Service Labour Relations Board. As a neutral third party, established in 1967, the board is well-equipped to ensure fair and objective recourse. It should be obvious to all that we needed to replace the previous complaint based pay equity regime that left us with a lengthy, costly and adversarial process. This was a process that did not take into account the realities of the Canadian labour market.

Moving to an approach that is based on collaboration with bargaining agents, ensures pay equity issues are addressed as they arise and that problems are resolved quickly.

The legislation this government introduced gives us a more modern and collaborative approach. It rids us of the previous system which was archaic, onerous and unfair to women in the public service. Most important, it protects the principal of equal pay for work of equal value. It ensures that women and men continue to benefit from quality working conditions in Canada's public service. Equitable compensation can only be ensured through a proactive, timely and fair system where employers and bargaining agents work together rather than as adversaries. That is what we have put in plan.

Now, the bill in question calls for a repeal of the legislation that created this new approach. By proposing this bill, the Leader of the Opposition is asking women to wait once again. He is asking women to wait for a new system that would cover the federally-regulated private sector. This is a diverse group of employers who would face significant challenges in implementing such far-reaching measures. We understand how difficult this would be for Canadian employers. We have taken a approach to addressing pay equity with this group of employers. We brought forward the pay equity program run by Human Resources and Social Development Canada. This program takes a three-pronged approach of education, mediation and compliance monitoring to help private sector employers comply with the legislation.

Our government has moved forward toward a more just approach. To support the bill before us would be to delay justice once again. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I call upon my colleagues in the House to oppose this bill and thereby support the new system our government has put in place.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me no pleasure to rise today in the House to speak to this private member's bill.

In 2009, we did not agree with the budget and we voted against it because it did irreparable harm to women who have done an outstanding job working in the public sector for many years and yet are not given their due.

These women, who have worked for many years in government departments and federally regulated corporations, had the right to expect that all the opposition members would vote against the budget bill that stripped them of their rights.

Unfortunately, over the past four years, the government has chipped away at their rights. The same thing has happened with a number of other status of women issues. Members of the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party stood up in the House to vote against the bill that day because we had no doubt that if we voted for it, we would betray the trust of all of those women. Those women are Quebeckers and Canadians. I want to emphasize that they are Canadians because the opposition leader seems to think that the Bloc Québécois stands up only for the rights of Quebeckers, not those of Canadians.

I want to point out that the opposition leader and his party members were not among the members who dared vote against this bill. When the time came to vote, they were not considering the Canadians this bill would hurt. He did not do what he should have back then, which is why we have to debate another bill today to give the right to pay equity back to these women.

Pay equity is not complicated: it means receiving equal pay for work of equal value. Work of equal value is easy to define if we have the proper tools to define it. A task force began studying the issue in 2001, and in 2004, it produced a comprehensive report over 500 pages long. The report recommended very specific steps to take to achieve pay equity and ensure that all women working for an organization under federal jurisdiction benefit from pay equity.

People have been fighting for this for years. For example, the rights of a number of women working for Bell Canada and various federal organizations were infringed upon. In Quebec, pay equity has already been achieved. These women were aware that their situation was not the same as that of Quebec women working for organizations under Quebec jurisdiction.

In the early 2000s, there was enough money to meet these needs, but sadly, the Liberal government of the day did not meet the needs of public and private sector employees under federal jurisdiction.

We could spend all day wondering. But the answer is in the question. As soon as an opposition party takes power, its convictions and perceptions of things change. It suddenly realizes that it is not possible to achieve pay equity, because it would be much too costly. But when these parties are in opposition, their convictions are much more in tune with the needs of the workers, ordinary human beings working from 9 to 5 every day. We meet these people in our ridings.

They trust us. They develop a bond with us. We listen carefully and then we are supposed to share their concerns here, in the House, to show them that they have been heard and that we will listen to them. Unfortunately, as it stands, neither side of this House seems to be listening.

The government is not listening. Since it took power, the government has made cuts to women's programs. It cut the court challenges program, it made shameless cuts to programs in Status of Women Canada, and it took away the right to pay equity.

Earlier, the hon. member was saying that anyone who now wants to seek pay equity can go before the labour court. How can a woman go before the labour court all by herself if she does not even have the right to be accompanied by a union representative? She does not even have the right to be accompanied by someone who knows all the rules and all the labour laws to defend her. If someone from her union decided to support her and defend her, the union would have to pay a $50,000 fine. Can you believe that? Have we ever seen such a glaring inequity? I have never seen anything like it, and I hope I never will again. I hope to never see such glaring inequities in this House again.

All women working in the public sector have called on us to return to the House and prepare a much more detailed and complete bill that will restore their right to pay equity. For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will definitely be supporting the bill presented by the Leader of the Opposition.

However, we will examine this bill with a fine-tooth comb. We will ensure that it meets all needs, and that its application and implementation also conform to what is decided by Parliament.

All too often it is easy to draft a bill. It is easy to vote in favour of a bill. However, once the bill has been passed, things may be different.

Take, for example, the Immigration Act and the Liberal Party promises with respect to immigration. To date, these promises have not been kept, even though they were enshrined in legislation. They were made and voted on.

I would be surprised, even astonished, to see a bill on pay equity passed by the House. We know that the Conservatives will oppose this bill. I would be astonished if such a bill contained all the measures required to give women true pay equity.

Working women in Quebec who fall under federal labour laws are not entitled to preventive withdrawal, a measure extended to all other Quebec women. That is also part of equity.

Quebec women who work in federally-regulated undertakings do not have the right to the same parental leave as other women in Quebec. If, unfortunately, after taking parental leave, their employer fires them when they return to work, they are not entitled to employment insurance benefits. They are not entitled because they were sick during their parental leave.

In fact, according to the employment insurance system, a woman who gives birth to a child is sick. She qualifies for sick leave. Even if the Quebec government pays for parental leave, the woman fired when she returns to work is considered to have been sick. These are issues that must be clarified.

I hope that when this bill goes to committee, given the great wisdom of this House, we will be able to ensure the pertinence of all items contained therein.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, you may recall that on March 4, 2009, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore instructed his party to vote to end pay equity in this country. He and his party effectively handed a death sentence to pay equity in Canada.

The day before the vote, he stood outside this chamber and said to the press, in reference to pay equity, “We have made it clear that we are not pursuing an amendment strategy. Sometimes we have to hold our nose”.

He abandoned women, abandoned equality and voted to dismantle pay equity in Canada. Now, just a few scant months later, he has introduced a private member's bill in support of something he and his party voted to eliminate. The member knows very well that this bill, even if supported by all opposition members and passed in the House, will never see royal assent. It will never become law. This member knows full well that he had his opportunity to save pay equity last spring and he failed.

Women have fought long and hard for the right to equal pay for work of equal value. When he and his party stood up in the House and voted in favour of Bill C-10, they betrayed women all across the country and made it clear that women's equality means absolutely nothing to the Liberal members of this place.

I confess that I find this bill, coming from the Liberal Party, to be hypocritical. They had 13 years of majority government to promote stable economic security for women. They had 13 years of majority government to implement progressive pay equity legislation. What did they do? They cut spending to Status of Women and failed to implement any of the 113 recommendations from the pay equity task force.

The Conservative members of the House have no intention of addressing inequality between the sexes in this country either. We see unequivocal proof from government actions in regard to pay equity, changes it made to Status of Women, the elimination of the court challenges program, the dismantling of the gun registry and more. The Conservatives have absolutely no intention of addressing inequality any more than their Liberal predecessors.

The Conservatives, with support from the Liberals, are taking Canadians back 25 years instead of moving Canada forward. Now it is clear to me why the Conservative Party eliminated pay equity last spring. In 1998, the current Prime Minister described our current pay equity laws in the following words. He said:

For taxpayers, however, it's a rip-of. And it has nothing to do with gender. Both men and women taxpayers will pay additional money to both men and women in the civil service. That's why the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law.

He also pointed to specific flaws in the current legislation. He said:

Now “pay equity” has everything to do with pay and nothing to do with equity. It's based on the vague notion of “equal pay for work of equal value”, which is not the same as equal pay for the same job.

Just to be clear, in 1998, the member who is now our Prime Minister did not, and does not, believe in pay equity at all.

What is not clear to me is why the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore and his party, all of whom voted to eliminate pay equity, are suddenly so very interested in introducing a pay equity bill for consideration in this Parliament. I want to reiterate. The fact remains that while Liberals were in power, women's rights, economic security and pay equity were stalled. The Liberals failed to act as an effective government and now they are failing to act as an effective opposition.

In March 1997, the then secretary of state for the status of women announced the elimination of program funding for women's organizations starting in the 1998-99 fiscal year. From that point on, moneys from Status of Women Canada were delivered on a project-by-project basis within the priority areas set out each year by SWC. This eliminated any long-term or core funding for women's groups. Overall, program funding for women's organizations was cut by more than 25% over the 1990s.

The Liberal government also disbanded the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, an agency that conducted research on a wide range of issues as they affect women. The previous Liberal government then merged the body that provides funding to women's organizations, the women's program, into Status of Women Canada and proceeded to eliminate the Canadian Labour Force Development Board, which had given organizations of women, people of colour and people with disabilities a small voice in training policy. Women's equality-seeking groups were dealt blow after blow.

Economic security for women hinges on key things such as access to child care, access to affordable housing and the ability to earn a decent living. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to address the need for affordable housing in Canada. The first step toward economic security for any person is a safe place to live. Despite this, the Liberals ended the federal role in social housing in 1996.

Both Liberal and Conservative governments also failed to create affordable child care in this country. The Conservative-touted taxable money for child care has failed to create a single child care space in Canada. In 1993, the Liberals promised to create 150,000 new child care spaces, but after 12 years and 3 majority governments, they had created none.

Today, a woman still earns only about 72.5¢ for every dollar a man earns. Because pay inequity contributes to poverty, it has a devastating effect on the health and social consequences for children. Pay inequity is also related to economic dependence, which can affect an abused woman's ability to leave a violent relationship. The choice between abuse and poverty is one no person should ever have to make. It is also true that women bringing home lower paycheques also receive lower retirement income. Too often senior women live hand to mouth until the end of their lives.

I will not stand here and just point out how both the Liberals and the Conservatives have failed women in Canada. It could take up several speaking spots to do that. I prefer to show fellow members of the House that positive action for women can be achieved. New Democrats have released a fairness for women action plan. Part of that plan includes making equal pay the law. Canada needs proactive pay equity legislation that would compel all employers to ensure that all employees are getting equal pay for work of equal value. The NDP's plan to make Canada a leader in gender equality has at its core the implementation of the pay equity task force and in particular the introduction of proactive federal pay equity legislation.

New Democrats would increase access to employment insurance. Only one in three unemployed women collects employment insurance benefits. The NDP plan to ensure access to EI includes an overhaul of the legislation governing employment benefits. In the 40th Parliament, the NDP introduced 12 private members' bills to include access to this vital income support. Establishing a $12 minimum wage is crucial. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers over the age of 15 are women. Many minimum-wage-earning women are living well below the poverty line. Clearly the federal government has a role to play in setting fair pay to ensure the welfare of all hardworking Canadians and their families. The NDP has tabled a bill to reinstate the federal minimum wage at $12 an hour. Members will recall that the minimum wage was scrapped by the Liberals.

Creating a national child care program is at the centre of family security. The House should pass the NDP's national child care act and establish a network of high quality, licensed, not-for-profit child care spaces. The creation of new, reliable child care spaces would mean that women were no longer forced to choose between work and family.

Improving parental and maternity benefits is another part of the NDP plan. One in every three mothers lacks access to maternity and parental benefits under employment insurance. Women are paying an economic penalty for having children. Our plan calls for a dramatic overhaul of maternity and parental leave programs now.

We can achieve equality for women in Canada. What we lack is political will. Past Liberal governments stalled and failed to act. Conservative governments have ignored problems and chosen not to promote equality. Women come last and profitable corporations are first with the members across the aisle. They have chosen tax cuts instead of equity for women. We need a real commitment from the House to act and create the legislation needed to achieve equality for women in Canada. We cannot trust the words of the leader of the Liberal Party any more than we can support the activities of the Conservatives.

In 2006, a former Liberal staffer told the nation that the last-minute Kelowna accord and child care provisions were a deathbed repentance. Canadians turned them out because they did not keep their promises then, and we do not believe them now. The next step is to provide the same treatment for Conservatives: equal treatment for inequality and the offence of betrayal.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on this private member's bill put forward by the leader of my party. This is a very important bill and one which I hope will be supported wholeheartedly by all members of this House.

As members may well be aware, women's equality in this country has been very much the casualty of the current government. We have been subjected to short-term political manoeuvring on women's issues for political gain. In light of some of the remarks that were made earlier, it is important to take a walk down memory lane to remind members in the House of some of the actions taken.

Members who were here in 2005 will remember that the House went down on a vote just on the cusp of a number of major initiatives that members talked about being implemented and taking root.

Members will remember that the national child care strategy had been signed by all of the provinces. My province of Manitoba was the first to sign this agreement. It was one of the most memorable moments in my career as a member of Parliament.

Members will also remember that the Kelowna accord had been signed and was about to take root. I listened to the disrespect shown to the Kelowna accord by some members of the House, that it was written on a napkin, that it was a last minute accord. I want them to say that face to face to those individuals who participated in the 18 month process of developing the Kelowna accord.

That accord would have improved the educational opportunities of countless numbers of young people in this country. It would have improved health care. It would have provided training in health care to a large number of young people. It would have dealt with the issues of maternal health in first nations communities. It would have dealt with the issues of governance.

More important, I want to remind members that the minister of justice at the time and the minister of labour at the time came to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and made a firm, unequivocal commitment to bring forward legislation in March of the following year that would act on the recommendations of the task force on pay equity.

The commitment was made. The legislation was being drafted and it was going to come to the House for review. There was going to be a long consultation process with the appropriate stakeholders in the country on the legislation. It is important that members realize that this legislation was in development, there to be addressed with a strong, firm commitment.

It is important to remember that a national housing policy was about to be announced.

All of that was lost because of the political desire and political aspirations of members in the House.

Women's equality has very much taken a beating under the Conservative government. We have heard other members talk about the removal of equality from the status of women. We have heard about the removal of advocacy funding under Status of Women. We have heard about the fact that research dollars are no longer available under Status of Women.

We heard from the previous minister that she in fact had the final say on what organizations would or would not receive money under Status of Women funding programs, the partnership and the community program, and that she made the final decision as to who would receive money. We know from anecdotal evidence that the funding for hard-working, long-standing organizations in this country was denied on ideological grounds.

We know there has been little or no gender-based analysis done by the government. As I indicated before, we have lost the early learning and child care programs. Cuts have been made to literacy programs, which affects many women in this country.

As my colleague indicated, there has been little or no action on the missing and murdered aboriginal women. Just this weekend I had the opportunity to meet with a number of families of the missing and murdered aboriginal women to hear of the lack of supports that are available for the families of the women who have gone missing, the trauma in their lives and the inability to respond to it.

We know that the court challenges program has removed women's equality.

The previous minister indicated that she had the authority to influence policy across government and that she operated with “a little big stick”. I would say that as far as pay equity was concerned, the minister had no voice, no stick, not big, not little, and it did little for the women of this country.

It was unfortunate that the government surreptitiously, cynically may be the more appropriate word, chose to bring in the pay equity reforms under the budget implementation bill. The government really put the economic recovery of this country at risk by lumping it into that bill rather than having the courage of its convictions to introduce it as a separate bill standing on its own.

We have heard about the disparity of women's wages in this country. We have heard about the disparity of EI availability to women. We know that women are going to be greatly disadvantaged by the legislation the government has brought in, which is why the legislation we are debating today is so important.

Equal pay for work of equal value is a human right. It is not something to be bargained away through the bargaining process. It is not something where if one goes to one's union officials and chooses to ask for the support of one's union in accessing equal pay for work of equal value that a $50,000 fine be introduced. This is a very cynical approach. It is a very limited approach. It does little good for the women of this country.

I ask that members on both sides of this House read the legislation that we are debating this morning. I think that all reasonable right-thinking individuals would understand that this is a fundamental human right for women. It should be supported. It has support throughout the country. It does not disadvantage women. It is an important piece of legislation for the women of this country.

I would reiterate in closing that women in this country have not been well served in the last four years under the current government. It is time to begin a new chapter with a new minister and review what has not been done and what can be done.

This legislation would make a big difference in the lives of women. I urge all colleagues to support it.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-471, a private member's bill on pay equity.

I would like to draw to the attention of the House an article in today's paper, the headline of which is “Women grab reins of power in PS”, from which I would like to quote. I am very proud to be part of a government that has taken a look at this issue and realized that it needed to be addressed. We took stock of it and addressed it in budget 2009. The article states:

A married woman was forbidden from working in Canada's public service 55 years ago, but today women have the majority of jobs and a growing hold on the executive ranks.

They have outnumbered men since 1999, but the government's latest demographic snapshot shows 43 per cent of executives are now women...

I believe that is to the credit of what this government has done and what this government saw was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Our government has made its views against this bill crystal clear, but I am happy to repeat our position today so there is no doubt in anybody's mind that this bill should be sent to the parliamentary dustbin. To be blunt, this bill is too little, too complicated and too late, not to mention out of order.

Our government already took action to modernize pay equity for the public sector. We did this last year when we introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act as part of Canada's economic action plan in budget 2009. That budget was the earliest to be released in Canadian history. Moving at record speed, we cut red tape and delivered the largest economic stimulus in Canadian history.

Today we are beginning to see the first signs of better days ahead. The recovery is still fragile, but it is clear that the Canadian economy has started to recover. This is due in large part to the actions our government has taken, including the extraordinary measures in Canada's economic action plan announced in budgets 2009 and 2010.

Budget 2009 was also notable for creating a proactive pay equity system for the federal public sector. This was no small feat. For too long, women in this country had to endure an adversarial complaints-based pay equity system. For too long, women had to endure a system which was lengthy, costly and did not serve employees or employers well. Thankfully, this Conservative government did something about it. We introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.

The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act speaks to our government's respect for the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. It speaks to the fact that women should not have to wait up to 20 years to have their pay equity concerns addressed and that women should not have to endure gruelling, expensive and divisive court proceedings. This had been a long time coming and I am proud to be part of the effort that finally brought this issue to a close.

Our legislation makes employers and unions in the federal public sector jointly accountable for ensuring that wages are equitable through the collective bargaining process. In other words, the legislation ensures that men and women who do work of the same value receive the same pay. It does so through the process in which wages are actually set and agreed upon. The new system we brought in ensures that equitable compensation issues are addressed as they arise. This is a regime that is modern, timely and responsive. It ensures disputes are resolved quickly and collaboratively.

Now would be as good a time as any to bring up the fact that the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act was passed by Parliament with the support of the Liberal Party, including its leader, who happens to be sponsoring this bill before us today. Mr. Speaker, you heard right. Last year, the Liberals helped us pass the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act and now they want to undo it. Is this is a responsible way to conduct the nation's business? I do not think so. No wonder Canadians do not trust the party opposite.

Bill C-471 has many shortcomings. I cannot go into all of them today, but let me discuss a few of them.

One of the most problematic parts of the bill is that it calls on the government to implement every single recommendation of the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force report. There are 113 recommendations, many of which our government rejected with good reason when we drafted the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.

When the report was released in 2004, the Liberal government of the day publicly spoke out against supporting every recommendation. The former ministers of labour and justice said that the “report does not provide an adequate blueprint for implementation of pay equity and a broad range of federally-regulated workplaces”. Therefore, it is clear that many people in the Liberal Party feel uncomfortable with the task force report.

The Liberal leader may not appreciate the mood of his caucus on this issue. He was still living abroad when this happened. Yet the Liberal leader is here today asking Parliament to now implement it wholesale.

I am also gravely concerned that the bill is out of order as it would require a royal recommendation. Some of the recommendations in the task force report would require the creation of new statutory agencies as well as a new system adjudicators. These things cost money. As we know, any legislation that includes new expenditures requires a royal recommendation, which may only be introduced by a minister.

I dare say that the Leader of the Opposition is not a member of cabinet and as a result his bill is out of order.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, we made a point of order on this issue and we look forward to your ruling. Bill C-471 would require that all statutory oversight agencies are put in place not later than January 1, 2011. This is less than a year from now.

In our party we make it a point to consult with stakeholders that will be impacted by our policy. Rushing in the measures proposed in Bill C-471 would not allow for any meaningful consultations. That is not how good policy is made.

To close my remarks, I would like to reiterate our government's position on this proposed legislation. Parliament has already taken action to modernize pay equity in the federal public sector when it passed our Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. This legislation is the best means to achieve equitable compensation in the public sector. The private member's bill before us today is faulty and impracticable. It would lead to a pay equity regime that requires machinery changes and costs that have neither been fully identified nor quantified.

In the coming weeks and months, our government will consult all key stakeholders and employee representatives as we develop the regulations in support of our legislation. These regulations are scheduled to be in place in 2011, which gives us plenty of time to conduct meaningful consultations with all interested and affected parties. What is more, we believe our legislation will result in better collaboration between federal public sector employers and bargaining agents in achieving equitable compensation.

This government believes that women deserve fair pay. This is a fundamental right and they deserve it now, not 20 years from now.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from April 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois opposes Bill C-9, which would implement the Conservative government's budget, because we do not believe that it has identified the true values and needs of Quebeckers and Canadians. And the government's ineptness is equalled only by the ineffective measures it has employed to respond to these needs that it cannot identify.

Weak governments usually feed off those who are even weaker. We know that the Liberal Party will help Bill C-9 pass, but we will continue to oppose it.

This bill demonstrates the Conservative government's will to spare wealthy taxpayers at the expense of the general public, no matter what the cost. It is paying off the deficit thanks to the middle class and workers. Banks and big business are among those wealthy taxpayers.

The measures in this bill are proof of that will. Businesses are not paying their fair share to increase government revenues, except perhaps in that the interest rate paid by the Minister of National Revenue on tax overpayments by businesses will be reduced. If too much tax has been paid, it is most likely because these large companies are making their profits at the expense of small businesses that do not get the help they need and are not profitable.

There is doublespeak when it comes to tax loopholes. On one hand, the government says that it will address this issue. On the other hand, we have Bill C-9, which creates holes in the Income Tax Act allowing businesses not registered in Canada to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

As well, the bill would amend the Telecommunications Act and allow foreign companies who own or operate certain transmission facilities to act as though they were Canadian telecommunications companies.

I will come back in a moment to this point, one that concerns me directly since I am a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. In committee, we are currently examining the case of Globalive, among others. As we can see from the bill, the next step will be satellites and after that, all telecommunications.

We oppose the bill because, once again, the government seems to have no compunction about pillaging the employment insurance fund. The employment insurance account will be replaced by the employment insurance operating account, which will start back at zero. We cannot forget that the Liberals managed to wipe out the deficit and pay down the debt by using the EI premiums paid by both workers and employers.

We also know very well that with this budget, over the next five years, the Conservative government plans to use $19.2 billion for other purposes.

We also oppose this bill because it sets in motion a process to privatize Canada Post Corporation. It also gives the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada powers to protect consumers, which creates a serious risk that Ottawa will infringe on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

Given its desire to transform credit unions—including the Fédération des caisses populaires Desjardins—into federal entities, once again the federal government is showing that it simply want to centralize powers and decisions to the detriment of Quebec's interests.

We are against this bill because it includes various measures that are clearly a federal government intrusion into Quebec's jurisdictions. Take for example the money allocated to the Rick Hansen Foundation, which falls under the area of health, and to the pathways to education program, which applies to secondary education. We are also against the bill because the Conservatives are denying the existence of more than half the population and the challenges they face. Women are absent from this budget implementation bill. We are also against the bill because it sanctions the Conservative government's inaction when it comes to the environment and tackling greenhouse gases.

I said I would come back to the Telecommunications Act. In the Speech from the Throne, the government said it was going to open the door to foreign investment in the satellite, television and telecommunications industries. We see that in the budget it is opening the door to foreign ownership of satellites. However, let us not forget the matter of Globalive, which according to the CRTC was, in practice, a telecommunications company controlled and owned by foreign interests.

The CRTC ruling was overruled and an order in council issued to ensure that Globalive could take ownership of a foreign company. We know full well that this is just the beginning for foreign telecommunication companies because after the satellites and after Globalive will come telephony, broadcasting and cable. In fact, all telecommunications sectors could potentially belong to foreign companies.

The Speech from the Throne talked about satellites. I have talked to people who use satellites. They are scared stiff about the fact that satellites could belong to foreign companies. They are wondering what would happen if foreign companies got their hands on Telesat. The legislation clearly states that Telesat must remain Canadian owned. If foreign companies could get their hands on it, then major international players could also get Canadian satellites. We know full well that Canadian satellites currently have military applications and functions as well. The Conservative government truly seems to want to defend sovereignty on many levels, but it is prepared to throw open the door to foreign ownership of satellites, telecommunications and therefore all aspects of broadcasting as well.

If I remember correctly, in 1984 a Conservative government came to power, but with one major difference: it was a Progressive Conservative government. That was our first introduction to restrictions on foreign ownership. In 1987 and then in 1991 came the Teleglobe Act and the Telesat Canada Act, which imposed ownership restrictions on the two telecommunication companies named in the titles of these acts. In 1987, the communications minister at that time presented a policy document titled “A Policy Framework for Telecommunications in Canada” in which the government noted that domestic ownership of Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure was essential to national sovereignty and security.

In 1987, we had a Progressive Conservative government. That is not at all the case today. This government calls itself Conservative but it is Reform-Alliance. It wants to use this bill to open the door to foreign ownership by amending the Telecommunications Act.

I would have liked to have had more time to show that the Liberals have a responsibility to vote against this bill. More importantly, they should all attend the vote. If not, it shows that they approve of this bill, with the result that Canada and Quebec will automatically lose a large part of their telecommunications sovereignty.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was intrigued by and interested in the member's comments regarding satellite telecommunications. which is a serious issue for us to be looking at.

The government's approach to the economy and its whole direction is to reduce the barriers and allow for more foreign ownership of the whole economy, let alone the satellite area.

Would the member expand on this whole area and on how serious an economic effect this could have on the Canadian economy?

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, this could have a significant or even catastrophic economic effect. We know very well the kind of impact this could have on telecommunications.

In the beginning, the legislation favoured competition within the Canadian and Quebec system, that is, between Canadian-owned companies, excluding foreign ones. If ownership was transferred from one company to another, it still all stayed in the country: competition and innovation took place here, and we saw great innovation within the telecommunications sector.

Now, the Conservative government claims that there will be more competition, and that the public will benefit from lower prices and more innovation. But that is completely untrue, and a foreign company may get its hands on Bell or Rogers and then on all the content. The content could drastically decrease under pressure from these foreign companies, whose sole interest is in generating profits. These profits can often be found in other countries. So we could lose jobs and even see less competition. The same goes for pretty much all the other areas.

In telecommunications, the Canadian identity and the Quebec identity are particularly important, but they could end up paying the price and could dwindle away. Furthermore, when foreign companies take over the satellites, will there be any room left for Canadian content?

For example, if the United States were to purchase one, it might promote only American products. Canadian and Quebec content would end up paying the price.

The Canadian identity, the Quebec identity, and culture and sovereignty especially, would inevitably shrink. This is also true for telecommunications and security, since we are talking about satellites. Sometimes, in more remote countries, when people with evil intentions want to take power, they first take control of telecommunications.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to clarify something. Perhaps I heard wrong, and I will double-check Hansard afterwards. I heard the member say that our government was using the EI fund for things other than what it was set up for. I might be mistaken because I have not looked at the blues but I want to clarify whether that is what was said in this House. In actual fact, the EI fund is used for what it is supposed to be used for, which is helping people who need it.

In 2011, the CEIFB, which is an independent, arm's length commission, will be dealing solely with this fund.

Did I hear that the EI fund was being misused by our government? If that is what I heard, it is totally untrue. Perhaps the member was referring to what happened under the previous government.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the only consistency I see is in how the previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government used the employment insurance fund. Nothing has changed. On the contrary, huge cuts were made to the employment insurance fund, particularly with regard to eligibility and benefits.

Naturally, they will say that we voted against some of their bills that would supposedly have improved the employment insurance system. We are very aware of the needs of people who lose their jobs; they have to be able to adapt to new jobs. We are familiar also with the needs of older workers who are not able to bridge the gap to their retirement.

With regard to the use of the employment insurance fund, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party are cut from the same cloth. $54 billion went missing before and we know that $19.2 billion will be used for other things besides helping the unemployed—

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am sorry, but the hon. member's time is up.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the budget today. As a former parliamentary secretary to two ministers of finance, I know that the most daunting task of any government is balancing its books.

In 1993, when we came to power, we inherited a $42.5 billion deficit, of which 33¢ of every dollar spent was borrowed money. We had to make some tough decisions. We had Canadians supporting us in terms of dealing with the deficit to the point where we got out of deficit and started putting money down on the debt. We started ensuring we would deal with a massive debt, which at that time was over $600 billion.

Government is about priorities. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they inherited a $12.5 billion surplus. They quickly eliminated that through the gimmick of reducing the GST by one point which cost about $5 billion to $6 billion. It was not surprising that they got themselves into a financial hole very quickly. The government, not being very good with mathematics, did not even realize that a recession was coming and preempted an election in order forestall the inevitable. A recession came and hundreds of thousands of Canadians were thrown out of work.

We see the consequences of that situation. We know that its figures are not very good. Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has clearly indicated that the government is out by about $10 billion. According to the government, we now have a $56 billion deficit, but it is probably closer to $66 billion or $70 billion.

What kind of exit strategy does the government have? It does not have much of an exit strategy. It claims that it does not really need to cut anything or make any really tough decisions because the economy will bounce back and, through growth, it will be able to fill its coffers and everything will be fine. I do not think there are too many economists around who share that view, particularly in its second and third year, where we see this massive jump of about $26 billion that will suddenly come into the coffers of the government.

The reality is that Canadians are facing some stark decisions at the present time. Hundreds of thousands of people have been thrown out of work in the manufacturing sector, the forestry sector, the mining sector, et cetera across the country.

At the end of October, in my own riding of Richmond Hill, I held a pre-budget forum where we discussed some of the real issues facing people in the riding of Richmond Hill. What the government produced in its budget does not reflect those priorities very much, if at all. The one key area deals with job creation, particularly for small business. Nine out of 10 small businesses in this country create employment. They are the engine of the Canadian economy. The government again failed to address this issue in terms of job creation and jobs for the future. It is not just the stand-pat jobs of today. How do we ensure we are part of that green economy for tomorrow? How do we ensure we are on the innovation agenda, something that was the hallmark of the previous Liberal administration?

Unfortunately, we do not hear the word innovation over there. We do not hear about the jobs for tomorrow that will be for Canadians coming out of universities and colleges, the jobs that will have value, not only for themselves but for Canadians as a whole and for the community at large around the world.

The problem is that there is an imbalance at the moment between people who are looking for jobs and the jobs that are out there. I heard that loud and clear from businesses in my own community. The concern out there is that the government is not providing the kind of regulatory, economic or other tools to stimulate job creation, particularly for small businesses. As we have seen unemployment rise in this country, we have seen people who have become very concerned that there is no hope.

There may be some growth in part-time jobs, but for people who really need a job, retraining is important. Someone between 40 or 45 years of age may have had a job for 20 or 25 years and suddenly he or she is now out of work. The talents and tools people were trained on 20 or 25 years ago are not necessarily germane for today's job market, which is causing them great angst.

We need to see strategic investments particularly in new sectors like green technology. Green technology is obviously something, whether it is wind energy or solar power, where Canada can be a leader. Up to one million jobs could be created in this sector, but again, we need to have the kind of economic tools available, particularly a tax structure and particularly in terms of regulatory mechanisms. For example, when dealing with windmills, rather than import them from Germany, the Netherlands or Denmark, we should build them here. Obviously, that would be of importance.

The federal government's job creation programs in terms of investing in new technologies was something that I heard loud and clear. We need to do that if we really want to be on the cutting edge for the future. The government needs to invest capital into research and development. Again, research and development is absolutely important for those engineers in this country, as an example. We want them to be here, our designers et cetera so that they can stay in Canada and not have to go to the United States or elsewhere. That is important in terms of being able to compete at home on the global market. But again, the budget is very quiet in this area and is something that we need to be addressing for our new graduates.

The federal government should also have provided reforms in terms of policies and educating skilled immigrants. In many sectors, whether it is nursing or medicine in terms of provincial bodies, the fact is that we again need the leadership of the federal government working with the provinces and territories to encourage and to faster integrate new immigrants in Canada. What is the point of bringing new immigrants to Canada if they cannot get a decent job? We often hear about fields such as doctors who cannot practise medicine. The underskilled is a problem and yet those who are skilled are not being utilized. The underutilization of talent in this country is a major problem.

There is no question that with over 300,000 jobs already lost in this country that there is some despair out there. In terms of the budget, we should have addressed how to ensure that we giving a helping hand to people, how do we ensure that we are trying to invest in the right areas. But again, not only the Conference Board of Canada but some conservative institutes out there indicated clearly that the government was simply throwing good money against bad, that it was not doing the kind of investments that need to be done. The C.D. Howe Institute, the Fraser Institute, not exactly good friends on our side, took a very strong stand in terms of looking at where this money was going and obviously were disappointed.

There is the issue of infrastructure funding for not for profit organizations. We have 160,000 charities across Canada that employ over two million people. The government made a big fanfare about trying to invest in these charitable organizations, that it would announce that people in a short period of time, and it was a year ago in August, I think, had 10 days to fill in a form. Now 10 days for non-profits is a major task to begin with. But the government only earmarked about $4 million and had over 1,000 applicants-plus across the country.

Therefore, people applied and they assumed, because of the big fanfare that the government announced, that after applying they would receive assistance. Certainly, in my riding, although we did get money after repeated writing and phoning to the minister's office on things like roads, parks, development, et cetera, in the non-profit area it was a disaster. Of the six that applied, not one received any money. They received a curt email saying “too bad, so sad, 1,000 applied and we only had $4 million, you're out of luck”. That is not really very appropriate, particularly when we are talking about a sector where there are two million-plus jobs out there. Again, those are the most vulnerable organizations. When they needed assistance from the government, they clearly did not get it.

The Fraser Institute's recent analysis of Statistic Canada shows that the stimulus package was neither timely nor effective. Again, when talking about infrastructure money, the only people who really made money were those who put up all those signs across the country because obviously those who really needed it, the money was not in hand. The government is great at announcing things, that it is going to be rolled out, but it is not there, the money is not in hand.

If I had the time, I would speak about all of the defence procurements, which the government announced but is not delivering on.

Let me go back, particularly to the issue of small and medium sized businesses, which have been hit hard. Those in Richmond Hill and the southern York region have been hit hard in particular. There is a crisis there. We need to have a responsible government that is absolutely prepared to listen. One of the ways the government could help this situation would be to work much more collaboratively with both provincial and municipal authorities.

Many businesses in my community have asked for certain tax breaks. They have asked for tax breaks in order to help first, in terms of some capital writeoffs for machinery; and second, because they simply are so over-burdened at the present time with the drop in the economy. Times are much more difficult in terms of people spending money that these businesses need. They need to have this kind of assistance.

I would point out that we submitted a detailed report to the Minister of Finance indicating these areas which I am outlining to the House today.

Canada must be competitive, and the only way it can be competitive is in the areas of innovation and good tax policy, in making sure that retraining is available for older workers who need it, and by providing opportunities to our young people. Again, the government seems to have failed in all of these areas.

What did the government do for workers? It brought in a $13 billion payroll tax hike which will affect over 220,000 small businesses in Canada.

When I hear about EI from members on the other side, I would point out to them that it was the Auditor General who said we could no longer have a stand-alone EI account. I sometimes hear members on the other side refer to an EI fund that was rolled in by the previous Liberal government. In fact, it was the Auditor General who said we could not do that.

A tax increase of $13 billion is to me a tax. I do not know what else we could call it. The government does not like to refer to it as a tax but the businesses in my community see it as a tax. They see this as a regressive tax which hurts businesses. If a business has 9, 10 or 12 employees and decides to add an employee, or even maintain those that it has, then this tax obviously is not very helpful in terms of any kind of expansion.

There are over one million small businesses in Canada and 98% of these are looking for support. They are not looking for a handout necessarily but a hand up in terms of government policy. Yet, the government is applauding itself and saying we will get through all of this, that we should just grin and bear it. It says it is spending all of this money.

I will be interested to see the Auditor General's report in the fall. We will be able to really start looking at those infrastructure projects that were announced and see just where that money actually wound up. I have no doubt that it is going to be quite a report and quite interesting for Canadians.

This party is concerned about small business. Back in February we held a forum on Parliament Hill dealing with small business. We heard from small business owners who clearly indicated that the government had not been listening. That was obviously reaffirmed with the budget on March 4.

It is important for the manufacturing sector. We are seeing great attrition in this sector and this is of major concern. Capital cost allowance is sorely needed to help our manufacturers, particularly in dealing with new equipment. This needs to be properly addressed.

Canada has the worst youth unemployment record in a generation. Those of us who were here a couple of years ago may remember the debacle of the summer job creation program. Nobody knew who was going to get summer employment. It was so bad the government had the minister of veterans affairs announce more money. I do not know what that minister has to do with youth unemployment. The government finally changed it, and hopefully this year, at least for summer students, we will see some improvement.

I deal a lot with young people as I am sure many members do. Graduates who have come out of university are now going back for a master's program or a Ph.D. Why? They realize they cannot get a job, so they will stay in school because there are no opportunities out there for them. Again, no direction has come from the government in terms of dealing with the chronic youth unemployment situation, which, as I said, is the worst in a generation.

We also need to encourage start-up companies by introducing initial tax measures for Canadians, particularly for young entrepreneurs. The genius of Canadians, of course, is that we are a very inventive nation and we have been able to create, when in fact there is an opportunity, when the conditions are there. Again, the government seems to have ignored that.

One area which I cannot understand is that when the government has a success, it actually shoots itself in the foot, and that of course was on the ecoEnergy program. I am sure there are constituents of many members here, certainly my constituents, who since 2007 were applying and were certainly taking advantage of that program. The abrupt cancellation of this program, almost in the middle of the night, was because it was too popular.

What could be more important than dealing with energy efficiency, particularly in this day and age? It was cancelled and I understand that of the $745 million for the program, only $91 million has ever been actually directed toward customers as rebates.

What is interesting here is that people actually said, “I want to make my home more energy efficient and I am going take advantage of this program”. People lined up to be part of this, but again we do not know where the other $654 million is. It is not accounted for. Hopefully, we will see it when the Auditor General takes a look, but again it is a question of cancelling a successful program.

Many members on this side know that energy efficiency and climate change are not things that are very popular on the other side, but it is important that those kinds of programs address the needs of Canadians. Obviously, it helps in terms of reducing their expenditures, particularly for heating. Many small businesses that were involved in this kind of retrofitting program found it a great boon. I have companies in my riding that took advantage of it, saying, “We have all these customers now. This has been a great program”. Of course, once it was cancelled the phones lit up with people asking why the government did this, why it was cancelling the program. Again, there is no rhyme or reason, but it was cancelled.

Going back to one of the most important issues, when we have the kind of deficit that we have in this country, we cannot expect that governments are going to be able to spend their way out, but we would expect to have an exit strategy that very clearly lays out how it is going to tackle getting out of the economic mess that we are in. Unfortunately, nobody believes the projections it has and because nobody believes the government, there is a great sense that in fact it is going to get worse and worse. Kevin Page was very clear that the government was out by at least $10 billion. Who knows how much more?

The difficulty is that we have to be able to explain to Canadians what the nature of the problem is and how we are going to deal with it, as we did when we were in government. We did many things as a government to deal with an economic crisis in deficit. We made sure that we did not merge the banks. I remember my colleagues on the other side saying, “We have to be like Citibank”. Who is now taking the credit today for what Paul Martin did, in assuring that we did not have bank mergers? It is those guys on the other side, and I have to say that that is a bit hypocritical, given the fact that when I was parliamentary secretary, I had more Conservatives come over and say, “We are not going to be competitive globally unless we are like Citibank”.

It is good that we did not listen to the economic gurus on the other side. They like to say that they are the economic gurus. The economic gurus have a $56 billion deficit. The economic gurus say, “Let us have bank mergers”. The economic gurus say, “Just let the market run its course”.

Sometimes government can play a very positive role in society. In this case, we did play that positive role and because of that, we came out of a very difficult situation. Unfortunately, it did not take the Conservatives very long to get back into one. With a $42.5 billion deficit for 23 years, which they now think they are going to get out of in five, and good luck to them, there is not an economist worth his or her salt who believes that that is credible. Certainly, we on this side do not see that happening in the foreseeable future.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member on his speech, but I find something rather incredulous in all of this. I, too, represent a York region riding just to the north of Richmond Hill. I have seen considerable business activity going on in the riding of Richmond Hill, with the number of investments that our government has made through the economic action plan.

We put in place the home renovation tax credit in the 2009 budget, which made opportunities for many local contractors to sign contracts with people who wanted to do work in their homes. We will have the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7 by 2012. We put in place assistance for our manufacturers through their capital cost input reduction.

Why will the member not support our budget?

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

First, Mr. Speaker, I point out for the hon. member that the corporate tax was dropped under the Liberals, from 26% down to 18%. In fact, the Liberals actually reduced the corporate tax. Under the hon. member's government, it has maybe dropped 1% or 2%. The reality is we were the ones who made it economically competitive at a time when the Conservatives were saying something else.

The home tax renovation was very good public policy, but, unfortunately, it was cancelled.

In my riding of Richmond Hill, I am interested in not only ensuring that I am going to more openings than closings, but also that we are attracting the kind of leading edge technology businesses that are going to employ people in the long term. We are not seeing that at the present time. Therefore, we have to look at a budget. When we look at a budget, we want to look at the totality of that budget.

We keep seeing a lot of gimmicks and a lot of flashy programs today that are then eliminated. I do not like deficits. Nobody likes deficits. However, I would like to see a strategy that shows us how to get out of it. I want to see an innovation agenda showing that we are worried about the young people today and those older workers who need to be retrained. We want to work collaboratively with the provinces and municipalities because we are in a global situation. We are not only competing with Vancouver or Quebec City, we are competing with New Delhi, Tokyo and everywhere around the world. To do that, we have to ensure we are there.

What I am seeing in my York region is a little different from what my friend to the north is seeing.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always get great enjoyment listening to the Liberals speak. I have never found a group that is meaner or tougher when it comes to shadow boxing in their bedrooms. However, when it comes time to getting into the ring with that ideological crew, they always take a dive.

I was particularly amused by the hon. member's comments about the bank deregulation. If he looks at the Hansard records, he will remember that the Liberal government attacked the NDP for being concerned little old nannies when we kept saying that we had to stop bank deregulation. We pushed that again and again and the Liberals ridiculed us. Now, suddenly, when they do not have to stand up and do anything on it, they are trying to take credit.

I would like to ask the member about another key area to be deregulated in Bill C-9, which would take away the post office privilege. We would deregulate the post offices. All across rural Canada, people are looking at what is going to happen with the post offices, but I am hearing nothing from the Liberal Party. Will the Liberals cave on this, undermine Canada Post and all our rural post offices? Will they go along with it or will they stand up to the government, which is breaking apart, point after point in industry after industry, Canada's advantage?