House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I have tremendous respect for some of the things the member said about volunteers, because as we all know, they are some of the greatest Canadians in doing some tremendously important work in our country. However, I do have some concerns about the bill.

The NDP has been known to repeatedly promise Canadians some extravagant things. It insists on saying it is going to build this, start that program, focus on giving this group a tax credit and so on. However, to be very frank and honest, this would grow government. It would cost Canadians more money. Taxpayers pay for these things.

Therefore, when I asked the member where he got the $800 million cost figure he provided, I was quite surprised at his response, because I did not expect him to be defensive. I inquired because Canadians want to know how we are going to pay for this. I am going to continue to ask the member to consider putting forward exactly where those numbers came from.

As my NDP colleague said, this would cost $800 million. However, he did not want to say where he got that number or who reviewed and confirmed the cost estimate. Since this would involve considerable new spending, did the NDP determine where the money would come from? What tax do they plan to increase? What program do they plan to make cuts to?

Again, I am saying this with tremendous respect because I too feel that volunteers have done a number of things to ensure that the country goes forward and succeeds.

I would like to applaud and thank all volunteers for the hard work they do right across Canada. We all know someone in our community who has done some remarkable things. They have given time selflessly to improve the quality of life for those in need and they do it without expectation of reward or any kind of recognition but because they care and want to make a difference in their communities. This is what drives them. I thank them, on behalf of the government, for all that they do.

As writer Erma Bombeck once remarked “Volunteers are...[those] who reflect...compassion, unselfish caring, patience and just plain love for one another”.

Currently, Canada has one of the largest charitable and non-profit sectors in the world, with more than 160,000 charities and non-profit organizations helping those in need from coast to coast to coast. Our Conservative government stands right behind those charities with special tax support, considered to be among the most generous in the world. This includes the charitable donations tax credit, which encourages Canadians to support those great organizations. In fact, federal tax support for Canada's charities is nearly $3 billion each and every year.

However, we all recognize that it is always possible to do more to help our charities accomplish their work. That is why, since 2006, the Conservative government has been providing increased support to charities through special tax assistance measures and tax incentives.

I am referring specifically to the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to charities and private foundations; the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of ecologically sensitive lands to public conservation charities; the reform of the disbursement quota to reduce the administrative burden on charities and allow them to devote their time and energy to helping people in need; and the crackdown on certain unscrupulous people who take advantage of the charitable sector.

I am pleased to say that all these measures have helped charities across Canada and the volunteers that support them by increasing the donations made to their noble causes.

In fact, the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of securities has been tremendously successful. For example, the United Way of Toronto alone estimates it receives tens of millions of dollars a year because of this change. It has declared that “The tax benefits are certainly having a very big benefit on local charitable organizations”.

Owen Charters of CanadaHelps, an online fundraising portal for charities, has also noted, “We've been quite surprised by the popularity. It was small steps at the beginning, but it has really grown”.

Nevertheless, even with all of these positive steps to help charities, we know that more could still be done.

That is why shortly after the 2011 election our Conservative government asked the House of Commons finance committee to undertake an open public study to find out from Canadians directly the best way we could further increase charitable donations.

I should note that the inspiration for that study and the government's request was Motion No. 559 by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, a motion that was adopted by Parliament in March 2011. I thank my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo for all he has done and continues to do in support of the charitable sector here in Canada. Rest assured that charities and volunteers could have no better or stronger advocate in their corner than Parliament and our member himself.

The finance committee, which I am a member of, has been vigorously undertaking that task since January of this year. We have already had dozens of meetings and received submissions from over 50 charitable groups as well as Canadian volunteers from all across the country.

Throughout the hearings and in reviewing the submissions, we have heard a range of proposals from charities and volunteers about what we can do to further support Canada's charitable sector. I must note they have all been very appreciative of the measures this Conservative government has put forward since 2006. They were disappointed that the NDP did not support many of them.

None of these charities or volunteers have let it be known that the proposal presented today by the NDP would constitute an effective way for them to help people in need. In fact, this came up only once during the review by the Standing Committee on Finance. The reason for this is obvious if we examine the NDP's proposal a little more closely. This proposal raises serious issues and concerns. It would be very costly, extremely difficult to control and it is not clear if it would be worth it. It would also impose a large administrative burden on charities and volunteers.

Before I talk more about these concerns, I would like to clearly inform Canadians that volunteers are already receiving special tax treatment to support their efforts. More specifically, volunteers receive a tax exemption on the reimbursement of their expenses, which means that any costs incurred by volunteers, including travel costs, can be completely reimbursed on a tax-free basis. Thus, if people have to travel on behalf of a charity, they can be reimbursed for their expenses—mileage, gas, meals and other costs—and that reimbursement will not be taxed.

The NDP's proposal raises many concerns.

First, it would increase the administrative burden on charities by requiring each charity and non-profit that believes it deals primarily with vulnerable populations to precisely track the number of hours and to keep records of such travel.

Second, it would require government officials to subjectively determine what constitutes a vulnerable population and determine on a case-by-case basis if each of Canada's 85,000 registered charities serves that subjectively determined group, and then determine whether or not each qualifies for the special tax break. That would be a radical departure from the existing practice of treating all registered charities objectively.

Third, the cost would be significant.

These are just a few of the preoccupations the bill raises. I would encourage the member across the way to think about those preoccupations of Canadians as he moves forward, and to perhaps address some of the concerns so that we might better understand how his party intends to pay for this without raising taxes and without further damaging the process.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-399, tax credits for volunteers' travel expenses.

I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Repentigny for introducing the legislation. I appreciate having the opportunity to discuss ways that we, as a Parliament, can better support volunteers and encourage volunteerism.

I will start by talking about some of what has occurred in recent years, particularly around tax measures to help volunteer emergency service workers or firefighters. There has been a consensus across party lines on some of the measures that we should recognize the important work of, for instance, emergency service volunteers, those who risk their lives in order to protect and make communities safer.

As part of that discussion, the Liberal Party proposed a $3,000 refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters. We made it refundable deliberately. The reality is that if these tax credits are not refundable, it means, perversely, that the lowest-income Canadians, Canadians who need the support the most, do not actually qualify and do not receive the benefit.

Earlier today we had a discussion on income inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor in Canada. The reality is that, to a certain extent, non-refundable tax credits can exacerbate that and make it worse by disqualifying, technically, the lowest-income Canadians who need the help the most.

For instance, we proposed a refundable family caregiver tax credit, which would have benefited all Canadian families providing care to relatives with health issues, in some cases palliative care and in other cases long-term medical issues. The Conservatives introduced, instead, a non-refundable tax credit, which looks like they are doing the same thing, but in reality it is not a lot of resources because it does not apply to a large segment of the population, the people who need the help the most.

What the government has become very effective at doing is establishing boutique tax credits that are non-refundable. They do not take a lot of money out of the federal treasury because they do not actually help a lot of people, but it looks like they are taking action.

People come to my office who are quite disappointed. They expected these new tax credits would somehow benefit them, only to find out that because of the fact they had low incomes, they did not qualify.

Let us take, for instance, a senior citizen on a modest fixed income who drives for Meals on Wheels. If the tax credit being proposed today as part of this legislation is non-refundable, that senior will not benefit because he or she is not paying taxes now. Just to make it clear, a refundable tax credit also benefits people whose incomes are so low that they are not paying taxes. A low-income senior who drives, for instance, for Meals on Wheels is still incurring expenses to volunteer. In fact, those expenses represent a very significant portion of his or her income. He or she still has to put gas in the car to get to the volunteer site or pay for public transit.

That brings me to the design of the tax credit under Bill C-399.

Bill C-399 would establish a tax credit to help volunteers defray some of the travel expenses they have because of their volunteer work. Unfortunately, the tax credit potentially established under Bill C-399 is non-refundable. We hope this could be addressed and corrected as part of the legislative process. Perhaps if this were to get to committee, it could be part of the discussion.

We support sending Bill C-399 to committee so we can discuss, among other things, design issues, including making the tax credit fully refundable.

We have a concern about the growing number of non-refundable tax credits. We believe it is in some ways exacerbating the issue of income inequality in Canada. These tax credits fail to meet the fairness test. It just seems wrong for the government to protect its own bottom line by deliberately excluding the most disadvantaged Canadians.

Beyond the non-refundable nature of the tax credit, Bill C-399 sets out some interesting parameters. To qualify for the tax credit, one must do a minimum of 130 hours of eligible volunteer work and so one must make at least 12 trips that tax year. For the purposes of Bill C-399, this would involve travelling a minimum of one kilometre from home to wherever it is one does their voluntary work.

In terms of the monetary value of the tax credit, Bill C-399 establishes a minimum value of $500 and a maximum value of $1,500. With a 15% federal personal income tax rate, the proposed tax credit would translate into a benefit of between $75 and $300 for the volunteers who qualify.

Finance Canada has estimated that Bill C-399, as it is currently written, would cost about $130 million per year. However, officials were basing their estimate on past data and assuming that there would be no change in behaviour as a result of the new tax credit. They assume that this tax credit would not encourage new volunteerism or enable existing volunteers to travel more extensively.

Officials used data from the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, which shows that 1.2 million Canadians would meet the criteria of performing at least 130 hours of qualified volunteer work. They assumed that the average volunteer who had about $430 of travel expenses would be eligible for a tax credit under Bill C-399. They also assumed that the average volunteer would claim a further $500 in weekly travel expenses based on an average claim of 15 kilometres a week at 55¢ per kilometre.

The officials then estimated that one-quarter of the 1.2 million volunteers would not get any benefit from the proposed tax credit because it would be non-refundable and these volunteers would not make enough income to qualify. However, using the Department of Finance's own numbers, we extrapolated that it would cost about $40 million to make this non-refundable tax credit into a fully refundable tax credit, which would benefit all low-income Canadians who would be currently excluded.

I encourage the member for Repentigny to consider such a revision to Bill C-399. The initiative is worthy of the consideration of the House. I hope the proposed legislation will receive second reading so we can more closely examine the proposal and consider making it fully refundable.

It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to recognize the vital contributions that volunteers make to Canadian society. We should not base that recognition on how much money is in their wallet. There are a lot of low-income Canadians who, if we were to move forward with this kind of measure, would deserve the same benefit. However, because they are low-income, they would not benefit by the bill in its current form as a non-refundable tax credit.

Those are some of my thoughts and I hope government members see their way to support taking the bill to committee so we can have a more fulsome discussion on how we can strengthen our support mechanisms in the tax system and other direct support for volunteerism in Canada.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today, especially after hearing the speech and explanation of my colleague, the hon. member for Repentigny, who gave it the passion it needed. He dedicated this bill to his grandmother, Madeleine Nadeau. This bill must be considered carefully because it provides a lot of very interesting things.

My colleague is the official opposition philanthropy critic. So it is something he is really passionate about and has worked on for a long time. He has worked very hard, and has travelled all over Canada and met with people. He told us his story, with all the humanity he has for his parents and his family. This is truly an example of what passion can bring and what people in politics can achieve.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance made some fairly partisan comments. We need to remember that this is a private member's bill. My colleague clearly said that this is the start of a discussion that needs to be had. Referring the bill to the Standing Committee on Finance will give us an opportunity to answer some questions. The parliamentary secretary immediately asked the question about costs, and we have already seen a few differences.

I am very pleased to hear that the Liberals are going to support the bill so that it will at least be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for study, given that our figures vary. We are told that the Department of Finance estimated the cost at $130 million. It is important to consider the impact of this carefully, because we must not underestimate how important the volunteer sector is. I feel that everyone here, on either side of the House, recognizes that our society can prosper with the help of volunteers. Many people in certain situations have seen how very important their contribution is.

I must mention that Canada’s volunteer sector ranks second in the world, behind the Netherlands, according to research published very recently, in September 2012. That is something we feel here; we have all experienced it. And that is why I urge hon. members to take the time to study this bill in depth before rushing to push it aside. The volunteer sector plays a key role in the development of our society, our economy and our democracy.

When disasters strike and crises hit, we know that volunteers reflect the best of human nature through the assistance they provide. That is why it is important to help them. Consider all the work that has been done. The hon. member forRepentigny said that volunteers have, for a long time, been admired, congratulated and patted on the back, but never have they received any direct help in their work. This is a first attempt, a first debate, a first step forward. I sincerely hope that hon. members opposite will at least agree to further examine all the benefits of this bill.

Let us take look at what is happening in practical terms. The opposition motion today spoke about the gap between the rich and the poor. Since the government's austerity budget is consciously reducing certain services, community and charitable organizations have an ever-harder job. Sure, they depend a lot on volunteers, but they still need some help.

Let us take a look at some volunteering figures. According to Statistics Canada's latest report on giving and volunteering, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered over 2.1 billion hours in 2010. That is equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs. We must not forget that this volunteering helps the economy, and when the government does not take action in certain areas and people need help, these volunteers are there to help them. We must consider the economic impact and benefits of volunteering. Encouraging it will only improve society.

According to certain figures, in 2007, revenues in the charitable sector were over $112 billion, and volunteering represented 7% of Canada's GDP. We can clearly see that this has a considerable impact.

A 2006 study by Mook and Quarter estimated the economic value of volunteering hours at approximately $20 billion. That is a contribution to our society and our economy that helps our country grow. It is significant.

I am very lucky to represent the people of Brossard—La Prairie, where helping one another is very important. In my riding there are more than 80 community organizations. I found that so important that my last householder focused on these organizations. It was obvious that people wanted to help each other. That is very important and it truly helps advance humanity and society. That is very important to note.

One of those organizations is Brossard's Les Cuisines de l'amitié, which helps people living below the poverty line who need support and who need to prepare food. Volunteers are there to help them.

There is also the Association des personnes handicapées de la Rive-Sud Ouest. These folks help people with disabilities, particularly with respect to defending their rights. The organization has many volunteers who help with that.

The Complexe Le Partage is a truly extraordinary organization that helps people in need. We all know that more and more working families and individuals need help and food banks. The Complexe Le Partage is an organization that really helps people.

I have had opportunities to participate in fundraisers and charity drives. Participating feels good. As a child, I was a Scout, so I grew up with the idea of doing good deeds. That has always been a part of who I am. I have also been to Africa to volunteer in an orphanage. In so many cases, the time people spend is worth so much more than what money could buy. I have also been a soccer coach, teaching the game to young people.

Clearly, the time people give is rewarding for them and valuable for others. The goal of this bill is really to help people who want to keep volunteering. The impact will be huge. This is really very important.

I really hope my colleagues across the way will actually look at the bill, because the bill is a start. My colleague, the member for Repentigny, has mentioned that it is not something that it is final. It is a start. It is a dialogue. He has worked really hard. He has gone across Canada to talk to charities, to talk to people on the ground.

I think what we need to do is to look at the options. I hope my colleagues will at least support the bill, so it would at least go to committee so we can actually look at the costs and also look at the benefits of it. Hopefully, we will be able to work together on that.

Obviously, if it goes to the finance committee, I know there are few colleagues on the finance committee who are open to the idea of helping charities and volunteers. We know how important it is for Canada.

We have all seen what happens in a crisis, in terms of people getting together and actually working together. When we try to help our neighbours or people in a crisis, the idea is not, “What is my gain?”. It is, “What can I do to help them?”

What this would basically do is help people who need to have a bit of support, because some of them need to have a bit of money and need to be compensated because there are costs.

So, I really wish my colleagues would support my hon. colleague's bill and bring it to the finance committee so we can actually look at it.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address a key issue in the debate on Bill C-399, a flawed piece of legislation, and to relate it to other more thoughtful ways in which we are helping charities and volunteers.

Before I highlight some of these areas, let me give a quick recap of what this legislation intends to do. Bill C-399 proposes a costly, new, non-refundable tax credit for individuals who perform a minimum of 130 hours of volunteer services for select organizations during a year and who make at least 12 trips in order to do so.

This proposal would cost over $100 million each year, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for charities to track and administer.

One would hope, and I think Canadians have an expectation, that when members of this House introduce legislation it would be with the intent of benefiting Canadians. How would Bill C-399 benefit Canadians?

The member for Repentigny might be thinking that Bill C-399 would make it more attractive for Canadians to volunteer at their church, local youth group or community centre. As it is, a large number of Canadians donate some of their time to volunteering. In fact, according to a recent report by Statistics Canada, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered some of their time through a group or organization.

Clearly, Canadians like to volunteer. However, it is unclear whether the proposed tax credit would have any significant effect in increasing the rate of volunteerism in Canada. After all, proposals to provide tax assistance for volunteerism have been suggested before.

That being said, studies in recent years suggest that tax assistance, much like the tax credit we are debating today, would in fact not lead to an increase in volunteerism. In fact, a report out of Alberta, entitled The Potential Impact of Canadian Federal and/or Provincial Tax Credit Incentives for Volunteer Participation, suggests that not only would the introduction of such a tax credit not lead to an increase in volunteerism but it might lead to a decrease in volunteerism.

The report states:

The motivations of volunteers to “donate” their time may not be shaped nor directed by the “value” of their donation. The principle motivations are altruistic and egotistic in nature. The attachment of economic and specifically tax value to the “altruistic donation” may in fact reduce the motivations of volunteers to participate.

Similarly, a volunteer group in Quebec, Réseau de l'Action Bénévole du Québec, RABQ, found that tax credits did not result in more people wanting to donate their time to volunteering.

In fact, according to the former president of the RABQ, Rosemary Byrne, tax credits:

....didn't seem to have made a difference in terms of the numbers of people volunteering.

Byrne even went on to say:

No one in a lower tax bracket would have benefited at all; that was another disincentive.

If such findings are to be believed, it is doubtful that Bill C-399 is the correct approach to encourage more Canadians to get involved in volunteering. Quite the opposite, the facts seem to suggest that if the House were to pass such a bill, it would be harmful to the rate of volunteerism in Canada.

For these reasons, I am very skeptical as to whether introducing a tax credit such as this is the right course of action. Furthermore, after the comments by the president of the RABQ, I am skeptical as to whether or not any volunteers would even be interested in taking advantage of such a credit.

That is not all. Another issue that must be considered with this proposed piece of legislation is the administrative burden it would place on charitable organizations and non-profit organizations.

It will be the charities, churches, youth groups, et cetera that will be responsible for documenting the information that will be needed by volunteers and the Canada Revenue Agency to confirm that individuals qualify for the credit under the Income Tax Act.

This means that for each volunteer, these organizations would have to track and record how many hours people are present, what they are doing and if they travelled to the location. Simply put, this sounds like a huge waste of time and effort for these organizations. Not only would this be a drain on their human and financial resources, but it would take away from the ultimate goal of charitable and non-profit organizations, helping people.

In recent years, many charitable organizations have been criticized for not using their resources in the most efficient means possible. Understandably, Canadians are frustrated when they hear stories about the donations they make to their favourite charities being used more on administration costs than on the research, aid or cause to which they donated their money. My concern here is that this legislation would not only heighten this frustration but would force charitable and non-profit organizations to divert their precious resources away from the good work they do to overcoming this obstacle. The evidence shows that this would be a significant new obstacle for these organizations.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians volunteered nearly 2.1 billion hours in 2010. I am no expert, but I am willing to bet that it would take anyone a lot of time to record 2.1 billion hours of volunteerism. I do not understand why we would want to impose such an unnecessary burden on these organizations. What would that achieve?

What does this bill offer to those wanting to volunteer or for those seeking to attract volunteers? The answer, it seems to me, is not much. While at first glance Bill C-399 might seem like a good tool to encourage Canadians to volunteer some of their time to a cause they hold dear, this bill falls short of the mark. In my view, it would do nothing more than place an unnecessary administrative burden on charitable organizations and non-profit groups, all while having no effect on increasing the rate of volunteerism among Canadians. Evidence indicates it would likely cause a decrease in the number of volunteers.

While I feel this bill was introduced with the best of intentions, I am not convinced it would benefit Canadians. I urge my colleagues to think carefully before casting their vote in support of Bill C-399.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Government ProgramsAdjournment Proceedings

September 25th, 2012 / 7:05 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, in a shocking and ill-advised decision earlier this year, Conservatives cancelled the community access program, an incredibly successful resource across rural and urban communities for Canadians with little or no access to a computer or the Internet.

The community access program gave funding to community centres and libraries to provide public terminals with Internet access as well as to offer skills training for their effective use. Initially this program was geared toward rural communities but grew to address the digital divide experienced by rural and urban Canadians alike, especially vulnerable Canadians who might not have access to a computer or the Internet.

In my riding of Guelph, our public library received $6,800 annually to support 34 public access computers that were used daily by over 300 Guelphites. Communities from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia and throughout the north received similar support.

There are so few elements of everyday life that no longer require a computer or access to the Internet, yet there are still tens of thousands of Canadians who cannot afford to have a computer at home, cannot afford regular Internet access, live in an area without reliable connectivity or are not technologically savvy.

Public libraries and other community access sites are the only sources for computer access for more than 25% of Canadians. These men and women rely on the computers and the access and assistance available to them when they go to the public library. Without this funding, how are libraries, especially those in smaller communities where the need may be greater, able to maintain these vital services for users?

Not through one large action but through many incremental yet significant cuts and changes, Conservatives are telling Canadians, “You are on your own”.

Take, for instance, a young man or woman seeking employment through the Government of Canada's job bank. Previously they knew that if they had no computer or no means to access the web, they could pop down to the library or to certain communities centres, not anymore.

What about the extensive cuts in the budget that took front-line personnel out of communities across the country and shuttered the doors of Service Canada offices?

Canadians seeking services, from getting birth certificates to employment insurance, are now one step further removed than before. Online applications are fine if a person has access to a computer, but what about those who do not? Abandoned are vulnerable Canadians who are more likely to require government services in the first place. How about Canadians in rural communities without full connectivity who are already isolated from these services to begin with?

The same for cuts to VIA Rail in Guelph. Removing staff means bookings previously made at the train station will now need to be made online. I have had many senior citizens approach me, concerned because they either do not have a computer or they are not technologically savvy. Once, they might have gone to the train station. This will end. Alternatively, they might have gone to the Guelph public library where there are others around to give them a hand. This too will end.

Cutting both front-line personnel and removing additional assistance for accessibility is only isolating Canadians. Cutting the community access program is the epitome of the mean-spirited, ill-conceived policies we have come to expect from the Conservatives. However, I hold out hope that the government, realizing the error of its ways, might still have its conversion on the road to Damascus and reinstate this essential and successful program.

Government ProgramsAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta


Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend from Guelph for his question on the community access program. CAP was launched in 1995 when the Internet was in its infancy and only available to a small number of Canadians. Even then it was evident that it would be critical to Canada's future competitiveness. CAP was launched to make computers and the Internet accessible for many different communities that did not have access to home Internet.

It was designed to encourage Canadians to use computers, some for the very first time. In 1995, only about 10% of Canadians had Internet access and only 40% of them had a computer. I was in university at the time. I know many of the opposition members were in high school, some even in grade school and a few not even in school yet. However, the hon. member and I both remember pagers, typewriters and handwritten essays.

Today, most Canadians have Internet at home. In 2010, almost 80% of Canadians had access to the Internet at home. In fact, many Canadians have it on their tablets, smart phones, laptops and various other devices. They can also access Internet for free through local Internet hot spots like libraries and coffee shops.

Canadians are using the Internet in record numbers. According to some reports, we are world leaders in Internet use.

Many things have changed since 1995 and we must continuously review our programs to ensure they are efficient, effective and serving Canadians. The community access program was a good program in its time, but it has reached its objectives. That said, make no mistake, our government is committed to providing access to high speed Internet to more Canadians.

There continues to be a gap between rural and urban Canadians in terms of access to leading-edge broadband and this is unacceptable. That is why our government has worked to expand access to rural broadband and increase access to broadband Internet across the country.

Our economic action plan included an expansion of broadband to cover almost 220,000 Canadians who did not have access to high-speed Internet before. Our government has been clear. Rural Canadians deserve the same reliable access as urban Canadians.

In the recent spectrum auction, the Minister of Industry announced a requirement for companies that buy spectrum to deploy into all areas of their customer base, not just big cities. This will bring LTE or fourth generation mobile services to more Canadians across the entire country.

New auctions for both the 700 and 2,500 megahertz bands have been announced with the 700 megahertz auction to be held next year. The auction is designed to support competition and investment by capping how much spectrum each company can purchase. This will enable at least four companies in each area to secure spectrum.

By ensuring greater choice for Canadians, we see more competition and ultimately lower costs for Canadian families.

Just this year, the CRTC published reports that costs to Canadians for broadband Internet and wireless Internet were cheaper in Canada than in the U.S.

Our world is becoming smaller and more digital. We need to plan for tomorrow, today. Our government has taken actions to provide more Internet service to Canadians, to ensure more competition and to keep costs low.

We are ensuring Canadians have the tools they need to succeed in this new global digital world.

Government ProgramsAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government itself acknowledges the long-standing success of this program. There is absolutely no legitimate excuse that can defend the cutting of such a vital, widely used program. It cannot deny that by cutting front-line service provision through Service Canada it is asking Canadians to go online for programs and applications, and yet it cut access to computers and the Internet.

While we are a more technologically savvy country than even a decade ago, removing access for the remaining most vulnerable Canadians is unacceptable.

There are still over 300 uses a day of the public access computers at the Guelph Public Library, tens of thousands across Canada. There are still too many rural communities in Canada where connectivity is an issue. We must stop isolating Canadians. I call on the government to do the right thing and restore the community access program. It is still needed.

Government ProgramsAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remind my hon. friend that the digital environment was very different when the community access program was launched over 17 years ago. Access to the Internet was limited and the government wanted to introduce to Canadians the benefits of participating in a knowledge-based economy. The program has successfully met that objective.

Today we are funding internships where youth will be given useful experience in information and communications technology to allow them to successfully transition into the workplace. For Canadians who have been using a CAP site to access government services, Service Canada offers single window access to a wide range of Government of Canada programs and services.

Canadians can access these through almost 600 points of service located across the country. Furthermore, the resources of Industry Canada's computers for schools program continue to be available to schools and qualified non-profit groups. The program collects, repairs and refurbishes donated surplus computers from government and private sector resources. It then distributes them free of charge to schools, public libraries and not-for-profit learning organizations.

Through economic action plan 2012, our government is looking ahead and taking major steps forward to build on the strong foundation we have laid since 2006.

HealthAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to go back to a very valid question that I asked in the House before the summer recess. At the end of April, I drew the minister’s attention to the fact that, all spring, the NDP had asked the government a great many questions in order to get answers about the impact of the Service Canada cuts.

What I regretted at the time and what I regret to this day is that few concrete responses have come to the ears of Canadians, although Canadians deserve clarification on the employment insurance reform this government has set in motion. The government is clearly demonstrating a lack of transparency, whereas its first responsibility is precisely to be accountable to Canadians.

I spoke then about a culture of secrecy that prevails in the Conservative team. I maintain that that behaviour puts into clear and present danger the entire system on which our democratic institutions rest, institutions that should be built on mutual trust between the government and the people.

Over the past year, Canadians have unfortunately witnessed this unacceptable behaviour on a number of occasions. At the time, I asked the minister when Canadians would have the pleasure of an open, honest and communicative government. I stand here today on behalf of all Canadians in order to obtain more information in that regard.

At present, we are well aware that in the history of Canada, there has never been a more controlling cabinet than the Prime Minister's cabinet when it comes to information. Information is disclosed in dribs and drabs. This is not surprising when we think of how things are managed, the F-35 fiasco, implementing the budget while keeping Canadians in the dark, and the many ethical lapses that the government must constantly cover up.

Examples of the lack of transparency on the part of this government abound, to the dismay of the people, who only want to know where they stand when it comes to reforms or cuts.

It is the same problem with employment insurance and its reform. Since Bill C-38 was introduced, Canadians have been given the broad general outline of an unwarranted reform but not the details and content of or, more particularly, the rationale for this reform. How can Canadians who are affected by these changes plan their futures or anticipate the possible impact on their quality of life or on their family life if they are kept in the dark?

How do we know whether seasonal workers in the regions who mainly make their living on the seasonal economy will have to be uprooted from their communities and forced into exile in a place where low-quality, full-time jobs are available? How do we know whether unemployed workers who find a job that pays 70% of their salary and who then lose their job again will not see their salary disappear by being obligated to accept a job that pays 70% of 70% of their initial salary? How do people avoid the trap of the downward spiral of poverty? How does a mother who is the head of a single-parent family get child care so that she can work a 40-hour week in a town that is an hour away by public transportation?

In an ideal world, Canada would have full employment from coast to coast to coast. However, in the real world, our economy depends on the global economic situation and one must assume that entire economic sectors—sectors that make Canada a prosperous and economically balanced country—involve seasonal work. This government must recognize and value that fact.

I would like the minister to take this opportunity to reassure Canadians of her government's desire for transparency in the management of its files, including that of employment insurance.

HealthAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the issue raised by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles as it pertains to the modernization of employment insurance.

As we have said all along, the government is committed to delivering programs and services that are effective, aligned with the priorities of Canadians and financially sustainable over the long term. This means we must focus on core priorities, modernize service delivery and policy work, and streamline our operations. We are being accountable directly to Canadians for using their tax money wisely.

Automation speeds up claims processing and gets payments more quickly into the hands of people who need it, EI recipients.

Service Canada continues to closely follow the number of applications in order to ensure that we are providing the best service possible to the Canadians who rely on these benefits.

We have made significant progress and we will continue to build on this.

Over 60% of EI processing is partially or fully automated and we are on track in reaching our goal of 70%.

I also would like to talk about other ways the government has helped Canadian families in need.

Most recently, our government introduced the helping families in need act, which was tabled last week. The bill introduces necessary legislative changes to help hard-working Canadian families at the time when they need it the most. The bill would provide for a new 35-week EI benefit for parents and guardians of critically ill children. It also would provide for a non-EI benefit of $350 a week for 35 weeks for parents of children who have been kidnapped or murdered.

I have met with the parents of critically ill children in the emergency department and I know the kind of horror they face. I also recognize that families are in distress when their child has been kidnapped or murdered. In these circumstances, it is clear why we are supporting families. It is so they need not worry about their job or their mortgage payment and they can focus on what matters, that being their child and their family.

Sadly, the NDP voted against the ways and means motion required to introduce this bill.

I would like to ask the NDP member opposite why the NDP members are not willing to support families during this toughest time in their lives, a time when they face the most difficult challenge.

HealthAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I have a question in response to the parliamentary secretary's answer. Will the government take this money from the employment insurance fund? Does this mean that the Conservatives are making the most vulnerable even poorer? They are making cuts to the employment insurance program and reducing access, then they are using this money to finance other services. I completely agree with the service the Conservatives are proposing, but perhaps the money being used to finance it is not coming from the right place.

No one has any idea how the new concepts of suitable employment and obligations regarding job searches will work operationally. We need some clarification regarding the regulations. Once again, we know the outline without clearly knowing how the rules will be defined.

We asked the minister responsible to give us answers on the regulations and to tell us how things will be applied, but we have yet to receive an answer.

The government has a perfect opportunity to be transparent and reconcile with the Canadian public. Can the minister confirm that Canadians will be consulted about the regulations before her party further damages our social programs and our economy?

HealthAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk more about why the NDP voted against helping parents when their child is murdered, missing or critically ill.

The member did not answer the question.

I cannot imagine how any party could stand and vote against such a measure to help families get through such hard and tragic times. I am astounded that the NDP have voted against EI for parents of sick children and at the same time want to impose a carbon tax that would raise prices on everything from gas to groceries on Canadians.

I will ask the question again. Why do the NDP members oppose parents caring for their children who are battling cancer? Why do they want to force parents to stay at work when their child has been kidnapped or murdered? Why has the NDP voted against all of our measures to help Canadian families in the toughest times that they have ever faced?

HealthAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now 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 7:26 p.m.)