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House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

7:30 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development if she was prepared to acknowledge that the backlog in processing claims at Service Canada was because of cuts and bad decisions made by her government.

In her response in this House, she said that, under the economic action plan to deal with the global recession, quite a number of additional personnel were engaged on a short-term basis at Service Canada. She added that, since the unemployment rate was down, those people were no longer necessary. For all practical purposes, Canadians who needed Service Canada—for instance, to obtain their EI benefits—should have seen their claims processed in a timely manner.

I would like to know where the minister gets her data, given that, according to Statistics Canada, in December 2011, the unemployment rate rose by exactly 0.1% to 7.5%. In January 2012, the Canadian unemployment rate rose by 0.1 % once again to 7.6%.

This figure is much higher than the government's predictions of rapid economic recovery suggested. Moreover, we are a long way from the 6% unemployment rate that prevailed in 2007, just before the global recession began.

I would like the minister to explain her government's actions, given that the Service Canada cuts fly in the face of the numbers, the facts and Canadians' needs, while our economic situation remains fragile.

Thousands of Service Canada jobs have been cut since last spring. Canadians do not understand the government's actions, but they do know that those cuts have had a major impact on service quality and efficiency. How else can we explain the incredibly long delays in claims processing just when families need support, when they need their employment insurance benefits?

Do we need to remind the government that Canadians pay for these services out of their taxes and that, when they contribute to an employment insurance plan, they expect it to be available when they need it? For example, one of my constituents who works for SNC Lavalin has to collect employment insurance every winter because that is the nature of his work. He submitted his claim on November 28. He finally received his employment insurance benefits on February 24, 2012, which is a delay of nearly three months. He says that this is the most unreasonable delay he has experienced in 35 years.

After 13 weeks with no income, his reserves were long past depleted. How can the Conservatives justify the fact that this man had to max out his credit cards to make ends meet and provide for his family? Do they know many people who can cover the cost of 13 weeks with no money coming in?

If Service Canada cannot provide satisfactory service within a reasonable period of time right now, we are headed for catastrophe if the unemployment rate goes up. How does the government plan to deal with the potential service bottleneck? Canadians demand transparency and accountability. I want to get that for them.

7:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles on the subject of employment insurance.

During the economic downturn, our government geared up quickly to meet the increased demand for EI benefits by adding temporary employees.

Although jobs were created, the economic future remains uncertain.

We have been given a clear mandate to eliminate the deficit and return to balanced budgets, with the additional challenge of making our services more effective and efficient, exactly what my constituents in Simcoe—Grey want.

As announced on August 19, 2011, Service Canada will continue to modernize employment insurance by increasing the automation of EI claims from 44% fully or partially automated at the beginning of 2010-11 to 70% fully or partially automated by the end of 2012-13.

With continuous improvements to our business model, such as increased automation, improved e-services, national workload management, and document imaging, Service Canada is positioned to manage its workload in a more cost-efficient way.

Service Canada employees work very hard to ensure that Canadians who rely on employment insurance get the benefits that they deserve.

In 2007 and 2008, we began to consolidate our EI processing sites for greater efficiency. Over the next three years, EI processing will be consolidated into 22 large regional centres and we will ease the transition to a smaller workforce through attrition, reassignment and retraining. Affected employees will be considered for other available positions.

Ultimately, modernizing our services will allow for better, faster and more cost-efficient services for Canadians and it will help us build a better delivery system for employment insurance for today and for generations to come.

7:35 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada also reported in December 2011 that 43,000 more people were working in part-time jobs, but noted that 26,000 people had lost their full-time jobs. In short, some jobs were created, but that does not mean good jobs or full-time jobs. Also according to Statistics Canada, employment increased the most among women aged 55 and over. This alarming tendency speaks volumes not only about our aging population, but also about women nearing retirement age, or who may be retired already, but are forced to return to the labour market because of their precarious financial situation.

What does the government plan to do for this demographic group?

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, we want to create a service delivery system that is modern, efficient and focused. As such, we are continuing with our EI modernization initiative and increasing automation.

Our goal is to eliminate the deficit while improving the services we provide.

We are moving forward with the consolidation of EI processing sites from smaller, more costly sites to larger, more efficient regional sites over the next three years. We are establishing a call centre network that will better manage the fluctuation of demand.

Over the last number of weeks, we added over 400 employees to our processing efforts and shifted 120 staff from part-time to full-time, as well as substantially increasing our use of overtime.

We are creating a better, faster and more cost efficient way to service all Canadians. That is what Canadians want.

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, in November 2011, I asked the Minister of Public Safety a very simple question: why was he closing Canadian border crossings, such as the Franklin border crossing in my riding, when the Americans were investing in their border infrastructure in order to improve security and the flow of goods?

All I received from the government in response were facile and arrogant judgments about the NDP's platform. I would like to quote the Minister of Public Safety. He said: “...what we know is that the New Democrats are focused on shutting down the Canadian economy....The New Democrats want to shut down not only the province of Quebec, they want to shut down industry right across Canada.” We want to shut down the province of Quebec? This is news to me. Where did the minister come up with such nonsense? How does this empty answer help to move the debate forward?

In December, the Canadian and U.S. governments released the details of a border action plan entitled “Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness”. This plan involves greater information-sharing between the two countries and the harmonization of border security regulations. Some aspects of the plan will improve the flow of goods between the two countries. However, other measures create sovereignty issues for Canada and decrease the level of security on the Canadian side of the border.

In a working document that was leaked to the media in December, the Canadian and U.S. border agencies revealed a border crossing restructuring plan. This joint plan sets out the two countries' intentions to share the facilities at 35 border crossings, to close 11 others—more closings—and to share the hours of operation of 30 border crossings or to close 23 and replace them with surveillance cameras.

Surveillance cameras? Really? That is laughable. Are we really talking about border security? This is not even a bad joke.

Closing these border crossings and replacing them with surveillance cameras may have very serious effects on the level of border security. Already, in Dundee in my riding, there has been in increase in criminal activity, such as the smuggling of weapons, cigarettes and drugs. And it is not just me who is saying this; it is the RCMP officers, residents and mayors in the area. In fact, the RCMP has said that the closure of the Franklin border crossing has made its job more difficult since there is now less surveillance and no customs agents are present.

This flies in the face of the fight against terrorism and crime that this Conservative government says it wants to wage. The action plan states: “Addressing threats early is essential to strengthening the shared security of both countries and enabling us to make the flow of legitimate people, goods and services more efficient than ever across the Canada-U.S. border.”

Is closing border crossings not a contradiction of the very objectives of this action plan?

I am therefore asking the government to reopen some of the key border crossings, such as the one at Franklin, and to harmonize their operating hours with those of the U.S. crossings.

7:40 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time we have addressed this question. This has been addressed in question period and it also has been addressed previously in adjournment proceedings in the House. As well, the former president of the CBSA appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security over a year ago to discuss this issue. However, for the benefit of my new colleague and in response to the question put forward by the hon. member, I would like to reiterate some key facts to put things into some much-needed perspective so that we can stop the spin and fearmongering.

There are approximately 1,200 border ports of service across Canada. Any service decision is made after a lengthy and detailed review has been completed, taking into account the cost effectiveness and operational needs. The two ports of entry in question, Jamieson's Line and Franklin Centre, were underused ports of entry that simply did not warrant being operational any longer. When reviewed, Jamieson's Line had only 12 travellers per day. With a 24/7 port of entry a mere 10 kilometres away, it made no economic sense to maintain this operation. The second port of entry, Franklin Centre, saw only 56 travellers per day and there is a 24/7 point of entry only 16 kilometres away. Clearly, these decisions are in line with what is always our goal: the most effective and efficient use of taxpayers' dollars.

We are focused on ensuring our shared border is secure while easing the flow of legitimate travel and trade. Where it makes sense, we are investing in border infrastructure to support this objective, including new lanes at the busiest crossings. In fact, just last week the Minister of Public Safety announced the official opening of the NEXUS lane at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. As the minister stated, “This NEXUS lane is very good news for businesses, tourists and other travellers alike, as it will improve the flow of legitimate trade and travel, while enhancing security”.

These decisions are proof that any decision made which affects travellers is done carefully and with the utmost consideration for border security and the economy. When faced with the reality of tighter budgets and the requirement to align scarce resources in a responsible and cost-effective way, difficult decisions must be made.

While the decisions made for the CBSA's strategic review were difficult ones, they were the right ones. They were the right ones for the economy because it now means that taxpayers' dollars are being put to better use and Canadians are being served better.

I am sure my hon. colleague will now agree that in these uncertain times, this makes sense.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I find to be completely pathetic is that as we were closing the Franklin border crossing, the United States was investing millions of dollars in a new facility. When we say that we have to continue asking questions it is because the answers are not satisfactory.

Once again, RCMP officers continue to say that they have an increased workload and that there is a resurgence of crime at the border because the border crossing was closed.

Furthermore, here is an economic example. Leahy Orchards is a company located in Franklin that has 225 local employees and it exports tonnes of products to the United States. Not just security, but the economy is affected as well, and the customs officers at that location have also lost their good jobs.

Not only is this a flaw in the action plan, but it also does not help the economy and it does not enhance security. Both are being destroyed. The operating hours of other border crossings have been reduced. Some crossings have closed and at others there is no point of entry.

The Conservatives brag about making economic recovery a priority. What will they do to keep our border jobs and, at the same time, to help us maintain border security, which is very much threatened right now?

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, the facts have been presented and they are clear. Our government is focused on ensuring our borders are secure while easing barriers on the legitimate flow of travel and trade. We are investing in border infrastructure to support this objective, including new lanes at the busiest crossings. We continually look at all of our programs while demonstrating sensitivity to the realities of field operations and the demand to exercise a national mandate for border services.

CBSA always uses its expertise to ensure that the best possible solutions are put forward. These are solutions that not only continue to ensure the safety and security of Canadians but also ensure that their tax dollars are being used properly. Canadians can expect that the CBSA will continue to provide us with the best possible border services to keep us safe and will continue to do so in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, what we most desperately need are good paying jobs in Canada so our families, our communities and our country can thrive. What we need to do is to protect those jobs now. We can no longer allow the Conservative government to simply watch, while good jobs disappear across the border.

Many of the members across the aisle on the government benches have shrugged off any suggestion that we are in the midst of a manufacturing sector crisis in our country. However, the figures from Statistics Canada do not lie. Canada has lost nearly 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the Conservative government took office in 2006. We have lost over 40,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in the last year alone. We are currently at an historic low in terms of manufacturing jobs, going back to when these statistics were first gathered in 1976.

I would like to note that this low is quite significant because both our labour force and population have grown significantly over the same period. In other words, there are fewer manufacturing jobs in Canada now than there were in 1976.

Just a quick reminder that most of these job losses have come under the watch of a Conservative government led by the current Prime Minister. It is clear that tax breaks to big business do not keep or create manufacturing jobs in Canada. We need a new strategy. We need an intelligent strategy.

The government cannot continue to ignore the fact that manufacturing jobs are declining at a rapid rate in our country. Most of these jobs are landing in China. A Statistics Canada report found that China had become the world's centre of manufacturing employment. The number of workers in manufacturing in China was estimated at 109 million in 2002, which represents more than double the combined total of 53 million in all the G7 member countries.

My community of London has been hit particularly hard. The city's manufacturing sector has been shrinking at a rapid rate and auto sector jobs have all but disappeared. Electro-Motive Diesel was one of those few plants offering good jobs that was still in operation. They were good paying jobs, jobs that helped support a family, jobs that supported an entire community.

The EMD closure has been a hard lesson. What we have learned with the depletion of our manufacturing sector is that tax cuts to corporations are not a job creation strategy. Nor do they keep good paying jobs in Canada. We have also learned that there are serious flaws in the Investment Canada Act that need to be addressed if we are to protect the remaining manufacturing jobs in Canada.

We need to take action now. Communities across Canada are begging the government to keep our jobs here. The families hurt by the loss of Electro-Motive Diesel do not wish any other families to suffer.

I would like to know what the government plans to do to protect manufacturing jobs in Canada? It is very clear that what the government is doing, or not doing, is not working.

7:50 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to express my disappointment in the company's decision to close the plant in London and I sympathize with the workers affected by this closure. Let me be clear. The decision to close the facility was taken by the company alone. The federal government does not get involved in the day-to-day operating decisions of private companies.

The manufacturing sector in our country remains a vibrant and important part of the Canadian economy. Canada is a highly competitive country for investment and business.

Our government has taken significant actions to create jobs in manufacturing and improve the business climate. In the last 12 months, more than 200,000 full-time jobs were created economy wide and employment has returned to pre-recession levels.

We have reduced production costs for companies, encouraged innovation and enhanced our ability to compete in global markets. We are providing tax relief, enacting a 50% straight-line capital cost allowance rate for machinery and equipment. We eliminated tariffs on machinery and equipment and industrial inputs. We have invested in skills training and infrastructure. We continue to support research and efforts to commercialize innovation.

In budget 2011 our government took further action to help Canadians stay in the workforce, including providing a temporary hiring credit for small business to encourage hiring and extending training and employment programs through the targeted initiative for older workers program.

Through these and other actions, almost 610,000 more Canadians are working today than when the recession ended in July 2009. While we remain concerned about the number of Canadians who are still out of work, we are one of only two G7 countries to regain more than all of the output and jobs lost during the downturn.

Our government will continue working to attract investment and open new international markets and will improve Canada's regulatory and marketplace frameworks, promoting competition and reducing the administrative burden faced by businesses.

We are moving forward. We encourage our colleagues opposite to follow our lead and support our upcoming budget and all the initiatives that will support manufacturing in our country.

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry but temporary measures and sympathy will not do it. We need a government willing to act to protect jobs. The figures I quoted from Statistics Canada show very clearly that there is a crisis in the manufacturing sector in Canada. The numbers speak for themselves.

Canada has lost nearly 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the government took office in 2006, and it is no surprise that we have lost this many jobs. In Canada we have government policies and practices that allowed a Caterpillar to disregard workers, grab patents, close up shop and ship those good jobs out of the country. We have nothing in place to protect workers in this country and the government has made it very clear that it intends to do nothing to protect jobs and pensions.

We need only look to the insult the government paid to the workers at EMD in London and the insult to the workers at Canada Post all across Canada to see where its priorities lie and it is not with the average Canadian.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, our government has taken significant action to create jobs, in fact, 610,000 net new jobs since the downturn, many of those in manufacturing in an improved business climate.

We will continue to do this, even when the opposition votes against our measures to create jobs in the manufacturing sector. Opposition members voted against the 50% straight line capital cost allowance. They voted against the hiring credit for small businesses. They want to impose a job killing tax hike that would devastate our country's economy. We have reduced production costs for companies, encouraged innovation and enhanced our ability to compete internationally. Through those and other actions, almost 610,000 new jobs have been created for Canadians. They are working today, which they were not in July 2009.

We will stay focused on job creation and economic growth. We encourage the opposition to do the same.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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

(The House adjourned at 7:58 p.m.)