House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was offence.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Welland (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 14% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canada Elections Act June 13th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member referenced the current Prime Minister's leadership campaign expenses. Although he is aware that it was not legally required at the time, and although he has been asked many times to disclose those expenses and donations, he has declined to do so.

With suggestions of rumours and innuendo he might wish to clear that up and also show leadership in the spirit of this current legislation. Could the member offer any reason why he would not want to comply with the recommendation that he provide public transparency and show his expenses and donations?

Conservative Party of Canada June 13th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, it has been a bad couple of weeks for the Conservative Party of Canada. Conservative donors must be wondering if they are getting value for the money they are funnelling into the party's Ottawa office.

Last week was highlighted by a disastrous attempt to distract from its current scandal by drawing Canadians' attention back to the Cadman affair.

Hundreds of thousands of Conservative dollars are being spent on big city lawyers' fees for affidavits which point out that Conservative operatives offered Chuck Cadman a bribe for his vote.

Thousands of dollars are being spent on audio experts, only to have them confirm that those are the Prime Minister's unaltered words on that tape where he talks about “financial considerations” for Chuck.

This week brought back the Conservatives' ad campaign, in which the Prime Minister is represented by a talking grease spot. Unfortunately, the oily campaign will never see the light of day because even the big gasoline companies do not want to be associated with the Conservative government.

Yes, Conservative donors are receiving excellent returns on their investment. Or are they?

Canada Elections Act June 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I think every member in the House supports the idea of openness and transparency in election financing and a restriction on wealthy individuals or corporations that try to influence the political process by giving large sums of money to candidates.

We have agreed to extend the repayment period to three years, but I am still at a loss to understand why the government would oppose annual contributions to a maximum of $1,100 for a candidate until his loan was paid.

Canada Elections Act June 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments of the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and his input to the debate.

I would ask for his insight on a situation whereby the Liberal Party proposed an amendment and the Bloc Québécois supported that amendment, one that would have allowed annual contributions to a leadership campaign debt until that debt had been repaid in full, and the government submitted a motion to revoke that amendment.

Could he provide the House with any compelling reason why the Liberal amendment should not proceed as worded?

May 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where the member is coming from in that diatribe we just witnessed. The question I had was, why is the government undertaking deliberate, calculated and arrogant anti-Ontario policy? His comments have nothing to do with my question.

I suggest that the hon. member check the polls as to which party Ontario voters consistently support. The answer is the Liberal Party of Canada. The member should check the polls. We will see that result in the next election.

Ontarians demand effective leadership. They demand leaders who can represent them and all Canadians.

The actions of those Ontario ministers are insulting to every Canadian. It is shameful to hear the government launch attacks on Canada's most populous province.

All Canadians demand shorter hospital wait times, and the Conservative government has failed to fulfill this promise. All Canadians demand a strong and efficient economy, and the Conservative government insults the industrial centre of the country. All Canadians demand fair democratic representation, and instead, the Conservative government insults a premier who is requesting just this.

When will the government stand up for Ontario and for Canada as it has repeatedly promised? When will the government show real leadership--

May 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, this evening's adjournment proceedings arise from a question I asked the government on March 14 of this year concerning the government's arrogant treatment of Ontario and Ontarians. The Conservative government has made too many missteps in its relationship with Ontario in complete contrast to the Minister of Finance's quip in the 2007 budget that the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over.

The Conservative government introduced Bill C-22, a bill to address the number of elected representatives assigned to each province to reflect the population growth. The democratic goal of the Canadian electoral system, as set out in the Canada Elections Act, is embodied by the principle of one elector, one vote. Bill C-22 allocates only 10 new seats to Ontario when a formula which properly distributes seats according to population growth would give Ontario at least 20 additional seats in the House of Commons.

Conservative members of Parliament from Ontario have sat quietly while the government has acted against the interests of the people they represent. A Liberal government would ensure any legislation would uphold the principles of democracy and guarantee that Ontario was allocated its rightful share of seats in the House of Commons.

Premier Dalton McGuinty defended Ontario and objected to Bill C-22 and its distortion of democratic principles. In a childish response, the Conservative House leader, an Ontario MP, attacked him, calling Premier McGuinty the “small man of Confederation”. When all else fails, the Conservative strategy is to resort to petty name calling and adolescent insults. The government House leader should apologize to both the premier of Ontario and to all Ontario residents. Will he?

Recently, the Minister of Finance told a business group in Halifax that for new investment, Ontario is the last place that one would go. Not only has he meddled in the affairs of provincial politics, he has also significantly damaged investor confidence in the industrial heartland of Canada at a time when the province is under economic stress. As a result, economists are speculating that Ontario could become a have not province within two years.

The truth is that Ontario is a safe, secure place to invest and is home to tens of thousands of jobs for Canadians. Further I ask, what right does the minister have to criticize the record of the government of Ontario when, as Ontario finance minister, he left that province with a $5.6 billion deficit?

A Liberal government would respond positively by working cooperatively with provinces and supporting a balanced approach that includes competitive taxes, investment in people and innovation to strengthen the manufacturing sector, including creating a $1 billion advanced manufacturing prosperity fund to support major investments in innovation and jobs, and improving the science, research and experimental development tax credit to support research and development in the manufacturing sector.

Further, Ontario municipalities are crumbling under deteriorating infrastructure. In response, the federal finance minister commented that his government was not in the pothole business, calling municipalities whiners for bringing attention to the pressing needs hurting their communities and residents.

In 2005 the Liberal government committed to the gas transfer tax, transferring $5 billion over five years to Canadian municipalities for infrastructure investment. In February 2008, the Liberal leader led the way, committing to making this transfer permanent as well as allocating any unanticipated surplus that exceeds a $3 billion contingency fund toward the infrastructure deficit facing Canada.

Finally, we have the federal Minister of Health, again an MP from Ontario, who in 2006 promoted guarantees on hospital wait times. Two years later, there are no guarantees. This is another Conservative broken promise and another example of the government's lack of commitment to effective public health care in Ontario and throughout Canada.

Why has the government undertaken a deliberate, calculated and arrogant anti-Ontario policy?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act May 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, there was a suggestion by the Bloc that Canada has neglected its marine industry for years. Today our shipbuilding sector has fallen so far behind that it will be necessary to work in double quick time to make it up to date, productive and financially healthy when the market opens up to complete competition.

The Bloc was concerned that the government must immediately develop an aggressive marine sector policy to allow our industry to adjust. This policy must facilitate the industry's access to capital, stimulate investment, give preference to local suppliers in government procurements and encourage ship owners to buy vessels here. The policy must ensure that our shipyards can count on a prosperous marine transport sector, both by stimulating coastal shipping and by putting some order into international marine transport.

I would like to make reference to the Canadian Shipowners Association, which unfortunately did not appear before committee but made some submissions subsequently. It is interesting from my perspective because I come from the Great Lakes area and the inland shipping domestic fleet is very important.

The core of the CSA fleet, however, the bulkers and self-unloaders are averaging 35 to 40 years old and must be replaced. A 50 year old vessel, even in fresh water, is at its maximum life expectancy. Typically, these vessels are 730 to 750 feet in length and carry 22,000 to 25,000 tonnes of cargo with a crew of approximately 20 to 22. The problem is that the replacement cost of these vessels is roughly in the $40 million to $50 million range.

Historically, many of these vessels were built in Canadian shipyards that existed in the 1960s and 1970s, but today it is suggested that the Canadian yards are not able to build these vessels required to upgrade the CSA fleet. It is significant to note that the last Canadian-built bulker was completed in 1985. These companies are faced with the challenge of purchasing new vessels offshore either in Europe or Asia.

When these new vessels are imported into Canada for use in the coasting trading, within domestic waters, they are subject to a 25% duty as we have referenced resulting in a duty of $10 million or more per vessel. This is not only a tax on the Canadian ship owners but also the end users of marine transportation. These costs are obviously passed on. Canadian industries and consumers will bear the burden.

In a highly competitive commercial environment, where a few additional cents per tonne are very significant, the 25% duty creates a competitive disadvantage for those companies. As a consequence, they would like to see the 25% duty reduced as soon as possible. I would certainly like to reference that because of their inability to appear before committee at the time.

Perhaps I could conclude with a brief summary. CEFTA is a basic free trade agreement covering trade in goods. It includes no significant provisions on matters such as services, investment and intellectual property, but does leave the door open for these issues to be revisited. In terms of market access, the benefits of this agreement to Canada will largely be in the agriculture and agri-foods sectors. Some industrial sectors will benefit as well, although in most cases tariffs on non-agricultural products are not significant.

Shipbuilding was the most contentious issue of the trade negotiations and it would appear from the debate here this evening that it continues to be. It appears that Canada was able to successfully obtain generous phase-out terms giving the Canadian industry considerable time to adjust to increased competition from EFTA shipbuilders. However, concerns were raised about the long term viability of the Canadian shipbuilding sector in the absence of additional government support.

Therefore, the Canadian government must without delay implement an aggressive marine policy to support the industry while ensuring that any such strategy is in conformity with Canada's commitment at the WTO. That is subsidization specifically.

This agreement promises modest gains in trade and could pave the way for an expanded agreement that includes subjects like services and investment. Moreover, the point of several witnesses is that the very presence of a free trade agreement could create interest within the business community to explore economic opportunities in Canada and the EFTA countries.

In addition to reducing the tariffs, CEFTA would also act as a catalyst for increased trade investment and economic cooperation between Canada and the EFTA countries.

We are certainly in support of the agreement, but we want to make sure that the agreement reflects what we heard. That is why we would like to send it back to the international trade committee for further consideration.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act May 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-55.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade. The free trade agreement between Canada and the states of the European Free Trade Association, which are Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, was considered by our committee and I would like to make some comments on our findings.

First of all, I think we should look at the trade statistics between our countries which suggest that an agreement with the EFTA countries is of key importance to Canada.

We should note that the EFTA countries are the world's 14th largest merchandise traders and Canada's fifth largest merchandise export destination. They are key players. Two-way Canada-EFTA non-agricultural merchandise trade amounts to $5.6 billion. Canadian exports to EFTA totalled $5.1 billion in 2007 and include nickel, copper, pharmaceuticals, machinery, precious stones and metals, medical devices, aluminum, aerospace products, pulp and paper, organic chemicals, autos and parts, art and antiques. It covers a wide range of exports affecting many different areas of our country and affecting many different sectors of our economy.

Canadian imports from EFTA totalled $7.4 billion in 2007 and include mineral fuels, pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, machinery, medical and optical instruments, and clocks and watches.

Canadian foreign direct investment in EFTA was $8.4 billion in 2006. EFTA foreign direct investment in Canada amounted to $15.6 billion in 2006.

This is certainly an agreement to be reckoned with.

I would like to go back to the considerations of our committee in our study of the agreement. I will give some of the history on this agreement.

In January 2008 Canada signed a free trade agreement with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The group is collectively called EFTA, the European Free Trade Association.

The Canada-EFTA agreement is the first agreement to be tabled in the House of Commons under the federal government's new policy of allowing members of Parliament the opportunity to review and debate international treaties by tabling those treaties in the House of Commons for 21 sitting days.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade took this opportunity to conduct its hearings on Canada-EFTA in order to contribute to these discussions.

It has been actually 10 years since a Canada-EFTA trade agreement was first proposed with formal negotiations beginning in 1998. Unfortunately they hit an impasse in 2000 on the issue of treatment of ships and industrial marine products. These issues are still of concern to some in this country.

Concerns were expressed then over the possibility that free trade with EFTA would require Canada to remove its 25% tariff on ships and expose the Canadian industry, which was already struggling with excess capacity to increase competition from subsidized Norwegian producers.

It should be noted, however, that in the time since those concerns were expressed, Norway reported that it has stopped subsidizing its shipbuilders. In fact, His Excellency Markús Örn Antonsson, who is the ambassador of Iceland to Canada, noted that several attempts were made to break this impasse but negotiations did not resume until 2006.

In June 2007 the two sides announced that negotiations were completed. In January 2008 the agreement was formally signed in Davos, Switzerland.

The Canada-EFTA free trade agreement is rather modest in scope. It is a first generation free trade agreement focusing on tariff elimination and trade in goods. Unlike NAFTA, for example, CEFTA does not include any substantial new commitments to investment services or intellectual property. These issues, as well as most safeguards, anti-dumping and countervailing duties will continue to be addressed by the World Trade Organization. However, as the committee heard, there are provisions within the agreement to allow for these issues to be revisited after three years, should the two sides wish to do so. As a consequence, it is not as controversial as some of the other free trade agreements we have dealt with.

The CEFTA is comprised of four linked agreements: a main trade agreement and three bilateral agreements on agriculture between Canada and Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, respectively. Liechtenstein is covered in the Canada-Switzerland agreement. Under the terms of the main agreement, tariffs on all non-agriculture products will be eliminated immediately upon entry into force of the agreement. The only exception is Canadian ship tariffs. Tariff reductions in agriculture are country-specific, as will be discussed later.

With respect to ships, boats and floating structures, the committee heard that the Canada European free trade agreement provides the Canadian shipbuilding industry with one-way protection by which Canadian shipbuilders gain immediate and full access to the EFTA market, while certain protections are maintained in Canada. It is not an unusual type of provision.

For Canada's most sensitive shipbuilding products, there will be a 15 year phase-out of Canada's existing 25% tariff. For less sensitive products, the total phase-out period is 10 years. In all cases, however, there will be no reduction in the import tariff for the first three years of the agreement.

The sole exception is for post-Panamax sized cargo ships, so named because they are too large to navigate the Panama Canal. According to officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, no Canadian shipyard claims to be able to lay down a hull of this size. The Canadian tariff on ships of this size will fall to zero immediately upon entry into force of the agreement, which makes common sense.

Moreover, the CEFTA also includes a safeguard mechanism which offers additional protection to the Canadian shipbuilding industry. If imports from EFTA are found to be causing injury to Canadian shipbuilders within the 10 to 15 year phase-out period, then the tariff rate can revert to the pre-free trade rate of 25% for up to three years. The committee also heard that the CEFTA does not oblige Canada to modify its buy Canada procurement policy for ships.

Addressing the issue of agriculture and agri-food products, which is another area of concern, certainly the content of the three bilateral agreements on trade and agriculture differ from one another, reflecting the unique sensitivities and priorities of Canada and the individual EFTA countries. Under all three agreements, most agriculture and agri-food products will be traded tariff-free. However, each country gained and/or limited concessions on certain key agricultural and agri-food industries.

For example, the committee heard that Canada did not make any over-quota tariff concessions on supply-managed agricultural products, but did grant to Switzerland tariff-free in-quota access to the Canadian cheese market. Canada also gained improved, but not tariff-free, market access to certain sensitive sectors in EFTA countries. These include frozen french fries in Iceland, frozen blueberries and durum wheat in Norway, and durum wheat and horse meat in Switzerland.

The committee heard that the expected economic gains from tariff reductions under this trade agreement will be modest. Tariffs on many non-agriculture products are at perhaps what I would say are nuisance levels, 2% or less, and many other products are already traded tariff-free.

Nevertheless, several witnesses anticipated an increase in trade to result from this agreement. Certain Canadian industries are expected to benefit from improved market access, particularly in agriculture where most of the major tariff reductions are found. Some industrial sectors are expected to benefit as well. These include wood and metal products in Iceland, apparel products in Norway, and cosmetics in Switzerland.

Witnesses also observed that the benefits of the CEFTA may not be limited to lower tariffs. Other potential gains include opportunities for trade diversification, enhanced industrial cooperation, and through increased interaction with the European business active in the EFTA countries, closer economic ties with the European Union.

The agreement will also put Canada on an equal footing with EFTA's other free trade partners, and will give Canada an advantage over countries like the United States, which do not have a trade agreement with EFTA.

The committee also heard that trade agreements have an important symbolic impact.

The vice-president of government relations for Bombardier, George Haynal, when he appeared before the committee, stated that trade deals create a level of confidence among investors, even if, as in the case of CEFTA, investment is not included in the agreement.

Per Øystein Vatne, first secretary to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway, when he appeared before us, observed that the very presence of a free trade agreement creates interest in the business community; the appetite for trade missions to Canada from EFTA countries has increased markedly since the CEFTA was announced.

In fact, many of their parliamentarians appeared here in Ottawa before our committee as the negotiations were going on.

Some witnesses, however, expressed reservations about the deal. There is no question about that. Representatives from Canada's shipbuilding industry, in particular, were concerned about the potential impact of CEFTA on their sector.

Mr. Andrew McArthur, of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada, noted that Norway's world-class shipbuilding industry is not subsidized today, but owes its present competitiveness to generous government support in years past.

For this reason, Canadian shipbuilders wanted their industry to be explicitly excluded from the CEFTA, as it is from the NAFTA. They eventually agreed to accept a long term phase-out of tariffs, but their support was contingent upon a new Canadian shipbuilding policy that included a buy Canada policy for government procurement, and the combination of two existing support mechanisms that are currently mutually exclusive: the structured financing facility, SFF as it is known, and provisions for accelerated capital cost allowances, ACCA.

The CEFTA includes a long term phase-out of tariffs and preserves a buy Canada procurement policy, but no action has been taken on the SFF or capital cost allowances as of yet. As per their submissions to the government, representatives of Canadian shipbuilders and marine workers were adamant that without combined access to the SFF and ACCA, the impact of the agreement would be devastating to the industry and would lead to job losses. In their view, this additional government support was critical if the Canadian industry was to survive increased competition from Norwegian producers.

It was noted, however, that the tariff phase-out schedule, and safeguard provisions, for marine industrial goods was particularly generous. According to the counsel for the International Trade Group, Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, a lawyer who specifically deals with international trade, the 15 year phase-out on sensitive ship products is the second longest phase-out she has ever encountered in her study of 100 free trade agreements. However, Ms. Cherniak also cautioned the committee that this abnormally long phase-out period could meet some resistance at the WTO from other major shipbuilding countries, like China and South Korea.

In addition to shipbuilding, some concern was expressed about the impact of CEFTA on supply management in agriculture. Terry Pugh, executive secretary of the National Farmers Union, suggested that the in-quota tariff cut for supply managed products might weaken the foundation of the supply management program.

Finally, several witnesses noted that no economic impact studies had been conducted to estimate the effect of the CEFTA on the Canadian economy. It was suggested that without such studies, it was difficult to judge whether or not the deal would be good for Canada.

Certainly, we are an open committee and we collaborate very well. I would like to draw to members' attention the considerations of the Bloc Québécois, who were certainly very concerned about supply management and preserving it.

Since the elimination of the 7% tariff provided for in the agricultural agreement with Switzerland will affect only the market segment that is already covered by imports, the impact on our producers would be minimal.

However, this will make it all the more important to vigorously defend supply management at the WTO. A quota increase, coupled with the elimination of the within-quota tariff would expose our dairy farmers to increased competition from countries that, unlike Canada, subsidize their dairy production. Certainly, this is a point that the current government must take into consideration.

The Bloc were also concerned about shipbuilding. It felt that the adjustment period provided in the agreement is quite long, as it is, but it will be helpful only if accompanied by adjustment and upgrading programs for our shipyards. Otherwise, it will slow their decline, but nothing more.

Of course, that hits the concerns of possible subsidization and Norway understood this very well. It began a vigorous industrial policy and built up a health industry--

Old Age Security Act May 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, once among the poorest members of society, Canada's seniors now have access to a public pension plan and supplementary benefits for those most in need, but it is not all peaches and cream.

The critical issue for many marginal income seniors is that it is still not enough to keep them above the poverty line.

A succession of Liberal governments over the years were instrumental in providing support for Canadian seniors. Liberal governments were responsible for establishing a social safety net for our seniors.

In 1952, the Old Age Security Act established a universal old age security pension at 65 years of age. In 1966, the Canada pension and Quebec pension plans created a pension scheme where working Canadians contributed to a government pension plan to be drawn on upon reaching the retirement age of 65, while some time later amending the scheme to provide for an early retirement at age 60 subject to reduced benefits.

In 1967, the guaranteed income supplement for very low income seniors was instituted to top up our old age security benefits. In 1998, a restructured Canada pension plan was instituted to ensure its sustainability.

Government action to financially secure the public pension system meant that Canada was the only country in the G-7 with a fully balanced public pension plan system assessed by actuarial experts to have long term sustainability.

The Canada pension plan and the old age security are indexed quarterly based on the consumer price index which allows for modest increases in accordance with a comparable increase of the consumer price index. In reality, however, the value of such increases for an individual is literally small change.

In 2005, the guaranteed income supplement benefits for low income seniors was increased by $2.7 billion over two years. This was the first non-cost of living increase since 1984. As a result, the maximum GI supplement was increased to more than $400 per year for a single senior and by almost $700 for a couple.

Successive governments have tried to assist our needy seniors in other ways as well. For instance, Liberal budget 2005 doubled to $10,000 the maximum amount of medical and disability related expenses that caregivers could claim on behalf of their dependants, and further, approximately 240,000 seniors were removed from the tax rolls in 2005 when the basic personal exemption was raised to $10,000.

Under the Conservatives, the government signed into law Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, which made it easier for the long term contributors to the Canada pension plan to qualify for disability benefits and simplified the application process for the GIS.

In budget 2006, an estimated 85,000 pensioners no longer had to pay income tax as the maximum eligible amount for the pension income rose from $1,000 to $2,000 starting in the 2006 tax year. At the same time, other measures, such as the refundable medical expenses supplement, rose from $760 to $1,000.

Under budget 2007, the Conservatives increased the age limit to 71 from 69 for RRSPs and registered pensions and also permitted pension income splitting for eligible pensioners. The age credit was increased by $1,000, which meant approximately $150 in tax relief for low and modest income seniors. It also permitted phased in retirement, which allowed an employer to simultaneously pay a partial pension to an employee and provide further pension benefits accruals to the employee.

In budget 2008, the current guaranteed income supplement earned income exemption was raised to $3,500 from its maximum level of $500.

Those measure confirmed the concern that our successive governments and all political parties have for our aging citizens and also was a recognition of the financial difficulties many seniors face.

All that being said, however, today in Canada 242,000 seniors still live in poverty, a situation that should be an embarrassment to all members in the House. Behind these numbers and behind these statistics lies a huge human tragedy.

Men and women who made this country what it is today, men and women who built this country all too often sit down to a dinner of tea and toast or go hungry. Many live in substandard housing because they do not have the financial resources to lift themselves out of hovels. Others do not have the financial resources to repair old family residences that have fallen into disrepair, which leads to further disrepair as conditions continue to deteriorate.

In carrying out our responsibilities as members of Parliament, we interact on a frequent basis with our constituents, many of them seniors. I would venture to say that all members of the House have been approached by seniors at one time or another who inquire whether the government could increase their pension benefits a reasonable amount because they just cannot make ends meet anymore.

Seniors' household expenses are rising, including the municipal taxes for those who own their own homes or lease payments for those who rent, energy costs, food costs, even the basic loaf of bread has increased appreciably as the cost of grain and rice have skyrocketed. For those who can afford an aging car, the cost of gas has gone out of sight, while public transportation tickets also escalate. What is worse, our economic predictors suggest that these galloping costs will only continue to increase.

Many of our seniors are faced with such rising costs in their attempt to eke out a meagre existence that far exceeds their pension incomes. The reality is that rising housing costs and living expenses are pushing more seniors back into the workforce. Some have returned to work doing anything that frail bodies will allow until these same frail bodies simply give out.

A Statistics Canada report last year showed that more than two million Canadians aged 55 to 64 were employed or looking for work in 2006, up from one million in 1976. The callous will say that they should have better prepared for their retirement.

What about their employment pensions? Many stay at home parents never had a chance to pay into the Canada pension plan or make modest contributions from part time income. Many of today's seniors never had an employment pension. After 30 or 40 years of service, they walked out the door with their lunch pail. Some may have had pensions but they were not indexed and now, after many years, these pensions bear no relation whatsoever to what it costs to live. Some paid into employee pension plans but these companies have gone bankrupt leaving severely underfunded pension plans or nothing at all.

What are these poor seniors to do? Some will be forced to avail themselves of food banks. Some are taken in by family, if they have one. Some will turn their furnace thermostats down just enough to keep their water pipes from freezing. Sure, they throw on more clothes to keep warm or huddle under a blanket to try to stay healthy, but it is not enough. Some seniors develop colds, respiratory problems or flu, which leads to increased health care costs.

I recall an elderly lady calling my office in tears saying that she could not afford to pay her monthly charges on a heating contract and was seeking our assistance to get out of the contract. I attended her residence on a December day to find a lady in her nineties bundled in sweaters, with the heat turned down, living in a few rooms of her residence with the other parts of the house closed off.

I recall speaking with the president of a seniors club who briefed me on the financial plight of some members. I asked if he could provide me with an anonymous record of some of these seniors' income and expense summaries and was shocked, no, appalled, on how little money they had to cover their expenses. It was not enough to do so. He pleaded with me for our government to do something.

He also told me of a situation where a senior who suffered from incontinence was known to wash out paper diapers because that person could not afford to use these products regularly when needed. These are the actions of an individual in desperate straits.

Bill C-490 would help to respond to the pleas of the president of the seniors club, albeit in a small way. The bill would remove the necessity for an individual, who would otherwise qualify for a supplement, to make an application and would place the responsibility on the minister to provide guaranteed income supplement when income levels indicate a qualification point. The bill would also allow for retroactive payments of supplements. Many times low income seniors are not aware that they may be entitled to benefits and do not apply. Others forget to reapply for supplements. This provision would address this deficiency.

Another situation where a senior couple had retired on their combined CPP and OAS incomes, the death of one of these individuals and the loss of a deceased's pension income can present a severe financial crisis for the survivor at a time when he or she is also trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. The bill would provide interim relief for a transition period of six months for the surviving spouse or common law partner to receive the pension that would have been payable to the deceased spouse or common law partner. This is a humanitarian approach that would not incur huge sums for the Canadian taxpayer but substantial human benefits to a low income senior. The suggested increase of $110 a month would barely raise the threshold to the poverty line.

Bill C-490 is an attempt to address an unfair situation that we as parliamentarians face in our constituency offices on a regular basis. We were elected as advocates for our constituents. The bill is an example of a fulfillment of this responsibility. The bill should be supported by all members of the House.

April 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary certainly mentions the loan to Edscha. As I pointed out, this was 16 years ago. What has the minister done today to assist these workers?

Thousands of jobs are at stake with the anticipated Canada-Korea free trade deal and the Conservative government has done nothing to protect these workers. This particular case demonstrates just how out of touch the government is with the needs of average Canadians.

The government is well aware of the problems with the proposed Canada-Korea free trade agreement, yet it has taken no action to ensure that Canadian industry is protected.

Canadians deserve a better deal. Will the government stand up for Canadians and assure free and fair trade with Korea? When will the government protect the auto industry and the livelihoods of thousands of hard-working Canadians, especially those in the auto sector in Niagara?

When will the Minister of Justice show some accountability and address the needs of his own constituents?