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House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the relevant question.

Indeed, we are in contact with organizations with a strong interest in that issue. I want to reassure him straight away: centres focused on promoting women's involvement in the workforce support us on this. They have given us their support. The Fédération des femmes du Québec is in favour of the bill and has said so publicly. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents workers under federal jurisdiction, supports this bill, as do the FTQ and the Public Service Alliance.

All that to say, I think we should all agree, since it is a very important issue. Once the administrative agreement is in place, and for a minimal cost, this will be a concrete way to improve the lives of Canadian and Quebec families.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity today to comment on Bill C-307 presented by my colleague, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

This bill proposes adding another section to part II of the Canada Labour Code. This would bring the federal code in line with provincial legislation regarding the health and safety of pregnant or nursing employees.

In Quebec there is a program called “Pour une maternité sans danger”, the safe maternity program, which many pregnant workers use. A pregnant nurse, for example, whose job poses a risk to her health or that of her baby can be reassigned to another task or be allowed to take preventative withdrawal leave on the advice of her physician. If she must take leave, this pregnant nurse will receive an income or replacement benefit equivalent to 90% of her net insurable income.

It is clear that even if this is not spelled out explicitly, the intent of Bill C-307 is to give employees working in Quebec, but under federal jurisdiction, the possibility of getting the same access to the safe maternity program as employees under provincial jurisdiction.

I must admit that the issue raised by the bill is important to me, both as a woman and as a pediatric surgeon who spends most of the time taking care of children. I would be the first to say that pregnant and nursing women have the right to work in a safe environment. This is something that every Canadian would agree with.

Wherever we sit in the House, I am sure that we all want to protect those who give life, the infants they carry, and those who have been brought into the world. In fact, the Canada Labour Code formally recognizes this right. It includes several provisions, including maternity related reassignment or leave. These provisions give considerable protection to pregnant and nursing employees. I am not going to go into the details of these provisions, but generally speaking this is what they allow.

If there is a risk to the health of the employee, her fetus or her child, the employee can get a modification of her duties to be reassigned to another job without any loss of salary or benefits. If these measures are impractical, she can go on leave for as long as the danger persists.

Other provisions allow an employee to take leave during the period from the beginning of the pregnancy up to 24 weeks after childbirth if she is unable to work because of her pregnancy or nursing. This is in addition to regular maternity, parental or sick leave provisions under the code.

It is not my place to give an opinion on Quebec's safe maternity program, which, in principle, is very commendable. But one thing is sure: the program is very expensive.

To note, in a Canadian Press article that appeared at the beginning of November, it was reported that the cost of financing the program is 19 times higher than it was when it was first created. It now costs over $200 million per year, all of it financed by employees through a payroll tax. In Quebec, the same contribution rate, which is 19¢ on every $100 of employees' insurable earnings, is applied to all employees targeted by Quebec's preventative withdrawal program. This is regardless of the amount of benefits their employees receive.

If we assume that the same contribution rate would be applied to their current total salary envelope, employees under federal jurisdiction operating in Quebec, including the federal government, would be obliged to pay almost $20 million a year in contributions. However, given the relatively lower health and safety risks presented by most jobs under federal jurisdiction, it can be estimated the amount of benefits provided to employees would be approximately $5.4 million. In such a scenario, federally regulated employers would on average pay almost four times more into the program than their employees would take out. If only from a financial perspective, this would make no sense.

The financial aspect is one we cannot ignore, especially in these difficult economic times. That is perhaps why a report earlier this year, commissioned by Quebec's workers compensation board, recommended that the admissibility criteria for its program be tightened and that more effort was needed to encourage employers to accommodate pregnant and nursing employees. That is what our priority should be, to focus on allowing women to maintain their attachment to the labour force by ensuring that they work in a safe environment.

We have to consider the potential unintended consequences of the bill on workers that it is meant to help. Increasing business payroll taxes would hinder job growth and could lead some employers to reduce or eliminate benefits altogether for their employees. If Bill C-307 brought significant new benefits and protections for employees, this might also be a price worth considering, but it does not.

From a legislative point of view, Bill C-307 would also be difficult to implement. If Bill C-307 were adopted, many employers under federal jurisdiction would then be subject to most provincial and federal provisions on preventative withdrawal. This could create confusion in regard to the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees. Employees could try to take advantage of either their federal or provincial rights or remedies, choosing whichever system seemed to be the most advantageous under the circumstances. This would lead to problems in application of labour laws.

In addition, Bill C-307 would create disparities in the treatment of employees working in different provinces for the same employer. Given certain rights and benefits only in federal jurisdictions, employees located in one province and having such inequity enshrined in law would be unfair for employees working in other regions of the country. This sort of situation could lead to a complicated patchwork of disparities and legal obligations for employers under federal jurisdiction. Those operating in several provinces, including small companies which cannot afford professional legal or HR assistance, would face significant administrative difficulties.

Bill C-307 would also have the effect of blurring the lines of demarcation between jurisdictions of labour matters. The provinces could adopt laws that would apply to workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Such a development could have broad legal and policy ramifications.

It is clear that pregnant and nursing women have the right to work in an environment that is safe and healthy. If there is a risk to their health, that right is protected under the Canada Labour Code.

I would also point out that the vast majority of employees under federal jurisdiction are entitled to benefits under a disability insurance or sick leave program provided by their employer. Employees are also entitled to employment insurance benefits if they meet the eligibility criteria.

When we propose to make changes or additions to the Canada Labour Code, as is proposed in Bill C-307, we must ensure that we are carefully considering their implications, and weigh the pros and cons. That is what we have done as a responsible government.

After spending a great deal of time examining this bill and for all the reasons I just mentioned, we have decided to oppose Bill C-307 and we ask all members to do the same.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, a number of different points have been raised in debate and I think all members in the House share the opinion, the will and the want to ensure that pregnant and nursing women are well cared for and supported, as they should be.

From a Liberal perspective, our track record shows we have not just talked about this, but we have taken steps such as maternity leave through the employment insurance program and various undertakings over a number of years.

Bill C-307 is similar to a private member's bill put forward in the past by a member of the Bloc. I remember being in the House when it was debated. I do not see any changes from this legislation to the points that were raised the past legislation.

The concern then and the concern now is the impact this will have on provinces and how they have to respond to the legislation. It is really a case of dictating programs to the various provincial jurisdictions. I do not know if that is what our role and responsibility is here, and it was mentioned in the comments of my colleague, the parliamentary secretary.

I went through a process fairly closely with a former colleague, Ken Dryden, when he was a member of this chamber. We did cross-Canada contacts and stakeholders meetings when he worked toward the formation of a national child care program. What we took from those meetings and from that whole experience was that each province did things completely different.

The province of Quebec has a child care model that stands apart from other provinces. It is very well refined, whereas the province of Newfoundland is still trying to come to terms with and develop more of a broad-based system.

However, one thing Ken understood from his experience was that none of the provinces were willing to accept a national program. They could only do what they could do. They could improve what they were doing. They could support some of the initiatives they had undertaken. They believed in early education and child care, but they had to live within their means, as all governments do.

What had to be done was a series of one-offs, where the federal government embarked on a particular deal with each of the provinces. Investments were made. Those deals were certainly supported financially and dollars were transferred. However, it was not up to the federal government to dictate what a child care and early learning program should look like. That was clearly provincial jurisdiction. Ken and I took away from the experience that this was clearly within the purview of the provincial governments, but there was a role for the federal government to play.

As has been stated by the parliamentary secretary, and it is a belief that I share, there are provisions within the Canada Labour Code right now that protect the safety and security of pregnant and nursing women. Although well-intended and as noble as it might be, the legislation has the potential to further add to an inequality, where those women who work in a federal sector would have access to a higher level and a greater amount of support than other women who did not work in that sector.

The potential to add to inequality is real and I have not seen any changes in the legislation. That concern was raised when the Bloc introduced the legislation. I have not seen that change through this. If we were to go forward and support the legislation, I think we would constitutionally impinge on the jurisdiction of the provincial governments. It is tough enough to move legislation forward and be progressive in areas of federal jurisdiction, but when we try to impart that on the provinces, they are not all that willing.

The additional risk is it would further complicate an already complicated area, where we see provincial labour laws and provincial codes apply as well as an overlap of federal labour laws and labour codes.

We dealt with legislation four years ago. Cape Breton had a subsea mine and federal labour codes applied to that specific operation, the Cape Breton Development Corporation. When the federal government got out of the mining business, the province wanted to assume and further develop the coalfields in Sydney. To try to streamline that, we had to pass legislation in the House that would enable the province to assume responsibility to have that mine operate under provincial labour codes and to be monitored by provincial labour standards. It was a rigorous process, but nonetheless we were able to get through it.

However, when we look at all 10 provinces and the varying degrees of support that are awarded by each of those provinces and when we look at where the Canada Labour Code currently extends into this issue, then it calls into question whether it is wise or prudent or if it is our responsibility to move forward with this type of legislation.

Again, our caucus has seen the legislation before. We did not think it was the cleanest of legislation. Although we support pregnant and nursing women, we do not think the legislation is one that makes a great deal of sense to support. It further draws a greater inequality between those who are in federal sectors and those who are not.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Madam Speaker, I am really very proud to rise in this House today to stand up for the rights of working women in Canada.

I want to lend my support to Bill C-307 because I think it is a good thing, it is something that is logical and necessary for the provinces of Canada. This is not just a law that will strengthen our federation; it is also a law that affects the rights of women in our country. I think there are many reasons why all parties in this House, as a government, are going to be able to work together in a non-partisan debate. I am convinced that as the government of Canada, we want to be sure that our federation stays strong and the injustices that women suffer are eliminated.

I believe in a policy of bringing people together, a policy that will be equal in all provinces. I hear my colleagues in the other parties talking to me about inequality. This bill is one that my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has introduced precisely so that we will be more equal everywhere in Canada. I wonder whether the others have really understood the essence of this bill.

The reason why I believe in this bill is that the history of Canada shows that the federal government takes the social legislation of the provinces into consideration.

What we are saying in Bill C-307 is that there is legislation in Quebec, good progressive legislation to protect working women's rights, and that all of Canada should be able to benefit from it. We believe that preventive withdrawal legislation should apply to all working women in all provinces. While everyone works together to improve the lives of people in their own province, it is up to us, in the federal government, to do that for our country. It is important that the federation not take away the social progress achieved by the provinces. That is an injustice, and it is our job as parliamentarians to put a stop to injustices.

The debate today relates to an injustice that is truly important to me. Women's rights are of crucial importance in this world, and particularly in Canada. It is inconceivable that in this country we should have legislation that discriminates against nearly 50% of our population. The purpose of Bill C-307 is to enable pregnant or nursing women who are subject to the Canada Labour Code to be able to avail themselves of provincial legislation governing preventive withdrawal when that legislation is more beneficial.

At present, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program. Since 1981, pregnant women have been able to receive 90% of their wages before their delivery if their job is considered to be too dangerous for them or their child. This means lifting loads of more than 7 kg, interacting with people who may potentially be dangerous to the woman or the child, being exposed to noise levels that are dangerous to the woman or working in a standing position for over seven hours.

Women who live in the province but work for federal institutions—that is, who are subject to the Canada Labour Code—do not have access to this kind of program at present. They are subject to the Canada Labour Code, which ignores the rights of pregnant or nursing women. Women may take unpaid leave, but that is all, even though their colleagues who work next door are able to benefit under the Quebec legislation.

Here is a concrete example. I worked as a teacher in a provincial detention centre. I was replacing a person who was on preventive withdrawal, because working in a detention centre is dangerous. That person was really pleased to be able to avail herself of that right and I replaced her. I would feel kind of silly if I told a teacher working in a penitentiary that it is dangerous for her to work in that environment. If she worked in a detention centre, she could leave, but because she is teaching in a penitentiary and cannot get an alternative job, she must take a leave without pay if she wants to be on preventive withdrawal.

This is supposed to be a country where people are encouraged to have children. Our demographic situation is all upside down. In some regions, there are more people over the age of 50 than under it. However, we are telling a woman who wants to have a child that she must give up her salary. That is unfair and unjust.

The hon. member opposite raised an economic argument.

I was really appalled and upset to hear that because, according to the Library of Parliament, the costs could reach $11 million annually. I agree that this may look like a lot of money. However, another study was carried out by Dr. Robert Plante, and published in Le Médecin du Québec magazine in November 2004. Based on an average of 50,000 pregnant women, there were, among those who did not have access to preventive withdrawal, 375 cases of low gestational weight, 460 premature delivery and, what is worse, 340 fetal deaths. This means that out of 50,000 pregnant workers, we would spend $11 million to save 340 children a year.

Members opposite are saying that it is too expensive. Personally, I earn money and I pay taxes at the federal and provincial levels. It seems to me that we could try to invest that money in social programs. But I am told it is too costly. So, we will let 340 children die, even though they would eventually have paid taxes and help correct our demographic situation, all this because the government says it costs too much money. That is a very weak argument and I hope our friends in the other parties will realize that. The government talks about stimulating the economy. It seems to me that people who are born and who work help do just that.

I spoke of my experience replacing someone. This legislation would help the 75,000 women in Quebec who work under the Canada Labour Code.

Some hon. members say this is unfair to the provinces. We have to look at the basics. We currently have a good program in Quebec. We are trying to extend it so that those who work under federal jurisdiction can benefit from it. If some believe this creates inequalities and that it is not fair, then let us extend it Canada-wide. This is just the first step in telling women everywhere who work full time that their job is a little bit dangerous, that they need to take time to have children, because we need children in our society, and that we are going to give them the means and tools to do so.

The bill has been applauded by several women's groups including the Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail and the Fédération des femmes du Québec. The Canadian Union of Public Employees did not tell us this was illegal with regard to the provinces, but that this progressive bill would help 75,000 women in Canada, that we needed to start there and then we would see what could be extended to the rest of Canada.

I am truly in favour of the bill by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This bill will help Canadian and Quebec women and will restore some justice in this country where we ask women to have children, go to work and take care of the home. I think this bill is a very good thing. I encourage every member in the House to think about it and put partisan debates aside in order to pass this bill. I invite everyone to vote in favour of this bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I have no qualms whatsoever about supporting the bill introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. Moreover, I would like to thank him for rising in this House to speak about the rights of pregnant and nursing women. This bill is particularly important to me. Women and their cause have always been at the heart of my social, community and political outreach work.

Women are increasingly present in the workforce. Since the early 20th century, the presence of women has been consistently on the rise. In 1901, women accounted for 13% of the labour force and by 1951 this rate had jumped to 23%. Women in the workforce were predominantly single in the past. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1951 the Canadian labour force comprised only 11% of married women whereas by 1994 the rate had jumped to 57%.

This is no longer the case however. The labour market has changed. The role of women has also changed. There were very few women in this House 20 years ago. The first woman elected was Agnes Macphail in 1921. There were four women in the House of Commons in the 21st Parliament. The threshold of 20% female representation was only reached in 1997.

Today, there are 76 women in this House, including 40 in the official opposition. This is an unprecedented number in the history of Canada. Many of us are doctors, teachers, lawyers, and the list goes on. We have completed graduate studies. One only has to look at the composition of this House to see how the role of women has evolved. It would be very hypocritical and most unrealistic to infer that women in the labour force face the same challenges as their male counterparts.

The number one challenge is, obviously, wages. The fight for pay equity in this country is not over. Only a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion on a dispute that had lasted for over 28 years between Canada Post and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Another challenge women face in the labour market has to do with maternity. We now finally have a maternity leave program. It is not perfect, but it is a lot better than it used to be. But that is not the only challenge. Women who go on maternity leave can still end up getting transferred or missing out on promotions due to their absences. That is far from ideal. Women still have to qualify, under the federal program, for employment insurance, which is not the case for everybody, like for self employed women for instance. There are also part-time employees, a group where women are overrepresented. I find that the Quebec parental insurance plan, a more generous plan than its federal equivalent, is better geared towards women, but that is not the crux of my speech today.

Among the other issues tied to maternity is preventative withdrawal. Given the nature of the work some women do, and because of complications, some women who fall pregnant are unable to work. These women cannot, for health issues and the safety of their child, continue to work.

In Quebec, provincially regulated women employees have access to the CSST if their employer cannot find tasks that will not endanger them or their child. For women working in companies that are federally regulated, it is a nightmare. They are permitted to take leave until they see their doctor. However, once the doctor has certified that they can no longer carry out their duties, their employer is under the obligation to transfer them to other duties. This, however, is not always possible.

Then they have two options. The first one is to continue to work despite all the risks and dangers involved. That choice may put both mother and child at risk and create complications during pregnancy. However, it ensures financial security. The second option is to take a leave without pay, which deprives the mother and her child of a much needed income. Women are more at risk of living in poverty. They are more likely to hold precarious and part-time jobs. There are also more single moms. Let us also not forget that there are more poor women than poor men. These women are already in a difficult financial situation, and sudden changes in their income can get them caught in the vicious cycle of poverty and indebtedness.

It is inconceivable that a woman should have to choose between financial survival or her health and safety. It is an abomination and a disgrace. We know that pregnant women are under a huge financial stress. They must find furniture and diapers for their baby. Sometimes, they must find a larger place to live. Pregnancy is also the time when women must be most careful with their diet. It is very difficult to make healthy choices and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, when one can only afford Kraft Dinner. The mother's diet can have long term effects on a child's health. Pregnancy is not the time to be stingy and to deprive women of financial resources.

This bill will help close to 75,000 women in Quebec benefit from CSST's protection. We are talking about 75,000 women who will not have to choose between their health and safety or their financial security. These women will be able to focus on eating well and on preparing for the arrival of their child. Should other provinces decide to follow Quebec's example and provide protection through their provincial occupational health and safety agency, this bill will protect an even larger number of women.

The government should accept this legislation, which only restores equality between women and men across Canada. I urge all hon. members to support this bill. It is a matter of justice, of equality and of public health.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), which has been proposed by my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I want to commend him for bringing forward this important legislation.

In terms of the context, currently in Quebec women who are pregnant and nursing have some protection in the workplace if they are covered under Quebec labour laws. However, women who are not under Quebec labour laws but are under Labour Canada do not have the same protection. What the member has proposed would apply to women across Canada if their provincial governments had similar legislation.

I want to quote from the International Labour Organization, which states:

Maternity protection has been a core issue for the International Labour Organization...and informs the work of the Canadian Labour Congress. ILO member States have adopted the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) which states that “the need to provide protection for pregnancy...are the shared responsibility of the government and society” and extends coverage to all employed women, regardless of occupation or type of undertaking (including women employed in atypical forms of work).

That is an important context because the key words to the statement are a shared responsibility of the government and society. I would argue that this shared responsibility is something we in the House should talk about when we talk about pregnant and nursing women in the workplace. It is always interesting to hear people talk about family values and yet when legislation is brought forward, which is designed to protect that very family, members in the House talk in opposition. That is a shame.

A number of organizations across Canada are in support of the legislation. I want to quote CUPE, which applauds the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. It states that this:

—would extend provincial measures governing the paid protective reassignment of pregnant employees to workers under federal jurisdiction. This would include areas such as air and rail transportation, banking, communications, ports and armoured car services.

At present, protective reassignment means that pregnant workers in occupations subject to the Canada Labour Code receive Employment Insurance benefits equivalent to 55 per cent of their pay. For every week of benefits, their maternity leave is reduced by a week. In essence, this amounts to leave without pay.

In effect, if some workers are forced to take an unpaid leave of absence from their work, it actually impacts on their ability to provide care for their children and to provide financial support to their families.

One might ask why this is important and what it is about workplaces that could be unsafe. A number of organizations have talked about the workplace pregnancy risk assessment. I want to point to one that is available, which states:

Why A Workplace Pregnancy Risk Assessment Matters

This comes to the heart of this. We are talking about health and safety in the workplace. This document states:

Workplace risk assessments during pregnancy are especially important because there can be a lot of hazards even in what may seem like the safest of offices.

That is the important point. We are talking about a workplace where normally the woman is very capable of performing the duties in the workplace, but in some situations, when a woman is pregnant or nursing, there are things about it that now make it unsafe for her. She fully intends to return to that workplace, and in most cases we have laws in place where a woman's right to return to work after pregnancy is guaranteed.

However, in this case, this workplace pregnancy risk assessment goes through a number of factors, but I will touch on three. It talks about lifting risks, chemical risks and standing risks. There are a long list of activities that fall under those lists, which would say that it is not a safe place for the woman to work while she is pregnant or nursing.

With respect to chemical risks, I think anyone who has been a mother and has nursed can imagine working in an environment where the breast milk could become contaminated because the woman ingests something in the workplace. Surely we would not women working in those kinds of circumstances. In some cases, the employer is simply not able to reassign the woman to other duties. The workplace may not have those other opportunities. In those cases, the woman requires some financial support until she is able to return to the workplace. This is exactly what Bill C-307 attempts to address.

Many other organizations have been in support of this and I want to specifically quote the Alberta Federation of Labour. It passed a resolution stating that it would work with affiliates, labour councils and the Canadian Labour Congress for the adoption of protective reassignment legislation.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have five minutes remaining for her intervention when this bill returns to the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, in my question on November 4, I asked the minister to explain his act of misleading the committee and why he deliberately refused to meet the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Knowing this minister's tactics, I should not have been surprised by the minister's deceptive and misleading response when he claimed that the board refused to meet with him. That, as the board has since confirmed, was not true.

In fact, every action the government has taken in its fevered efforts to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board was summed up in the Federal Court decision of December 7 as being “an affront to the rule of law”.

The minister claims he represents farmers, and cites the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and Western Barley Growers Association on every occasion. These organizations, by their own admission, have gone from 3,130 members to about 730 members, not all of whom reside in western Canada.

Clearly this is a government that believes freedom can be given by destroying democracy. This is a government that has brought forward legislation based upon deception and lies. It is a government that has used threats, intimidation, firing and gag orders on the board. This is a Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who has the gall to stand in front of western farmers and tell them that he would do nothing until farmers decided to make a change to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Farmers, the minister said, “are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.” He again broke his word, because he never held the vote under section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act that would have allowed farmers to have that voice. In fact, the Federal Dourt has said, as I indicated a moment ago, that it was “an affront to the rule of law”.

This is a government whose parliamentary secretary claimed in this House that the Canadian Wheat Board of 1943 was the same as the CWB today. This deliberately ignored the fact that legislation was brought forward in 1997 which allowed an elected board of farm directors to control and manage the board.

This is a Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who will now deliberately expropriate the property of farmers and will appoint five of his cronies, his hacks or those he wants to pay off to direct the Wheat Board. This will change the Canadian Wheat Board from being run by an elected board of farm directors to being run by a few hacks controlled by the Government of Canada.

To whom do these political appointees answer? Where do they get their direction and marching orders? From the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's office itself.

This is a minister who just increased the contingency fund to $200 million, a fund that he and his hard cronies can manipulate as they wish, a point confirmed by the deputy minister of agriculture himself.

I will conclude by saying that when faced with a government that is guided by the same moral compass as a bully, as a thug, it should come as no surprise that extraordinary measures are required.

The Prime Minister is fond of declaring that he would like Canada to reflect certain provisions of the BNA Act, in terms of the federal relationship to other levels of government. Section 55 of that act, long in disuse but still contained in the Constitution document, provides the Governor General with the option of withholding or reserving assent to legislation.

Bill C-18 is premised on a violation of law. Its very genus is based on an affront to the rule of law. Perhaps the Governor General should give consideration to using section 55 to deny this—

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board.

7 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, I do not know how close to the line the member's language is getting in terms of being unparliamentary, but it must be getting very close as he has done nothing but make a series of personal attacks on the minister, farmers and farm organizations.

I would like to point out that he knows what he is talking about when he talks about thuggery, because it was he and his government that locked farmers in jail on this very issue. It was also his government that changed the legislation without ever consulting farmers, and he has the gall and hypocrisy to come here today and tell us that we should be doing something other than what he has done himself.

The question the member asked was about meeting with the board of directors. I was very disappointed. The minister was invited to meet with the board, but he was going to Russia and the board knew that. The minister asked if I could possibly attend the meeting, but the board of directors refused to meet with me.

I know there are directors like Henry Vos and Jeff Nielsen who work very hard for western Canadian farmers. I wanted to meet with them to see what kind of solutions and interests they had for the future. However, the board insisted on making some excuses and would not meet with me. The board had refused to meet with the minister in the past as well.

I guess I am not surprised when the member, in his comments at one point, said that he had been invited a number of times to Winnipeg. That is not surprising. There is a certain connection between the Liberal Party and a number of members of the board. I could point to two or three examples where that seems to be the case.

About a year ago, I had a chance to ride back from a reception with one of the Liberal members. He said maybe more than he should have, but he said that the Liberals had a chance to meet with the Wheat Board in Winnipeg at their summer caucus. He said that the board said that it really loved them, but that it would not tell western Canadian farmers that.

There is a reason the board should love them. I do not know if it was Reg Alcock's campaign manager or EA, but the board hired her to be the government relations member for the Wheat Board. Paul Martin's failed campaign manager was hired to do polling. The board hired law firms in the last couple of months that have required Liberal senators to recuse themselves from the debate because for them to be involved would have been a conflict of interest. We see that connection between the Liberals and the Wheat Board's board of directors.

I think we are going to see that again tomorrow. I think a circus stunt will be pulled off. We will see a couple of Liberal members trying to get attention, trying to make this into a political situation because for whatever reason, they do not seem to want western Canadian farmers to have certainty. I think that is what is really offending and annoying western Canadian farmers.

I just had somebody on the phone about 10 minutes ago who said, “Would you tell the member for Malpeque that the Wheat Board has been responsible for so much growth in western Canada. It has been the growth of the specialty crops and the growth of canola”. He wanted me to carry that message directly to the member for Malpeque when he heard that I was going to be talking to him.

The member for Malpeque has been dragging an anchor all the way from Malpeque to Winnipeg. Apparently he is going to be there tomorrow. I do not know why he does not realize that farmers in western Canada have moved on. Farmers want to have certainty and they want the freedom to market their own grain. The member, a few members of his party and a few lonely people in western Canada still stand between farmers and certainty.

We look forward to passing the bill. We think it is important. It is going to bring certainty to western Canadian farmers. Certainly they are looking forward to that day. We ask the member to join with us to make sure that certainty takes place on January 1. We ask him to not continually interfere with the situation in order to cause uncertainty.

I guess he, his party and the NDP as well have taken seriously the request of the eight board of directors from the Wheat Board when they said, “Would you mind disrupting the legislation as much as you possibly can and then we'll work together to try to disrupt the market so that when the government implements the bill, it will cause uncertainty for farmers”.

On this side of the House we want to do exactly the opposite. We want to bring the bill forward and we want to provide certainty.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, the parliamentary secretary certainly misses the point. If there is one thing that will be certain as a result of the government's action in destroying the Canadian Wheat Board, it will be uncertainty in the grain markets. That will be the bottom line.

The key point is that we are asking the government to abide by the rule of law, as the Federal Court has asked it to do. We are asking the government to respect farmers' opinion and allow farmers the right to have their say on their marketing institution. The Conservatives have denied them that right.

However, the Conservatives went very far and even managed to intimidate their own bureaucrats to the point that the deputy minister of agriculture confirmed at the Senate committee on Bill C-18 that rather than provide the minister with objective advice he stated, “I was asked to indicate the studies that support that”, meaning the open market option, “and I have done so”. There were other objective studies. He failed to release them. The government has even intimidated the bureaucracy.

Why does the government not abide by the rule of law?

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, to wrap this up, the truly shameful thing is that the member for Malpeque and his interim leader are flying to Winnipeg tomorrow to hold a publicity stunt with Allen Oberg and other members of the tinfoil hat crowd with the express purpose of disrupting the markets in western Canada.

We live in a free country. We are giving farmers freedom. It is the right thing to do. Removing the CWB's single desk is the best thing for the economy. It will result in increased innovation, investment, value-added opportunities, and employment in western Canada. We want to extend to all wheat and barley farmers the property rights upon which our nation was built.

As one farmer wrote today in the Winnipeg Free Press, “The right to sell my property (i.e., my own wheat) to whomever I like should not be a collective decision”.

That is what I have believed for many years. That is the difference between the member for Malpeque and myself.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, the government is making cutbacks to fisheries research and management and is claiming that it will not affect us. At the same time, the ocean ecosystem and the fishery industry are facing a very uncertain and worrisome future.

In the past, fishers depended on Fisheries and Oceans Canada for scientific information in order to make well-informed decisions regarding the TAC, the total allowable catch.

Over recent years, the department has made deep cuts to the funding of this essential scientific work. These cutbacks have an adverse affect on the quality and effectiveness of the department's decision-making when it comes to fish stocks that are endangered or vulnerable.

One of the most serious examples is the recent closure of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. The FRCC was a science-based organization respected by the industry's fishers. For 10 years, the FRCC conducted an annual review of the TACs for the groundfishery. The FRCC was at the origin of numerous moratoriums imposed since the 1990s.

Only very rarely were its recommendations not accepted or followed. The need for scientific assessment of the fisheries has never been greater or more evident. The closure of the FRCC and the reduction in the number of science programs are quite worrisome.

In my riding, we are still experiencing the collapse of groundfish stocks, such as cod and redfish. Due to this ecological and economic crisis, which has persisted since the 1990s, my region has lost some 30 to 50% of fisheries related jobs.

The fishing industry in the Gulf is in transition because of a trend towards shellfish, such as snow crabs and lobster. The result is paradoxical: the value of the fishery has increased despite the disappearance of a lot of fish stocks, since shellfish sell at a higher price than groundfish. Unfortunately, scientists are unable to fully explain why the shellfish are so plentiful. They do not understand the long-term effects of this fundamental change to the ecosystem.

The shellfish industry is also poorly managed: the snow crab fishery is tanking and scientists are unable to say whether the same fate awaits the lobster fishery. Companies in the Gaspé, such as E. Gagnon & Fils in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé, employ over 500 people in their fish plants, which includes shellfish.

How do we reassure these people that they will keep their jobs and still be able to earn a living in the future? Scientists are essential to a fishery that is based on the precautionary principle. However, Fisheries and Oceans Canada does not seem to focus on science. Conducting stock inventories every 3 or 5 years is not enough. Clearly, there is a need for a lot more scientific research, not less.

With the cutbacks at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, what guarantee do we have that scientists will be able to continue their work as advisors to fishers and the industry?

7:10 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to respond to the member opposite and to set the record straight about how Fisheries and Oceans Canada is delivering on its mandate through programs and services that a modern fishing industry requires.

The member has mentioned our government's spending on research and management. I can tell him and the House that since 2006 our government has demonstrated a strong commitment to science at Fisheries and Oceans, including investing $30 million to upgrade 13 laboratories at sites across the country. We have also set aside $388 million to construct three Coast Guard offshore fisheries science vessels, with berths for 13 scientists each, to undertake environmental and fishery research, and one offshore oceanographic science vessel, with berths for 23 scientists, to conduct oceanographic, geological and hydrographic survey missions.

This government has also approved $720 million for the construction of CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, Canada's largest and most powerful icebreaker. When it is delivered in 2017, it will be available to support Arctic science over three seasons each year instead of the current two seasons, with a greater geographical reach into the high Arctic.

We have invested $14 million to complete mapping and data collection in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans for Canada's submission to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and we have invested $9.7 million in science to support emerging commercial fishing.

However, we are not through with our progress yet. As we face the challenges of the future, we will continue to accelerate our progress toward supporting a more modern economically and ecologically sustainable Canadian fishing industry.

How are we going to do that? For starters, fisheries management programs will be modernized to create an environment in which stability, predictability and transparency will allow fish harvesters to make informed business choices and decisions for the long term.

We will continue to improve ecosystem science and habitat management by focusing resources on areas of greatest impact and improving transparency and effectiveness.

We will continue to streamline programs and make greater use of modern technologies to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of our programs, and where appropriate, we will wind down non-core programs that are no longer part of our mandate.

All departments have been asked to review their program spending as part of the Government of Canada deficit reduction initiative. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Canadian Coast Guard programs and services will contribute to that effort by focusing on core mandate responsibilities, taking advantage of modern technologies and continuing to seek cost efficiencies.

The department is committed to meeting its deficit reduction targets and achieving value for money for taxpayers. At the same time, we are effectively delivering on our mandate through well-designed programs and services that are regularly refreshed to take account of the priorities of Canadians.

Over the summer and fall, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans travelled from coast to coast to coast and met with key players from the fishing industry to discuss how the department can best support their economic growth. He has spoken to stakeholders whose interests lie in aquaculture and wild fisheries and heard their views on licensing, sustainability, conservation, export markets and all the other issues that are important to them.

These consultations helped shape the planned changes in how the department will operate, changes that will come into effect over the next three years to ensure we continue to protect our ecosystems and build a stronger fishing industry.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member. I do not think the answer is sufficient but at least it is a start.

The minister told us that the government will replace the FRCC with direct links between the industry and scientists, but what assurances do we have that decisions will be made objectively? In addition, how will this government plan long-term conservation, which was one of the main tasks of the FRCC, which no longer exists?

How can Canadians be certain that the department will not make decisions blindly? We need scientists who have the respect and support of the government, fishers and all other industry stakeholders.

How can we ensure that scientists will be there and that they will give us good advice?

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Madam Speaker, I think the key message that we are trying to deliver is that we cannot afford to continue with old ways of doing business, so we have chosen to focus on the future. That is really the only sensible option.

Our government is committed to ensuring that programs are efficient and effective and that they achieve expected results for Canadians. To get there, we are focusing more fully on our core mandate.

Yes, we are modernizing our program and policy approaches. We are transforming how we do business on behalf of Canadians. In the future, our business and regulatory practices will be characterized by clear rules that are consistently applied, thus bringing predictability and stability to stakeholders.

The department will embrace the use of modern navigational services, and the Canadian Coast Guard will rebalance its resources to where they can have the greatest impact.

By streamlining core programs and shedding non-core programs, accelerating the take-up of new technologies and aligning departmental resources where needs are the greatest, the department will be in a stronger position to meet its strategic outcomes and to serve its stakeholders and all Canadians.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:18 p.m.)