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House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was allegations.

Topics

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I could answer the member's question by referring to the whole issue of the initiative launched by the government in last year's budget introducing a program to extend high-speed Internet access to many remote areas of Quebec and Canada. This year, the Conservative government missed a great opportunity.

From what we have gathered so far from the answers we have been given, there was a demand totalling almost $1 billion, or $900 million, but only $75 million or $80 million a year was provided in the budget. This would have been a great opportunity to move these areas forward, help them and promote their economic and cultural development. Funding should have been provided to meet the demand. This way, everyone in Canada and Quebec could have been connected and could have developed very equitably. But once again, we can see that $10 billion was invested predominantly in Ontario regions for the automotive industry only, while all that was required to meet the needs across Canada and Quebec might have been $1 billion. That was not done, and that too is unacceptable.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question about the budget and this government's agenda.

Does it concern him that this budget actually gives precedence to profitable Canadian industries like the oil industry or the banking industry, instead of giving precedence to the people, those Canadians who have suffered because of the recession job losses in other sectors, such as the forestry and manufacturing industries? The fact is that there is not really anything in this budget to help these Canadians in terms of all they need at this time.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, yes, absolutely. I understand my NDP colleague's question. In fact, this reminds me of the proposals the Bloc Québécois made to the Conservative government before it tabled the budget. We told the government that it was important to include measures for people who have just gone through this crisis, for communities and for businesses. We said it was important to support them. However, the Conservative government, ever ideology-oriented, continued focusing its efforts and assistance on the banking sector and the oil industry, which is one of the biggest polluters. It is completely ignoring people who have lost their jobs, who are having difficulty just getting by, and who are going through serious hard times.

As we know, in all single-industry environments, especially in the forestry industry, people are having a very hard time. Proposals have been made, such as eliminating the two-week waiting period for EI benefits. That would have helped. Everyone we meet tells us that when two people in the same family lose their jobs, the worst part is that there are no measures to help them during the first two weeks of unemployment. This is completely unacceptable and the Conservative government should have introduced such a measure.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, the title says it all: Bill C-9, jobs and economic growth act. On the face of it, this critical bill ignores an important federal mandate, the legislative and constitutional duty to protect the environment. Part 20 represents a clear abrogation of federal duty. It appears to contradict the government's stated mantra of the need to balance the economy with the environment.

In the 2010 budget, the government declares Canada to be a clean energy superpower. Then in its budget implementation act, the environment component is completely exorcized in both the name and the measures.

The Prime Minister promotes seeking for Canada to be a clean energy superpower. His government committed in the fall, 2008, throne speech to support technologies that will not emit greenhouse gases. His government also committed to a 90% national target for non-emitting electricity sources. How is the government going to do this? It is going to do this by deep-sixing renewable power and giving further subsidies to the dirtiest source of power, coal.

While Canadians thought the 2009 federal budget set a new high-water mark for perverse economic policies, this year exceeds that backward slide. The government is leaving our country mired in 19th century fossil fuel economy. The Harper government's failures can be found not just in the specifics but in the very principles that guide its regulatory and fiscal policies. The Harper government is holding fast to its long-held and—

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would just ask the hon. member to remember not to mention the name of a sitting member.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I am sorry, Madam Speaker.

This government, led by Prime Minister Harper—

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

An hon. member

No. Prime Minister.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

No, I can't say that? I am very sorry. I was not aware I could not say his name. That is fine. I will not mention his name again.

The current government is holding fast to its long-held and false assumptions that protecting the environment always comes with a significant impact on the economy. If this trade-off ever existed, it has long been replaced, at least in informed circles, by the need to move into the new economy.

The International Energy Agency weighed in this week by saying that Canada's record to date in addressing greenhouse gases suggests meeting even the meagre targets committed by Canada at Copenhagen “will present policymakers across the country with an immense test. It remains unclear how national targets are to be co-ordinated, divided and enforced among the provinces and territories.”

The IEA recommended that Canada produce a more coordinated national energy efficiency policy. Counted among many others who have recommended federal action on national energy efficiency are the former Conservative trade minister and chair of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, David Emerson, and the right-of-centre Alberta-based Canada West Foundation.

Yet, what the government delivers in this budget is cuts to the very programs that were enabling more efficient energy use, including the highly popular eco-energy home retrofit program.

While the current government argues that it is in sync with the United States, nothing could be further from the truth. The United States government is proceeding with bills and expenditures focused on U.S. energy security and sustainability, encompassing actions on climate and energy efficiency and investments in renewables. The U.S. clearly gets it. When will the current government get on board?

However, I wish to focus particularly on part 20 of this bill. There is clear intent in this part to erase environmental considerations from all federal stimulus spending and to emasculate the remainder of federal reviews. The proposed legal reforms directly contradict the legal mandate of the environment minister.

The Department of the Environment grants the minister his powers, duties and responsibilities. And contrary to the minister's assertions that his responsibility is to balance economy and environment, nowhere in that act, which mandates his power, is there any mention of that need to balance.

The intent of part 20 directly contradicts one of the minister's duties; that is, to require the assessment of any new federal projects. The minister's duty to assess impacts was first abrogated in last year's budget when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was eviscerated.

If Bill C-9 is passed, the majority of federally funded projects will be exempted.

First, part 20 of the bill exempts a large swath of federally funded projects from a key regulatory trigger: federal financing. This is done despite the fact the majority of projects merely undergo an initial screening.

Second, the government is responding to recent court rulings confirming federal responsibilities to assess project impacts, by simply empowering the minister to narrow the scope of any assessment.

The most obvious question is: Why are these significant amendments to the federal law included in a budget implementation bill?

The legally required review of the federal law, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, is slated to come before the parliamentary committee within weeks. Unlike the process for this bill, reviews before the parliamentary committee allow detailed consideration and hearing from all the affected stakeholders.

Is this simply another example of the failed promises on transparency and participation in governance?

Next, is this emasculation of federal impact assessment simply being done to save money. And if so, is it money for the government or for industrial proponents?

Where is the evidence of this alleged unnecessary duplication and overlap? The government has yet to table a single example.

The key to considering the appropriateness of this reform is the recognition of federal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Canada has, in a series of decisions, clearly upheld federal jurisdiction and responsibility for the environment, including environmental impact assessment.

One of the most frequently cited Supreme Court cases is the decision on Friends of the Oldman River Society vs Canada.

As the court held:

Local projects will generally fall within the provincial responsibility...federal participation will be required if...the project impinges on an area of federal jurisdiction.

The federal law specifies three triggers for federal assessment. One of those is federal finance. The second is any areas of federal responsibility. Both are eviscerated by this bill.

Is the rationale to ensure more coordinated federal and provincial cooperation in environmental assessment? This was recognized and responded to years back. Measures taken included the harmonization accord; federal-provincial bilateral agreements; coordination in the field; and joint panels. By these provisions, the government has slung an axe to its duties where only a scalpel slice may have been necessary.

Of equal concern is the decision to grant the Minister of the Environment the complete discretion to decide to narrow the scope of any federal assessment. Again, the sense is that this change was simply to limit future judicial scrutiny of the government's decisions.

Separate and apart from that concern is the potential for conflict of interest. Surely the decision on the scope or extent of a federal assessment should be removed from any potential political considerations. For example, any assessment of a pipeline or export power line that the government has endorsed surely should not be made based on the decision of a minister who may well have endorsed those projects. Again, that is the case of the Mackenzie pipeline.

Contrary to what the minister has suggested, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his 2009 audit, did not in fact recommend that this role be assigned to the minister. The commissioner merely recommended that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency propose options to the minister, and the agency in reply said that it looked forward to putting forward options to the parliamentary committee in the very hearings that will commence in a few weeks.

A bigger question is whether this law change represents an underhanded attempt at a constitutional amendment. This is a long-standing request by the Alberta government and perhaps other governments to get the federal government out of the environment business on their turf. This is certainly the case on fisheries, a unilateral area of federal jurisdiction. What of the duty to assess impacts to first nation peoples, their lands and waters? What of the federal power over transboundary impacts? Are these, too, being ceded to the provinces? Is this a case of illegal sub-delegation?

In considering this bill, members must consider the duties under federal law to regulate, manage, prevent or mitigate environmental impacts. The very purpose of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is to implement the government's duty under the precautionary principle to identify and prevent unnecessary environmental impacts. Where the effort is not made to assess these potential impacts, how can the government credibly claim to be exercising those powers effectively?

Finally, to the matter of the transfer of environmental impact assessment duties to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Indeed, this is already allowed under law. What is of grave concern is the broad brush policy decision to completely transfer the environmental assessment function for the majority of these reviews to these agencies out of the very agency set up at arm's length to review environmental impacts.

Contrary to what the minister has asserted, impacted communities and families have not been satisfied with the way those agencies have delivered environmental reviews. A non-government report on the New Brunswick facility did not give it the glowing review the minister professes. In the case of the National Energy Board review of the first export power line out of Alberta, dissatisfaction in the assessment of impacts resulted in court action. Central to the case was the failed consideration of impacts on farmers by the Energy Board.

In summary, I am absolutely opposed to the passage of Bill C-9, particularly part 20.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the detail on the environment and understand the member's expertise in that area. I would like to ask her two questions relating to that area.

First, the Conservatives have sort of made a laughing stock of themselves in the other place by putting forward a motion related to freedom of speech when they do not even allow their own members the freedom of speech. However, in relation to that, can she comment on the freedom not allowed to scientists on the environment or environmental officials, which was quite an issue recently?

Second, in my area in the north, climate change is causing change faster than anywhere else in the world so we need adaptation. The government, in this budget and the projections, is allowing all the adaptation programs to expire with no sense of hope of reinstituting them. I wonder if she could comment on that.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Yukon for his ongoing support for environmental measures in the House.

With regard to the silencing of scientists, I share the member's concern but I share it in a much broader avenue. We have heard a lot about the concern, for example, that government employed scientists have not had the freedom to share the results that they may have in their own research, or issues of concern that they have raised that should be brought to the attention of the government.

My sense of the concern is even much broader. We have an entire agency, with appropriately skilled people who will conduct the independent review or at least oversee the review by proponents of projects, being completely removed. We can guess that the appropriate officials are probably not vested in the other two agencies that will conduct those reviews.

We need to start looking even deeper into the problems with science. Not only are the scientists not allowed to speak but now they will not be allowed to do the work as well.

On the important matter that he raised about the cutting of funds to adaptation, I share his concern, but I am more deeply concerned that the adaptation costs will escalate due to the fact that the government insists on not taking action and not setting those binding targets.

It should not cost taxpayers the money to respond to climate change. If we simply impose those legally binding targets and reductions on the major emitters, they will incur those costs rather than taxpayers, and then we can put our money toward helping the lesser developed countries that are bearing the brunt of the impact of our industry.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague, with whom I sit on the environment committee, if she has heard the fantastic news that Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, for the first time in a number of years, have actually been decreased to the tune of 2.1%.

That report was file today. It is good news for Canadians. It is clearly a signal that the government understands, after a previous Liberal government failed and signed on to these glorified numbers, much like what we saw in Bill C-311, which passed yesterday. The Liberals did not do anything about it, other than attempt to ruin Canada's economy and, in particular, Alberta's economy.

I wonder if the member can stand in her place and actually congratulate the government for getting greenhouse gas emissions down with all the investments that we put into the budgets previous to budget 2010, which her party voted against.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I would have thought the member would have liked to have expressed similar concern to the fact that our committee is not proceeding with the CEAA review, rather than it being done through a budget with little discussion.

It is good news if the greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 2.1%, but I find that rather pathetic, given the fact that they have gone up 35%. I do not know if that is 2.1% of intensity or if it is absolute. What was it?

The thing that I found most noteworthy was that yesterday in the House the parliamentary secretary informed the House that it was no doubt due to the fact that we are reducing coal-fired power. I would like the member to be aware, as he is from the same province as I am, that as we sit here, coal-fired power is expanding in Alberta and various companies are asking to ratchet back their requirements to reduce the greenhouse gases. I do not see the jolly forecast that the member sees.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I was not expecting it to be my turn to take the floor, but I am happy to speak to Bill C-9. This is not a very attractive bill because it relates to implementation of the budget, a budget which the Bloc Québécois finds very disappointing.

While I find this bill to be disappointing, I would like to say that the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona has indeed given a very good statement on part 20. That was the subject I wanted to address today, but I will not do so since she has handled it very well.

All the same, I shall speak on the environment, because I find that this budget implementation is truly contemptuous, particularly of the forestry sector. In Canada and Quebec, the forest is truly a key component in the reduction of greenhouse gases. The members opposite say that greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced. It is bizarre for the Conservatives to say this, given that they won the third fossil award in Bonn last week. They won this award because greenhouse gases in Canada have risen 3% over 1990 levels. I do not see how they can claim to be happy with an alleged reduction.

All that was only an aside, and I shall continue now to speak of the lumber industry. Many people speak of this industry as if it simply involved paper mills and mills that cut softwood into two by fours, but it is much more than that.

There is one thing I want to say. The money that should have been invested in the forestry sector would have been used for much more than just cutting down trees and shipping them to the United States. It would have been used to develop engineered wood, something that is now being done, in fact.

Engineered wood is bonded with glue and assembled to make immense spans or big fire-resistant pieces. It is interesting to note that one sawmill employee creates five jobs. One mill employee who cuts two by fours or two by sixes creates five jobs in the lumber industry. It is my impression that the members opposite think that only wood cutting is involved, but it is far more than just that. We have to invest in the forest. Proper forest management is important. This is called stewardship. It means increasing the potential of our forests by managing them so that trees grow larger, there are more of them, and they are in better condition.

It is important to invest in private forests and not just in public forests. It was the government’s responsibility to do so, but it did not. In addition to better quality lumber, more forests are created and greenhouse gases are reduced. It is self-evident.

The more trees we have and the bigger they are, the more greenhouse gases are reduced in the atmosphere. That goes without saying. It is also essential to increase incomes in the regions in the short and long run. Our forests are managed very well and are of major importance.

So what do we find in the budget in this regard? Nothing. There is nothing about the management of private forests and the forests that are the future of our regions. There is absolutely nothing about this in the budget. It is not just the future of our remote regions that is at stake but of our less distant regions as well. As I mentioned, a job in a sawmill creates five others in related factories.

The budget dwells on the automobile sector, as if we were going to live or die by it alone. We are going to die with our trees, and they are what is important. If we take that approach, it is possible that one day we could be autonomous in our construction industry and in our biomass from one end of the country to the other.

That is vital. They always take the short-term view, and that shows real contempt.

They treated the automobile industry like a god of some kind and gave it 57 times as much as the forest industry. For every employee who works in a sawmill, five others work in related plants or have a job maintaining our forests.

Trees grow. They are like money in the bank that earns interest. They are something we can give future generations. Unfortunately, we have a government that looks at the future in the rear-view mirror and sets nothing aside for our children.

We will all pay for the numerous tax breaks the government is giving the oil companies. They cost money and are a way of taxing people. These tax breaks amount to $2.7 billion, and every province and city will have to pay its share.

If green industries had been given the billions of dollars in tax breaks handed out to the oil companies, jobs could have been created. Instead of giving this money exclusively to shareholders, we could have created jobs in healthy work environments, for the future of our country and the future of our young people. The government thinks that oil companies are the future because there will be a shortage of oil. But there is enough in Alberta for a very long time.

There is no overarching vision of our strengths and no strategy for helping the younger generation. Creating green energy means creating an economy that could be exported and could replace fossil fuels. Unfortunately, that is not what they did. They always favour fossil fuels.

The budget increases funding for nuclear energy. Some governments think that nuclear energy is clean, but that is a farce. We have not even found places yet to store the waste. So long as these places have not been found, nuclear energy will remain dirty. In addition, it produces plutonium.

Recently, an agency of the Canadian government produced a report stating that the CANDU reactor might overheat and explode. This is a real sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, but we still keep promoting the reactor, because we know we will make a profit from it. They tried to build a reactor in Ontario. At the end of the day, a kilowatt hour generated by nuclear energy was so expensive that they abandoned the plan. Nuclear energy is starting to be compared to green energy. We are realizing that green energy creates a lot more jobs and is much safer. A windmill will never explode, and the same is true for solar and hydraulic energy.

Getting electricity from deep geothermal energy is also something that will not explode and that will last for years. We might say forever. So why not invest in green energy instead of investing in polluting energy? I know there is a very strong lobby. Nuclear energy has a huge organization lobbying the Canadian government.

We know that our government is very sensitive to lobbying. In fact, that is why there was not much money for forestry. The steel lobby is very strong, as is the cement lobby. So they want to keep wood for small houses only and build them out of two by fours, when we know that engineered lumber could be used to build rooms much bigger than here. So the environment and climate change have been completely ignored in the budget.

We could have changed tack and said now is the time to put money into the green economy. They did not do it and I am very disappointed. The Bloc considers this to be a major reason not to vote for the budget or for this Bill C-9, precisely because it is not looking to our children’s future. In this kind of bill we are looking to the past.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the member. I have two questions for him.

First, does the member think the budget provides any uncertainty, as opposed to certainty, for people? While he is thinking of that, I will give two examples, the food mail program and aboriginal post-secondary education.

The government announced it would make changes, but it has not said what they would be. It will be at some time in the future. If the food people get is in jeopardy, I think they would be pretty worried and would want to know what the changes are.

Second, the member talked about the environment and the cancellation of a number of environment programs, like the eco-energy program, the adaptation programs for climate change and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, where many major scientists are involved in climate change and temperature studies, on droughts, on environment sciences, et cetera and keeping data on that, which is irreplaceable.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his two questions.

I do think the government is currently engaging in a diversion. First, it mentioned a certain number for education. We did not pay too much attention to it because that is under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec, of our province and eventually our country.

However, if we look at the environment and the way the bill has been worded, in Part 20, the decision will now come from the minister. What does that mean? If we look at it, the minister will always be deciding everything. It will no longer be groups saying it needs to be done. It will no longer be Parliament, but the minister.

That means that the minister can very well follow the policy issued by cabinets: to promote the development of the oil sands to the exclusion of other things. Whenever an environmental impact study might block a project, it will not be taken into account. We saw the situation two weeks ago with the big Keystone pipeline. Now, we have a Baker train going by. Will an environmental impact study be done? We think not, because that might block the development.

So I agree entirely with my colleague when he says that a lot of things are being concealed. They chose their words carefully to make people happy. People are going to think this is wonderful, but in reality it is so the government will be able to decide as it likes.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, earlier, the hon. member wanted to talk about the environment, but since the member from Alberta had already done so, he chose to deal with another issue. A question had been asked by a government member. We were discussing the Conservatives' record and the announcement made yesterday. The member for Wetaskiwin had put the question. He said that greenhouse gases had been reduced and that we did not recognize that.

Perhaps the Bloc member could tell me something. If there has been a greenhouse gas reduction, is it not once again because since 2006, when the Conservatives took office, the mills in Miramichi, Bathurst, Dalhousie and New Richmond have all shut down? Paper mills across the country have closed. All sorts of plants and mills have stopped operating. Perhaps the Conservatives registered the greenhouse gas emissions that came out of these chimneys.

Greenhouse gases may have been reduced, but the Conservatives cannot claim that economic development is responsible for a less polluted environment. It is because plants have shut down. We do not expect the government to protect the environment through regulations.

Does the member agree that this is a more accurate picture of the environmental situation in Canada?

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi has about one minute to respond.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I fully agree with the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Of course, the Conservatives will say that it is thanks to them, but what did they do to achieve that result? Nothing, zero, niet. Therefore, they should not take credit and pat themselves on the back. The economy has weakened. As the hon. member pointed out, mills were closed, including some that produced electricity from coal. My colleague is right: in Bonn, last week, Canada received a third fossil award because greenhouse gases have increased in Canada. This was demonstrated by international groups. There has been no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 but, rather, a 3% increase.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-9, the budget implementation bill. The NDP is opposed to this bill for a number of reasons. My colleagues have addressed a number of topics, but since I am the employment insurance critic, I will focus on that part. For the record, that is not the only thing I am opposed to in Bill C-9. I could go on about many other points.

Bill C-9 includes certain amendments to legislation. The Canada Employment Insurance Commission is continued. It consists of four commissioners. A new employment insurance operating account has been created in the accounts of Canada. This new account was created because the old account in the consolidated revenue fund has been closed.

The Conservatives boast about creating a new employment insurance operating account that will open with $2 billion. They also boast about not being like the Liberals and not dipping into the employment insurance fund.

This is 2010 and the Conservatives have been in power since 2006. Between 2006 and 2010, who are the mysterious people who stole from the EI fund? It had to be someone. Who stole from the fund between 2006 and 2010? We cannot blame the Liberals for everything. Not everything is their doing. They stole from the EI fund between 1993 and 2006. It cannot be denied; it has been said often enough.

Ironically, during a question period, the Minister of Finance said:

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, the plain fact is that the previous Liberal government, in the middle of the 1990s, siphoned off the $58 billion to $60 billion from the EI fund and put it into the consolidated revenue fund. People do not have to take my word for it. Read what professors—

I remember the words he used, but they were changed in Hansard. He said the Liberals stole between $58 billion and $60 billion. “To steal” and “to siphon off” mean the same thing.

Normally when a thief is caught, he has to return the stolen money to its rightful owner. There is more than $57 billion in surplus in the EI fund. I did not make this up. The Minister of Finance said so in the House of Commons on March 29 .

The blues show that that same day, the Prime Minister rose and acknowledged that the Liberals had stolen money from the EI fund. If money is stolen and then recovered, it must be returned to the people it was stolen from. Who are those people? They are the same people to whom the government is bragging about cutting taxes to major corporations. The government is cutting taxes for the corporations and at the same time wants to increase EI premiums by 15¢ per $100 of insurable earnings. So it is a tax for workers. But they claim to want to lower taxes.

The government does not believe in taxing people, and the previous government pillaged the employment insurance fund. The Conservatives continued this from 2006 to 2010. Now, with a bill, they are legitimizing this pillaging and are wiping out the government's debt, the surplus belonging to the workers. Now, workers will pay an additional $223 per year for employment insurance contributions and employers will pay an additional $312.

The government lowered taxes for workers by $100 and patted itself on the back, but it will tax them $212. That is what the government did. It is a tax on workers because workers and employers already paid into the employment insurance fund. They already put money into the employment insurance fund.

The member for Acadie—Bathurst is not the only one saying it. In the question I asked, and I think it is worth repeating, I mentioned that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently conducted a survey that showed that 82% of Canadian business owners wanted to see the federal government freeze future increases to EI premiums until the $57 billion surplus has been fully paid back.

Workers are not the only ones saying that they want the money that was taken from them. Business owners are saying it too: 82% of business owners say that they want the money that was taken from them. They are not asking for a cheque for $57 billion. What they want is for their premiums not to increase. They are saying that if the government needs money, it should use some of the $57 billion that it took from them. The government borrowed that money. If it did not steal it, then it should return it to them. If the government stole the money, then we should call the RCMP to come pick up the ministers. That is what we should do.

There are only two things that can be done. On March 29 or 30, the government acknowledged that funds were stolen. But what happened between 2006 and 2010? This same government stole money from the employment insurance fund, too. They want to use Bill C-9 to legalize this theft. But I cannot vote for a bill that would legalize such theft, the biggest theft in Canadian history.

The sponsorship issues in the past were nothing compared to the scandal perpetrated on the backs of this country's workers. It is unparalleled. This is the biggest national scandal ever: taking employment insurance premiums from workers' pay, putting it towards the budget and paying down the debt with this money. The minister acknowledged that funds were stolen but he does not want to turn around and pay back the workers and entrepreneurs. I remind the members that 82% of independent entrepreneurs tell us that they want their money back. That is what has happened.

In addition, there have been changes to employment insurance in this budget. It is all very well for them to pat themselves on the back for new bills as though they can fix everything. I will support the government bill for our people in National Defence. However, there are bigger problems. How many people in this country have cancer, heart problems, and how many need employment insurance benefits for a year but are not entitled even though they paid into them? They are only entitled to 15 weeks. Something could have been done to help workers. Something could have been put in the next budget.

There are other areas where something could be done for the workers, such as lowering the EI eligibility criteria to 350 or 360 hours rather than maintaining the current requirement of 455, 700 or 900 hours. This would help people who are not eligible for employment insurance during an economic crisis. We must not give money only to major corporations through tax cuts. We cut taxes for big business and we put workers on social assistance. Instead, we should be providing assistance to the people who helped make these corporations profitable. These companies have turned a profit a number of times. There are corporate presidents who pay themselves salaries of millions of dollars, not just hundreds of thousands, every year.

The government has turned around, taken pity on big business and given them tax breaks. It is doing the same for banks. The government says that big business and the banks need tax breaks. However, workers who lose their jobs and go on employment insurance are accused of abusing the system. They do not want workers to abuse the system. How many times has the government said in this House that if the number of hours to qualify for benefits is changed to 350, people would work only 10 weeks and receive employment insurance the rest of the time?

I find that shameful. It is an insult to workers. For example, France pays workers 75% of their income when they apply for employment insurance. If asked the question, France would reply that it respects its workers.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the member waxed eloquently on EI. He covered that topic very well. He is an expert in that area and I appreciate that.

However, I want to ask a question on a topic in another area. I know he is well versed in all areas, being the whip for his party. My question is in regard to the government's suggestion of reducing the number of people on boards to save money.

Many people have brought forward the fact that it is not going to save much money because most of those are vacant positions and it is only about 18 part-time people, so that is a red herring.

When we eliminate people from boards, usually they represent someone like the unemployed, or the province of New Brunswick, the federal government or NGOs. If we are eliminating positions, who is going to eliminate them?

Does the member have any concerns on this particular part of the budget implementation bill about eliminating positions on boards and if it will really make a difference?

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, if we eliminate the people who represent the people, there is a problem. I do not think we have ever heard any workers in our country who said that boards are too big. I have heard workers say that there are $57 billion that belongs to them. If they cannot be represented, it encourages the government to hide what it is doing instead.

I think this is wrong. The labour movement and employers should be able to have a say because they are the payers. The government does not pay 1¢ to employment insurance. All the money comes from employees and employers. They should have a say about who will be on boards to represent people across the country.

It takes longer to travel from Newfoundland to Vancouver than from Montreal to Paris. Just imagine that. It is a big thing to go to France, but that is how big our country is.

I think we have to have a fair representation across the country and it is wrong to eliminate people and put them out of work the way the government is doing, but we understand that.

The Conservative government is a government that is not very transparent. We have seen that in the last couple of weeks. It wants to be transparent by eliminating people as representatives of the people.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague from the NDP, who said that, sadly, the Conservative government had ignored the unemployed in its budget and had once again failed to improve the employment insurance system.

I would like to hear him on the misappropriation of $57 billion initiated by the previous Liberal government and continued by this Conservative government at the expense of the unemployed and businesses.

I find it appalling. They do not even have the decency now to give the money back to the people who have worked. Not even a portion of the money is given back to these people at a time when they need help. They are facing financial difficulties, and workers are losing their jobs left and right. Now is the time to give back the $57 billion, but the money has been squandered.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I do not know if my Bloc Québécois colleague heard me, but I spoke about that. I can speak about it again. It gives me the opportunity to say that the problem exists everywhere, not just in the Maritimes and the Atlantic provinces, as they would have us believe.

I did a national tour myself. I went all over the country, to every province. I went to Timmins, to Sudbury, Ontario, Winnipeg, Manitoba and Edmonton, Alberta. I went to Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Vancouver, Prince George and even to the Yukon. The problem was the same everywhere. All of the workers said that it was their money and that they should be entitled to it when they lose their jobs.

It all comes back to what was said in France. This is the workers' money. I am happy that they are able to get insurance and participate in the economy instead of having to receive social assistance. I tip my hat to France on this one. We need to stop insulting our workers as the previous government and today's government have done by saying that they abuse the system. These are families who are losing their pay, their income. These are children who are living in poverty. There is a good reason why 1.4 million children in this country are hungry. It is because of the previous governments and today's government, the Liberals and the Conservatives. The money should go to the workers immediately.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas on a point of order.

Allegations regarding the former Minister of State for the Status of WomenPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

April 15th, 2010 / 1:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am rising on a point of order in an attempt to allow two ministers to correct the public record concerning their recent assertions that the government had referred recent allegations concerning the former minister of state for the status of women to the Ethics Commissioner.

I will start by referring to a Library of Parliament transcript from this morning's CBC radio program, The Current, in which the following exchange between the Ethics Commissioner and host Anna Maria Tremonti took place:

MARY DAWSON: Yes, and I should just clarify that a little bit. I have not had an official request from the Prime Minister to investigate anything relating to [the member for Simcoe--Grey].

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Who has requested, then, if he hasn't?

MARY DAWSON: I haven't had any request.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: From anyone?

MARY DAWSON: No.

I will send you a copy of this transcript, Madam Speaker, and would happily table it in the House if I received consent. Is there consent to table the document, Madam Speaker?