House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.


Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to a legislative committee.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

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

6:50 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, on September 19 I raised a question in the House with regard to processing EI claims. On that occasion, and subsequent occasions, the minister had indicated that the changes in the number of people processing EI claims was in part because there was a temporary spike in EI claims.

I want to refer to an article from October 20 in the Vancouver Sun that said the number of Canadians receiving EI surged in August according to Stats Canada. Across the country, the number of beneficiaries increased by 35,200 in August, up from 533,330 the month before. That is a 6.6% increase month over month.

The article went on to say that the number of initial and renewal claims rose by 4.4% across Canada, up 10,700 claims, for a total of 255,600 in August. That is the second consecutive monthly increase.

From Stats Canada's own numbers, it appears that it was not just a temporary spike that the EI claims processing folks were dealing with. In fact, what we are seeing is increasing numbers of claims.

In addition, I want to refer to how the department is spending some of its resources. Not only do we have these claims increasing but the department is spending resources on cases that have already been decided.

I specifically want to refer to the case of Jennifer McCrea, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while on maternity leave and was denied sickness benefits earlier this year. The Calgary mother applied for six weeks of benefits to recover from her double mastectomy, but she was turned down because she was not available for work. There was already a precedent setting case that had been decided by Justice J.R. Marin, who had ruled that legislative changes made nearly a decade ago were intended to give women access to sickness benefits regardless of whether it is before, during, or after the maternity leave. He said that a more liberal interpretation of the available for work regulation was required of the government, or the government had to update the legislation.

The article went on to say that the human resources minister had done neither. That means that each woman who is denied either walks away from the benefits she is entitled to or has to find a lawyer and re-fight a battle that has already been won.

It went on in the article, and this is the resource issue, to say that this ruling affects so few people, it is estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 a year, that it would probably cost the government more to fight the cases than if would to pay up. In his ruling, Judge Marin said that fixing the mess would not open the floodgates but would offer minimum comfort and solace to a small, hard hit sector of society.

The Vancouver Sun article said that the minister should immediately direct employment insurance officers to follow Marin's ruling and fix the legislation to ensure the changes stick.

What we have here is a case of increasing claims, the department spending resources fighting a case that has already been decided by the umpire, and one wonders whether that should be a priority. Therefore, I want to come back to my original question. Will the minister explain to out-of-work Canadians why the Conservatives are making it harder to access a program that Canadians have paid into?

6:50 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and her concerns about providing services to out-of-work Canadians.

Canadians gave the government a strong mandate to complete Canada's economic recovery and to return to balanced budgets. That is what we are doing. Our Conservative government is committed to delivering the highest quality service in a way that is effective, efficient and focused on the needs of Canadians.

The hon. member raises concerns about dealing with backlogs in employment insurance. That is precisely why we are taking steps to improve processes and modernize the delivery of EI to Canadians.

First, it is important to note that no Service Canada centres are closing as a result of these measures. In-person services will not be affected. We are introducing a new service delivery model over the next three years that will include the processing of EI claims at 22 sites across the country. Through technological advancements, Service Canada is modernizing the delivery of one of the federal government's cornerstone social services.

Historically, the EI claims process was designed and administered as an entirely paper based program. By increasing automation, we are making it easier for Canadians to receive information and services from government when and how they need them.

The Service Canada office in my area of Collingwood benefits tremendously from these reforms that our government is moving forward on. The hard-working employees at our office work with the constituents and are utilizing Collingwood's Service Canada office to ensure that there are faster and more efficient services provided to our citizens in Simcoe Grey.

Canadians expect their hard-earned tax dollars to be used as effectively and efficiently as possible. The Government of Canada is working hard, on behalf of Canadians, to eliminate the deficit while improving services we deliver.

7 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, those words are cold comfort to Canadians waiting to receive payment for their EI claims.

I want to reiterate that according to Statistics Canada, in August we actually saw a surge in claims. In fact, when we are talking about renewal claims, that was the second month in a row that the claims increased. In addition, I mentioned the sickness benefit appeal, which was to supposedly spur an EI legislative review; instead, what we have is another claimant who has once again been denied sickness benefits.

I come back to the question that we still do not have an answer to: when will the Conservative government explain to Canadians why it is making it harder to access a program that Canadians paid into?

We have the case of maternity and sickness benefits. We have the case of Canadians who are applying and waiting inordinate amounts of time to receive payment. I am sure Canadians would be very interested in that answer.

7 p.m.


Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have already achieved administrative savings of almost 30% through the modernization of the delivery of EI. Additional savings of up to 15% are possible through more efficient processing of EI claims. Our goal is to expand the automated processing of claims from the current 44% to 70% over the next three years.

A workforce management strategy is in effect to assist with planned personnel changes. This will include attrition, reassignments, and training. All changes will occur within the parameters of the collective agreements.

These are challenging times. Our government is working on behalf of Canadians to eliminate the deficit while improving service delivery to Canadians.

7 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is growing concern about the government's lack of interest in protecting the environment. Bold claims should be matched by bold actions. Instead, we are seeing cuts that will cripple important environmental monitoring capabilities.

On September 15, I first implored the environment minister to reconsider planned cuts to ozone research. Since then, opposition members have repeatedly asked questions during question period, to which the environment minister and his parliamentary secretary have often responded by changing the subject. On Friday, questions about greenhouse gas emissions were met with a diatribe about shipbuilding, Supreme Court justices and the Wheat Board.

We can and should be doing better in addressing the legitimate concerns of Canadians regarding environmental monitoring programs needed to protect health and safety.

The known facts are that the scientists responsible for the ozonesonde network and the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre have received letters saying their jobs are in danger. Even the assistant deputy minister has told reporters that budget cuts being implemented will mean that the ozone monitoring network will be reduced.

Claims in the House that there will be no cuts to ozone monitoring do not stand up to these truths.

When will the government rescind the letters to these scientists so that they can continue work we all agree is valuable and necessary?

My party has now undertaken an online petition to stop the cuts to ozone research. It has over 3,000 signatures from concerned citizens across Canada and is growing in number by the day.

I must now ask again, on behalf of those thousands of Canadians: when will the government rescind the letters to these scientists?

In a week, I will be hosting leading experts in atmospheric research here on Parliament Hill to talk to members of Parliament and senators about ozone depletion and Canada's leadership role in ozone research. I implore members of the government to attend, listen, and ask questions. Sound policy on the environment is informed by science.

After word leaked of the cuts to ozone research, Conservatives started a campaign to track down the source of the leak and muzzle scientists. Since October 3, I have been asking that the government unmuzzle Dr. Tarasick, a senior scientist at Environment Canada, and allow him to speak of the discovery of the 2,000,000-square-kilometre ozone hole published in the prestigious journal Nature.

For 19 days, the government prevented Dr. Tarasick from talking about his own work to the media. We can and should be doing better at giving Canadians timely access to the science they have paid for.

Dr. Tarasick was finally allowed to speak on October 21. However, before the interview started, Environment Canada tried to limit the interview topics, telling Postmedia News that Dr. Tarasick would not answer questions about the impact of potential cuts to the ozone monitoring network. Although Dr. Tarasick was allowed to speak, it was clear he was not doing so freely. The public has a right to know the impact of cuts on the ozone monitoring program. There is no need to hide from the truth.

7 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, Canadians can be proud of the contributions that Environment Canada scientists make to independent studies and policy development and to protecting Canada's environment.

Contrary to what the opposition would like to have this House believe, Environment Canada is more than committed to ensuring the continued engagement of stakeholders in international regulatory policy processes. We are strongly committed to protecting Canada's natural heritage, even in difficult economic times.

We are also committed to ensuring hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, which is in stark contrast to how the opposition would have us proceed. That is why we are reviewing government spending commitments on a regular cycle to ensure they are effective and efficient, respond to the core priorities of the Canadian government and are in line with our federal responsibilities.

With regard to ozone, our government is strongly committed to protecting Canada's environment, as I have said. That is why our plan is to ensure that Canada's strong track record in the area of atmospheric ozone measurement continues to deliver sound science within budget.

As we have said repeatedly in this House, we will continue to both effectively and efficiently monitor ozone. The World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre, which is considered to be world class, will continue to operate.

As well, we will continue to effectively and efficiently make best use of taxpayer dollars.

7 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government is cutting ozone science and has muzzled scientists. Dr. Tarasick explained during the interview that the monitoring network already has limited resources for maintaining the existing quality of data collected and used in the recent Nature study. He also said, “If the taxpayer in his infinite wisdom were to give 10 times the budget I have now, I think I could use all that money quite usefully and do good science with it. I don't think we're wasting a penny”.

Moreover, he indicated that the warning about his job was not rescinded.

Dr. Tarasick also said, “Well, I'm available when media relations says I'm available. I have to go through them”.

The Prime Minister's government introduced new rules to control interviews with journalists by Environment Canada scientists in 2007, resulting in an 80% drop in media coverage of climate change science.

7:05 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, since there were so many things in that question, I will stick to the question asked about ozone science. I want to make this crystal clear. Repeating what we have said over and over again, Canada has banned ozone-depleting chemicals. We will continue to monitor the ozone, and the ozone data centre will continue to operate.

I would like to ask the member opposite to support our plan to continue to monitor ozone. It is focused on ensuring Canada's excellent track record in this area is maintained in a cost-effective and efficient way.

7:05 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs for being here this evening for what will no doubt be a completely non-partisan and transparent response to my question.

The issue brought to the House this evening for debate relates to the glaring disparity in support for our veterans when it comes to their funeral costs. For the record, a veteran receives about $3,600 to help cover the cost of a funeral, while a member of the Canadian Forces receives about $13,000, a very significant gap. I have written to the minister about this issue and have asked questions in the House in both official languages. The minister has not responded to my letter. The response from the minister in question period has, unfortunately, been evasive and dismissive and I, perhaps naively, hope for a more direct response this evening.

The government likes to talk about patriotism and wrap itself in the flag, and it loves to attend ceremonies honouring veterans, but consider this. I would ask the parliamentary secretary to reflect on this: her government spent millions of dollars last year on communications, photo ops, backdrops and the like, all the while contemplating massive cuts of about $226 million for the department. There are millions for the spin machine and propaganda, yet the Conservatives refuse to commit to fixing the funeral cost inequity between our veterans and the Canadian Forces.

Last Friday, late Friday afternoon in fact, the government announced that there would be $226 million in cuts to Veterans Affairs. Upon receiving that news, I immediately gave a 48-hour notice of motion to the Veterans Affairs committee that it suspend its work on commemorating veterans and immediately begin an examination of the impact of the cuts on veterans and those who provide those services.

That notice of motion was provided to the committee. When I arrived at the committee meeting, I found that the notice of motion had been pushed to the bottom of the agenda without me knowing about it and was scheduled to be in camera. I advised the chair upfront that was not acceptable. At my first opportunity in the meeting, I presented the motion and it passed. Unfortunately the story has been that the motion passed because some Conservatives came late. The story should be that the Conservatives tried to defeat a motion that called for transparency with respect to veterans' benefits and failed.

My question for the parliamentary secretary is fairly straightforward. It is the same one I asked, in both languages, of the minister. Will the department commit to treat veterans fairly and on level ground with members of the Canadian Forces? Given that the question will simply require a yes or no answer, perhaps she could take the time to address the other questions arising out of the motion before the committee. Will the minister show up, will the committee neuter the effects of the motion, will it limit the study and does the government believe in transparency within the Department of Veterans Affairs?

7:10 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario


Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I wish to point out to the hon. members present that this government takes the dignity of Canadian veterans very seriously.

As the minister mentioned in his response to the member, the Department of Veterans Affairs works closely with the last post fund, which delivers the program on its behalf. It works hard to ensure funeral and burial assistance is offered to veterans who have died from injuries related to their service, regardless of their rank or the medals they have received. Help is also available to ensure veterans without the financial resources for a dignified burial and funeral are provided with one. We will continue working with the last post fund and exploring other ways to provide quality services to our veterans.

This, and many other matters, is highly important to the government. The significant improvements made to the new veterans charter that came into effect recently will help the thousands of soldiers who, because of the severity of their injuries or other problems, need more financial assistance.

We have established a minimum pre-tax income of $40,000 a year for ill or injured veterans while they are in rehabilitation or until the age of 65 years if they are not able to be suitably and gainfully employed.

We have also enhanced access to the monthly allowances available under the Pension Act and the new veterans charter to seriously injured or ill veterans. By the way, these monthly allowances are up to $1,631 a month, payable for life.

We have also added a new $1,000 monthly supplement to the permanent impairment allowance to help our most seriously injured or ill veterans who are unable to be suitably or gainfully employed. This supplement is payable for life and, when combined with other enhancements that I have mentioned, ensures that our most seriously injured men and women receive a minimum income of $58,000 each year.

Also, we have created flexible payment options for veterans and Canadian Forces members who are receiving a disability award. The disability award recognizes and compensates for the pain and suffering of an injury or illness. With these new enhancements, recipients can choose to receive the disability award in a lump sum payment, in annual instalments or some combination thereof. We are giving our veterans the right to choose.

These actions prove that our government cares for the health and well-being of our veterans.

7:10 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent speech outlining the programs that the government has set out but there is still no answer to my question.

It is a fairly simple question. Will the government equalize the amount that is afforded for funerals of veterans with Canadian Forces members? The parliamentary secretary indicated that they work with the last post fund. What she did not indicate is that the government provides $3,600 to the last post fund as compared to the $13,000 for Canadian Forces members.

Could I please have an answer to my question? I have now asked the minister twice. The parliamentary secretary had four minutes and did not given me a yes or no answer.

The other three questions remain unanswered, as well. Will the minister show up to the committee? Will the committee obstruct the motion that has been passed? Does the government believe in transparency with respect to the cuts to the Veterans Affairs' budget?

7:10 p.m.


Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to veterans' benefits, we have been very clear in this chamber. In fact, last Friday, I took two questions. I believe the House leader took a question. We could not have been more crystal clear. We will sustain benefits to our veterans. Clearly, quite simply.

There were some other questions about funeral and burial assistance. Just to reiterate, those assistance programs are provided to veterans with service-related injuries who need it the most, regardless of their military rank or any decorations they have received.

We will continue to work with our stakeholders to respond to their priorities and their concerns. Our government is committed to meeting the needs of our veterans and their families by giving them the care, the services and the financial support they deserve.

I do not think we could be any clearer that, over the last 60 years, no government has done more for our veterans than our Conservative government.

7:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we finish up, I just want to convey to hon. members that, during the adjournment proceedings, members are welcome to take a seat anywhere in the chamber that suits them. I realize it is a habit that they speak from their appointed seat but during adjournment proceedings members are welcome to sit where they please.

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

(The House adjourned at 7:15 p.m.)