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House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I heard 100% correctly, but I think the member said that the minister has worked hard to get an exemption for us in flying to Ottawa.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

If you fly over U.S. airspace.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

I was just checking.

Mr. Speaker, that is the craziest thing I have ever heard.

I am a member of Parliament. We have a lot of rights and privileges that come with this role. However, we should not have preferential treatment for flying to Ottawa when we are coming here to talk about what is going on in Canada. This is nuts.

There is a British man who is stranded in Toronto and he cannot get home to England. Why? He is on a no-fly list and he cannot fly over American airspace. He is saying, “How can you tell me I'm not allowed to go to my own country?”. He has no rights here because he is not Canadian and he has been denied access to U.S. airspace. He just wants to go home.

Look at the bizarre results of blindly going ahead with this ideological bill, saying, “We have to do whatever the United States does”. We are like that little dog on The Bugs Bunny Show that is always with the big dog, saying, “We're there with you. We're there with you. We'll do whatever you want.”

It is time for us to actually stand up to the United States and do what is right for Canadians.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed very much the speech from the member for Halifax.

The parliamentary secretary should know better than to raise what was a patent hypocrisy on this issue. First, the reality is that other countries, such as the European Union, negotiated agreements that go far beyond what Canada even attempted to get.

Second, it is simply not true, as the member for Halifax knows, that this affects just the United States. It affects any foreign state, Panama, Colombia. Any state that wants to go into Canadian bedrooms, get confidential Canadian health records, confidential credit card information, they can do it because this bill provides for it.

It is almost as if Conservatives have not even read the bill and do not even know what is in the bill. As usual, it is the NDP that carefully reads the legislation and brings forward all these concerns that are felt widely in the population.

Canadians certainly get it. The Conservatives do not and they seem beholden to this incredibly radical ideological agenda that they have to the right, where confidential information is only valuable if it is Conservative confidential information. They do not want disclose bathrooms; they want to disclose confidential health records, credit card information and who people sleep with.

I would like to ask the member for Halifax how this plays in her area of the country? How do Canadians react once they hear about it? It is true that members of the press gallery have not been doing their due diligence. They should be reporting a lot more on this. They are starting to wake up. They are starting to understand the implications for Canadians' confidential information.

When the member raises it with the public in her riding of Halifax, how do Canadians react to this wholesale disclosure of Canadians' confidential information?

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question and also for the incredible work he has been doing on the international trade file and keeping the government honest.

The member points out that the media have not really cottoned on to this idea that there is a problem with Bill C-42. I do not think they have even reported anything about Bill C-42, holus-bolus.

When I talk to people in Halifax about it, people cannot quite believe it. They cannot quite believe, first of all, that it is being introduced; second, that it continues to be supported; and third, that it has support from more than one party in the House.

We have an international airport in Halifax. We do have to fly over American airspace to get practically anywhere because of our location. People go to the international airport and have to deal with issues like this. They cannot believe that the government would continue to support the total abrogation of our rights, the total handing over of our personal information: who we are sleeping with, where, in what hotel and what kind of car we rented.

The response from people in Halifax has not been as strong as I would have imagined because I think people are still in the disbelief stage. I think that is probably true across Canada. Canadians have to wake up because this is going to be a dangerous thing that we are getting into. We need to do everything we can to stop it.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, what is dangerous is not adequately screening people getting on airplanes.

What I find really remarkable is that when it comes to travelling safety, when I buy an airplane ticket, I want people to know I do not pose a threat to that aircraft and I do not pose a threat to the United States. I want them to know that. I am as open as a book.

I do not see the bill as an invasion of my privacy in any way. We work with the United States on continental security. Approximately 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001: parents, brothers, sisters, children, sons and daughters. We have to be awake to that reality.

When the people of Halifax look at what is in this bill and at the protection it seeks to provide to the Americans, it is their airspace. We work with them on continental security. We are partners in the fight against terrorism. We are partners in protecting our citizens and making sure that no more sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters are lost to terrorism. That is responsible.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the result is we will become a police state. This is the craziest thing I have ever heard.

When I talked about doing the research with Professor MacKay on terrorism and privacy rights, one other thing we were looking at is the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. It actually has to report names of people with bank accounts that have names matching a certain list of “identified terrorists”. It is really quite incredible because it ends up forwarding hundreds and possibly thousands of names every year of people who have vaguely similar names. Good luck to anyone living in this country whose first name is Osama.

We have this situation where names are being forwarded, people's bank accounts are being shut down or they are being told they cannot board an airplane because they happen to have the same initials of a known or suspected terrorist. It is craziness.

The worst part about it is there is absolutely no recourse. All of us in this room believe that if we were falsely accused of something we would at least have the right to stand up and say, “No, that is not me. That is not what happened.” There is no right to that. People cannot imagine being told they cannot fly. People cannot imagine being told they cannot go back to their home countries. Actually, people are not allowed to bring forward evidence to disprove what is being said about them.

These situations are happening all over Canada and the U.S. There is no redress. There is no way to challenge it. There is no way to bring forward evidence. We are just doing whatever it is the Americans want us to do. There is no charter right. We are absolutely just S.O.L., if I can say that. We are out of luck.

It is absolutely ludicrous.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by addressing what the parliamentary secretary said just a few moments ago in the House.

All of us in the House were appalled by the events of September 11, 2001, 10 years ago, by the loss of life.

The reality is that the violent individuals who got on those planes were able to do so because of cutbacks in security screening at airports that had been privatized, as we know, like Logan airport in Boston, where there were underpaid baggage screeners and inadequate equipment. All of the cutbacks that took place during the Bush years had a contributory factor to box cutters being brought onto those aircraft. All of us lament the loss of life. We mourn for all who died that day.

However, the reality is that this bill has nothing to do with improving security and screening in airports so that people cannot bring box cutters on an aircraft. It has nothing to do with that. It has nothing do with all of the intelligence shortfalls that were present at that time and the mistakes that were made by the government that have been very well documented.

Since this bill has nothing to do with that, I think all of us in the House would prefer that the Conservatives stop raising that in an inappropriate way. It does not respect what happened that day. It does not respect the dead. The government tries to use that horrible day in a way to score some cheap political points. That is what the Conservatives are doing with this bill.

The bill is very simple. Proposed subsection 4.83 tells the airlines that they can provide to a competent authority in a foreign state, whether we are talking about the United States, Panama, Colombia or any other state that demands it, any information in the operator's control. What does that mean?

What is in the operator's control is the passenger name record. In the passenger name record, the health record of the individual is present. If an individual has health conditions and it is noted in the passenger name record, that information is available to those authorities through this bill.

Credit card information is available in the passenger name record and can be made available to foreign authorities. I mentioned some of them a few moments ago, the United States or Panama. Given the Panamanian government's record on the laundering of dirty drug money, it is entirely inappropriate for confidential credit card information to be made available to Panamanian authorities or to Colombian authorities.

As was noted by my colleague from Halifax, hotel reservations, including information regarding sleeping arrangements, whether it is a single or double room, and how many individuals are travelling together is also made available. This is confidential information. There is no doubt about that.

I will cite testimony from witnesses in a few moments, hopefully today but if not, when we resume after the parliamentary riding week. The confidential information that is made available to those authorities is very clearly something the vast majority of Canadians would not want to have shared. It is very clear that this is a vastly inappropriate bill.

As has been mentioned by my colleagues in the NDP, other governments were asked to do the same thing by the American administration. Other governments said no and negotiated different arrangements. Only Canada is saying it is going to make this confidential information available to authorities wherever they are in the world, no matter how corrupt the regime. That information can be made available.

What does that mean, for example, for British Columbians? The province that I come from has heavy air traffic that goes to Asia. Many of my constituents, in fact the majority of them, come from Asia. They fly to the Philippines, China, Korea and Taiwan. In flying across the Pacific, they fly across the sea waters off of Alaska.

What the government is saying to Canadians of Asian origin is that their personal information will be shared. Inevitably, for the vast majority of flights that take place out of Vancouver going through to Asia, their information, if this bill were to be passed, would be shared.

That is completely unacceptable. We have had a whole variety of cases that have been brought forward as to how people can actually be denied access to flights that they have paid for. There is a variety of individuals who will be raising those issues. I hope in the time I have today I can raise those issues.

With all that confidential information, perhaps it does not surprise me that Conservatives do not care and are willing to share that confidential information. We have seen the government talk out of both sides of its mouth on a daily basis, pretending to be about ethics and responsibility with all of the crises and scandals that we are seeing and that have been enacted on the floor of the House of Commons, even this week.

We have heard the government talk about confidentiality, concerned about the number of bathrooms that people have to report. Yet it is willing to share confidential information about what kind of sleeping arrangements in hotels Canadians are undertaking overseas.

That does not surprise me about the government. The Conservative government has been in power already far too long, and the government is desperately in need of a change.

What does surprise me is the seeming willingness of the Liberal Party to support this legislation. A previous Liberal prime minister very boldly, I thought, stood in the House and said that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. That was a seminal moment in our nation's history. That was a courageous statement that he made as justice minister. He was a Liberal prime minister.

Today's Liberal Party is willing to sell out that confidentiality. It is willing to say that not only the Canadian state has a place in the bedrooms of Canadians when they are travelling abroad, but that the Panamanian government or the American government, or the Colombian government has a place in the bedrooms of Canadians when they are travelling abroad.

This is the absurdity of the bill that has been brought forward. It shares confidential health information. It shares confidential credit card information. It shares confidential accommodation information when Canadians are travelling abroad.

It surprises and stuns me that the Liberal Party, with that heritage, is unwilling to stand in the House, as the NDP has been standing up for a number of days now, to say that this legislation is completely inappropriate. The Liberal Party that has that heritage should be willing to stand up 40 years later and continue to say that this is absolutely irresponsible and inappropriate. It should be willing to stand and say that this is not something we should adopt as parliamentarians and that the government should go back to work and negotiate the same type of agreements that other countries have negotiated with the United States.

It is not as if it were impossible to renegotiate the agreement. The government has not even tried. We have seen that failure in case after case where the government is unable in any way to stand up for Canadian interests.

The Conservative government has been called in this House by my colleague, the member for Windsor West, the doormat of North America, and it is true that it is a doormat. The Conservative government is often considered to be a bully with Canadians, but once the Conservatives go abroad and negotiate, they are doormats. We have seen that capitulation with the softwood lumber sellout. We have seen it with the buy America sellout, which gave access to American companies to Canada, but did not provide access for Canadian companies to the United States. The Canadian government has not even monitored that. It has just given up representing the interests of Canadian companies at all.

We have seen that with the $5.50 levy that has just come into place. The American tourism industry would be willing to stand with Canadians. It would be willing to advocate and we would surely get the type of agreement to remove that levy, but we have seen the government not act at all. When the government--

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. member will have 10 minutes to conclude his remarks the next time this bill is before the House, but it being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 17, 2010 consideration of the motion that Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Royal Recommendation--Speaker's RulingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on November 17, 2010, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, standing in the name of the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this issue as well as the member for Hull—Aylmer for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to the bill, the parliamentary secretary noted that the operative clause of the bill contained an authorization to spend for a specific purpose, which, in his view, infringed upon the financial prerogative of the Crown. His main contention was that the bill, because it empowers the Minister of Finance to make direct payments to a trust established to help provinces, territories and municipalities to offer seniors free local public transport, is equivalent to the creation of a new fund outside the consolidated revenue fund.

The Chair notes that the member for Hull—Aylmer, at the conclusion of his opening remarks during the debate at second reading, acknowledged that the bill might require a royal recommendation but that he expressed optimism that a specific modification could be made during the committee stage to address the issue.

It is clear to the Chair that Bill C-449 in clause 3 would authorize the minister to make direct payments to be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund to a trust, which in turn would be used to make payments to a province, a territory or a municipality to fund free local transit for seniors anywhere in Canada during off-peak hours. Such a transfer would clearly create a new appropriation and, for this reason, a Royal recommendation is required in respect of clause 3 of the bill.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

On debate, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to give a response on behalf of the government to this legislation. In particular, I am happy to oppose this irresponsible, excessively costly and reckless Liberal spending proposal.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

You don't need to be happy.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

What do you have against seniors?

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I hear the heckling from the other side.

The hon. member asks what do I have against seniors. Let me note on this point that I have a 94-year-old grandmother who I very well know would oppose this because, like many other people in rural Saskatchewan, she lived through the Great Depression and understands that there is no such thing as government money. All money is taxpayers' money and all money needs to be spent wisely and prudently. It is one of those things that we need to be aware of whenever we describe something from the government as “free”.

Indeed, the wording of today's proposal, without a doubt, shows how the Liberals respect Canadian taxpayers. Listen to how they describe it as “free” local public transport. Of all people in Canada, our seniors know there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly when a politician is making the promise.

The hard-earned money that Canadian taxpayers send to Ottawa is not free money. It is their tax dollars resulting from their personal work and sacrifice. Canadians work hard for their money and watch their money; it is their money after all. Our Conservative government understands that. We do not call it “government money” but taxpayers' money. Every single penny spent in the House is taxpayers' money. We do not raise taxes; we cut taxes.

Indeed, since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has helped families by putting $3,000 back into their pockets where it belongs. It is their money after all. It is not the government's money and it is definitely not free money. It is money they entrust to their government to spend wisely and not recklessly.

What are the Liberals suggested that we do with taxpayers' money? They are suggesting that we spend more of it. They want to create more and new government programs. They want more and massive new government bureaucracies. Let us be clear that today's example is one of those suggestions of reckless spending the Liberal Party and its leader have engaged in during the last few months.

Moreover, the sponsor of the bill has not presented or prepared a valid cost estimate for today's proposal, as he has requested on other issues. Conservative MPs had the proposal costed through a request to the Parliamentary Budget Office.

This bill reminds me of the Liberal promise of everything under the sun, the 45-day work year, and a national daycare plan, a promise that has been repeated in many election campaigns.

Without a doubt, the Liberals' runaway spending commitments are a recipe for massive and permanent deficits in Canada. Permanent deficits would mean that Canadian families and businesses would have to pay higher taxes permanently, as the Liberal leader digs deeper into their wallets with new tax hikes that kill jobs, and perhaps even reverse our GST cut with a GST increase.

It is little wonder that when the Liberal leader was asked about Canada returning to balanced budgets earlier this year, he replied, “It's not my problem”. Luckily for Canadians, it is not their problem to have the Liberals in government. If the Liberals continue to promise spending the taxpayer's money without any forethought, they will not have an opportunity to be in government any time soon.

What Canadians need and are getting from our Conservative government is leadership in finding real and fiscally responsible solutions to benefit all Canadians, especially seniors. Our Conservative government has taken steps since 2006 to recognize the outstanding contributions of seniors in building our country.

We are providing Canadians with almost $70 billion annually through the public pension system. We are providing $400 million over two years to the affordable housing initiative for the construction of housing units for low income seniors. We are increasing funding for the new horizons for seniors program to $40 million annually to help seniors bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit communities across Canada. We have also appointed a minister of state for seniors to bring the concerns of older Canadians to the cabinet table and to stand up on their behalf. We are creating a national seniors day for all Canadians to honour and celebrate our seniors.

We have done so much more.

We also understand the importance of a secure and dignified retirement for seniors who have spent their lives building a better Canada through their hard work. In fact, we have dramatically lowered the federal tax bill for seniors and pensioners since forming government in 2006, with more than $2 billion in tax cuts, including increasing the age credit amount by $2,000; increasing the age limit for maturing pensions and registered retirement savings plans to 71 from 69; doubling the amount of income eligible for pension income credit; and, probably, most importantly, pension income splitting, something that the noted financial commentator Jamie Golombek declared was probably one of the biggest tax changes in decades in the amount of tax savings it generated for pensioners.

We also introduced the tax free savings accounts, which is particularly beneficial to seniors. As Jonathan Chevreau, the noted financial commentator, declared:

—the TFSA is also a welcome tax shelter for Canadian seniors—

Our Conservative government is also bringing forward fiscally responsible solutions to improve public transportation in Canada in measured ways.

Before continuing, I would like to clarify that public transit is primarily a provincial and municipal jurisdictional responsibility. It would be questionable for the federal government to unilaterally use the federal spending power to dictate decisions in an area under provincial jurisdiction. It is my understanding that it is one of the reasons that one of the opposition parties will be opposing this legislation.

Nevertheless, our Conservative government has worked constructively and co-operatively through the provincial and municipal governments. We have done this through the gas tax fund, valued at $2 billion annually, which many municipalities across this country use to fund their public transit capital needs.

We have also funded many public transit projects using broad-based programs, such as the building Canada fund, as well as through one-time initiatives in the 2006 and 2008 budgets. In total, about $2.6 billion has been allocated for public transit under the building Canada fund and Canada's economic action plan.

Additionally, because our Conservative government believes that cutting taxes is the right thing to do, we have also introduced the public transit tax credit. Not only is this popular non-refundable tax credit helping cover the costs of public transit, but it has also increased public transit use, including buses, subways, commuter trains and ferries, which have in turn helped to ease traffic congestion.

Indeed, my own mayor, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison, has applauded it as:

—a tremendous idea.... I think that's a great way to encourage the public to use mass transit—

The Liberal Party opposed helping seniors and other riders of public transit by voting against the public transit tax credit.

Unmistakably, our Conservative government is helping seniors and public transit users in smart and fiscally responsible ways. This is in stark contrast to the Liberals, who are promising free money from the taxpayers' wallet. Canadians and Canadian seniors know that Canadian taxpayers and businesses will be forced to pick up the tab for this free lunch. It is a tab that we cannot afford.

All taxpayers' money belongs to taxpayers. We as government should be very careful and prudent in how we use it.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-449 would allow the minister to set up a trust fund for other levels of government so that seniors can take public transit free of charge during off-peak hours. This is a laudable goal. Anything that encourages people to take public transit more frequently is a great idea. It is a more active form of transportation, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and it keeps our communities vibrant.

The bill is such a tease. We could be talking about a bill that completely re-imagines public transit in this country. Our current approach to transportation is unsustainable. We need to make a transition to a more sustainable form of transport, including public transportation. Improving transit is about setting a legacy, both economic and environmental. We need better, more efficient public transport because it improves access to community services and it improves participation in the community. Poor access to transport causes isolation for individuals and pockets of our communities, particularly in low-income areas, as well as rural communities.

Improving public transportation is an excellent way to combat poverty because it allows the economic engagement in all areas of the city by people who live in all areas. It improves the exchange of money and ideas and allows people to access educational opportunities and services that are outside of their neighbourhoods. It provides individuals and families with the opportunity escape the cycle of poverty. Free transit would greatly increase the quality of life by removing the terrible choice between rent, food, or heat and bus tickets.

Canada is the only G8 country that does not fund public transit and it has negative consequences on the environment and on our pocketbooks. Canada does not have a national transit strategy either.

Seniors are some of our most vulnerable citizens, both economically and socially. Better transport for seniors is an important issue to tackle, particularly with respect to increasing a person's ability to live independently. As seniors age, some can no longer drive and as their mobility becomes limited they may become more isolated if they cannot afford public transit or have access to public transit.

There is a public transit route in Halifax called the Manors. Recently it was announced that it would be cancelled by the Halifax regional municipality. The Manors went to all the seniors' manors on the peninsula. It was a circuitous route and it might not have made much sense to me trying to get from point A to point B, but it made a lot of sense to the community it served; a community of seniors around the city.

It allowed seniors at Joe Howe Manor or Samuel Prince Manor to take the number 3 and get to where they needed to go, such as the grocery store, their doctor's office, the bank, or the shopping mall.

The announcement to cancel the Manors route was made because it was said the bus route did not pay for itself and it had to be cancelled. Seniors from Samuel Prince Manor rallied to fight that decision. They came together with other residents of the other manors and after many petitions, phone calls and letters, they realized their victory. They had worked together to mobilize their community and they saved this vital service. It was an incredible victory for our community.

One may think that this is a municipal issue. Why would it be relevant for an MP to raise this in the House of Commons?

I believe that there is a federal role for transit. I believe there is a necessary federal leadership role for transit. It is too important a service not to have a national strategy. In fact, it is not just a service, it is a necessity.

I am proud that my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, introduced such a bill recently. She introduced the national public transit strategy act and it would coordinate between all levels of government to maintain and expand public transit across the country.

The public transit act, a first of its kind, would decrease the burden on cities and communities. The bill outlines a strategy for the federal government to provide a permanent investment plan to support public transit, to establish federal funding mechanisms for public transit, to work together with all levels of government to provide sustainable, predictable, long-term and adequate funding, and it would work to establish accountability measures to ensure that all governments work together to increase access to public transit.

Better public transit means sustainable economic growth and cleaner, more productive cities. It means a better Canada and a better Halifax.

The story of the Manors is a story from a city, but there are rural examples in my riding as well. When I speak of Halifax in the chamber, I am speaking of the riding of Halifax. The name of the riding can sometimes be misleading because I do not represent the entire city, but I also do not represent only the city. I represent the peninsula, which includes the south end, downtown, the north end, the west end and Westmount, but the riding extends beyond the Armdale Rotary and includes Fairview, Jollymore, Purcell's Cove, Duncan's Cove, Ketch Harbour, Sambro, Harrietsfield and Williamswood. It is much bigger and more diverse than people think.

When I first rose in the House to give my inaugural speech in 2008 after being elected, I talked about some of these communities, which are located in what is affectionately known as the loop because the highway goes around in a loop. Many members of these communities did not have access to bus service at all.

When I first rose to speak in the House, no one could catch a bus in Sambro. People could not get on a bus to go to the grocery store, to go to the peninsula, to go to a doctor or to see friends. Then a pilot project was announced. There was a bus route and then it was reduced. Now there is no service during peak hours.

Another thing to point out about these communities is if people live in Harrietsfield or Williamswood, they have to go grocery shopping in Spryfield. They have to go to another community to access a grocery store. It is absolutely vital that there is public transit in all communities across Canada, as well as across the riding of Halifax.

As a result, the community has come together to try to get increased bus service and increase public transit presence in these communities. There is actually a blog called the Sambro Loop Community Bus Transit blog. People go online, give information about what is going on and try to figure out how to mobilize bus service. There is also a Facebook group. In checking out the Facebook group today, people were posting car shares so people could get a ride with somebody else. They were posting pictures of bus stops that are poles with no signs and talking about how they can rely on each other to get into town or to the grocery store.

While it is wonderful that this community has come together and is organizing ride share programs, they need a bus system. Why is there no service? There is no service because HRM does not have the money to provide this kind of service or is choosing not to find the money.

How can we help these communities at a federal level? The NDP has a solution that has to do with the federal gas tax transfer. The gas tax transfer to the municipality was established, but with very few strings attached with respect to its use. The intention was for improvements to public transit and while many cities have used this transfer for its intended purposes by making service enhancements to their public transportation systems, there are a number of cities that have not. It shows one of the problems with not having strings attached with respect to use.

The federal government can give municipalities stable, long-term funding by transferring an extra cent of the gas tax, making sure that it is dedicated to public transit. This is the NDP's solution. It is a solution that makes sense to me when I look at my own community and realize that not everyone can access a public transportation system. I think about how we can change that at a federal level. This is where good public policy comes from. Good public policy comes from the ideas from communities. We bring them to Ottawa and to the chamber and say, “Here is a solution that would help my community”.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, which was introduced by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer. I would like to begin by thanking and congratulating the member for bringing the matter of transportation for seniors before the House.

Why is this debate so important? Because it seeks to find a solution, one of many initiatives that, when combined, will help make seniors independent. This solution seeks to counter the isolation of seniors who, all too often, do not leave their homes because they do not have the means to do so. They too should have the opportunity to enjoy the activities offered in their community.

I recently read the 2006 Statistics Canada report entitled, “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. Two items caught my attention. The first is that 62% of the Canadian population lives in Ontario and Quebec. The second, is that seven out of ten seniors live in urban areas, in centres with at least 50,000 residents. As most municipalities of this size have a public transit system, providing free public transit to seniors in off-peak hours is a timely issue.

I was also interested in the percentage of women who are seniors. I will explain. Women account for 52% of the population between the ages of 65 and 69. This percentage increases with age and reaches 75%. In addition, we know that older women who live alone often have a lower income, especially in Quebec and British Columbia. The Mouvement des aînés du Québec is very concerned about the financial insecurity of women.

In the section that discusses seniors' access to transportation, the Statistics Canada study also shows that the gap between senior men and women is quite significant in older age groups. For example, among seniors between the ages of 75 and 84, 83% of men drove a vehicle to which they had access, compared to only 45% of women. Among men 85 years and older, twice as many men drove a vehicle in their household to which they had access, or 66% of men compared to 33% of women. These differences between men and women are not really surprising because senior men are much more likely to have a valid driver's licence than women. A lower proportion of men than women have never driven a vehicle in their life.

Thus, transportation is becoming increasingly and proportionally important as our population ages. The proposal made by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer is laudable, realistic and achievable. Seniors already face many challenges that would not even occur to younger people. However, one day we will all face the problem of being unable to access basic social services. I am talking about attending doctors appointments, going to the pharmacy, getting around to do volunteer work in the community, getting groceries and so on. We take our ability to do these day-to-day activities for granted until we are forced to deal with the reality of aging.

This reality can have even more profound consequences when it comes to family and friends. How can seniors remain socially active and maintain their independence if they cannot leave home because they do not have access to public transportation? Not all seniors can afford to take a taxi every time they need to go somewhere. Few seniors have the luxury of a family member or friend who is available all the time to drive them around.

Access to public transportation becomes a major issue, especially for seniors who no longer have their driver's licence. Not only do they feel disadvantaged, but they also feel dependent and isolated. Transportation for seniors presents special challenges and is an issue that requires urgent attention. Our colleague's proposal deserves further study.

I realize this issue might overlap on provincial jurisdictions, as our colleagues from the Bloc did not hesitate to point out. However, I think the problem transcends the issue of jurisdictions.

The needs of our seniors are real and are not going away. On the contrary, their needs are growing as the population ages.

I know that the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer is open to amending Bill C-449 in order to have the Minister of Finance look at ways to establish a trust to help make public transit free for seniors.

Our Liberal critic for seniors has also made the following observations: people are living much longer and families are living much further apart because the children often have to leave their home region in order to find work. These new realities present challenges that we must face.

It is not by building mega-prisons, purchasing F-35s, or cutting taxes for wealthy corporations that we will be helping our seniors in Canada.

Not only must we focus our efforts on our country's economic growth, but we must respond to the real challenges of Canadians, the needs of families.

I support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer because it addresses a real problem for a growing segment of our society and because it proposes a solution that is worth looking at in committee.

I am calling for the support of this House to send Bill C-449 to committee.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-449 would make it possible to provide free public transportation to seniors during off-peak hours. What is the purpose of this bill? The purpose is to encourage seniors to have an active social life and to reduce the isolation that far too many of them experience. Canada's population is aging; we cannot deny that. We certainly cannot ignore it, as the Conservatives would like to do.

Aging has it own set of problems and we must address those problems with realistic and practical solutions. As I explained in my earlier speech, transportation for seniors is extremely important because they need it to get to social and medical services.

Not everyone can afford to take taxis or has a son or daughter available to provide transportation, as my colleague from LaSalle—Émard said. Furthermore, many seniors, especially women, are on a low income, which restricts their mobility. We must take a look at this issue to avoid having our seniors become isolated.

Isolation is the enemy of seniors. I believe that free public transit must be part of the strategy and action to help prevent isolation and give seniors the tools needed to have a good quality of life. We all hope for that one day.

I would like to thank my colleagues from York West and LaSalle—Émard. Their support for Bill C-449 shows their empathy for Canada's seniors and their eagerness to solve the mobility problems that affect so many seniors, in both urban and rural areas.

I would also like to thank the hon. members for Trinity—Spadina and Halifax. Their support for public transit is only matched by their interest in Canada's seniors. The Bloc agrees that Bill C-449 is an excellent initiative and a recognition of the role seniors play but I have been told that they are reluctant to vote yes.

This is why they should vote yes. It is simple: in order to let the committee look at the question of mobility for seniors and free access to public transit, where it exists, in off-peak hours. This is an important issue for seniors from coast to coast to coast.

I am seeking the support of the House to study the issue of mobility for seniors in committee. The members opposite are hiding behind a procedural smokescreen. They did not even bother talking about the substance of Bill C-449. They did nothing more than reject its form. I think by refusing to take part in this debate on seniors, the members opposite are shirking their responsibilities. They are abdicating the leadership role the government must play.

This government is unaware of the needs of families and seniors. What are the ill-advised priorities of the Conservatives? Spending billions of dollars for the untendered procurement of fighter jets, the construction of mega-prisons, and corporate tax breaks. We, the Liberals, are listening to the concerns of the Canadian public and their priorities: pensions, education, health care, family care and seniors. Bill C-449 falls in line with those priorities.

I want to clarify something. Not that I want to speak for the members of the Standing Committee on Finance, but I will be proposing an amendment in committee to have the Minister of Finance look at ways to establish a trust to help make public transit free for seniors during off-peak hours. This amendment would also eliminate the need for the minister to spend money from the consolidated revenue fund.

In closing, I ask for the support of all members in this House to pass Bill C-449, for further review in the Standing Committee on Finance.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Second readingFree Public Transit for Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 2, 2011, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Accordingly the House stands adjourned until Monday, February 28, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:03 p.m.)