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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament September 2018, as Conservative MP for York—Simcoe (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act April 6th, 2005

Madam Speaker, unlike my friend from Peterborough, I am handicapped by not having been here when the parliamentary committee dealt with that matter.

However, having been a concerned Canadian like so many others, I recall what happened to the HRDC department. I recall the scandal, the concern, and the conclusions that people drew, that it was a department that was out of control, that could not be managed, that was behaving entirely not in the best interests of Canadians, and that something had to brought to bear.

To me, the fact that there would be a unanimous decision of a Commons committee that a department, so discredited by a scandal, required reform and change is not surprising at all. In fact, I can understand entirely that there was a serious need for reform. I hope that reform is taking hold and that it spreads to other parts of the government.

We have seen ample evidence that perhaps that kind of reform in cleaning up of departments is not as contagious as we might like it to be in the government, but to me, it is not at all surprising. I indicated that our party supports the legislation. We do not oppose it.

It is just that when we have so many things that are crying out to be addressed in this country to make our economy more productive, to improve our skills training, to make us more competitive, and to give us a workforce that can really compete where people really can advance themselves, where they can really live richer lives, that we spend our time on these kinds of questions, and these kind of basically bureaucratic internal department reorganization questions instead of focussing on those real priorities of Canadians. That is what troubles me so much right now.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act April 6th, 2005

Madam Speaker, this bill is a worthy symbol of the Liberal government. The Department of Human Resources and the Department of Skills Development were separated a year and a half ago and Parliament is being asked to approve it only now. So much for treating Parliament with more respect and solving the democratic deficit.

We support the bill simply because there is little point in opposing it, but let us consider what is missing. At a time when students are struggling with rising debt and Canada's economic competitiveness is lagging, the bill ignores the real issues while focusing instead on changing names on letterhead and reorganizing bureaucratic organization charts.

The bill ignores the priorities that should be the focus of the government's attention in HRDC or, as it is to become, HRSDC. Perhaps it already has become that because the government, it seems, even if we were to oppose it, would declare, as it did with the foreign affairs and international trade departments, that it does not matter what this House says, it will divide it anyhow.

While the government is focusing on that kind of bureaucratic shuffling as the matter for us to attend to, there are other issues that should be attended to that are not. Our economic competitiveness is suffering while Canada's training strategy is woefully lacking. Students are increasingly in debt. Employment insurance is still not resolved as an issue. Skills training, critical to economic growth and prosperity, is lagging and is ignored.

Canadians have dreams for a better Canada, to have brighter futures through education, to enjoy the fruits of their labour through lower taxes, to live in a country that is free from corruption, to have a competitive economy and to have the opportunity to improve their quality of life through advancement and improvement.

However where are we under the government? Canada now ranks 15th in the world economic forum's global competitiveness rankings. Canada used to be ranked 4th, back when the Prime Minister was finance minister. From the 4th spot to the 15th spot in competitiveness is the track record of the government while it is focusing on bureaucratic shuffles.

In that same report from the world economic forum, Canada dropped on the technology index from 2nd place to 13th place and dropped to 15th place in the business competitive index in 2004.

A few years ago Canada was fifth on Transparency International's clean government index. That is an index that measures perceptions of how corrupt a government is in a country.

Today Canada has plummeted from 5th spot to 12th spot on that clean government index, and that was even before the Gomery commission started doing its work and hearing evidence. I do not think that this year's ratings are something to look forward to for Canadians. Perhaps in training the government might think of having a little more training in ethics.

Declining support for education and productivity is affecting our quality of life. In 1993, when Brian Mulroney retired as Prime Minister, the United Nations human development index ranked Canada the number one country in the world to live. By 2003, Canada had fallen to eighth place on that index. Simply put, taxes are too high in Canada. They are killing the incentive to be productive and they are making it difficult for hard-working families to invest in their futures.

As well, Canada has the fifth highest income tax as a percentage of GDP of all the OECD countries. Since taking office, the amount of income tax revenue that the government takes in has almost doubled, increasing by 80%.

Since 1993, Canada has been tied for the lowest productivity growth in the G-7 and Canada's productivity has fallen to 84% of that of our American neighbours.

What is Bill C-23 doing to handle this competitiveness gap, this productivity gap that's emerging, the declining standard of living? What is it doing to really help Canadians acquire better skills so we have a more educated and better equipped workforce to compete in the world? Nothing. Nothing in the bill addresses any of those priorities, which are the real priorities of Canadians and should be the real priorities of this government and the human resources department.

In skills training, what has the government done? Direct funding to colleges has been cut to the tune of 80% since the Liberals took office. Colleges are the best proven providers of workforce training. In fact, of those who graduate from the community college system, over 90% end up in jobs where they are contributing right after graduation. This is a 90% success rate.

However, when we look at the training programs in the human resources department, the evidence given by the minister at committee on estimates showed that less than 50% of those who graduated from the human resources EI training programs found work.

The community colleges have a 90% success rate and the government cuts their funding by 80%. The EI training program has a 50% or less success rate and the government begins to funnel money into it.

It is clear to me that the way of approaching training in this country is very poorly equipped for the challenges of our current economy. It is one that does not recognize success and one that in fact recognizes and reinforces failure.

There is no focus in the bill on what is needed to stimulate economic growth and productivity through skills training, which leads me to post-secondary education. What has been the case for post-secondary education in Canada? Under the present government we have not seen a serious effort to recognize that post-secondary education is critical to the success of our economy and to our workforce to helping young people achieve their dreams for a brighter future.

Interest rates on student loans, loans that are given to people who are trying to advance themselves and improve themselves, things we should be encouraging people to do, are at prime plus 2.5% to prime plus 5%. That is what the government is charging people who have taken out student loans.

Even bad risk lenders get around prime plus 1% from a bank or prime plus 2%. Why is the government running the student loan program as a profit making centre? Clearly there is no interest in being serious about support for post-secondary education.

In addition, we still do not have a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education even after the Liberal government cut program funding to colleges and universities in half since taking office.

What have we seen on employment insurance? Only thanks to the fact that this is a minority Parliament have we seen any action at all. It was only by attaching an amendment to the throne speech to deal with the flaws in employment insurance that the opposition parties finally forced a reluctant Liberal government to act on the matter.

What action have we seen? Sadly, very little. Currently, EI has a $46 billion surplus that has been effectively stolen from workers and diverted into other priorities, other than what they had contributed to. This is $46 billion of workers' and employers' premiums that have been taken away from them. It is another regressive tax by the government applied to things that do not do anything for economic growth and prosperity, that do not help workers and employers and that do not create jobs. It is a tax that is slowing the economy and creating a drag.

What do we get? We get a government that says it is doing something but it is still dithering. Virtually no changes have been made to the employment insurance system. In everything the government does it simply goes through the motions and dithers.

The government is not taking action and through the bill what is it doing? It is simply reorganizing organization charts, printing new letterhead and sending out for new business cards because we are changing the name of the department.

Meanwhile the real priorities are ignored by the Liberal government. It is unable to stop overtaxing through its unreasonable employment insurance premiums. It is unwilling to make training relevant, to create a competitive economy and to increase productivity. It is unaware of the need to lower ridiculously high student loan interest rates. It is unremitting in its refusal to establish a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education.

Unfortunately, the bill does nothing for Canadians other than create a bureaucratic shuffle to support a cabinet shuffle in an effort to shuffle the scandal ridden HRDC name into the past.

Why is the bill even on the table? It is very simple. It is because the government wants to get rid of the odour of the HRDC scandal. That is what prompted the name change in the first place. That was an example of how the government could not manage the people's tax dollars and, in fact, took those tax dollars and diverted them to other improper, inappropriate partisan purposes. Does that sound familiar?

The bill does nothing to benefit Canadians from the actual changes in the operation of government. It is only a public relations exercise to get rid of that HRDC name that is now so scandal tainted.

However it will not work because the one thing we can count on in the Liberal government is that as one scandal gets left behind, do not worry, there is another one coming along pretty soon to take its place.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act March 23rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the address by my colleague, the hon. member for Peterborough. He listed an enormous number of things that the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development of Canada presumably will be able to undertake, if this legislation is passed. That is what we kept hearing. I guess, if that is true, it speaks to how many wonderful things the department has not been doing so far. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek because the department has been doing most of those things thus far.

We have already seen the division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under Bill C-31 and Bill C-32, similar to what we have with the legislation in front of us, which the government undertook a year and a half ago, and it was of absolutely no consequence whatsoever with the government. When it was finally implemented by the counterpart legislation for foreign affairs, it was defeated, yet the government forged ahead with the division in any event. It did not make any difference.

Are we not wasting our time today debating this, since it seems to have little consequence to what the government actually does?

Sponsorship Program March 23rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the new Liberal slogan should be money taken, money kept.

This government has double standards in the sponsorship scandal. Government members say to let Justice Gomery do his work and then they turn around and launch lawsuits. They launch lawsuits to recover stolen money, but not against the Liberal Party, which apparently has been granted some kind of special immunity despite receiving illegal contributions. This government is serving only its own interests by shielding the Liberal Party from lawsuits.

Can the minister tell us who, other than the Liberal Party, qualifies for special immunity from sponsorship lawsuits? Why does it continue to put its own interests ahead of the interests of Canadian taxpayers?

Sponsorship Program March 23rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, in its handling of the sponsorship racket, the Liberal government is applying a double standard: it rushes to lay criminal charges to retrieve the sponsorship money, but, curiously, exonerates the Liberal Party.

Has it got a licence to print money? Is the Minister of Transport going to tell us that the Liberal Party is vaccinated against prosecution or will he simply agree to clean out the Liberal stables?

The Budget March 7th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, five years ago government program spending was $120 billion. Since the government likes to take the long term perspective, it projected that program spending would be $230 billion in five years. That would be an increase from $120 billion to $230 billion in the space of 10 years. That is a virtual doubling of government spending. It is entirely out of control.

I know that the member for Scarborough—Agincourt has many hardworking families in his community who are not happy to see their taxes funding that kind of out of control spending. In fact, we made a strong call for tax cuts. I stood in my place and called for tax cuts in the prebudget debate. The Liberals say they are acting on it, but like so many things in the budget, the action is not really there. In this budget year there is not one penny of tax cuts for hardworking families. The Liberals have made much of the tax cuts that are coming in the future and they are right. It will be $16 next year.

I would like to know if the member for Scarborough—Agincourt could tell us what he is telling families to do. How much time do they have to plan? What should they do in that year? How will they spend that $16 tax cut? Will it really provide them with support?

I remind the House again of my constituents who write to me saying that they make good money, if you want to call it--

The Budget March 7th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, this is a very curious budget. Most of what is the budget is not in the budget.

When we look at the numbers, only 7% of the spending commitments in the budget are in this budget year. Ninety-three percent of those commitments are in subsequent years. Therefore, all is not what it appears to be.

The Minister of National Defence and the hon. member talked about turning the corner and a new found commitment to the military. We still will have to wait a little while longer to turn that corner. That new found commitment is still out there several years before I think the government intends to find it.

While 7% of the budget is spending in this year, when it comes to the military, less than 4%, or less than one twenty-fifth, of the great commitment of the government to spend actually will happen in this budget year. Everyone knows that next year we will have a new budget that could in fact have very different numbers.

I want to know from the member what that means for Canada and what that means for the Canadian military. Will we lose that?

The member comes from a constituency with a lot of working people. I thought many of them would relate to a letter which I received recently from a constituent. It says: “Help. Both myself and my husband reside in Bradford and have three children. We work full time, pay more than our fair share of taxes and are still trying to make ends meet. Paycheque to paycheque is now the norm for us, for a lot of middle class people. We don't have any extras to do anything with our kids. I even have to pay extra tax to have my middle child tutored because she is finding the curriculum to be somewhat difficult. We don't even qualify for the child tax credit as we earn too much. Yet at the end of the day we pay so much in taxes that our net income is equivalent to our deductions. We both make good money, if you want to call it that--

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act February 25th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, in today’s changing economy, education is a critical ingredient. This is the case both for individual improvement and advancement, and for the development of human and social capital, essential to growing our country’s economy.

The Conservative Party understands the importance of higher education to improving the condition and standard of living of our families. We know the important role of education in making the cultural fabric of our communities stronger, and our individual lives intellectually rich and fulfilling.

And the Conservative Party understands the critical contribution of a skilled and educated workforce to the innovation, productivity and competitiveness of our economy.

Encouraging higher education and personal skills development is seen by the Conservative Party as fundamental to a strong economy and a brighter future for all Canadians. Learning and higher education in particular, is a positive social good that particularly benefits the individuals involved, while at the same time enriching all of society.

This bill to address the issue of problem student debt is well-intentioned. While I share the objectives of making it easier for graduates to cope with student debts, I am not convinced that the proposal before us today is good policy

We believe that the current law, providing that any student debt survives a bankruptcy for 10 years after a student leaves school is too long. But 2 years, as proposed in this bill, is too short, and may well encourage unnecessary bankruptcy declarations to shed debt, before individuals have an opportunity to become fully contributing workforce members and citizens for whom bankruptcy brings other adverse consequences.

Responsibility is also a value we want to promote--and we should be encouraging individuals to honour their obligations to their fellow citizens, whether that be by paying their taxes or paying their student loans. That is why we feel a five year period is an appropriate middle ground.

For those who feel student debt should be treated the same as any commercial debt, we should remember that there is a difference.

The criteria for commercial lending is credit worthiness and availability of assets for security. Student loans, however, are awarded on the exact opposite criteria—a lack of financial assets and a lack of income. Student loans are more like a social program than a commercial loan.

That is why we cannot understand the way this Liberal government is operating the Canada Student Loans program as a profit-making centre today. When banks lend to their best customers, those borrowers pay prime rate. A typical loan to an average customer is prime plus 1%.

Yet this Liberal government is charging students prime plus 2.5% on floating rate loans, and a staggering prime plus 5% on fixed rate loans.

Is it any wonder students are having trouble coping with debt. When the compounding factor is considered, it is not long before young people, trying to establish themselves and start families, find themselves sinking towards bankruptcy.

Right now, at posted floating rates, the government is charging 6.75% on student debt, money the government has borrowed at an average of 3.8%—that is a pretty good margin. It shows how the Liberal government is using the Canada Student Loans program to make a profit, rather than to assist young Canadians in achieving an education and building brighter futures.

We in the Conservative Party have been calling on this government to stop this practice of gouging students with excessively high student loan interest rates, and to lower the rate to a more conventional prime plus 1%.

Lowering student loan interest rates is a much better solution to student debt than having more young graduates start their working lives by going into bankruptcy. That is why we prefer lower student loan interest rates to a policy of making it easier to default on debt and go bankrupt.

While we have been calling on the government to restore fairness to student loan interest rates, we continue to have only uncaring, insensitivity in the Liberal indifferent response. In fact, notwithstanding higher tuitions, and rising debt burdens, this Liberal government seems blissfully unaware of the challenges students face today.

In the Conservative Party, we do not want the financial costs of education to be a barrier to learning. Fear of mounting student debt and bankruptcy cannot be allowed to prevent young Canadians from pursuing their dreams. If the financial burden of education is discouraging students from achieving their best, and enjoying the benefits of higher education, then all of us, and all of Canada, will be poorer for it.

This legislation is well-intentioned, but flawed. And its greatest flaw is that the answer to student debt problems lies not in easier bankruptcy, but in more manageable debt loads, with lower, fairer student interest rates.

That is why we, in the Conservative Party, once again are calling on this government to lower student loan interest rates to prime plus 1%. That is what Conservatives believe. And that would be a change for the better.

Post-Secondary Education February 18th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, Bob Rae's recent report on post-secondary education brought to light the government's lack of support for higher learning.

We now know that program funding to colleges and universities has been cut in half by the Liberal government. Students are paying the price with higher tuition fees and student debts, and this amazingly, when every credible authority is telling us that higher education is fundamental to economic growth and personal prosperity. The government pretends it cares about education, but its actions show exactly the opposite.

Will the minister commit to establishing a dedicated transfer committed solely to higher education?

Post-Secondary Education February 11th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, in a report this week, Bob Rae has exposed this government's use of Canada student loans to make money rather than assist students with education. The government charges students prime plus 2.5% interest. That is 6.75% right now. Yet the government pays less than 2% on Canada savings bonds.

Is it any wonder that people are finding themselves buried by student debt at a time when they are trying to build families and a brighter future? Why does the government use Canada student loans as a profit-making centre? Will the minister commit today to lowering student loan interest to prime plus 1%?