House of Commons Hansard #156 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


The House resumed from June 8 consideration of the motion that C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:05 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP is pleased to rise in the House to support Bill C-383.

I would like to thank all of the Canadian activists who have been pushing for years to ensure that we do not have water exports or interbasin water transfers. Canadians across the country have been concerned about this.

This is an issue that has been raised in the House repeatedly, certainly since I first came here in 2004. There were throne speeches in 2008 and 2009 that raised the issue. When the Conservatives were first elected, they committed to this action and brought forward a bill. As members know, even though they brought forward a bill, they did not actually do anything to bring it to the House for consideration. They tabled it, did some spin and paid some lip service to this extremely serious issue, but they did not do anything.

The fact that this private member's bill is coming forward now I think is indicative of the pressure that so many Canadians have put on the government over the last few years. There has been a very strong public response. Canadians are saying that the government should not be playing around with the water resources that we have. As a result, I think it is fair to say that we now have Bill C-383 before us for consideration.

NDP members do a lot of the heavy lifting here and we are very proud of that. I would like to pay tribute to two former members of Parliament who have done a phenomenal job of raising this issue both in the House and in the public domain.

The Hon. Bill Blaikie raised this issue while he was a member of Parliament for many years. The member for Winnipeg Centre is quite right to applaud Bill Blaikie's work. In 1999, Bill Blaikie brought forward an opposition motion that led to a moratorium on bulk water exports. At the time, he had a key role in both the federal moratorium as well as the actions of Canadian citizens right across this country.

Provincial governments from time to time, such as British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador, sought to move forward on bulk water exports. However, it was the work of activists on the ground who made a difference. They pushed back on what was a very clear intent by those non-NDP governments to promote water exports.

Another NDP member who raised the issue of bulk water exports and interbasin transfers was Catherine Bell, the former member of Parliament for Vancouver Island North. She very eloquently raised concerns around bulk water exports.

These are two former NDP MPs who have played key roles. Also, the member for Parkdale—High Park, myself and a number of NDP MPs have also played key roles in raising this issue. Finally, after many years of promises, although it is in the format of a private member's bill, we finally have some action from the government. Of course, we support the bill because it is a phenomenally important issue.

I think David Schindler, the noted water expert from the University of Alberta, put it best when he said that even though Canada has about 20% of the world's freshwater resources, it is like a bank account that has a very small interest rate. The interest rate, or the renewable percentage of that fresh water, is only about 5%.

Therefore, we have 20% of the world's freshwater resources locked in northern Canada in the muskeg and in our lakes, which cannot be renewed once depleted. The 5% renewable rate, which is actually the extent of renewable freshwater resources in this country, is equivalent to the freshwater renewable rate in the United States.

We know about the chronic water shortages now occurring in the United States. We are aware of the fact that changes have to be made by our American friends and neighbours because, ultimately, with the depletion of the aquifers, with the depletion of the freshwater available in the United States, they simply cannot continue to misuse the water in the way they have been. Canada has relatively the same percentage of renewable fresh water. If we ever went the route of bulk water exports or interbasin transfers, we would find ourselves in a similar situation extremely quickly.

It is simply not appropriate. It is simply not responsible, with our water resources, to envisage bulk water exports or to envisage interbasin transfers. To think that we will solve the problems that are occurring now worldwide by the simple act of transferring more water out of our country is simply not true. When we talk about this issue, we are talking about a fundamentally important one for the stewardship that we have over that incredible resource.

There is no doubt this legislation falls short of what we would like to see. We are looking to see amendments when the bill moves to committee.

The issue of interbasin transfers, which I mentioned earlier, is included in the bill. One issue that is not included though, and one that is extremely important and was raised both by Bill Blaikie and Catherine Bell and many NDP MPs in the House, is the issue of bulk bottled water. The difference between bulk water exports and smaller container bulk water exports is a thin one.

This is a relevant and pertinent issue given the world water shortages that we are seeing. It is something that we would expect to see amended when the bill is sent to committee. There is no doubt that would make a difference in completing the bill. The bill is good enough for us to support it at second reading, but there is no doubt that improvements could be made.

There is also the issue of the technical amendment that has been raised by the Canadian Water Issues Council, and this is something that we would also seek to see amended at committee.

The bill is a good first start but this is certainly in no way the end of the consideration that it should be given.

More important is the issue of how the government will react to the passing of the bill, assuming that it has support from both sides of the House. We support sending it to committee where we will propose the kind of strong and reasoned amendments that we always move but it may not surprise the House to know that sometimes our strong and reasoned and thoughtful amendments are not received by the other side. We hope this will not be the case this time because of the work that we have done on this issue. We have been doing all the heavy lifting. We are pleased to be joined by at least one Conservative colleague now. We intend to carry that heavy lifting right through the process.

The other issue is a greater issue as the House is well aware and that is the issue of water in general. This is something that I addressed in a bill that calls for a comprehensive water strategy. I would just like to touch on that before I conclude.

We are looking to have the government develop and present a comprehensive water policy based on the public trust, which would recognize that access to water is a fundamental right. It would recognize the UN Economic and Social Council finding in “General Comment No. 15” on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that access to clean water is a human right. My bill would prohibit those bulk water exports and implement strict restrictions on new diversions.

The bill also talks about introducing legislation on national standards for safe, clean drinking water and implementing a national investment strategy to enable all of those municipalities, and first nations communities particularly, to upgrade the infrastructure that they need around water. Those are considerations that we will bring forward at a later date in the House.

Needless to say, the NDP will continue to work to ensure that the water resources in this country are, as a human right, made accessible to all Canadians.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:10 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to express a number of concerns regarding waterways and the impact not only in Canada but, more specifically, in the province of Manitoba.

Whenever we see legislation of this nature there is a bit of hope generated. There is a huge concern in Manitoba, particularly in Winnipeg, with regard to our waters. A lot of it deals with the exportation and also the sheer volume of water that comes into our province every spring, particularly from the United States. There is this huge expectation that different levels of government are trying to deal with the whole issue of water management, which is so critically important to our country. Specifically for me, in the province of Manitoba, given the amount of water that we have, with our hundred thousand plus lakes and rivers, there is a great deal of concern from many different stakeholders, whether environmental groups or just young students in classrooms.

I have had the opportunity over the years to have wonderful exchanges dealing with the whole water management issue. It is an issue that comes and goes. It really comes to a peak when the Red River starts to peak in the springtime. We get so much water coming into the province of Manitoba, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people who start looking at what we can do to somehow funnel that massive amount of water and minimize the environmental damage.

There are a number of concerns that we have with Bill C-383. At the end of the day, we suspect that it will be sent to committee, so we need to look at the possibility of amendments. It is important to recognize that the Liberals were one of the first to appoint a critic in this area, because we see the value of water.

Bill C-383 is a reaction, I would suggest, from one of my colleagues. It is a bill that we had explored and we had discussions regarding the whole idea of the water basin transfer and many other aspects. We applaud the government for looking at what the members of the Liberal caucus have been saying. I suggest that other political parties inside the chamber would do well in recognizing the need for Liberal critics and more attention being given to the water file.

In Manitoba, we have a huge concern that has been brought to the government's attention year after year, not only here in Canada but also in North Dakota. It has made it to Washington. Presidents and prime ministers have been involved. Obviously the premier of Manitoba has been involved and many others. That is the whole Devils Lake project in the United States.

The amount of water that flows from the states to Canada is a great concern in terms of how we can minimize the environmental damage by coming up with some sort of screening method to provide filtration to a certain degree and minimizing the amount of manure and fertilizer on farms that ultimately seeps into our waterways. When we get serious flooding, the amount of foreign fertilizers and other mixtures that end up in Lake Winnipeg is really quite profound.

Lake Winnipeg is of critical importance not only to the province but, indeed, to our country. When we look at the cutbacks with respect to the Experimental Lakes Area project, there are a good number of Manitobans who believe we cannot afford to lose the technology and research being done there because of the impact it has on water quality, whether in our lakes or rivers. There has been a very high level of interest in the cutbacks that are taking place there. We need to ensure that research council remains truly independent and, most important, that it continues to do the type of research that is of critical importance for preserving and improving the quality of our water tables and the health of our rivers and lakes.

I have had presentations presented to me showing the types of impacts on fish populations when we are not doing the right thing. Some of the work that has been done on acid rain is amazing, for example, and the other types of nutrients that ultimately end up in our lakes and waters and why it is so important for us to understand the impact of that. Our aquatic system is very important. Something that happens on the land does have a direct impact on it. Flooding plays an important role in how we can control flooding and minimize its negative impacts.

When I was in the Manitoba legislature I recall another issue that we talked a lot about was the exportation of water. There has been a great deal of concern about how we will do that. Freshwater is in huge demand and it is expected that the demand will continue to grow. Many industries across Canada are very interested in how that will occur and what types of regulations and laws Canada will put in place to protect our water supply to ensure that we will not just be shipping freshwater down south or into other communities without some sort of controls or mechanisms. That is one of the issues that will be talked about in the years ahead as different levels of government come together to come up with agreements on what is and is not appropriate.

I would suggest that the most important thing must be our water management strategy. We do need to have both interprovincial and international water strategies that put water quality first and, obviously, the impact that has on the environment.

The second issue is what we do with the vast amounts of freshwater that Canada has. There will be an increasing demand on that water. Citizens as a whole are concerned that the government has been neglecting that particular file. It is interesting to note that this is a private member's bill. Where is the government itself on trying to develop that international-interprovincial water strategy that deals with the environment, water quality and the whole issue of the exportation of water? The federal government does have a stronger role to play in that area. It needs to work with the provincial governments. Some governments have a stronger vested interest in the issue.

I would suggest that the Prime Minister have talks about issues such as the impact of Devils Lake and the exportation of water. He should work with the provinces and follow the lead of the Liberal caucus in recognizing the importance of this issue to the degree that we now have a Liberal member taking on the role of water critic.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:20 a.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak in support of Bill C-383, sponsored by my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. The protection of Canadian waters is important to him, as it is for all members of the House, and, to that extent, all Canadians.

During a previous debate on the bill, I was pleased to hear that colleagues on the other side of the aisle expressed their support for this important and timely legislation.

Environment Canada points out a number of important courses of action. Managing Canada's water resources, which represents about 7% of the world's renewable freshwater or about 20% of the world's freshwater is found in Canada, and everyone is responsible. We want to ensure that our water resources are used wisely, both economically and ecologically.

Also, we want to manage the resource because various users are competing for the available supply of freshwater to satisfy basic needs, to enable economic development, to sustain the natural environment and to support recreational activities.

Environment Canada is also correct in its indication that it is necessary to reconcile these needs and promote the use of freshwater in a way that recognizes its social, economic and environmental benefits.

I am sure all members of this House will attest to the notion that the waters that surround and are encompassed within Canada are of the utmost importance to Canadians. They play a deep role in our country's birth and its continued success economically, culturally and nationally.

During my tenure on the Standing Committee on International Trade, as well as presently serving as chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, I have come to understand and appreciate the protections we have in place for our water supplies.

The transboundary waters protection act would amend two acts, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. Through the amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, Bill C-383 would strengthen prohibitions against bulk removals of water and improve upon protections currently in place.

At the federal level, a prohibition currently exists against the bulk removal of boundary waters; waters shared with the United States, such as the Great Lakes. The new amendments in Bill C-383 would add transboundary waters, those that flow across the border, to these protections.

The changes found in Bill C-383 would ensure that all waters that are under a federal jurisdiction are protected from bulk water removals. They complement provincial protections that are in place to protect waters under their jurisdictions.

It is important to note that there are other elements in Bill C-383 that would strengthen protections against bulk water removals. Penalties and enforcement mechanisms would be strengthened under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. Violations would bring penalties ranging from up to $1 million for an individual to $6 million for a corporation. These penalties would be cumulative, meaning that every day the violation occurs is considered a separate violation. Therefore, penalties can increase rapidly. While these fines provide a strong deterrence for violations of the act, there is also the potential for further penalties that would allow the courts to add penalties for aggravating factors, such as damage to the environment or profiting from any actions. These provisions would bring this act in line with amendments made by our government to nine other environmental protection statutes in 2009 through the Environmental Enforcement Act.

Bill C-383 would improve on current protections by moving certain definitions and exceptions from the regulations into the act itself. Bringing these definitions into legislation would ensure that parliamentary approval would be required to make any future changes to the exceptions or definitions.

Bill C-383 would also make changes to the International River Improvements Act to prevent the linking of boundary or non-boundary waters with a waterway flowing across the border for the purpose of increasing the annual flow of this waterway. This would prevent an international river, that is a river flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside of Canada, from being used as a conveyance to move water out of this country.

I would like to point out that the following introduction of government Bill C-26 during the last Parliament, the Canadian Water Issues Council wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in June 2010 and, among other things, highlighted the concept and potential threat of the transfer of water from a non-transboundary basin into a transboundary river. I am happy to say that an amendment to the IRIA found in Bill C-383 would prevent this from happening. This is a valuable addition to the bill. These changes, along with the protections that the provinces have in place, would provide strong protections against bulk water removals.

During the previous debate, some members raised questions about the trade and export of water. I assure my colleagues that their concerns have been addressed. Bill C-383 and the International Boundaries Water Treaty Act would regulate and protect water in its natural state as found within its basins. Water, in its natural state, is not considered a good or a product. Therefore, water in its natural state is not subject to the provisions or obligations of the trade agreement, including the North America Free Trade Agreement.

Water in its natural state is like other natural resources, such as trees in the forest, fish in the sea or minerals in the ground. They can all be transformed into saleable commodities through harvesting or extraction but, until that step is taken, they remain natural resources and outside the scope of international trade agreements. Because they are natural resources, governments are free to decide whether they should be extracted and, if so, under what circumstances.

This point is clearly demonstrated in the fisheries industry where governments have the discretionary power to decide whether to allow fishing, when and where fishing is allowed and the total quantity of fish that can be caught, even though the harvesting of fish and treating the caught fish as a commodity is a long-standing practice in Canada and around the world. Therefore, in this case, we would be regulating water as a natural resource. Due to the potentially negative impacts of bulk water removals, we would prohibit its removal in bulk. I want to assure all members that none of our trade obligations prevent us from doing this.

It has been suggested that by allowing some water to be exported as a commodity, it automatically means that all water is a commodity and subject to international trade rules. The fisheries analogy provides a good illustration. Those familiar with the fishing industry would not suggest that because some fish are caught and sold as commodities, it would mean that Canada has lost the ability to regulate this industry from a resource management perspective and, by doing so, runs afoul of trade rules. So it is with water. While it is in its natural state, it is considered a natural resource and, therefore, remains outside the trade rules.

Our government is committed to protecting Canada's freshwater for the communities and ecosystems that depend upon it. We believe that Canada's sovereignty extends to our natural resources, including our freshwater. That is why I am pleased to support my colleague's bill which would achieve these objectives.

I thank members of the House for their support of the bill and their desire to see it pass second reading and be referred to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. As I have described, this bill would: improve our existing bulk water protections; add transboundary waters to the protections already in place for boundary waters; strengthen penalties to ensure that violations are met with the appropriate punishment; and moves exemptions and definitions from the regulations into the body of the act, ensuring that any future changes would be undertaken with the scrutiny of Parliament.

This bill would provide the protections we need to prevent the harm that could result from the permanent loss of water from Canadian ecosystems. I am grateful that the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound took a leadership role to advance this issue. I look forward to continuing a discussion of this bill during the committee stage.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:30 a.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, water is without a doubt our most precious resource. Without water, humankind cannot survive. Some 75% of the earth's surface is made up of water, which is a unique situation in our solar system. The small blue sphere that astronauts see from space and describe so passionately must be protected. Water is essential to the equilibrium of this planet. Meanwhile, there is increasing pressure on our water resources. For instance, global warming is increasing the frequency of droughts and floods. Rising temperatures are causing increased evaporation of water resources and causing water levels to fall in our lakes and rivers, as was the case this summer in the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

An increasing global population is also adding to the demand for drinking water. The demand for water is increasing not only in terms of individual consumption, but also for the production of many consumer products. Four litres of water are needed to extract one litre of oil from the oil sands; 10 litres are needed to produce one sheet of paper; 30 litres for a cup of tea; 40 litres for a slice of bread; 70 litres for an apple and 75 litres for one glass of beer.

We are therefore facing a problem. Fresh water is more and more in demand, yet it is also more threatened by pressures related to population growth, climate change and industry. Some people believe that we are heading toward water wars. I hope that is not the case. However, one thing is for certain: water has become the blue gold of the 21st century.

Canada will thus have a key role to play in the coming years since our country holds 7% of the world's fresh water. The United States has been coveting our water supply for a number of years, particularly in times of drought. Many of the southern states are facing serious water shortages and have had to import water. Other emerging countries, such as China and India, will need larger quantities of water in the coming decades. States that have insufficient water will turn to those that have an abundance. We regularly hear about proposals to export fresh water by tanker. Concerns heightened with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA in 1994. NAFTA considers water to be a consumer product, and some provisions of the agreement could open the door to the export of water.

The purpose of Bill C-383, which was introduced by the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, is to strengthen the prohibitions against bulk water removal. In fact, it corrects some of the shortcomings of Bill C-26, which was introduced by the government in 2010 and died on the order paper. The purpose of Bill C-26 was to prohibit the removal of water from transboundary and boundary waters; however, the bill did not take into account the most plausible threat to Canadian waters: the removal of water via interbasin transfers.

Bill C-383 will prohibit the issuance of licences for projects that link non-boundary waters to an international river where the purpose of the project is to increase annual flow to the United States. If the bill is passed, constructing a canal or pipeline channeling Canadian water into an international river, such as the Red River, will be prohibited.

This bill is a step in the right direction to protect our waters, but the official opposition is of the opinion that this bill will not completely resolve the issue of water management in Canada. Clearly, this private member's bill does not prohibit all types of bulk water export. It is also necessary to ensure the protection of surface water, regulate future exports of water by tanker, respond to threats presented by NAFTA and, above all, prohibit the export of bottled drinking water.

Last year, my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster moved a motion in favour of a national water strategy, and we are very thankful for that. We believe that access to water is a fundamental right, that we must prohibit all commercial exports and that we must not privatize water services. Why? Because water is not a product; it is a common property resource. It is essential to the survival of our species and all other species. The UN General Assembly declared access to water a fundamental right in 2010. Unfortunately, Canada, led by the Conservatives, abstained and said that the right to water was not codified under international law.

It is time for Canada to play a key role with respect to access to water. Some entrepreneurs will say that we must export our water to the countries that need it. However, this commodification of water will not solve the problem, especially since the poorest people will not have the means to purchase this imported bottled water.

In addition, it is not simply a matter of export and supply; it is a matter of distribution.

Large quantities of water are wasted by the richest members of society—a minority—at the expense of the poorest.

It is estimated that, in developing countries, daily water needs vary between 20 and 30 litres a day, and some very poor individuals consume only three or four litres. In Canada, the average person consumes 300 litres of water a day, which is the equivalent of three full bathtubs. That is double the amount consumed by a European. Canada is the second-biggest waster of drinking water after the United States.

Before talking about exports, we should talk about conservation. Our overconsumption of manufactured products, the exploitation of natural resources under conditions that are not mindful of the environment, and waste all have disastrous consequences on our water management.

We must also remember that old water systems that are not maintained or repaired can cause huge leaks and a lot of waste. We must repair the pipes and filtration systems, which are now a municipal responsibility.

Lacking resources, municipalities are turning to private investors to finance the work. However, water is a matter of public health and safety and it should be managed by the government, which is accountable to the community. When for-profit businesses control the water, the quality decreases and costs increase.

The federal government should help the municipalities upgrade their water supply infrastructure.

It is all well and fine for the Conservatives to announce new wastewater treatment regulations, but the fact remains that the municipalities need to have a decent budget. What is more, the municipalities are still waiting for the budget that is yet to be announced by the federal government.

We must also recognize the importance of preserving the quality of our water. The cuts to the environmental monitoring programs and the changes to the Fisheries Act will have a catastrophic impact on our waters. Fish habitat will no longer be protected, there will be fewer environmental assessments of industrial projects—the number of assessments already went down by 3,000 this summer—and the public will not be consulted as it used to be.

All of this is a result of the omnibus Bill C-38, which passed in June. In addition to weakening our environmental laws, this Conservative government is cutting water monitoring and research programs. It is axing programs such as the Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, which collected data on water sources, water use and wastewater treatment levels.

The government is also abolishing environmental effects monitoring studies, a scientific tool to detect changes in aquatic ecosystems affected by effluent.

All these cuts will have an impact on water quality. Need I remind hon. members that in 2000, seven people died in Walkerton, Ontario, when drinking water was contaminated by E. coli?

Do we want to see poor water quality management cause other similar tragedies? Who will want to import Canadian water if there is any doubt about its quality and safety?

In closing, I would like to say that it is wrong to believe that Canada is protected from a water shortage. A quarter of Canadian municipalities have already dealt with water shortages, and a third of them rely on groundwater to meet their current needs.

We must have a national water strategy, as my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster proposed in 2010.

The bill introduced by the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound is a step in the right direction, but it is does not go far enough.

The environmental crisis we are experiencing requires fundamental changes to our lifestyle and our resource development policy.

There is no room for ideology or partisanship. We need pragmatism, initiative and leadership on the national and international levels.

We must not leave our children and grandchildren with a social and environmental debt. The time to act is now.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 1st, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my support to Bill C-383, the transboundary waters protection act. This bill, introduced by my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, would prohibit the bulk removal of water from transboundary waters, waters that flow across borders. This would strengthen the protections against bulk water removals from boundary waters, waters shared with the United States such as the Great Lakes.

As members know, in May 2010, our government introduced Bill C-26. That bill, like the one we are debating today, would have amended the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. At the time, we introduced that important legislation after reviewing options for improving and strengthening protections for the purpose of preventing bulk water removals. Unfortunately Bill C-26 died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved.

This issue did not go away with the election call and, as we all know, protection of our waters is an issue of critical importance to all Canadians. I am confident it is something all members in this House will agree with, no matter on which side of the aisle they sit.

Why is this the case? It is clear from an environmental standpoint that the bulk removal of water is both environmentally and ecologically damaging. It removes water from the basins that depend on it. It deprives those living in the basin and the ecosystem itself of a critical resource. It also increases the risk of invasive species transfer if previously separated water basins are connected. It is this environmental component that is critical. The potential harm this could cause to the environment led our government to introduce Bill C-26, and I am happy to see the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has taken up the cause and introduced this legislation, which I would like to call Bill C-26-plus.

In a few minutes I will explain what I mean by Bill C-26-plus, but now I will discuss why the approach found in Bill C-383 is the appropriate way and the best path forward. In previous parliaments we have seen multiple bills aimed at preventing bulk water removals. These bills may take different approaches to addressing the issue, but the goal is the same: prohibiting the bulk removal of Canada's water and protecting Canada's fresh water for the communities and ecosystems that depend on it.

We have recently debated another bulk water bill, Bill C-267, introduced by my Liberal colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis. That bill takes the approach of banning all inter-basin transfers. Bill C-383 takes a similar approach but focuses on water within federal jurisdiction. This difference recognizes that the provinces have a key role to play in the protection of Canada's water. Water is a natural resource, and so we must recognize that the provinces have their constitutional jurisdiction. They take this role seriously. They have protections in place to prevent bulk removal of water in their territories and from their territories. They have the same commitment to the protection as the federal government and as Canadians in general. Our government intends to keep working with the provinces to ensure that these protections remain robust and that all jurisdictions take care of waters under their purview.

As we all know, there are already strong protections in place at the federal level to prevent bulk removals from boundary waters, those that straddle the international boundary as I mentioned earlier. This obviously includes the Great Lakes, but transboundary waters, which are those that flow across the border, are not protected federally. Bill C-383 aims at bringing these same prohibitions to transboundary waters, which are also under a federal jurisdiction. This would bring much-needed consistency and would ensure all of these types of waters are protected.

Looking at the approach taken in Bill C-383 to prohibit bulk removals, I emphasize that this legislation focuses on water in its natural state in lakes and rivers. We view this as being the best way to protect water. Other approaches that are mentioned from time to time, such as export bans, would not provide the same level of protection as dealing with water in its natural state. We believe that taking an approach that focuses on the sustainable management of water in its basin as a natural resource is the best way to ensure it remains there.

While on the subject, I will take this opportunity to clarify the issue of NAFTA, the North American free trade agreement, and water. Water in its natural state, such as a river or a lake, is not a commodity and has never been subject to any trade agreement.

Although this has been stated from time to time, given the confusion over the issue, it is worth repeating. Nothing in NAFTA, or for that matter in any of our trade agreements, prevents us from protecting our water. These agreements do not create obligations to use water. Nor do they limit our ability to adopt laws for managing our water resources.

The status of fresh water under NAFTA was reaffirmed in 1993 when Canada, the United States and Mexico declared that the agreement created no rights to the NAFTA resources of any party to the agreement and that unless water had entered into commerce and became a good or a product, it would not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement. Further, it was agreed that nothing in NAFTA would oblige any party to exploit its water for commercial use or to begin exporting water in any form.

Finally, it was declared that water in its natural state was not a good or product, it was not traded and therefore it was not, and never had been, subject to the terms of any trade agreement.

As we have said, Bill C-383 is similar to Bill C-26 in terms of the added protections provided to water under federal jurisdiction. However, as I said early, it is Bill C-26-plus, and here is why.

As mentioned by previous speakers, this bill contains an amendment to the International River Improvements Act, which would ensure that the waterways flowing from Canada across international boundaries could not be used to deliver water coming from other sources out of the country.

For example, there would be a prohibition to linking non-transboundary waters to an international river for the purpose of increasing the annual flow of that river. An international river is one that flows from any place in Canada to any place outside of Canada. This increase in annual flow would be bulk water transport and would be forbidden.

When our government introduced Bill C-26 last Parliament, some groups stated that we did not do as much as we could in protecting our waters. What my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has done in his bill is add an additional protection by including this amendment to the International River Improvements Act. By prohibiting the use of an international river to transport water originating from outside its watershed, the legislation would prevent what could be a potentially efficient way to transport water long distances from being used for bulk removals.

This small change from Bill C-26 is a significant protection and I hope that groups in our country, which have been long-time proponents on behalf of protecting Canada's water, will recognize that Bill C-383 is worthy of their support.

Finally, I would like to briefly touch on the penalty and enforcement provisions included in Bill C-383. These provisions are in line with those found in the other environmental statutes, which are amended through the Environment Enforcement Act of 2009. This includes an enforcement regime that would allow the Minister of Foreign Affairs to designate enforcement officials for the purpose of verifying compliance with the act.

The penalties for violations are steep, such as up to $1 million for an individual and $6 million for a corporation. These penalties are cumulative, meaning that each day the violation occurs will be considered a separate violation. In addition, courts will be able to impose additional fines on offenders where there are aggravating factors, including environmental damage.

I would like to once again thank my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for introducing the bill. He comes from an area surrounded by the Great Lakes, the rugged shores of the Bruce Peninsula, sandy beaches like Sauble Beach in Oliphant. He recognizes not only recreationally but economically what water can be for Canada. Coming from a riding on the Great Lakes myself, I commend him for what he has done.

I believe the approach taken in Bill C-383 will ensure that Canada's waters are protected and that bulk removals of water from Canada will never take place. The legislation covers waters under federal jurisdiction and recognizes the good work that the provinces have undertaken over the years to prohibit bulk removals of water from their territories.

Both federal and provincial governments understand the potential harm that bulk removal can have on the environment and our government is committed to doing its part to protect our waters. I encourage all members of the House to support the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound on Bill C-383.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:50 a.m.


François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my views regarding the bill before us, Bill C-383, introduced by the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.

This bill has to do with our water resources, and as a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, I have a special interest in this issue. I am therefore pleased to be able to add my two cents to the debate.

With just one exception, Bill C-383 is identical to Bill C-26, which was introduced by the government in 2010 following its promise to bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian water basins.

On the positive side, the bill before us today addresses a large gap that existed in the previous bill and was pointed out by the Canadian Water Issues Council, specifically, that Bill C-26 did not address the most plausible threat to Canadian waters: the threat of transfers from a water basin that is neither a boundary nor transboundary water body from Canada into the United States.

This bill would amend the International River Improvements Act to prohibit the issuing of permits for projects that link non-boundary waters to an international river when the purpose of said projects is to increase the annual flow towards the United States. This important change would prohibit the issuing of a permit to build, operate or maintain a canal or pipeline transporting Canadian water to an international river.

Although Bill C-383 does have some strengths and represents a step in the right direction, it is obvious that it does not prohibit all bulk water exports. Consequently, because water is considered a commodity, NAFTA has long been a threat to Canada's sovereignty over water resources.

To counter this threat, in June 2007 the New Democratic Party introduced a motion sponsored by the hard-working and extraordinary member for Burnaby—New Westminster asking the government to initiate talks with its U.S. and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA. This motion was adopted by the House, but the government has not followed up with these countries.

In 2010, the government introduced Bill C-26, which was mentioned earlier. The bill did not progress past first reading.

In 2011, our brilliant colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster raised the issue again with a new motion for a national water strategy.

I hope that Bill C-383 comes to fruition, unlike Bill C-26 and the motions of the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I hope that this time the government will take Bill C-383 seriously and implement it.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly I now invite the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for his five minute right of reply.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

11:55 a.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to finally get to second reading on my private member's bill. My riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, like yours, borders on beautiful Georgian Bay as well as Lake Huron on the west. Therefore, this is very important to me and a lot of other members in the House, including you. I want to thank my colleagues today who have all stood to speak to this, including the opposition.

This is an issue that carries on, as has been pointed out many times, Bill C-26 tabled by the government in 2010. In the throne speech of 2008, the government made a commitment to address this issue, but we ended up going to an election. I thank the opposition for that because I probably would not have had a chance to bring this bill forward.

One thing that needs to be pointed out, and has been pointed out by a couple of members today, is that this bill is be stronger than Bill C-26. Some issues were raised by some different groups and organizations at the time. Showing that we want to get along and address all the issues, that amendment has been addressed. I know the comments from those groups have been very positive and they thankful for that.

The Prime Minister has said many times that our water is not for sale. I do not know how many times he has to say that before people get it, but this bill really fortifies that. Yes, water is a commodity, but it is not a commodity like oil or minerals, or trees or lumber. It is something that has to be treated differently. It cannot be sold on the market in the same way. It has to be protected, as pointed out by my colleague across the way.

That same colleague wanted to know if the government would treat this bill differently from Bill C-26. I think it is very clear to anybody who has a clear mind on this that Bill C-26 would have gone through had the opposition not been intent on an election. Therefore, we had to shove that one aside.

I was glad the member for Burnaby—New Westminster rose to speak in favour of the bill. I have not had any recent reason to doubt him in any way. However, his leader is on record as being in favour of the sale of bulk water. I will take his word for it that on Wednesday, when we vote on the bill, his leader will be here and will vote in favour of it. I guess until that night comes, I will not know for sure.

Bill C-383 stays out of provincial jurisdiction. Some people wanted to know why it did not go further. Provinces like Alberta, Quebec and others do not like it when we step into their jurisdiction, and with good reason. The bill is deliberately designed to stay out of their jurisdiction We are looking after our jurisdiction. We know they will look after theirs. This needs to be pointed out.

I want to personally thank my colleagues from Elgin—Middlesex—London and Niagara West—Glanbrook for their support. They both have ridings that border the Great Lakes. I certainly appreciate their support.

With no further ado, it appears as though I will have widespread support for this bill, as I should. It is a bill that is not partisan in any way. I think it looks after water, which is vital to all of us for life. I certainly thank members for their support on Wednesday night and as this bill carries on to third and final reading.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for debate has now expired. Accordingly the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business


Some hon. members



Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business


Some hon. members


Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business


Some hon. members


Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 3, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC


That, in the opinion of the House, the new Working While on Claim pilot project is: (a) not benefiting the vast majority of EI recipients who are able to find employment; (b) creating a disincentive to take part-time work; and (c) leaving low income Canadians worse off than before; and that the House call on the government to take steps to fix Working While on Claim immediately.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be sharing my time here today with the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.

Since Parliament resumed, the opposition has been trying in vain to convince the government to listen to reason regarding the flaws in the employment insurance reform, particularly concerning the working while on claim pilot project.

It has been shown several times in this House that the new formula used to allow people who are working part-time to find full-time work is putting our most vulnerable citizens at a disadvantage.

That is why, on behalf of all of my NDP colleagues—who are having to deal with thousands of people in their ridings who are both worried about their situation and frustrated because this government continues to dig deeper into their already empty pockets—I move the following motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the new Working While on Claim pilot project is: (a) not benefiting the vast majority of EI recipients who are able to find employment; (b) creating a disincentive to take part-time work; and (c) leaving low income Canadians worse off than before; and that the House call on the government to take steps to fix Working While on Claim immediately.

Mr. Speaker, throughout the day today, my colleagues will certainly tell you sad, true stories about workers, unemployed workers and employers who are completely discouraged to see the total lack of consideration that this government has for their economic reality.

From seasonal workers in the Gaspé, employees in New Brunswick's tourism industry, construction workers in British Columbia and farmers in the Prairies to employers in specialized seasonal fields, thousands of people are outraged at a government that is attacking their way of life and preventing them from putting food on the table for themselves and their families.

I hope that, when it comes time to vote, once we have clearly demonstrated that this pilot project puts thousands of claimants at a disadvantage, the Conservatives will go back to the drawing board, redo their homework and immediately amend this ill-advised reform.

Before I go into more detail about the problems with the new working while on claim pilot project, let us remember that, initially, under the Employment Insurance Act, claimants who worked during their benefit periods could keep $50 a week, or the equivalent of 25% of their weekly benefits, without having their benefits reduced. Under this pilot project, this amount has increased to $75 a week or 40% of the claimant's weekly benefits.

As a new change in its mammoth bill, the government announced that this pilot project would end in August 2012 and would be replaced by a new national pilot project under which claimants can keep the equivalent of 50% of their weekly employment earnings.

If we compare different amounts of weekly earnings and different amounts of benefits under the old and new systems, it quickly becomes obvious that only people who earn $400 or more will benefit from the new system. Everyone else will lose money whereas, under the previous formula, claimants who received lower employment earnings could obtain more benefits.

As I said a few moments ago, in recent weeks many of us here in the House have pointed out the problems that this new pilot project creates for our constituents. I would like to introduce you to Johanne, one of my constituents, whose case shows just how flagrantly ridiculous the Conservative’s calculations are for Canadians.

Johanne is a single parent who works in tourism, a seasonal sector. She is receiving benefits of $250 a week. In order to make ends meet, she has found a part-time job as a receptionist and earns $120 a week.

Under the 40% rule in the old system, she could earn $100 without any reduction in her benefits. Thus, she lost $20 of her benefits. Now, using the new system, her benefits will be cut by an amount equivalent to half her earned salary; that is $60. In total, Johanne will lose $40 under the new system of calculations. And Johanne is only one example among thousands. I have a table here that shows which combinations of salaries and benefits put people at a disadvantage under the new system. I certainly could share it with the minister, to prove that what her government has proposed is penalizing thousands of Canadians.

We do recognize that the new pilot project is better for certain workers, especially those who have a slightly higher salary while on claim. Still, it must also be recognized that the new model is worse for people with low salaries, seasonal workers and part-time workers, who often are women, vulnerable workers and young people; they account for 14% of all unemployed workers. Looking at it this way, things are very simple for the Conservatives: the poorer you are, the more likely you are to stay that way. Why does the government continue to directly attack women, seasonal workers and Canada’s youth?

I would also like to take a moment to correct some statements made by hon. members opposite. Recently, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development stated—and repeated—that the vast majority of employment insurance claimants who were working while on claim would be better off under this new pilot project. The minister was asked to define this majority, but we are still waiting for the numbers, unfortunately.

In May, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission presented a report to the government concerning these changes, estimating that 403,000 Canadians would be better off and 240,000 would be worse off. What is the minister going to say to those 240,000 claimants? Moreover, we know that the amount of money allocated to financing the pilot project is a clear indication that the Conservatives know the new system will be less accessible to claimants than the old system.

In 2009 and 2010, the program cost the government $141 million and $132 million respectively. In 2011, the government extended the pilot project by one year and the amount allocated was $130 million. According to the 2012 budget, the new program will cost about $74 million over two years, or one-quarter of what it cost previously.

How can the minister explain the significant reduction in budget allocations without admitting that the Conservatives know very well that the benefits of thousands of people will be reduced? Instead of deliberately misleading all Canadians, as this government is apt to do, it is high time that the minister announced changes to her pilot project that will not penalize the 240,000 part-time and low-income workers on employment insurance.

How many times will we have to state loud and clear that employment insurance is not a government benefit? Employers and employees contribute to the fund. Canadians make their employment insurance contributions in good faith because they believe that this social safety net will be there for them when they need it.

This ludicrous intrusion, which dates back to when the Liberals shamelessly stole $54 billion from the fund, must stop immediately. This government does not have the right to interfere in a matter that concerns employers and workers.

Employment insurance is a social safety net that provides some support to Canadians when they go through more difficult times. Unfortunately, four out of 10 unemployed workers today do not have access to employment insurance, even though they paid into the fund. The government is doing nothing to improve accessibility, which is restricted as never before. Instead, it prefers to send the message that the individual must bear the burden of unemployment. The government is implying that it is people's own fault if they lose their jobs.

Under the Conservatives, the responsibility for social problems such as unemployment are shifting increasingly from society to the individual. There is no longer a social or collective aspect to unemployment, as though the risk of losing one's job were assumed entirely by the individual and not society. When a corporation replaces a worker with a machine, is it the worker's fault?

One thing is clear: based on what we have seen over the last few decades, the NDP is the only party that can be trusted when it comes to employment insurance. We are the only party to propose policies to improve access to employment insurance benefits and not limit access even more.

I hope that the minister will listen to the thousands of pleas from across Canada that are echoing here in the House today. That is why I urge the government to support this motion and to do everything possible to improve the working while on claim program.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot to be said about the opposition day motion. The member concluded by saying that the NDP was the only party that could be counted on when it comes to employment insurance. It is amazing it took the New Democrats so long to realize the changes that have been made. The member for Cape Breton—Canso talked about it for well over a week before the NDP even tuned in on the issue.

It was the Liberal Party that essentially created employment insurance benefit programs. The Liberal Party also moved an opposition day motion last week to try to deal with this. At the end of the day, we Liberals recognize how critically important it is to get the minister to change the policy. We need to recognize the importance of the minister reversing the decisions that we in the Liberal Party and the johnny-come-lately New Democrat Party now recognize need to be changed.

I am wondering if the member would join with all opposition members in acknowledging that the minister is not doing a service to the unemployed by continuing to ignore the calls for change, whether from the Liberals or NDP.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I would remind hon. members that with five minutes for questions and comments, when other members are standing for questions we ought to try to keep the questions and responses to about a minute where possible.

The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the Liberals can deny that the NDP has never dipped into the employment insurance fund. The NDP is the only party that has never dipped into the employment insurance fund. That is a fact.

As for the Conservatives, we know that they are taking any chance they can get to take money from all aspects of employment insurance. Today, it is one aspect, but there is also seasonal work. It is everywhere.

There is a reason why they budgeted $74 million for two years, when the budget used to be $132 million. It is basic math. They want to make cuts everywhere; they want to keep people from receiving EI, and they are hurting the Canadian economy.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for her work on this.

I would like more examples of the impact this bill will have on seasonal workers in particular. I come from the second-largest riding in Canada. There is a lot of seasonal work in forestry, agriculture, the tourism industry and so forth.

What is her party going to do differently?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, today's motion is on what the unemployed will lose during the benefit period. This has a huge impact on seasonal work, because not everyone lives in a rural area.

Living in a rural area has its own reality. I lived in a rural area for a long time and it is quite a bit different than living in an urban area. There is no comparison. A person cannot just pick up and leave a rural area to go work elsewhere just because he gets two job offers a day. There are so many unavoidable factors to consider such as distance, ice, freezing rain, black ice, the commute back and forth. People are going to have to accept less money and lower benefits, which will make them poorer. The rural areas will be poorer.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be very precise. This is a good motion. People are hurting. Let us fix it. Let us focus the debate on that today. If we can do that, we are doing our job as members of Parliament.

Does my colleague agree that the most hurtful change was the removal of the provision for allowable earnings? It is very specific. When the provision for allowable earnings was dropped, that is when people got hurt by this change.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, getting rid of measures is part of what is hurting the unemployed and we all know it. In August, the government got rid of the five extra weeks of benefits that could be given to workers in the regions in order to fill the infamous gap. Getting rid of this measure further impoverishes people who were already getting less by way of benefits while waiting for the next tourist season or the next season in the forestry sector, the fishery and so forth.

This weakening of the EI system is something else we would eliminate.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's full-day debate on the government's recent changes to the working while on claim component of the employment insurance system. I am not sure that the government is equally delighted, though.

That is the beauty of the days that are set aside by the rules of the House for the opposition to choose the topic of debate. They represent a relatively rare opportunity to hold the government to account on issues the Conservatives would just as soon not have exposed, and no issue is more on point in this regard than the government's recent changes to the employment insurance system. That is why my NDP colleagues and I decided to make the working while on claim component of EI the topic of today's debate and to put the government's record to a vote.

For those who may be watching at home, let me just remind everyone what the motion before us entails. It says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the new Working While on Claim pilot project is: (a) not benefiting the vast majority of EI recipients who are able to find employment; (b) creating a disincentive to take part-time work; and (c) leaving low income Canadians worse off than before; and that the House call on the government to take steps to fix Working While on Claim immediately.

Anyone who has given this issue even cursory thought would know that all three claims in this motion are absolutely correct. Contrary to the minister's claim, the changes do not benefit the vast majority of EI recipients. They do create a disincentive for accepting part-time work while on claim, and it is the lowest income earners who are hardest hit.

If this were any other place and people were to cast their ballots based purely on the facts, this motion would pass unanimously. However, there is a reason why some have called this place Disney on the Rideau. There is often a suspension of belief that renders surreal results. To prove my point, just watch the vote tomorrow night. In the meantime though, let me first prove the facts.

In their 2012 budget, the Conservatives announced their intention to make changes to the working while on claim pilot project. Previously, EI recipients who accepted work were allowed to receive the greater of $75 or 40% of their weekly benefits without any money being clawed back. Above those thresholds, earnings were clawed back dollar for dollar.

Under the new national pilot project, workers are allowed to keep 50% of every dollar they earn up to 90% of their insurable earnings, but importantly, they lose 50% from the first dollar earned. Nonetheless, it was the intention of the new working while on claim program to encourage work by not clawing back 100% of earnings above the threshold of one or two days of work.

Of course, we all know where roads paved with good intentions end up, and this pilot project is no exception. As has become clear in the month and a half since the new pilot project was announced, the new program has had the effect of targeting the most vulnerable workers. It reduces the earnings of those who can only find one day of work a week, as well as those who receive Canada pension plan benefits or other income while on EI.

MPs' offices have been flooded with complaints and even employers are complaining because they are unable to find people to take piecework now, because one day of work per week no longer pays. However, the minister responsible stubbornly maintains that there are no problems requiring her attention.

The Conservatives claim that the new pilot program would incentivize all EI recipients to accept new work. According to budget 2012, “This new pilot will ensure that EI claimants always benefit from accepting work by allowing them to keep more of what they earn while on EI and supporting their search for permanent employment”. Similarly the parliamentary secretary claimed in the House on September 24 that “those who work more will be able to keep more when it comes to their employment insurance”.

Unfortunately, the cold reality belies the Conservative rhetoric. When compared to the expired program, the new pilot program discourages part-time work or low-paid work for many EI recipients because they will be allowed to keep less than they were under the old system.

Mathematical equations do not make for a riveting speech but they are essential to proving the point, so bear with me for just a moment.

Let us take the average earning EI recipient. In 2010-11, the average regular EI weekly benefit was $370 a week. This means that previous earnings for the average EI recipient were about $670 per week. Under the new system, the average EI recipient will have no incentive to accept new work unless they earn over $300 a week. For example, if this person accepted work earning $150 per week, they would essentially lose $70 under the new system compared to the old.

I know it all sounds a bit confusing, but it is easier to understand if we look at EI recipients with both the maximum earnings and those with lower earnings.

Let us start with the maximum earnings. In 2011, the maximum EI regular benefit was $468 a week. This means that the previous earnings for the maximum EI recipient were at least $850 per week. Under the new system, the maximum level EI recipients would have no incentive to accept new work unless they earn over $350 per week. For example, if EI recipients accept work earning them $200 per week, they essentially lose $90 under the new system compared to what they would have kept under the old system.

For EI recipients with lower earnings, if they previously earned $300 per week, they would get $165 per week on EI. Under the new system, these recipients would have no incentive to accept new work unless they earn over $125 per week. For example, if they accept work earning them $75 per week, they essentially lose $30 under the new system. That does not even take into account work-related expenses such as transportation and child care. If those additional expenses are factored in, very few EI recipients benefit from accepting work while on claim.

Despite all of that evidence, the minister continues to claim that the “vast majority” of EI recipients working while on claim benefit from her new pilot project. Interestingly though, when pressed she is unable to give any figures to back up her claim.

In fact, the amount of money committed to the program clearly indicates that the Conservatives know that the system is less generous than the older one. In 2010, the working while on claim pilot cost the government $132 million. In 2011, the government extended the pilot for one year with a budget of $130 million. However, budget 2012 set aside only $74 million for the new pilot project. That was to cover two years, not one. Consequently, there is roughly half the money over twice the time, or a 75% cut. That hardly supports the Conservatives' contention that EI recipients will now be better off.

If we do not trust the government's own figures in that regard, and who could blame us, I refer members to a report by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, which estimated that while 403,000 Canadians would benefit from the program, 240,000 would be negatively impacted. That means that nearly four in ten EI recipients are worse off as a result of these changes, stretching beyond credulity any possible definition the minister might offer of the “vast majority”.

Employment insurance is not a government benefit; it is paid for by workers and employers. Canadians pay EI premiums in good faith that EI will be there for them in times of unemployment. The reason my NDP colleagues and I brought forward today's motion is to protect that sacred trust from the government's repeated meddling in the EI system without so much as consulting the very workers who paid for the system. It is time for the Conservatives to stop attacking unemployed Canadians, blaming them for their own unemployment, and to get serious about developing a job creation strategy and to invest adequately in skills training.

I will be interested to see how the Conservatives vote tomorrow night. They can no longer claim they are unaware of how their program changes have impacted the lowest earning EI recipients. It is time they own up to the mistake and fix it.

There is no shame in making a mistake. The shame lies only in the refusal to acknowledge and correct it.