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House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments on the employment insurance situation, which he has been a champion of in this place for many years.

I believe the new employment insurance agency called for seed money of some $2 billion. I understand, though, those funds will not be available for the payment of benefits. They are basically the administration capitalization.

With our current situation, the record levels of unemployment, the benefits being paid out now vastly exceed the premiums being collected. Therefore, in recent months we have been operating at a deficit. The separate fund has been operating at a deficit because it is supposed to be stand-alone.

I spoke with the Auditor General and she assured me that at the end of the next fiscal year, if it continues to be in deficit, that would be included in the consolidated recent fund and the government would have to transfer moneys out of the treasury into the separate fund to cover the funding of benefits.

Is the member aware of that?

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Liberal member for his question, which is a very relevant one.

He is right. The fund is currently operating at a deficit, but that is only for a short period of time. By early 2012, things should sort themselves out. Some temporary measures have been put in place and are currently covered by the fund, without an increase in premiums. These measures are expected to be dropped next fall, which means that the current deficit will quickly turn into a surplus. According to the minister's books, between 2012 and 2015, the fund will generate a $19 billion surplus. That will cover the $2 billion deficit, but there will still be a net surplus of over $17 billion by 2015.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's speech. He has been a tireless advocate for employment insurance.

Could he comment on the fact that over this last recession we saw a significant number of workers who did not qualify for employment insurance?

Over the last 15 years, that the deficit has been managed by siphoning off the employment insurance funds. I know the member commented on that specifically in his speech.

However, despite the rhetoric about the numbers of job that have been created, a lot of those jobs are part time, seasonal, contract work and many of those workers are not eligible for employment insurance.

What would the member like to see changed to ensure those workers are included in the employment insurance system?

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP member is quite right to raise that question. Earlier, I mentioned the people who are not eligible for employment insurance. Of all these people who contribute to employment insurance, only 46% can hope to be eligible. Of that 46%, only 33% of women and 17% of young people will be eligible for benefits. So there is discrimination against people who have atypical, temporary, seasonable or part time jobs.

We are proposing that we make people who have accumulated 360 hours of employment eligible for EI. That way, people who have worked fewer hours will also qualify. I think that is the best measure, under the circumstances.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this issue. It goes to the heart of the lives of Canadians from coast to coast. Right now we are dealing with the largest deficit we have seen in three decades. Our debt is going up. When the government came into power, it was lucky enough to have a balanced approach between debt reduction, spending and also tax reductions. That was the one-third, one-third, one-third policy when we were in government.

It left the current government in good stead. It gave it a surplus. It also gave it a very solid banking system. The Liberal government of the day refused to adopt a number of initiatives that would have changed banking in Canada and would have enabled us to be much more susceptible to the economic viruses that have destroyed so many banks, banking systems and economies across the globe. However, that did not happen, and we are thankful for it.

The government has to listen. Instead of adopting the ideology that was so destructive south of the border in the time of President Bush and President Reagan, it really has to look at what has worked for Canadians. It needs to ensure we follow a path that is good for our citizens and not adopt an ideological approach that has been proven to be very destructive.

The tax reductions and the absence of spending control south of the border has been incredibly destructive to the U.S. economy, to the degree that I am extremely worried about what will happen there. When the Americans catch a cold, we get pneumonia. Despite the good management and monitoring of our fiscal systems in Canada, we have a very high risk of running into serious problems because of what will happen in the states.

I think all of us in the House would plead with the government and strongly recommend that it not follow the course of action that we saw during the time of those two presidents. It has proven to be very destructive on so many levels. Most important, it hurts the citizens who we serve.

We also have other international storm clouds afoot, including increasing competition, particularly from China and India. China now has foreign reserves in excess of $1 trillion. This is a very powerful lever that the Chinese have on us. In fact, the Chinese are using their foreign and economic policies to secure major sectors of the world that have natural resources, particularly South America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Africa contains more than half of the world's natural resources.

The Conservative government has been missing in action in many of these areas. It has taken a much more narrow view in its foreign policy. This is a much larger game. To look at things in a very parochial fashion takes Canada out of the playing field and it will hurt our citizens. In this globalized world, unless we use all the tools we have, from foreign policy to trade to defence to economics and aid, we will not be in the game.

Not being in the global game will mean that our economy, our workers and our businesses will be at a disadvantage. Therefore, I ask the government to think of using all of those tools in how we enable our country to have a very prominent future. We have ensure that our citizens will have as good a future, if not a better future, than what we have had. One of the great challenges the government has is how to enable that to happen.

Let us look at some of those solutions. I know the leader of my party has been very strong, and wisely so, on investing in education. Although this is a provincial responsibility, nothing prevents the government from using its convening powers to work with the provinces to serve our citizens. The ability of our citizens to acquire the skills they need to garner a well-paying job is crucial for not only their economic future but also for their health.

I strongly recommend that the government work with a coalition of provinces that are willing to look at how we deal with people having access to skills training so it is not a financial burden to them. The movement of people across provincial boundaries is crucial. The recognition of skill sets and removing those boundaries for Canadians to move across provinces is essential. If we remove the barriers to trade and mobility, we will have a much more nimble and successful economy.

Investing in infrastructure and in research and development is crucial, not only in people and infrastructure but also operating costs. Researchers cannot do their job unless they have the tools to pay the operating costs for their research.

I also encourage the government to work with groups like the MaRS Centre in the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and other universities to operationalize the our research. The phenomenal research taking place in Canada is exciting. One of the major challenges is to take those discoveries from bench to bedside, to take the research we know and operationalize it.

I attended the pediatric academic sciences conference in Vancouver three weeks ago, which is the largest collection of pediatric scientists in the world, 6,000 were there. When I listened to the great research that had been done, it struck me that there were things we know could save the lives a lot of people. We have all this knowledge, but that knowledge is not getting to the bedside. This was one of the laments that many of the researchers had.

I suggest there is a great opportunity for Canada to be a leader in translational research, and that is getting the research, getting it to bedside, getting what we know and getting it operational on the ground. This is the great challenge and a great opportunity in the future.

Another thing I suggest is we know our economic situation will never be solid unless we can get our health care spending under control. Health care costs are growing at 6.5% per year, revenues at 2.5% to 3% on average in good years. That means we have a delta, a separation between demand for health care and supply resources, so much so that in the next 20 years any province will have 80% of its entire budget consumed by health care. Right now in many provinces it is approaching 50%, which means there is less and less space for education, infrastructure, welfare and other social programs.

The provinces are being squeezed by this huge creature called the health care system, which is gobbling up more and more of their resources. We cannot get away from it. This is the single greatest challenge any government will have. As President Obama's budget officer has said, unless they get their health care costs under control in the U.S., nothing else will make any difference.

In my personal view, the only way to do that is to modernize the Canada Health Act to allow provinces to explore different options. I strongly recommend that the government look at what happened in Europe, where 17 of the top 20 health care systems are. Why do we not look at those mixed systems, the way they fund health care systems in terms of paying for results, for patient services, as opposed to block funding, and better use of IT technologies. There are a lot of things we can do, but, again, the government needs to use its convening powers to work with the provinces to make this happen.

On the prevention side of health care, the average child in Canada sits and watches television or a computer screen for 40 hours a week. That is staggering. As a result, this generation of children will be the first generation in history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, which means we will have a much higher incidence of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems. This will put a huge pressure on our health care system. Therefore, we need to encourage children to be active, to get out and play, by having them turn off the television sets and video games one night a week. Getting them out is crucially important to enable children to have a better life.

I could talk about pension renewal and reform. The average age when pensions came in was 58. Now the average age is 80 for men and 82 for women in our country. Therefore, I encourage the government to look at pension renewal and reform and allow people to work beyond age 65. There are lots of things we can do with that.

These issues are too important to lie fallow. All of us in the House feel too many issues are being dealt with that are not germane and not important to the average person on the street. We have to tackle these issues of the economy, social programs and have a balanced, effective science-based approach to deal with these challenges. If we do not, people will get hurt and when that happens, we have violated our responsibility to our public.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 2008 the hon. member's party came out clearly in favour of the government's $50 billion of corporate tax cuts. Liberals kept that position in 2009 when only the New Democrats stood in the House and said that massive corporate tax cuts in this fiscal economic climate would be irresponsible. I noticed that recently the Liberal Party has seen the light and is now adopting the New Democrat position. I also note that members of his party voted for the last budgets and I anticipate his party will likely vote for the budget this time as well.

Could the hon. member tell Canadians why they should have any faith in the Liberal Party when it campaigned for corporate tax cuts and voted for budgets, yet claims it does not support the principles underlined in those budgets?

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the interesting thing is that the hon. member forgot about the political realities in Canada today. He neglected to mention them.

I do not know if the member has the luxury of voting against the government, but the issue of whether or not there will be an election really falls on the Liberal Party. I would ask the gentleman whether or not he thinks the Canadian public would have liked another election only a few months after we had had an election. The Canadian public said very clearly to us that it did not want an election. The member knows full well that if we had defeated that budget, there would have been an election.

The Liberal Party wants to work with the government, indeed with all parties, with an effective, balanced approach in order to have a strong economy and stable social programs. In fact my seatmate, who happens to be our party's finance critic, has offered many intelligent and constructive solutions to the government, as have many members of my caucus.

I hope the government listens because if it does not, our country is going to get hurt. We will continue to try to work with the government for the betterment of our country.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member knows that the current government inherited about a $13 billion surplus when it took office back in 2006 and it has squandered that. Now we have probably the largest deficit that Canada has ever had. It does not bode well for some of the matters the member rose, such as skills training and all the things related to doing better in the future.

The member has also been a strong advocate for health initiatives. We have an aging society and the costs with respect to our health care system are going to start gobbling up enormous amounts of the government budget. It does not seem to me that the government has even acknowledged these challenges that are hurtling toward us.

I wonder if the member has some thoughts about what responsible governments would do in these times.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that one of the untold stories of our times is that the current government was given a $13 billion surplus. When times were good, it actually had the largest spending increase that we had seen in many decades and it burned through that surplus rather than using it more responsibly. That was highly irresponsible. The Prime Minister took Canada to the brink, and then when we faced this economic downturn, it thrust Canada off the cliff. Today we are sustaining this $56 billion deficit, which would have been much less if the government had actually done the responsible thing when times were good and lived within its means. This is not well known in the public but it is the truth.

Although the management of health care is a provincial jurisdiction, unless the government is willing to tackle the issue of health care and health care expenditures, then no matter what it or a province does, the provinces are going to be in a completely unsustainable situation. Patients will suffer and provinces will delist or ration care because they will not be able to meet their budgets.

I remember when I worked in emergency, I had to treat patients in the hallway in the emergency department, which I thought was completely disrespectful to them. But what can I do as the physician when all of the beds are completely filled in the emergency department? I have to treat people in the hallway. That is the cold reality of what doctors and nurses are being faced with across our country today.

Commission of Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber DealingsRoutine Proceedings

May 31st, 2010 / 1 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I am tabling, in both official languages, the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca as he referenced the economic prowess of his seatmate, the member for Markham—Unionville. No doubt the Liberal Party believes in his economic prowess. I am sure at one point in time that party was absolutely in lockstep with that member's economic prowess when he said we should deregulate the banks. Of course, if the Liberal Party had followed through on what that hon. member wanted to do, we would have been in the same situation as in the U.S. with Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and all the rest of them that went down the great proverbial, and I will refrain from using the word. Needless to say, if that is their economic policy, then clearly the Liberals are still in lockstep with the government.

It is not about the luxury of opposing. It is about working for the people of this country in a democratic fashion. If we believe the government is headed in the wrong direction, then we oppose it. It is not about whether we will lose seats or our party will not be the government in the next election; it is about fundamentally understanding what the government is doing and if we should oppose it, then we do so.

That is what we have done and we suffer the slings and arrows of the government when it says we never vote for any of its budgets, and that is right. We do not vote for its budgets because we fundamentally disagree with its budgets, especially this one. This compendium of some 880 pages contains not only budget items, which of course it would because it is a budget bill, but it also contains numerous other pieces of legislation that should be before us individually in one form or another, especially when we are talking about things like the environment.

There was a national energy program that a previous government brought in which those in the west absolutely abhorred. I lived there at the time, as I went to the University of Alberta, and I understood why they did. But now the government is saying we will do it through the National Energy Board, or the NEB, so just change the last word and all will be well.

We went from something that was abhorred to something that we are supposed to love because we are going to include regulations that this body and this House has built up over time based on the expertise of people who have said that this is what is needed to protect the environment for everyone who lives on this planet, not just those of us who live in this country. We now have a group of folks who say that it is okay to drill another hole in the ground similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico, but oops, it has sprung a leak and they wonder how they will plug it. They have tried golf balls, shredded tires, mud and cement. Now they are just going to take the cap off the top of it and try something else, but it will leak 20% more.

Is that what we want from the NEB? I would hope not. However, the government, by including it in this bill, has not allowed us to debate critical measures such as that so that we can engage Canadians about what really affects them beyond the budget. This really is not the budget.

In my previous life as a municipal councillor, I was the chair of corporate services and if I decided to put the planning act inside my budget, my constituents and the citizens of the municipality would have been justifiably outraged. Why would I including planning documents in a budget? It does not directly affect their taxes.

The measures the government has included in this bill that are outside of the budget do not directly affect the government's expenditure of moneys, per se. There is one item that involves money, and I will get to it because it is money that parties that are in government actually owe Canadians.

No thought should be spared and no stone should be left unturned when it comes to ensuring that the environment is safe and that we are doing all that we can to protect the environment. We should not simply give things away and allow folks to run with it in an unregulated fashion. That is what I fear will be the case when the NEB takes it over.

However, when we talk about money, one piece the government did put in the bill talks about putting the EI fund into the budget. It would have been nicer if it talked about putting back the money which the previous government and the current government pillaged, to the tune of $57 billion, from the fund. The government should be talking about giving it back to its rightful owners, the workers and their employers. They are the ones who paid it and they are the ones who are meant to use it when needed, but last year when the recession occurred, we found that a good chunk of it was already gone. It had been spent by the previous Liberal government, and the remainder had been spent by the Conservative government. When is either one of them going to give back the $57 billion?

We see in the budget that an account is going to be set up, but no one is going to get any money per se. The money that was taken away will not be given back.

Things could have been done for workers to get through last year and this year. The recession is not over for workers. Those who are unemployed are still unemployed for the most part. There is a great many unemployed workers in this land, especially in my riding where the unemployment rate is still the second highest in this country. The government will say that last month it created x number of jobs, yet we see the unemployment rate has moved only marginally.

The government never speaks to how many people fell off the system. The unemployment rate only counts those who are in the EI system. It does not count those outside the system. The government's own statistics group says it is too hard to count that group.

The U.S. makes that count. If we extrapolate the numbers in the U.S. based on what we do here especially when it suits the government's purpose, we can expect that the unemployment rate, which is 8% plus across the country, will increase another 3%. That becomes the true unemployment rate because we are including people who have either fallen off or have never gotten on the system in the first place. As we saw last year, a great many folks did not qualify for EI because the rules were changed.

It started with the Conservative government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and I see that he is the subject of a report that was tabled today. It continued under the Chrétien Liberals who changed the system as well. Now we are at a point in the House, as I have witnessed over the last 18 months, where there is a hodgepodge of fixes.

We added on a piece by giving a 52-week extension to the members of the armed forces when it comes to parental leave. It is a good piece, but what happened to the RCMP and other police officers who went to Haiti? Oops, we forgot about those folks. It is a good private member's bill that is well worth supporting, but we forgot about another group.

That is what happens when changes are made to big legislation with band-aids. We do not get it right. We miss things. One of the biggest things that is missing in all of this is the $57 billion that is owed to the workers of this country and their employers, who have paid it. Not only are they owed money, but now the government has decided that at the end of this year it will remove the freeze on EI premiums, and will continue to do it. By the government's own calculations in the budget, it will charge Canadian workers and their employers $19 billion beyond what it needs to pay out.

I will give the Conservatives credit. They learned really well from the previous Liberal government. If it adds additional moneys to the EI premiums that have been collected, it could pay down the deficit. That is what the previous government did. The current government has learned the lesson and it is going to do the same thing. It is going to take a third of the $60 billion deficit from workers who have finally found jobs and are getting back on their feet. The government is about to take it off their paycheques. It may even be taking it off the paycheques of folks who were denied employment insurance last year. Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds of the unemployed.

Workers were denied EI last year because the government refused to amend EI so that people could get into the system who deserved to be there because they had paid into it. The government decided it would not change the system and it is about to take money from folks for the next year and the year after that beyond what is needed to run the system in order to pay down a deficit that the government created through its mismanagement. At the end of the day, workers who perhaps did not have the opportunity to collect EI are going to end up paying again.

It is reprehensible that the government will not fix the system. The government has heard time after time over the last 16 to 18 months from New Democrats at this end of the House in private members' bills on how to fix the system. We were imploring the government to fix the entire system, not just made hodgepodge changes to it. The first thing the government ought to do is write a cheque for $57 billion and put it into the employment insurance system.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right that there have been a large number of private members' initiatives. We know they require royal recommendations and we also know that the Conservative government would certainly not grant them. This reflects the mood of the House, which is extremely important, because the mood of the House reflects the mood of the people.

We have not had a recession since 1993, and no one predicted that, even when the U.S. went into recession. Under the rules of the game, the EI fund was to withhold two years of surplus to pay for a recession and the balance was to be returned by reduced premiums or improved programs, and I think everybody understands that. The real key now is that the obligation to do that will be eliminated by Bill C-9 because that liability will be summarily taken away. The cash will continue to flow whether there is a surplus or a deficit in EI operations, but that liability will be wiped off the books.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. There is a spirit for a change in the system, especially among opposition parties in the House.

As I said today and as I have said in the past, the system is broken. When we try to fix one aspect of the system, we end up inevitably not fixing the system. There were some premium reductions, but $57 billion was in the EI account and it was spent. If we look at the actual new programs that were introduced, some that were called for but were never done, then we did not see either or. We did not see huge premium holidays. We did not see brand new programs that would really mean something. If we had, we would not still be stuck with 15 to 18 weeks of sick benefits.

If somebody has a catastrophic illness and does not have a short-term disability plan through their employer, the only place they can get sick benefits is through the EI system. What do they get? They get less than four months, but they may be sick for 12 months. What do they do for the other eight? They end up on welfare.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member a question about the air security charges that all air passengers will have to pay. People are asking why these charges are so high compared to other countries. They want to know why the revenue collected far exceeds the amount spent on security and the justification for a 50% increase in this tax.

Canada was the second highest country in the world next to the Netherlands, and after the increase in February, we are now the highest in the world. The international fee alone has been increased 52% from $17 to $25.91, but in the United States that international security fee is only $5. That puts our airfares out of line with those in the United States. How are we supposed to be competitive with the American airline industry when the government is single-handedly making us uncompetitive?

I wonder if the member has any comments on that.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona is absolutely correct about the additional fees. It is one thing to pay the true cost but another thing altogether to pay above and beyond. The government quite clearly has shown that it is over-charging when it comes to security fees.

I congratulate my seatmate, the member for Elmwood—Transcona, for talking about a passengers' bill of rights. When it comes time to protect passengers, where is the government then? The government votes against it.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Hiding.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

The government is hiding from the consumer.

The government is quite happy to take money out of the pockets of consumers beyond what is needed to keep them safe, but to give them a bill of rights that would give them some sort of compensation for sitting in a plane on a tarmac for an extended period of time, the answer to that is no.

It seems to me that if we want passengers on airlines to be safe, then we should be able to pay the cost of that and no more than the cost of that. Consumers believe that is fair. To overcharge them to pay down a deficit created by the government is totally unfair and passengers do not want to put up with that.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-9. It is a budget implementation bill and it is a very extensive bill.

It has some interesting aspects to it that have created even more problems than simply the fact that the Conservatives are projecting, in the budget, in excess of a $50 billion surplus.

Bill C-9 is an omnibus bill. Canadians should know that an omnibus bill is one which does many things all in the same package. Normally we would see those in terms of justice legislation, where there are three or four proposed changes to the Criminal Code. They are all changes that have to do with one existing piece of legislation, but relate to different aspects of it.

In this particular case, we have an omnibus bill that does not deal with one other act of Parliament. It in fact deals with a number of acts. It is quite unusual. Theoretically, a government, after winning an election, could walk in here, table a budget which not only laid out the budgetary measures for the session, but it could also put into that budget implementation bill every other promise it had made in an election whether it related to the budget or not.

That is exactly what has happened here. We have a case now where inside the budget implementation bill, Bill C-9, and there is a big debate among parliamentarians and Canadians at large who follow this, there are initiatives which were never mentioned in the budget speech, were not in the budget itself, and which are substantive changes to existing legislation.

They include the privatization of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, AECL. My home backs onto their offices in the Sheridan research centre. A lot of my constituents are engineers and work there. This is causing great grief.

When I went to the briefing on Bill C-9 with the ministerial staff and had an opportunity to ask some questions about this, they were not very many answers, just “We are doing this, this and this”. The policy rationale was never there.

People are asking why we want to privatize AECL and get into public-private arrangements? They want to know if it is going to do something to the integrity of the R and D of AECL, whatever remains. They want to know what it is going to do to the whole model. This problem of AECL has been with us for a long time. This decision of the government to go forward with these discussions has caused great difficulty.

If we had a bill that came forward that called for the privatization of certain aspects and parts of a division of AECL, there would have been substantial debates in this House. There would have been substantial expert witnesses called to comment on the proposal in that bill. There would have been rigorous due diligence done with regard to virtually every aspect of the bill.

When we take a subject matter like that and put it into a budget implementation bill, it is that one big, large omnibus budget implementation bill that is being debated in the House, and reviewed and studied in committee.

It goes to the finance committee. I know the members on the committee. They are excellent colleagues. However, I do not think that they have the expertise in the area of atomic energy. I do not know how they could possibly discuss it. In fact, the people who were coming before committee to talk about it only had a couple of hours to make their case.

If it were a stand-alone bill, it would have had probably a dozen hours or so at second reading. It would have had substantive committee witnesses. It would have had third reading. It would have gone to the Senate. The rigour with which we handle legislation here is very significant, but that has been denied to that aspect.

That is not the only one. There are significant changes to the Environmental Protection Act. There are significant changes which would say that we will have a situation where we can waive the requirement for environmental assessments on major projects if there are certain circumstances in place, like time, where we have to have something done quickly. I remember asking questions of one of the hon. members about putting economic priorities ahead of environmental priorities, and the member quite correctly said we have to look at both. Good environmental policy is good economic policy. The reverse is also true.

We have a significant challenge before us in terms of greenhouse gases, climate change, and preparing ourselves to do our share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our country, but when we start playing around with the Environmental Assessment Act, all of a sudden that seems to fly in the face of social and public responsibility. Canadians have already very clearly said how they feel about us doing our share, and after the government embarrassed Canadians at Copenhagen, it is no wonder they are concerned about things like this.

Members have also mentioned the airline tax. The EI fund also, when I was at the briefing with the officials, was just glossed over. I asked the question of the officials there about how it would operate. I did ascertain that there was to be some $2 billion put in as seed money for the administrative part, but that this new separate agency was to be responsible for the operations of employment insurance in Canada. All of the premiums collected from today's workers would go into the fund, and all of the benefits would come out.

Here we are in severe economic difficulty with record unemployment, and it will even rise. It will rise even greater than it is today. We have been operating at a deficit. There has been a deficit there. When I spoke to the Auditor General last, she assured me that the operations of this stand-alone agency will be accounted for in the determination of surplus or deficit of the Government of Canada in terms of its operations of the program, notwithstanding that it is a separate bank account again out there.

I think what annoys all of the opposition parties is the notional surplus, the $57 billion of premiums that were collected in excess of benefits required to be paid out, which were built up over a dozen years of surpluses because Canada's economy was booming, and the lowest unemployment in our history had been achieved. That $57 billion represents a liability to Canadians. It represents a matter of either return the premiums to those who paid them or improve programs that would then be affordable.

The government did neither of them, despite all of the interventions and all of the initiatives of members of Parliament. The Conservatives have summarily said it will disappear. It is basically another indication that the government has refused to be open, transparent, and accountable to Canadians on yet another area of significant public interest.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Mississauga South touched on a number of areas in Bill C-9 where the government is improperly bringing initiatives through the door of this omnibus bill.

I want to go back to the area of security charges. We know that in the United States the international air security charge is $5. In Canada, the international air security charge ranges as high as $25. That is a huge variation. I think Canadians could understand that if the tax money were being used for safety issues it may be justified. However, we know that the revenues collected far exceed the money spent on security.

What is the government using the money for and why did it increase this tax 50%? That is a huge increase at a time when the government says that it is reducing taxes on Canadians. It is doing the opposite.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has pointed out another example of where the government has not satisfactorily explained to Canadians the basis for its policy decisions. We see this time and time again.

I think Canadians want some assurances that when we are in difficult economic times the government is taking prudent steps to address the challenges that face us. However, it is taxing through the back door with the proposed increases in EI premiums. Now it will have to increase premiums to pay for the deficits that it is accumulating currently, money that it collected once before in the $57 billion.

All of a sudden it is going in circles. It is obfuscation on behalf of the government. It is quite unfortunate, particularly at a time when we have an aging society with so many demands on our health care and social services systems.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague on his speech and especially the spirit of his speech about how much is contained within this bill that it is almost like so much is being brought in under the cover of night. This stealth way of doing it is essentially irresponsible for any legislature to turn its back on this.

I would like to ask the member a question about some of the issues. He mentioned EI and talked about many other issues, but Canada Post will also be a major issue with remailers.

I commend the member for the comments he made that these bills standing alone would give it a fulsome debate in the House. Whether it is a minority or not, it does not matter. What matters is that each would receive a full hearing by all members of the House duly elected by their constituents.

In this particular situation, I will give one prime example that I feel is very important and that is the issue of telecoms. The bill would amend the Telecommunications Act to allow foreign satellite carriers to be considered a common carrier. That is an amazing policy shift that is contained within Bill C-9. It should be a stand alone bill.

I wonder if my hon. colleague has comments about that particular issue and others that he may have missed.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right. He is very active in the House and follows the legislation. He knows how rigorous the process is when we deal with any of the varied items in this budget implementation bill, whether it be the remailers, the telecoms, AECL or the EI fund.

Any one of those issues would have had dozens of hours of debate and expert witnesses to ensure that we did our due diligence, so that when we have to vote on bills we do it from knowledge rather than from ignorance. The government has shown contempt for Parliament by not allowing parliamentarians to exercise due diligence.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and debate this particular set of amendments to Bill C-9, the budget bill proposed by the Government of Canada. Quite clearly, we have heard the debate about the nature of this bill being the large omnibus type that the government has favoured in order to put forward very radical changes to Canadian society without the proper input of the parliamentary process, the committees and all of the things that could make any of these things more justifiable, if they are justifiable, in the minds of Canadians.

That is exactly what is going on here today. We are trying to achieve some of the things that were set out here in Parliament to accomplish. As our leader of the New Democratic Party has stated in the challenge he has put down to the other opposition parties, this is not likely the time that the government will call the tune and go to a potential election over these issues.

This is a good time to stand up for Canadians to try to make Parliament work, just as we have tried to make Parliament work with the Afghan detainee issue and a number of those types of issues that focused on how the process should be accomplished and how we should work within the House.

Here we are with another one of those issues. How does Parliament work? How should Parliament work in a minority situation?

In a minority situation, major changes to legislation should be available to the opposition parties and the public to understand completely and not be put forward in this very subversive fashion. It subverts the purpose of Parliament and puts it on an incorrect course. That is why we are all standing up here today and that is what we are working on.

I want to spend a little time on my particular subject, which is the question of aviation security. I am the transport critic for our party and, within the transport committee, a major study on aviation security is going on right now which started back in the days of prorogation. In the depths of winter, I organized a forum on aviation security, which the Liberal Party promptly joined into, and it had a great deal of success. It then moved on to looking at the issue within the committee.

Quite clearly, aviation security should be addressed in all its details before any additional charges are put on our aviation industry and then through to the customer. The aviation industry world-wide is under stress. Within Canada, most of the major carriers have had great difficulty and have lost money consistently over many years. This industry is not healthy. It has had to face up to many severe challenges. This industry supports the economics of Canada and of the world to a great degree with the movement of passengers and freight at a rapid pace around the world. When this industry is under stress, the result is very apparent within the economy. We saw that quite clearly with the volcanic ash cloud descending over Europe and the result of that within the economy of Europe. It was very carefully measured.

We saw that as well at Christmastime with the tremendous overreaction to a security incident in the United States that affected hundreds of millions of people in terms of the reuniting of families and all the things that go along with that. When we look at doing things to the aviation industry, we need to be very careful, which is why we are doing a review right now on aviation security. Most of the experts agree that the knee-jerk reaction we have had to aviation security since 9/11 has to be reviewed. It has to be taken into account.

Transport Canada officials have stated that once they put in place aviation security requirements, they have a very difficult time when they are redundant. They cannot get rid of them and what we see are ever-escalating levels of security costs and no particular review.

I have a fine example of that. Since 9/11, we have very secure, locked cockpit doors, which has taken out some of the threats that we might have had before 9/11 without any requirement for aviation security. Therefore, the threat to aviation has changed and yet the security proceedings have not changed.

With this air travellers' security charge in the bill, it would increase the revenue the government is generating from aviation security without addressing the issues of aviation security and the costs. The charge would add a penalty on to Canadian flyers for something that is not appropriate within the system. It would be far more expensive than most other countries in the world and would leave our aviation industry at a disadvantage. This, of course, would take money out of the taxpayers' pockets and put it into the general revenues of the Government of Canada. In many cases this looks to be considerably more than the cost of aviation security in the country as a whole, even though our aviation security system desperately needs the renovation.

The government has talked about reviewing aviation security to get rid of some of the parts that do not work so well, while at the same time raising the air transport service security charge. This was done not to pay for the costs of this service. This was done to raise more revenue for the government. That is pretty clear when we look at this and that is why this needs further review. Just as the government wants to review aviation security and just as the transport committee is engaged in a study on aviation security right now, we need to do that work before we put extra charges on our already ailing aviation industry. This has been said over and over again.

What we have here is a crass attempt to hide a tax somewhere in the system to add more revenue to the government that does not want to stand up and admit that over the course of the next five years it will have to raise more revenue for government in order to deal with the massive deficit. This is hypocritical and, in real terms to our industry, is rather stupid. What we have is a stupid, hypocritical action here with the air travellers' security charge.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

What do you really think of it?