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House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

6:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to respond to the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques on the modernization of services at Service Canada.

We are continuing to work hard on behalf of Canadians toward eliminating the deficit and returning to balanced budgets, all the while improving services to Canadians.

As part of improving services, last August we announced that 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, and we are on track.

We have increased automation, improved online services, and implemented a nationally managed workload distribution system. This system also allows us to move more quickly and effectively to the next available agent in one of our processing sites across the country.

Historically, the EI program was designed and administered entirely as paper-based and managed locally. This was a very manual and time-consuming process. Beginning in 2005 we started modernizing EI claims processing by increasing automation because Canadians told us they wanted more efficient services, better value for their money, and the convenience of online services.

As the level of automation increases, as more applications are received online, and as more records of employment are submitted electronically, we will be able to deliver improved and more cost-effective services. This is our vision, to build a more efficient and effective delivery system for employment insurance for today and for generations to come and at a lesser cost to Canadians.

We are working hard on behalf of Canadians to improve the services we deliver. This is a government working smarter.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I cannot help but smile because the answer the parliamentary secretary just gave me is light years away from the question that I asked.

The question is simple. I am not questioning what the government did. The government has already made its decision. It made cuts and consolidations. That is not the question.

The question is about closing the employment insurance processing centre in Rimouski, which is going to be moved to Thetford Mines without a proper process. This is a completely arbitrary decision. I am not asking the parliamentary secretary what the government wants to do in terms of budget cuts and consolidations. We know that is happening.

What I want to know is how she can justify moving an employment insurance processing centre and 37 jobs in my riding to the riding of the Minister of Industry, who boasted that he lobbied to have the centre moved. How can she do this with a straight face when there was no competitive process and the decision was made completely arbitrarily?

I would like the parliamentary secretary to answer this question directly.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, Service Canada has moved to a national service delivery model, one workload, one process, one workforce. This means claims can be processed by the next available agent in one of our EI processing sites across the country. They no longer have to wait for a local agent to be available. This has been successfully implemented for some time now and has created the platform for further automation. With continuous improvements in the way we do business, Service Canada will continue to work to better respond to clients' needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Canadians told us they wanted more efficient and cost-effective services. They wanted the convenience of 24/7 online services. As the level of automation increases, as more applications are received online, as more records of employment are submitted electronically, we will be better able to deliver improved cost-effective services.

Modernization at Service Canada will give Canadians in every region of the country better access to employment insurance and a host of other Government of Canada services. We will all benefit from this.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, obesity has become a major public health issue in Canada. In 20 years, the country's rate of obesity has gone from 7% to 25%. This problem has enormous health costs and definitely has an impact on the economy. It has now been proven that certain trans fats present in processed foods contribute to the risk of obesity and are extremely harmful to heart health.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, almost 60% of Canadian adults and 26% of our children are overweight. Obese adults between the ages of 25 and 35 are six times more likely to develop high blood pressure, which affects vessels in the brain, heart and kidneys. Trans fats are also associated with breast cancer, as shown by a French study conducted by a team at Inserm and another at the Institut de cancérologie Gustave-Roussy.

Researchers measured the levels of blood markers indicating the presence of trans fatty acids from food in several hundred women. They then compared this consumption to breast cancer cases developed by these same women. The surprising result was that women who consume large quantities of these fatty acids are twice as likely to develop a malignant breast tumour. That is alarming.

Furthermore, trans fats have only been present in our food for the past 50 years. Thus, it is only now that we can measure their impact and their harmful effects on health, and recognize the high risks.

Artificial trans fats are used for pastries, in foods served in restaurants and in processed foods sold in grocery stores. The agri-food industry decided to use them because they improve the texture of food and reduce production costs. However, they have no nutritional value and can be replaced by other natural fats such as butter or oil.

In 2005, the federal government set up a trans fat task force, which recommended a trans fat limit of 2% of total fat content for all vegetable oils and spreadable margarines, and 5% for all other foods.

In 2007, the government adopted all of the recommendations and gave the industry two years to voluntarily reduce trans fat content in its products. Some companies complied, but others did nothing. In 2009, the current Minister of Health promised to do more. But we recently learned that the plan to draft regulations was aborted. In February, a research centre obtained documents under the Access to Information Act showing that in 2010, for no apparent reason, the minister ordered the regulatory plan scrapped.

The absence of federal regulations has resulted in myriad approaches across Canada. How is the industry supposed to comply with standards when the standards are not clear and are not enforced uniformly from one province to the next?

It has been shown that many foods still contain high levels of trans fats. The trans fat content in baked goods, such as cookies, croissants, brownies and pies, exceeds Health Canada's standards by 33% to 75%.

Meanwhile, companies such as Biscuits Leclerc in Quebec are making the necessary effort to eliminate trans fats from all their products. If companies like this one can do it, then it is not too heavy of a burden for the industry, as the minister claims. However, the lack of regulations is not very fair to those companies that are making an effort to devote time, money and research to develop healthier products, when others are still offering unhealthy products.

Should the minister not respect her own commitments and the recommendations of experts and, above all, protect the health of Canadians?

6:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to reassure Canadians and members of the House that Health Canada is committed to finding the most effective way to reduce Canadians' consumption of trans fats. It is working to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make informed healthy choices for their families.

As we know, consumption of trans fats affects blood cholesterol levels in a negative way, which could lead to increased levels of cardiovascular disease. Health Canada has taken every action to help Canadians reduce the amount of trans fats that they are consuming. We have also helped to reduce the amount that is in the food supply.

I am pleased to say that through mandatory nutrition labelling and voluntary trans fat reduction, Canadians' intake of trans fats has reduced by more than 60%, to approximately 3.4 grams per day. Almost 75% of prepackaged foods have met their targets.

Canada was the first country in the world to implement mandatory labelling for trans fats. Nutritional labelling regulations came fully into force in 2007 and included requiring trans fats to be declared in the nutrition facts table on most prepackaged foods. The new Canada's Food Guide released by Health Canada in February 2007 also included information on the importance of limiting trans fats and saturated fats in one's diet.

Despite this work, Health Canada recognized that in order to meet our public health objectives for Canadians to have consumption levels that would fall below the WHO recommended amount of two grams per day, more concerted efforts would be necessary. In June 2007, Health Canada announced that it would adopt the trans fats task force's recommendations of limiting trans fats to 2% of total fat in vegetable oils and soft spreadable margarines and 5% in all other foods.

Health Canada committed it would work with the food industry to achieve trans fat reductions within two years. The trans fat monitoring program was launched to monitor the food industry's progress and tracked certain food products and segments of the food industry which historically had high levels of trans fats in their products. Overall, the results obtained from the monitoring program indicate that through the voluntary approach industry has made progress in reducing trans fats of their products while not increasing saturated fats. Regulations and more red tape are not always the solution.

As noted, Canadians' intake of trans fats has been reduced by 60% since the mid-1990s. Needless to say, more needs to be done. More reductions are required to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The monitoring program also highlighted that there are still some challenges in trying to reduce the trans fat content of some food products for a variety of reasons. Therefore, Health Canada continues to engage industry and stakeholder groups to determine how to address these challenges. The goal is to achieve the overall objective of reducing trans fats in Canadians' diets to an acceptable level.

Most recently, the department sought the advice of a food expert advisory committee composed of health professionals, patients, consumers and industry groups on this issue. The committee recommended that Health Canada continue the voluntary approach to the reduction of trans fats while additional monitoring is conducted to determine the current levels of trans fats in foods available for sale in Canada.

I would like to assure the House that this government's first priority is to protect the health of Canadians when making decisions about the reduction of trans fats in the food supply.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, it is true that many companies have made an effort to decrease the trans fats in their products, but once again, some companies are continuing to use a lot of—too much—hydrogenated oil in their products.

That is why Denmark, Switzerland, California and many American cities have adopted regulations for trans fats. For example, in 2008, New York City decided to ban trans fatty acids in its 24,000 restaurants. Those that did not abide by the regulation were subject to fines. The restaurant chains quickly adapted to this new regulation. If these restaurants can offer their New York customers food without trans fats then why do they continue to offer Canadians foods that are harmful to their health? It is because the federal government is doing nothing.

How much is the government's inaction costing us? It is costing us dearly. A recent analysis conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that the total cost of obesity is estimated to be $4.3 billion—$1.8 billion in direct health care costs and $2.5 billion in indirect costs. It is completely irresponsible.

Canada is still refusing to legislate this even though the Minister of Health made commitments in this regard in the past.

What is the Conservatives' priority? Is it to please the industry, which is exerting pressure, or to protect the health of Canadians as they should?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, the government's first priority is protecting the health and safety of Canadians. Health Canada has pursued several approaches, including mandatory nutrition labelling to decrease trans fat levels in Canadian foods. Through mandatory nutrition labelling and a voluntary program, Canadians' intake of trans fats has reduced by 60%. Health Canada's Food Expert Advisory Committee, which includes members from the health profession, patients, consumers and industry groups, recommended that Health Canada continue to encourage the voluntary trans fat reduction efforts. Health Canada will continue to assess the most effective ways to reduce Canadians' consumption of trans fats and is actively engaging industry members to identify and analyze technical barriers to reducing trans fats.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I am here tonight to continue the ongoing discussion of the F-35 and to talk about developmental delays and their impact on cost estimates for the F-35.

Those developmental delays are taking place because the joint strike fighter program is in a shambles. This has been identified in the recent report from the Auditor General. More significantly, we have the word of the program's executive officer, U.S. Vice-Admiral Venlet, who has acknowledged that the program's high degree of concurrency was “a miscalculation”. The program is already in its fifth procurement plan. The first procurement plan projected 1,600 F-35s in the skies today. As it is, there are only 63 prototypes flying.

The concurrency issue impacts directly on program costs. Already, the program has incurred nearly $400 million to correct deficiencies in the few aircraft that have been built. More problematically, as stated by the Government Accountability Office, design changes are expected to “persist at elevated levels through 2019”.

The technology of this plane is still in its infancy, and rigorous testing is still at least three years away. Nobody knows, therefore, what this plane will ultimately cost. The AG's report commented on this. It says:

...many costs are not yet reliably known or cannot yet be estimated. These include the basic...flyaway cost of the aircraft, the cost of Canadian required modifications, and the cost of sustainment.

What we do know, only, is that the price is rising rapidly and that this is a fact that, according to the AG's report, has been hidden from parliamentarians. Further, we know that the government has treated its underestimates as maximums.

Thankfully, the United States joint strike fighter office is transparent with its costing. We know also that it provides all of this costing to the Department of National Defence. Recent figures from the Pentagon show a 5% increase in acquisition costs and a 10% increase in operating and support costs, just since last year. The total F-35 program cost is now $1.5 trillion, with significant cost risks still ahead when more complex software and advanced capabilities are integrated and tested. Given that the F-35 full capabilities as advertised depend on three times as many lines of software code as the F-22A Raptor and six times as much as the F-18 Super Hornet, these risks cannot be overstated. However, herein lies one of the many advantages of an open, transparent and competitive tender for replacing the CF-18. It would reveal just how far from the truth about the F-35 the Canadian public has been held to date, particularly regarding cost.

Not only was the Minister of National Defence's $15 billion life-cycle estimate $10 billion shy of his department's own 20-year life-cycle estimates, but the department's own $25 billion hidden estimate, I might add, is billions of dollars shy of the life-cycle estimate based on the 36 years that the department plans to operate these planes. It remains to be seen, first, what the 36-year life-cycle cost estimate actually is, second, who knows about that 36-year life-cycle cost and, third, who has been involved in hiding the 36-year life-cycle cost that the Auditor General acknowledges that the Department of National Defence has.

6:40 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for giving me the opportunity to reassert the facts about the CF-18 replacements.

As my colleague is well aware, we need to replace our fleet of aging CF-18s, which have been a tremendous asset to the Canadian Forces. The commitment to purchase a CF-18 replacement fleet was clearly spelled out in the Canada First Defence Strategy.

Our government has set a budget for replacement aircraft and we will work within that budget. As of this moment, we have not signed any contracts to purchase replacement aircraft.

As my colleague is aware, we have announced a seven step plan to guide responsible replacement of the fleet for our brave men and women. This includes a secretariat to oversee that this important procurement meets the high standards of accountability and transparency.

I will take a moment to outline seven important points regarding the secretariat. The funding envelope allocated for the acquisition and replacement of the fighter jets is frozen. The Government of Canada will immediately establish a secretariat within the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada. The secretariat will play the lead co-ordinating role as the government moves to replace Canada's CF-18 fleet. A committee of deputy ministers will be established to provide oversight for the secretariat.

The Department of National Defence, through the new secretariat, will provide annual updates to Parliament. These updates will be tabled within a maximum of 60 days from receipt of the annual costing forecast from the joint strike fighter program office beginning in 2012. The Department of National Defence will also provide technical briefings as needed through the secretariat on the performance schedule and costs. The Department of National Defence will continue to evaluate options to sustain the Canadian Forces fighter capability well into the 21st century.

Prior to project approval, the Treasury Board Secretariat will first commission an independent review of DND's acquisition and sustainment project assumptions and potential costs for the F-35, which will be made public. The Treasury Board Secretariat will also review the acquisition and sustainment costs of the F-35 and ensure full compliance with procurement policies prior to approving the project.

Industry Canada, through the new secretariat, will continue identifying opportunities for Canadian industry to participate in the joint strike fighter global supply chain, as well as other potential benefits for Canada in sustainment, testing and training, and will provide updates to Parliament explaining the benefits.

Canada has not purchased any replacement aircraft and has not signed any contract to do so. Canada will only proceed with replacing the CF-18s when all the steps I mentioned are complete and the development work is sufficiently advanced.

We are working with nine partner nations in the JSF program to develop an adaptable and sustainable multi-role fighter aircraft that will meet the challenges of the 21st century. By taking part in this revolutionary program, we are ensuring that the RCAF will be totally interoperable with its allies well into the future.

The JSF program is a success for Canadian industry and will offer opportunities for Canadian industry for years to come.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague across the aisle for staying late on a Thursday night to respond to my questions but she has proven herself just as adept as her other colleagues across the aisle at avoiding responses to these matters.

I would point out that, in the Auditor General's report, he identifies that the joint strike fighter program office provides National Defence with projected sustainment costs over 36 years. These are called bilateral cost breakdowns. These have been received by the Department of National Defence for some years.

I also note that the government has committed in this House to abide by the recommendations of the report and has agreed and committed to making the estimates and actual costs of the F-35 available to the public. Will my friend across the aisle undertake to do just that with the bilateral cost breakdowns that are already in the possession of her government?

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned before, the JSF program is a success for Canadian industry and will offer opportunities for Canadian industry for years to come.

More than 3,100 aircraft have already been ordered and Canadian companies will have access to contracts for all of them. If more F-35s are ordered, Canadian industry will also be allowed to bid on these contracts. Already, 65 Canadian companies have signed contracts worth over $435 million.

The Government of Canada is committed to procuring the fighter that best meets the Royal Canadian Air Force's requirements at the least cost. As a government, we owe it to our pilots to provide them with the proper equipment to ensure mission success.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:46 p.m.)