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House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judge.

Topics

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, a month and a half ago or so the Minister of Finance circulated a letter to all members of the House asking for input on the upcoming budget.

In my correspondence to the minister, I identified two areas in particular. Certainly I know that we are not going to sway the government much on some of the hard-held ideological items such as child care, but I was hoping to at least bring to his attention two issues that I think would make a considerable amount of difference, especially in rural communities and in households in which families are struggling to make ends meet.

The first one I talked about was an income increase for seniors in this country. Many seniors are faced with the choice between trying to fill their prescriptions or fill their oil tanks or fill their cupboards, so certainly that money would make it right back into the economy if we were able to increase the incomes of the seniors in this country.

The other one was with regard to EI. For workers and for those in industries that are seasonal in nature, under a past Liberal government a pilot project was established. The best 14 weeks had been established, and I know that the current government has supported it and has rolled it over to June. There should be evidence within this that this program, this initiative, is worthwhile. It means a great deal to people who work in the industry. It means a great deal to those who run businesses and drive the economies of rural communities across the country. It is an important initiative.

Back on the day that I asked the Minister for Human Resources and Skills Development the question, in her response she said they will make a decision on this and will make the decision on what is best for Canadian workers and Canadian job creators.

It is the small business operators in this country who create the jobs--the guys who run the fish plants, the tourism operators who have a small window of opportunity to really make their season. If they do not have access to a pool of labour, then those industries just do not operate. If we take that pool of labour away, those businesses dry up, so it is important that we be able to support the workers in those communities. In doing so, we support those businesses, and that is good for everybody. As long as we continue to do this, it benefits the entire country.

My question for the parliamentary secretary is this: is the minister willing to make the commitment to go beyond the June deadline to ensure that the best-14-weeks pilot project is made permanent, so that we can give some degree of certainty to these industries and these workers?

6:25 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, we have been focused on taking action to address the needs of Canadian families and the Canadian economy.

We will continue to act in those interests. We are focused on job growth, expanding the economy, investing in skills training and helping those who were hardest hit by the global recession.

The economy has responded since July 2009. Over 400,000 new jobs have been created. Unfortunately, if the opposition and the coalition had their way, their proposed actions would very well destroy those hundreds of thousands of jobs and throw our economy into reverse by raising taxes. That is something we will not do.

When we go back to the question that was asked by this hon. member of the minister, he said that the Conservatives were looking at cancelling the best 14 weeks and the working while on claim programs. The member said these programs have helped those in need during these tough economic times. They have benefited the most vulnerable, the youth, women, low-skilled workers, and low-income families.

In fact, with respect to the EI pilot projects, months ago, on October 12, we announced that we were extending the two EI pilot projects for 8 months, namely the best 14 weeks pilot and the working while on claim pilot. We also announced that we were reintroducing the extended EI benefits pilot for up to two years.

In light of that, one would think this member would get up today in the House and say, “Well, thank you very much. I said you were cancelling the program. You did not cancel the program. Thankfully you extended the program as I wanted you to do. In fact, you have extended three of the EI programs that help those who are most vulnerable.”

I would think he would get up in the House to thank the government for doing that instead of not doing it. Quite frankly, we have taken many actions that have helped hundreds of thousands of Canadians, through our improvement to the EI system. Long-tenured workers have received extra help through extra weeks of EI. Career transition assistance is also helping tens of thousands of long-tenured workers who need additional support for retraining to find a new job.

Over 265,000 jobs have been protected through our enhancements to the work-sharing program. That's another thing one would think this member would stand up in the House to thank the government for preserving those jobs. I do not hear him doing that.

We are focused on helping Canadians get back to work. We have made unprecedented investments in training. In fact in 2009-2010, we invested more than $4 billion in training, helping over 1.2 million Canadians.

We have also introduced tax cuts and premium freezes to ensure that Canadians have more money in their pockets to take care of themselves and their families and to spend on their priorities.

All of this is to say that we have taken significant action. We have acted strongly to help Canadians through the global recession, and we have done so in a reasonable and responsible way. We have invested where investment counts. We have ensured that people have jobs. One would think this member would get up in the House to thank the government for doing these things and get behind these things and support them.

Shamefully, the Liberals voted against many of these initiatives. These initiatives are helping the Canadians who need help the most.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, if the parliamentary secretary is holding his breath waiting for me to congratulate him on the measures, I assure him we will see a member of the House turning blue, because what the government did was not even a half-measure. It extended the program to June. These seasonal industries usually start up in June. That is when the tourist season begins in these rural communities. That is when the fisheries begin in these rural communities.

The business owners are saying that people are making a decision now about whether they will stay with that industry or move out of those communities. That pool of talent, that pool of labour, will be lost. They will be gone from those communities.

Many of these operators will not be able to start their businesses up, because the best 14 weeks project will lapse in June. That is the sad part, because it has been proven that the best 14 weeks takes the disincentives out of the program—

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, this member indicated that we have cancelled the programs. Of course, we have not cancelled it; we have extended the programs.

The member's Liberal Party has a shameful record when it comes to voting against help for Canadians. It voted against up to 20 additional weeks' of EI for long-tenured workers, extending the enhanced work-sharing program, additional funding to help youth gain valuable work experience, and the apprenticeship incentive grant and tool tax credit. The Liberals voted against all of that.

Something the government will not do is to balance our books on the backs of the most vulnerable, those who need our help the most, the low skilled and the low income families, by cutting transfer payments to the provinces by $25 billion, like the Liberal Party did; nor will we raid the EI account as the Liberals did to the tune of $50-plus billion. If we had that money there, we could probably do a lot of the things this member is asking for today, that is, if the Liberals had not raided those accounts and used them for pet political projects at that time. We will not do that.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, last October, I drew my colleague's attention to the situation of a feed mill in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. Top Shelf Feeds in Duncan is facing a staggering 27% increase in the cost to haul its product on the Vancouver Island rail line. As the only feed mill on Vancouver Island, Top Shelf provides most of the feed available to island farmers. Without it, the price of farming would increase dramatically since all feed would have to come over from the mainland.

The Island Corridor Foundation is working hard to ensure that there is a viable commuter rail service on the island. One crucial part of its plan is to improve rail freight service on the line so it is cost effective and can cover some of the costs of maintenance for the line. Unless the government takes action to ensure rail freight costs are fair, the future of rail transportation on the island and across the country is pretty dim.

Vancouver Island is not alone in its fight for fairer railways. This quote is from the latest National Farmers Union newsletter, the Union Farmer Quarterly. It states:

An immediate railway costing review is needed to address obvious over-charging by the railways. Farmers are once again being taken advantage of by the railway monopolies. According to the recent Travacon study commissioned by the Canadian Wheat Board, farmers are currently being over-charged by the rail companies for shipping their grain. Over the last two years farmers were charged an average of $199 million over-and-above what they would have had to pay under previous legislation. That converts to an average over-charge of $6.87 per tonne. The federal government has stated that it will not consider any further action [until] the current service review, which is well behind schedule, is completed. Participants argued that the service review and costing review should be undertaken simultaneously.

Since that newsletter came out, the government finally completed the long-awaited service review and it was no surprise that costing was not included. Now farmers are waiting to hear when the government will commit to a full railway costing review.

Along with the National Farmers Union, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Keystone Agricultural Producers, the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan, Wild Rose Agricultural Producers and the Canadian Wheat Board are all demanding a cost review of railway grain transportation. This is an example of what is happening on the Prairies with grain, but I need to point out that on Vancouver Island we are very concerned about keeping the farmers in business there.

Many people know there have been several reviews about Vancouver Island's ability to supply its own food in the event of a disaster, whether it is a snowfall, high winds or an earthquake, and there is only a two-day food supply on the island. It is essential that we support our local farmers and one of the ways we can support local farmers is to ensure their suppliers can supply their feed at a reasonable cost.

I am wondering how long the government will make farmers wait to find out if they will have access to fair, cost effective and reasonable rail transportation.

6:35 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan educating me on her riding. I am from northern Alberta. I have a lot of farmers, ranchers, cow-calf producers, a lot of agriculture in my riding. I was quite surprised to hear her get up today and speak on agriculture because in just about every rural area of Canada where farmers are found, Conservatives represent them and represent them well.

We recognize there is a balance between farmers and railways in order for farmers to be successful and for railways to have some ability to continue to operate successfully in a business environment or quite frankly they will not be there.

Railways, just like farmers, play a key role in Canada's economic prosperity. This Conservative government will help ensure the railways and the customers who depend on them are well positioned to meet the challenges of the global marketplace in the future. Their competition is in different places around the world. One part of Canada is not competing against another. We are competing as a global power against other agricultural powers.

Over the past 27 years we have seen real changes in Canada, positive changes. Western grain transport, for instance, has shifted from a regime of rate controls and heavy government subsidies toward a progressively more commercial framework.

I appreciate the fact that the member is a hard worker and is very intelligent. The difficulty I have is that NDP members talk the talk but when it comes to voting, they vote against our initiatives for farmers. That is what disturbs me constantly. The NDP members get up on these late show questions and talk about how they want to help farmers and how they want to balance what they need to do, but I wish they would do exactly the same thing when it came to voting.

The revenue cap regime was introduced in 2000 based on over a century of evidence of the shortcomings of cost-based regulations, including massive government subsidies and lack of incentives for railways to invest in infrastructure. As a result, our railways were in very poor condition.

Under previous approaches that kept rates artificially low for farmers, the railways incurred significant losses and were unable to invest in grain cars or rail lines. As a result of those heavy losses, how could they invest in those rail lines? How could farmers rely on them to be able to ship their products by this transportation method?

Substantial government subsidies were required to keep western grain transport viable, including almost $540 million for the purchase of hopper cars, $4.8 billion from 1967 to 1983 to subsidize railway losses on grain, another $1.3 billion from 1986 to 1990 to rehabilitate branch lines, and $7.9 billion to subsidize freight rates between 1982 and 1996. Who paid for this? The Canadian people paid for it.

That is why this new method is working so much better. The current revenue cap regime creates incentives for the railways to operate efficiently and to invest in their infrastructure. Rail efficiencies in recent years have actually allowed grain to be moved more quickly and smoothly than during periods of previous governments, and that includes government regulation of course.

Railways have also used efficiency gains to modernize their fleets with larger capacity grain cars, which gives a competitive advantage, and to invest in their own infrastructure and railway cars.

This Conservative government stands up for farmers. We are not going to take any lessons from the NDP.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, that answer is not what we are hearing from farmers. I will give an example that reflects the ongoing struggle of suppliers and farmers.

The two big railway companies, CN and CP, earn far more from handling grain than they should according to the decisions made by the Canadian Transportation Agency under the Western Grain Transportation Act.

Western farmers have no alternative to moving their grain by rail and we do not have an alternative on Vancouver Island. It is clear that the rail companies are taking advantage of this lack of competition.

The rail revenue cap on grain freight is the only remaining regulatory discipline to ensure fairness for farmers, but it is based on outdated cost figures from 1992, which is nearly 20 years ago. Things are very different today.

More important, more than 1,000 grain elevators have closed since 1992. Railway companies have benefited from such consolidation to reduce their own operating costs, but the savings have not been passed along to farmers.

When will the government order an immediate costing review to ensure that the railway freight rates are decided fairly and accurately using today's actual cost? This should not only apply to prairie farmers but also to farmers on Vancouver Island. Companies should not be able to gouge suppliers and farmers. They have to have fair rates. We need these farmers to stay in business.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. I agree 100%. We need these farmers to stay in business. That is why we have to make sure the NDP never comes to power in this country because that will not happen under its kind of leadership.

Grain farmers in western Canada, and all farmers, have been well served by the revenue cap regime for almost 10 years. Grain freight rates have stayed at or below the level of inflation over that period of time. The railways have actually shared productivity gains with grain shippers through lower rates. Since their introduction in 2000, the revenue caps of both railways have been actually reduced by 26%. I hope the member was listening to that. This gives grain farmers lower freight rates than for any other commodity.

Finally, I should also note that shipper provisions that this government brought in, in the Canada Transportation Act, provided grain shippers with tools to challenge the service rates and charges of the railways. This is a real tool for them and it is--

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, on October 22, 2010 I put a question to the government. The question was to ask whether, during Small Business Week, the government would give consideration to restoring its home energy retrofit program to help small businesses in Edmonton and across the country. Consistent with the throne speech which was delivered in March of last year, the response by the minister was that the government was reviewing the entire suite of programs and would get back to Canadians.

Again today my question is: Why did the government kill the home energy retrofit program? This has harmed small businesses right across Canada. Will the government respond to our calls, and the calls of many across the country, to restore and extend this program? We have been waiting a year and we are looking for the answer, possibly today and hopefully in the budget.

The eco-energy retrofit program provided in the past, and could again provide: reduced energy consumption; energy cost savings including on home heating bills; reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through reduced energy demand and generation; and reduced peak power needs, often the excuse for continued operation and permitting of outdated and polluting generators. It would provide reduced downloading of the rising energy generation and transmission costs to consumers, often the greatest cost.

People are concerned about the rising costs which they are attributing to expansion of renewable power. In fact, much larger costs can be attributed to the development of large generation facilities, such as coal-fired power and nuclear, and the massive transmission lines to ship that electricity across jurisdictions and into the United States. They would provide support to aboriginal communities living in substandard housing, often reliant on expensive energy sources such as oil.

A healthy sustainable economy requires supporting and incentivizing business opportunities in a wide array of sectors, not just the fossil fuel sector. Billions of dollars have been given in tax cuts and subsidies to the fossil fuel sector while the government has cut programs which have incentivized and triggered the expansion of energy efficiency businesses across the country, as has occurred around the world. Any kind of sound program for a healthy sustainable economy should include the emerging clean energy and energy efficient sectors, and must recognize the contributions these sectors can play and are playing in our economy.

As I had previously informed the House, I am proud of the burgeoning energy efficiency sector in my own riding of Edmonton—Strathcona for energy audits, energy retrofits on lighting and insulation, businesses manufacturing energy efficient equipment, businesses selling that equipment, consulting firms for retrofitting green construction, and energy efficiency financing. I am equally proud of the efforts taken by constituents, in the absence of federal action, to reduce their energy and environmental footprints. I laud particularly the efforts of my constituency and Edmonton-wide community leagues to reduce their costs to citizens by reducing their footprint and being energy efficient.

When can we expect action by the government to expedite funding for energy efficiency and to revise the national building code, one of the main measures that people are waiting for, and to put a price on carbon to trigger investment? We need equity for Canadian families and small business. There is $144 billion for corporate tax cuts, but nothing this year for energy retrofit companies.

In the vacuum of government action to deliver consultation on a clean energy future, as committed to in Cancun, I will be sponsoring a dialogue myself in my--

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

6:45 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if others are as annoyed as I am with the NDP members when they oppose programs time after time and then tell us how good our programs are and that they want them to continue.

This is another example of where this government led the way, the NDP members fought it at every point and then later decided that they really liked what it is that we would do.

The Government of Canada has taken significant steps to advance the clean energy technologies that the member is speaking of and to create jobs for Canadians. Our clean energy initiatives are part of a comprehensive long-term approach to improve Canada's competitiveness and to ensure that we will continue to be a clean energy superpower and a leader in green job creation.

Since 2006 our government has committed more than $10 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build a more sustainable environment. We have invested in green infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy technologies and the production of cleaner energy and cleaner fuels.

We are extremely pleased with the success of our eco-energy initiatives, including the home energy retrofit program. After launching the eco-energy retrofit homes program in 2007, we expanded the program's budget under the economic action plan to a total of $745 million.

As of January 2011 over 639,000 homeowners have undertaken pre-retrofit evaluations with over 440,000 grant applications received in support of energy efficiency upgrades. This program has paid out almost $600 million to homeowners, with the average homeowner receiving a grant of more than $1,300.

Not only do these retrofits reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they have saved homeowners money by reducing power bills. In the middle of a global economic downturn, it helped create good well-paying jobs for hard-working Canadians.

This program is part of the focus of the responsible economic action plan, an overall plan that has created almost 450,000 jobs and has helped Canada weather the global economic downturn better than any country in the G7. Our wider eco-energy and clean energy initiatives are part of that plan. I am proud of Canada's energy sectors helping to lead the recovery of the Canadian economy.

However, as members know, in the last speech from the throne we committed to review our energy efficiency and emissions reductions programs just as everyone else reviews their programs. We want to make sure our programs continue to be an effective and efficient use of Canadian taxpayer dollars. In this economic climate I think we should all be on the same side when it comes to efforts to ensure the effectiveness of federal government programs.

It is important that members understand that while this review is under way, money for the eco-energy initiatives, including the home energy retrofit, continues to flow. The funding will continue until the end of this fiscal year, paying out a total of $300 million to homeowners currently in the program and it is continuing to support the home renovation industry. It is not just in the riding of the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, but across Canada that we are delivering economic and environmental benefits.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I have said on a number of occasions, I am strongly at odds with the Government of Canada and its position of what it has defined as a clean energy superpower. Worldwide, including the International Energy Agency, countries are called upon to take a two-pronged path out of the recession and address climate change, and that is to move toward cleaner and more renewable sources of power and to energy efficiency.

Clearly this government thinks that the pathway to an energy superpower is to continue to subsidize fossil fuels. Yes, it has invested billions of dollars in what it defines as clean energy, but that has been nuclear and coal-fired power. The billions of dollars the government has put into this were to subsidize coal-fired power plants so that they could potentially meet their standards and at the same time not continue the programs for home energy retrofits.

There was a bit of a stretching of the truth. Yes, the government continues to put forward money, but as of a year ago no new families could apply to participate in this program. In fact, the program essentially ended a year ago for most of the families in Canada.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, the real stretching is done by the member opposite who opposes basically every good initiative that we take and then later supports them.

It does not have to be that way for the citizens of Edmonton—Strathcona. If they really want an effective MP and they want to protect the small businesses in Edmonton, there is an option. There is a young guy out knocking on doors and working very hard. I want to congratulate Ryan and Lianne Hastman. They had their first baby on January 22, 2011, a little guy named Henry. I also want to acknowledge the tremendous work that Ryan has been doing in Edmonton—Strathcona. He has been out knocking on doors trying to convince people it is important for them to have a government member to represent them. He will, I am sure, be delivering the appropriate policies in the House of Commons after the next election both for energy efficiency and otherwise.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

(The House adjourned at 6:54 p.m.)