House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cabinet.


Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-24 is an interesting bill. Ostensibly, it sets out to address a gender wage gap in cabinet by doing two things: changing or limiting the current title of “minister of state” to “minister”, and then paying all ministers the same salary. It would also create three new placeholder cabinet positions to be filled and defined at the pleasure of the Prime Minister.

This bill would also remove the heads of regional economic development agencies from the Salaries Act, which means that while ministers could still be the head of regional development agencies, the head of such agencies would not necessarily be styled as ministers.

At first blush, this bill seems innocuous and maybe laudable. However, upon closer examination, this bill raises some important questions, which New Democrats hope the government will be able to answer. The first question is why the bill is necessary.

There are currently two levels or tiers of ministers. Full regular ministers are heads of their respective departments. Here I refer to the Minister of Finance, the Minister of National Defence, and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, etc., all of whom happen to be men. Then there is a second tier of ministers, previously called “ministers of state”, who have the title of minister, but their responsibilities are unchanged. We have the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development; the Minister of Status of Women; and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, all of whom happen to be women.

While Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development; the Minister of Status of Women; and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities are all important, these ministries have historically not been accorded the same status, level of responsibility, or scope of mandate as the ministries of finance, defence, and immigration. In fact, the minister of state designation has been seen largely as a post of a more junior minister.

I would like to share with my colleagues one definition. A minister of state is a more junior cabinet minister in the Canadian cabinet and is usually given specific responsibilities to a senior cabinet minister in a specific area. While it is a noble goal to achieve gender parity in cabinet, as it is in all things, the way that this is done also has to be fair, equitable, defendable, and transparent.

When the newly minted cabinet was sworn in last year, it was heralded and greeted with much enthusiasm. There was lots of congratulations to go around, but then a news story revealed that of the 15 men and 15 women in the new cabinet, five of the women and none of the men were assigned to be ministers of state. Those five ministers are the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, who reports to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development; the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, who also reports to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development; the Minister of Status of Women, who works under the Minister of Canadian Heritage; the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, who also works under the Minister of Canadian Heritage; and the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, who supports the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A senior government spokesperson clarified that these ministers of state were already considered full ministers and that all that remained was for the government to change the Treasury Board statute to reflect this new development. However, she also stated:

...making these five women full ministers does not mean their portfolios will take on the size of full departments. They are serviced by other departments in the same way they always have been, but they have the full standing and authority of any other minister around the table.

I believe that cabinet should reflect our society and that having 50% of it consisting of women ministers is great. However, if five of those women ministers are, in effect, junior ministers appointed to assist full ministers, then is there really truly a cabinet of equals? Three of the five junior ministers would be assisting their male ministers.

This bill then aims to bump up the salaries of these junior ministers to the same level as full ministers' salaries, despite these ministers not having a full ministry or department to oversee, nor the scope of responsibilities. Therefore, is this fair? Is it equitable to have equal pay for unequal work, scope, and responsibility? Is this a case of pay equity or is this bill just a way for the government to make good on its claim of gender parity in cabinet?

This is not to say that paying women more and fairly is a bad thing. In fact, the NDP has been fighting for pay equity for decades. Canadian women have been fighting for, and waiting for, pay equity for a very long time.

Pay equity, as my colleagues know, was established as a fundamental human right in 1977. Since then, working women in Canada have had unequal access to fair pay.

Some provincial jurisdictions have established pay equity commissions, and the women in those jurisdictions are enjoying a modicum of equality with their male colleagues when it comes to equal pay for work of equal value. I am sad to say, however, that too many working women are still waiting on this day.

On Wednesday, the government tabled its response to the report of the Special Committee on Pay Equity, announcing that it recognized that pay equity is a human right. In fact, the report of the committee was entitled, “It's Time to Act”. Unfortunately, the government clearly does not believe it is time to act. Instead, it announced that notwithstanding the fact pay equity is a human right, Canadian women would have to wait another two years before the government introduces legislation, let alone implements it.

I had the privilege of serving on that special committee, and I can tell members that expert witnesses testified there was no reason to wait. There was broad consensus among all witnesses that pay equity is a human right and should not be subject to collective bargaining. There was also consensus the current complaint-based system is not accessible to everyone, but costly and time-consuming for those who do have access, and that it is effectively denying fairness and justice through the delays that can stretch for decades. As people know, some women have died before being able to get their pay equity settlement.

Canadian women have been waiting too long for the right to pay equity to be realized, and there should not be any more delays. We need proactive pay equity legislation to achieve pay equity legislation, and the 2004 task force report provides an excellent template for that legislation.

Some of my colleagues in the House will remember that the 2004 task force on pay equity conducted an extensive review of this issue and that its report has been recognized internationally as one of the most comprehensive and authoritative works on pay equity ever done. The task force consulted widely and produced a list of recommendations that is still relevant and valid.

In 2005, the Standing Committee for the Status of Women studied this report and asked the Liberal government of the day to introduce legislation immediately. Unfortunately, that did not happen and, regrettably, the current government has also decided to punt the issue ahead.

I cannot fully express my profound disappointment with the cynicism that the current government and its ministers have shown in their response to the committee report. Asking Canadian women to wait another two years is unconscionable, and its commitment to bring in legislation in 2018 just prior to an election is a shameful ploy to hold the rights of working women ransom. It is like saying “Yes, we acknowledge that you have a right to equal pay for work of equal value and it has been neglected, and although we have the power to fix this injustice right away, we won't. We will make lofty claims about being a feminist government and promise to bring in legislation in a couple of years, just in time for you to vote us in again so we can actually do what we should and could have done right now”.

The government is asking women to endure two more years of being paid approximately 70¢ of every dollar that their male counterparts earn. That is 30% less buying power for women to spend in the economy. It is 30% less to pay for rent, food, child care, education, and to invest in their pensions. It is even worse for women who are from indigenous or racialized communities, and those living with disabilities. This inequality contributes to a much lower standard of living for women, and its effects are brought forward to the next generation.

As Kate McInturff, one of the learned witnesses who appeared before the committee, testified:

Today in Canada our daughters are as likely to attend university as our sons are, but we are in danger of failing to deliver on the promise of education, because those girls will grow up and graduate to a pay gap—unless we act now. Karma doesn't cut it. Doing nothing, leaving pay to the forces of the market, gives us what we have today, a widening gap between men's and women's rates of pay. Let me repeat that: the gap in men's and women's full-time wages is growing right now in Canada, not shrinking.

I asked Dr. McInturff if she agreed that pay equity legislation is an important step in eliminating the gender wage gap, that we should not have to wait to get everything right, and that we could actually start to have an impact on women's lives if we had, at the very least, federal pay equity legislation. This was her response:

Well, yes, clearly I think we need to act sooner rather than later.

....But, really, when we're talking about a life-threatening impact, we have to think about the women who make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. A pay gap for a retail worker who is making $12,000 to $13,000 a year, can really mean the difference between food and rent or not. That's why I would urge the committee to act on this, because addressing it has a really substantial impact on the quality of life of the lowest-earning women in the country.

When we consider Bill C-24, which will add $20,000 to the salaries of some of the highest-earning women in Canada, I really need to wonder about the priorities of the government. The bill would adjust the wages, and put it into the act, of five of the most well-paid women in Canada. The legislation was drawn up very quickly and brought to the House so we could pass it. However, millions of working women in Canada who earn far less are being told they have to wait for their wages to be adjusted. Where is the fairness?

Bill C-24 appears to be a cosmetic fix for a problem created by the Prime Minister. Claims of a truly gender-equal cabinet were trumpeted far and wide, but when it was pointed out that some of the women, and only women, who made up this gender-balanced cabinet were actually junior ministers, being paid at a junior minister's salary level, the government had to do some damage control, and this bill is the result.

The bill, unfortunately, ignores the clear difference in responsibility conferred on women in the Prime Minister's cabinet. If the Prime Minister truly believes in and wants to equalize the status of government ministers, as the bill purports to do, then all he needs to do is appoint an equal number of men and women as full ministers and an equal number of men and women as ministers of state. It seems simple enough. There is no need to mess with salary levels or artificially inflate the salaries of junior ministers to elevate them to the status of full ministers.

Interestingly, though, all five ministers of state who will see a $20,000 raise with the passage of the bill are women. It would almost seem as though the junior minister positions were not good enough for men.

However, the Liberal approach to fixing a problem of their own making is counterproductive, because it ignores the principles of pay equity: equal pay for work of equal value, and equal opportunity to perform roles with greater responsibilities.

Real gender parity in cabinet means appointing an equal number of women to be department heads or full ministers. By papering over the distinction between ministers of state and full ministers, the Prime Minister is prioritizing the equality of compensation over the equality of responsibility with respect to gender parity in his government.

I would respectfully submit that observing the principles of pay equality and equal opportunity is the appropriate way to eliminate the gender pay gap that currently exists in cabinet.

The second area of concern is the removal of the heads of the regional economic development agencies from the Salaries Act. This means that while different ministers could still be heads of the various agencies, no one could be a minister simply by virtue of being a head of a regional economic development agency. Again, it sounds innocuous, but what this really amounts to is the neutering of these agencies.

Canadians value the contributions of these agencies to their economic development, and these regions are best served by having someone with local expertise at the helm of their respective agencies. Bill C-24 would diminish the role of the regional economic development ministers around the cabinet table, and at present rolls them up under the purview of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. How does it make sense that six diverse economic development portfolios, representing six different geographical regions, be grouped under one minister?

When one visits the Government of Canada's website for regional development agencies across Canada, this is what it states:

Regional Development Agencies across Canada help to address key economic challenges by providing regionally-tailored programs, services, knowledge and expertise that:

•Build on regional and local economic assets and strengths;

•Support business growth, productivity and innovation;

•Help small- and medium-sized businesses effectively compete in the global marketplace;

•Provide adjustment assistance in response to economic downturns and crises; and

•Support communities.

Each Regional Development Agency brings a regional policy perspective in support of the national agenda through: regional economic intelligence to support national decision-making; contributing to federal regional coordination and cooperative relationships with other levels of government, community and research institutions, and other stakeholders; and supporting national priorities in regions.

Getting rid of regional oversight and autonomy of these economic development agencies is another example of top-down government. However, perhaps it is just another step toward placing these agencies on the chopping block. In the past, the agencies had full-time ministers or ministers of state, or the portfolio was attached to a specific minister from the region who carried other cabinet responsibilities.

Federal agencies directly deliver and administer hundreds of millions of dollars to help spur on regional economic development. For example, ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which was the first agency created by the federal government, had a budget last year of $298.6 million. Its former president has publicly mused that “the future of these agencies could be in peril without having permanent ministers advocating on their behalf”. He also said, “This is going to be low-hanging fruit. It is a lot tougher to abolish an agency that has a minister, particularly if that is the minister's only job, than it is to abolish an agency that is essentially an agency of public servants.”

I wonder what the real intent is for regional development agencies. Would it be helpful for members, as well as the people in those regions, to learn what the government's plan is for the future of economic development in their areas?

Finally, the third area of concern I have is that Bill C-24 gives the prime minister the ability to add three new or additional ministers at his discretion, without giving us an idea of what those positions might be or who might occupy them. It seems like another example of the government, despite its promises of transparency and open government, setting up another avenue to do just what it wants without proper, or any, oversight. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I invite the government to tell the House exactly what these positions would be. Members could then make an informed decision.

In summary, Bill C-24 presents more questions than answers. I hope the government will see fit to be more forthcoming in the days to come about the details and the intended consequences of the bill.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to comment not as much on the member's speech but on a previous speech. It is related to the regional development agencies, particularly in the north. I probably have more experience than anyone in the House here on that, because my career before I came to the House was working on regional economic development for the department that housed those agencies.

Without talking in philosophical terms but just on the effect on the ground, I can say that in this particular case right now this is the most effective minister and relationship we have ever had. Totally in contrast to what the previous member opposite had suggested, which was that it impinged our relationship, in fact it has increased it greatly.

We have some wonderful projects. He has been easy to access. Just a couple of days ago I asked for some information and I got it within two days. We had a great group from the north come down, and on short notice the minister met with them all. The relationship has been working very well, in a practical and a functional way. It may be related to personalities but it is certainly much better than it was before.

If they want to talk about the philosophical or technical reason, perhaps there is a benefit to having a senior minister of innovation who has a lot of knowledge and access to other areas of economic development for the various regions and who can see the best practices of all the agencies. That may be a benefit to having it under one roof.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, some of my hon. colleague's comments support what I was saying here.

The point is that in order to keep that profile and in order to keep those economic development agencies a part of the government's policies and budget, those particular regions of the country need a voice that has come from the ground up and that keeps the government making relevant decisions based on what those regional differences are. What I see in this act, and I am asking for clarification, is that rolling everything up under one minister is not a good way to keep those distinct voices around the table, particularly during a time when there are big differences in economics and regional economic development.

We need distinct voices around the table and it is my concern that the bill would reduce that influence at the cabinet table. Of course we have heard that some people think they are going to go away altogether and it will just be subsumed in a big government department. Being from Saskatoon, I can speak to the fact that a regional, western economic diversification-type of language and voice at the government table is something we really want. We have always been proud of it and it makes us feel that there is a voice there speaking on our behalf.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking the member for her great speech, discussing all of the different components, and for her question and answer for the member from across.

I am going to pick up on the gender equality part here. I know that this member has worked hard to make sure that there is gender equality. I have heard her questions in the House, and when it comes to gender equality this is a member who talks loudly and clearly about it. I would like to commend her on that. However, she is saying that there is an issue with this.

I know when this comes out, we will hear that the Conservatives once again voted against equality, but the member is also indicating that this is not about equality because it really is not equal work for equal pay. I just wonder if I could get some comments on that because I look at this member as being an advocate for those women. Could she share that with me?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am never going to stand up to say there is something wrong with paying people a fair wage, an equitable wage based on the effort, the scope, and the responsibility of a job.

I know for a fact there are women who are working for less than men but with the same responsibilities and their jobs having the same scope. That is discrimination. That is a human rights issue. This particular bill undermines some of the fundamentals of equal pay for work of equal value.

We have a government that on Wednesday said that even though it is 2016 and people have a human right to equal pay for work of equal value, they are going to make people wait two more years, although not one witness said we needed to wait two more years. On Wednesday, we were waiting. As I stated, working women are really struggling because they are not getting paid equal pay for work of equal value.

Then we have a government that is very quickly saying that the ministers in question will have the same title. It is going to give them the same title, but not change any of the responsibilities or scope of the positions. It is going pay them more and change the title. I just feel very disrespected by that. I do not want that to come out as how equal pay for work of equal value is done. It is not.

It does a disservice to all those women who have struggled long and hard, some of them in long court cases and others in fact having died before getting their compensation. The member and I may not agree on this part, but the government has its priorities screwed up.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebec has had pay equity legislation for some 20 years. There are women in Quebec who are benefiting from this type of legislation. The federal government just announced that it intends to wait another two years. It introduced Bill C-24 and called it equity.

I would like to know if my colleague thinks this is just a gimmick, a way for the Liberals to convince us that they truly believe in pay equity when they do not. This is not a real plan for pay equity.

In fact, I thought I heard the Liberals say that this would take two years because of the costs involved and because of the need for consultation. What they are forgetting is that, for decades, women have been bearing the brunt of pay inequity by being denied fair wages. The Liberals are failing to take that into consideration.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised the issue of the two largest provinces in this country having pay equity. We heard from them at committee. It would not take two years to write that legislation. We have a lot of experience.

As my colleague mentioned, making these women wait longer and then having this bill come forward under the guise of pay equity is beyond disappointing. It is disconcerting. I do not feel good about it.

The government had an opportunity. We had a special committee. We looked back at the 2004 task force. Witness after witness said it was the best report in the world. We have the template. We could have moved forward. I am very disappointed that the government has not taken the lead.

Then, just on the heels of saying that it is going to take two more years, it has brought this bill forward under the guise of its somehow being some sort of pay equity or equal pay type of legislation. It is very disappointing. I would like the government to reconsider and move forward on pay equity for the middle class, the group of people it often champions, and to bring pay equity legislation for those women sooner rather than later—and definitely before 2018.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to continue the debate on Bill C-24.

This is a particularly curious approach we have from the government. I wish I could say an unusual approach from the government, but certainly still a curious one.

Here we are on Friday afternoon, a time when I think many members of the government think MPs should actually not be working, debating a salary increase for government ministers. The Liberals have proposed a bill that would increase the salary for some members of the cabinet. I am sure they were thinking about how they could justify their desire to get paid more. To justify that, they said it was about gender equality. This is an argument that does a great disservice to the real issues of gender equality in this country. The legislation is very clear in terms of what it says and does. It is about increasing the salary for particular positions within the cabinet.

It is unfortunate. I will say this, having had the opportunity to sub on the status of women committee a couple of times in the last two weeks, I have seen the important work that the committee does, and indeed the very real issues we have in this country around status of women and around gender equality. This is not an argument that should be misused when what is actually going on is people trying to pursue their own political individual interests, which are not at all related to substantive issues of equality.

We see this strategy in fact frequently from the Liberals. They invoke the position of disadvantaged groups when actually they are trying to do something that is entirely, transparently, about their own interests. It comes at a time when I think many Canadians are losing their jobs, especially in my province of Alberta, at a time when it is hard to justify people who are already doing well, government ministers, getting the pay increase that is proposed by this piece of legislation, Bill C-24.

That is the context here. We have the legislation coming forward, a pay increase for ministers, and I think it is designed in a way that plays this unfortunate game of sleight of hand.

Already we have had one speech from the government, but already the Liberals have foregone a speaking slot, so I am concerned that not only is the legislation being argued for in a misleading and an incorrect way, but many government members do not even have the heart to stand up and defend it.

For those who are watching, let me shape the conversation a little by describing the context in which the bill occurs. Members of the House, as members of Parliament, receive a base salary, but there are a number of different positions where there is an additional salary component that reflects additional responsibilities that members have. They include you, Mr. Speaker, and they include, of course, the Prime Minister at the highest level.

Ministers get a certain salary top-up and ministers of state are at a different level. Just to explain the difference, there is an important substantive distinction in our system between the functions of ministers and the functions of ministers of state. Although generally speaking, they are all thought of as being members of the cabinet, they all take the associated oath, they are all given the honorific, “the honourable”, and they are at that level of being in the Privy Council, they have distinctly different functions.

A full minister within our system of Westminster government is responsible for a whole department, whereas a minister of state has specific areas of responsibility but their function is to assist the minister who is responsible for administering the department. Very clearly, we have two different kinds of ministers. Yes, both are important. Yes, they both sit in cabinet and receive salary top-ups, but different kinds of salary top-ups.

Then we have that whole hierarchy working through the system. There is the Prime Minister, the cabinet ministers, and the ministers of state, and then parliamentary secretaries and committee chairs, who receive a salary top-up but not as much as what ministers of state get. Then there are other positions in the House that may include one or two people who then receive an additional top-up as well. If we look across the system, of course all members of Parliament are in some sense equal. However, for the purposes of our debate and deliberations here, we are not equal in terms of our level of authority or level of responsibility.

It goes without saying that there are some people here who have different kinds of administrative responsibilities within government. Therefore, they are paid at a different level because it reflects the additional role or responsibility they have.

Some of the members who have asked questions, or the original mover of this bill, people from the government side, have suggested that in the Liberal cabinet all ministers are equal. That may sound nice, but administratively it is nonsense. To suggest that every single department within the government is of equal importance to the lives of Canadians, that every minister has the same degree of administrative responsibility, that every department is as important as each other, without intending any disrespect, of course, to some of the departments, it is very clear that some do matter more.

To start with, most other ministers, for almost anything they would want to do, would have to ensure that they have the funding from the Minister of Finance. Therefore, there is clearly some, both formal and informal hierarchy, that exists in any cabinet. That is most clearly evident in the distinctions that exist between ministers and ministers of state. I want to underline that this is very much still the case with the current cabinet.

I had the honour of working as a staffer in the previous government, so I have some understanding of how this works at the administrative level. However, the government cannot say its cabinet works differently. In fact, I have the orders in council from November 4 that effectively created the positions of ministers, and within the government there are five ministers of state. In each case, they are not called ministers of state. The Standing Orders said they were to be styled something else, in other words, the naming of the minister is something different. They clearly list not only the fact that the minister in question is a minister of state, but refer to the fact that their responsibilities are involved in assisting the full minister for each department.

That is how ministers of state work. They do not have their own departments. They have specific responsibilities, but the nature of those responsibilities are that they involve assisting the minister who does have full responsibility for that area. I will read directly from the orders in council. I cannot give the names of the ministers, but there are five.

It states, “a minister of state to be styled minister of la Francophonie, to assist the minister of foreign affairs in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”. Very clearly, in the order in council, the instruction is to assist the full Minister of Foreign Affairs in the carrying out of the minister's responsibility.

The next one says, “a minister of state to be styled minister of status of women, to assist the minister of Canadian heritage in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”. Very clearly, in the orders in council, it is not put at an equal level of the full cabinet, as I have explained.

Then we have, “a minister of state to be styled minister of sport and persons with disabilities, to assist the minister of Canadian heritage and the minister of employment and social development in the carrying out of those ministers' responsibilities”.

Next, “a minister of state to be styled minister of small business and tourism, to assist the minister of industry in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”.

Finally, “a minister of state to be styled minister of science, to assist the minister of industry in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”.

This is from the current cabinet on November 4. After the election, there was the appointment of these five ministers of state, who are styled or labelled, not as ministers of state, but very clearly, according to the orders in council, are ministers of state, and in fact functioning at a different level from the full ministers. It is clearly indicated within the orders in council which minister they are responsible to report to, in one case to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in another case to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and then in two cases to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

It could not be more clear that we still have what we have always had, and perhaps always will have in our system, which are different levels of ministers. However, I will say this, as well, to the government. If the government were really committed to equalizing the salaries of ministers, why did they not lower the salaries of the full ministers to the level of ministers of state, or at least find some level in between?

I see members across the way shaking their heads. It is, of course, outrageous that we would consider lowering the salaries of ministers of the government, and I am not proposing that. I am just saying that if the intention of the government was equalization, it is interesting that the route they are following is that it has to give everyone an increase.

I worry that the parliamentary secretaries are soon going to speak up and say “Aren't we equal too? Shouldn't we be at the same level as the ministers?”

This is precisely the problem. We are talking about different levels of work, but premised on this entirely false notion of equality that seeks to equalize the pay for positions that are, in fact, clearly different, that clearly involve different levels of responsibility.

While this provides the government with a great opportunity to, yes, on a Friday afternoon, propose and defend legislation, or if the Liberals continue their current track record of not putting forward speakers, not to defend legislation, designed to increase the amount of money that cabinet ministers are earning.

Again, I come back to what the government's defence is of this rather absurd approach that it is taking. The Liberals are trying to make this about gender. Again, this does a great disservice to the very real issues of gender equality in this country that require urgent action. Instead, their focus is on increasing the pay of some cabinet ministers and making it about, supposedly, a gender issue. Here are the facts when it comes to gender in the current cabinet.

When the Prime Minister appointed his cabinet, we heard about his much-promoted commitment to gender parity. At the time of appointment, there were 15 women in cabinet and 16 men, including the Prime Minister. Now, that is not parity to begin with, 15 women and 16 men, because the Prime Minister himself is very much a member of cabinet. He has additional seniority and responsibilities, obviously, but he sits as part of the cabinet. Therefore, from the start we already did not have gender parity within the cabinet.

However, we found out, and it is clear from the order in council, that there were ministers of state, as there always has been, five of which were women. Now, the cabinet was not appointed by anyone other than the Prime Minister. Presumably, he knew what he was doing. He knew that he was creating a cabinet that not only did not have equality among the 31 ministers, but also that five of the ministers in that cabinet would be appointed to a different tier. He should have known clearly what the difference was in the nature of those positions and their functions.

In terms of the full ministers, not ministers of state, the original Liberal cabinet had 16 men and 10 women, which means that 38% of the full cabinet were women. Now, 38% of the current cabinet are women versus 30% at the end of the last Conservative government. That is an increase, but it certainly does not deserve the claim of gender parity, as was much asserted by the Prime Minister and other members of his team.

Of course, the government was criticized for the disconnect between what its members were saying on the one hand, and what they were doing on the other. This has been a common criticism of the current government: the disconnect between the things its members are saying and things they are doing. It is no clearer than in this particular case.

The Liberals said they would fix it by pretending that ministers of state were in fact full ministers, but that was a pretense. As I have explained very clearly, the orders in council, the structure of the way government works, is that ministers of state do not run departments, and their function is to assist the full minister responsible for those areas in carrying out of their functions

That would not change with the legislation before us. The fact that the legislation introduces a pay increase for those ministers does not at all change the fundamental reality of the way our system works. Even to the extent that they were trying to fix this problem, this disconnect between their claims of gender parity and the reality of their cabinet means they have not actually addressed it at all.

I suggest that there was a much clearer, simpler way for them to have done this. They could have shuffled their cabinet if they wanted to have that full equality, that actual parity. They could have appointed an equal number of male and female full ministers, and an equal number of male and female ministers of state. Again, no one else appoints the cabinet but the Prime Minister. It was his choice to claim gender parity, on the one hand, but to appoint all of the women within that cabinet to a clearly junior tier, on the other hand.

Renaming the ministers, calling them something else, and increasing their pay does not change the fact that they have lesser administrative responsibilities, that they still have to be reporting to another minister in the context of the carrying out of their duties. This is what we have. We have a salary increase bill for cabinet ministers dressed up in the name of equality.

I want to talk, then, about some other aspects of the bill in the remaining time that I have, because there is the issue, as well, of changing the way the regional ministers work and of changing the way in which regional economic development agencies are administered.

This formalizes a change of the government from the way things have worked in the past. Historically, and when I was a political staffer, the system we had was that there were regional ministers from each area who, in addition to being responsible for certain functions of government, had a particular responsibility for certain regions. They played an important role within the cabinet advocating for the perspective of their region. This was obviously important.

Despite the great intentions a person may have, it is difficult to fully understand and appreciate what the challenges are in, say, Alberta, if he or she does not live in, or come from, or have some kind of a personal connection to Alberta. That is a reality. It is no guarantee that someone from that region will actually represent the interests of their region, as we have seen from members opposite from Alberta voting against key energy infrastructure projects.

However, generally speaking, it is still important to have that kind of regional representation dimension and, also, for regional economic development agencies to have a minister from that region who is responsible for administering that economic development agency, someone who understands the realities of the circumstances and who has a real appreciation of what the economic development needs are. That regional representation, not only within the House of Commons but also within cabinet, and the formalization of that, not just through having the ministers from different regions but having ministers with specific regional responsibilities, which include economic development, has been part of our long history of trying to, through our institutions, structure things so that we are bringing our country together and ensuring that every part of this country has a clear voice at the table. That regional knowledge they bring in is of great importance.

Unfortunately, with these changes with the structure of the cabinet we have, that has been lost. As other members have pointed out many times, we have a minister who represents a constituency in Mississauga who is responsible for all of the economic development agencies across the country. I do not doubt that he is a capable person, but to expect one person to have a full appreciation of the economic development needs of all these different regions in which he does not live and does not represent, is incredibly unrealistic and it leaves those regions without effective representation at the cabinet table.

I think we see this in a number of different issues where the needs of Alberta are being ignored. The historical prerogatives of Atlantic Canada, in the context of Supreme Court representation, are being ignored. We see the outworkings of this lack of regional representation within the government.

Let me say, as well, that having that regional minister responsible for regional economic development plays an important accountability function. It means that people who have concerns, maybe, or suggestions with respect to the activity of regional economic development agencies, things that are very important to the regions in which they operate in terms of at least the way they are seen in those areas, can go to a regional minister who represents those agencies and have that conversation, push back, and hold the person accountable, perhaps, if the way he or she is proceeding is not seen as being in the interests of the region.

Without that function, the local administration really comes down to, not a minister but public servants. Public servants, of course, have a great deal of expertise, but they are not politically accountable in the same way that ministers are.

We are losing out on that regional dimension, as well, and that is unfortunate.

I am very opposed to the bill because, again, I do not see, in the current economic circumstances, especially, any justification for increasing ministerial salaries. The government is trying to get around a political problem of the Prime Minister's own making by paying some people more.

Again, if he wanted to have gender parity in his cabinet, all he had to do was shuffle his cabinet. He has chosen not to do that but to instead put this window dressing on with a salary increase. That is not the right way to go. It costs Canadians too much. That is why I am opposing this bill.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I quite often enjoy that minister's, that member's, speeches. He shows a very good grasp of the issues. However, on this, I think he is out of focus.

He says that things can be adjusted simply through a cabinet shuffle. Now, in our B.C. caucus, we have two excellent ministers, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and the Minister of National Defence. I would not want to see them in the opposite jobs. In fact, we are drawing on their expertise and their intelligence in their portfolios to do precisely the job that is needed.

What is really key here, and what I would like the member to respond to, is why a government should not treat the objectives of both those ministers as equally important.

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1:10 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for initially promoting me to a minister in his question. This perhaps underlines the difference between the roles. Seriously, I appreciate the member's kind words.

This is not about individual ministers. I have no doubt that the government is thus far happy with the performance of the ministers he mentioned. Obviously, both of them bring some specific knowledge to the portfolios they have.

At the same time, it is not an insult to either of them to suggest that there are differences of kind and of nature between those two different functions. It is not to diminish the importance of either to say, as well, that the administrative structure is different.

The member mentioned, for example, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. As I mentioned, that minister, clearly within the orders in council, has responsibilities that involve assisting the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour in terms of those ministerial responsibilities. The way she administers those areas is different from the way the Minister of National Defence administers his areas. The orders in council for the Minister of National Defence do not refer to him assisting anyone else. He is responsible, fully, for administering the activities of the defence department.

These are just clear differences. I say to the government members that it is not to diminish any member here to say that there are different levels of responsibility and influence. That is just a reality. To suggest that all cabinet ministers, the ministers of state as well senior ministers, do the same thing and have the same level of authority just does not reflect the reality of how our system of government works.

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1:15 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was born and raised in Ontario, but my dad was born in Saskatchewan. I will always have an affinity for Saskatchewan.

I want to join my colleague in acknowledging that after having been around for a while, one of the things we do in a new Parliament is kind of look around and see where the rising stars are. I do not think there is any doubt that the hon. member will find himself moving up the benches very quickly. I expect an illustrious career for him.

On a sort of man bites dog story, I am looking to see if the member and I agree on something, because I think we do. Let me pose something, if I may, very briefly, and then see if the member agrees that we are seeing it the same way. If not, he can show me where we are differing.

In terms of ministers of state, if we had male and female ministers of state who were being paid two different rates, and that was being fixed, that would be a pay equity issue. However, what we are talking about here is a full-line minister, and I have been one provincially, who has responsibilities for a full ministry and department, versus a minister of state, who is sort of an assistant minister.

What is really going on is that this is an attempt to fix a bit of problem the government made for itself by bragging about the number of women it had and putting them in the lower positions. When it got called on it, this was the fix.

Do we see this issue the same way?

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1:15 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I really have to thank my friend for the very kind remarks. I was not planning on donating to his leadership campaign before, but now I may have to give it some thought.

It is very clear that it is not a pay equity issue when there is different pay for fundamentally different functions. The Prime Minister is paid more than his ministers of state. Nobody suggests that it is a pay equity problem. To be the Prime Minister is clearly different from being a minister of state. What I have pointed out is that there is also a similar difference in terms of the administrative reality for full ministers and ministers of state.

Again, the member is quite right to say that this is not about pay equity. This is rather about the government trying to suggest that the ministers are the same in order to fix a political problem of its own making. Again, there would be a simpler political fix for it. Well, maybe it would be simpler in some respects and not in others. They could simply shuffle the cabinet, if that is what they are aiming for.

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1:15 p.m.


Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader stated that all ministers are now being paid at the same level, but the bill has not been passed in Parliament. On what authority are those increases being paid, and what does that say about the government's respect for the law in Parliament?

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1:15 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, at some point, I hope we will get an answer to that question from the government.

It is worth underlining, as one of my colleagues pointed out, that although the parliamentary secretary said the bill does not entail any additional cost, it does involve a royal recommendation, which is precisely the indicator that there is an expenditure of dollars associated with it. It cannot be both ways. If there is a royal recommendation associated with the bill, it means the government anticipates there will be associated costs. There is a clear disconnect there. These are questions the government is going to have to answer in terms of what the bill would actually do.

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1:15 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation

Mr. Speaker, I often enjoy the comments of the hon. member from Saskatchewan, but today in one of his responses to a question he got up and said that he did not want to make this personal and then spent a good part of his speech talking about the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and asking how he could pretend to represent all the regions of the country or do a good job as regional minister if he is not from that region.

That sounds like a personal attack because he does not ask the same question of, let us say, the Minister of Environment, who has responsibility for other departments such as national parks, even though there might not be a national park in that particular minister's riding, or the Minister of Finance, who might be the person who sets the fiscal framework for the government and has a clear indication of what types of budgets they would have in different departments, but does not come from all parts of the country.

I am not certain what he is trying to say. On one hand he is saying it is impersonal, yet his argument would belie that fact.

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1:20 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear again. My argument was specifically about the importance of regional representation, especially in the context of economic development agencies.

I raised the issue of the minister in question, the Minister of Innovation, because he is the minister who now is, unfortunately in my judgment, responsible for administering all of these different economic development agencies. It is not a comment on the job he is doing, but a comment on the reality that he is not from western Canada, nor Atlantic Canada. He represents a constituency in Mississauga. I do not think it is any personal insult to the minister to point out that reality.

I would not make a very good regional minister for Atlantic Canada because I represent a constituency in Alberta. To suggest the importance of regional representation at the cabinet table in the context of economic development and political accountability, that is not a personal insult. It is a reality. It would be better for the government members to actually engage with that argument and try to explain to us why regional representation is not important. However, they have not even acknowledged that aspect of the bill. We have not heard any acknowledgement or arguments as to why it is okay to not have regional representation through these particular mechanisms.

Rather than pleading personal insult, hopefully, going forward we will hear some actual arguments as to why someone who is not from western Canada, nor Atlantic Canada, nor from the north should be administering all of the economic development agencies for the whole country.

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1:20 p.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that my colleague just did an excellent job of giving us an accurate, fair, and very factual explanation of the bill. At no time during his speech did I detect a personal attack against the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. On the contrary, he complimented the minister's work, but he expressed concern about how much time the minister would be able to devote to the development of each region of the country. That was his point. I heard no personal attack in his excellent speech. Once again, I too recognize my colleague's excellent qualitites.

As everyone knows, we will vigorously and vehemently oppose the bill before us for a number of reasons. With this enigmatic bill, the government is asking us to approve the possible future appointment of three ministers, but it is silent on the whys and wherefores. We do not know where this comes from or what is behind this bill to create three new ministerial positions.

The Liberals should be transparent and tell Canadians which of their friends they are planning to appoint. We have heard a number of suggestions since this morning. After the bill was introduced, people suggested the government might be looking to create a minister of universal taxation, a minister of partisan appointments, or maybe a minister of servile deference responsible for not offending Iran, Russia, China, the United States, and other countries so that Canada can secure a UN Security Council seat. Nobody knows. Why do we not know? Why do members on this side of the House and Canadians even have to ask? What kind of ministers will we get? Why are we being kept guessing? Because the government lacks transparency.

The government is not saying why it wants to create these three ministerial positions. Perhaps it intends to create three positions for ministers of sunny ways so that it need not tackle the real problems in Canada's regions? We do not know, and that is my concern with the bill we are debating today. What do the Liberals have to hide? What is this government's secret agenda? Is our Prime Minister trying to use a bill to justify the potential appointment of three new ministers? Now that he has the legal basis for creating three new cabinet positions, why not go ahead and do it? Everything is possible, everything is on the table because we do not know what the government wants to do.

The one thing that struck me in particular about this bill is that it would eliminate the positions of minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada. I would like to tell my Liberal colleagues about the agency's role. It is not complicated, and all Canadians can find information about the role of the agency and its various regional agencies on its website. I suspect that my colleagues did not spend enough time reading up on the agency's role and that they actually do not know what it is.

I would like to raise a few points. Regional economic development agencies address key economic challenges by providing programs and services specific to the needs of the regions as well as the know-how to deal with crises. The agency seeks to help small and medium-sized businesses to be competitive in global markets, support growth, productivity, innovation, and especially to help them adapt to economic downturns and crises.

There is currently no regional minister, and where has that gotten us? No decisions have been made on the diafiltered milk issue because there is no one in cabinet to defend the rural regions. No one is standing up in cabinet to say that this issue needs to be resolved because jobs in Quebec are at stake.

With regard to the carbon tax, no minister stood up to defend the various regions of Quebec and especially Alberta. No one stood up for these regions, who need someone to help them with their issues from time to time. There is also the softwood lumber issue. Once again, we can see why the government needed a year to make a failed attempt at resolving the issue. The agreement expires in five days.

The softwood lumber agreement affects millions of jobs across Canada, but that does not seem to bother the government because no minister is in direct contact with the people in each of those regions to talk specifically about economic development.

Each minister in charge of a regional development agency had the mandate to bring a regional perspective to the development of national strategies. Absent a national strategy, however, there is no need for regional ministers. Perhaps that is a reason, but the government is still abandoning the regions of Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, as well as the Atlantic, western, and northern regions. The government is abandoning everyone and, once again, we have no idea why. What is this government's secret game plan? This enigmatic bill does not tell us anything.

Having served as the mayor of Thetford Mines for seven years, I had the opportunity to deal with the federal government on a few occasions. It was easy, because I was lucky enough to be represented by an excellent minister, Christian Paradis, whose role it was to support his riding, as it is the role of each and every one of us in the House.

When we had a problem, as members of the Union des municipalités du Québec, and we wanted to discuss it with federal government representatives, we did not have to hold 22 meetings. All we had to do was meet with the minister responsible for our region, who would then pass our message along to the government.

As mayor, one is, in a sense, the minister for everything, but there are times when the mayor cannot solve everything alone. If a mayor has to put 22 meetings on his agenda to resolve one single issue because there is no longer a minister who looks after the region, well, I really think the government is on the wrong track. We need regional development agencies.

Since the government does not have a national economic strategy, it does not need regional development agencies. However, the crises in our regions are real, and regional ministers need to deal with them.

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1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

When the debate on this matter resumes, the hon. member will have 12 minutes and 45 seconds remaining.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from May 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-238, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Strategy for Safe Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to the excellent initiative of my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, namely the development of a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury.

The bill comes at a time when many Canadians are thinking carefully about what they can to reduce their electricity use. We are all looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to the products we use at home.

Energy-efficient light bulbs, such as the compact fluorescent lamps that I am sure many of us use at home, are a simple and important way to reduce our energy use.

A Statistics Canada report from 2014 showed that in 2011, nine out of ten households in the ten largest Canadian urban centres had at least one type of energy-efficient lamp, and 75% of them had at least one compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL.

Canadians want to do the right thing for the environment. That is why many of us buy energy-efficient lamps, but those that contain mercury may require proper handling when they have burned out. Otherwise, used bulbs can release harmful substances into the environment.

My colleague's bill refers to “lamps”, so that is the term I will use today, but I want to clarify that I am referring to the various types of CFLs that contain mercury, such as fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs, as I said. These lamps, which are common in our homes and offices, contain toxic mercury.

For those who may not know, mercury is used in a variety of consumer and commercial products because it is a very useful substance. It is a good conductor of electricity and reacts precisely to temperature and pressure changes.

In lamps, electricity vapourizes the mercury, producing UV rays that cause the phosphor coating inside the lamp to glow and emit the light you see. Unfortunately, when such products are broken or disposed of in landfill sites, toxic mercury can seep into the environment and adversely affect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

The more fragile products, such as fluorescent lamps, may also break during transportation and release mercury into the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, estimated that 3% of the total mercury in discarded fluorescent lamps is released to the atmosphere during transportation to a disposal facility, while other researchers estimated emissions are as high as 17%.

If a product that contains mercury ends up in a landfill, the mercury can leach into the surrounding soil or be released into the atmosphere. If waste containing mercury is incinerated, the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere may be higher.

Without pollution controls, almost all of the mercury contained in waste entering an incinerator will be released into the air. The best way to prevent mercury releases to the environment is to send them for proper recycling, instead of throwing lamps in the garbage.

When they are sent for recycling, it is best to protect these delicate lamps by either putting them back in their original packaging or wrapping them before recycling them. That will help reduce any exposure to mercury that might happen from the lamps breaking.

Improving public awareness about the need for safe disposal and recycling of used lamps is extremely important.

Canadians want to know how best to deal with these products and they want to know that their government is taking steps to reduce the risks. Many municipalities have programs that accept household products that contain mercury. Some have implemented collection programs specifically for fluorescent bulbs, while others collect them as part of their household hazardous waste programs. In addition, some large retailers are taking a leadership role in recycling these lamps by offering take-back programs, which is one way to ensure that lamps containing mercury are safely and properly disposed of.

However, many Canadians still throw their used mercury-containing lamps in the garbage because they are unaware of the importance of recycling them or they do not have easy access to environmentally-sound recycling options. That is where this bill comes in. The bill calls on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to work with partners and stakeholders to develop and implement a national strategy on the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury. The national strategy will encourage concerted action by the federal government, other jurisdictions, and stakeholders to shine a light on this important issue, increase public awareness, and lead to actions to reduce the risks of releases of mercury from these lamps.

The minister cannot implement this national strategy on her own. The provinces, territories, and municipalities all have a role to play, and the minister will need to work with them and consult with other interested parties, not just those mentioned in the bill. In addition to environmental groups and industry, which are specifically named in the bill, the minister will also need to speak to indigenous groups to understand and address their particular needs.

A careful study of the provisions of the bill will ensure that the national strategy builds on, but does not duplicate, the work already under way in some of the provinces and territories where there has been progress made in diverting these lamps from landfills. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, for example, led the development of a Canada-wide action plan on extended producer responsibility or EPR in 2009. EPR is an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of that product’s life cycle. The Canada-wide action plan had several objectives. It committed member jurisdictions, namely the provinces, territories, and federal government, to work towards the development and implementation of EPR programs. It also provided guidance on how to strengthen the use of EPR.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbourwill provide an opportunity for all jurisdictions and interested stakeholders to work together to develop a national strategy aimed at managing these lamps at the end of their life cycle. Proper end-of-life management will allow us to benefit from their energy efficient qualities without compromising the environment.

These are the reasons I will be supporting this bill, and I would ask the committee to do a careful review of the bill's provisions to ensure that we can work together with all interested partners and stakeholders to develop an effective national strategy.

National Strategy for Safe Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-238, an act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury, put forward by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

I was pleased to listen to the member for Hull—Aylmer, and I have had a chance to speak him on numerous occasions. He did bring back a few of the things that I remember when these light bulbs first started coming into discussion, and how we would have young children trying to sell these to their parents in a fundraiser so we could save the environment.

Of course, there are some unintended consequences that happen, and this is certainly one of those. We recognize what the base metal included in this can actually do. We have so many other issues with rare earth metals that are needed, for batteries, for windmills, and for solar devices. Again, there are unintended consequences, but we have to make sure we understand what all of that will do.

I am glad that the member has put forward a bill that builds on our previous Conservative government's actions to control mercury in our environment. I would also acknowledge my colleague from Abbotsford and the official opposition critic for the environment and climate change for his work on environmental issues. Bill C-238 would provide the opportunity for the House to work in a bipartisan manner, to not only pass the legislation but to kick-start the process of raising awareness and educating Canadians on the safe disposal of light bulbs containing mercury.

Most Canadians are aware of the dangers of not having a proper disposal procedure for the highly toxic substances like mercury. In 2010, our Conservative government put forth a strategy for proper mercury disposal, and, in 2013, we negotiated the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international convention that essentially calls for tough measures to reduce mercury emissions.

Supporting Bill C-238 is in line with our previous Conservative government's approach to controlling toxic substances that pose a risk to human health. This same approach made me proud to stand with my colleagues when our previous government passed the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, in 2010, banning the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles. I want to stress the importance of all such initiatives.

In the bill, we discuss the effects of mercury, which has the ability, as was mentioned, to be spread between water, air, and soil. Contaminations can have a catastrophic impact on our environment, and the health of all Canadians. We know that mercury is toxic and that it is related to various health problems, including birth defects, rashes, and even death. Even in lower quantities, when mercury is accumulated, it creates a significant risk to our most vulnerable.

Products containing mercury are in our landfills. We know that through this disposal method, mercury has the potential to leak into our soils and water sources. Most Canadians would agree that it is something that must be dealt with.

We, as parliamentarians, have a duty to make sure that our work also creates the right circumstances for us to protect our environment for future generations and ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

The bill calls for the environment minister to develop and implement a plan or proposal for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury. I know that the people in my constituency of Red Deer—Mountain View, and all Canadians, will welcome our efforts to minimize the presence of mercury in our immediate environment and put a stop to the negative health risks that come along with it.

Bill C-238 contains three essential elements: the establishment of national standards for the safe disposal of mercury-containing lamps, the establishment of guidelines regarding facilities for safe disposal, and the creation of a plan to promote public awareness of the importance of those lamps being disposed of safely.

The bill also requires that the strategy be tabled in Parliament within two years of royal assent, and that a review and evaluation of that strategy takes place every five years afterwards. The Liberal government can implement, through regulation and policy, and by working with provincial counterparts, the three elements proposed in Bill C-238 at any time. There is a way to make things more efficient, but with a Liberal government in place, Canadians would not be surprised with delays and unnecessary costs being the result of its actions.

My colleague from Abbotsford has looked at a few similar pieces of legislation to this one that have already been presented in the House. Two such red-tape legislative instruments have been put forward. First, Motion No. 45 required that all infrastructure projects at the municipal level over $500 million in value would have to go through a full climate change impact analysis to determine what the upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emission implications would be of those projects. Second, Bill C-227 would place a requirement on contractors for projects within the federal realm.

The member who has brought forward Bill C-227 suggests that projects at the municipal level originally chosen because they meet the current need of municipalities and provinces would henceforth primarily be selected through a lens of their climate change implications. This would impose additional costs on our local governments and additional red tape and delays. For example, if a building contractor wanted to bid on a federal building project, the contractor would have to go through a community benefit analysis, adding additional costs and more red tape for projects because that would have to be built into the bid price. On top of that, it would complicate the federal bidding process by adding more red tape to the process, when in fact these projects should be bid-based on best value for taxpayer dollars or, in other words, best value for the best price.

In a way, I am somewhat skeptical about Bill C-238. Would it be another example of the Liberals over-reaching and ultimately adding additional costs to taxpayers? As much as the motives behind these initiatives are commendable, they are duplicative and would pose additional regulatory burdens on Canadians. That is my fear with this and with most any Liberal strategy.

The member could have moved forward by simply asking the government to enact the necessary regulations through robust consultation with the provinces and municipalities to provide the appropriate recycling and disposal policies across the country. For whatever reason, the member did not do that. We can deal with dangerous toxic waste like mercury now. That essential task is something the government can do now even without this bill. The Liberal government can move forward right now with regulations that set the standards and guidelines for safe disposal of these lamps. The government has the ability to make the public aware of these standards and guidelines.

Our caveat about the bill is the fear that it would lead to the Liberals actually calling for a national strategy, which would take far too long to conclude and create additional initiatives that would come with higher costs, higher taxes, and more red tape. There are many provincial jurisdictions that have programs in place, and by simply working with them we can achieve great results without adding any unnecessary hoops.

When it comes to important issues like emissions targets, research and development investments, infrastructure, and increases in health care funding, the Liberals are quite content to use evidence-based policies from the former Conservative government. While we expect them to refresh these initiatives with some Liberal red paint, unfortunately the overall Liberal program also comes with a massive amount of red ink for future generations.

In this case, making sure that mercury-containing lamps are safely disposed of is something that everyone should support. We should also do the right thing and make sure that our proposed solutions are efficient and, most importantly, effective.

I support taking this to committee in the hope that it will establish national standards for the safe disposal of mercury-containing lamps, guidelines regarding facilities for safe disposal, and create a plan to promote public awareness of the importance of such lamps being disposed of safely. I look forward to a process that will be cost efficient and does not impose an additional undue tax burden on Canadian taxpayers, nor add additional red tape that would tie up businesses, provinces, and municipalities.

National Strategy for Safe Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-238, tabled by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who I sit on the environment committee with, is proposing a strategy for dealing with the mercury that comes from lamps containing mercury. He proposes three measures: national “standards”, which I will discuss later; guidelines for disposal facilities, which is required under the Basel convention and long overdue; and a plan to promote public awareness for the need for safe disposal.

By way of background, in November 2014, the previous government promulgated regulations requiring that products containing mercury be addressed. However, those regulations had exempted lamps and excluded disposal. Interestingly, in the meantime there was a Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Canada-wide standard, which seems to have been forgotten. It also announced the intention to bring forward a code of practice, and in the spring of 2016, under the current government, the government posted for public comment a proposed code of practice for safe disposal. However, the issue has been known for far longer.

By way of background, from 2001 to about 2008, I participated in both the national MERS and Alberta processes related to the elimination of mercury in the environment. Why? The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment had issued a list of top priority substances for elimination, and mercury was at the top of the list as a neurotoxin of serious impact, particularly to children. The identified major sources were not light fixtures or any product, including auto switches, but in fact coal-fired power and cement plants. Sadly, to date, contrary to what the parliamentary secretary suggested in his speech on the bill, the federal government has absolutely failed to regulate either of those significant sources.

However, in 2005, the Alberta government, to its credit, responded to a multi-stakeholder framework issued by the Clean Air Strategic Alliance and issued regulations requiring coal-fired power plants to capture their mercury emissions. To its additional credit, this past year Alberta moved forward to shut down coal-fired plants in a faster time span due to health reasons.

Interestingly, in 2007, the federal government initiated a public consultation on alternatives to reduce mercury contamination from products containing mercury. One source was compact fluorescent bulbs. Strangely, this alternative, while more energy efficient, contained the dangerous neurotoxin, mercury. I had the privilege of participating in Environment Canada's consultation in Vancouver that year. At that meeting, I raised concern with the mercury contamination potential and that there was no life-cycle strategy. There were strong concerns being voiced across the country that the federal government was merely downloading the costs of recycling, recovering, and disposal of the mercury to the municipalities. As the Canadian Environmental Protection Act requires a cradle-to-grave response to its proposals, the department had failed in addressing this part of its mandate.

There was strong support for the need for a compliance strategy up front to evaluate the efficacy of the approach with these lights to ensure that they would limit harm to health and the environment by requiring the capture of the mercury from the bulbs when disposed. There was also a widely held view across North America that without a regulation requiring the capture of this mercury, there would be no incentive to pursue an alternative cleaner technology.

Some provinces and some municipalities have, in the interim, established programs for the recovery of the bulbs containing mercury, where others have not. Some companies have stepped up, and some have backed down. For the most part, recovery depends on the voluntary actions of homeowners or businesses to take their bulbs to an eco-station, and by and large, the cost is then passed on to the municipalities to pay for the handling, transport, and recycling. Environment Canada has estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of these bulbs sold in Canada are recycled. The rest go to landfills. This dismal showing reflects widespread public ignorance about the issue, hence the bill the member has brought forward.

Back to Bill C-238. The first measure is a proposal for national standards. Indeed, action is needed but it is unclear exactly what mechanism is proposed by the member in the bill. Is it merely another Canada-wide standard that is not legally binding? Is it a code of practice, which is not legally binding as well?

Both of these measures could be made binding if they were adopted in permits or in regulations issued by provinces or territories. If it were a binding standard, the provinces or territories could enforce, and their law, if enacted, could claim equivalency. In fact, the government could issue a code of practice or a guideline if the agreement was with the provincial and territorial jurisdictions that they were going to take measures to actually make this happen.

I note that the government of the day has already issued notice that by the end of this year, it will issue and have in place a code of practice. I note that the member is proposing a measure, but only to come into effect two years from now, and it is not clear which of the three measures he would come forward with more quickly. Perhaps, given the fact that the government has shown initiative, at least one measure would be expedited.

The second proposed measure is guidelines for disposal facilities. It is not clear whether that would be a code of conduct or a guideline. Again, it would not be binding unless it was implemented by permit by a province or territory, and it would then be binding on the facility that was disposing of the mercury-containing product.

Third, the member proposes a plan for public awareness. There indeed has been a lot of support on the need for action on awareness. As I mentioned earlier, only 10% to 15% of these bulbs are being returned for proper disposal or recycling, so there needs to be awareness. However, there has also been concern that simple public awareness is not going to get it done and that we need additional measures to support, for example, the recycling facility in the member's own riding, Dan-X, which currently recycles mercury.

However, it is clear from our past experience with enterprises like this that have been set up that unless one is obligated to submit the substance for recycling, we cannot guarantee the return. Therefore, indeed, we need public awareness, but we need the first two initiatives more.

The second issue is that the code of practice the government put forward offered training for employees, but by and large, it is homeowners who take these bulbs to the recycling centres, and they are not going to be subject to the training.

In short, I am very pleased that the member has come forward. This is an important action, but I look forward to the member also supporting my initiative and move on the largest source of mercury, which is coal-fired power plants. I look forward to him taking similar action in his province of Nova Scotia.

National Strategy for Safe Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying how pleased I am to rise to speak to Bill C-238, which my friend and colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour has referred to as his bright idea.

The bill is important because it promotes a healthy environment and a strong economy at the same time. It involves the development of a natural strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury.

Before I begin my remarks, I want to thank the hon. member for his leadership on environmental issues. He has been an advocate for the environment within our caucus in Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, his community at large, and, of course, by virtue of the bill in this House as well.

As many people already know in this House, the member was formerly a municipal councillor and deputy mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality. His legacy as an environmental leader carries on today from his time in that position. I want to thank him for his continued leadership on these issues. He has even taken the opportunity to meet with individuals who live in my riding and are trying to promote environmental products and drive the economy. They are outside of HRM, but he recognizes the benefit it will have on our region of Atlantic Canada as a whole.

From every corner of the country, whether it is my friends in Joe Batt's Arm, on Fogo Island, Tuktoyaktuk, or Vancouver Island, Canadians by and large are trying to promote a healthier environment to combat climate change. Finding more energy efficient options to household products is a great and easy place to start.

We have known for some time that energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, as many people know them, are easy and long-lasting ways to cut down on the amount of energy we use in our homes every day. For this reason, many of us have used CFLs over the years. There are 75% of Canadians in large cities who have at least one of these light bulbs in their homes today.

Canadians know that protecting the environment is important for our health and safety, but also, and as a new parent, for the health and safety of our children and our grandchildren as well. This is an important motivating factor. When Canadians purchase energy-efficient lamps, they are doing something in a small way to improve the future for other generations.

They may not be aware of the proper process for disposing of these environmentally friendly products once they have them in the home, which is also very important. It is important because when it is not done correctly, these products can release toxic substances into our environment, in particular in this case, mercury, as many of the hon. members have pointed out in their remarks on the bill already.

Mercury is actually a very useful substance. It appears in many consumer and commercial products. It is a great conductor of electricity. It reacts to temperature and pressure changes, which is why it is in everyone's thermometer. However, when products containing mercury are broken or when they are disposed of in a landfill, as they often are today, the mercury can get into the environment and have an adverse impact on our ecosystems, because it is highly toxic.

The more fragile products, such as fluorescent lamps, may also break during transportation and release mercury into the air. The EPA, in the United States, estimates that 3% of the total mercury in discarded fluorescent lamps is released to the atmosphere during transportation to a disposal facility.

If a product that contains mercury ends up in a landfill, the mercury can leach into the surrounding soil or be released into the atmosphere. If waste containing mercury is incinerated, the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere may be even higher. Without pollution controls, almost all of the mercury contained in waste entering an incinerator will be released into the air.

The best way to prevent mercury releases to the environment is to send lamps for proper recycling, instead of throwing them away.

Improving public awareness about the need for safe disposal and recycling of used lamps is very important. Canadians want to know how to best deal with these products, and they want to know that their government is taking steps to reduce these risks.

As one of my colleagues from the NDP pointed out, we are not always doing it now because we do not know and we are not made to, but municipalities and industry have taken early action. Many cities have already implemented specific collection programs, and some have incorporated them into household hazardous waste programs.

In B.C., Manitoba, Quebec, and P.E.I., manufacturers and importers are subject to extended producer responsibility regulations and are required to join or implement programs to collect and recycle lamps containing mercury at the end of their life cycle. In Ontario, manufacturers and importers take part in voluntary take-back programs for these kinds of lamps.

This all being said, too many Canadians still dispose of mercury-containing lamps in the garbage simply because they do not know that they contain this harmful substance or they do not understand the importance of safely disposing of these products. In addition, many environmentally sound recycling options are not readily available at this time.

This is precisely the purpose of the bill. It calls on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to work with different stakeholders and partners to develop and implement a national strategy on the safe disposal of these lamps. The strategy would encourage concerted action by the federal government, as well as other jurisdictions and stakeholders, to shine a light on this important issue.

Increasing public awareness can lead to actions that are going to reduce the harmful impacts of releasing mercury into the atmosphere. The minister is not able to do this without the help of others. We need the provinces, territories, municipal governments, and communities all to have a role to play if we are going to make something happen here.

In addition to environmental groups and industry, which are specifically listed in the bill, we need to collaborate on the safe disposal of mercury with our indigenous communities as well. A careful study of the provisions of the bill would ensure that the national strategy would build on and not simply duplicate work that is already being done in some of the provinces and territories, where some progress has been made in diverting this toxic substance from our landfills.

The bill would provide an opportunity for all jurisdictions and interested stakeholders to work together to develop this national strategy aimed at safely managing these lamps at the end of their lives. The proper end-of-life management of these lamps would allow us to benefit from their energy efficiency qualities without compromising the environment.

In addition, there is a serious economic impact. I know a few members have mentioned the company Dan-X in the riding of the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. This is a perfect example of how the environment and the economy can work together and promote one another at the same time.

If there is an environmental problem, such as the unsafe disposal of mercury in our landfills, there are companies that will actually create new jobs in turning what is currently treated as a waste product into a value-added product that can be injected back into the economy. This is new money that is currently literally being thrown into the garbage that would result in more jobs for Central Nova, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and every riding across this country if we implement a proper national strategy.

For these reasons, I am proud to be supporting the hon. member's bright idea and would ask that the committee carefully review the provisions of the bill to ensure that we can all work together with every interested party and stakeholder to make this national strategy as effective as it can be. I know the residents of my riding and my region are all going to be better off if they can enjoy a cleaner environment, greater public health, and more jobs for the region.

We are all doing what we can to protect the natural beauty of our wonderful country and we want to for generations to come. The bill would help, at least in a small way, to make a difference for the environment at home.

National Strategy for Safe Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury ActPrivate Members' Business

October 7th, 2016 / 2:05 p.m.


Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am happy and, in fact, thankful to rise to speak again on my private member's bill, Bill C-238, a national strategy for safe disposal of lamps containing mercury act.

We know that mercury is toxic, and we must keep it out of our waterways and off our lands. I would like to take a second, if I could, to thank the good people, the constituents of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and also the stakeholders, locally and from across the country, who have reached out with their feedback and support for the bill. I will always do my best to make their voices heard here in Ottawa. I must say that I deeply appreciate the support from my colleagues, which crosses all party lines. I am thrilled that we have been able to work together on the bill.

As federal representatives, this is what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to take good ideas from home, bring them to Ottawa, and effect change. We hope to change and improve laws, and make new laws. My bright idea for Bill C-238 came when I was a municipal councillor, and I visited Dan-X Recycling in my hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

From those folks, I learned about the dangers of mercury in the fluorescent bulbs, and that this facility can recycle every bit of a mercury-bearing lightbulb. This facility not only employs Canadians across its region, but it provides a valuable and very needed environmental service. This is a fantastic example of what the clean economy can accomplish.

Some provinces and municipalities across Canada have shown real environmental leadership and are leading the way in recycling these bulbs. Back home, under the leadership of Mayor Mike Savage and council, the Halifax Regional Municipality took initiative on its own and started recycling all of the spent fluorescent light bulbs in their municipal facilities. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. As a recyclable, we must ensure that fluorescent bulbs are diverted from all of our landfills across the country. Economically and environmentally, it makes good sense.

The bill calls for collaboration. It calls upon our Minister of Environment and Climate Change to open a dialogue and work with our provinces and territories to develop a robust national strategy, ensuring mercury-containing light bulbs are safely disposed of and recycled.

I believe that the successes we have seen on this issue in some provinces will help lead the discussions to a great solution that will work nationwide. It is extremely important that we have a national strategy for the safe disposal of these mercury-bearing bulbs, because a piecemeal approach hurts other parts of the country.

We heard today that toxic mercury has the ability to undergo long-range transport. Hypothetically, theoretically, mercury deposited in a Halifax landfill could redeposit into a community in northern Canada or any other remote area. This is why we cannot afford to pass the buck. It is up to us to take the initiative, to show real environmental leadership, and to protect Canadians.

I have appreciated all of the members' support so far in moving Bill C-238 forward. I urge members to please help me encourage our federal government to create an open dialogue with our provinces and territories to develop a strong national strategy for the safe disposal of mercury-bearing lamps.

Now is the time to take responsibility and protect Canadians from this needless pollution. It is only by working together that we can protect our communities and our country from this toxic mercury. It is by working together that we can leave the world a better place for future generations. Please support my bright idea, Bill C-238.

National Strategy for Safe Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Is the House ready for the question?