House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was voting.

Topics

Mandatory Disclosure of Drug Shortages Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Mandatory Disclosure of Drug Shortages Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion, the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 12, 2014, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

February 6th, 2014 / 7 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I raised a question on the consequences of the government's attack on EI, which, when it was raised on November 27, had already seen some 1,100 islanders leave the province. I asked the minister why she, as the regional minister and Minister for Fisheries and Oceans, thought it was okay for P.E.I. to lose its youth and split families asunder, and why she has minister has championed policies that have forced islanders to leave.

The Minister of Employment and Social Development responded, but clearly his response shows that he does not understand a seasonal economy in any way, shape, or fashion. He said, “Not one person has to leave P.E.I. in order to search for available work to qualify for EI”. That was not the question. We are not talking about qualifying for EI; the question was about the ability to qualify for EI in the future, not the ability to move. The question then was about the consequences of the EI changes, which are forcing many islanders to leave.

It is not only about those who leave, but also about those who, as a result of the changes in the system, are left poorer as a result. The economy in Prince Edward Island, and indeed the Maritimes, has been suffering as well. The impact has been so profound that the Council of Atlantic Premiers has been holding hearings on the issue of employment insurance. It has come out very strenuously against the federal government and these employment insurance changes.

In the hearings, one of the concerns was that too few people were coming forward. Why? They are fearful that if they come out and tell about the situation they are faced with as a result, they will be targeted by the government, audited, and hassled. I know the members opposite are shaking their heads, saying that would not happen. Well, I saw on TV a few minutes ago what happened to the environmental charities. Any of them who have spoken out against the federal government are already being targeted and audited. That is the way the government works; it operates on fear. These people are worried, and they have reason to worry.

Secondly, businesses themselves are not able to obtain workers for part-time work because 50¢ on the dollar is being clawed back. Maybe I can sum it up best with a letter that someone sent to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. This person said that he had moved to P.E.I. from Ottawa in 1986 and had run a successful business from 1988 to 2004. Since then he has been working with various seasonal businesses and most recently with one that shows terrific potential. The changes to the EI guidelines, however, have required him to work for 50¢ on the dollar while drawing EI.

Not only that, in so doing he bears the employment related expenses, such as child care, travel, meals and so on. By his estimation, this results in him working for roughly 35¢ on the dollar.

He asks, “Please tell me how this is helping me, the economy, or anybody else? It's certainly hurting my family and offers no hope of a better future unless I move away”, which is not an option for him.

That is his question.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Essex
Ontario

Conservative

Jeff Watson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to correct the misinformation the member for Malpeque has been speaking about regarding the employment insurance program. In fact, I think if he checks the blues from just a few minutes ago, the member said that it was not about qualifying for EI then turned around and said that it was about qualifying for EI.

As the Minister of Employment and Social Development has pointed out, the accusation that the government is forcing islanders to move is clearly false. Not one individual, no matter what the age or situation, in P.E.I. or anywhere else in Canada, has had to leave the province to look for work in order to qualify for EI. In fact, the overall unemployment rate for workers of all ages in P.E.I. is improving as our economic recovery is continuing.

The reality is that across Canada, far fewer than 1% of people were disqualified because they failed to search for work or refused to accept suitable work. In fact, 80% of the increase in disentitlements in 2013 was because the claimants were out of the country.

Contrary to the claim of the member opposite, our recent changes do not require individuals to take any job that is available to them. Rather, available work is only considered suitable if the recipient would be better off accepting new employment than receiving EI benefits. Most importantly for P.E.I., while those who cannot find work during periods of seasonal unemployment are expected to look for work, they are not forced to move or forced to accept work that pays less than their EI benefits, nor are they forced to take jobs for which they are not suited or that are not suitable because of their own personal circumstances.

Issues such as child care and access to transportation are taken into account when determining the suitability of a particular job for a particular individual. The whole idea behind these changes is to make EI more responsive, fair, and flexible. It also helps address labour shortages, which are happening even in regions of high unemployment. I know that is the case in my constituency.

Further, net migration numbers in P.E.I. fluctuate annually. This has nothing to do with the EI program. For example, for those between 25 and 29 years of age, the ages when many islanders are beginning their careers, unlike the member opposite, there have been some years of in-migration mixed with equal numbers of out-migration. It is unfortunate that opposition politicians, the member for Malpeque, and activists continue to irresponsibly mislead Canadians about the facts and to instill fear where none need exist.

Canadians would benefit from a dialogue on this issue based on accurate facts and not on false examples so they can decide for themselves the merit of the changes.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

If we want to talk about irresponsibility, Mr. Speaker, it is over on that side of the House. Conservatives do not understand the seasonal economy and how it works.

Let me give another example. A farmer came into my office. He pays an employee $16 an hour. The individual has been with him 18 years. The farmer asked me if he would get in trouble if he paid this person cash. I said that of course he would and asked why he would want to pay him cash. The farmer's response was that he works with the farmer full-time from April 1 to November 30, and the rest of the season he is needed only a day and a half a week. When he works that day and a half a week, the individual is paid $16 an hour, and EI claws $8 off of his employment insurance. If he takes the deductions off, the man is working for about $5.50 an hour.

The consequences are these: the individual is poor, the farmer has trouble getting helpers, and it contributes to an underground economy. Everybody loses, and it is the result of the government's lack of understanding of seasonal industries and how they work. They need skilled workers too, and the government is driving them away from Atlantic Canada.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, of course, neglected to say that in that same example, the person still gets his EI benefit as well.

Again, not one single person in Prince Edward Island has had to move out of the province to qualify for employment insurance. Claimants are only expected to look for work within their own communities.

Once again, the rules around applying for and qualifying for EI have not changed. Existing rules were only clarified, such as the responsibility of EI claimants to actively look for work while receiving benefits. Employment insurance continues to be there for Canadians who have paid into the system and have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, including in areas where jobs simply do not exist outside seasonal or specialized industries.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I asked a brief question in the House. It was about the presence of Via Rail in the Atlantic provinces.

To put this in context, CN announced that it would invest $30 million in the railway between Moncton and Miramichi and from Bathurst to Campbellton. That leaves the section from Miramichi to Bathurst between the two.

The provincial government of one of the poorest provinces in Canada invested $25 million in the railway. It is not pleasant to admit that we are one of the poorest provinces but, as everyone knows, ours is a small province with just 750,000 people.

We need $10 million to keep Via Rail healthy so that the train continues to run from Halifax to Vancouver via northeastern New Brunswick and eastern Quebec.

That means it leaves Moncton, goes through Miramichi and Bathurst, Campbellton, the Matapédia valley, Amqui and then on to Rivière-du-Loup.

The Conservatives said they had no intention of investing in the railway that connects Bathurst to Miramichi, the one that allows VIA Rail to bring passengers to Acadia.

The Conservatives are in the process of killing VIA Rail service in eastern New Brunswick and eastern Canada.

The Conservative members for Madawaska, Restigouche and Miramichi are keeping mum. This railway goes through the riding of Miramichi and the Restigouche region. Will the Conservative MPs from New Brunswick have the guts to oppose their government's decision?

New Brunswick has eight Conservative MPs. Can you imagine? Eight out of ten MPs are Conservative. The question is whether they will have the guts to fight to keep VIA Rail in the region.

We are talking about a train that goes from coast to coast. If we lose the section between Miramichi and Bathurst, that means we are losing eastern New Brunswick and part of Quebec, an area with a population of roughly 350,000 to 400,000 people.

The government just told us that VIA Rail may have another option. It will go from Moncton to Edmundston, but then we will have a passenger train going through the woods.

VIA Rail has already reduced service from six to three days a week. What do they need? They need to lose 50% of passengers to justify eliminating VIA Rail service from Halifax to Quebec City. They are abandoning passenger service from coast to coast.

I have to wonder what is going on with the eight Conservative members from New Brunswick. What are they doing to try to save the railway? Are they letting the Prime Minister make these decisions all by himself? Are they letting the Prime Minister hurt Atlantic Canada, as we see day in and day out?

The Conservative members from New Brunswick have a duty to tell their Prime Minister, since they are on the government side, that they will not accept the loss of the rail line in eastern New Brunswick or anywhere in eastern or Atlantic Canada.

I want to hear the government's response. They are familiar with the problem, and for $10 million, they are prepared to abandon VIA Rail in eastern Canada.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Essex
Ontario

Conservative

Jeff Watson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, our government makes significant investments in VIA Rail from Atlantic Canada, right across to western Canada, and the member consistently votes against them. The Government of Canada provides VIA Rail, a crown corporation that operates independent of the government, with significant funding to provide passenger rail services to Canadians. In 2012-13, the funding provided to VIA Rail for operating and maintaining its network was $275 million. This significant subsidy from Canadian taxpayers enables VIA Rail to operate its network of services throughout the country.

In addition to providing annual funding, the government has provided nearly $1 billion in capital funding since 2007 for VIA Rail to upgrade track and signalling infrastructure, modernize stations, improve accessibility, and refurbish rail cars.

While the government has made significant investments in VIA Rail's infrastructure, it is not in the business of buying rail lines.

Instead, the federal government's role is to provide a legislative framework under the Canada Transportation Act that encourages stakeholders to seek commercial solutions to issues such as the discontinuance of rail service. As such, the line transfer and discontinuance provisions in the Canada Transportation Act are aimed at encouraging the retention of rail lines where it makes sense to do so, by giving railway operators and other interested parties the opportunity to acquire rail lines for continued operation before they are discontinued. Other interested parties include the provincial and municipal governments and urban transit authorities, in addition to other railway companies.

With regard to the section of CN track in northern New Brunswick, CN has followed the discontinuance process in indicating that it plans to advertise it for sale. This process requires a railway to notify governments and urban transit authorities when a rail line is identified for discontinuance in its three-year plan. The government does not own freight rail infrastructure and has no intention of buying this section of CN track.

In the meantime, CN will continue to be responsible for maintaining the rail line during the discontinuance process to ensure that service is not disrupted. VIA Rail service on its Ocean line between Montreal and Halifax continues as per its planned schedule.

VIA Rail's objectives are to provide safe and efficient passenger rail service. In this regard, VIA regularly assesses its operations to decide how best it can achieve these objectives. As a crown corporation, VIA Rail will ultimately be responsible for making decisions about its passenger rail services in New Brunswick and will assess alternatives to ensure there will be no service interruptions.

I would like to remind my colleague that this was a business decision made by a private company. There is a regulatory process in place, which the company is following, and while the discontinuance process is under way, CN is responsible for maintaining its track infrastructure.

Finally, our government supports a passenger rail network that meets the needs of today's travellers while supporting the efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe what comes out of this government's mouth. The Conservatives are saying that they have invested in VIA Rail and the railway. Meanwhile, they stopped the train that went to the Gaspé.

Right now, there is about 5,000 km of track from Halifax to Vancouver, and they plan on cutting 70 km between Miramichi and Bathurst. These communities and municipalities will no longer have passenger train service.

What is the alternative? I would like to hear from the government. What is the alternative? They say that they will not abandon VIA Rail. But what then is the alternative? Is it going through Edmundston? If so, since there is no station, they will have to buy land, and it is assessed at about $50 million compared to $10 million.

Perhaps the government wants to have the train go through the town where the aboriginal affairs minister lives. Maybe that is it; I do not know. However, there is only forest between Moncton and Edmundston. There are no communities. That is the ideal recipe for losing VIA Rail in eastern Canada, and the Conservative government is contributing to that. Furthermore VIA Rail does own railway lines. It owns part of the line between Ottawa and Montreal. It also owns part of the line on the way to Toronto. It is not true that VIA Rail does not own railway lines.

We are asking the Conservative government to spend $10 million to save eastern Canada's railway.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is so much misinformation and so little time to correct it. Suffice it to say, contrary to what the member said, the government does not cut any track. He should ask VIA who will assess it and make its independent decisions on this matter.

While we are at it, the government has invested heavily in passenger rail in recent years, including providing $275 million in 2012-13 for VIA Rail to operate its network, and nearly $1 billion in capital funding since 2007. The member voted against it each and every time, and now he is asking for what?

The government has no plans to buy track in New Brunswick from CN. That is clear. If CN does not complete the discontinuance process for this portion of track, VIA Rail, as an independent crown corporation, will also make its own operational decisions on the routing and schedule of the Ocean. As this process unfolds, CN will continue to be responsible for maintaining the rail line to ensure that service is not disrupted.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

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

(The House adjourned at 7:24 p.m.)