House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.


Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

November 17th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should work in collaboration with the provinces, territories and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to eradicate child poverty in Canada by developing a national poverty reduction plan that includes: (a) making housing more affordable for lower income Canadians; (b) ensuring accessible and affordable child care; (c) addressing childhood nutrition; (d) improving economic security of families; (e) measures that specifically address the unique needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities; and (f) measurable targets and timelines.

Mr. Speaker, today on the eve of the 25th anniversary, I am honoured and privileged to stand and present my Motion No. 534, to reiterate our commitment to eradicating child poverty in Canada.

A quarter of a century ago, in 1989, a similar motion was introduced by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent to eradicate child poverty by 2000. That motion received unanimous consent in the House. Here we are 25 years later, and not much has changed.

I do not want to make accusations to any of the successive Liberal or Conservative governments for not taking proper actions to eliminate child poverty since the House made the promise and commitment to do so. However, I also cannot keep quiet and pretend that poverty rates among children have improved compared to 25 years ago, or that Canada is poverty-free.

For 25 consecutive years, Canadian children and their families who live in poverty have been left behind and marginalized on the agendas of successive governments. Twenty-five years is a long time. It makes me wonder why almost one million Canadian children are living in poverty today and why successive governments have allowed the rate of poverty to increase compared to 25 years ago. It makes me wonder whether the Liberal and Conservative governments over the last 25 years have felt that the opinions of the impoverished do not matter.

What went wrong? Why was a promise to our country's children broken? If we did not keep the promise to our children, then that is fine; it is perhaps that the governments of the day felt that children do not vote and so they are not a huge priority.

However, how about the promise that Canada made to the rest of the world when we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1991? We agreed to uphold international principles, values, and standards. According to article 27.1:

States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

The section then continues and holds states more responsible by obliging them to do the following:

[...] take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.

My motion deals with all of those, but specifically nutrition, housing, and child care.

As a state that is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada is not meeting its commitment globally today.

This past week, I spent a lot of time with children in our schools in Scarborough, and many of them found it difficult to imagine that there are children and families who go hungry and cannot afford to have their daily meals. The reality is that it is happening right here, in one of the world's richest countries, our great Canada.

In its November 7, 2013 report, Campaign 2000 stated:

Food security among families is highly critical with 1.1 million children experiencing food insecurity, a situation of inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints, and children represent 36% of food bank users in Canada.

According to another recent article by Huffington Post, on November 4, 2014, there are 375,000 people in Ontario who use food banks, of whom 36% are children.

Health Canada's report entitled “Household Food Insecurity in Select Provinces and Territories 2009-2010” showed that Nunavut, in Canada's north, has the highest number of households in Canada that are food insecure, which is 28.8%. That is more than double the number in the Yukon, which holds second place at 11%.

Another question that one might think to ask is what the current government has done to lower the levels of poverty in Canada. When we pose questions in question period, the government says that it has lowered the levels. Let us look at some details.

The reality is that not much has been done. Some cabinet ministers have even demonstrated quite embarrassing hospitality when the UN special rapporteur on the right to food was in Canada. It was quite a shame.

The United Nations has also described housing and homelessness in Canada as a national emergency. An estimated 250,000 people are homeless, with another 1.1 million living in inadequate housing, and more than 500,000 are facing a serious financial burden which threatens their housing security. Over 10% of those identified as homeless are youth aged 16 to 18.

In its first universal periodic review, a number of members of the human rights council expressed significant concerns about poverty and housing in Canada. A number of recommendations were made to enhance the catastrophic situations of housing, for which we as a nation were heavily criticized. Despite the original denial from the government, it involuntarily, and under pressure, accepted some of the recommendations from the member states.

Canada agreed to consider taking on board the recommendation of the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, specifically to extend and enhance the national homelessness program and the residential rehabilitation assistance program. Canada also committed to double its efforts to better ensure the right to adequate housing, especially for vulnerable groups and low-income families.

However, just when we thought there might be improvements, the current Conservative government voted against Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. It did not stop there. In the June 2012 budget, it also defunded and closed down the former national council of welfare, the NCW, which was an organization that highlighted poverty and warned policy-makers of the consequences of neglecting those in need. By eliminating the role of the NCW, the government officially shut down the source of reports and information that depicted the depth and breadth of poverty in Canada. Instead of eliminating the problem of poverty, it eliminated the messenger, the NCW.

It is something like the metaphor where the cat thinks that if it closes its eyes and drinks milk that nobody around can see it.

We have heard the parliamentary secretary stating that we do not have much of a poverty problem in Canada. The truth is that we do not have a national information centre, the NCW, to do the research and present any reports to us. The government does not understand that affordable and adequate housing does not only offer shelter but also offers individuals and families a sense of stability, security, and motivation. The children I met with last week knew that. They know that ensuring that they have a roof over their houses means safety and security for them.

We need a comprehensive plan to tackle this issue and save more money for Canadians and the national revenue. According to a study conducted by homelessness Canada, each year it costs the system approximately $55,000 to leave a homeless person on the street, while providing adequate housing and support services would cost only $37,000.

Another report by the Canadian Medical Association, in 2013, concluded that child poverty is at the core of socio-economic problems. Over 20% of health-care related expenditure is derived from inadequate housing and the consequences of low-income conditions.

By implementing what is being introduced today through my private member's motion, Canadians will benefit on many levels. First, we will do the right thing; that is, removing homeless Canadians from the streets. Second, that will save Canadians more than $15 billion dollars annually—that is five from removing the homeless, and ten from savings on health care from inadequate housing—which could be used in other areas that could benefit Canadians in various tax benefits and could finance a national child care program, which is the third piece of the motion.

On many occasions when the government was asked about child poverty rates in Canada, there were no clear reasons as to why the rate of child poverty had increased over the last 25 years. On October 28, UNICEF issued its annual report card, and on November 3, it had a symposium entitled “Children in the Wake of the Great Recession”, which was dedicated to child poverty. Neither in the report nor during the seminar was anything positive said about the current and previous federal governments' serious engagement and commitment to eradicating child poverty. Even though the current government and ministers may avoid the facts, poverty is a reality for far too many of Canada's children. If these irresponsible policies continue, that will continue to be the reality for even more of our children.

The government likes to acknowledge that 180,000 children were pulled out of poverty due to its great efforts, which it likes to celebrate. However, it is in denial of the truth, that poverty exists and Canada has a high percentage of child poverty.

On several occasions, the Minister of State for Social Development and the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism have referred to the UNICEF report and quoted only the favourable parts from it.

I would like to bring to their attention that on November 3, I was present at UNICEF Canada's annual symposium to hear from other experts about report card 12. The government did not even bother to send a representative there to hear from experts on the ground.

The conclusion from the day was that children are worse off today than when the crisis began in 2008, and much worse off than they were 25 years ago. Here is some of what the spokespeople of UNICEF Canada had to say on the day that report card 12 was released:

...what disturbs us is that the relative poverty rate hasn't budged for many years. As a wealthy country we are not doing well enough for our children.

That was from Lisa Wolff, the director of UNICEF Canada.

I have another quote from Tiffany Baggetta, the spokesperson for UNICEF Canada at the symposium. She said:

Overall, child poverty in Canada has decreased but children who were the most poor to begin with have slipped further into poverty.

This means we are not really helping the most vulnerable people in our country: our children.

We can see that the government has a trend of doing things in its own way. We know that it does not like to have much consultation and it does not like to listen to experts or people in the field. It is true that during the recession years, Canada's child poverty rate did decrease from a shameful 23% to 21%. However, 25 years ago, when Parliament made the commitment to end poverty among our children, the rate was only 13%. Successive governments have contributed to the child poverty rate increasing from 13% to 23%. The Conservative government is celebrating that it is now at 21%, which is a significant increase from the 13% it was at when we committed to eradicating poverty in this country.

Let us compare our country with Scandinavian countries and the U.K. These countries have actually done a great job in reducing their child poverty rates. The child poverty rate in Nordic countries is below 6%. It is not 21%, as it is in Canada.

What have we done in the past 25 years in this regard? We can go in circles and have the Liberals and the Conservatives blame and accuse each other for irresponsible governing, but those excuses and accusations will not feed the poor or the children in our country, nor will they provide them with adequate housing, security, or child care.

Again, let me return to parts of the UNICEF report. The government quotes frequently from this report. The quotes lead the government into believing that it has accomplished the mission of eradicating child poverty by pulling 180,000 children out of poverty. According to Statistics Canada, in every year since 1989, on average, 180,000 to 250,000 children are removed from the category of being poor children. Regardless of these numbers, the child poverty rate has continued to increase, despite the fact that the fertility rate has not increased in the same time period. Therefore, it is not that we are having more children: the number of children being removed from poverty remains the same because they are aging out, and our poverty rates continue to grow.

None of the previous governments has done enough. Many factors have contributed in removing these 180,000 children from poverty. Around 12% to 15% of those children who were 17 years of age became 18 years of age and were removed from the count of child poverty. Basically, we removed them statistically from child poverty to make them adults living in poverty, and more than 23,000 of them are now homeless.

Over 70% of those children and their families were lifted above the poverty line through the efforts of provincial governments, private corporations, NGOs, charities, and other social agencies, such as food banks and shelters.

Mr. Speaker, you are giving me the one-minute warning, and I have so much more to say.

Poverty is also racialized in our country, and I will give members some statistics from the GTA before I conclude. Among the broad ethno-racial groups in the GTA, the rates of child poverty were about one in ten in global European groups; one in five for east Asian groups; one in four for aboriginal, south Asian, and Caribbean groups; one in three for children of Arab and west Asian groups; and one in two for children of African groups. Today the GTA has 79% of Ontario's immigrants and 81% of Ontario's visible minorities. This means that far too many of our racialized people living in the GTA are living in poverty.

I would like to conclude by saying that implementing a national strategy to eradicate poverty would have a positive impact on our Canadian economy in both the short and long run. High levels of child poverty generate very significant and growing human and fiscal costs to society and to the economy in the long run.

This motion calls for the eradication of child poverty by investing in affordable and accessible housing, child care, and child nutrition programs. Those are the three social determinants of poverty among our children, and it is our responsibility as the lawmakers of this country to ensure that we are investing in the most vulnerable people in society, our country's children.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Adam Vaughan Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the motion, which speaks to a number of aspirations, hopes, and goals that a number of us in the House share.

I note that neither the member nor I was a member of Parliament back in 2005-06 when a budget was presented that gave the House the opportunity to invest $2.4 billion in public housing and to move forward with a provincially approved deal on a national daycare program that was signed, sealed, delivered, and ready to be executed. That budget also included the Kelowna accord, which would have been a massive step forward in the defence and promotion of the rights and responsibilities of indigenous people and first nations.

I have a question specific to the member's riding. Right now there is a motion in front of city council that governs the area of Toronto known as Scarborough. It calls for rooming houses to be licensed and legalized in that community. We know that rooming houses are an extraordinarily important part of the housing continuum. Rooming houses are part of human rights and we cannot zone against people. I am wondering if her party supports licensing and legalizing rooming houses in Scarborough.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments and his question on municipal issues in the city of Toronto. I want to remind him that my motion calls for the creation of a national poverty elimination strategy that includes investing in affordable housing. It would ensure that we are looking into all options of affordable housing, not just in Scarborough or Toronto, and making sure that we are investing in affordable housing across the country.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Scarborough—Rouge River for bringing forward this motion and allowing us to have this debate, although I wish we did not have to debate this issue at all. It should have been resolved by now.

We often hear what the Liberals would, could, or should have done, even though in 15 years in government they did not take the steps that they should have. It was the people of Canada who sent them to that corner, and not anybody in Parliament.

My question to my colleague is this. Knowing that no child chooses to be born into poverty, if we are going to address child poverty, what are some key issues that we have to address federally in order for it to happen?

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her very clear and direct question, because it was exactly the same question that I asked children ranging from grades three to eight when I visited last week when I was in my constituency. The children were very intelligent and had pretty simple answers, which, if we as legislators would listen to them, would actually solve the problem. They said they want to make sure that all children have somewhere to live and have roofs over their heads, meaning that they are protected from the environment and have shelter. That would mean investing in housing.

They said they want to make sure that all children can eat. I represent Scarborough—Rouge River, where there were children in classrooms that I visited who went to school that day without having breakfast. There were children who said they need to make sure they can all focus in class and have access to universal education at the primary and secondary levels and, in order to ensure that they are getting the best out of their education system and are learning, have food in their bellies. That means making sure they have a good nutrition program.

Third, they said that after school, when they and their baby brothers or sisters in grade one have to go home and their parents are not there, they have to walk around the community or wait around wherever they can, such as with their neighbours, before they can go home, and they do not feel safe and secure. I talked to them about having access to regulated child care facilities and investing in child care, and they said that would make life so much better for them.

I know there are adults here who value the opinions of our children. The three things that children know are housing, nutrition, and child care programs.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here today and speak to this NDP motion regarding child poverty. This represents a great opportunity to inform the House of the many things our government is doing to reduce child poverty.

As everyone knows, our government's top priority is the economy, and this means that we all want Canadians to have long-term prosperity, especially those who currently find themselves with a low income. In order for us to achieve this, we must be able to improve the lives of many Canadians who find themselves struggling.

I am pleased that under our Conservative government, we have the lowest rate of child poverty in the history of this great nation. Indeed, our approach to reducing poverty, which emphasizes collaboration with the provinces and territories to invest in targeted programs, reduce taxes, and create opportunities for good-paying jobs, is working.

To help make this a reality, the government invests in a wide range of programs and policies that support Canadians on the road to prosperity.

This approach includes, for example, funding for student loans and grants so that more people have access to a good education. It includes support for training programs to help people get specific skills they need for the workforce. It includes support for apprenticeship programs so that Canadians can pursue a variety of trades. It includes transfers to the provincial governments to support post-secondary education.

It also includes support for aboriginal communities so that first nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians have a better chance to have a good job and secure their future. It includes support for those with disabilities so that they can find greater success in the workforce. It includes support for new Canadians to help them fully participate in the economy, and it includes constantly refining and improving supports for individuals who face particularly difficult barriers to participation in the workforce.

To help ensure that people are better off working, in 2007 our Conservative government brought in the working income tax benefit to supplement the earnings of low-income working families. This benefit gives people in these situations a supplement to their wages so that families on social assistance will always be better off when they are working. The program works very well.

In 2009, the government doubled its commitment to $1.1 billion to help people get off welfare and into the job market. By 2011, upwards of 1.5 million working Canadian families were receiving support through this program, and it is estimated to have lifted some 110,000 parents, children, and single people out of low income.

Let us dwell on that number for a moment. The working income tax benefit, just one of our government's measures, has lifted approximately the population of the city of Guelph, Ontario, out of poverty. This is quite remarkable, and it is proof that our plan is working.

The federal government works with provincial and territorial governments on the national child benefit and provides direct funding to parents through the universal child care benefit. It also helps to ensure that enhanced benefits and services continue when parents move from welfare to paid employment. This has had a significant impact on reducing the number of children living in poverty.

In 2011, the rate of children living in low-income families was 1.8% lower as a direct result of the national child benefit. That translates into approximately 118,000 fewer children living in low-income families because of this benefit.

Another example is the Canada social transfer to the provincial and territorial governments. In fiscal year 2013-14, this transfer provided over $12 billion to provincial and territorial governments, an increase of $4 billion since the Liberals were in office. This transfer continues to increase at the rate of 3% per year.

This funding supports provincial initiatives in early child development, early learning, child care, and post-secondary education. As well, it supports social assistance and other social services for low-income families with children.

Other initiatives in support of families with children include the universal child care benefit, which we have recently announced will now be about $2,000 per year for each kid under six and $700 per year for kids six and over, helping families with the costs of whatever form of child care they choose. Families are making their own choices.

This benefit is credited with lifting some 41,000 children in 19,000 families out of low-income situations, and this will dramatically increase with our recent top-ups.

The child care expense deduction, which we have just announced we will be expanding, is another example. It lets families deduct the cost of child care from their taxable income, and in 2013 it reduced taxes payable by families by about $1 billion.

There was also the child tax credit of $2,255 for each child under 18, which reduces the parents' income tax payable by about $340 for each child.

The government has also supported the creation of over 8,500 daycare spaces in over 400 first nations and Inuit communities to encourage more aboriginal Canadians with children to join the workforce.

In total, the government is providing over $15 billion in benefits for families with children through programs and tax measures, such as the Canada child tax benefit, the national child benefit supplement, the child disability benefit, the universal child care benefit, and finally the child tax credit. The vast majority of this investment goes to low and modest income families with children.

One must also consider all the federal investments being made to make housing more affordable for lower income Canadians. Since 2006, through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the government has invested more than $16.5 billion in housing. Working with its partners, CMHC has helped nearly 915,000 Canadian households, including low-income families with children, find adequate and affordable housing.

The programs I have mentioned are showing results. The incidence of children living in low-income households has dropped to all-time lows. That translates into about 730,000 fewer children living in poverty. In fact, there has been a decline in the low-income rate for single female-parent homes of over 20% since 2002.

As well as providing targeted support for those most in need, the government has also cut taxes for Canadian families and individuals by upwards of $160 billion. The greatest benefit has been for low and middle income Canadians. Personal income taxes are now 10% lower and more than one million low-income Canadians have been taken off the tax rolls altogether. That is like taking the entire population of Calgary off the tax rolls completely.

The proof of our government's action is in the numbers, and our plan is working. That is why I am pleased to support this motion, because it recognizes all of the good work our Conservative government has done to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.

I thank the hon. member for her motion, and I urge all my hon. colleagues to support it.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to joining this debate and putting some comments on the record with regard to the motion before us today.

I remain astounded that the government is supporting the motion and patting itself on the back for taking great measures. I will refer to a number of measures within the body of my speech here telling us that we have not been doing a good job. Certainly poverty is a complex issue. It is an incredibly difficult issue to deal with, and I do not think the government does a good job on complex issues. If they cannot fit it on a bumper sticker, the Conservatives do not do a good job. “No tax is a good tax” is the one they like to refer to.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I get some “hear, hear”s from the government benches. That would be like saying “no hospital is a good hospital” or “no highway is a good highway”. It is just asinine.

The Conservatives say that the best approach to poverty is for everyone to have a job. Having a job is a big part of it for them. However, it is tough having a job if people do not have a roof over their head., if they do not know where their next meal is coming from, or if they do not know what is going to happen with their children when they go to work at that job. It is tough to have a quality job if they do not have access to post-secondary education or some type of training. If people do not have that security around themselves, then it is difficult to have that job.

That is part of our effort to address the complex issues that weigh on as to why it is such a great challenge and why there has to be a concerted effort and a plan to address poverty in this nation and to bring those numbers down. It is unbelievable that it is the 25th anniversary of the unanimous motion by this chamber in 1989. However, the fact is that there are still almost one million children who live in poverty in this country. Almost one in seven children continues to live in poverty in Canada.

It is important for the government to have a plan in place and then to work that plan. A plan would give focus to the issue. It would also allow federal agencies to go about their business and be able to view whatever initiatives they might be taking through a lens of wanting to address the issue of poverty. It would refocus our ability to work with the provinces, some of whom have had very successful and worthwhile initiatives. To have the federal government there as a partner and in support would be of great benefit. I do not think any Canadians take a great deal of pride in the fact that a nation as rich as Canada remains 20th in child poverty among the 41 wealthiest countries in the world. I do not think any Canadian thinks that is right and, obviously, we believe that we are better as a nation than to be 20th out of 41 nations.

Depending on what measurement we use, relative or absolute poverty, whatever the measurement might be, poverty rates or the number of Canadians being poor ranges from about 8.5% to 12.5% according to statistics from 2011. That is between three million and five million Canadians, including almost one million children. Research has shown that children from low-income families score lower than children from high-income families on various measures of school readiness, cognitive development, and school achievement, and that this gap increases over time with children of low-income families being less likely to attend post-secondary education and gain meaningful employment.

In the House last week, we talked about unpaid internships and how those are tilted toward wealthier families. There are children who have the support of their parents and have access to some type of support to take on an internship. However, the field is being tilted to the haves and the have-mores, as opposed to those who are struggling to make ends meet, who cannot afford to take those internships, so they miss a great training opportunity.

Children living in poverty have more behavioural problems later in life, such as drug abuse, early pregnancy, and increased criminality. Economic hardship in childhood has been linked to premature mortality and chronic disease in adulthood.

The depth of the problem with poverty is reflected in income, food, and housing insecurity. Addressing these factors will be key to reducing child poverty.

If will make some comments on income security. Children obviously remain poor when their parents remain poor. Income does matter. That means that any solution for child poverty must include efforts to increase the income, as well as employment opportunities, of parents, in particular single parents.

The current Conservative government loves to boast that the best plan for poverty is jobs, as I said earlier. However, the jobs being created are increasingly low-paying, low-quality jobs that hinder, not help, people from escaping the cycle of poverty. Forty-four per cent of poor households in Canada had at least one member working in 2011. That is, forty-four percent of those living in poverty had jobs. That could partly be attributed to the rise in precarious low-wage employment. Temporary employment continues to increase while high-quality, full-time jobs are becoming increasingly scarce.

Since the current government took office—and I have said this in the House before—there has been a 66% increase in the number of Canadians working for minimum wage. Canada has the third-highest proportion of low-paying jobs among the world's wealthiest countries, according to a recent Morgan Stanley report. Food Bank Canada's annual study, entitled “HungerCount 2014”, found that one in six households using food banks is working or recently just lost their jobs.

Affordable child care allowing parents to be active participants in the workforce is an essential component of a child poverty reduction plan. If a parent cannot secure it, it is unlikely he or she could sustain sufficient or meaningful employment.

Food security is also essential. Almost 850,000 people used food banks in 2014. That is a 25% increase since 2008.

In the recent study tabled, “HungerCount 2014”, 37% or almost 300,000 people helped by food banks are children, and 45% of households that use food banks are families with children, with nearly half of those being two-parent families. First nations, Metis, and Inuit account for 4% of the population and make up 14% of those who use food banks.

Wrapping up, I will reference the human resources committee study tabled in 2010, “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”, which recommended:

...that the federal government immediately commit to a federal action plan to reduce poverty in Canada that would see, during its first phase, the implementation of the recommendations in this report.

It is a complex issue, but it is one that we as a nation as wealthy as Canada have to work toward.

There are so many components to it, but it is essential that the current government—and if not the current government, the next government—must be seized with this issue so that we can help lift Canadians out of poverty and break that cycle.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, as official opposition critic for Employment and Social Development, I want to thank the member for Scarborough—Rouge River for bringing this important motion forward, especially because this debate falls just a day away from the 25th anniversary of the all-party motion to eradicate child poverty.

At the end of last week, I had the privilege of attending a phenomenal conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which addressed a large component of this motion: affordable and accessible child care. The NDP was the only federal party whose leader was in attendance. I want to take a moment to personally thank the leader of the official opposition for making it his priority to be in attendance.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the important announcement made by the leader of the official opposition last month. An NDP government would see no parent in our country paying more than $15 a day for child care and would create one million new child care spaces. That announcement cuts to the very heart of the child care crisis in Canada right now. It cuts to the very heart of child poverty and to the eradication of poverty.

Right now in our country, two parents, working full-time at minimum wage, would struggle to pay for a full-time daycare spot. In Winnipeg last week, the leader of the official opposition said that this was not okay, that it should be no more than $15 a day for accessible, quality daycare. The NDP has also called for a $15 an hour minimum wage for federally regulated employment.

No parent should have to choose between affordability and safety. In 2014, in a beautiful developed country like Canada, one of the top in the G7, it is absolutely flabbergasting that we have child poverty. Unfortunately, eradication of poverty is not a given. Canada ranks 23rd among the countries in the OECD, despite the fact that we like to see ourselves as part of the G20 and the G7.

Not only that, but when it comes to public spending on early learning and child care, Canada ranks dead last among comparable countries. We can do better. Simply put, we do not prioritize our young people and that will have a significant consequence on the future of our country if we do not turn things around.

Currently 900,000 children in Canada are in need of affordable, quality daycare spots. The government promised the creation of 125,000 new spaces in 2006. Where are those spots? Not a single new spot was created.

The importance of quality early childhood education in the development of children cannot be understated. It prevents social exclusion and ensures that every child has an opportunity to develop into a contributing member of our society. Studies suggest that growing up in a household that lacks adequate financial resources for basic family needs has long-term negative impacts.

According to research by Pierre Fortin, Quebec's model of child care has a positive effect on the economy, and we know how much the Conservative government likes to believe it is a good economic manager. More than 70,000 mothers were able to join the workforce and generate a return of $1.75 for every dollar spent on child care.

In 1989, my friend, Ed Broadbent, introduced a motion that was was unanimously passed in the House. All parliamentarians in this place came together and committed to eradicating child poverty, because all of them could agree that one child living in poverty in our country was one child too many, yet here we are. One in seven children currently live in poverty. When we look at aboriginal children, the numbers are bleaker. Two in five aboriginal children live in poverty.

On these numbers alone, I implore all members of the House to stand and support my colleague's motion, but words are not enough. We need to take action. Let us all come together again in a renewed commitment for the betterment of all Canadian children. Surely all members in the House still agree that one child living in poverty is one too many. Surely, with all of the divisions that exist within these walls, we can agree on that.

I want to take a moment to thank a mentor of mine, Laurel Rothman, who has dedicated her career to eradicating child poverty in Canada. I have the deepest respect for her tenacity and dedication. In our short time working together, I have learned so much from her, both factually and ethically. She is my hero in countless ways, and I wish her the very best in her retirement. Laurel is an inspiration and I am a better person and member of Parliament for having worked with her. From the bottom of my heart, I thank her.

The Conservative government has led the country into such a housing crisis that one in four Canadian families spends more than one-third of its overall income on housing. Housing prices in Vancouver, and outskirts like Surrey and Delta, are sky high, yet Canada is still the only country in the G8 without a national housing strategy. I am devastated by that. Housing costs are among the top concerns of my constituents in Surrey, and I am sure the same holds true for the constituents of many members in the House.

The NDP proposed Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. Unfortunately, it was rejected by the government. Had it passed, it would have addressed the plight of 300,000 homeless Canadians and approximately 1.5 million households, many with children, that could not access a decent, affordable home.

For the NDP, a housing strategy that establishes a structured coordination between the federal and provincial levels of government, as well as with other relevant organizations, is of fundamental importance.

The eradication of poverty will only be possible when the national housing crisis is addressed. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is pleading with the Conservative government to invest in long-term funding for affordable and sustainable housing. Due to cuts from the Conservative government, many low-income renters are in a state of panic.

Since the 1970s, low-income renters have received federal subsidies, but the government claws them back and people are left without a solution. In first nations communities, the situation is even more dire.

This motion is not asking for too much. Quite simply, we are asking the Conservative government to make the elimination of child poverty a priority, not just in words but in real actions, and to develop a poverty reduction plan with timelines and measurable benchmarks that would include components to address children's poverty. That would involve taking action on the crisis of poverty for indigenous children, making housing more affordable for lower income Canadians, creating a national early childhood education and child care program, addressing childhood nutrition, and improving economic security for families.

Children are poor because their parents are poor. No child chooses to be born into poverty. Because of that, it means addressing poverty in a comprehensive way is essential to addressing childhood poverty and to ensure the future of our country. Poverty affects three million Canadians. Three million children, seniors, indigenous people, persons living with disabilities, single parents and recent immigrants are all more likely to live in poverty.

Over 967,000 children live in poverty, and 22,000 adults under age 25 are homeless. Canada ranks 15th out of 17 among peer countries when it comes to child poverty rates, and B.C. has the ignominious privilege, if I can call it that, of having the highest child poverty rate in Canada.

Thirty-eight per cent of children living with single parents live in poverty and forty per cent of indigenous children live in poverty. I said it already, and I will say it again, that collectively we can do better. As members of Parliament, we can stand together in the House and recommit to eliminating child poverty. What more meaningful way to mark the 25th anniversary of the unanimous motion passed in the House with an objective we have yet to achieve.

I ask all my colleagues to support the motion, because no one should be left behind and, mostly, no child. Let me remind the House, no child chooses to be born in poverty. It behooves each and every one of us to address this stigma on our country right away.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.


Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on the private member's Motion No. 534, which was introduced by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. I would like to thank her for tabling this motion, because it allows me to speak to the important things the government is doing to reduce child poverty in Canada.

We know that the best way to tackle child poverty is to improve the economic well-being of Canadians, especially those who are in poverty. Our approach is working. We are collaborating with the provinces and territories. We know we are at an all-time low. In fact, 225,000 fewer children are now in poverty than when we took office in 2006.

Our universal child care benefit is specifically aimed at supporting families with children. As the Minister of Finance just recently announced, an enhancement of that plan will benefit all families with children. Members might be aware that we are increasing the universal child care benefit, the UCCB, for children under the age of six. As of January 1, 2015, those parents will receive $160 a month for each child up until the age of 6. That is up from the $100 that is currently exists. That works out to $1,920 a year, which is a huge impact for those with low incomes.

We are also expanding the UCC benefit to children aged 6 to 17. Again, as of January 1, 2015, the expanded UCC benefit will see $60 per month for children aged 6 to 17. That works out to about $720 a year. This is a brand new addition to a very important program that, again, will help families with low incomes.

We are also increasing the child care expense deduction dollar limits by $1,000, effective for the 2015 tax year. The maximum amounts that can be claimed will go up from $7,000 to $8,000 for children under 7, from $4,000 to $5,000 for children aged 7 to 16, and from $10,000 to $11,000 for children who are eligible for the disability tax credit.

Our plan recognizes that there is no one size that fits all for child care for Canadian families. We are delivering real results.

I was in the child care licensing field for a short time. I recognized that in our rural communities, our shift workers needed many different options in how they responded to child care services. We have a plan that will deliver.

Another thing the NDP regularly forgets to mention is that families with low incomes in the provinces receive significant subsidies for their child care through provincial programs. This is regularly not spoken about. The NDP talks about what it costs, and it certainly a significant number of dollars, but what it does not talk about is how much the provinces subsidize those costs for the low income families.

Our Canada social transfer is providing an all-time high of $12.6 billion in 2014-15 to the provinces and territories. That is up from $8.4 billion under the last year of the Liberals. We are continuing to increase these transfers by 3% a year. This gives the provinces and territories the flexibility to address the elements of this motion that are in their constitutional jurisdiction. I have already alluded to the fact that every province provides significant support to low-income families for their child care.

We also provide billions of dollars in benefits to families with children through the Canada disability benefit, the national child benefit supplement and the child tax credit. In budget 2012, we introduced measures to support the well-being of our most vulnerable children, including supports and services for first nations schools and students, as well as proposed enhancements to the registered disability savings plans for the families of children with severe disabilities.

While the opposition is focused on trying to create more bureaucracy, we have actually been reducing child poverty to all-time lows. That said, we agree that the child poverty rate remains too high. However, our policies are working, especially the working income tax benefit.

Everyone in the House wants to tackle the issue. Our government is tackling this issue in a solid and sensible way, and we are making a real difference, rather than creating a significant bureaucracy, which perhaps the NDP is looking at.

The working income tax benefit is an incentive for low-income Canadians to get over the welfare wall. It encourages them to work by providing them with benefits the more they earn. The proof is in the numbers, which show that 1.5 million Canadians benefit. This has brought thousands of Canadians out of poverty.

We are working on many fronts to reduce poverty in this country.

I would now like to put some emphasis on the significant investments we have been making to facilitate access to affordable housing for low-income families.

We have been working in co-operation with our partners, the provinces and territories, to improve access to affordable housing. For example, since 2006, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, better known as CMHC, has invested more than $16.5 billion in housing. It is working with its partners.

We have helped 915,000 Canadians and their families, including Canadians with disabilities, recent immigrants, aboriginal people, and low-income families with children. Over the last few years, many facilities for families have opened in my own riding, providing important support.

Over the next five years, our government is going to continue to invest another $10.2 billion in housing to reduce the number of Canadian families who are in need of housing. These investments include $1.25 billion for a five-year extension of the investment in affordable housing agreement. CMHC is working with the provinces and territories on this.

There is another area in which we significantly differ. Our government knows how critical it is to work with the provinces and territories rather than to have a large federal government perspective. Every province and community is different in terms of their needs and what is going to work best for them. We work with a partnership strategy and look at local and regionally tailored housing solutions.

Our poverty reduction plan has been recognized throughout the world as one that works. The recent UNICEF report said that child poverty decreased during the last recession by 180,000. The president of UNICEF Canada had this to say about Canada's performance:

Canada is faring far better than other western countries. It is due to measures that are favourable to families, like tax credits, fiscal measures, and benefits that have been maintained or put in place to counter the effects of the global crisis.

We are proud that our plan is working, but we are not done until no children in Canada are living in poverty.

My hon. colleagues know that reducing poverty is not the responsibility solely of the federal government. It is a shared responsibility that requires the participation of multiple levels. That is why I mentioned that we are working hand-in-hand with the provinces with the significant Canada social transfer.

I am pleased to support today's motion, because as I have outlined, our government has a plan, a plan that is working. The proof is that fewer children are living in poverty today than when we took office.

Our comprehensive approach to addressing poverty works by increasing opportunities to get into the labour market and by contributing to strong, healthy Canadian families and communities. Strong economic stewardship is essential to Canada's success and to the welfare of our citizens, including our children.

Child PovertyPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

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

Economic and Fiscal UpdatePrivilegePrivate Members' Business



Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, today I am rising to ask that you find that a prima facie case of privilege exists with respect to the government's contempt for the House of Commons and its members.

Last Wednesday the Minister of Finance delivered the government's official update on economic and fiscal projections not to the House, as he should have done and as is custom, but to a private audience of bankers and finance professionals who paid $800 a table to hear this important information.

As legislators, members must have access to this critical information in order to do their jobs. We must be able to analyze the state of the country's finances.

The fact that the minister obstructed our access to this information and disregarded the democratic principle whereby elected members should have access to this information before representatives from banks and investment firms do illustrates his contempt for the House.

This is crucial information for legislators and is a core piece of our ability to do our jobs. We need to understand the state of our country's finances. This obstruction of our access to that information, and the minister's affront to the democratic principle that elected officials should have that information before representatives from banks and investment firms, clearly illustrates contempt of this House.

Page 63 of Erskine May's 22nd edition states:

...ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and to be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments...; it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament

I must reiterate that in front of an $800-a-table group of Bay Street elites, the Minister of Finance is not held to the same standards of truthfulness as he is in this place. For him to choose to deliver such an important economic update when we as parliamentarians cannot ask questions on behalf of those we represent, cannot examine the information in the presence of the minister and finance officials, and are forced to rely on a press release and media coverage is simply outrageous.

In previous cases of privilege similar to this one, the importance of the information a minister is presenting has come into question. A similar complaint raised to Speaker Jerome on March 18, 1977, found the Speaker unsure of how to decide if the documents publicly released, not in the House, were “major policy statement[s]”. I would submit that a budget update containing a $4.5 billion swing in projected versus actual government surpluses is major and that other taxation measures he announced were clearly also major policy announcements.

However, we do not have to look as far back as 1977. On December 3, 1998, an unhappy member of Parliament raised a question very similar to the one I am raising today, stating:

Ministers seem to take great pride in avoiding interaction with this House.... The House of Commons is the place where the government is most answerable to the people who elected the members of this Chamber.

The member then went on to say:

“[the House's] right to be informed of government action and policy decisions has been superseded by default by government to the news releases....

It is time for the House to draw a line in this regard. I think that everyone in this place would agree.

If members would like to know if the member in question still believes this, they can ask the Minister of Justice, who said these very words in this place when it was a Liberal government making very similar announcements outside Parliament, not here in Parliament.

There is no doubt that this is a case of contempt. On page 82 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice by O'Brien and Bosc, it is established that contempt is an affront against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges and that the House claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which obstructs or impedes the House in the performance of its functions.

That this $800-a-table event to table crucially important annual fiscal documents the Minister of Finance is charged with was first announced by a press secretary in a tweet to Canadians is simply adding insult to injury.

Therefore, I submit that the actions of the minister are clearly an example of contempt of Parliament, if not a direct breach of all our privileges in this place.

A look at the critical nature of the finance minister's update is important to this very question of privilege. The fall economic update acknowledges a couple of important things. One is falling world oil prices. As a result, the finance department has cut its GDP estimation for 2014 by $3 billion, with a further $16-billion-a-year downgrade from the year 2015 onward. The department also acknowledges that the drop will translate into a $500-million loss in royalties for 2014-15 alone and will amount to a $2.5 billion loss per year over the 2015-19 period.

The minister also announced that the personal income tax as a percentage of GDP is expected to rise to 7.1% next year, up from 6.9% this year, and to further increase to 7.3% in 2019-20. Therefore, the percentage Canadians will be paying into the GDP will rise over these years, and the minister saw fit to make this announcement on Bay Street, not in Canada's Parliament.

These are important realities facing the Canadian people and the Canadian economy. It is Canadians and the members of Parliament they elect to this place who are entitled to this information, not those paying $800 for an exclusive lunch on Bay Street. By contrast, just today, the Ontario finance minister will update Queen's Park on the state of Ontario's finances. It is a wonder that our finance minister here could not extend the same courtesy to members of Parliament.

I would like to end with one final quote from Speaker Parent on a similar question raised in the House. He stated:

This dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices. That it is the Department of Finance that is complained of once again has not gone unnoticed.

That was said November 6, 1997.

The finances of our country are of the utmost importance to our ability to understand and perform our function as members of Parliament. That is why I present this clear case of contempt to you today, Mr. Speaker. Of course, should you rule that a prima facie case of privilege exists, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Economic and Fiscal UpdatePrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I did not have notice of this motion, so I will provide some preliminary comments and reserve the opportunity, I trust, to come back.

I would state, first of all, that the fall economic and fiscal update is not a budget. The budget, of course, is contemplated by the Standing Orders and is provided for in those orders. There is a debate that takes place pursuant to those Standing Orders in the House on the question of the budget, and the House votes on it.

The economic and fiscal update does not fit that measure at all. In fact, going back to the very start, it has very often not been something that has necessarily been tabled in the House. Sometimes it has occurred before a finance committee, sometimes it has been done by news release, and sometimes it has been done out across Canada in order to bring the message to Canadians in their various communities, in places as diverse as Mississauga, Calgary, Fredericton, Edmonton, and Victoria. This has been a longstanding practice.

Of course, there has never been a question of the privileges of the House being offended, and that is because it is not a budget. It is not a ways and means motion. In fact, there are no ways and means motions, as I understand it, flowing out of this fall economic and fiscal update. It is not appropriations, it is not a matter of supply for this House, which is normally dealt with by the House. That is not part of the fall economic and fiscal update.

I would note that this has been the subject of many rulings by Speakers over time in this House. However, it has been a longstanding practice that the government does have the ability to make announcements outside of this chamber.

Announcements can be made about the entire range of policy issues and the status of the government outside of this chamber. In fact, when it comes to matters of finance, the Department of Finance issues information every month on a wide range of issues updating Canadians on the status of our economic and fiscal circumstances. Every month, there is new information provided to Canadians, not through the House, a fall fiscal update or a budget, but simply on an ongoing basis, for example, on the status of the deficit, government revenues, and government spending. This kind of information is updated and provided on a regular basis, as of course are all kinds of other related announcements by the Department of Finance.

I would simply put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is not a question of whether or not there is any impropriety in having a fall fiscal and economic update presented outside of the House. It is quite settled, quite clear, that it is a longstanding practice that this certainly can be done outside of the House. As a result, there really is no prima facia question of privilege.

This government continues to respond every day in question period in answer to any questions that arise. The Minister of Finance is here on a regular basis, or the Minister of State for Finance, or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance to answer questions on the state of finances and the government's fiscal position.

I know that we do not get that many questions about the fiscal position because it is very good under this government. However, we know that if it were a question of what the New Democrats were doing, it would be for higher spending and higher deficits. NDP members do not want to shine a light on the fact that we have had very good fiscal management, which is also perhaps why they do not want this communication to happen outside of Ottawa. They would like this to be communicated only here. They do not want communicated to Canadians outside of Ottawa how strong the government's fiscal position is and the fact that we are on the way to balancing the budget in 2015.

Mr. Speaker, I do reserve the right to come back to you and provide a more formal submission after I have had an opportunity to prepare some research. However, off the top of my head, these are some preliminary reasons why there is really no basis for any argument of privilege in this case.

Economic and Fiscal UpdatePrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, in rebuttal to my colleague, the government House leader, much of what he said is actually irrelevant to the point that was raised by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

One point that the government House leader did not raise and that he should have, although it is perhaps not relevant to this particular issue, is the fact that the ministry of finance over the last 20 years has said consistently that the administrations that govern the use of money most effectively in this country are NDP governments. That is something that the ministry of finance has been saying for 20 years.

However, on the points raised by the government House leader, I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to pay particular attention to the interpretation of Speaker Jerome and Speaker Parent, which was raised by my colleague for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

This economic and fiscal update is simply not in the same category of much of what the government House leader has raised as examples of how the government tries to update Canadians on finances.

The arguments raised by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley are absolutely legitimate and relevant. We hope that you will take them under due consideration.

Economic and Fiscal UpdatePrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The Chair will take this under advisement and get back to the House as soon as possible. I would ask the government House leader to advise us at as early a date as possible as to whether he is going to make further representations.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and agri-food, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

There is a ruling on Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and agri-food.

There are 56 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-18. Motions Nos. 1 to 56 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 to 56 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON


Motion No. 2

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 2.

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 4.

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 5.

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-18, in Clause 5, be amended by replacing line 4 on page 7 with the following:

“—the right referred to in paragraph 5(1)(g) cannot be modified by regulation and do”

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 6.

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 7.

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 8.

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 9.

Motion No. 11

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 10.

Motion No. 12

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 11.

Motion No. 13

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 12.

Motion No. 14

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 13.

Motion No. 15

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 14.

Motion No. 16

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 15.

Motion No. 17

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 16.

Motion No. 18

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 17.

Motion No. 19

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 18.

Motion No. 20

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 19.

Motion No. 21

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 20.

Motion No. 22

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 21.

Motion No. 23

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 22.

Motion No. 24

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 23.

Motion No. 25

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 24.

Motion No. 26

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 25.

Motion No. 27

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 26.

Motion No. 28

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 27.

Motion No. 29

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 28.

Motion No. 30

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 29.

Motion No. 31

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 30.

Motion No. 32

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 31.

Motion No. 33

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 32.

Motion No. 34

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 33.

Motion No. 35

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 34.

Motion No. 36

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 35.

Motion No. 37

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 36.

Motion No. 38

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 37.

Motion No. 39

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 38.

Motion No. 40

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 39.

Motion No. 41

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 40.

Motion No. 42

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 41.

Motion No. 43

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 42.

Motion No. 44

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 43.

Motion No. 45

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 44.

Motion No. 46

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 45.

Motion No. 47

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 46.

Motion No. 48

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 47.

Motion No. 49

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 48.

Motion No. 50

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 49.

Motion No. 51

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 50.

Motion No. 52

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 51.

Mr. Speaker, let me say congratulations to you. I realize I should have told you ahead of time I might say this. Taking a risk of perhaps embarrassing you and of you then asking why I did this to you, I am going to take the risk anyway. I saw that you were awarded the Charlie Brooks Award last week in your hometown of Windsor and I want to congratulate you in the House on behalf of members in your party and all members here.

For those who do not know of Charlie Brooks, he has been gone now for a number of years but was a great trade unionist in the city of Windsor. He clearly set a standard that is extremely high. To be given such a distinguished award is a credit to you, sir, for the hard work you have done on behalf of your constituents, on behalf of Ontarians, and, indeed, on behalf of Canadians across this land. To you I say congratulations and thanks for your hard work.

I will return now to the matter at hand, the amendments on Bill C-18.

Bill C-18 is clearly an agricultural bill that the government has brought forward. New Democrats had great hope for the bill initially. Even though we saw some things in it that we did not like or believed needed to be done differently, we, in a spirit of co-operation, voted for it at second reading to get it to committee because we wanted to talk about it.

To be fair, the chair of the agriculture committee did a great job of making sure there was a balance of witnesses. That is to be commended. Every chair should try to do that. He did an excellent job.

What the committee heard from a preponderance of witnesses—in fact, a majority of them—is that there needed to be amendments to Bill C-18. Many of the amendments were not identical to what New Democrats proposed, but they were certainly very close. The majority fell into one class, for the most part, under what is called in the act “farmers' privilege”.

We know in this place that words are very meaningful, because we write legislation with words. They have a great deal of meaning and carry a great deal of weight because they enact laws, and from the get-go, the idea of a farmer's “privilege” to save his or her own seed struck New Democrats as the wrong terminology. We thought it should be a farmer's “right” to save seed. It should not be a privilege, because one can earn a privilege or lose a privilege. What we see in this act is that through the Governor in Council farmers could indeed lose what the government has now decided to call their privilege. We find that unfortunate.

As we looked through the act, we discussed things with witnesses and gleaned from them opportunities to make amendments. We made a number of them. I have to admit that the minister came to the committee and recognized that under farmers' privilege, farmers were not getting much of a privilege and needed to be given a little more. We clearly said, as many stakeholders across the country said, especially farmers, that although we were giving farmers the privilege to save seeds, they could not clean them, they could not store them, and they certainly could not resell them.

There was some minor tweaking, even though the minister said the government was going to come back with very substantive changes and amendments to the bill.

There was indeed one hugely substantive piece near the end, which had to do with how to pay back what is called the advance payments program. If I remember correctly, I believe the amendment that the government brought forward was six pages long. It was about how to get the advance payments back if a farmer went bankrupt. It was a very technical clarification, and the good folks in the agriculture department explained it all. They said that if people could not quite understand it, they should think of how to repay student debt. It was actually taken from the student debt handbook on how to deal with the debt if it could not actually be paid back. I had these really awful, vivid flashes in my mind of all the students who have horrendous amounts of debt and saw that we would be giving farmers the same options that students have, which is being almost bankrupt.

In any case, that was the major amendment.

It is under what we call UPOV '91, which is really about intellectual property of seeds. A company that does a great deal of research and development of a new variety of a seed, whether it be wheat, canola, or some other seed, can then reap a reward, basically a dividend, from its investment.

Fundamentally, we do not disagree with that. A private corporation goes into the business of producing that variety, it has taken the time and effort to go through the process, has put the money in, and then it decides it will charge whatever it happens to be for that seed. We do not disagree, and UPOV '91 speaks to that.

We are a signatory to UPOV '91. The “91” signifies that it was in 1991 that the agreement came about. This House has been challenged by UPOV '91 on a number of occasions. It started with the previous Conservative government, and it became part of a Liberal government issue. Now it is back to the Conservatives again.

Clearly there is an opportunity here. Many countries have signed on to UPOV '91. A great thing about it, in my view, is that it can be amended to suit the needs of a country and still fall within the framework. Countries do not have to accept carte blanche everything in UPOV '91; they can take pieces of it. Countries can fundamentally accept pieces and move pieces out. They can do that. A number of countries that have accepted UPOV '91 have actually done that. Many countries have stayed with the UPOV of 1978, which in the eyes of investors who develop seeds is actually more onerous for them to make a profit.

The whole idea was that they would lose out on research and development if they did not get UPOV '91. We understand that. The dilemma is in how to balance the interest of those who want to go into the research and development, which is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. This is expensive research, which means that the money invested deserves some kind of a return, unless of course it is done in the public sphere. We have seen with the government that it has actually taken money from the public sphere, public research.

Competitors for the big industries on the block are becoming fewer all the time. In fact, in this legislation one of the recommendations from one of the stakeholders was a question around balance, so that the small seed producers would not be swallowed up or disappear. We proposed an amendment to the legislation, but unfortunately at committee my friends across the way decided they did not like the amendment and it was defeated. In that regard, balance has not been attained.

What we see at this point is that the government has decided it is going to take UPOV '91 carte blanche, making no changes to it of any significance. We would end up simply taking it as is. Farmers across the country and those in the industry are all asking for a way to balance it out. They want a Canadian farmers' solution to UPOV '91.

One of the things we tried to explain, and the agriculture department was in agreement, was around the fact that there are a variety of seeds that right now are compulsory licensed and on the market. Farmers may like it, but the company that has the licence can decide to go to CFIA to withdraw the licence. There is a process. The licence cannot just be withdrawn. There is a process, as the agriculture department and the CFIA talked about, to deregister the licence.

Once the licence is deregistered, it is gone from the marketplace. Normally it happens when farmers no longer want the product. It is deregistered because no one wants it anymore. It is not available, and it is deregistered.

However, if the company that owns the registration develops a new one, under UPOV '91 it can exact a greater amount of money and greater royalty from it because it is new. There is nothing to stop them from asking for the other one to be deregistered. In fact, the department said that is absolutely right; there is nothing to stop them. They can apply, and if the process is followed correctly, it could disappear.

Even more than that, the legislation allows those companies to then appeal to CFIA when they develop a new seed to ask that it not have a compulsory licence. That means it could be taken off the market if it does not make any money for the company, even though farmers might actually like the seed.

Ultimately, with the lack of competition, we will be stuck with markets that are driven by a handful of large companies rather than having a multitude of choices across the country as farmers have today. That would not be helpful for farmers nor for the marketplace in general. If we were stuck in a place because of intellectual property and get rid of those who might compete—the small seed producers and the government, which used to do public research for the public good that farmers could then utilize down the road—it would not be helpful.

It is unfortunate that the government did not hear us on the amendments and chose not to accept them. Hopefully, it has a second chance through you, Mr. Speaker. You read the amendments out earlier. The government has a second opportunity to correct what it did wrong the first time. It can vote for the amendments this time, and not against them.

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of State (Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I have a hard time understanding why my colleague does not want to support this bill.

As far as the recent changes he proposed in the House are concerned, the vast majority, 60% of them, are technical amendments that have to do with the French translation of this bill. These amendments will be reviewed in due course. Nonetheless, the body of the bill is very important for farmers. The members across the way do not seem to be taking that into consideration.

On behalf of my government, I would like to take a few minutes to explain the benefits of this bill. We believe we are responding to the demands of farmers, who are calling for Bill C-18 to stimulate agricultural and economic growth here in Canada.

That is why it is important to vote in favour of this bill. I still do not understand why the opposition is against it.

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I can explain to my hon. colleague across the way why we are against it, but I will do my best.

The reality is that it is not what farmers asked for. They simply said, “No, thanks. We'd like to see some amendments.” We did not pull them out of the sky. We took what folks gave to us and got some good help from folks who know how to craft legislation and how to craft amendments. Based upon what farmers told us, we did that, and then presented it back. Even the government's own minister said, “We got it wrong. We are going to have to make amendments.” I think there were five or six amendments, because the Conservatives rushed in with an omnibus bill. Instead of simply working on UPOV '91, they jammed a bunch of other stuff in with it. They simply said, “We have made a few mistakes here. We are going to have to make some changes.” Even on the farmers' privilege aspect, the minister said, “We didn't quite get it right.”

The problem is that the government did not quite listen to exactly what farmers were saying. Farmers said more than what the minister finally came back with as his amendments. That is why we are against it.

If the government is not going to listen to the folks it is writing the legislation for, why on earth would we support it? Why would we support legislation when the government has a deaf ear when it comes to listening to what folks have to say? If it is not going to listen to them, then I guess we have to tell the government again, in this House of Commons, “This is what they said, and you are getting it wrong”, and vote against it. There is no other way to do it.

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy the member for Welland's passion, because I know that he probably spoke with a lot of people in the farm community in arriving at the position that he laid out.

In his remarks he said that the market is driven by a handful of large corporations. He also talked about intellectual property and the rights over that intellectual property

I might say to the member that I do not think he should expect the government to listen any more to amendments in here than it does at committee. This is a government that does its own thing, regardless of whether the amendments make sense or not. However, that is just a side note.

My question is a fairly simple one. What would the bill do, especially with regard to the comments the member made with respect to intellectual property and large companies, to the power relationship between the large corporate multinational sector that operates on a global basis and our smaller family farms—or even if they are not small, as there are some fairly large family farms in the country now?

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked an interesting question. The power relationship tips because of the size that they are and the amount of money that goes into research. That is what happens. There are some pieces in the legislation that would allow someone to take intellectual property up to a certain level and use it and work on it. The problem is that when public dollars go out, then one of the competitors is gone. The next piece is when small seed producers leave and just a handful are left.

Where is the royalty? Farmers want to know. They want to know if it is when they buy a bag of seed, at the end, or both. They want to know where it is. The bill does not say anything about that. Some farmers will say that an end-point royalty is okay, because if they buy lousy seed and they have a lousy crop, they will pay a lousy price for it. The problem is that if farmers pay a decent price for a lousy bag of seed and then receive an end-point royalty, they have paid a lot for stuff that was lousy in the first place.

That is the problem. The bill would not allow folks to fight that off. In our view, it would unbalance what we thought could be a balance between those large corporations that come in with intellectual property rights and those that are smaller and do not have them. The amendments would allow them to succeed in the marketplace.

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of State (Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak today on the subject of Bill C-18. My NDP colleague said that farmers and the agri-food industry do not support this bill, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I would like to begin by quoting William Van Tassel, first vice-president of the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec. He has made his position clear, and he supports our bill. I would like to quote from his testimony before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The federation supports those changes, which would make the PBRA consistent with the 1991 convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants...which governs breeders' rights and protects the intellectual property resulting from research into the development of new crop varieties. This harmonization is necessary in an environment where research collaboration is increasingly global and no longer restricted by geographical borders.

Our position is also evident in our commitment to Partners in Innovation, which brings together 20 groups and represents most of the agricultural producers in Canada. Moreover, all partners welcome the update to the regulatory environment.

Once more, for my NDP colleague:

Moreover, all partners welcome the update to the regulatory environment.

He goes on to say that:

The federation believes that protecting intellectual property can only encourage investment in research by various stakeholders in the grain industry, which will offset the reduction in public efforts in scientific agricultural research. It is also an incentive for researchers from different countries to make their research findings available to Canada, thereby promoting the diversity of genetic resources and the availability of varieties for Canadian and Quebec grain growers. With a diverse range of genetic resources, the industry can be more responsive to market needs and maintain farm competitiveness.

It is quite clear that Canada's agricultural producers and farmers support these changes to the legislation. That is why it is so disappointing that the opposition parties have proposed amendments—which you quoted earlier, Mr. Speaker—in an attempt to undo and water down this bill until it no longer addresses the concerns of farmers.

Before I go into the details of the bill and how it will modernize various aspects of Canada's regulatory regime, I would like to remind the House what agriculture means to Canada and what Canadian agriculture means to the rest of the world.

If we just look at a map of the world, we see right away just how huge Canada's land mass is. Canadian farmland covers 75 million acres of our vast territory. On average, Canada exports about half of its agricultural products. We are one of the world's top exporters of wheat, grain and coarse grains, as well as pork and beef, of course. Wheat is considered a food staple, and Canada consistently ranks among the world's top three exporters of wheat.

We heard the testimony of Mr. Tassel, a representative from the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec, who speaks very highly of our bill. It is therefore disappointing to hear the opposition members say this morning that farmers do not support this bill.

Protecting plant breeders' rights is a key point in this bill, which also includes many other principles. What we think is most important here is that this bill will boost and capitalize on Canada's competitive advantages around the world.

However, as we know, to succeed in international markets and reach consumers throughout the world, we must work within increasingly modern frameworks, trade agreements, standards and conventions that are in line with the latest trade agreements. That is the purpose of this bill.

The bill before us today will harmonize Canadian legislation through such trade agreements, standards and conventions. Bill C-18 will strengthen and protect our agricultural sector, while increasing its export potential. The bill will also allow us to continue to succeed in international markets, remain at the forefront of food science and help solve problems related to food production.

It is not surprising that the overall demand for world-class food produced by our farmers is increasing. The world's population is expected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050. To respond to this increasing demand, we need productive, competent farmers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world food production will need to be 60% higher. That is a major challenge for our farmers and farmers throughout the world. That is why the improvements in safety, efficacy and productivity set out in this bill are so important for farmers.

The agricultural growth act seeks to modernize nine laws. Seven of those laws are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to regulate Canada's agricultural sector, and two of them are enforced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Here are some examples of improvements that the bill makes in the feed and fertilizer industries. Under the existing system, animal feed and fertilizer are registered on a product-by-product basis. Bill C-18 will allow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to license and register fertilizer and animal feed operators and facilities that import or sell products across provincial and international borders.

Licensing or registration of facilities and operators will make it faster and easier to verify whether agricultural products meet Canadian safety standards.

This approach will not only enhance food safety in Canada but also further align our regulatory practices with those of our trading partners.

We will continue to work with the United States and the European Union on implementing more comprehensive animal feed regulatory systems that include hazard analysis, preventive controls, licensing, and the enforcement of international standards such as best practices in feeding. We will continue to work in close co-operation with all our trade partners.

I did not touch on every benefit in this bill. I hope to have the opportunity to talk about it with my opposition colleagues in other forums. I hope they will come around and support our bill, which farmers have asked for and which meets with the approval of Canada's agricultural community.

Motions in AmendmentAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister has asked why can we not support the bill. If there were individual bills instead of an omnibus bill, we probably would have supported the vast majority of it. During committee stage, quite often there was agreement around certain sections, whether it was the fertilizer piece, or some other pieces. We have problems with one side of it and we do not get to vote on it separately, which I do not think is allowable, so we end up with this.

On farmers' privilege, the government recognized it had it wrong and suggested it needed to come back with substantive changes. However, it came back with a minor tweak. If the government recognized that this was not the correct way to go, that farmers would not be placed in a position of equality with the intellectual property holders, that they would be in a lesser position when came from the sense of saving seed, why does the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, and Agriculture think it is all right for big business to swamp out what ostensibly is a small business? Some farms are large, but most of them are small. Why does the minister not say that we need a sense of balance so that people with small farms who develop their own seeds do not end up being wiped out by large multinationals, which have the power to take them to court and the farmers will not have the power or resources to defend themselves?