House of Commons Hansard #214 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was families.


National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague for his work on labour issues right across the country. It has been extremely important, and I am proud to work with him in this caucus.

Too often we have let young people down in terms of building a solid base upon which young workers can build a life. What this bill will do is essentially build a new, stronger, broader floor upon which workers can build a more stable life.

When I bring up issues around employment insurance, we need to remember that fewer and fewer young people can count on income security measures that workers from a generation ago, like his father, and a generation before that, like his grandfather, could count on. Workers fought for those things.

Today we have a new fight on our hands. That is why this bill is so important. That is why we need the support. That is why, quite frankly, precarious workers from right across the country are looking at this bill with great interest.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have a chance to comment on Bill C-542 because, while I applaud anybody bringing forward ideas in this place, I think that this one is significantly flawed.

The bill would create an act to establish a national urban workers strategy to be developed by a task force of the ministers of Employment and Social Development, Labour, National Revenue, Industry and the President of the Treasury Board. That is a recipe for more bureaucracy with little to show as a result.

Though it purports to be an national urban workers strategy, the bill is nothing more than a collection of vague generalities about reducing this, raising that, and maybe broadening or extending a few other things. It starts off by telling us that its provisions would apply to all workers in Canada, but then it adds “with particular attention to urban workers”. I have no problem with supporting all workers in Canada, and I will talk about that a little bit more later. However, is it really a national urban workers strategy? It is this kind of vaguely worded proposal that does not reflect well on Parliament, in my view, and the thoughtful and thorough approach that we should taking with private members' bills.

The bill appears to apply to every Canadian who works. On the surface, that is certainly not a bad idea. It appears to apply to them whether they live in the city or the country, work as a bicycle messenger or in an office, operate a farm or drive a truck. It uses words like “vulnerable” and “precarious” to describe the economic interests of the people that it says it wants to help, though it does not offer any specifics about how significant the problems are and how to improve things.

For something called a strategy, the bill does not contain anything that is strategic at all. For example, the bill says that we should be reducing the hours of employment required to qualify for employment insurance benefits. It is nice to see that the opposition has not forgotten about its $6-billion, 45-day work year. It does not say by how much it should be reduced, though. Would the opposition go even further than the previously misguided 45-day proposal? Would it be 35? How many hours? Would it be 1, 10 or 100? This does merit careful consideration, given the labour market impacts and the potential cost to premium payers.

We need to be working collaboratively with all players in the labour market, including businesses and workers, to ensure that Canadians have access to fulfilling employment and that they are encouraged to actively pursue education and employment.

The bill also says that we should be raising the level of EI benefits, but, again, it does not offer any indication as to how much. Would it be another $2 a week, $20 a week or $200 a week? We do not know. Once again, the opposition shows its desire to raise job-killing payroll taxes that are paid for by employers and employees.

The vague nature of the content is only my first concern. Where I think this bill would do the most damage is by simply ignoring anything and everything that has been done over the past several years to help Canadians improve their lives. Surely, it makes more sense to take stock of where we are before starting on the next big plan. Our plan for the past nine years has been simple: trade, training and tax cuts.

Let us start with the big-ticket item of tax cuts. Putting more money back into the pockets of hard-working Canadians and making life more affordable for families is essential to jobs and growth. That is why our government has cut taxes over and over again. The opposition has said that it will raise them, over and over again.

We have reduced the lowest personal income tax rate to its lowest level since John Diefenbaker was prime minister. I can remember that, if only vaguely. We also increased the amount of the basic personal deduction. I was not paying taxes then.

We have cut the GST twice, from 7% to 6% and down to 5%. We have brought in pension income splitting, which applies to millions of Canadian families and gives them more options about how to live their lives. We have created tax credits to support working, low-income individuals and families, public transit users, first-time home buyers and families caring for disabled relatives.

Most recently, we proposed a new family tax cut and enhanced the universal child care benefit and child care expense deduction. These benefits will help every single Canadian family with children under 18. That represents 100% coverage and many millions of Canadian families. Today, because of tax relief and benefit increases introduced by our government, the average two-earner family of four is better off by some $6,600. That is not a vague generalization. It is real money in the pockets of real people who need it, wherever they live in the country.

At the same time, our government increased the transfers we make to the provinces and territories to help pay for the social programs that Canadians want and need. These transfers will amount to an all-time high of almost $68 billion in 2015-16, and they will continue to grow year over year. Canadians take a lot of pride in these social programs, because how we treat those who are less well-off really matters.

That is why we brought in tax relief for seniors, some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The record there speaks for itself.

The guaranteed income supplement for the lowest-income seniors was increased up to $600 annually for single seniors and to $840 for senior couples. This alone has improved the financial security and well-being of approximately 680,000 seniors across Canada.

More people, particularly low- and middle-income Canadians, are also using RRSPs and tax-free savings accounts to shore up their retirement income over and above their Canada pension plan and old age security amounts. In 2013, nearly 2.7 million seniors had TFSAs, including me, and to help Canadians save even more on a tax-free basis, the recent budget announced an increase in the TFSA annual contribution limit to $10,000.

Contrary to suggestions from across the way, TFSAs are held by over 11 million Canadians, and they are not the supposedly rich few. TFSAs are a terrific vehicle for people as an alternative to the RSP, which is less useful to people as they get older. It is also a great way to shelter money from things like a small inheritance, a house sale, or a withdrawal from a RRIF. In fact, the incidence of low income among seniors has dropped dramatically, from 21.4% in 1980 to just 5.2% in 2011. This is real progress.

The latest budget also introduced a new home accessibility tax credit for seniors and people with disabilities. This 15% non-refundable income tax credit would apply on up to $10,000 of home renovations that allow a senior or a person eligible for a disability tax credit to be more mobile, safe, and functional in their own home.

The government also provides a wide range of support for young people preparing for and getting into the job market. During the 2012-13 academic year, the Canada student loans program gave out upwards of $2.6 billion in loans to approximately 477,000 post-secondary students. Nearly 357,000 students received a total of $695 million in Canada student grants, and most of it went to students from low- and middle-income families.

However, not everyone who studies does so in a multi-year program at a college or university. Some people, particularly those preparing for the trades, need help for shorter terms of education. As attractive as a university degree may seem to many, it is in the trades where Canada's labour shortage is the most acute and where younger people joining the workforce can find high-tech, secure, and very well-paying jobs to secure their own and their young family's future. That is why budget 2015 proposes to extend the Canada student grants to students in programs running for a minimum duration of 34 weeks. This means an additional 42,000 students will be eligible to receive financial help.

The government also has made it a top priority to help Canadians get the skills they need to find and keep good jobs. We introduced the Canada apprentice loan to help more apprentices complete their training, and the Canada job grant to involve employers in better matching skills training to market demand.

For those already in the workforce, we introduced the working income tax benefit, the WITB, a refundable tax credit for working low-income individuals and families.

For those who have lost their jobs, our recent budget also announced an extension of the existing EI working-while-on-claim project. EI recipients are able to earn money while still receiving benefits. The aim of this measure is obviously to help them stay more connected to the labour market.

These are some of the concrete initiatives that we have undertaken to help those who are among the most vulnerable in our society to improve their lives. In fact, this year Canadian families and individuals will receive some $37 billion in tax relief and increased benefits as a result of actions taken since 2006.

Both opposition parties have a one-point plan for Canadians: higher taxes. Our plan is simple: trade, training, and tax cuts.

I hope that all hon. members will agree that $37 billion in real support is de facto a national workers' strategy and much more, and is much better than the vague promises contained in this bill. I hope all hon. members will join me in voting against this bill.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to join the debate today. I have been here 15 years now. My friend and colleague from Edmonton Centre identified the fact that his inability to support this bill was based on the fact that it is an urban workers bill and is not for all workers. After what we have seen come from the government side since the Conservatives took power—what is their batting record at the Supreme Court of Canada? I think it is zero for nine years. They pass legislation that does not stand up to charter challenges—if that is the only flaw, we are in pretty good shape with this particular bill.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

An hon. member

It is a perfect record.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

They have a great run going here, Mr. Speaker.

I want to comment on what my colleague from Davenport said during his speech. He said that putting together this group would allow for a comprehensive debate, or debate in a comprehensive way. I want to seize on that point, because I think anyone who has been in the chamber for any period of time would understand that in the last number of years, that has evaporated. The opportunity to really look at real issues that are impacting Canadians in any kind of real way has disappeared in the last number of years.

I think back to when I first came here. In my first six years, I sat on the fisheries and oceans committee with John Cummins. On the other side we have the right, the far right, and the extreme far right, and John was a little further right of that. He was a hard-working committee member who did his homework, came to committee, and offered his insights. My friend and colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore was a long-standing member of the fisheries and oceans committee. Over that six years, we did something like 18 different studies, everything from Pacific salmon to the east coast fishery to the seal hunt. Sixteen of the 18 studies were passed unanimously. Only twice were there dissenting reports. All members of the committee would see their issues reflected in the final presentation of those committee reports.

I believe that when a government is armed with unanimous reports like that, it has a chance of moving forward in some kind of positive way. We have all these moving parts, and to get it right, the chorus of opinions has to be brought in and synthesized, a decision has to be made as to what is going to work, and it needs to be brought forward. That needs to be a main function of the House. Anyone who has been here would have to agree that this has been lost in the last number of years.

On the human resources and skills development committee we have tried on four different occasions to look at temporary foreign workers and the temporary foreign worker program to get it right for Canadian workers and businesses that need access to the workforce. My colleague from the NDP brought motions forward twice and I brought two forward myself. However, the government said no, it was going to make the changes that had to be made, and it made the changes. It took the shackles off and it was wide open. There was a big influx of temporary foreign workers, a couple of headlines in the paper, and then it slammed the door shut. Rather than get it right, the Conservatives responded to headlines.

We know that committees have not been able to do their work.

Another aspect that my colleague from Davenport talked about, which is fairly novel, is consulting with the provinces. What an idea that is. We saw what took place with the Canada jobs grant. The government said, “Here is the program. We have it all set, so let us buy a couple of million bucks worth of advertising”. It never even spoke to the provinces. The people who were supposed to deliver the program never spoke to the provinces.

I think consultation is good. I think consultation is proper, and on that merit alone, I will encourage my caucus colleagues to support the bill.

I want to talk a little bit about some of the issues they raised.

Obviously, as my colleague from Edmonton Centre said, it is broad, but when we look at something in isolation, I do not think we give it a fair hearing and we probably do not get it as right as we could. I think it makes sense to have a task force thinking at 38,000 feet.

The rise in precarious employment has a huge impact not only on the social programs put forward by the provinces but on federal programs as well, including employment insurance and pension programs. Temporary employment has accounted for more than 75% of the jobs created in Canada in 2014. We know the government likes to pat itself on the back. The Conservatives almost separate their shoulders patting themselves on the back for jobs creation, but 75% of the jobs created in 2014 were part-time jobs.

The rate of employed Canadians working part-time has risen from 12.5% in 1976 to 19.3% in 2014. Since 1976, the number of people working multiple jobs has increased by 150%. Self-employment has increased by 29%. I do not see that as necessarily a bad thing, but I think a task force like this would at least be able to go in and measure why these people are going into businesses. Is it because of opportunity, necessity, or what? I see the merit in learning why.

We see more Canadians trying to run their lives on precarious employment. Since the government took over, there has been an increase of 66% in the number of people working for minimum wage. It is now over a million Canadians. When there is a 66% increase in the number of Canadians who are working for minimum wage, that should be frightening.

In other aspects of the bill, he is talking about EI and access to EI, and we know that access to EI is at a 70-year low right now.

With regard to processing and wait times, 600 processing agents and call centre agents have been carved out of the call centres. It is great that computers can do certain things; that is all well and fine and wonderful, but we have seen processing times go from typically three weeks to five, six, and seven weeks. When the square pegs go in the square holes and the round pegs go in the round holes, an individual can get an EI cheque within 28 days, but if there is anything out of whack at all, we see that dragged out to six, seven, and eight weeks. I think all Canadians understand that people cannot go that long without some type of income.

Finally, if I could close on this, the other aspect is pension provisions and changing the age of eligibility for OAS. That is another one we could have studied at the human resources and skills development committee, but they said no.

We know for a fact that it is low-income Canadians, Canadians who live their lives with disabilities, who will be hurt most by this change, and that has to be looked at. I am sure any task force in its right mind would say that there is no need for this change. It should be put back for the good of all Canadians.

I want to tell the member for Davenport that I will strongly encourage my colleagues to support his motion.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great enthusiasm that I stand tonight in this place to speak in support of my colleague from Davenport's private member's bill, Bill C-542, an act to establish a national urban workers strategy.

The bill stands in the spirit in which it is presented to this House, as a positive, constructive response to the economic reality of largely, but not exclusively, urban Canada. I will return to the positive and constructive momentarily. The bill also stands as an indictment of not just the current federal government as a wayward and destructive and/or delusional government, but as an indictment of successive federal governments, Liberal and Conservative alike, that have lost touch with the real circumstances of the vast majority of Canadians and the real concerns and anxieties of just about every Canadian, particularly in urban Canada. These governments have governed as though urban economies, environments, and communities do not exist, much less have their own peculiarities and needs and present their own great opportunities as well. We just heard a classic example of that from the member for Edmonton Centre.

Canada needs a federal government that understands that a national agenda must also be an urban agenda; a federal government that understands that in the 21st century, nation building is also city building. Successive federal governments have done nothing to respond not only to our own urbanization but to the fact that our own urbanization is part of a global trend. The world is connected through cities, and our Canadian cities are either fully global cities or rapidly globalizing cities. The implications of this are obvious. Economically, they are the conditions that this bill seeks to address. The mapping of this global urban transformation tells a story of growing economic exclusion and precariousness. The emergence of a large population that has difficulty earning a living in urban labour markets defined by, or increasingly defined by, high-end economic activity is a hallmark of the global and globalizing city.

The recent Metcalf Foundation report about working poverty in the Toronto region put it in the starkest terms. It states that Toronto and Vancouver, Canada's two richest and most global cities, are becoming:

...giant modern-day Downton Abbeys where a well-to-do knowledge class relies on a large cadre of working poor who pour their coffee, serve their food, clean their offices, and relay their messages from one office to another.

In only one of Canada's largest cities—Quebec City—did the percentage of working poor decline, and then just marginally. In the Toronto region, the report concluded, working poverty grew by 11% between 2006 and 2012. That is significantly short of the 39% growth in Toronto's population of working poor for the first five years of the new millennium under the Liberal federal government. However, it is particularly worrying that the number of working poor is growing at all, in the context of a shrinking number of those actually working; that is, in the context of Toronto's falling employment rate.

A study done in 2013 by the United Way and McMaster supports the findings of the Metcalf Foundation and the basis of this bill. It showed that, in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, about half of all workers cannot find full-time employment with benefits and job security; 20% are in extremely precarious employment: temporary, variable hours, and no benefits; and 9% are in permanent part-time work; and so on and so forth.

The report also shows that people who work in precarious employment earn 46% less than those in secure employment; that they rarely receive employment benefits beyond a basic wage; that they are more likely to be new immigrants; that they often do not know their work schedule a week in advance; that they have limited career prospects and less job satisfaction; and that they often have to hold more than one job at a time.

It is into this context that the member for Davenport offered this private member's bill. The bill proposes to establish a task force that would consult municipal, provincial, and territorial representatives, as well as labour and industry groups and other relevant stakeholders, to develop a national strategy that would identify policy and legislative changes needed to address the issues facing Canadians in precarious employment, including but not limited to fixing employment insurance for all workers.

All successive federal governments have done is tighten the screws on people who lose their jobs and pilfer the El fund to the tune of nearly $60 billion, money that had been set aside by workers to provide income for workers when they lost their jobs.

From a high-water mark of 80% eligibility in the 1980s, eligibility for EI has fallen steadily down to about half of that on the national level. In Toronto, it is about half of that again. Only about 20% of the unemployed in Toronto are actually eligible for EI benefits.

It is about ensuring a livable pension for all. We have a public pension system in Canada that was designed around and meant to complement a private pension system in the form of a labour relations regime that would allow workers to negotiate deferred wages in the form of defined benefit pension plans and benefits. That labour relations regime has been attacked by successive federal governments and it has not kept abreast of changes to the nature of work. Therefore, we are the only country in the OECD with the number of seniors living in poverty actually on the rise. Since 1995, the percentage has tripled.

Clearly, the next federal government will need to restore the old age security eligibility to age 65 and ensure that the Canada and Quebec pension plans are more provident to ensure that seniors can retire in dignity and out of poverty. It is about addressing the lack of workplace benefits as well. As with pensions, that which is not covered by our public health care system was to be dealt with at the bargaining table under our labour relations regime. As with pensions, workers are increasingly without and all Canadians are increasingly paying out of their pocket for health care, if they have money in their pocket to do so. It is about strengthening labour standards to prevent the exploitation of workers and unpaid interns.

My colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles has a private member's bill dealing with the issue of unpaid internships, so let me highlight the issue of job quality and worker protection.

Canada ranks 26th out of 28 countries on the OECD's index of employment protection. Canada ranks last amongst OECD nations in having the highest proportion of men identified as low-wage workers. Qualitatively, these kinds of assessments are confirmed domestically by the CIBC's Canadian Employment Quality Index. That index has fallen 15% since the 1990s, and 10% over the last decade. A 2013 study of labour markets in the east end of Toronto, entitled “Shadow Economies: Economic Survival Strategies of Toronto Immigrant Communities”, showed that just shy of half the respondents were paid less than minimum wage. The report went on to detail all sorts of other employment standards breaches.

At a minimum, it is time for the federal government to re-institute a minimum wage and set it higher and show leadership on this issue. My party's pledge is to re-establish a federal minimum wage at $15 an hour. There are of course other things outside the ambit of this bill that need to be done to make life more affordable for workers, indeed to even give them the opportunity to participate in the workforce. Most obvious amongst these is accessible, affordable child care. A recent City of Toronto report lays out the problem in my city very clearly. The cost of licensed child care for a single infant exceeds $20,000 per year, but there are only 65,000 spots in licensed day cares in a city with a child population of nearly six times that. There are only 25,000 subsidized spots in a city with almost 90,000 kids living below the poverty line. This is why the NDP's commitment to create nearly one million child care spaces at up to $15 a day is a critical part of the context to this bill and this discussion.

The world has changed dramatically over the last few decades, and Canada has changed along with it. The Liberal and Conservative parties have not. They have failed to recognize the importance of cities and urban economies to the fortunes of this country. However, it is clear to us, in the official opposition, that the goals we set for ourselves as a country and as Canadians will not be realized until we understand and respond to both the possibilities and vulnerabilities of our cities in this new context. I believe there is nothing inevitable about how we respond to this context.

We have choices to make and, on this side of the House, we choose to respond in an urban agenda that builds thriving urban economies with a prosperity shared more equally. We choose to put forward bills like the one before us today and we choose to support them and make life more economically secure for Canadians.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, Bill C-542 asks the House to do what has already been done. However, what I guess is most surprising about the bill is that it does not take into consideration, or even mention, any of the actions our government has already taken to help the most vulnerable workers in our society. I refer specifically to the EI program. The bill proposes a number of changes to the EI program.

Let us not forget that the employment insurance system provides temporary income support to workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own or are off work for things like pregnancy, childbirth, parental or sick leave or to take care of a child or other loved one who is seriously ill.

Under this bill, we are supposed to improve access to EI benefits. However, the bill does not take into account all of the important measures that our government has already taken to improve the equality, flexibility and responsiveness of the employment insurance system. It also does not take into account the system's current ability to adapt to variations in the economic conditions in our various regional labour markets.

When the unemployment rate in a region goes up, entrance requirements go down and the length of benefits increases. In fact, Statistics Canada data from 2013 shows that among EI clients who either lost their jobs or quit with just cause, eligibility rates have increased from about 81% to 86%.

The bill also suggests that we reduce the waiting period for claimants before they can get EI. Currently, it is two weeks and following the same best practices of other insurance programs, is similar to the deductible portion of private insurance plans. The elimination of the waiting period may also not help those most in need of additional benefits. Removing the two-week waiting period would only result in an additional payment of two weeks for claimants who found work quickly and did not use all their EI benefits.

The estimated cost for a change like this is in the range of $1 billion, or $1 billion on the backs of EI premium payers. The bill also says that the government should lower requirements needed to qualify for EI. This is another unnecessary change and reminds me of the time the opposition proposed a $6 billion 45-day work year that would be paid for by job-killing payroll taxes.

The EI system already has variable entrance requirements depending upon regional unemployment rates. When a region's unemployment rate rises, the entrance requirement is reduced and the duration of benefits increases.

Therefore, the amount of assistance provided increases and support adjusts to the changing needs of regions and community. In the absence of any details in the bill, I am curious as to what might be considered an acceptable number of work hours needed to qualify for benefits.

Currently, the minimum threshold for eligibility is 420 hours. It is higher in areas with lower unemployment rates. If we were to consider using a standard rate of 420 hours for regular benefits across the whole country, it would cost the program an additional $600 million annually. What if we lowered the 420 hours to 360 hours, or a 10-week work year, and applied it to all claimants regardless of any regional differences. This has been suggested by the NDP.

A 2010 Parliamentary Budget Office report looked exactly at this question and stated that doing so would cost over $2 billion annually. That is $2 billion out of the hands of hard-working Canadians and employers. Simply put, changes like this need to be founded on sound analysis of the evidence with careful consideration being given to labour market impacts.

The bill also says that we should improve income security for self-employed people. Thanks to the changes brought in by our government, self-employed individuals can already opt-in to the system on a voluntary basis and take advantage of a range of special benefits.

I was very surprised that the bill did not even mention the working while on claim pilot provided under the EI program. Working while on claim allows EI claimants, including low-income EI claimants, to take on work and earn extra money, while keeping some of their EI benefits.

The recent budget announced that the pilot would be extended for another year, with early results showing that claimants are working more while on claim. It provides over $50 million and helps claimants, including low-income and marginally employed individuals, stay connected to the workforce so they may return to work sooner.

It is benefits like this that remove disincentives to finding work, and put money in the hands of those who need it the most, low-income workers, whether they live in rural or urban areas.

I think it is important to consider the impact of the changes this bill proposes. Our government is spending billions of dollars on initiatives to help Canadians better prepare for the labour market. These initiatives are on top of existing programs, such as employment insurance. We regularly modify these programs as society and the workforce evolve.

For example, in our latest budget, we announced expanded eligibility for student grants. This reflects the fact that more people are going into fields like the trades, which typically involve a course of study that is vastly different from the one needed for an undergraduate degree. Training is critical for success in the job market. It is even more critical that employers and educators come together to design training that actually works in the real world.

That is why the latest budget is investing $65 million over four years to support partnerships between employers and educational institutions to develop curricula and programs that are aligned with the specific skill needs of our labour market.

Our government has also introduced the Canada job grant, which provides shared funding with private sector employers to train employees, and the Canada apprenticeship loan, which provides interest-free loans for apprentices who need to leave their jobs for a time to complete their studies.

It is also why our government is making substantial investments in labour market information, including $14 million per year for a new job vacancy survey and a new national wage survey to provide timely accurate information on occupation demand and wages by region.

The list of the initiatives we have taken to help urban and rural workers enter or stay in the job market is very long. The bill before us vaguely outlines the measures the government must take. In fact, some of these proposals would do absolutely nothing to improve the situation. This bill could even make matters worse for urban and rural workers. I do not think that Canadians want that.

I therefore hope all my colleagues will join me in continuing to improve supports for working Canadians and vote against this bill.

National Urban Workers StrategyPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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.

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

InfrastructureAdjournment Proceedings

May 14th, 2015 / 7 p.m.


Adam Vaughan Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to discuss a question I first raised not too long ago, on January 30, in which I talked about the wait list in Toronto—92,000 families and close to 200,000 people—and the fact that the government has recently signed agreements with provinces. However, in the case of Ontario, the Government of Ontario does not provide housing anymore. That was downloaded to municipalities. So, when the minister responded by saying that the provincial minister for housing was happy, yes, he was happy that the agreement was renewed, but the housing providers in Ontario were furious. They are the ones who receive this money, and they are saying that the status quo is not good enough. The status quo is sustaining a waiting list in Toronto of close to 1,500 years. This money would only deliver to the City of Toronto, the largest housing provider in the country, the ability to add 60 new units per year, for the next five years.

I remind the House that there is a waiting list of 92,000 families looking for affordable housing in Toronto, and the government has put no new money on the table.

The other response we have been hearing lately from the government is that it has unveiled $150 billion in the new budget process and that this process of allowing housing providers to renegotiate their mortgages is suddenly going to provide them with no new mortgage.

The reality is that they still have a mortgage, because they are renewing a mortgage, and this money does not actually deliver the capacity to do anything other than the refinance. The refinancing is there so that they can reinvest in the state of good repair but, at the end of the day, there is no new money for the subsidies. What we have heard from the minister is that when they renegotiate, they lose their subsidies.

What the current government claims to be doing is investing in housing, but it is not. It is maintaining the status quo, and the status quo is failing, and when it made changes, it was a bait-and-switch. The provisions it put into the budget actually hurt affordable housing providers, which would make the waiting list even longer and push more people onto the waiting list because affordability would disappear with the refinance scheme.

This is appalling. We have a situation in Toronto that is intolerable, requires a national program to step back up, for a federal government to reinvest in housing, to re-mandate CMHC, and to ensure that housing providers do three things: build new housing; repair existing housing; and sustain subsidies so that those people living in housing do not lose their affordability.

Please, could someone on the government side say that their status quo is not good enough and please stop telling us it is good enough when it is failing people? It is not unique to Toronto. I have yet to find a city without a wait list, and I have yet to find a city without a wait list that is growing.

If the renewal of the agreement is meant to solve a problem, why is the problem getting worse; and if the budget provisions are meant to help providers, why is it that they get punished for participating? Why is it that providers actually end up losing money if they take advantage of a government program, and why would the government seek to put seniors and people with disabilities in harm's way, under some sort of a claim that refinancing would make one mortgage free when it won't, and not tell people that when they do it they lose their subsidies?

How is that a housing program that anybody in this country can support?

InfrastructureAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member's comments. He is fairly new in the House. He was not here back in 2004 when you and I were elected, Mr. Speaker, and the Liberals were governing. I guess he does not remember the total incompetence of the Liberal Party in handling this and the total lack of investment in infrastructure across the country. I am glad to correct the record for him and let him know a little about the last 10 years of history.

Since 2006, we have nearly doubled the annual funding for provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure across the country. We continue to build on our government's historic infrastructure investments: $75 billion for public infrastructure over 10 years. This includes the $53 billion new building Canada plan, the largest and longest federal infrastructure plan in our nation's history. Seventy per cent of the new funds available through the plan are directly supporting infrastructure in municipalities across the country.

The plan includes the $14-billion new building Canada fund, which is supporting projects of importance to provinces, territories, and municipalities. A subset of the new building Canada fund is the small communities fund, which is providing $1 billion in funding dedicated solely to supporting communities of fewer than 100,000 residents. Eligible municipalities can use the small communities fund to support a variety of infrastructure projects that support economic growth, a clean environment, and stronger communities.

We also have the federal gas tax fund that goes to municipalities to address their needs. The federal gas tax fund has been extended and doubled to $2 billion annually and has been legislated as a permanent source of federal infrastructure funding for municipalities. It has been indexed at 2% a year, providing an additional $1.8 billion over the next decade. The fund represents certainty to every municipality across Canada, something they never had under the previous Liberal government.

When municipalities requested more flexibility to prioritize their local infrastructure projects under the federal gas tax fund, we increased the number of eligible categories and allowed municipalities to pool, bank, and borrow against this funding. More categories and financial flexibility means more opportunities to address a wider range of priorities in municipalities across Canada. Again, that is something that was never available under the previous Liberal government.

The new building Canada plan has been open for business since March 2014, and programs are well under way. We are working with provinces and territories collaboratively to identify projects, and we are processing proposals as quickly as they come in. In fact, more than $6 billion in total project costs have already been announced, and we look forward to announcing many more projects in 2015.

Late last year, our Prime Minister announced another $5.8 billion to address national infrastructure priorities that will have long-lasting benefits, including job creation. There is also significant funding from existing federal infrastructure programs that continues to support public infrastructure in municipalities across Canada.

Here are some examples of the work we have been doing with municipalities and the investments we have made to meet their community needs. There are so many here. In North Vancouver, we have made an investment of $12 million on the Highway 1 and Mountain Highway interchange. In Toronto, where the member comes from, GO Transit network improvements received $385 million in federal contributions. Still in Toronto, there is $622 million for the Toronto-York-Spadina subway extension. There is $660 million for the Scarborough subway. Here in Ottawa, there is $600 million for light rail transit. There is $83 million for Mississauga bus rapid transit.

I could go on and on. All these things of course were never available under the former federal government.

InfrastructureAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Adam Vaughan Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what it is about the House, but when one asks a question about housing, one never gets a response on housing.

The question I asked was bloody specific. The government has not increased by one penny money available to housing providers to house people on housing wait-lists. The program it has put in place in this year's budget that is supposed to help housing providers refinance actually punishes them by removing the subsidy they used to support seniors and people with disabilities on low incomes who are housed in those very same complexes.

The question is very specific, and I would love a specific answer instead of talk about the gas tax, which was former prime minister Paul Martin's idea, not a Conservative government idea, by the way. I would love to hear an answer about this. Why, when they renew their mortgage under this new budget program do they lose their subsidies? Why does that happen, and how does that help people who need those subsidies to afford the housing they live in?

InfrastructureAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member does not want to listen to the horrible things that happened under his government and the good things that have been happening under our government. Like I said earlier, in 10 years our government will invest more than $75 billion in infrastructure to deliver results and partner with the provinces and territories when they set forward their priorities. It includes $53 billion in the new building Canada plan, the largest and longest federal infrastructure plan in Canadian history. The plan offers a flexible approach to infrastructure financing, working with and allowing municipalities to address their specific infrastructure priorities, because it is the municipalities that bring these issues forward and we partner with them.

Again, the federal gas tax fund alone makes close to $2 billion in predictable infrastructure funding available to municipalities each and every year. In addition, the small communities fund provides $1 billion for projects in municipalities with fewer than 100,000 residents, allowing smaller communities to build projects that deliver on local needs.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, MSK injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, are increasingly becoming a major problem and health concern here in Canada, particularly among our military population. MSK is by far the biggest health problem facing members of Canada's armed forces, including many in my riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North.

MSK injuries are a very serious health issue that is often both misunderstood and underestimated in its severity. MSK is a broad term used to describe injuries and chronic problems with the musculoskeletal system. It is currently the second greatest cause of disability in the world, according to a newly released study called “Global Burden of Disease”.

MSK injuries are increasingly common, costly and a significant cause of long-term sick leave and work loss across Canada. The Canadian Chiropractic Association has said that it should be at the forefront of all government health discussion and policy, and yet the current Conservative government has given it no attention in any of its many years in power.

MSK injuries cause long-lasting and chronic health problems and impact the ability of Canadians do their jobs. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are suffering from MSK injuries at an alarming rate. MSK conditions are associated with 54% of all medical releases from the Canadian Forces and half of all veterans' health claims. They are the number one reason why a Canadian Armed Forces member is unable to redeploy.

Currently, the Canadian Armed Forces spends $60 million a year on dealing with MSK injuries, and it is not even doing an adequate job. These soldiers are protecting Canadians and it is time we start protecting them. MSK injuries are a burden on the well-being of civilians and veterans alike. They are by a large margin the biggest health problem facing the armed forces, and they are a burden on both the taxpayer and the Canadian economy.

The status quo is not good enough for a problem of this magnitude. We need to develop a nation-wide strategy for dealing with MSK injuries. The burden of those injuries has increased by 45% over the last 20 years and will continue to do so unless we take action. The Canadian Chiropractic Association has recommended implementing a strategy for MSK injuries that addresses the entire continuum of health, including preventative strategies, assessment, diagnosis and appropriate management of MSK conditions.

Canadians and our military need a robust MSK strategy that has health care providers, patients and governments working together to support Canadians, including the military, with MSK injuries from all backgrounds so that they can continue to be independent, contributing members of society. Also, chiropractic care should be supported not only in Thunder Bay—Superior North, but right across Canada by both the federal and provincial governments.

Implementing this strategy makes economic sense and political sense. Every dollar spent on relieving MSK will not only ease the lives of Canadians, but will also allow the military to make better use of its resources, and make Canada more productive in the long run. It is more of a long-term investment than a short-term cost.

When will the Conservatives begin giving this problem the attention it deserves? When will members of the armed forces actually see action on MSK strategies?

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank my colleague for bringing the issue of musculoskeletal problems to the House. As he knows, my background is as a chiropractor. I have treated people with musculoskeletal problems throughout my career, and I am actually in agreement with him. There should be better benefits for chiropractic care. It is mostly a provincial jurisdiction and I agree that more and more provinces and territories should put funds aside for people who have musculoskeletal problems.

The good news is that a full package of benefits and services already exists for veterans with musculoskeletal problems. As the Minister of Veterans Affairs mentioned in his response to this question, when an armed forces member medically releases, a system of medical and vocational rehabilitation services are in place, which can be tailored to a veteran's individual needs.

At the time of release, Veterans Affairs and National Defence share responsibility for the care, treatment and re-establishment of veterans into civilian life. This is also shared with provincial and territorial governments. The goal is continual care at the same high level that the member and his or her family have come to expect.

Officials with both Veterans Affairs and National Defence work side by side at integrated personnel support centres located on or near bases or wings. They assess what is required to help veterans improve or maintain their health or medical conditions. Veterans can also take advantage of something called treatment benefits, which consist of a full range of services such as medical, surgical or dental examinations or treatment provided by health professionals such as chiropractors. As I said, as a chiropractor, I know chiropractic care can be essential for veterans in their treatment and recovery.

They can also get surgical or prosthetic devices or aids and their maintenance, home adaptations to accommodate the use of devices or aids, preventive health care and prescription drugs. Veterans may also be eligible to receive supplementary benefits such as costs for travel to receive treatment. These treatment benefits and services are delivered by registered health care providers in the veteran's community and the costs are covered by the department.

When veterans choose a registered practitioner, this provider can even submit invoices directly so veterans do not incur out-of-pocket expenses. The department works closely with other federal and provincial authorities to locate and facilitate access to resources to meet each individual veteran's needs. In fact, the member opposite will be happy to know that there are 35 exceptional registered chiropractors in the Thunder Bay area and I am quite confident this large network of practitioners means veterans in the area are being well served in having their MSK injuries professionally and efficiently treated.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, MSK injuries are a growing problem in Canada. Not only is it detrimental to the health of those affected, but it also affects their ability to work, which is bad for all Canadian taxpayers. It is both unfair and expensive.

The government needs to realize that the status quo has not been sufficient, and we cannot just pass the buck to the provinces. We need a nationwide strategy to help MSK injuries in both Canada's civilian and military populations in every riding, like Thunder Bay—Superior North, and in all provinces and territories.

When is the government going to see the light and treat our veterans and service members with the respect and health care they deserve?

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Veterans Affairs and our government have been working hard to ensure the needs of veterans are being met, and we are always working to improve benefits for veterans.

Over the last few months, for example, we have announced many improvements, such as broadening the eligibility criteria for permanent impairment allowance, enhanced benefits for injured part-time reserve force veterans, introduced the retirement income security benefit, announced a new family caregiver relief benefit, and we will be hiring more case managers and disability benefits staff.

Our government is delivering benefits for veterans and their families, and I am hopeful the opposition supports these benefits and our budgets moving forward.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, ironically, I am rising to pursue a question on a bill that has now passed the House but is still before the Senate, so I think it is relevant to take up the issues relating to Bill C-51.

It is ironic to revisit this question. Let me share with the House what transpired on February 6 in question period. I asked the hon. Minister of Justice about two aspects of Bill C-51. One aspect related to the use of the word “lawful” to qualify protests in describing those exclusions from activities that might be seen to threaten the security of Canada. The second dealt with the new powers given to CSIS agents.

I used the word “ironic” in referring to the first part, and it will become evident when I repeat my question of February 6 for the Minister of Justice relating to the use of the word “lawful”. I asked:

Will [the Minister of Justice] amend the act to ensure that non-violent civil disobedience is precluded from the ambit of the act?

To that part of my question, the Minister of Justice responded by saying:

...protections against lawful protest [are already] covered by the act. This would not pose a threat to individuals who engage in lawful assembly.

Of course, my question was very specifically about the question of non-violent civil disobedience and protest that was, by definition, not lawful.

Time has passed, and we are all aware that in the clause-by-clause study, it was the Conservative members of the committee who, anticipating that this was a simply untenable piece of legislation and that the language used in the section would not work, actually made the change that I was requesting. In a rare instance in this place, I can say that although the Minister of Justice on February 6 denied that there was any problem with the word “lawful”, in the end that word was removed to ensure, or at least to increase the likelihood, that people engaged in non-violent civil disobedience would not be caught up in the ambit of the act.

The second point remains quite relevant. The second question that I asked the Minister of Justice was:

...please explain to the House the purpose of part 4, clause 42, that in taking measures to reduce the threat to the security of Canada, CSIS shall not “violate the sexual integrity of an individual...”

I was cut off at the end of the question, but I was trying to ask him why such a section would be included. His response was to say that:

...the mandate of CSIS [is] not extending beyond its lawful authority and, of course, being subject to judicial oversight.

Let me pause for a moment on the Minister of Justice's claim that Bill C-51 includes judicial oversight. It clearly does not. Many witnesses testified to this extent and to this point.

Judges are involved in the section that I related to the minister. Clearly, a judge is involved. A judge is allowed to grant a warrant to a CSIS agent to break domestic law or to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that is not judicial oversight. It means there would be secret hearings at which only government would be represented. There would be no special advocates to ensure that the public interest is protected. Moreover, there would be no opportunity for the judge to ensure that the warrant that he or she would issue would be executed properly or appropriately. As well, there would be no ongoing oversight of any kind over CSIS' activities, now that they have been empowered by the House but not yet by the Senate to engage in disruption activities, nor would there be any oversight over security operations, in particular between the RCMP, CSIS, CSEC, and Canada Border Services Agency.

This is where the risk lies. These different security agencies would operate without knowledge of what the others are doing, thereby making us less safe.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak tonight and address some of the misinformation that is still being spread about this bill. There was a lot of unusual stuff in that question from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

The international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada. Canadians are being targeted by jihadi terrorists simply because these terrorists hate our society and the values that our society represents. Jihadi terrorism is not a human right; it is an act of war. That is why our government has put forward measures to protect Canadians against jihadi terrorists, who seek to destroy the very principles that make Canada the best country in the world in which to live.

That is also why Canada is not sitting on the sidelines, as some would have us do. Instead it is joining its allies in supporting the international coalition in the fight against ISIL.

The concept of a threat to the security of Canada is clearly defined in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act. That definition has been there since the legislation was originally passed, and the anti-terrorism act, 2015 does not change that definition at all.

In the CSIS act, threats to the security of Canada comprise terrorism, espionage, sabotage, and foreign influenced activities. They also include violent or unlawful covert acts to overthrow our constitutional system of government.

To further clarify misinformation being spread by the opposition continually, I want to remind members that CSIS is not permitted by law to investigate lawful advocacy, protest, and dissent. Under its new mandate, it would not be able to disrupt these activities either.

In fact, it is our police forces that work to protect our rights and freedoms and it is the jihadist terrorists who threaten our security and want to take away our freedoms.

While I am on my feet I will take this opportunity to ask the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands to do the right thing. Several days ago, that member made ridiculous comments about admitted terrorist Omar Ahmed Khadr. He pleaded guilty to heinous crimes, including the murder of American army medic, Sergeant Christopher Speer, and our Conservative government has vigorously defended against any attempt to lessen his punishment for these admitted crimes.

While the Liberal leader refused to rule out special consideration for this convicted terrorist and the NDP actively tried to force Canadian taxpayers to compensate him, we believe victims of crime, not the perpetrators, are the ones who deserve compensation.

That is why the member opposite must apologize to Tabitha Speer, who was left without a husband, and Tanner and Taryn Speer, who were left without a father at the hands of this cold-blooded terrorist.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has created the impression that the issues I raised about Bill C-51 are taken in ignorance or denial of the risk of jihadi terrorists. It is quite the contrary. My point, which he would have heard had he been listening, was that by creating disruption activities by CSIS agents without proper oversight and with no requirement for pinnacle control between CSIS and the RCMP, we are in fact leaving ourselves more vulnerable to such terrorist attacks.

The advice to the public safety committee from John Major, the former Supreme Court judge who oversaw the Air India inquiry, was very clear. He advocated for a national security adviser to operate in pinnacle control. However, witness after witness urged that we have some way to ensure that CSIS agents and RCMP officers connect with each other, that they know what each other is doing, and that someone provide oversight. That is what is missing in this bill. That is what makes it more dangerous.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the hon. opposition member to read Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, 2015. I find that reading the bill is the best way to find answers to these questions.

Once again, I will repeat that CSIS is forbidden from investigating or disrupting lawful advocacy, protest, and dissent.

This bill would also place firm limits on what CSIS could do to disrupt threats.

Canadians expect security and intelligence agencies to have the tools they need not just to gather information, but also to prevent threats from being carried out against Canadians and Canadian interests. They also expect politicians not to glorify terrorists.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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 7:29 p.m.)