House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.


Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)Government Orders

1:10 p.m.


Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-10, which was introduced by the Conservative government. This bill would amend the Constitution Act, 1867 by limiting Senate terms.

Earlier, I spoke about Bill C-12, which would reduce Quebec's political weight. The Bloc Québécois is in Ottawa to defend Quebec's interests, and issues related to its political weight here in Ottawa are important. We are fighting for the rights of francophones. As we will see, the people of Quebec and the National Assembly believe that Quebec should be consulted before any constitutional changes take place, especially because Bill C-10 would change the structure of the Senate and shift the political weight for strictly ideological purposes.

The minister's comments about Bloc Québécois members is another example of the Conservatives' preconceived notions. The consultations were sloppy and the introduction of this rushed legislation is not justified. Throughout history, many governments and legislatures have tried to change the Senate.

The public is beginning to seriously question the legitimacy of senators. Newspaper headlines demonstrate this every time there is a new appointment to the Senate. Senators are chosen by the Prime Minister. These are partisan appointments. Each province has a certain number of seats and many people have criticized how they are distributed. Could that chamber be much more effective? Could the measures proposed by the government improve how the Senate operates? I doubt it.

The Bloc Québécois opposes Bill C-10. We wonder about the real intentions of the Conservative government, which for the past few weeks has been introducing one bill after another that aim to change fundamental aspects of our democracy, without the provinces' consent and under false pretexts.

We believe that the Conservatives want to reform the Constitution on the sly by going over the heads of the provinces and Quebec. We have become accustomed to these ploys. Considering the number of times they have hidden obscure and discriminatory provisions in bills, no one can blame us for asking for clarification about their real objectives. Furthermore, why do they bother creating laws and regulations when they are the first to disobey laws and regulations in order to satisfy their partisan appetite?

Limiting Senate tenure is merely the beginning. In order to make any changes regarding the Senate, the Conservative government must consult Quebec and the other provinces.

The changes proposed by the Conservatives serve only to undermine Quebec and the Quebec nation. Our analysis of the concept of open federalism has been extremely disappointing for Quebeckers. There has been no concrete recognition of the Quebec nation and its attributes, and the Conservatives have missed a number of opportunities to restore the balance between the two nations, which only increases the level of scepticism among the people of Quebec.

The open federalism vaunted by the federal government has instead been restrictive for Quebec.

We simply have to look at the bills recently introduced by this government, such as Bill C-12, which reduces Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons, the various proposals for Senate reform or the fact that they have called political party financing into question.

Who is this government really targeting? In order to better understand the Bloc Québécois' position, one must analyze what the Conservative government is proposing, while keeping mind that this government is always trying to diminish Quebec's influence.

I must mention that any reform affecting the powers of the Senate, the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled or the residency requirement of senators can only be made in consultation with Quebec, the provinces and the territories. Why did the government not think it necessary to seek consent from the key players on an issue that affects the Constitution Act, 1867?

Let us look at this together. What is the impetus to the bill and what does it offer to Quebec? Currently, a senator is appointed by the government, by the Prime Minister, and that appointment is effective until the maximum age of 75, at which point the senator must retire. A person appointed at age 30 would receive a term of over 45 years. The Conservative government is proposing to uphold the retirement age of 75 and, in addition, would impose an eight year term on senators. Despite being appointed for an eight year term, if the senator reaches age 75 during that term, he or she must retire from the Senate. There is another provision whereby no senator can request that their eight year term be renewed.

Although this seems like a good idea, what impact could an eight year term have on democratic life?

If this bill is passed in its current form, it would mean greater turnover of senators. And since senators would still be unelected, there would be an increase in partisan appointments.

It is not a stretch to think that a government could change the composition of the Senate by making partisan appointments, thereby taking control of the Senate and having every government bill passed or defeated according to the whim of that very same government.

It could change the parliamentary agenda of the House of Commons by systematically obstructing bills it did not like or that came from opposition party members.

When they are elected to power, Canada's old parties try to make changes that favour their base. They even contradict what they may have said when they were in opposition. I have an example. The Prime Minister, who questioned the Senate's partiality when he was first elected, is now introducing a bill that will boost partisan appointments. Obviously he has changed his tune, but why? In order to impose a regressive Conservative program and satisfy the Reform Party members of the Conservative Party.

When I read the wording of Bill C-10, I get a better grasp of the government's intentions and, more importantly, a better idea of how it wants to get its legislation passed.

The first paragraph in Bill C-10 provides that the Senate must evolve in accordance with the principles of democracy. That paragraph includes examples of institutions which, over time, have had their structure amended. The second paragraph seeks to explain how the Senate can better reflect the democratic values of Canadians. Finally, it is in the third paragraph that mention is made of the change to Senate terms.

What I find disturbing is that the government mentions too often that Parliament can amend the Constitution. It uses as an example what the government did in 1965, when it set the retirement age for senators.

It is in the fifth paragraph that the Conservative government confirms its intention to ignore Quebec and the other provinces to make changes to the Senate. The fifth paragraph of Bill C-10 reads, “Whereas Parliament, by virtue of section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, may make laws to amend the Constitution of Canada in relation to the Senate;”.

May I remind hon. members that Quebec did not sign the 1982 Constitution? I also remind them that the patriation of the Constitution was done unilaterally, without Quebec's agreement. Lastly, let us not forget that the minimum condition set by successive governments in Quebec on Senate reform has always been clear: there will be no Senate reform without first settling the issue of Quebec's status.

That is why the Bloc Québécois is opposed to Bill C-10. It is very clear that the Conservative government wants to ignore Quebec and the other provinces. Need I remind the House of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois was founded?

It was because of the record of failure in constitutional negotiations that the Bloc Québécois was established. In order to avoid discussing the Constitution with Quebec, the Conservative government claims to have the power, under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to unilaterally change the provisions dealing with the Senate.

This is yet another attempt by Ottawa to work against the interests of Quebec, and even those of the other Canadian provinces and territories.

In November 2006, the Conservative government tabled a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. Since then, no action has been taken by the government to follow up on that recognition. It looks as though the Conservative government does not want to accept that Quebec is a society that developed by itself and that applies its laws based on its specificity and its own attributes.

I invite parliamentarians to read certain documents to better understand Quebec's claims. I also invite my colleagues to be prudent and vigilant, because by changing the length of senators' terms of office through this bill, the Conservative government is opening the door to various changes to the Senate without obtaining the consent of Quebec, the provinces and the territories.

In the brief submitted by the Government of Quebec in 2007 on federal Senate bills, the Government of Quebec stated that:

...the Senate is an institution whose basic composition forms the very basis of the compromise that created the federation. The Senate is not simply a federal institution in the strictest sense. It is an integral part of the Canadian federal system. The Senate is an institution whose future is of interest to all constitutional players within the federation.

In a press release dated November 7, 2007, the former Quebec minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr. Benoît Pelletier, a Liberal Quebec minister, reiterated the position of the Quebec government:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, ... the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. However, if an attempt is made to alter the basic characteristics of this institution, the only avenue is engaging in a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that will fully engage all constitutional players, including Quebec, the provinces and the territories.

Senate Bill S-8 proposes the appointment of senators by the Prime Minister after elections held by the provinces. This bill is called An Act respecting the selection of senators.

The government claims that it could fundamentally alter the process for appointing senators without necessarily requiring a round of constitutional negotiations.

Although this type of appointment was carried out once in 1990 and there was no challenge, does it justify not consulting Quebec and the provinces?

As I mentioned earlier, the people of Quebec are questioning the usefulness and effectiveness of the Senate in particular. There are certainly many ways to reform the Senate. In March 2010, Quebeckers were polled about the Senate. The results are very interesting and indicative of how they feel about the Senate in its current form.

In looking at the data, we can see that the majority of Quebeckers do not see a value in the Senate as it is currently configured, and 43% of Quebeckers agree with abolishing it. I should point out that only 8% of respondents believe that the Senate plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators works. Only 8%.

Let us talk about the place of francophones in the Senate. Considering the number of francophone senators, the government could consider making changes that would ensure francophones are fairly represented in the Senate. Elections could end up decreasing their representation in the Senate and could create an imbalance for francophone rights in the Senate. This is something that concerns us as well, which is why it is important not to ignore Quebec and the provinces. The bill before us does not take that into account.

If we are going to change the fundamental role of the Senate, why not abolish it altogether? The Bloc Québécois believes that any Senate reforms must be the result of constitutional negotiations.

I have many reasons for believing that the Senate should be abolished. Historically, many upper chambers have been abolished and the operations of these institutions were not affected. The main motivation for provinces to abolish their upper chamber was financial. Second chambers were extremely expensive for the provinces.

That logic should lead us to consider studying this aspect of the Senate. Is the $50 million we spend on Senate operations essential and justified? As with any major reform, abolishing the Senate also requires amendments to the Constitution.

To have a constitutional change approved, the government needs to obtain consent from seven provinces representing at least 50% of Canada's population or the unanimous consent of all the provinces.

Until proven otherwise, Canada is a confederation. Provinces have to be consulted before any amendment to the Constitution, which means that in order to pass Bill C-10, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 by limiting Senate terms, the federal government would have to enter into constitutional negotiations. It is obvious from reading the bill that the Conservative government wants to ignore Quebec. It ignores francophones.

The sixth paragraph in the bill tries to legitimize the Conservative government's position that senators' terms can be amended by regulation.

In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada examined parliament's ability to unilaterally amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate.

According to its ruling, decisions pertaining to major changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally. In view of the fact that senators would not be able to renew their terms, we assume that there would be even more partisan appointments and, more importantly, that this change would alter an essential characteristic of the Senate. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-10.

It is sad to see that this government is governing according to a Conservative ideology that does not correspond to the values of Quebeckers. I have now been sitting in this House for six years and have seen that the Conservative government is using every means to diminish the influence of Quebec. We need not look too far to find examples. Bill C-12 will reduce Quebec's political weight.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)Government Orders

1:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges has five minutes left to finish her speech the next time the bill is before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), be read the third time and passed.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the chance to implore the opposition members to reconsider their support for this costly, misguided and bad proposal by the Bloc Québécois.

We need to be clear on what this proposal would do and how much it would cost. Bill C-288 would grant a temporary special tax subsidy for a chosen few graduates being employed in any of the ill-defined designated regions. Moreover, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, this poorly thought out proposal could cost over half a billion dollars a year.

For anyone who has actually studied this proposal, they would quickly realize the two biggest problems with it, besides the fact that it is counterproductive economic policy. First, the conditions surrounding qualifying employment are vague, and second, the list of designated regions that would be eligible is antiquated.

With respect to qualifying employment, Bill C-288 would, in essence, provide a temporary tax subsidy to almost any recent post-secondary graduate employed in the designated regions under Bill C-288.

According to the legislation itself, the subsidy could be claimed by any graduate if, “the knowledge and skills obtained during the individual's training or educational program are related to the duties performed”. That weak and overly broad definition clearly targets no particular skill or occupation and does not even specify on what basis this would be or could be determined, the ultimate result being that any graduate would easily qualify as any job would make use of general problem solving skills naturally obtained during the course of one's education.

Likewise. they would qualify for this tax subsidy irrespective of there being an actual surplus or a shortage of workers with that particular skill. This, obviously, makes little or no sense.

With respect to designated regions, Bill C-288 selects areas where graduates would be eligible for the subsidy. Specifically, the credit would be available to any graduate taking up work in a region defined in another piece of legislation called the Regional Development Incentives Act, only excluding metropolitan areas with populations over 200,000.

Under that specific act, there is a list of designated regions that have been classified as economically challenged because “existing opportunities for productive employment in the region are exceptionally inadequate”. However, there is the catch. That list of designated regions is an actual list that has not been updated since 1981, in other words, in nearly three decades.

Obviously such an outdated list based on the Canadian economy of the early eighties has little to no bearing on the economic realities of today.

Under Bill C-288, therefore, both the entire province of Manitoba and the entire province of Saskatchewan would be designated regions declared economically challenged, save cities within the provinces with populations exceeding 200,000.

Is Manitoba, with an unemployment rate 3% lower than the national average and whose economy a Laurentian Bank economist deemed as weathering the “recession with an ease that must surely make other provinces envious”, economically challenged?

Is Saskatchewan, with an unemployment rate also 3% lower than the national average and whose provincial economy has been recently pegged by CIBC economists as the one that will “lead other Canadian provinces in economic growth this year”, economically challenged?

Plainly, no reasonable individual would call either Manitoba or Saskatchewan economically challenged or in desperate need for tax subsidies to spur job creation, promote growth or attract workers. However, that is exactly what this poorly thought out Bloc Québécois proposal would do.

Even more interesting is that under Bill C-288 another set of designated regions would include large parts of rural and northern Alberta, Fort McMurray included.

I know the Bloc Québécois members tend to ignore the rest of Canada but I am truly stunned that they would bring forward a bizarre proposal that would suggest that Fort McMurray, the heart of Canada's oil sands, is economically challenged and that its workers need tax subsidies.

For the benefit of the apparently isolated Bloc Québécois members, let me familiarize them with the situation by reading a portion of a recent article from the Fort McMurray Today newspaper, which dealt with the local economy. I will quote at length:

There's less unemployed people in Fort McMurray than anywhere else in the province....

Craig Mattern, a market information manager with the Alberta government, said....employment numbers...remained through the economic downturn of the past year....

“There's been very little movement throughout most of the year. Unemployment continues to sit at the lowest rate throughout the province at 4%...”....

...job growth in the region has been substantially helped by developing local oilsands projects but other sectors have also been contributing....

“We continue to see employment gains in the accommodations, food service industries, wholesale retail trade and shops continue to show growth. Same with actually the healthcare and social assistance fields," Mattern said.

That Fort McMurray would be classified as economically challenged should alone be enough to cause any reasonable individual to stop and question Bill C-288.

What is more, Bill C-288 is also blatantly unfair to new graduates not in the designated regions. It would create very serious inequities between new graduates who work in different regions of Canada. Under Bill C-288, two similar recent graduates at similar jobs with the same pay but working only a few kilometres apart, perhaps, would face completely different tax bills. While one new graduate would receive a tax subsidy, another one would be paying $3,000 in federal taxes to help pay for that subsidy.

Canadians expect tax fairness. For those new graduates, Bill C-288 would not meet that test.

This Bloc Québécois proposal is so flawed that it is almost comical, almost, until we realize it carries a potential price tag of over $0.5 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer himself reviewed the proposal for the finance committee and concluded:

Overall, assuming no behavioural change on the part of graduates and based on the foregoing assumptions, these ranges suggest that at full phase-in the program could have a cost estimate of between over one hundred million to approximately six hundred million per annum.

We know that the Bloc Québécois really does not care about adding to the national debt and that fiscal responsibility is foreign to them, but they alone cannot pass Bill C-288. They need and are getting the support of the NDP and the Liberals.

We know the NDP is notorious for being fiscally irresponsible, so its support is a given. However,, the Liberals claim they are different. They claim they are not the NDP. The Liberal leader told Canadians recently, before endorsing any new proposal that, “One of the issues we have to confront is: How do we pay for this? We can't be a credible party until we have an answer for that question.... We have to be courageous and we have to be clear on the subject. We will not identify any new spending unless we can clearly identify a source of funds without increasing the deficit.”

I ask the Liberals how they expect to account for the cost of this proposal they support so forcefully now. What taxes would they raise to offset the cost? What spending would they cut?

Unfortunately, we do not have answers to those questions. I doubt the Liberals have thought about that or even closely reviewed this proposal and the many problems with it. I say this to the Liberals: That is not credible; that is not responsible.

Without question, the government will not support this costly and poorly constructed Bloc proposal. We hope the official opposition will come to its senses and reconsider its support.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-288, a private member's bill that would provide a tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions.

I will begin by commenting on the speech of my colleague from the Conservative Party. It is a little hard to imagine that a Conservative MP would want to talk about the issue of fiscal responsibility considering the record of the government.

When the Conservatives left power in 1993, they left a deficit of $42 billion and it took time and a lot of sacrifice by Canadians to overcome that problem. However, when the Liberal Party left government in February 2006, it left a surplus of $13 billion, which the present government, in less than three years, managed to turn into deficits, deficits that it started by its decisions even before the recession began.

The Conservatives want to say that the deficit exists because of the recession. The fact is that it started before that. They created, what has been called by economists, “a structural deficit” because of their decisions in the years leading up to the recession not jut because of the recession. That is a very important point when they talk about this question of fiscal responsibility, when they have no fiscal responsibility to show. They do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to that.

They react strongly to that. Obviously it stings when I say this because they know it is true and it must bother them. If they call themselves Conservatives, one would think they would be fiscally conservative, and yet we have not seen that from the government. It must be for backbenchers who may believe in that idea of fiscal responsibility. The fact that they need to defend their own government's abysmal record when it comes to the nation's finances must be discouraging. It must be frustrating for my hon. friends across the way to go from a $13 billion surplus to a deficit in such a short time is truly remarkable.

However, I will now get to the bill that we are discussing today. The idea of a tax credit for new graduates working in rural areas across this country, particularly depressed areas, is a worthy objective and it is one worth support.

Like many other colleagues here, on a nearly daily basis I try to check the obituaries in my home paper, The ChronicleHerald in Halifax, to be aware of who may have passed away or what sad news there may be that day. One of the things I also look at is the places they have come from because The ChronicleHerald is the main newspaper for my province of Nova Scotia, as my hon. friend from West Nova will attest. He will know that it shows obituaries from across the entire province.

When I look at it, I look to see what communities people are from. It is remarkable most days how many of the people whose names are there are from small rural communities around Nova Scotia. When I see that it troubles me in terms of what I know is happening in those communities as they are aging. The demographic problems in those communities are real problems and we need to find ways to encourage young people to go there. Among other things, with our aging population like those in smaller communities, people need a variety of supports. One of the most obvious ones is in relation to health care, whether it be doctors, nurses, medical technicians or physiotherapists, a whole range of health care support systems and expertise are needed in those areas.

This bill is the kind of thing that would help to encourage young people coming out of post-secondary education training with particular skills to go into those kinds of communities and provide that kind of help and service to people who need it. This is very important in terms of keeping communities alive because if they do not have those kinds of supports, then what happens? More and more people leave those areas and that is a grave concern for many hon. colleagues when they think about those kinds of communities across the country.

The other thing this brings to mind is the issue of regional development. This relates to regional development, particularly in rural areas, smaller communities, which is a real challenge. It is certainly a challenge in my region of Atlantic Canada where the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA, plays an important role.

One of the very important programs that was started back in 2000 by the previous government was the Atlantic innovation fund. The estimates just released not too long ago for 2009-10 showed that, when the Atlantic innovation fund is combined with the innovative communities fund, a total of $113 million was spent in the fiscal year that just ended.

What do we see in the budget? The government says it is going to spend a total of $19 million for both those programs next year. It has gone from $113 million for this very important area of regional development, particularly important for research and development or supporting small communities, to $19 million. That is from $113 million to $19 million. Talk about slash and burn. Talk about a lack of interest, a lack of resolve to help small communities, to help a region that needs assistance, especially during this period. That has to be frustrating for members on that side. How do they defend that?

Let us talk also about student debt. This bill really is designed, as well, to help those students coming out of university or other post-secondary institutions, like community colleges, who are shouldering debt in the range of $50,000, $80,000 or $100,000, as many are.

This is not a huge amount. It would obviously not pay off that debt in a hurry, but it would help. It is a modest incentive of between $250 and $750 per person, per year. It is not enormous for individuals but it may be enough, we hope, to help encourage young people to go to particular areas where they are needed. That makes sense to me.

The government's record in relation to students is deplorable. Think about the fact that, in the height of the recession, the government's answer in terms of students and their need for summer jobs was to cut the summer jobs program. One would think the government would have done as we suggested last year, as part of its stimulus program to get the economy going, and that is to put money into helping students get summer jobs. The government showed no interest whatsoever in doing that. To me that was unimaginable.

I find it very difficult to comprehend why the government would not choose to invest in assisting students find summer employment, when it was going to be much harder to find that in the private sector during the recession. That was a natural spot for the Government of Canada to intervene. I guess it is just that the government does not believe government should play that kind of role. But that is not the kind of thing most Canadians believe. Once again they see the government out of line with where Canadians really are.

Another important element of this bill is that it proposes a maximum community size of 200,000. One might argue about what size that should be and how we would define the regions that would apply. That is something we could certainly look at.

This legislation is going off to the Senate after this, and with the Conservatives now controlling the Senate, it probably will not end up becoming law, even though it has come to this House many times already. Perhaps it will become law in the future. Perhaps in the future there will be opportunities to make other changes.

My community is in the Halifax Regional Municipality, which has a huge geographic area and a population of 370,000, give or take a few. My community would not apply. However, that geographic area of HRM, as we call it, includes tiny areas like Ecum Secum, Middle Musquodoboit or Upper Musquodoboit that are a long way from the urban area and unfortunately would not qualify. The good news is that they are within a somewhat reasonable distance of the metropolitan area of Halifax where there is a stronger economy and the opportunity for jobs.

The opportunity is better for them than it is, obviously, for someone farther away from the major area. Generally speaking, within an hour or so of Halifax the opportunities for jobs are pretty good. There is a need for this kind of program in the farther outlying areas where it is much tougher, which is what this program is designed for. I think it makes good sense.

I know I am near the end of my time. I have lots more notes here. It is always a good sign when you have more to say, I suppose. My colleagues on the other side would probably say I said too much. I do think this bill is worthy of our support. It has a worthy objective. I hope the government itself would bring forward measures like this to make a difference in the depressed regions of rural communities of our country.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand and speak to Bill C-288, which would give certain tax incentives to graduates who return to their regions or to rural regions across the country. In doing so, it would provide important services to those regions and the same kinds of services that people in metropolitan areas take for granted.

I live in a very rural area. My riding is slightly larger than the province of Ontario and within it we have a few people. We also had a very expanding economy in the last decade through the development of the diamond fields. Interestingly enough, as the economy expanded in the last four or five years, the population declined until we had a huge expansion in our gross domestic product.

Why was that? It was not because young people did not like living in the north. The allure of the north is big among young people across the country and there are many young people who would like to live in rural and remote areas. It was the cost of living. The cost of living in northern conditions is so high that people simply cannot make ends meet and they relocate.

We find that we replace a lot of these people with fly-in workers from across the country, from Newfoundland, from Nova Scotia, even from Ottawa here. I have sat in the airport in Ottawa and heard the talk of people around me who were headed to the Diavik diamond mines in the Northwest Territories. Right across the country, people take advantage of the economic opportunities in rural regions, but they do not live there and they do not provide continuity of service.

I lived in the north all my life and never had an opportunity to have a family doctor. I dealt with locum doctors throughout my whole life. I was lucky enough to live in a community that actually had locum doctors. Many of the smaller communities might be lucky to have locum nurse practitioners. They might be lucky enough to have a nurse in a nursing station. Many of the communities really do suffer because of the cost of living and the lack of the kinds of incentives that used to exist for living in the north.

My parents moved to the north in the fifties. Through the sixties, there were programs in place where all the costs of education for young northerners were paid. Young northerners could go to university. They could go to technical schools. They could go to colleges in the south and they would see that their costs were completely covered. It was a great system. It encouraged young people to get their education and as time went on, the governments of the region got smarter and said, “If you want to get that kind of break, rather than just giving it you, we will give you a remissible loan based on the years that you come back to the region and work there”. That system also has worked quite well.

What we are seeing with this type of program, this type of effort, is something that is actually replicated in the Northwest Territories now. It is one of the ways that we try to bring our young people back to the Northwest Territories and try to get them to work and live there.

Why is that important? It is because the north and rural areas in Canada are great revenue generators for the rest of Canada. Where are the mining industries in this country? Where is the oil and gas exploration? Where are the things that make our economy run? They are in rural areas. They are in northern areas.

Those things are so important to our economy and they are so important to the people who can live and work in those areas, and build those areas as successful places.

The mining industry estimates that it will need 80,000 new workers over the next two decades to service the mining industry. It is desperate to find people to come and work in those regions, to enjoy the opportunities that come with the mining industry and to settle and take the work there seriously.

The type of program we are offering with Bill C-288 is one example of utilizing the tax system nationally to help all the regions in a uniform fashion. We do have one program like that. It is something that I worked very hard on to get approved when I first came to Parliament. The northern residents tax deduction is an excellent program that goes right across the country and gives everyone in northern areas a tax break. If they are in an intermediate area in the northern parts of the provinces, including Conservative ridings, they are given a break on their taxes as well. That is good.

The problem with the program was it had been in place for 19 years and the real dollar amount had never changed over that time. Members can check the records. There was not much talk about this before that. When I got here, I worked very hard to get that into the mind of the government. In 2007 it agreed to increase the northern residents tax deduction by 10%. We were asking for 50%. Every organization in the north said that 50% was the only fair amount. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce came onside for the 50%.

The Conservative government realized that it had a problem. Its solution was not to offer up what was fair. It offered up a little so it could say it did it. I thank the government very much for the 10%. Everyone appreciates that. That is a couple hundred dollars a year extra in the pocket of the average northerner and the average rural person. That is great, but it was clearly not enough.

There is more work to be done there with the tax system to improve the lives of people in the regions of our country who make money for our country. The Conservative government wants to give away huge tax revenues from banks, from oil companies, from that same mining industry and from those that extract the wealth out of the country. When it wants to do that and not put money back into those regions and into the pockets of young people who want to build the region and build our country, that is sad.

It is a sad statement to make today in Parliament about the nature of a Conservative government that would stand up against this bill and against the idea of the bill. Yes, the bill has issues. These issues can be worked out. The principle of the bill is fine. What is wrong with the idea that we use the tax system to enhance the ability of people to live in northern or rural regions? What is wrong with the idea that we support Canadians in their efforts to build a better country that will be successful in the 21st century? What is wrong with the Conservatives? They cannot see past their end of their nose on this question of tax breaks.

I am glad it is Friday. I will have time to unwind over the weekend and return to Parliament with a slightly better feeling about my members on the opposite benches.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-288. At the risk of losing the rest of my audience, I realize I am in competition with the great Canadian singer, Bryan Adams, who is in the lobby. I am glad to see that not everybody has disappeared, but I am glad to have them back.

This is a bill that has had a fair amount of debate. It has been through committee and is a bill that we are happy to support. It is an act to amend the Income Tax Act regarding tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions. It would give every new graduate who settles in a designated region a tax credit. The purpose of the measure is to encourage new graduates to settle in designated regions, thereby curbing the exodus of young people from those regions and promoting their economic development.

This is an age old problem. Anybody who has grown up in a rural area, lived in a rural area, recognizes that as cities develop and as facilities develop in cities, particularly in health care but not limited to health care, people are attracted to the cities. If they do not move there when they are young, because they need to further their education, children leave their local areas after grade 12 and move to the city to go to university. They form friendships there and eventually get jobs in the city, and they do not return to their homes.

Likewise, we have a problem, particularly in the west and perhaps across Canada, with people hitting retirement age who do the same. They sell their property in the country, their farms, and once again they too move to the city. Just in the space since 1970, the population in Manitoba was roughly 50% rural and 50% urban, and today, only 40 years later, the population pattern now is about 70% urban and only 30% rural, and that is continuing.

That is in spite of continuing efforts on the part of governments over the last 20 years to keep people in rural areas, to offer incentives, and to make it easier to transfer family farms from one generation to the other. It is interesting to me that most of the Conservative caucus represents rural areas. I would think that the Conservatives would be more in tune to this issue as members on this side of the House because they know the efforts we have to make to keep people living in and moving to rural areas.

In Manitoba, we have offered, and other provinces have as well, incentives to doctors to move to the rural areas. Even in the days when the member for Souris on the Conservative side was a provincial member of the legislature, we were working out programs to encourage doctors to move to rural areas, particularly doctors from Winnipeg, but also doctors that we brought in from outside the country.

We have discovered over the last 10 years that we were better off training professionals, training doctors, who actually came from those rural areas, with the hope that they would go back to their home town. We altered our strategy somewhat to encourage people, say, from Thompson to become doctors, and then move back to Thompson, because we found we had a better chance of getting them to go back and keeping them there.

The Conservatives have focused greatly on the cost of the program. There will certainly always be a cost and the question is whether the cost is justified. It seems to me to create a bit of a balance here to try to reverse the flow of graduates from the rural areas to the city, but this certainly would be justified. We could argue about what sort of provisions should be enacted and whether or not the bill has hit the spot one hundred per cent.

There is talk that the list we are going to follow for designated regions is over 30 years old. It should be simple enough for the government to update the list of regions. That is something that can be fine-tuned to more adequately deal with the problem.

In terms of the cost, this is something that has bounced around, not only with respect to this bill, but with respect to other bills in this House, too. The Conservatives have wildly inflated the cost of some bills in the past. Upon reflection and examination, when we in the opposition have also costed the government's bills, we have come up with a figure that maybe is one-tenth of the government's figure. What sort of statistics are being used to do this calculation?

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer from the Library of Parliament, appeared at the finance committee. He was asked about the cost of Bill C-288. As I indicated, the bill would provide non-refundable tax credits to new graduates who settle in certain regions of the country. He said that he had been drawing on the expertise of provincial governments, academics and government executives to assess the reasonableness of the cost assessment presented to the committee. There were two extremes, two diametrically opposed figures. The Conservatives' figure was on the extreme high side and the opposition's figure perhaps was a little more on the low side than it should be. I do not know. That is why he was asked to look at the issue.

As I outlined in my note, he said that the two cost estimates are based on different assumptions regarding the size of the regions that would be designated as eligible for the proposed tax credit and the propensity of new graduates to take up the new credit.

Last year the Conservatives knew that there was tremendous uptake on their home renovation tax credit program. The parliamentary secretary who is listening attentively now would say that he could not tell us what the total cost to the treasury was going to be until the end of the income tax season this year when the people who partook in the program filed their tax returns. Only then could the government tell what the renovation tax credit program was going to cost the treasury. It is true that until we actually implement the program and see how many graduates actually use the tax credit we will not know what the true cost to the treasury will be. It may be much lower than the government is suggesting.

I would advise the government to try it for a year. It could play with the designated areas. The Conservatives think that the current designations are 30 years out of date and cover the whole province of Saskatchewan and the oil sands area of northern Alberta. If they do not like that, we can always change the criteria to exclude those areas. Then based on what the uptake is, we will have a better idea over time about how this bill would work.

To reject the bill outright is absolute nonsense when there are increasing disparities between rural and urban parts of Canada. We do not want the urban and rural splits to widen. We want to lessen them. Anything that will help young graduates return to their hometowns to work in their hometowns and benefit rural Canada is something that we should be encouraging. Members should not be standing and saying that the sky is falling and that this is going to lead to terrible things, because that is not what is going to happen.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before I put the question to the House, I will give the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle her five-minute right of reply.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to conclude this long debate on my Bill C-288. Next week, this House will again have to take a stand on this bill.

It has been a year since I introduced Bill C-288, which would introduce a tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions. My colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I have travelled throughout Quebec to tell people about how this bill would benefit them. In Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, on the north shore, in Gaspé and in the Lower St. Lawrence, people support this measure, because it could help their region economically.

Bill C-288 has received the support of various groups and different generations throughout Quebec, including the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, which respectively represent 40,000 and 125,000 students all over Quebec. Moreover, the Quebec Federation of Senior Citizens, which has 255 members, and the Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités, which represents 972 Quebec municipalities, have given the bill their full support. The bill also has the support of a number of RCMs, chambers of commerce and youth employment centres.

In recent debates, we have demonstrated the importance of this initiative to attract young graduates to remote regions. The bill would solve two main problems affecting these regions: the exodus of young people and the serious shortage of skilled labour.

It is important to encourage young graduates to move to the regions to start their professional careers, and to recruit skilled labour for the good of the regions. Much thought has gone into Bill C-288 so that we can eventually offer all young, eligible graduates in Quebec and Canada a tax credit. The problem with the exodus of young people is not unique to Quebec. Across Canada, economic activity has gradually moved from the so-called rural areas to the major centres. My Conservative colleague who spoke earlier said that my proposal was almost comical. This comment shows a lack of respect for provinces like Quebec, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba, which already have a tax credit similar to the one proposed in Bill C-288.

The Conservatives tried to derail the debate on this bill by grossly inflating the cost of the program. In his report of November 24, 2009, the Parliamentary Budget Officer assessed the proposal according to a number of different scenarios. I would like to clarify some of the data so that members can focus on the essence of the bill. The regions designated in this bill will be determined by the Minister of Finance, after consulting with the provinces involved.

Also, the regions will not be designated based on the number of people who would be affected; they will be based on the needs identified in these regions far from Canada's major cities. I should point out that the bill excludes metropolitan regions with more than 200,000 residents.

Furthermore, the bill must focus on areas that are far from large centres and on rural areas with low rates of urbanization that are struggling with long-term unemployment rates, an indicator of poor employment prospects.

Finally, we used economic and health regions as geographic criteria. We then used the long-term unemployment rate to determine the regions where job prospects are more difficult. Of these regions, we considered only those that had over 12% of their population living in rural areas. In total, we identified 34 health regions that met these criteria.

I am still counting on the support of my Liberal and NDP colleagues, and I also hope that my Conservative colleagues from Quebec will vote in the interests of Quebeckers.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Some hon. members



Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 5, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:15 p.m., House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:14 p.m.)