Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was transport.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Hamilton West (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 34% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I was pretty sure the member was sitting in his seat when I made my remarks, because the question relates directly to what I said in my speech. I am sure the hon. member heard it. Maybe it did not sink in.

We have made provisions to the EI program to address the very issues to which he is speaking. We have removed the clawback. We made improvements to the small weeks provisions so individuals who found themselves out of work could still go back to work and then augment their pay with EI benefits. It is there for them.

These are the constant adjustments to the program that the government has made time and time again. It listens to Canadians and makes adjustments to the program. Canadians are much happier because now the program fits some of those circumstances in which Canadians who are out of work find themselves.

We are prepared to do anything it takes to listen to Canadians and to make the adjustments necessary so Canadians get a fair response to their issues and particular problems in every region of the country, and it is working. Canadians have told us this time and time again, in the 1993 election, the 1997 election and the 2000 election. Whenever the next election happens to be, they will tell the government again that it is has done the right things for them and that they trust the government to ensure an EI program will there for them tomorrow.

I am not quite sure if the EI program will be there tomorrow, if the hon. opposition leader is put in charge of the country. He is not too fond of programs that help disadvantaged Canadians or Canadians who find themselves at a disadvantage because they do not live in the big city of Toronto, or Montreal, or Quebec City or Vancouver where everybody can look around.

I will just end by saying the government is doing a terrific job on this file. Canadians support us. I am certain Canadians will say that the government knows what it is doing and that it will be there for them in the future.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, let us deal with the last question first. The hon. member from the Bloc asked what we would do with the surplus funds.

The surplus funds, as he well knows and as everyone in Canada knows, go into the general revenue fund to help fund our programs, our valued social programs. He understands too that even as recently as just a couple of months ago when the Auditor General made her report, she said that it was a completely acceptable accounting practice to put these surpluses into the general revenue fund. The hon. member has his answer. I suppose he would have known that answer all along but he just wanted to see if I knew the answer.

The member then mentioned something about Transport Canada. Yes, I was on the transport committee with the hon. member. In fact I was on the transport committee when I was first elected in 1988. That was a great time. We were in opposition and we had all kinds of proposals on the table, including for example the high speed rail project.

We examined that. We went across our country and across Europe. We looked at the different modes of transportation, the different high speed projects that are found throughout the world. It was pretty clear that while it was a great proposal, there were factors such as the population densities. In France, for example, the population densities are great. In the United Kingdom the population densities are great.

Here in Canada of course we have a population that is spread out for miles across the country, tens of thousands of kilometres. It makes it a little less viable when it comes to trying to pay for a system by the passengers paying a toll, so it becomes a responsibility of the government. When we started to price that project, we were talking about billions, with a capital B , of dollars of investment in order to make a project like that work.

At that time, and at this time, when the government is being fiscally responsible and money is tight, it can be rather difficult to convince Canadians of that. We are trying to ensure that we have a viable health care system in this country. We are trying to ensure that there is lifelong learning for our children. We are trying to ensure that there are extra child care spaces, and we announced some 48,000 child care spaces in the last budget. We are trying to ensure that our economy is stable, that our interest rates are low and that a person can go out and buy a car or a refrigerator tomorrow and not have to worry about whether or not they are going to have a job the next day in order to pay for that refrigerator or that car. That is called fiscal responsibility.

Do we have options on the table? Absolutely. Do we want to build a high speed rail project? Let us do it, except it is going to cost billions of dollars that may otherwise be spent on projects and on our social foundations which are the priorities of Canadians today. Those are the priorities.

We are interested in the priorities of Canadians. We are interested in the priorities of those who find themselves out of work and need the assistance of employment insurance. We want to make sure it is there for them. It is there for them. It will continue to be there for them. Of course those rights that are charged for Canadians for that program are always going to be fiscally sound in order to ensure that Canadians are not paying $3.29, or whatever it was back in the Tory days, but $1.98, what it is now down to, because we are being fiscally responsible.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but want to comment just one more time on the hon. member's dissertation following my question and his resolve that it is just up to the House of Commons committee to make a decision to pursue what it is the government has concerns about.

That is the way democracy works. The hon. member for the Bloc knows full well that there is a process by which we do things around here. He asked to be at the committee. It was the human resources and skills development committee. A committee is the master of its own destiny. He brings that idea forward to committee. Then the committee makes a decision on its priorities on the issues that it wants to deal with as a committee. It has nothing to do with this House or votes or the government's moving in on a committee.

The first thing the member would do if the government or the House of Commons started intruding on the business of independent committees would be to get on his feet in a second and say, “How dare they intrude on the business of the committee. The committee is the master of its own destiny and we shall choose whether or not we discuss this issue or that issue at committee”. The hon. member has to be completely open and honest with the House and his constituents back home.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in on the debate on the member's motion to review further proposals to reform employment insurance.

I would like to begin by saying that the government is committed to ensuring that EI is there for Canadians. It is our commitment to make changes to the EI program when the need for change is clearly demonstrated.

Ever since the new employment insurance program was introduced back in 1996, the government has shown a willingness to listen to Canadians. We have made adjustments to the system based on sound evidence in order to ensure that EI is there for Canadians when they need it and that the program continues to be responsive to changing circumstances in the labour market.

Moreover, the record shows that we are working diligently to make sure the EI system is responsive to the needs of all Canadians, including those living in Quebec.

When the government brought in a new employment insurance system in 1996, we were determined to ensure the long term viability of Canada's employment insurance system. We also committed to monitoring and assessing the program to see how individuals and communities were adjusting. Where evidence has shown that adjustments are needed, changes have been made. These objectives have guided our approach to EI reform in the past and they will continue to guide us today.

By most accounts, this approach to EI is serving Canadians well. Today we have a program that is financially stable. Premiums have declined from their historic high levels of $3.07 in 1994 to a low of $1.98 this year. An estimated 88% of Canadian workers would be potentially eligible for EI if they lost their jobs today.

We also have a program that is evolving to respond to changing needs. The government recognizes that some regions and groups of workers, such as workers in certain seasonal industries, can face particular challenges as they seek to adapt to changing labour market realities and the new economy.

The EI system is responding to special circumstances like these in appropriate ways. Indeed, a look at the records shows how the government has already made program changes to reflect the changing needs of Canadians since 1996, including the needs of seasonal workers.

Bill C-2 that was passed by the House in 2001 is a good example. It included a number of significant changes that are relevant to today's debate. There is the elimination of the intensity rule so that frequent claimants would not be penalized; a better targeting of the clawback to ensure that first time claimants, claimants collecting special benefits, and claimants in lower and middle income families would no longer have to repay their benefits; an adjustment to ensure parents re-entering the labour market could qualify for benefits on the same basis as other workers.

Since Bill C-2 was passed, the government has also improved the EI system in other ways, such as through changes to the small weeks provisions. Originally introduced as a pilot program in 1998, the small weeks provisions are designed to help seasonal and part time workers maintain their attachment to the labour force and therefore their eligibility for EI by encouraging them to accept work with lower earnings without reducing potential EI benefits.

Now a permanent part of EI, the small weeks provisions have allowed over 185,000 individuals to earn both higher incomes while working and an average of $12 more in weekly EI benefits than would have been otherwise done.

Another good example relates to the economic regions set up under the EI program in the year 2000 to take into account the higher unemployment rates that exist in some parts of our great country. We know that some workers in some areas, particularly seasonal workers, need more time to adjust to the changes made in 2000 and we have shown flexibility in our response to regional concerns.

For example, in the Bas-St-Laurent-Côte Nord region in Quebec and the Madawaska-Charlotte region in western New Brunswick, a special transitional period has been put in place. This means claimants in these regions require fewer hours to qualify for EI benefits and can receive benefits for a longer period than they would have without the transitional period.

In addition, we have changed the way that undeclared earnings are calculated to make it easier for employers and fairer for claimants. Apprentices are now only required to serve one two-week waiting period during the duration of their training. Quality of service continues to be the focus of significant ongoing work and we have taken concrete steps to prevent and respond to fraud and abuse.

The government is continuing to work with local committees in the regions and others to monitor the situation. It is prepared to make other changes where evidence indicates that it is appropriate.

To sum up, a careful look at the government's record on EI illustrates that the government is listening and is willing to make changes that are in the best interests of Canadians and the long term sustainability of the EI program.

One of the strengths of our EI system is its adaptability. It means that we can adapt to the evolving needs of Canada's workers and changing labour market conditions, but it does not mean accepting every change that is proposed.

The government is clearly committed to ensuring EI remains financially viable for the long term. It is equally committed to ensuring that the system is responsive to legitimate needs that do arise.

The record shows we have done the right thing in the past with EI. I know that we will continue to do the right thing in the future.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it was a serious and sincere question from this hon. member to that hon. member regarding those who are independent employers and employees. He did not give me an answer. He gave me a rationale and a political answer to the question.

It is a simple question. The government recognized that there was a problem in the result of the committee's report. It responded in kind. Therefore, it would be up to the hon. member to sit down with the committee and find a rational solution to this issue. Why has the member not pursued that or even put forward any suggestion on how we should handle this issue?

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, maybe it would help serve all Canadians well if the Bloc member could give me an explanation. He mentioned the self-employed. He knows that when the government responded to the standing committee report back in October 2001, we said that there was no consensus among the self-employed to pay EI premiums.

The government asked the standing committee to find a consensus. He knows it is not going to be fair to let some individuals pay into the system and others not pay. So, given that all workers in insurable employment pay premiums, how does the opposition member suggest the government address this issue of coverage of self-employed workers?

Royal Canadian Mint May 5th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, in a nutshell, I can assure the hon. member that since December 12, when this Prime Minister was put into office, it has been nothing but his goal to ensure complete accountability and complete transparency, and that goes for all crown corporations.

Royal Canadian Mint May 5th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind Canadians that the Mint is now doing its business in a fashion that is completely above reproach.

The roles and responsibilities of the board, the chair and the president were reviewed, and completely clarified to reflect best practices. Its corporate bylaws and policies, including hospitality, corporate ownership, and charitable donations were reviewed and updated. The Mint is doing its job.

Royal Canadian Mint May 5th, 2004

I think the hon. member mispronounced Lollobrigida, Mr. Speaker. Show respect for our Italian community.

Royal Canadian Mint May 5th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, no one is defending anything of the sort.

We are trying to explain to the opposition in order for Canadians to fully understand and have full confidence in the Mint. There have been changes under the leadership of the new president.

For example, and allow me to illustrate, the president must now present a summary of his travel expenses to the board at every meeting. There is now an annual review of expenses of the president to the board members and the position of internal auditor was reinstituted, with a mandate to review all expenditures. These are the actions that are presently being done at the Mint.

Royal Canadian Mint May 5th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the question provides me with an opportunity to reassure Canadians that there have been changes to the Mint. The activities there are now completely above reproach, completely transparent, fully accountable, and able to withstand full public scrutiny.

It would really be nice if Canadians had the same comfort level about the Leader of the Opposition with his leadership campaign expenses, which he still refuses to disclose.