Mr. Speaker, speaking for the NDP, I rise to speak about Bill C-86, the budget implementation bill. I will run through some of the things we do not like, some of the things we wish were there and some of the measures that we have some qualified support for, particularly around oil spill response. I will then speak a little more in depth about pay equity, which is a long-awaited provision. We have been eagerly looking forward to it being brought into the House for three years, actually 42 years if we count the total sweep of time since it was first committed to by Liberals, and a lot of questions have come up about the mechanics of it.
However, first, there is one big missing piece. Although the bankruptcy laws would be amended through this proposed budget implementation act, they would only protect commercial licence-holders and corporations but fail completely to protect workers' pensions with those same bankruptcy laws. Our NDP colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, has been working for three years on this. When there is a bankruptcy, workers' pensions, which they have paid for, should be at the front of the line. How could the government, when it is for the middle class and all that jargon, have opened up that section of the bankruptcy laws but not introduced this amendment? It is so important, whether one is a Sears worker or Stelco worker. It is a major miss and a great disappointment. In fact, some have said it is a “moral failure”.
What is missing? If this were a New Democrat budget, we would have web taxation for the giant web companies. We would end pension theft. We would have universal child care. We would have closed tax loopholes. We would have much stronger measures against tax havens. A major way to fund our social programs in this great country is to close the offshore super-rich tax loopholes. We would have sick leave in EI. We would have universal, affordable pharmacare. We would have closed the funding gap for indigenous education and access to drinking water on reserves. There would have been more help for rural communities.
Here is one proposed provision that there is a mix on. We are glad to see an increased number of weeks for parental leave when divided between working parents, but, again, and we have made this argument every budget, it would only be effective for people who can afford to live on just 33% of their salary. It is not within reach or affordable for families who are not super well off. Also, as my colleague pointed out, six in 10 workers do not have access to EI. The program is still designed in a way that does not accommodate part-time and precarious workers, the people who most need the social safety net of EI. Therefore, it is a provision that although on paper looks good, and it is a good step I guess, it would not actually get to the people who need it. Of course, it does not get at the heart of the matter, which every gender-focused government and progressive government in the world has done, and that is invest in universal affordable child care. This proposed budget would not do that.
An issue I have been working on for at least 10 years in my role as Islands Trust Council chair and during the whole three years that I have been representing here concerns oil spill response. I represent a coastal community by the ocean. It has a lot of shipping traffic, a very sensitive ecology, fast-moving currents and big tidal fluctuations. A lot of jobs are dependent on the region; people are very concerned about oil spill response. Therefore, we were glad to see in the proposed budget a mechanism for the Coast Guard to receive upfront funding from the ship-source oil pollution fund.
Members might remember this fund from when I worked with the former fisheries minister, the member for Nunavut, to have the Viki Lyne II removed from Ladysmith Harbour. After four and a half years of trying, it cost $1.2 million, which was funded through the ship-source oil pollution fund. That abandoned vessel had been towed into Ladysmith Harbour by Transport Canada. The government brought it into our riding, and it took us that long to get it out, but that fund was used to remove the Viki Lyne II on the basis that removing that abandoned vessel would prevent an oil spill.
Therefore, it is good there is some conversation in this budget about how this fund might be used in a new and modern way. However, a provision in the budget implementation act that worries me is that it creates a mechanism for the government to put taxpayer money into the fund in the event it is depleted.
We have heard a lot of speeches in the chamber about polluter pays and making corporations pay for pollution. I agree with that, but this is the exact opposite of the intention of the ship-source oil spill pollution fund.
The following is part of a letter that I wrote when I was the Islands Trust Council chair in 2013 for the Tanker Safety Panel Secretariat under Transport Canada:
...this fund cannot be viewed as a “polluter-pay” arrangement, when industry has only contributed $34.86 million between 1972-1976 and none since then. On the other hand, I am told the taxpayer has contributed more than $424 million and the fund has paid out more than $51 million for industry's annual premiums to the international compensation funds. It makes sense to us
—that is, the Islands Trust Council—
that cargo owners and pipeline owners with marine terminals who profit by risking our marine environment and the health of our communities, should contribute to this fund to avoid the burden falling on the Canadian taxpayer.
That is how it should be. Industry should be paying for this fund. We really do not want to see the government opening up a mechanism to put taxpayer funds into this, even if it is only in an emergency situation. Rather, right now we should be asking the polluters to make contributions so that in the calamitous event there is an oil spill, we are able to have the funds right there that industry has already paid for.
Most importantly, I want to talk about the pay equity provisions. Going back in history, members will remember that it was 42 years ago that Pierre Trudeau's Liberal government committed to pay equity. In 2004, again under a Liberal government, there was a task force that had tremendous buy-in from all sectors and made very strong recommendations on pay equity that were never implemented. The NDP's very first opposition day motion in this Parliament was to have the government strike a special committee to find a way to implement those 2004 recommendations.
Here we are, three years later, and we wish it had not taken this long. However, we are glad to see the pay equity legislation finally tabled here. That it is buried in an 800-page omnibus bill is very discouraging. It means we cannot dig into the details, and there are a lot of them.
I have some questions about where this does not seem to align with the 2004 pay equity task force recommendations, which this Parliament's special committee unanimously said should be implemented. Pay equity is a fundamental human right, but this act's purpose clause defines it in terms of the employer's need. This is unheard of in a human rights statute in this country and completely contrary to the 2004 task force recommendations.
There will be no legal support centre for non-union women, as recommended in the 2004 task force. There will be no standalone enforcement entity as a specialized pay equity commission and tribunal. Again, that recommendation was ignored. The definition of “employer” is left out.
We had some testimony just this morning indicating that the finance committee ran through some of these mechanisms. We are getting good advice, but, again, we wish we had more time to debate and implement it.
A question was asked about why the new federal pay equity legislation would reduce the entitlements that women employed in precarious jobs currently have with that protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act. How could it possibly be that precarious workers would have less protection in this new bill than they do right now?
The timeline is a significant problem as well. Again, we have been waiting 42 years. It took the government three years to get to this point. The new pay equity act says that women could wait more than 10 years to receive a pay equity remedy: one year to develop the regulations, three years for pay equity plan development, and eight years for compensation and remedies to paid out in the case of workplaces with fewer than 99 employees.
This is not a situation where more consultation and more research is needed. Other countries have gone way ahead of us. Women have waited far too long. We really want to accelerate the implementation of equal pay for work of equal value.