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House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was financial.

Topics

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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, June 16 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am here to talk tonight about the enabling accessibility fund. Serious questions have been raised about the administration of this fund.

The enabling accessibility fund was announced in budget 2008 and the stated purpose of the fund is very noble. It was set up to provide funding for buildings to become accessible. Two different funds were set up, one was called major projects and the other was for smaller projects. This fund provided $45 million over two years, yet $30 million of that was to go to two projects and two projects alone, both in Conservative ridings.

As soon as this project was announced and the application criteria was set out, the disability community knew something was wrong. There were headlines in papers such as “Program 'tailor-made' to send cash to [Finance Minister's] riding: critics”. Another headline read “Critics Claim Finance Minister is in a Conflict of Interest”. The Montreal Gazette stated that the program was geared to the finance minister's riding and critics alleged that the finance minister's wife and aide on board of project stood to benefit from $45 million in funding.

Very clearly, there was a problem with this funding. Why would a fund of $45 million that had been set up for the entire country provide $30 million, or two-thirds, to two projects? As it turned out there were significant problems.

That $30 million went to two Conservative ridings, including the riding of a cabinet minister. The other $15 million was left to be allocated. The first part of that was allocated in 2008-09. Of 166 projects, 107 went to Conservative ridings. That is unbelievable. Of the total dollars allocated for a national project, 5.8% went to all the opposition ridings. There is absolutely no way that makes sense. I can see members opposite aghast at this. They cannot believe these numbers and I do not blame them. It is unbelievable.

This year we found out about the second round of funding to complete the $45 million. This time it was worse. There were a total of 169 projects and 113 of them went to Conservative ridings.

The reasons we heard for this were unbelievable. The minister stood up and asked what I am complaining about because Iona Presbyterian Church received one grant. That seems fair. One for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour in the amount of $50,000, one for the Minister of Finance in the amount of $15 million, and he asked me what I was complaining about. It is probably not a great surprise.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development does not even have an accessible constituency office. We all get a budget for our constituency office. I, like most members I am sure, ensure that my office is accessible. We are dealing with constituents. But it is particularly egregious when the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development does not bother to ensure that her office is accessible. Even six years after being elected she would have had to renegotiate the lease. Then she comes back with this cockamamie story of how under the Liberals some office was not accessible.

This is the biggest abdication of responsibility one can imagine. This is a fund designed for people with disabilities. It is not a fund designed for people with disabilities in Conservative ridings. There is no way that 95% of any fund could be allocated fairly and end up in Conservative ridings. This is taking advantage of many of the most marginalized people in Canada, people with disabilities who deserve a break, who deserve an opportunity, who deserve assistance regardless of where they live. What they received is political manipulation, cronyism. It is an offence not only to the people with disabilities but an offence to all Canadians who believe in fairness.

5:20 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, that member and members of his party, along with the NDP, voted against successive budgets that contained a number of provisions to help Canadians with disabilities.

We have done a number of things for Canadians with disabilities, including ensuring that there was a fund called the enabling accessibility fund. It was created in 2007 with an investment of $45 million over three years. It has supported over 300 community-based projects across the country, making buildings and vehicles more accessible. Yes, it helped create two comprehensive ability centres, but it has helped Canadians with disabilities all across this country, including, as the member has mentioned, in his own riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

I would like to point out that the member is complaining about a program that, if it were up to him and the Liberals, would not even exist. They voted against the budget. They voted against the enabling accessibility fund, a fund that has been so well received that in budget 2010 we announced that we would extend it by a further three years and invest another $45 million to ensure that even more communities were able to benefit.

I do not know what the member has against that, but, yet again, the member and his party voted against the budget containing this program and the significant investments to help Canadians with disabilities. Canadians can learn a lot by looking at the record of the different parties in the House and at the actions they have taken when it comes to supporting Canadians with disabilities.

Let me be clear. No federal government has done more for Canadians with disabilities than our Conservative government. We support Canadians of all abilities all across this great country and the proof is in the action we have taken since forming government and the several investments we have made, in addition to the enabling accessibility fund.

He had better look at the full picture because a number of actions have been taken. For example, our government introduced the registered disability savings plan, the most historic savings vehicle since the RRSP was introduced decades ago. The RDSP helps parents and others save for the long-term financial security of a child with a disability.

We also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have increased funding for training to help Canadians with disabilities join the workforce. We have invested $75 million for affordable housing specifically for persons with disabilities. Time does not permit me to go through all the things we have done.

Al Etmanski from the Plan Institute said:

I believe [this] Government is hands down the most effective Federal champion people with disabilities and their families have ever had.

He went on to say, “the...Government's commitments are impressive”. I guess that is why the organization presented the Prime Minister with a lifetime membership for making a positive difference in the lives of Canadians with disabilities.

Let us compare that to the record of the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and the Liberal Party. They have consistently voted against provisions that would help persons with disabilities. For example, they voted against the RDSP, the enabling accessibility fund and the increased skills training money.

The record is clear. Our Conservative government is providing unprecedented support to Canadians with disabilities while the Liberals have shamefully voted time and time again against all of our support for Canadians with disabilities and their families. I do not know how they can justify that. Those budgets were clear and they had specific provisions in them but they chose, for one reason or another, to oppose them.

Rather than looking at the big picture and the millions of dollars that have been invested, they are trying to make some political hay out of one factor alone that is neither here nor there. They should have been supporting those initiatives because they are good initiatives and they help Canadians with disabilities. He should get behind them and not oppose them.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, surely one of the most laughable lines I have ever heard is that no federal government has ever done more for persons with disabilities. That is absolute hogwash. I will give a quotation since he used one.

The national director of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres, one of the great organizations in this country, accused the finance minister of “pork-barrel politics”.

That is absolutely true. This fund has become a political weapon, a political tool for the government to use for people with disabilities who are disproportionately poor. The government has refused to even come up with an anti-poverty strategy. It refuses to do anything for people with disabilities unless it suits its own political needs.

People with disabilities across this country need, deserve and warrant assistance but what they get from the government is wedge politics, partisan politics and nasty, pork-barrel politics. That is what people in the communities are saying. It is a disgrace to Canadian society and a disgrace for people with disabilities that they have to put up with that kind of partisan, pork-barrel politics. That is not how it should be.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will give two quotations. It is that member who is trying to make political hay out of something that should not have political hay made out of it. Al Etmanski of the Plan Institute had this to say. Maybe he will listen to him.

He said:

I believe the Harper Government is hands down the most effective Federal champion people with disabilities and their families have ever had. The Harper Government's commitments are impressive--

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary knows that he cannot use names of members in this chamber, even when he reads a quote. He cannot do indirectly what he cannot do directly.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government's commitments are impressive. The establishment of the world's first registered disability savings plan, the establishment of the enabling accessibility fund for community centres across Canada and now the ratification of the convention of the rights of persons with disabilities are all significant actions for Canadians with disabilities. Those who have to do with those organizations say that these actions are good.

The member disagrees with that. I would like to know why he disagrees with the comments that are made here, why he disagrees with what has been said. He should get behind these initiatives and support them, not play politics with them.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rose on April 26 to bring attention to a growing problem that weakened the democracy of our country, and that is the current government's increasing secrecy, lack of transparency and obstruction of presentation of information. This is a deliberate chill that it is placing on the civil servants and civil society and one that is very unhealthy for our democracy. Instead of getting an answer about my question, I received some pontification about the gun registry.

Therefore, I will first spend some time addressing the question I raised.

The government has a track record of thumbing its nose at the public and the transparency that it promised to the public. I refer to the Information Commissioner, who recently commented that there was a lack of will on the part of the government to be transparent and that Canada was no longer an information leader. She recommended legislation to force the government to comply with requirements to prevent delays in the release of public information.

It is worse than that because the government not only obfuscates and delays, it is breaking its own laws. In one of the worse offences, the office of the former public works minister stopped the release of a 137-page report that had been requested by an applicant to ATIP, ordering the public service officials to unrelease this report after the access to Information office at the department had okayed it.

We have a worrisome trend here. Beyond that, the government is actually hiding information that it statutorily is required to release. This brings me back to the gun registry. A report on the gun registry, which the government must, by law, table, was held until after a vote on the gun registry.

Let us discuss a bit further why the members opposite are promoting an action that flies in the face of the evidence of the police chiefs, the police associations that represent the police members and the police boards that represent the community. All those organizations, as well as a cross-section of organizations across our society, are clear that the gun registry is a vital component and tool in protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the police. On an ideological basis, the government is pursuing a path that is destroying a life-saving registry that society needs and wants.

There is a pattern with the government of firing independent officers of Parliament, ideologically cutting funds to groups and hiding information to promote its own end.

I invite the member opposite to explain to the constituents of West Vancouver why they should want more guns on the streets, which would put their lives at risk as well as the lives of the police officers they value.

5:30 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to remind my hon. colleague that actually I represent the riding of North Vancouver, not West Vancouver. It is just across the river.

I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Quadra for raising the important issue of access to information. The member seems to be preoccupied with this issue and has asked a number of questions about how our system works. Allow me to take this opportunity to explain how requests for information are decided by the government and released to the public.

First, as has been explained many times by our government, requests for information are never handled by ministers or their political staff, not today, not yesterday, not ever. In fact, they are handled and responded to by dedicated and professional public service employees who have the delegated authority under the Access to Information Act to do that work.

In addition, each federal institution is responsible for ensuring that it complies with all relevant laws, guidelines and directives. This includes laws such as the Access to Information Act, which gives Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or any person or corporation present in Canada a right to access information that is contained in government records.

This is how our system of government works and I know that there has been a lot of confusion about this.

Many believe or think that everything should be run by a single organization. Some would like to see one big central governing body put in charge of all federal organizations and institutions. This central body would tell institutions what to do, how to do it and when to do it. It would also be able to answer every conceivable question about what is happening in every single institution in the federal government, right down to the number of paper clips in stock.

Such an organization simply does not exist in our system. I can understand that it would make our lives as parliamentarians a lot easier. Whenever we want to get to the bottom of something, we would simply summon officials from this central body and bombard them with questions. Fortunately, that is not how things work. If we ran the government in this way, it would be hugely impractical. After all, we are talking about the largest enterprise in Canada by far. There are over 250 organizations in the federal public sector working in organizations such as departments, separate agencies, crown corporations and agents of Parliament, and I would add that the vast majority of these organizations are now covered by the Access to Information Act, thanks to this government.

When our government took power in 2006, we made a commitment to improve transparency and accountability, and we delivered with the Federal Accountability Act. The act contained the most extensive amendments to the Access to Information Act since it came into force in 1983. Most importantly, it broadened the reach of the act to more public institutions, including agents of Parliament such as the Information Officer and the Auditor General, and crown corporations such as the CBC, Canada Post and VIA Rail. All told, the Federal Accountability Act added 70 additional public institutions to the list of those covered by the legislation.

As a result, there are now some 255 public organizations subject to the access to information law, and let me repeat my earlier point that each one of these organizations is responsible for complying with the Access to Information Act. This is not to say that they do not have any support or that they are allowed to do whatever they want. The Treasury Board Secretariat provides the policies, directives, best practices and training needed to support the access to information community, and each department must report to Parliament on its activities. These detailed reports include statistics on the number of requests received, completed, processed and released, as well as the compliance rates.

Our government also continues to work with the Information Commissioner to ensure that Canadians have access to information about their government. We welcome the member's suggestions to Parliament on how and where we can improve the management of access to information.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend an invitation to the member for North Vancouver to talk to his constituents about why he is advocating flooding the streets with unregistered guns, the very guns that are used to attack and kill women and their police.

The idea that the member is talking about, one large government or something like that, is exactly the direction in which the government's activities are leading by undermining the power of Parliament to access documents, with the government's secrecy, lack of transparency and obstruction. Staff that he claims do not handle these requests actually block the requests. There is a shutting down of democratic voices, the independent officers of Parliament and independent organizations of civil society. It is a shameful pattern by the government.

I would like to invite the member across the way to come to our round table on Monday of the 13 groups doing important work for society, the ones that make for an independent democracy. They are coming to talk about how their funding was slashed by an ideological government that does not like anyone saying something that the government might not like to hear.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, what a turn of events, coming from a member of a party that opposed expanding access to information when it was in power, opposing even its own members' bills.

In 2005, the Liberals voted against a Conservative Party motion to extend access to information laws to crown corporations. We had to get rid of a system used by the Liberals to control and centralize access to information.

Our government passed historic changes to the Access to Information Act, making 70 new crown corporations and institutions accountable to Canadians, something the Liberals refused to do. We increased the Information Commissioner's budget by 26%.

This government has worked hard to improve transparency since the Liberal years, and our record is clear. We will continue working to improve transparency for Canadians, and that party should do the same.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 5:37 p.m.)