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Conservative MP for Huron—Bruce (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 45% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply June 11th, 2009

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to today's motion. I would like to thank the member for Lévis—Bellechasse as well.

As members know, Canada has a three-pillar retirement income system based on a balanced mix of public-private responsibility and voluntary, compulsory programs.

The first pillar, the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs, provides a basic minimum income, guaranteed for seniors who meet residence requirements.

The second pillar, the Canada and Quebec pension plans, ensures a basic level of earnings replacement in retirement for all workers in Canada.

The third pillar, the system of voluntary tax-deferred savings in RPPs and registered retirement savings plans, encourages and assists Canadians to save for retirement, to help bridge the gap between public pension benefits and the retirement income goals.

Issues surrounding pensions have grown in increasing importance recently, as this is an issue that impacts all Canadians in one way or another. Our Conservative government has recognized that reality.

I would like to highlight key initiatives that we have recently unveiled to support pensions and help protect the retirement of Canadians across this country.

Let me begin by pointing out to the House that our government started this process by actually consulting with Canadians, releasing a comprehensive discussion paper on improving the framework for federally regulated private pension plans. This important discussion paper, available online for all to read, was part of our effort to reach out to Canadians for their views and input on issues related to federally regulated pension plans.

Indeed, the public was invited to make submissions directly to the government in response to this paper, and in fact, our government has already posted responses we have received to this initiative online. This input, open for all to see, will help inform permanent changes our government intends to make later this year to federally regulated pension.

Before continuing, let me remind all members that the federal government only directly regulates private pension plans subject to federal legislation, that is, areas of employment under federal jurisdiction, including banking, telecommunications and interprovincial transportation. These plans currently only represent 7% of all private pension plans in Canada, with the balance regulated provincially.

In addition to the release of that discussion paper, we went further in talking and listening directly to the concerns of Canadians, as our government held a series of national consultations earlier this year. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, the member of Parliament for Macleod, went right across Canada to meet face to face with people from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Whitehorse. Those who could not attend these meetings were invited to send in written submissions on the discussion paper.

There is no denying that we are in the midst of one of the most challenging economic periods in recent memory and that has caused a sharp decline in global markets, which has led to losses in many pension plans. Our government has recognized that challenge and taken specific concrete measures to provide temporary solvency funding relief for federally regulated, defined benefit pension plans, as originally outlined in our 2008 economic and fiscal statement.

The Federal Superannuates National Association, in reaction to these changes, publicly congratulated our government “for recognizing the need and placing priority on creating an equitable and fair pension system for Canadians--”.

Again, these measures covered plans established for employees working in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction only and offered temporary relief to sponsors while also protecting pension benefits.

The proposed regulations set out a series of measures to: first, extend the solvency funding period by one year for deficiencies reported as of year-end between November 1, 2008 and October 31, 2009; second, extend the solvency funding payment to 10 years from 5 with the agreement of members and retirees; third, extend the solvency funding payment to 10 years from 5 when the difference is secured with a letter of credit; fourth, extend the solvency funding payment period to 10 years from 5 for agent crown corporations with terms and conditions to ensure a level playing field; and fifth, allow asset smoothing above 110% with the difference in payments subject to a deemed trust.

We have recently also taken other important steps to help protect the retirement savings of individual Canadians. For instance, in recognition of the exceptional deterioration of market conditions and its effect on retirees' savings, in the 2008 economic and fiscal statement we announced a 25% reduction in the required minimum withdrawal amount for registered retirement income funds for 2008. This one-time measure has provided an estimated $200 million in tax assistance to retirees by allowing them to keep more of their savings in their RRIFs.

A respected Financial Post columnist, Jonathan Chevreau, declared that this measure gave “pensioners and pension-plan administrators more flexibility to deal with the market malaise that has triggered a plunge in asset values recent months”.

Our government has also increased the age at which RRSPs must be matured from 69 to 71. With this change, RRIF minimum withdrawals are not required to begin until the year an individual turns 72 years of age, which is well above the medium retirement age in Canada. I hear my colleague from Newfoundland adding some comments across the way, and I would encourage him to participate when his turn comes.

Another important development in supporting retirees and their savings was reached this past May when the finance minister met with his provincial and territorial counterparts at their annual spring meeting. At that meeting, the results of the tri-annual review of the Canada pension plan were announced. The federal, provincial and territorial ministers all agreed that Canada's retirement income system was healthy and compared well internationally in terms of adequacy and affordability, confirming that the CPP remained on sound financial footing despite the market downturn.

The minister also unanimously recommended numerous key changes to the CPP to increase flexibility for older workers, expand CPP coverage and improve fairness in the plan's flexibility retirement provisions. Key among the changes: providing greater flexibility to those taking up the retirement benefit before the age of 65 to enable them to combine pension and work, and an enhancement in the pension formula to exclude up to an additional year of low earnings.

Jack Mintz, public policy professor at the University of Calgary, heralded these changes, remarking, “The more flexibility you build into pension arrangements, the better”.

Finn Poschmann of the C.D. Howe Institute said:

This is an important shift in public pension policy. The proposed adjustments mark an important sea-change in government pension policy’s approach to dealing with population ageing and, in particular, making it easier for those people who want to work later in life to do so.

The Edmonton Journal cheered them as “an overdue update of the CPP which reflects contemporary realities”.

Those are not my words, these are the words of eminent public policy persons. What is more, ministers also agreed to the extraordinary step of creating a research working group, something suggested by today's motion, on retirement savings adequacy. This group was tasked to quickly undertake that study and report back to the ministers of finance and ministers responsible for pensions by the end of the year.

Clearly, promoting the retirement income security of Canadians has been and will continue to be an important goal of the Government of Canada. To conclude, let me say our Conservative government is working hard in consultations with the provinces, territories and, most importantly, Canadians across this country.

Business of Supply June 11th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would recognize that in today's corporate world the bonus or compensation structure is very much set up, not for one year but for an average rolling out. Corporations and companies look at the long-term vision and not just a one-year return.

I wonder if the hon. member would have a comment on that or the theory of that in general.

Huron--Bruce April 29th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House to recognize one of Canada's greatest tourist destinations.

Huron—Bruce borders on Lake Huron and boasts over 100 kilometres of coastline, with world-class beaches and breathtaking sunsets. From the lighthouse tours stretching from Point Clark north, with stops in Kincardine and Saugeen Shores, and at the century-old Huron Country Playhouse barn, to the historic heritage of Goderich, Huron—Bruce is the ultimate tourist destination offering activities for all four seasons. Tourists can hike the renowned Maitland Trail, golf at the multitude of golf courses, dock at the picturesque Bayfield marina, experience a play at the Blyth Festival, or spend a night at the beautiful Benmiller Inn.

I encourage all members and their constituents to visit Huron—Bruce and experience Ontario's west coast.

Consumer Affairs April 24th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, Canada is becoming more competitive as one of the leading nations in the online economy. The online marketplace represents a major segment of Canada's economy, at about $62.7 billion in sales per year. At the same time, there has been an enormous increase in the vulnerabilities and threats to the Internet and online commerce.

Can the Minister of State for Science and Technology please tell the House what action the government is taking to address this problem?

Afghanistan April 23rd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise in the House today to recognize a few of my constituents who serve in the Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan: my lifetime friend Ryan Crawford, Justin Lyon, Cameron Bruce, James Kirk, Kieran Kirk, Damon Arbour, Chris Farrish, Judd Beasley, a family with two generations of service, Mike Lassiline, and Mike's grandfather, Leonard Fisher, who served in Italy during World War II, Brendon Dinning and let us not forget his older brother, Matthew Dinning, who also served in Afghanistan and paid the ultimate price on April 22, 2006.

I would like to also recognize the communities and legions in Huron—Bruce for their continued support of our troops.

These courageous individuals and their families should be honoured for their service and the sacrifices they have made. I admire them for putting their lives on the line to allow us to live in this great nation.

Employment Insurance Act April 22nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the issue of EI with respect to Bill C-241.

Meeting the needs of Canadians in these increasingly uncertain economic times is a priority for our government. To determine these needs, our government engaged in the most extensive prebudget consultations in Canada's history. We listened closely to the concerns of Canadians, especially with regard to employment insurance. We listened and are taking action.

Through Canada's economic plan, we are taking unprecedented steps to create jobs, preserve jobs and to provide support to those who have lost their jobs and are now looking for work.

Our government understands that Canadians are worried about putting food on the table and finding work to keep their homes and provide for their families. That is why we have taken the unprecedented steps to support the unemployed, preserve jobs and retrain workers for the jobs of the future.

With respect to employment insurance benefits, we have extended, nationally, the advantage of an extra five weeks of benefits currently offered as part of a pilot project that, until now, was only provided in specific regions with high unemployment. In addition, the maximum duration of benefits available under the employment insurance program has increased by five weeks, from 45 to 50 weeks. It is estimated that this extension will benefit 400,000 Canadians in the first year alone.

We believe that this measure is a better option than removing the two week waiting period because it would help those most in need of additional benefits. While removing the two week waiting period would result in an additional payment of two weeks for claimants who do not use their full entitlement, it would not provide assistance to workers who exhaust their employment insurance benefits. Eliminating the two week waiting period simply means that their benefits would start two weeks earlier but would also end two weeks earlier.

Our additional weeks of employment insurance benefits would provide regular employment insurance clients with the assurance that, should they require it, they will have the financial support for a longer period of time while they pursue their job searches.

Exhaustion of EI benefits is a tough prospect to face. Providing additional support to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits helps those who need it the most.

I would point out, too, that this proposed measure would be in addition to the automatic adjustments in the employment insurance program that respond quickly to changes in economic conditions. Through the variable entrance requirement, the current EI program has built-in flexibility specifically designed to respond automatically to changes in local labour markets.

The entrance requirements ease and the duration of benefits increase as the rates rise. These requirements are adjusted on a monthly basis to reflect the latest regional unemployment rates. This system ensures that the amount of assistance provided increases as the unemployment rate rises. Support flows to regions and communities that need it the most.

In fact, since October 2008, EI claimants in 32 of the 58 regions across the country can now access EI benefits with fewer hours of work while benefiting from the EI benefits for a longer period of time. For example, since October 2008, EI claimants in the region of Kitchener, not too far from my hometown, can now access an additional 13 weeks of benefits while working 4 weeks less to access these benefits.

We have also made significant efforts and investments to process the increasing number of EI claims so that employment insurance claimants can receive the benefits they need as quickly as possible. In this regard, we have allocated $60 million toward hiring additional staff and increasing capacity. We are redistributing workloads across the country and recalling recent retirees. We are also increasing overtime, opening employment insurance call centres on Saturdays and increasing automation of the claims process.

All of those actions are helping to ensure that unemployed Canadians and their families get the support they need in the fastest possible manner.

I also remind the House that we have not hesitated to test new approaches to make EI changes when they are proven to be warranted. I will give some of my own experiences in life to further explain how the five weeks are really impacting those Canadians we are trying to reach.

I heard my colleagues across the floor comment about certain parts of our employment insurance enhancements. I worked for an auto parts manufacturer, Westcast Industries in Southwestern Ontario, for many years. Like many other companies in the auto sector, it has felt the tougher times. When I started there in 2000, there were 353 employees. At the end of this month, that facility will be mothballed.

While I was in my riding over the past two weeks, I went out to various events and worked hard in the community. I ran into a number of my former colleagues, who unfortunately have been unable to find jobs. The first thing did was thank our government for extending those five weeks. They were not sure what lay ahead in the future, but they certainly appreciated the five weeks we added to the back end of their employment insurance.

Another fantastic example of what is working is the retraining. I have a number of former colleagues who fortunately look at the world as a cup that is half full, as do I. They have been able to get retraining. Some friends of mine who I used to work with are going through to be millwrights. They are exploring all sorts of different career options. It is a new chapter in their lives. This government has responded in many different manners. One of them is the $60 million recently announced to help process the claims as fast as possible.

I would also like to recognize our Service Canada workers and the great job they do. Our regional office is in Kitchener. The director, Ross Tayler, has his staff working around the clock, doing the very best job they can. I think it is important that we recognize those workers. They are taking time away from their families to ensure those dollars begin to flow in a timely manner to those who have just lost their jobs.

I was fortunate to be able to move on to a new position and a new career before the large number of layoffs occurred at the company for which I worked, but the weight and burden of the unknown of whether people's jobs will be there tomorrow is an extremely tough thing on their family and their psyche. The one piece out of this, which is so important, is the extra five weeks at the end of their employment insurance. They know they have an extra month and week, just in case they are unable to get that job. They are able to get out and continue to search for a job.

We have invested over $1 billion in training, which is excellent. This will allow those who have recently lost their jobs or who are currently in the workforce and are looking for a change in career to look to the new economies: a green economy, our information technology and our new high tech and skilled positions. Believe it or not, there are a number of positions in my riding in the aeronautical industry. Currently 50 positions are available in that area.

The programs we have put in place for retraining will allow people who have lost their jobs in a riding such as Huron—Bruce to get retrained and get those skills so they can gain new employment in new industries and sectors. That is why I am so proud of this government. I am so proud of the minister and her staff for how hard they have worked and for the consultation they have done with Canadians.

It is no coincidence that we have added five weeks to the end of the employment insurance process. It is no mistake that when I go out into my community, the additional five weeks of employment insurance is the first thing mention to me. They thank our government. It shows that our government is listening to Canadians and reacting in a timely matter. Good government is all about that.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act April 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to add my voice against Bill C-304, the bill that seeks to create a national housing strategy. In fact, the only thing this bill would do is handcuff the efforts of this and future governments to continue to respond to the housing needs of Canadians in a timely, flexible and proactive manner.

What else would it do? It would run roughshod over provincial jurisdiction in this regard, empowering federal governments to make housing decisions that are rightly to be made by the provinces and territories.

The NDP would have this House believe that Canada does not have what they call a “national housing strategy”. The truth, though inconvenient for the NDP, is much different. The reality is that our government already has a multi-pronged, comprehensive and well-funded approach in place which provides housing for Canadians from all walks of life and across the country.

As a result, Canada's national housing system allows the housing needs of 80% of Canadians to be met through the private market. This approach recognizes and respects the constitutional responsibilities of the provincial and territorial jurisdictions in the area of assisted housing. More important, our approach actually includes both the provinces and territories, unlike the NDP's bill which fails to even mention the territories at all. Our approach recognizes the need to work with a variety of partners, to support vulnerable Canadians, homeowners, renters and the housing sector.

Our national housing agency, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, has been working with these partners to help Canadians access safe, affordable housing for more than 60 years. In total, this government is already investing more on affordable and supportive housing than any other government in Canadian history.

Even more important, those investments are achieving real results, making a real difference in the lives of Canadians across this country. For example, for those Canadians who need help to find housing they can afford, our government provides $1.7 billion each year through CMHC in support of some 630,000 low and moderate income households. This includes ongoing financial support for many non-profit and cooperative housing projects.

In September 2008, our government committed more than $1.9 billion over five years to improve and build new affordable housing and to help the homeless. Canada's economic action plan builds on this commitment with an additional $2 billion over the next two years to build new social housing and to repair or retrofit existing social housing.

Under the affordable housing initiative, more than $900 million of a total of $1 billion federal funds have now been committed or announced, every dollar of which has been matched by the provinces and territories. This funding will help an estimated 41,000 Canadian families to have access to a safe, affordable place to call home.

Through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and CMHC, we are also helping first nations build the capacity to manage their own housing programs. In our 2007 budget, we announced the creation of a $300 million first nations market housing fund, which opened its doors in May 2008. This fund will help provide new homes for up to 25,000 first nations families living on reserve over the next 10 years.

Those are only some of the steps taken by this government on housing and only a part of our national approach.

When it comes to housing matters, the provinces and territories expect federal governments to respect their jurisdictional responsibilities. In this regard, our government will continue to work with the provinces, the territories, the private sector, first nations groups and community and non-profit partners to facilitate access to housing and to lend a helping hand to those whose needs cannot be met by the marketplace.

These kinds of collaborative programs are essential because in Canada assisted housing is fundamentally part of the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. Bill C-304 does not recognize or respect this jurisdiction.

That is why I cannot support the legislation and urge all members to oppose it as well. To put it in perspective, we have debated this bill for 55 minutes and we have already faced two amendments, so there are many flaws in this to begin with.

Allow me to continue to tell the House about other measures within this government's national approach to address the housing needs of Canadians.

Each year CMHC's many renovation programs help low income households, landlords, persons with disabilities and aboriginal people bring their homes up to minimum health and safety standards. These programs enable seniors and persons with disabilities to live independently in their own homes and communities, close to friends and family. Other CMHC programs provide funding for emergency shelters for women and children who are trying to escape domestic violence and a start to a new life free from fear.

CMHC also helps those Canadians who are looking to buy a home where they can put down roots and raise their families. Through its mortgage loan insurance, CMHC has lowered the cost of getting a mortgage and helped one-third of all Canadian families with the purchase of their home, regardless of what part of the country they live in.

In 2007, for example, 37% of CMHC's mortgage loan insurance business helped Canadians who lived in areas that were underserved by private insurers. CMHC also facilitates financing for affordable housing projects by allowing borrowers to have access to loans at the best possible rate. Its securitization program helped to lower the overall cost of borrowing. CMHC remains the only mortgage insurer in Canada of large rental housing buildings, nursing and retirement homes and first nation housing on reserve.

I know my time is coming to a close. I would like to conclude by saying that, as I mentioned before, we are 55 minutes into this debate and already we have uncovered several flaws in this legislation as well as several amendments that would need to be made before we even get going.

Young Canada Week March 13th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, today marks the 60th year the Goderich Lions Club has hosted the annual Young Canada Week hockey tournament. This tournament first began in 1950 during spring break. Back then it was a one day tournament and 12 teams participated. Now more than 66 teams take part from the AAA division all the way down to the D division.

Over the years local hockey legends Gary Doak, Larry Jeffrey, Boyd Devereaux, Dave McIlwain, Paul Henderson, Dave Farrish and Dave Shaw have participated in the tournament, as well as NHL hockey legends Wayne Gretzky and Darryl Sittler.

I encourage you, Mr. Speaker, members of Parliament and all Canadians to come to Goderich, Ontario to support Young Canada Week and experience Ontario's west coast.

Guaranteed Income Supplement March 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to the debate on Motion No. 300, which purposes that the government introduce legislation to make amendments to the Old Age Security Act with respect to the guaranteed income supplement.

We all share the aim of doing all we can to help our country's seniors enjoy a better quality of life. It is only because of our seniors' long years of sacrifice and hard labour that we live in such a prosperous and successful country today. There is no question the entire nation owes them a debt of gratitude.

That is why since 2006, our government has acted decisively on its commitment to protect the security of Canadian seniors and to help increase their quality of life. One need look no further for evidence of this commitment than our efforts to reduce poverty among seniors.

Thanks to our government's continued and increased investments, Canada is recognized as a global leader in alleviating poverty among seniors, with one of the lowest levels of poverty among the elderly of any country in the industrialized world. As recently as 1980, more than 21% of older Canadians lived below the poverty line. By 2006, that figure was less than 6%.

That being said, there is always room for improvement. Our government will continue to work to ensure that the needs of all seniors, including low income seniors, are adequately met.

I remind the House that since taking office, our government has increased the GIS by 7% over and above regular indexation to compensate for the increase in the average wage. The total cost of this investment for low-income seniors is $2.7 billion over five years.

As many seniors continue to work, we have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500 per year. This means that a single pensioner earning $3,500 or more is now able to keep up to an additional $1,500 in annual GIS benefits.

It is evident that this party and this government supports seniors. I would ask the member opposite, who put forward the motion, to read our economic action plan—

Guaranteed Income Supplement March 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments, but what strikes me as interesting is she mentioned the lowest income earners, those in the most need. In our economic action plan we enhanced our working income tax benefit. We added dollars to retrofit affordable housing, to create new housing, housing for seniors and housing for those who are disabled, and yet she said that she does not want to support the budget.

I ask the—