House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pandemic.

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Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

moved that Bill C-231, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act (investments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a great and rare honour to be able to stand in the House of Commons to sponsor and present a piece of legislation for my colleagues to consider. I hope that between now and March of next year, when we will likely come to a vote, I can convince more than a few of my colleagues that this bill has merit and deserves to go to committee.

Today, I am pleased to kick off the debate on Bill C-231, an act to amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act. The behaviour of corporations around the world is coming under increasing scrutiny as more and more people are demanding action. Here in Canada we have also acknowledged the problem, most notably when the Liberal government decided to establish an ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, who is supposed to received and review claims of human rights abuses arising from companies abroad in the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors.

The NDP has long been a leader in demanding more corporate responsibility. Most recently in the final days of the 42nd Parliament, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby brought forward his bill, Bill C-331, which would have allowed for gross violations of human, labour and environmental rights to be brought before a Canadian federal court.

The idea behind my bill, Bill C-231, is the questionable investments that are funding bad corporate actors. It is an idea that many people in Canada have long been concerned with, and it led me to further research in order to put the Canada pension plan's investments under closer scrutiny.

The Canada pension plan is an important pillar of our country's retirement system. Every year, millions of Canadians pay into the plan, which provides retirement, disability, survivor and death benefits to millions more. It is a sacred contract in recognizing years of hard work. Managing the careful balance between beneficiaries and contributors requires due diligence to the CPP fund, which is governed by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Through its careful investing strategy, the CPP fund is now valued at over $400 billion and is one of the largest pension funds in the world. I also want to note that the members of the CPP Investment Board have reached out to me over the last couple of years about my proposed legislation and to talk about their policy on responsible investing, which “aspires to integrate [environmental, social and governance] factors into investment management processes”. However, the document goes on to state that the investment board does not “screen stocks or eliminate investments based on ESG factors.”

This is the crux of the matter. Nowhere in the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act is there any mention of ESG factors or ethical business practices. There is no mention of human rights, labour rights or environmental rights. All we are left with is a policy, which itself admits that ESG factors, while a strong guideline, are non-binding in its investment decisions. The overriding duty of the investment board is to maximize investment returns without undue risk of loss. This is clarified in section 5 of the Act.

It is here that people will probably want to stop me and say, “So what? That is fine, and we should leave it that way. After all, the board has managed to grow the fund in a spectacular fashion, putting its financial health for future beneficiaries on a good path.”

I agree the fund is in fantastic condition, and I have no doubt that the managers of the investment board are doing their utmost to continue this work, but, and it is a big but, when we take a deep dive into the investment holdings of the CPPIB, we find a laundry list of problematic investments.

Before I get into the details of Bill C-231 itself, I think it would be helpful for members of the House to understand precisely what I am talking about when I refer to problematic investments. I am extremely grateful to the Library of Parliament for assisting me in this research, but I am also grateful to organizations such as Corporate Knights and various news outlets that have exposed CPP investment holdings, which many of us would find, at the very least, questionable.

Let us start with the Responsible Mining Index. The most recent data I have is from 2018, and it ranks companies on their performance on economic, social and governance practices. The companies are scored out of 36 points. The research I was able to obtain from the CPPIB's holdings shows that our pension dollars were invested in companies that scored in the low single digits. One company scored a 2.6.

KnowTheChain's 2018 Food and Beverage Benchmark Findings Report rates food and beverage companies on their efforts to address the risks of forced labour in their supply chains. The companies in their research are scored out of 100. Again, the research I was able to obtain from the CPPIB's holdings show that our pension dollars were invested in companies that scored in the low single digits. One company scored a four; another scored seven, and that is out of 100.

From 2000 until 2015, Public Eye hosted awards of shame competitions intended for companies with poor social responsibility records. As it is stated on the website, all of them are corporations whose business activities have been characterized by human rights violations, environmental destruction, immoral tax practices or corruption. Again, the research I was able to obtain from the Investment Board's holdings shows that our pension dollars were invested in many of the companies listed there.

Corporate Knights is a publication that defines itself as the most prominent magazine in the clean capitalism media space. It defines clean capitalism as “an economic system in which prices incorporate social, economic and ecological benefits and costs, and [actors] know the full impacts of their...actions.” Its research shows that our pension dollars are exposed to companies engaged in blocking climate policy, blocking climate resolutions, forced or child labour, severe environmental damage and severe human rights violations.

We, of course, are all aware of the very real and imminent danger that climate change is posing to our world. It will be the defining issue of the 21st century, and our actions in the next 10 years will determine how we meet this challenge. Despite this fact, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board continues to invest our pension dollars in major carbon emitters.

CDP's 2017 report on major carbon emitters compiled a list of the world's top greenhouse gas producers, and among the Investment Board's holdings were Gazprom, which was responsible for 3.9%, and Coal India, which was responsible for 1.9% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

ShareAction is a charity that has spent the last 12 years building the movement for responsible investment. It is now taking the movement worldwide to transform the investment system and unlock its potential to be a force for good. It released a report in 2018 entitled “Pensions in a Changing Climate”, which assesses the pension sector's response to the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

It did an analysis of the world's 100 largest public pension funds and their approach to climate-related risks and opportunities, and they ranked the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board in 32nd place with only a CCC rating. This ranking shows that we are only starting to take action on climate risk. As the task force stated in its report, large global pension funds have a responsibility to manage their funds in the long-term interests of their members and beneficiaries, which includes building appropriate responses to climate change as a material investment risk.

There have also been new stories over the last couple of years showing that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board invested in private American prison companies that were operating migrant detention camps along the U.S.-Mexico border. I could go on and on with even more examples of problematic investments. It certainly is a laundry list, but I must be mindful of the time.

What is clear is that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board's policy on responsible investing has not prevented it from investing our public pension dollars in companies with extremely poor corporate social responsibility records. Bill C-231 would step in to amend section 35 of the act by providing that the investment policies, standards and procedures take into account environmental, social and governance factors, and that our investments cannot be held in an entity if there are reasons to believe it has performed acts or carried out work contrary to ethical business practices, including the commission of human, labour and environmental rights violations.

The bill also allows provides for no investment being allowed in a company that produces arms or munitions of war that are prohibited under international law, or in any company directing acts of corruption. It is important to note that nothing in my bill would change the mandate of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which is to maximize investment returns without undue risk of loss. My bill also does not change the fact that the investment decisions are left in the hands of the investment board and that it is up to them, through the existing section 51 of the act, to explain how their investments were in accordance with the act in their annual report to Parliament.

There are numerous examples around the world, but let us start with one at home. Here in Quebec regarding pension law, we have the CDPQ, which manages 41 public and quasi-public organizations. It is governed by legislation in the province of Quebec, which requires that the board of directors adopt a socially responsible investment policy.

In Sweden, Sweden's national pension insurance funds, the AP Funds Act of 2000, requires state pension funds to take environmental and social considerations into account without relinquishing the overall goal of a higher return on capital. The funds must include environmental and ethical standards in their investment policies and annually report to the government how they would adhere to those practices. Those Swedish funds are worth approximately $154 billion.

In Norway, the largest pension fund in the world, the Government Pension Fund Global is governed by regulations that were passed by its Parliament in 2004 to provide a legal framework emphasizing international human rights and environmental standards. Despite these being labelled as guidelines, the regulations are legally binding. For example, companies can be put under observation or be excluded if there is an unacceptable risk that the company contributes to, or is responsible for, serious or systematic human rights violations, such as murder, torture, deprivation of liberty, forced labour and the worst forms of child labour; or any serious violations on the rights of individuals in situations of war or conflict. As I said, Norway's pension is the largest in the world. It is valued at over $1 trillion and it has these governing factors.

In the last couple of minutes that I have, allow me to conclude by saying this. We all know that money makes the world go around. It is a well-trodden phrase, but it is true. Trillions of dollars are invested in the companies that we buy from, that employ us and that shape the world we live in. A lot of this money belongs to ordinary people and we all have a stake in the way it is spent, but many of the decisions on how it is invested are made behind closed doors. The investment system can be a force for good, but only if these decisions are made openly and with more than short-term profit in mind. We do not want our pension funds to, in any way, cause human misery around the world.

I do not think we often realize just how lucky we are to live in a place like Canada where we enjoy the rule of law and have strong institutions and accountability measures in place to hold corporations to account for their actions. People around the world should have the right to live in a healthy and ecologically based environment. They should have the right to be fairly compensated and respected for the work that they do. They should have the right to life, liberty and security of the person, free from slavery and torture.

We can no longer remain silent on these issues and it is time to demand that our CPP funds do the same. I hope my colleagues will give their utmost consideration to the bill before them and I am looking forward to any questions they may have.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, the federal government works in co-operation with the provinces. The reality is that it takes both levels of government to see things such as increases in premiums and so forth with CPP. To what degree does the member think that the provinces should have some input in terms of what the member is suggesting?

Secondly, RRSPs are supported by tax measures. When looking at RRSP investments through private investors, would the member apply those same principles to those types of funds?

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, if the member looks at the wording of my bill, he will note that at the very end it has a section showing how this bill would come into force. It does specifically reference that the provincial legislatures would have to give their assent, much as they would have to for any changes to the act governing the Canada pension plan itself.

Given all of the examples I gave in my speech of the problematic investments that have been made by the CPP, it is quite obvious to me that we need something more. We need stronger legislation in place to ensure our pension funds are not promoting any kind of human misery around the world. With any RRSP or other kind of investment, we should certainly look at the rules governing those as well to make sure they indeed are meeting the interests of the Canadian people.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his bill and his very inspiring speech.

It is often said that buying is voting, but investing is also voting. In my opinion, the least we can do is to ensure that our investments are ethical choices that correspond to our values and principles, the values and principles of a democracy.

Our investments should be ethical and respect our values. How is that not already the case?

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, it is important to note that in the existing act it provides for the investment board to table an annual report to Parliament to explain how it is meeting these standards. As I said in my remarks, the largest pension fund in the world, managed by the Government of Norway, which has over $1 trillion in assets, already has these guidelines in place. They are law. This fund has grown to over $1 trillion and it is able to make money in an ethical way. We can look at such examples and follow suit.

I honestly believe that if we were to canvass the Canadian public and look at the evidence that I presented in my speech, none of them would support our pension funds funding any kind of human misery around the world. It is time to step up to the plate and ensure we put an end to these practices.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, has the member had any discussions with the provincial entities with respect to the bill?

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

No, Madam Speaker, I have not had any discussions with provincial entities. Unfortunately, the resources afforded to me as a private member are fairly limited. I can tell the member that I have spent the better part of two years researching this issue and I am very grateful to organizations like Corporate Knights and the Library of Parliament that have outlined these problems.

Surely, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons can acknowledge, given the evidence I presented in my speech, that there is a problem, that the policy on responsible investing is not meeting its achieved goals. If he is happy with our investments causing human misery around the world, he can vote according, but I think the Canadian public would have something else to say. It is up to us to lead by example in the federal leadership role and encourage provinces to follow our lead.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and address the legislation the member brought forward to the House today. I would like to acknowledge how important the CPP is to Canadians. The CPP is a leading example of a sound pension plan, through management and governance, that I believe is recognized around the world as being so.

The member made reference to the hundreds of billions of dollars we are talking about, and this is money that belongs to Canadians. It is money being vested to ensure when Canadians retire they have a better opportunity to live an enhanced lifestyle. It is meant to put food on tables and pay for a wide variety of bills. It is something Canadians hold very closely to their hearts.

Back in the early or mid-sixties, I believe it was Lester B. Pearson, a Liberal prime minister, who brought in the pension plan, believing at the time that Canadians needed to have such a plan to ensure once they retired they would have the funds necessary to enjoy retirement. We have seen it evolve into what it is today, a fund recognized around the world that continues to grow by billions of dollars every decade.

What the member is attempting to do here is indeed very noble. I have spoken in the chamber in the past about the social corporate responsibilities of doing the right thing, and at times that means one has to take action. I want to pose a very important question to the member: To what degree have the provinces been brought in to this debate?

For years I sat in opposition and would challenge the Harper government as to why it was not working with the provinces to increase the CPP contribution. After years of no increases, I believed we were limiting the potential dividends being paid to people retiring once they hit the 60 or 65 age category. I realized back then that it took the support of the provinces, through negotiations, for any real changes to be made to the CPP. We can talk a great deal about it and debate it inside the chamber, but we need to be able to extend that hand to our provincial and territorial jurisdictions so we can have the dialogue.

I believe there is a very important gap that needs to be addressed. I am hoping to hear in particular from members supporting this legislation on the degree of work they believe should have been done in that area. We went through many years of Stephen Harper where there were no negotiations.

One of the things I talked about in the past is that shortly after forming government back in 2015, the Prime Minister mandated our ministries to look at ways they could reach out to the provinces and address the need to increase the CPP.

I am not 100% sure, but I think the Conservation opposition day motion coming up later today is actually in opposition to some of the increases we are proposing for CPP.

It is not easy to accomplish what this government has, in regard to increases in the CPP, so that people will have more disposable income when they retire.

If members talked at length with seniors in our communities, they would find that retirement funds are absolutely critical. That is one of the reasons we left the CPP increases with the provinces, in terms of the negotiations that took place, but we also looked at other pension funds, such as the guaranteed income supplement and the old age supplement. We saw increases shortly after we took office in 2015. We used those mechanisms during the pandemic to give additional one-time payments to seniors. These actions clearly demonstrate that the government has an interest in retirement pensions.

On the issue of how we invest in those retirement pensions, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has done well for Canadians for many years now. It has demonstrated that in the returns it has received for the monies collected through workers. I have immense respect for the work it has done. The investment board has a spectrum of things it considers prior to making those investments.

The types of changes the member is proposing we pass today need to be discussed with our provincial and territorial partners, at the very least. We are talking about over a quarter of a trillion dollars. That is literally hundreds of billions of dollars.

I floated a question to the member regarding RRSPs. We are talking about hundreds of millions, to billions, of dollars. Canadians invest in RRSPs, which are tax subsidized. Would the same principles that the member is talking about here be universally applied to those? When I posed the question to the member, his response was yes. If the answer is yes, then we are talking about other financial institutions: the big banks and those others that invest in RRSPs, and other forms of government assistance toward retirement. It opens into a new area of human rights. That is a much larger picture.

The member made reference to corporate social responsibilities. We could look at ways in which we have, through private member's bills and government bills, tried to influence corporate behaviour. It does not only apply here in Canada, but around the world for Canadian companies no matter where they operate. That is why I said, toward the beginning, that what the member is attempting to achieve is very noble. There is a much bigger picture we need to look at.

My time has expired and I am thankful for the opportunity to share a few words because I realize how important this issue is. Citizens of our country want the government to act where it can.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, today I rise to address Bill C-231, which on the surface appears to be a noble attempt to direct our pension funds exclusively toward the common good, but the old adage is that the how is even more important than the what. The devil is in the details, and because the hon. member who proposes this bill is afraid of the devil he has avoided the details altogether in this bill.

The member proposes an amendment to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act that would create a new requirement, which states:

The investment policies, standards and procedures, taking into account environmental, social and governance factors, shall provide that no investment may be made or held in an entity if there are reasons to believe that the entity has performed acts or carried out work contrary to ethical business practices, including...

...the commission of human, labour or environmental rights violations...

What is meant by all of the terminology the member puts in but does not define? We do not know what is meant because the member does not tell us, nor does he provide us with an arbitrator anywhere in the Canadian system that would determine when any such business practices have been violated or when human labour or environmental rights have been in some way offended. He leaves it to our imagination to determine what he means by each of these terms.

With respect to ethical business practices, we know there are some members of the NDP who consider it unethical for businesses to run a profit at all. Excluding profitable businesses from the CPP's portfolio would guarantee impoverishment to Canadians who rely on the fund's returns in order to live out a dignified retirement.

Let us move on to additional criteria the member said would exclude a company from receiving CPP investments. These are environmental violations. The member has written that it would be a violation to invest in oil and gas companies. I am quoting him here when he laments, “the CPPIB is investing billions of your pension dollars into the oil and gas sector”, something he would presumably ban from happening if this bill were adopted. Our pension fund would be banned from investing in Canada's largest exporting industry: the oil and gas sector, which produces more jobs for indigenous Canadians than any other private sector industry. Our resource sector would be banned from receiving funds invested by our pension system at a time when Albertans are considering pulling out of the CPP altogether because of the fact they are demographically younger, and contribute more on a per capita basis, than the other eight provinces that are members of the fund. We are going to look Albertans in the eye and tell them they should stay in the CPP pension fund while that fund specifically bans its managers from investing in Alberta's biggest industry. What an insult to the men and women who have worked in that industry for so long and done so much good for our federation.

On the broader definition that the bill provides of “unethical business practices”, I reached out to the CPPIB and asked what kinds of companies in Canada would be banned from getting Canadian investment under this legislation. It said only the 10 biggest companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange, all 10 of them by valuation, would be banned from receiving investment from the CPPIB. These are companies such as Shopify, Enbridge and the Royal Bank. On a combined basis, these 10 companies, which employ literally millions of Canadians, would be banned from receiving investments from their very own pension fund.

Whether that was the member's intention, I do not know. In fact, I rather doubt it, but that is not important. Writing laws is like programming computers: The machine does what it is programmed to do. If the CPPIB is programmed to ban all of these entities from receiving investment, that is what the managers will be forced to do. In fact, if the principles in this bill were actually applied, I wonder whether the fund would even be able to buy bonds in the Canadian government. CPPIB said that it would only be allowed to buy bonds in the Canadian government if the bill passed. I do not think it would even be allowed to do that.

Let us think about it. The Liberal government cannot provide clean drinking water to first nations people, which violates human rights. Now, because of the incompetence of federal ministers who cannot keep their word and provide clean drinking water, the government itself might be banned from receiving bond investments from the CPPIB. The government violated its own environment promises. It has not planted a single tree. This could be perceived as an environmental violation. The government signed off on letting the City of Montreal pour millions of litres of raw sewage into our waters, which is another violation of environmental rights. Could we possibly buy bonds in the City of Montreal or the Government of Canada when such violations have occurred? Of course not.

Because of its poor drafting, this legislation, however well intentioned, cannot reasonably be implemented, even if it were desirable. However, it does give us an opportunity to discuss a new and growing risk that I have worried quietly about for a long time. The CPPIB was depoliticized back in the 1990s. It is a credit to the then Liberal government that it took what was a nearly bankrupt shell, which was highly politicized and whose funds were directed by politicians, and said that it was going to get the sticky fingers and incompetent hands of politicians out of the pensions of Canadians, and it was going to put it in the hands, effectively, of a group of private sector professionals to invest it and obtain a return.

Since that time, the fund has grown from insolvency to $456 billion: almost a half a trillion dollars. Now, I hesitated to say that in this place, because a lot of politicians just got really big eyes, thinking, “Oh my goodness, what could we do with that.” Oh, the schemes they could come up with to deploy a half a trillion dollars. My goodness, they are rubbing their hands together. If only viewers back home could see it. There are politicians rubbing their hands together, thinking about that very thought right now.

Let me give an example of how our government is already leveraging that well. This Prime Minister constantly says that we have the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7. True, it was an inheritance and had nothing to do with him, but the only reason it is true is because that $456 billion is deducted from our gross debt to get a much lower net debt and give the appearance that we have a low national debt.

Already, that money, which represents 20% of our GDP, is being leveraged in the minds of the government to justify its irresponsible spending. How long will it be, if the government keeps spending at this pace, before it starts to say, “Oh my goodness, we are out of money. We are broke, and now we need to start looking at that big pot of gold that Canadians had set aside.”

We on the Conservative side will fight tooth and nail to keep the hands of politicians off the pensions of Canadians. We see it already, with the former minister of the environment urging the CPPIB to invest in her pet environmental projects, similar to what happened provincially in Ontario when it almost bankrupted its electrical system doing the exact same thing.

We know many would like to defund our energy sector. We, on the Conservative side, will fight to keep the CPP depoliticized with the single purpose of giving an honest return to our hard-working Canadian employees and the retirees who depend on that fund.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I first want to commend the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford on his bill and his speech.

I will begin my speech by saying that the Bloc Québécois agrees with the spirit of this bill. No one can oppose efforts to prevent Canada's public nest egg from being invested in companies that behave unethically either here or abroad. We should not encourage companies that break the law either here or abroad. The managers of Canadian pension funds should be no exception.

This bill makes me want to question the leaders of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, or CPPIB. I would be interested in talking to them because I do not understand why the CPPIB is currently investing in corrupt companies.

This bill is worthwhile, but I would be surprised if it had much of an impact on the CPPIB's current investments. I will be talking not only about what passing this bill would mean, but also about some things that I would like to see added to it, should it be passed by the House.

First, I would like to talk about the $600 million-plus invested in shares in oil and gas companies. In Canada, transportation and oil and gas development account for over half, or 52%, of our emissions. Alberta pollutes more than Quebec and Ontario combined.

Our retirement funds need to get with the program and stop investing in sectors that make it harder for us to achieve the Paris Agreement targets. The CPPIB should take its cue from the people in charge of the Quebec pension plan. The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which is responsible for the Government and Public Employees Retirement Plan Fund, has a plan to reduce investment in polluting industries that is much more ambitious than the CPPIB's. In 2017, together with 11 partners from all over the world, the Caisse launched the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, whose members are working to transition their portfolios to net-zero emissions by 2050. The Caisse also has a plan to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% per dollar invested by 2025. I see potential for a good conversation about this with the CPPIB, one that might persuade it to see the Caisse's strategy as a very viable option.

I would also like to talk to them about their decision to invest $900 million in Calpine Corporation. As many people know, Quebec wants to become the battery of North America by exporting its hydroelectricity to the north-eastern United States.

It is easy to imagine the positive impact this would have on reducing GHG emissions, increasing Quebec's collective prosperity and meeting the Paris targets. Everybody would benefit. This would be the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road. However, Calpine produces electricity from gas. It has invested $600 million to oppose Hydro-Québec's plan to build a high tension power line to provide Americans with clean, abundant and cheaper electricity. It is rallying the public to call for a referendum to block the project. It is unbelievable. Canadian taxpayers are investing their money in fossil fuels in the United States and, in the process, also financing a protest movement against a Quebec green energy project.

I would also like to address another topic with the board, and that is the fight against tax havens. Currently the government is being complicit by entering into non-double taxation agreements with countries that are known tax havens. It is being complicit by tinkering with the rules, such as allowing Barbados to be used as a tax haven under an obscure rule, which goes against the treaty signed between Canada and that small Caribbean country. While its economy is not very big, Barbados is one of the places with the most direct foreign investment coming from Canada. It is outrageous that the government is allowing this to happen.

During the last Parliament, I moved a motion calling for this loophole to be closed, but every Liberal, except one, and every Conservative voted against it.

I will quote the spokesman for Collectif Échec aux paradis fiscaux, Claude Vaillancourt:

At the height of the Panama papers scandal, the Prime Minister publicly boasted that he would be keeping an eye on Canadians who might be tempted by tax avoidance, but now he is refusing to take real action to close one of the biggest doors to tax avoidance. It is simply unacceptable. He needs to walk the talk.

Since the days when Paul Martin served as finance minister, governments have been spineless, and we must therefore continue to hope that leaders with influence, such as the board, will take action to change things. They must commit to no longer investing in companies operating in tax havens and to withdraw from these businesses as soon as possible.

Just because the federal government has made tax evasion and avoidance legal it does not mean that profiting from it is ethical. I believe that we must have this discussion because, if we continue down this road, our middle-class citizens and SMEs will continue to bear the burden of taxes. However, I have the impression that this will be a less than agreeable discussion.

This is how the CPPIB responded when it was rocked by the Paradise papers, and I quote: “ We structure our foreign investments to maximize after-tax returns for our contributors and recipients.” This is from a Radio-Canada article. It did not even offer an apology by saying that it had been busted and would change its ways.

Since it is profitable to use questionable or even outright illegal schemes, they will continue to do so. If it is not possible to have a profitable pension fund that meets its actuarial expenses, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, as Shakespeare said, or, in this case, the state of Canada.

The article continues:

Pension fund managers claim that they comply with tax laws wherever they do business.

They point out that pension funds are not taxed in Canada. As is the case with RRSPs, taxes are paid by workers when they withdraw their benefits after retirement. The use of tax havens therefore does not have an impact on federal or provincial coffers.

Other countries have different tax rules. Pension funds structure their investments so as to legally limit the double taxation of their profits.

Basically, they use tax havens because they are easily accessible, good for their bottom line and, until the government fixes the problem, profitable. Some companies even specialize in these kinds of schemes and are sometimes very close to this government. One example is Morneau Sheppell—“Morneau”, as in Bill Morneau, the former finance minister who left in the wake of the WE Charity scandal.

To sum it all up, Canada signs agreements with countries where, for a few hundred thousand dollars, wealthy corporations can hire firms to avoid paying taxes. To increase their profit margins, the CPPIB and other pension funds take advantage of loopholes in the tax system to increase the funds' profits. Meanwhile, the government hunts down large and small tax evaders, but for the largest of the large, the door to tax avoidance has been left wide open.

Obviously, I sometimes get carried away when talking about tax havens, because this really irks me. I will now get back to the substance of the bill.

Another potential improvement would be the disclosure of investments with respect to the proposed paragraphs 35(2)(a), (b) and (c). I would also like to add investments in the immoral polluting economy to that list. This would enable all Canadians who contribute to a fund to know whether they are investing in these types of companies. It would also enable the CPPIB to identify successes and improvements.

As I already pointed out earlier, one cannot really disagree with this bill, but the bill is vague, which means that it lacks teeth. For example, the absence of a clause requiring that funds stop investing in fossil fuels and in tax havens shows that there is work to be done. This bill is a step in the right direction, but I think that it could be improved, and I am prepared to work with my colleagues here in the House to do so. This is truly a step in the right direction, and I think we are in a position to make some improvements without significantly altering the spirit of the bill.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-231. I am so glad to see the bill has been brought forward, as it addresses the very important issue of how money in federally sponsored plans will be invested in the interest of all Canadians. I would like to acknowledge my colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and his staff for all their hard work in bringing the bill to the House.

The bill takes the investment approach of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which is responsible for managing the funds that will be used to pay CPP beneficiaries well into the future. The management of this fund is critically important to the future well-being of Canadian workers and retirees, but the no-holds-barred investment mandate of the fund managers requires some real common-sense tweaking.

I first became aware of the potential problems with the board's management mandate in 2016 when a colleague of mine, a member from Victoria, sent me an email detailing severe human rights abuses at a mining site in Eritrea that was owned by a Canadian mining company. The email further detailed that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board was a significant shareholder in the Canadian mining company and was at least indirectly tied to the abuse occurring at the Bisha mining site in Eritrea. My staff and I were shocked as we unearthed more information about the abuses. Military personnel were being employed to basically keep the mine workers in a state of slave labour, and this included arbitrary arrests and detentions and even killing workers who were not producing desired results. I seriously wondered how this was possible. How could the fund that Canadians pay into to secure their retirement be used to support such obvious and tragic human rights abuses?

As my staff and I continued to study the question, the answer started to become clear. The mandate of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, with a huge fund of over $400 billion, 1,500 full-time employees and offices on three continents, was to make as much money as it possibly could through its investments, with very little holding it back. This is its mandate, as defined by the CPPIB Act:

(c) to invest its assets with a view to achieving a maximum rate of return, without undue risk of loss, having regard to the factors that may affect the funding of the Canada Pension Plan and the ability of the Canada Pension Plan to meet its financial obligations on any given business day.

As members can see, the only limitation, to put it in plain English, is this: Do not lose any money.

We thought there must be some certainty, with all these restrictions, on how this board could invest the monies of hard-working Canadians. We continued through the act and researched the board's internal documentation, but we could find no restrictions at all. What we did find were guidelines, committees and policies, none of which were binding and none of which seemed to have much of an effect on the enormous number of investment decisions made by the board. More and more, the board's investment oversight seemed to be a function of its PR department rather than anything related to the operational and investment departments.

Shortly after receiving the email from my colleague, I attended a meeting at the parliamentary finance committee at which the representatives of the CPPIB, including its president, were scheduled to appear. I decided to take some of my own concerns and questions directly to them. I asked them if they were aware the mining company they had invested in to the tune of one and a half million shares was engaged in supplying labour to the Bisha mine under conditions that have been described as slave labour. I also asked if they could describe the measures and procedures they have in place to ensure that they avoid investing in companies linked to human rights violations.

I think the CPPIB representatives were caught off guard and unprepared for such a line of questioning. The answers I received were what we would expect from a company president or a company lawyer when they really do not have a good answer: empty and hollow allusions to guidelines and good intentions. However, I did get a promise that someone from the board would follow up and give me a more detailed answer in the days following the committee meeting.

What I ended up getting was a letter from their chief PR person. In this letter, he spouted some vague commitment to being good corporate citizens, but also said this:

Nevsun Resources represents one of approximately 2,500 public companies we are invested in around the world. As at March 31, 2016, CPP Investment Board held 1,519,000 shares in Nevsun Resources totalling a market value of $6 million. We sold much of our position since our last reporting period and our current exposure to the company totals less than $1 million....

I was a bit dumbfounded by this response. The letter seemed to be saying that, because it invested in so many companies worldwide, it could not possibly know what was going on with them. This hardly seems to be a reasonable approach. I was even more shocked by the dubious logic. It is like saying now we are only 20% responsible for investing in a company that is killing its workers, which does not add up and it defies any kind of common sense. I do not think it is something most Canadians would believe.

This is a very important bill. Right now, the CPPIB, which again is responsible for the fund that hard-working Canadians contribute to every year, is investing in companies involved in weapons manufacturing, private for-profit American prisons that detain immigrants and children, companies that are guilty of serious human rights violations and companies responsible for contributing to the global climate crisis.

Is it unreasonable to expect that an organization dedicated to investing public funds should do so with some types of ethical restrictions? I do not think so, and I think many Canadians would agree. What we want and what this bill seeks to do is to have the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board take a proactive approach of due diligence in its investment policies, leveraging our more than $400-billion pension fund by investing only in companies with ethical business practices and divesting from those that create weapons of war, contribute to climate change and other environmental problems or oppress people around the world through unethical labour practices and human rights violations.

It makes no sense to me, and I think to most Canadians, that the government should not be able to do something about questionable investments made by funds that are governed by acts of Parliament. The situation with Revera long-term care homes is a good case in point. Revera is a for-profit company, wholly owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, an entity created by the federal government to manage pension funds from public sector workers. Revera has been roundly criticized for the mismanagement of its homes, especially during the pandemic.

During the first wave of COVID-19, its homes had the most number of deaths in the industry, and during the second wave, it is again seeing significant outbreaks in its homes across the country. CBC has just announced that Revera had another 100 outbreaks of COVID-19 this morning, including 50 of its workers. There is a course of complaints from its workers about understaffing, a lack of PPE, and overtime and pandemic bonuses are not even being paid.

The problems at Revera are the same that we have found throughout the for-profit, long-term care sector right across the country. It is a model that does not work for guaranteeing the safety of our loved ones. As with some other problematic investments of the CPPIB, it is a problem that the government can do something about.

As Canadians who pay into the fund, which is managed by the CPPIB, we are, by extension, all shareholders in the companies that benefit from the fund's investments. A lot of influence can be had by divesting from companies that conduct themselves in a way that we view as objectionable or unethical. By amending section 35 of the CPPIB Act, which is what this bill seeks to achieve, we can require the board to take a proactive approach to ethical investment, and I am sure that is what Canadians want.

Today, I have heard that a lot of people here believe in the bill in principle, and I encourage us all to work together. Let us move the bill forward and get it passed. I encourage all my colleagues to support the bill today.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to this debate. Ensuring that Canadians have the ability to have a secure and dignified retirement is very important to the government.

The bill before us, Bill C-231, proposes to amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act to specify that the investment policies, standards and procedures established by the board of directors forbids investments in any entity that engages in certain practices.

Federal and provincial governments created the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, or CPPIB, in 1997 as an arm's-length organization to prudently invest the surplus funds of the Canada pension plan to ensure its long-term sustainability. CPPIB is now recognized internationally as a leading example of sound pension plan management and governance.

More importantly, its governance structure was designed to allow it to operate free of political interference, while still being accountable to the federal and provincial governments that are the stewards of the CPP. That is to say that CPPIB works on behalf of Canadians and not for the government. This independent governance is widely recognized as a central feature of its success and effectiveness in achieving its mandate to maximize return without undue risk of loss and to manage amounts transferred to it in the best interests of contributors and beneficiaries.

CPPIB's investments have been consistently drawing above average rates of return—

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Unfortunately, I must interrupt. The hon. member will have eight minutes the next time this matter is before the House. The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Today being the last allotted day for the supply period ending December 10, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bills. In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bills be distributed now?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

moved:

That, given that, (i) Canadian businesses are in distress and need help to survive as a rapid testing and vaccination plan rolls out, (ii) according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 46% are worried about the survival of their business, (iii) the federal government must support employment by removing barriers to job creation, such as taxes and regulation,the House call on the government to: (a) provide complete details on the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program by December 16, 2020, including criteria, when businesses can apply, which sectors are eligible, when repayment will be required, and how much forgiveness will be offered; (b) fix the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility by reducing restrictions and amending the interest rate schedule; (c) postpone the increase of the Canada Pension Plan payroll taxes planned for January 1, 2021; and (d) postpone the increase of the carbon tax and the alcohol escalator tax planned for 2021.

Madam Speaker, I rise today to propose that we move from the credit card economy to the paycheque economy.

Let me tell colleagues what I mean by that by illustrating the difference in approach between the government and us here in the Conservative opposition.

Last week, the finance minister made an interesting observation. She told BNN, “I want to thank you, first of all, for really zeroing in on the preloaded stimulus idea”. That idea is the following: “[Households] do have quite a lot of money that they have saved because there has not been much to do in the pandemic. Certainly, it would be great if that money could go towards driving our recovery.... If people have ideas on how the government can act to help unlock that preloaded stimulus, I am very, very interested.”

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, those who have money in their bank accounts should lock it away. They might even want to put it under their beds before the government finds out that it is there. The government thinks people are saving too much and wants to empty their bank accounts as the best way, it thinks, to get the economy started.

Now some will say that the minister did not meant what she said, and that what she was trying to say was that we need more consumer spending in this miserable economy. Certainly that debt-induced spending would create activity, but never confuse activity with achievement.

The CIBC has reported that a very large share of the government's COVID emergency spending has been leaking right out of Canada altogether, because the debt-funded money that consumers are spending is actually going to imported goods. All of those Amazon and Alibaba deliveries are of products imported from abroad, and when those products come in, our money goes out. That is how our economy has been functioning for the last five years. Five years in a row, there have been five trade deficits.

Here is what a trade deficit is: We buy more than we sell and we borrow to make up the difference. We buy from the world and borrow from the world. They get the money, investment and jobs. We are left with the debt. Day by day, we become more and more reliant on the People's Republic of China and other economic powerhouses that send us their goods so that we can send them our money.

More and more, our population becomes enslaved to debt. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is now 384% when households, businesses and governments are combined. This is a record-smashing level of debt. It is the second-highest in the G7, behind only Japan. It means that for every one percentage point increase in the effective interest rate, we will have a 3.84% increase in the economic cost of our debt on the world stage.

The House will hear more of this from the member for Mégantic—L'Érable, with whom I am splitting my time. He too is concerned about the fact that money is the best servant but the worst master. If someone invests their money, it will serve them. If they borrow money, it will be a master over them. That is what is happening with Canadians today. This high level of debt to fund short-term consumption has only made us weaker and more vulnerable to the rest of the world. We do not need to come back out of this pandemic lockdown with even more debt. In fact, we need precisely the opposite.

We need Canadians to save, earn and invest. First we save to prepare for the future and a secure retirement, and then we invest. Much of those savings are converted either by being lent out by banks to small businesses or converted into TFSAs and RRSPs, into equities and other investments that build factories, dig mines and develop intellectual property and patented technologies.

Those assets then produce ongoing income to power our economy into the future. Instead of debt-fuelled consumption, we have investment-fuelled production. We are seeing none of that right now.

The Bank of Canada, which is pumping $400 billion of printed money into our economy, inflating assets for rich people, while devaluing the wages of the working class, has reported that over the next three years investment will only grow by 0.8%. In fact, it will not be until at least 2023 that we get investment levels back to where they were in 2019. Meanwhile, consumption will grow by 4.7%, six times faster than investment. Of the growth over the next two years, 80% will come in the form of debt-fuelled government spending and consumer spending. Again, that means more debt and more vulnerability.

How do we make the switch from this credit card economy to a paycheque economy? We do it by unleashing the mighty force of our 20 million Canadian workers. Let us end the war on work, by which I refer to a tax and benefit system that claws back as much as 80¢ on the dollar of some people when they go out into the work force and earn another hundred cents.

For example, if single parents get a job and earn an extra dollar from $55,000 to $55,001, they lose as much as 80¢ of that dollar to clawbacks and taxes. These penalties exist right across the income level and they ding the lowest-income people the hardest. Some people with disabilities lose more than a dollar of income for every dollar increase they have in wages. That is the war on work, punishing people for making an effort.

Let us reform our tax and benefit system so it always pays more to work. Let us reverse the insane system we have right now, which means that it takes 168 days longer to get a building permit for construction in Canada than in the United States. We are 34th out of 35 OECD nations in the delay to build a factory, or a plant or a mine, or a shopping centre. We should be number one. This should be the fastest and simplest place to get a building permit, to build a structure and to fill it with well-paid workers.

Let us knock down interprovincial trade barriers, so Canadians can actually buy and sell from one another instead of just importing cheap products from abroad. Let us speed up the recognition of the incredible skills and qualifications of immigrants who come here with knowledge in the trades and professions, so they can earn the full salary for which they are qualified rather than be forced into a low-wage job because regulators ban them from getting a permit to work. Let us open up our free enterprise system by removing red tape and shortening the amount of time our small businesses must spend filling out tax forms, so that resource can be dedicated to serving customers and hiring workers. Let us repeal Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, so we can unleash the force of our energy and resource sectors to bring tens of billions of dollars back into the country.

We have a $14-billion LNG project awaiting approval in Quebec. We have a $20-billion oil sands project sitting around waiting in northern Alberta. We have pipelines, we have rail lines and we have transmission lines that are ready to go as soon as the government gets out of the way. Therefore, let us get the government out of the way, open up our economy and transform ourselves from a credit card economy into a paycheque economy, so our 20 million brilliant and strong Canadian workers can stand on their feet and build our economy.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have a chance to ask the hon. member a question.

He speaks about a paycheque economy and not a credit card economy. In a previous speech he talked about the war on work. I am really curious to see how the member opposite is going to contort himself and twist himself into knots when I ask a question about when he was a member of government.

His government had the lowest unemployment rates since the Great Depression and what did it have to show for it? It had a $150 billion in debt. What did that government not have? A global pandemic that shut down economies everywhere.

What exactly does the member propose when the Conservatives added that much debt and had such a terrible unemployment record?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I think the member accidentally told the truth when she said we had the lowest unemployment since the Great Depression. She was right that we did not have the lowest unemployment in the G7. However, we had the best record going through the great global recession, which is interesting. Now we have the second highest unemployment in the G7. Only socialist Italy is higher, and the Italian socialist policies are the ones the government is working hardest to emulate. Even France, which used to be socialist, is reversing those policies and has now lowered its unemployment rate below Canada's.

In Canada, we see a government shutting down our economy, trying to nationalize economic activity and getting exactly the same kinds of predictable results that those policies always produce.

The member should look at the magnificent success and world-famous actions of the previous Conservative government to get us through that recession. The current government could learn a lot from that.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

December 7th, 2020 / 12:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to ask my colleague from Carleton a question. We have not had a chance to debate with each other for a long time.

Will the member not agree that there are some people who are shamelessly profiting from the pandemic? The president and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, could give each of his 876,000 employees a $105,000 bonus and still be just as rich as he was before the pandemic started.

How much tax does Amazon pay in Canada? None.

At a time when we need funding for our social programs, how can someone earn billions of dollars and yet not have to contribute like every other company does, including SMEs in Quebec and Canada? What does my colleague think about that?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

This situation is outrageous, and it is one of the reasons we need to stop sending our money out of the country. That is the credit card economy. Canadians go into debt buying goods and services from other countries. We end up in debt while others become wealthy.

I would also like to point out that the central banks are printing money, which causes inflation and makes the rich richer. One of the reasons that billionaires are making the most money right now is that the central banks are printing money and handing it to the financial markets. This lowers the value of working-class wages while increasing the wealth of big billionaires like Jeff Bezos.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, what does the member think about the announcement in the fall economic statement that we would be pursuing the imposition of corporate income tax on these foreign company web giants, like the Amazons, about which he talked, ahead of what the OECD is planning. We think it is more important to get this done as soon as possible rather than wait on the OECD?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is all fine, except the government's policies are enriching the Amazons and Alibabas of the world. The policy is to get Canadians to add more household debt in order to buy more cheap imported goods from Amazon and Alibaba, which enriches those foreign billionaires at the expense of Canadian households. The government's policy is to print money to pay the bills, which effectively inflates the asset values of the super rich at the expense of the wages of working-class people. We would do exactly the opposite of that.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion that is important to all Canadian businesses.

I commend my colleague, the member for Carleton, who is our shadow minister of finance. He gave a great explanation of how we should be putting jobs ahead of credit cards. I think this is what brings us together today.

The government is having a hard time producing a vaccination plan and a recovery plan, which still do not exist. We got some bits and pieces this morning when we learned that Canada could be getting some vaccines by the end of December. That does not give our local businesses the assurance they need to resume operations and get through this period with the hope that something better is coming.

The motion before us today is very clear. It states: “given that, (i) Canadian businesses are in distress and need help to survive as a rapid testing and vaccination plan rolls out, (ii) according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 46% are worried about the survival of their business, (iii) the federal government must support employment by removing barriers to job creation, such as taxes and regulation”.

Later on in my speech, I will come back to this and talk more about the many problems we have had during the pandemic dealing with all these regulations and all the delays that are causing businesses across the country to suffer and drown in red tape and debt. Unfortunately, as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business pointed out, 46%, or nearly half, of businesses are worried they will not survive the pandemic. That is why my colleague's motion rightly calls on the government to be upfront, lay its cards on the table and help businesses cope with the pandemic.

The motion urges the House to “call on the government to: (a) provide complete details on the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program by December 16, 2020, including criteria, when businesses can apply, which sectors are eligible, when repayment will be required,” which is very important to planning a business's survival, “and how much forgiveness will be offered; (b) fix the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility by reducing restrictions and amending the interest rate schedule; (c) postpone the increase of the Canada Pension Plan payroll taxes planned for January 1, 2021; and (d) postpone the increase of the carbon tax and the alcohol escalator tax planned for 2021”.

With every business struggling, now is not the time to be taking even more from them by increasing these two taxes.

This motion calls on the government to be straight with businesses and let them know where they stand. Unfortunately, from day one, the government has been holding press conferences in front of the house and from behind a table, and that is how we get our information day by day.

Sadly, by proroguing Parliament, the government decided to put off measures that were absolutely necessary for helping businesses cope with the pandemic. It created even more uncertainty for them and made things even more difficult for those who want to get back up and running and who we hope will still be there thanks to the measures that will have been put in place.

The problem is that the government announces measures, but does not provide the details until too much later. I will talk about some of the situations encountered by companies back home that are having difficulty with all these programs.

First, not a day goes by that a business does not call us to say it is having problems because of delays in processing immigration applications for foreign workers, who are absolutely essential right now. This delays certain investment plans and the resumption of certain activities, causing unnecessary problems in the system.

For instance, a cheese factory in Mégantic—L'Érable reports that processing times for foreign worker permits have increased dramatically. An application for a cheese maker was submitted last April, and they are still waiting for a decision. That is unacceptable. How can we expect that company, which is essential because it is in the food sector, to do what it needs to do if it cannot meet its labour needs?

I have been working on a file that boggles the mind. Some companies, such as Princecraft and Fournier Industries, to name just a couple, have had problems with the application of the work-sharing program. At the beginning of the crisis, their employees were able to use the CERB, and rightly so, because the companies had to shut down temporarily. However, when they decided to reopen, those employees, who had been taking part in the work-sharing program, did not receive their wages for months. Why? It was because the systems were not coordinated.

The administrative delays were outright unacceptable. The companies had to wait for months and advance considerable sums to some of their employees to keep them in work. Some lost their employees because they just could not afford to pay them. Unfortunately, some employees were not paid from June to October, in the midst of the pandemic, even though these companies had decided to answer the government's call. They recalled their employees, but the government was nowhere to be found. It was the government that failed to pay the employees what they were owed. That is unacceptable.

I would like to talk about the Castech Plessitech Group, another business in my riding that found itself in a very difficult situation. Employment and Social Development Canada, which conducts labour market impact assessments, or LMIAs, claimed that the pandemic should make it easier for businesses to recruit employees. In the midst of a pandemic where many people are unemployed, businesses are trying to hire staff and are making job offers, but unfortunately, they get no response, because the assistance measures encourage people to stay home.

The businesses have therefore turned to foreign workers, as they used to do, but they are running into administrative delays. Sometimes the department is even refusing to give these businesses permits because it says that there are people available here in Canada, but that is not the case on the ground. It is not happening. No workers are available because people are receiving government assistance or are simply not available to work. That means that many businesses have had to turn down contracts.

It is time to do the right thing and give Canadian businesses the details of these programs by December 16 so that they know exactly what to expect and can get their operations back up and running properly. They also need to know when they will have to pay back the money that the government lent them.

Most importantly, I am asking the government to do everything in its power to ensure that rapid tests and vaccines are distributed across the country as quickly as possible. We still have not seen a real plan to help these companies get back up and running. As long as we do not have a real plan for rapid testing and vaccinations, then there can be no real economic recovery plan.

Above all, during this pandemic, I am calling on the government to reduce red tape for small businesses. We need to make sure that people can get back to work as quickly as possible. By adopting this motion, the House will send the government a clear message.

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I commend the hon. member on his very realistic-looking background. It felt like he was seated in front of me in the House.

I would like to know what the hon. member thinks of the comments by the Conservative finance critic, who claims that the Bank of Canada is printing money, which leads to inflation later. That is absolutely not the case. There is a distinction to be made.

The Bank of Canada is pursuing a quantitative easing policy. That is not the same thing. Bank reserves are being increased so that they can borrow money if they want to invest in projects that will increase the supply. We know that when the supply of products and services is increased, this plays against inflation because obviously the supply is greater.

Can the hon. member comment on the fact that his colleague does not seem to understand this distinction, despite being the finance critic?

Opposition Motion—Measures to Support Canadian BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I will never question anything my colleague, the member for Carleton, says. I think his interpretation of the government's plan is very astute. He is right to criticize the government's willingness and propensity to print money right in the middle of a pandemic, not because of the impact here and now, but because of the impact it will have for years and generations to come.

The government says it is borrowing over longer and longer terms to get the lowest possible interest rates. We know that is an illusion, a pipe dream. When one has very little and the interest rate rises just a little, that makes a big difference, but ultimately the impact is extremely minimal for Canadians.