Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize a wonderful partnership between Nova Scotians from my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's and the youth of Canada's north.
Julie Lohnes, from Rose Bay, Nova Scotia, started the Tusarnaarniq Sivumut Association, lnuktitut for Music for the Future, an organization that supplies musical instruments and workshops to Inuit youth.
The association celebrated its fifth anniversary with a sold-out annual benefit concert that included two fiddle workshop students, Colleen Nakashuk and Avery Keenainak, from Pangnirtung, Nunavut. They joined an already exciting lineup that included Juno award-winning singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant as well as the Riverport and Area Community Choir and master fiddlers Gordon Stobbe and Greg Simm.
Congratulations, Julie, on a resounding success. We thank her for all the hard work she does not only for her community but for the youth of Canada's north.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on Bill C-5. One of the greatest privileges of being a member of this place is the opportunity to create and improve legislation that positively impacts the lives of our fellow Canadians. I believe, in fact, that Bill C-5 is a case in point.
It is not news to Canadians that our country places great economic importance on the development of natural resources. Throughout our history, that has been the case. Forestry products, natural gas, hydroelectricity and oil are cornerstones of our export market and contribute immensely to the creation of jobs for middle-class Canadians. Some of our natural resources are also extracted offshore. In Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador people know the importance this activity has for their economies.
The offshore sector is, of course, the subject of the bill, specifically the occupational health and safety of offshore workers. Mirror legislation has already received royal assent, in fact, in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia. While the bill is quite large, several hundred pages or more, some observers have noted that it primarily lays down in law things that are already happening in practice. Unfortunately, one issue that the bill does not address is recommendation 29 from the Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry led by Commissioner Robert Wells.
The Wells inquiry was established by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board following the 2009 helicopter crash about 30 nautical miles off of St. John's, Newfoundland. As members may recall, the helicopter was carrying 16 people to work in the offshore fields when it crashed, killing 15 of those workers and the two pilots. Commissioner Wells recommended that a new, independent, stand-alone safety regulator be established to regulate safety in the offshore. In fact, I asked the minister about that idea a little earlier.
The commissioner went on to say that if recommendation 29 was not feasible, a separate and autonomous safety division of the C-NLOPB should be created to deal only with safety matters. Unfortunately, Bill C-5 does not implement this recommendation in either of the ways the commissioner offered as options. I would urge the Conservative government to see if it can address this fact when the legislation is sent to committee, which I think it will be, and amendments are brought forward. If that cannot be done, perhaps it could bring forward legislation soon, working with the provinces involved, obviously, to deal with this.
As Canadians, we are well aware, of course, of the oil sands. Its production, export and environmental impact colours the discourse of the government every day. It is often talked about here in the House, and these days in the U.S. as well. Lesser known but still valuable is our domestic offshore oil and gas industry operating in the coastal waters of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, even though in Nova Scotia there has been a decline in revenues from the offshore in recent years as the production of gas from existing wells declines and with the relatively low price of gas in North America. In fact, in North America the gas level price is about $3 whereas in Asia it is between $14 and $18, so there is quite a variation. That means that there is a little less interest these days in more costly exploration offshore versus production onshore, as is happening a great deal in the U.S.
The offshore industry in Newfoundland and Labrador produced more than 28 million barrels of oil in 2013. In Nova Scotia, offshore production accounts for a significant portion of the province's annual revenue, although it has been declining. The offshore oil and gas industry provides employment for Canadians and security for their families, for thousands of people. My hon. colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's, for instance, would know this having worked in the offshore. He would also understand that the primary concern of the industry is its own economic viability and success. Meanwhile, as legislators, it is our responsibility to strike a careful balance between the economic success of Canadian business and the rights of employees, and of course consideration for our environment. There are and must be times when these latter two take precedence.
Bill C-5 is one of the many tools to achieve this. Canada is often referred to as a nation rich in natural resources. We must ask ourselves how we should behave when we are labelled in this way, especially these days when there is so much concern about the impact on the environment of the exploitation of natural resources and when we need to have the social licence, whether it be within our country or beyond our borders in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline that has been proposed for example, when we need to have support elsewhere for what we are doing and a recognition that we are making important efforts and doing everything we can to ensure the environment is protected. I do not think most Canadians believe for a moment that the Conservative government has been doing that.
It seems to me that we should also be striving to set an example for other countries by valuing our human capital as much as we value the wealth we derive from our natural resources. The bill is very much about our human capital as we are thinking about the safety and health of our workers.
The bill will in fact effectively solve the issue of jurisdiction surrounding the occupational and operational health and safety in the Canadian offshore oil and gas industry. That is an important thing to do. It is frustrating that it has taken over 10 years to do that. This process has been under way and we have been discussing it a long time.
Nevertheless, for this reason, because it is achieving this, the Liberal Party supports Bill C-5. We believe we need to move the legislation to committee so that it can be studied, and if necessary improved. We certainly look forward to the opportunity to examine the bill, to hear from experts and to consider possible improvements.
The original offshore accords were signed in the late 1980s by Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. They were designed to establish guidelines for revenue and responsibility sharing of offshore oil and gas assets. These assets have since proved to be economically rewarding, especially so in Newfoundland and Labrador, and have supported programs beyond the scope of resource extraction.
Bill C-5 seeks to clarify jurisdictional issues that arise between occupational health and safety and operational safety, to create a streamlined process for rectifying health and safety issues and to assign responsibility. We do not want to have any doubt, when there is an accident in the offshore, about whether it is a matter of federal or provincial jurisdiction. We want to know that there will be clear laws, that the courts will know which laws apply, and that nothing falls through the cracks. We want to know that people are protected and that in the worst case scenario, God forbid there is another accident like the helicopter accident, families seeking redress know where to go, what to look for and what laws apply to them. That is obviously important.
The right to a safe workplace is one that all Canadians must enjoy. It is fundamental for all of us. Those of us who work in this place are very fortunate. We have a very safe environment, at least in terms of actual health and safety. I did not say it was secure, especially when elections come along. Nobody here has job security for more than four years or so.
However, we are very fortunate in the kind of work we do in this job. Generally speaking it is pretty good for health and safety. We do not have to engage in the kinds of work that some people in our country do have to engage in. We can think of that television show Dirty Jobs. There are many jobs in this world that are dangerous and challenging.
This morning as I left my apartment and walked here, the first thing I saw was a new building under construction across the street. I was thinking about the construction workers and the kinds of things they have to learn to work on a site such as that. There are health and safety things they have to learn to know how to operate in an environment where it can be somewhat dangerous. If they back up the wrong way or take the wrong step, they could be in a big trouble on a construction site with a building that is already 10 storeys high, and as I learned this morning, is going to be 22 storeys. That is the kind of place where people want to be careful.
The right to a safe workplace is something the government should keep in mind as it proceeds also with Bill C-4, the omnibus budget bill.
Though a safe workplace is not the reality for all, through the years, governments and parliamentarians have worked with stakeholder groups to improve the conditions faced by Canadians in their places of employment. That, obviously, is incredibly important work. Bill C-5 is an example of these efforts. In this case they are the efforts of the provincial and federal levels working together, which is nice to see. It is our collective responsibility, whether as a legislative body, employers or employees, or society as a whole, to ensure that the right to a safe work environment is respected. It is absolutely vital.
Conditions for employees on offshore drilling projects should be comparable to those found on land-based projects. There is no question that a drilling rig, whether offshore or onshore, can be a very dangerous environment. My brother at one time worked on offshore oil rigs, and I have certainly heard stories from him about the nature of them and what he had to learn before he could work there, especially if the work was around the equipment that was the most dangerous.
The mode of transportation to their work site should be safe and reliable. Think about the helicopter accident. Employees of the oil and gas sector offshore and their families should be able to leave for work with confidence that they will be returning safely home. They should be able to voice their concerns about unsafe working conditions when they find them without fear of reprisal or the frustration of drawn out and murky processes. It is important that the processes be clear and expedient.
It is our job to transform these topics of concern I have just listed into topics of confidence. Employees and their families can be confident that what is proposed in Bill C-5, as far as it goes, would improve the health and safety regimes of offshore oil and gas projects. It is up to us to decide by how much.
Members of our party believe that we need to ensure the separation of health and safety concerns from those of production and economic viability. They are two different things. We want to make sure that sometimes, when necessary, those health and safety concerns are paramount, as they ought to be.
Bill C-5 should guarantee that the proposed chief safety officer has powerful methods of inquiry to hold operators to account. A regime of self-regulation would be insufficient. I have already said that we do not think that the chief safety officer approach is necessarily ideal. There are others Commissioner Wells recommended, but since that is what we are going with, let us try to make it as strong as possible. The chief safety officer must not be influenced in decision-making by concerns of economic viability or by political pressure, obviously. This individual must be a champion of a healthy and safe environment for all employees who work on offshore oil and gas projects.
The Liberal Party places great emphasis also on search and rescue capabilities, or SAR, as it is called. This is a core element of the health and safety regime in the offshore industry.
The spring 2013 report of the Auditor General outlined significant issues regarding search and rescue capabilities, including a complete lack of federal policy in this area. The Attorney General is rightly concerned about the viability of search and rescue capabilities in the coming years and about the risk of leaving employees in the offshore sector with inadequate assistance in the case of major emergencies.
Bill C-5 includes guidelines on the safe transport of workers to and from the offshore site. It should also include a procedure for rescuing these individuals should something go wrong. This should be included in this legislation, it seems to me.
The unique challenges of the offshore oil and gas industry must be met by a complete and thorough plan of response. Bill C-5, as I said earlier, is the product of over a decade of negotiations and consultations among the federal government, the provincial governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and stakeholder groups. A decade is a long time. Really, it is excessive. I would hope that future negotiations would move more quickly. If the Conservatives, at least while they are the government, will take this seriously and move quickly, along with provinces—
Mr. Speaker, I want to advise the previous speaker that the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, herself a proud Nova Scotian, did not malign any one individual. She mentioned the very serious concerns about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, which I myself have very serious concerns about as well.
I want to start off today by thanking the government for entering into discussions to ensure that Sable Island possibly could be a preservation site and conservation site for as long as this planet exists.
I just want to understand a couple of things. This is the same government that had massive cuts to Parks Canada. This is the same government that we hear speech after speech from the Conservatives talking about how great this legislation is, how great it would be for Sable Island, yet what do they do? They invoke time allocation on this debate. Sable Island was there long before any of us were here. Hopefully, Sable Island will be there for many years after we are gone. Therefore, moving time allocation on important legislation like this is unconscionable. I would truly love for someone over there to explain to the Canadian people why they felt it necessary to invoke time allocation, unless they plan to prorogue Parliament very soon and thus they know that this bill would end up dead.
I am in favour of turning Sable Island into a national park reserve. However, like my hon. colleague for Halifax, I have some concerns that need to be addressed. That is why the NDP will be supporting that this legislation go to committee. We do not have much trust in that side, but we hope and trust that my colleague from Halifax will be able to invite any and all witnesses that her party wishes to bring forward, that the Liberal Party would be able to do the same, and that the Green Party could make submissions as well, to ensure that every single person who has reason to be concerned about Sable Island in the future would have the right to say so. We are talking about the Mi'kmaq, the first nations, the provinces, the oil and gas sector, the conservationists and the fishermen. All these people need to be heard.
It is too bad the Conservatives could not make a national park out of the Senate. That would be great. Lots of people could go and visit that room and the $92 million that is spent on the Senate could go to preserve Sable Island and all of the other parks we have in Canada and maybe even create a few more. Then those senators could be added to the Species at Risk Act. That would be a wonderful thing.
Here is the problem. I have heard these great Conservatives say time and time again that Sable Island would be preserved for future generations to come. That is wrong. I wish the Conservatives would get that out of their heads. Sable Island is not for human beings. It is not for people.
Farley Mowat, who is a great World War II veteran, a conservationist and a fantastic author, said time and time again, and my colleague, the member from the Green Party knows this well because we were together when he said it, “We, as humans, have an obligation to ensure to protect our environment. We have an obligation to protect 'the others'.” What he meant by “the others” were things like bugs, snakes, horses, plants, birds and seals. The other species that inhabit this earth deserve to have their place as well.
Sable Island is not like Banff National Park. It is not like Kluane in the Yukon. It is not like South Moresby. It is not like Nahanni. It is not like Kejimkujik. It is not like any other park out there where humans can go and interact and have fun and enjoy the beautiful parts of Canada that are absolutely gorgeous. Sable Island is so fragile and so special that we should limit, with the most extreme caution, the number of people who actually go to that island.
My colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's bragged about the fact he has been there dozens of times. He has been there two dozen times and I say he has been there 23 times too often. I have had the opportunity to go to Sable Island. I can assure members that it is a spiritual experience. It is beautiful. However, I felt guilty being there. I felt that I should not have been there. The reality is that with those horses, the plants and the birds, it is absolutely outstanding.
There are reasons why some people are very concerned about the bill and are very concerned about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.
I remember very clearly, as a private citizen, in 1995, attending a meeting at the Waverley fire hall in Waverley, Nova Scotia, which is now in my riding. The Sable gas people were there and the petroleum boards were all there. They had maps of the ocean, which had a dark black mark on Sable Island. It was blacked out. The first question I asked was why it was blacked out. They said, “That's Sable Island. We have no intention of touching it, ever. We are leaving it alone. It's too fragile”.
I understand the need for oil and gas exploration. I drive a car, I have a house that burns oil and I fly back and forth all the time. I understand that. I was so proud of the fact that these experts were saying that Sable Island was going to be left alone, with a mile buffer around it. I felt really good about that.
However, we were betrayed by the gas and oil sector. We were betrayed by other people. In fact, they did do seismic testing on that island. I remember it very well how—I cannot say what I want to say—upset I was that we were lied to at these meetings. These were professional people, and they lied to us. They said they would never do seismic testing on Sable Island, and they did.
My very serious concern is that if we do not do this bill right, if we do not put in the concrete measures to ensure we never allow seismic testing on the island ever again, I will not have a good night's sleep, assured that those horses, those birds, those plants and other species that inhabit that island are able to do what they do in God's wonder, to do what they have done for hundreds of years and, hopefully, for hundreds years more.
That island is not for people. The island is for the others. I wish everyone in this Parliament and across Canada would get that into their heads. This is too fragile an ecosystem and it needs to be, as best we can, left alone.
I appreciate the Minister of the Environment and the parliamentary secretary indicating that, yes, in some certain cases, in emergencies, oil and gas workers or people who find themselves in serious trouble could go to the island for rescue, because it is the graveyard of the Atlantic. I understand that, and under strict controls and under strict protocols that is something I think we can all accept. I appreciate that fact.
However, we need assurances from the Minister of the Environment and the government that when this bill gets second reading there will be no shenanigans at that committee, that there will be no time allocation, that there will be no rushing into in camera, as every committee here in this House does. We need to ensure that this is a public forum for all Canadians who are concerned about this precious jewel in the Atlantic and ensure that we do exactly what we are saying here today; that is that we protect the integrity of Sable Island for many years to come.
At the same time, the government has made massive cuts to Parks Canada. We have never heard anything, yet, about funding this. We would like to see where the dollars are going to come from, where the money is coming from. One of the ideas the member for Halifax indicated, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment also indicated, is a historical and interpretive centre in Halifax. Who is going to pay for that? Where is the money going to come from? What is it going to look like? We cannot have everybody going out to Sable Island to see it. It would be much better to have that interpretive centre in the community of Halifax or another community; I am not really particularly concerned about that. I just want to ensure that the dollars will be there to ensure that all Canadians, in fact, all world visitors who come to the area, will get to know that 290 kilometres from the east coast lies one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
It is important that we get it right. That is why the NDP, led by our critic from Halifax, has indicated our support for this legislation to second reading.
However, if we see a lot of games being played there, there is no guarantee that support will come afterwards. My colleague from Halifax has said very clearly that she so desperately wants to work with the parliamentary secretary, so desperately wants to work with the Minister of the Environment, and with the Conservative government, in order to ensure we get the legislation right.
That is uncommon in this place. Normally, anything the Conservatives do would just shut it down. Anything we say, they shut us down. This is an opportunity, in a bi-partisan manner, to work co-operatively together and get it right. I am not sure why the Minister of the Environment or the Prime Minister would not want to pursue that and show Canadians that, yes, Parliament can work together as it has on many other issues.
I was here when the protection of the Sable Island gully was there. In fact, I was quite proud of that because that was where the northern bottlenose whale lived. They offered limited protection to that area. It is a beautiful gully just off of Sable Island. It is absolutely gorgeous. I have never been to the bottom of it, but everything I have seen of it and the species that live under those waters is unbelievable. The Liberal government at the time worked co-operatively to get that done.
We need to ensure that the resources for our Coast Guard, Parks Canada and Environment Canada are there to ensure the integrity of this legislation is matched not only in words but in dollars as well. That is what we need to discuss at the committee stage as well.
We have been betrayed before. Not by the Conservative government, though, I will give it credit for that. It was not in power. We were betrayed by the provincial and federal governments at that time.
I can assure the House that there are a lot of environmental groups out there. I know the Ecology Action Centre and Mr. Mark Butler, one of the great environmentalists we have on the east coast, are very concerned about this legislation. Our colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands indicated the concerns of allowing the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board any kind of management say on anything regarding this Island.
Those are serious questions that need to be asked. I am not saying that someone is right or someone is wrong, but let us get the experts in. Let us get the people in at the committee stage in an unhurried manner, where we can take our time and do it right. If we do that, we can truly leave a legacy not just for people, but for the others with which we share this beautiful planet. That is the beauty of Parliament, when we can work together and achieve something that is greater than ourselves.
I will give the government credit. I used to live in Yukon near Nahanni, which is absolutely gorgeous. When that size increased, I was shouting from the rooftops. I thought that was absolutely wonderful. I remember our colleague, Svend Robinson, was arrested defending South Moresby. Look at it now. It is one of the most beautiful and enchanting areas on the planet on the Queen Charlotte Islands. He risked everything to ensure that happened.
We want to ensure that people do not have to protest in the streets of Halifax to ensure the protection of Sable Island. It simply does not have to happen. We can work in a co-operative manner and get it done.
I will offer some advice for the minister, though. There are a lot more protected marine areas that we need to have in our country and I am proud to hear him say Lancaster Sound. I am proud to see the areas of the Bay St. Lawrence and also on the west coast. I have had the opportunity to live in British Columbia and Yukon and now in Nova Scotia.
This is truly an absolutely gorgeous country. When we are connected in this regard, it is amazing what terrestrial and aquatic areas we have to enjoy in many cases. However, there are certain areas of the country which, in my personal view, should be left alone. Sable Island is one of them.
I give top credit to Zoe Lucas. She is only about 5'2" or 5'3", but she is dynamite. She knows more about Sable than the House collectively will ever get to learn. She is amazing, but she is one person. We need to ensure that it is not just her, because one day she may not be with us. She has worked in the preservation, acknowledgement and awareness of Sable Island. She has brought that to many people in Canada and around the world to ensure the integrity of that beautiful island.
The minister knows as he has been there. He understands the spiritual nature of that place. The last thing we need to see is hundreds of people showing up, taking pictures of horses and running around trying to pet them, stepping on their grounds and grass and everything else.
I have another concern. When I was on the fisheries committee for many years, we had a very serious issue with grey seals. Sable Island is the home of many grey seals. Their population has exploded.
One thing that we in the NDP will never accept is the cull of a wild species, where people shoot and kill the animals and they sink to the bottom and become crab or lobster bait. That is unacceptable. However, we will support a harvest of seals as long as the seals are utilized, whether turned into animal feed or other product. We would not allow an opportunity to go and kill 20,000 or 30,000 seals and then let them sink to the bottom. That does not make this country look very good internationally. However, if we utilize that seal product in a proper humane harvest, that would be good husbandry of the species, and would also protect the integrity of the island.
The minister probably knows that when that many seals congregate on a shifting sandbar like that, it can cause havoc and a lot of damage. We want to ensure that the grey seals do not overrun the island and cause even greater damage. We want to control the species in a manner that is not only humane but offers economic opportunities for some fishermen, and utilizes the seal to its maximum potential. To just go out and kill a whole bunch of them and let them sink to the bottom is not the proper thing to do, and it is also very un-Canadian.
Therefore, we need to know this from the minister, and hopefully we will learn this at committee: If indeed there is a time to harvest some of these seals to reduce the numbers, would the Sable Island park reserve allow limited hunting of those seals in that particular area? If it does, would it be done from the land or from boats? Having that many fishermen tramping all over the island could not be a good thing.
These are the types of things, in terms of strict protocols, that we would need to address to ensure that this legislation is done correctly. We are very proud of the fact that the federal government and the great Province of Nova Scotia and its wonderful NDP government are working collaboratively on many of these issues. However, we still do not have all the answers we are looking for. My colleague from Halifax has done yeoman's work in this regard. I can assure members that when this gets to committee, she will be like a pit bull on a bone to ensure that this legislation is exactly what it should be.
The reality is that she is the only member of Parliament of the 308 of us who has Sable Island in her riding, and that is a wonderful thing. Not many people get to say that. I know I do not. I am surprised she has not changed the name of her riding to Halifax—Sable Island. I do have McNabs Island, by the way. If members ever get a chance they should come down and see McNabs Island. It is absolutely beautiful. It is the same with Lawlor Island, but people are not allowed to go on that one.
The reality is that these are jewels in the Halifax area and off the coast of Nova Scotia that are absolutely gorgeous. I invite my colleague over there from Kitchener to come on down and I will give him a personal tour of McNabs Island and the other island. However, I will not give him a tour of Sable Island. I would encourage him to leave it alone. We will have an interpretive centre, which hopefully the federal government will pay for, and we will walk him through that. In fact, my colleague from Halifax will walk him through it as well, and tell him all that he needs to know. However, we just encourage him with the greatest of respect not to go on the island, because that many people on the island, even if it is strictly controlled, could have unforeseen consequences.
We want to ensure that the bill is done correctly. We want to work in a co-operative manner with the government. We do not like time allocation on this bill, and I would hope that maybe the Minister of the Environment could stand in his place and ask why the Conservatives moved time allocation on this very sensitive legislation.
I hope that, with our colleague from Halifax and the great NDP working with the Conservatives and our Liberal colleagues and Green Party colleagues, we will ensure that we get the right legislation to ensure perpetuity for Sable Island park reserve now and in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-15, the expansion and conservation of Canada's national parks act.
This bill would bring legal protection to Nova Scotia's Sable Island as Canada's 43rd national park. It is a key action toward the Government of Canada's commitment in its 2011 Speech from the Throne to create significant new protected areas. The passing of this bill would mark the end of the steps to which the Government of Canada agreed, with the Province of Nova Scotia, to designate Sable Island as a national park reserve, and the start of a new iconic national park reserve for all Canadians.
In fact, in October 2011, the hon. member for Central Nova and I were honoured to join with the Premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter, in Halifax to sign the memorandum of agreement for a national park at Sable Island. I know that each of us shared, that day, a strong sense that not only were we concluding almost 50 years of work to conserve Sable Island, but that we were taking the necessary action to protect this iconic landscape for the benefit of future generations. The dream of protecting Sable Island is a long-standing one that we hope to realize very shortly with the passage of Bill S-15.
As the hon. member for South Shore—St. Margaret's noted earlier in this debate, it was the call of schoolchildren from across Canada to stop the proposed removal of the famous Sable Island horses that resulted in the first federal conservation action in 1961. And, as the Sable Island region became the focus for petroleum development in the late 1960s and early 1970s, organizations stepped forward to draw national attention to the future of the island. During this time, the level of development and human use of the island declined, allowing nature to once again reassert itself.
As someone who has had the honour and the distinct pleasure of visiting Sable Island, I can attest to this House what a special place we are bringing under the protection of our world-class national parks system. In size, Sable Island is tiny in comparison to the 30,000 square kilometres now protected in Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, thanks to the actions of Parliament in 2009 when it significantly expanded Nahanni. However, from my first-hand experience, I can tell members that it is no less important. Nature indeed has reasserted itself, reclaiming Sable Island as a sanctuary for life on the edge.
As we fly into Sable Island, we cannot help but be impressed by the fact that this isolated sandbar island, located, as my colleagues have said, just under 300 kilometres from Halifax, has survived. It is amazing that it has survived, let alone sustained life. The island is a remarkable formation, not only for its geography as the only remaining exposed portion of the outer continental shelf in the northwest Atlantic, but for its wildlife. Some 190 plant species live there, including 20 that have restricted distribution elsewhere. It is a sanctuary for some 350 species of migratory birds, including the roseate tern that is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act. In fact, Sable Island is the breeding ground for virtually the entire world population of the Ipswich sparrow.
Perhaps most famously, Sable Island is home to a band of feral horses. The numbers vary, from year to year and from decade to decade, from 300 to 500 animals. It is one of the few bands in the world that remains entirely unmanaged. These horses were introduced, it is believed, in the 1730s, and were declared protected by the Diefenbaker government in 1961. As a Canadian, as a member of this House and as a visitor to Sable Island, I am proud to stand in this chamber to help conclude the work started back in 1961. What a legacy for this Parliament to leave to future generations.
And, what a legacy passed on from previous generations. As we have heard, Sable Island has a very long human history, some of it tragic. About 350 shipwrecks are recorded there, earning the island the title often referred to of “graveyard of the Atlantic”.
Life-saving stations were established there over 200 years ago and in subsequent years lighthouses and shelters for shipwrecked sailors were built, much attributed to the resourcefulness and determination of Canadians. Thanks to the professional expertise of Parks Canada, we will continue to tell these stories and will continue to share them with Canadians and people around the world.
The bill before us amends schedule 2 of the Canada National Parks Act to add the legal boundary description of Sable Island National Park Reserve of Canada. Using the national park reserve designation respects the ongoing discussions that the federal government is having with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia under the Made-in-Nova Scotia Process. The Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia support the national park reserve designation for Sable Island. The Government of Canada is committed to negotiating an agreement with the Mi'kmaq once the Made-in-Nova Scotia Process is completed in order to transition Sable Island to final full national park status.
Until that agreement is finalized, Sable Island would remain a national park reserve. I wish to stress that a national park reserve enjoys all the same protections that a national park does while respecting assertions of aboriginal or treaty rights. It is not a lesser category of national park. Some of our iconic parks, such as the Nahanni, in the Northwest Territories, and Gwaii Haanas and Pacific Rim on the west coast, are also still national park reserves. Nor is this time limited. We will not effect the transition to a full-fledged national park until we have concluded our work with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia.
As we heard, Sable Island is located in one of the largest offshore hydrocarbon basins in North America. I know that during this debate I heard again this evening concern expressed about the future of Sable Island and the petroleum activities that may be permitted within this region. However, at the end of the day, given that Sable Island National Park Reserve is being created in a region that is the subject of active petroleum exploration and development, I believe that our government and the Government of Nova Scotia have negotiated an approach to Sable Island that balances conservation and development in creating Canada's 43rd national park.
Members should consider what we would be accomplishing with this bill as it pertains to Sable Island. We would be creating a new and exciting park reserve on Sable Island that would conserve one of the largest dune systems in eastern Canada, habitat for endangered species and of course for the wild horses of Sable.
We would be protecting the asserted aboriginal rights and title of the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia while launching a new collaboration between Parks Canada and the Mi'kmaq. For the first time we would be putting in place a legislative ban on exploratory and extractive drilling for petroleum resources from the surface of Sable Island. We would be creating a legislated buffer zone around the national park reserve that prohibits drilling from the park boundary, which would be considered the shoreline at low tide, out one nautical mile.
We would be legally limiting the number of current petroleum-related activities that can be undertaken from Sable Island while directing those activities, if authorized, have low impact. I would be glad to speak to that in questions after these remarks. We would be putting in place a legislative requirement for the Offshore Petroleum Board to consult Parks Canada before consideration of any permits for this low-impact activity on Sable Island.
Finally, we would be providing opportunities for Canadians to experience and learn about Sable Island, whether by visiting the island itself or learning through various media.
At this time, I would like to echo the remarks of previous speakers in thanking the holders of petroleum discovery licences on or near Sable Island who voluntarily agreed to amendments that now fully and in perpetuity prevent them from drilling on the island and within the buffer zone of one nautical mile.
I too want to express my sincere appreciation to the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for their work in helping to create a national park reserve on Sable Island.
I want to again express my sincere appreciation to the Province of Nova Scotia for working with us from day one to realize this new national park reserve.
I would like to assure this House that for Parks Canada, Bill S-15 would be but a first step as it takes on administration of the island and begins to deepen the connection Canadians make with this remote place in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
In the coming years, the agency would work with partners and shareholders to protect this land of wild horses and windswept dunes, of shipwrecks and sea birds. The wild character of this island would continue to be a defining feature for those who make the once-in-a-lifetime journey there.
I have heard questions of mild concern to this effect, but Parks Canada would carefully facilitate experience opportunities while protecting the special place in perpetuity for the benefit of present and future generations.
At the same time that Parks Canada maintained Sable Island's ecological integrity, it would consult with the public and it would work with partners and stakeholders to prepare a management plan to guide all aspects of the future management of this wonderful national park reserve.
Now I wish to briefly describe the other proposed amendments to the Canada National Parks Act made in the second part of the bill.
First, with regard to the other proposed amendments in the second part of this bill, the bill before us would address issues raised by the standing joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations, in particular to correct the discrepancies between the English and the French versions of subsection 4(1). These changes are minor in nature. They would not alter the meaning of the clause.
The bill would also add a new subsection 4(1.1), which clarifies the authority of the Minister of the Environment to use section 23 or section 24 of the Parks Canada Agency Act to set fees in national parks.
In fact, an amendment to this bill in the Senate brought greater clarity to these changes. The bill would make changes affecting two national parks in western Canada. It would make minor changes to commercial zoning in the community of Field, British Columbia, in Yoho National Park, to reflect the current reality in Field while at the same time respecting the commercial limits established for that community and the community plan.
Finally, the last set of amendments is that Bill S-15 would change the leasehold boundaries of the Marmot Basin ski area that is within Jasper National Park of Canada by removing an area that is an important wildlife habitat for woodland caribou, for mountain goat, for grizzly bear and for wolverine in exchange for a smaller area of less ecologically sensitive land. This would result in a significant gain for the ecological integrity of Jasper National Park.
The Government of Canada is proud to table this bill to formally establish a Sable Island national park reserve of Canada, and to give this national treasure the highest level of environmental protection in the country. Sable Island would join with other places that have become Canada's premier natural and cultural icons in a national parks system that covers more than 326,000 square kilometres, an area that is 4 times the size of Lake Superior and that celebrates the infinite beauty and the variety of our land.
Bill S-15 marks the third time our government has brought before Parliament a legislative proposal to increase the size of Canada's internationally acclaimed network of national parks and national marine conservation areas.
In fact, in May 2011, Parks Canada was awarded the prestigious Gift to the Earth award by World Wildlife Fund, its highest accolade to applaud conservation work of outstanding merit. In recognizing a conservation action as a gift to the earth, WWF highlights both environmental leadership and inspiring conservation achievement, which contribute to the protection of our shared living world.
The Gift to the Earth award recognizes Parks Canada's conservation leadership and its globally outstanding track record in creating new protected areas and in embracing precedent-setting aboriginal participation in the establishment and the management of our protected areas.
I would like to briefly speak to some of these new protected areas, which would soon see Sable Island among them.
In 2009, Parliament unanimously passed legislation resulting in a sixfold expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve, bringing the park to 30,000 square kilometres in size.
It was remarked in the House that this was the conservation achievement of a generation, one that was accomplished with the close collaboration of the Dehcho First Nations. Designated one of the planet's first world heritage sites, this expanded park now protects in perpetuity significant habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and Dall sheep, as well as the famed South Nahanni River.
A year later, after a parliamentary review, the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site became the first marine protected area to be scheduled under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act. In a global first, this new marine protected area, along with the existing Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, protects a contiguous area that extends from alpine mountaintops right down to the bottom of the ocean floor—a rich temperate rainforest and its adjoining marine ecosystem now protected for the benefit of future generations. All of this was accomplished as we worked hand in hand with the people of the Haida Nation.
It is important to note that our government has not only worked to protect large or remote natural areas such as Nahanni, Gwaii Haanas and Sable Island, but we are also working to protect endangered habitat and species and to conserve some of the last large remaining natural areas in more developed settings.
In 2011, the government announced the purchase of the historic Dixon family ranch lands of the Frenchman River Valley, in southwest Saskatchewan, in order to protect it for future generations as part of Grasslands National Park of Canada.
This land acquisition of approximately 111 square kilometres within the west block of Grasslands National Park's existing boundary is significant for its spectacular scenery and its native grasslands, which includes critical habitat for species at risk.
Allow me to quote the hon. member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, when she observed:
This vast, windswept prairie was home to millions of free-roaming bison prior to European settlement. With the re-introduction of bison—an icon of the prairie—the park will restore grazing to this mixed-grass prairie ecosystem, enhance the long-term integrity of the park and once again give Canadians the opportunity to view these symbols of the prairie after over a century's absence in this area.
It is these kinds of actions that speak to the power of our national parks. Not only do they protect the natural areas that have been handed down from generations before us, but they also provide us with the opportunity to restore what might have been lost.
Again to Grasslands National Park, in 2009, Parks Canada reintroduced the black-footed ferret, a species that had disappeared from this region more than 70 years ago.
Finally, I am particularly proud of our government's initiative to bring the message of protected areas and conservation to the Rouge Valley of Toronto.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our government announced that it would work to create a national urban park, the first national urban park in Canada, in the Rouge Valley. This is an important initiative that would help increase the profile and public investment in urban conservation. I am also proud of the fact that our government will invest over $143 million, over 10 years, for park development and interim operations, with an annual budget of $7.6 million to continue operations.
The overall size of a Sable Island national park reserve and Rouge Urban National Park are not as large as our great northern and Rocky Mountain national parks, but they are no less important. They complement the mandate of large protected areas by focusing on some of our most endangered ecosystems, and they provide yet another opportunity to inspire people to take action to conserve their local natural areas.
Passage of Bill S-15 would ensure that the natural and cultural features of a Sable Island national park reserve of Canada would be protected forever, for the enjoyment, the appreciation and the benefit of current and future generations of Canadians.
I hope that hon. members across both sides of this House will join me in supporting Bill S-15.
Mr. Speaker, prostate cancer is a serious health concern for all Canadians. In fact, it is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canadian men. Prostate cancer accounts for over a quarter of all new cancer cases in men. As we in this chamber know all too well, it can have fatal consequences.
In my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's, Dan Hennessey of Bridgewater, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer over six years ago, has dedicated himself to making a difference in the lives of those going through this disease, in addition to doing his part to raise awareness. To this end, he authored a book entitled With the Snap of a Glove and most recently launched the Blue Glove Men's Health Fund, a not-for-profit that raises funds dedicated to men's health. The Blue Glove fund is committed to improving the health and wellness of men and boys and their families, through mobile men's health clinics and an education campaign.
I would like to thank Dan and recognize him for his dedication and hard work.
Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade has a keen interest in this bill, so with your consent I would like to share my time with the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's.
I am pleased to support Bill S-13, an act to amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. This bill originated in the other place and the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans studied the bill between November 8, 2012 and March 5, 2013. During the study, the Senate committee heard testimony from officials of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Oceans and Environmental Law Division of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the president of the Fisheries Council of Canada, and others as well.
The purpose of Bill S-13 is to enable Canada to ratify the international agreement on port state measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
On March 7, after examining the bill and hearing from witnesses, our colleagues in the other place passed the act to amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.
The port state measures agreement negotiations focused on illegal fishing and transshipping on the high seas, what we call IUU fishing or illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. IUU fishing is an issue of grave concern. The agreement deals with the worldwide problem of IUU fishing, which has deep economic and environmental consequences. The committee heard that the estimated economic loss from IUU fishing averages between $10 billion and $23 billion every year.
The international agreement ensures that there is a cohesive and collaborative effort to sustainably manage the resources contained in our oceans. On November 22, 2009, the member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN reached an agreement on it. Canada was one of the countries that played a leadership role in that effort. Canada signed the port state measures agreement in 2010 and now needs to follow through with this commitment by ensuring that our legislation is amended to fulfill our international commitments.
Some of the most important stipulations in the port state measures agreement include: establishing standards for information to be provided by vessels seeking entry to port; continuing to deny port entry and service to vessels that are implicated in pirate fishing or IUU fishing unless entry is for enforcement purposes; and, setting minimum standards for vessel inspections and the training of inspectors.
I can say that Bill S-13 is widely supported by the fishing industry and is necessary in order to fulfill our international commitments. The only criticism from the president of the Fisheries Council of Canada was that it took too long to negotiate and ratify this agreement. Therefore, I sincerely hope that my colleagues on the opposition side will not delay this bill and hold up the implementation of measures that would enable Canada to effectively combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Fish is a highly traded food commodity and as such illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing rapidly becomes a global problem with significant economic, social and environmental consequences. IUU fishing operators gain economic advantage over legitimate fish harvesters through lower cost of operations by circumventing national laws and regulations. They also undermine conservation and management measures of regional fisheries management organizations and other international standards.
Once IUU fish enter the market, it is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish them from legally caught fish. IUU fishing will remain a lucrative business if the benefits of landing and selling such products continue to outweigh the costs associated with being caught. IUU fish in the market can depress prices for fish products to unprofitable levels for legitimate fish harvesters. Canadian fish harvesters are susceptible to price fluctuations in international markets, as approximately 85% of fish caught in Canadian waters are exported, representing more than $4 billion annually.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, often referred to as pirate fishing, puts the livelihoods of legitimate fishermen around the world at risk and has an impact on the conservation and protection of our fisheries.
Pirate fishing is a global problem that undermines responsible fishing and has consequences on food security, safety at sea, marine environmental protection and the stability of prices for fish products in some markets. IUU fishing also poses serious potential threats to marine ecosystems and fish stocks. Therefore, by strengthening the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act we will protect this vital resource and support the international fight against pirate fishing.
Canadian fishermen feel the impacts of pirate fishing, including the depletion of stocks from overfishing, unfair competition with illegal fish products and price fluctuations created by illegal fish products in foreign markets. Therefore, we need to continue to be leaders in the fight against threats to our fishery in order to maintain a fair and stable market environment for our high quality fish and our seafood exports.
The proposed amendments to Canada's Coastal Fisheries Protection Act would help us to do that. The amendments represent the next steps in our effort to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. There are some loopholes now where fish can be caught illegally and then moved to another vessel, which can then legitimately say that it did not catch those fish illegally.
Bill S-13 proposes a new definition of fishing vessel that includes container vessels and any type of transshipment vessels so that transshipment at sea of fish that has not already been landed would be caught under the act. Also, if a country is fishing outside of the authority or the control of a regional fish management organization, if it is just fishing without any compliance with the international norms, then fish caught by that vessel would also be subject to intervention under the act.
The amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act would expand our capacity to deal with illegally caught fish from other jurisdictions. We would have the ability to deal with illegal fish product imports in the efficient way required by the port state measures agreement to which we are a signatory.
Canadians can be proud of our already strong port access regime for foreign fishing vessels. Among other measures, Canada does not allow entry to vessels on the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing vessel list of the Northwest Atlantic Fishing Organization, or the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, usually called ICCAT. The IUU vessel lists are a key tool for combating pirate fishing globally. These lists include not only the fishing vessels, but also any vessel that helps fishing vessels engaged in illegal acts. For example, if they provide fuel or transshipping products or packing materials, all of these activities would be covered and included in the list. Arrangements have already been undertaken among several regional fisheries management organizations to share their lists so that members can take the necessary action to deny port entry or services to listed vessels. This makes IUU fishing more and more difficult and expensive.
The proposed changes to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act set out even tougher prohibitions against the importation of illegally caught fish and other living marine organisms. Contravention of these provisions would be an offence under the amended Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, with penalties specified under the act. Together these measures would help dry up the profits from illegal fishing activities. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in close collaboration with the Canada Border Services Agency, would carry out monitoring and enforcement with a view to minimizing impacts on legitimate cross-border trade of fish and seafood products.
Canada has a large stake in the fisheries and a lot of the stocks we fish are straddling stocks, stocks of fish that move from one area to another in the ocean. This means that to protect our fisheries we have to protect them inside and outside of our exclusive economic zone. When we combat illegal fishing that takes place elsewhere in the world it has a far-reaching positive effect here in Canada.
Preventing illegally taken fish and seafood products from entering Canadian markets is also a priority for Canada's major trading partners. Stronger controls at the border would help maintain our reputation as a responsible fishing nation and trading partner. The amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act that are before us would strengthen and clarify Canada's domestic rules and reinforce our leadership role in the global fight against pirate fishing.
I am very happy and proud of our government, which has taken action against this global problem that has an impact on our fisheries here at home. I encourage all members of the House to support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for South Shore—St. Margaret's, I rise to recognize the new and inspiring partnership between organizer Al Sullivan's David Atkinson Memorial Bonspiel for Cancer and the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore.
Together, the memorial bonspiel and the foundation will raise funds dedicated exclusively to helping South Shore cancer patients. I am proud to stand in the House to recognize them today.
I would also like to acknowledge the South Shore's own Admiral Desmond Piers Naval Association. The association meets on a monthly basis as a place for people who have served at sea. It is 130 members strong and growing. Whether their legacy was with the navy, the merchant marines, the Canadian Coast Guard or the RCMP's marine division, members of the Admiral Desmond Piers Naval Association are all united by their love of the sea, their honourable service and, as any of them would put it, the salt water in their veins.
These Nova Scotians and the organizations they represent honour both their communities and all of Canada.
Order, please. If the hon. member for South Shore—St. Margaret's wants to contribute to this point, I would be happy to give him the floor, but I will do so when the member for Vancouver—Kingsway is done.
Mr. Speaker, community theatre enriches the lives of both those who take an active part in it and those in the community who benefit from attending the live theatre productions. In South Shore—St. Margaret's, we have been enjoying the wonderful performances of the South Shore Players for 20 years.
The South Shore Players offers its members the opportunity to showcase their talents and creativity and is helping to build the social and cultural foundations of our communities. This year's playbill is the culmination of many months of hard work by directors John Letson and Liesje Wagner Letson as well as the cast and crew.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the many dedicated volunteers, both past and present, who make these performances possible. I congratulate all those involved with the South Shore Players on their 20th anniversary and on seeing their efforts reach this incredible milestone.
Mr. Speaker, as was indicated earlier by the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's and by this member, our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of those who lost loved ones on the Miss Ally. The entire community of Woods Harbour, Nova Scotia, continues to grieve.
National Defence, the Canadian Coast Guard, the United States Coast Guard and private assets were all involved in the search and rescue mission. After the mission turned to a recovery operation under the RCMP, I immediately responded positively to a request from my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, that Canadian Forces assets also support the recovery mission.
Mr. Speaker, all members of the House are aware of the terrible tragedy that happened on Sunday, February 17 when the fishing boat the Miss Ally went down off Nova Scotia with the loss of five lives.
All of us, including my hon. colleague for South Shore—St. Margaret's, in whose riding the community of Woods Harbour is, and all those members across the country who have either through direct experience living near fishing communities or having visited the coast of the country and other parts of the country where there are fishing communities, recognize what a dangerous lifestyle it is to go out on the sea and fish, particularly in a month like February.
All my colleagues, like my hon. colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's, join me and the Liberal Party in expressing our condolences, our heartfelt sympathies to the people of Woods Harbour, especially the families affected by this terrible tragedy.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of our NDP motion to fix Canada's employment insurance system and to help those Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The House has only been in session for one week. I rose in question period every single day in that week to hold the government to account for the consequences of the draconian changes to Canada's EI system. We raise these issues to throw the spotlight on the government's failure to address the needs of Canadians, but frankly we also do it in the hopes that the evidence we bring to bear will get the government to reconsider its direction.
Certainly, our efforts have worked in the past, even with the Conservative government. After months of raising questions in the House, the government finally backtracked on the F-35, reversed itself with respect to the export of asbestos and of course, most infamously, we were even able to force the Conservatives to concede that there really was a recession in 2009 and to invest in infrastructure renewal. Even with EI, we saw a partial reversal by the minister when she conceded we were right about the punitive impact of her changes to the working while on claim program. Truthfully though, I am less optimistic this time around. Why? It is because the chasm between the reality faced by unemployed Canadians and the minister's fiction about that reality is widening every day and I do not think that is happening by accident.
Let me just give two quick examples to illustrate the point. To justify the government's agenda of change with respect to employment insurance, Conservative members insist on saying that there are thousands of jobs going unfilled in Canada because the unemployed do not want to work. That is simply not the case and the government knows it is utter nonsense. Statistics Canada has shown that there are five unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. In Atlantic Canada there are as many as ten unemployed workers for every job that is available. Clearly, the real issue is the government's abysmal record on job creation, not the desire of Canadians to work. What an inconvenient truth. No wonder the Conservatives are continuously loading the dice against Statistics Canada's ability to do its job effectively.
From that overarching myth, let me give another example of Orwellian doublespeak by the government. On Friday, I called on the government to come clean on the new quotas that the minister has given to her staff for recovering money from EI recipients. She is demanding $150 million a year. The minister denied it vehemently, saying there was no such quota, but outside the House she later conceded that there are indeed objectives to that effect. How can we in the opposition, and more importantly, how can Canadians have a fruitful discussion with the government about the devastating impact of its changes when the government so steadfastly refuses to be honest? I understand spin but the government has taken that notion to a level that is completely unacceptable.
Members may remember Stephen Colbert's term “truthiness”. Well, we have it here in spades. Truthiness is what one wants the facts to be as opposed to what the facts are, what feels like the right answer as opposed to what reality will support. That kind of truthiness is a huge threat to our democracy because the legitimacy of democratic governance relies on an informed citizenry.
Let us try to turn the tide and talk about the challenges facing EI recipients in a realistic way. Let us look at the changes the government has introduced since its spring budget last year and see if we can work our way to a consensus about what needs to be done to reverse the damage. I am not overly optimistic but Canadians depend on us to give it our very best shot.
Throughout the recession the Conservatives largely left the existing EI program in place and in this new spirit of hope for co-operation I will even give them credit for adding several EI related stimulus programs to their economic action plans in 2008 and 2009. However, that was then and this is now.
Despite the fact that the economic recovery is far from complete, the Conservatives are now tightening the screws by making eligibility requirements even stricter so as to further limit access to EI, and by limiting the EI appeals process. These punitive reforms cater to negative stereotypes about EI recipients and ignore the realities of regional labour markets and seasonal industries. They will hurt both workers and communities.
Let us look at the facts. It is a fact that fewer unemployed Canadians will receive EI under these new rules. The government estimates that the changes will lead to 8,000 claimants being denied benefits, amounting to $30 million a year. It is a fact that unemployed Canadians will now be forced to accept lower wage jobs, paying up to 30% less than their previous job. This will drive down wages for all Canadians. It is a fact that valuable skills will now go unused. A skilled tradesperson or teacher on EI will now be pressured to accept a different, often lower skilled job. It is a fact that workers in seasonal industries will be particularly hard hit, since frequent claimants are the most targeted under the Conservatives' reforms.
Clearly, this is an ideological attack on workers. If the government were serious about connecting Canadians with jobs, its agenda would not be focused on tightening EI, but rather it would be focused on the urgent need to create jobs.
The real problem in Canada is that there are too few jobs. Further punishing the innocent victims of Canada's economic turmoil does nothing to right the ship. On the contrary, it adds to the decline of the thriving families and communities whose purchasing power drives local economies. If the government wanted to help workers, then it would be investing in training and apprenticeship programs that would train unemployed and young workers for available jobs. It could have adopted my Bill C-201, which would help tradespeople and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income so that they could secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their homes.
Those would be concrete steps in the right direction for connecting people with jobs. However, by focusing on cuts to EI instead, the government is simply laying the groundwork for employers to bring in migrant workers and pay them less than the prevailing wage. Am I surprised by all of this? Of course not.
Members will remember the Prime Minister's comments, in 1997, when he told the American Council for National Policy that, “In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don’t feel particularly bad for many of these people”. Not to be outdone, his colleague, the Conservative member for South Shore—St. Margaret's later called unemployed Canadians “no-good bastards”. The minister is on the record saying that she does not want “to make it lucrative for them to stay home”.
Clearly, Canadians cannot trust the Conservatives on this file. The Liberals pioneered the approach of attacking the unemployed, making EI less accessible and raiding the EI fund to the tune of $54 billion. Only New Democrats have consistently fought on the side of workers. We know and believe that employment insurance is not a government benefit. It is paid for by workers and employers. Canadians pay EI premiums in good faith so that EI will be there for them in times of unemployment.
The reason my colleagues and I brought forward today's motion is to protect that sacred trust from governments' repeated attacks. We will roll back the callous Conservative cuts and we will continue to work with labour, business, provinces and territories to find longer-term solutions to help Canadians find jobs, without treating unemployed workers as the problem.
I invite the Conservatives to reconsider their approach and to support our motion. There is no shame in making a mistake. The shame lies only in the refusal to acknowledge it and correct it.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to present a petition to the House of Commons from my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's, primarily from the Hubbards-Black Point-St. Margaret's Bay area of the riding.
The petition is on the financial support for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to recognize two significant accomplishments in my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's.
First, I want to recognize Bailey Cameron. Bailey is from Woods Harbour, Shelburne County, and she plays on the bantam girls baseball team. Bailey will be playing with the Canadian junior girls national team in Cuba this February and is the only Nova Scotian to make the team.
I say, “Way to go, Bailey”. Her hard work has paid off and her community is exceptionally proud of her achievement. On behalf of the Parliament of Canada, I say congratulations and wish her the best of luck in Cuba.
Second, I would like to recognize the relaunch of the Bluenose II. The Bluenose is steeped in Nova Scotia legend and is part of our nautical history. From the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, which did the refit, to the present captain and crew of the Bluenose II, I offer my congratulations to all who have been involved in this historic project, for truly the Bluenose is sailing once again.
With regard to government expenditures in Nova Scotia: (a) what is the total amount of all government grants provided to the following Nova Scotia ridings from 2006 to 2012, broken down by year, (i) Halifax West, (ii) Halifax, (iii) Sackville-Eastern Shore, (iv) West Nova, (v) Kings—Hants, (vi) Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, (vii) Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, (viii) Sydney—Victoria, (ix) Central Nova, (x) Cape Breton—Canso, (xi) South Shore—St. Margaret's; and (b) what is the total amount of government loans provided to the Nova Scotia ridings listed in (a)?
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations.
Bill C-44 would provide a series of improvements, most of them through the employment insurance program, to Canadian families who desperately need the support of their government. For that reason, we are pleased to support this bill.
In fact, some of the provisions of the bill were lifted straight out of my private member's Bill C-362, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I will consider myself flattered. Let me review which parts of Bill C-44 were lifted from my bill.
First, one of the proposals included in the government's bill would amend the EI Act to allow mothers and fathers currently on parental leave to access EI sickness benefits if they fall ill during their parental leave. This is a welcome and long overdue amendment. There are few Canadians who would disagree that new parents, who very often are already stretched both physically and financially, should not be penalized if they become ill while on parental leave.
I am a little puzzled though as to why the minister would have stopped short of extending this benefit further. If she appreciates the injustice of denying sickness benefits to those whose circumstances change while on parental leave, then why did she fail to apply the same consideration and logic to workers who are laid off while on parental leave? Why would she solve one injustice and at the same time wilfully ignore the other?
My bill does take that extra step. It would fix that wrong. It points out that those on parental leave, the very same physically and emotionally drained new parents who sometimes become ill while on parental leave, can through no fault of their own find that they have been downsized or laid off while on parental leave. As it currently stands, parents in that situation are denied benefits and, inexplicably, the government is content to leave them twisting in the wind, unsupported by even the meagre support provided by EI.
On the upside, my private member's bill also includes provisions to cover the self-employed in this benefits arrangement, and I am pleased to see that the government has at least adopted that.
Let me move on to special benefits that Bill C-44 would provide for parents caring for a child with a critical illness or injury.
While support for these parents is important and, frankly, long overdue, I am concerned that parents are only eligible if they have worked a minimum of 600 insurable hours over the past year. More than anything, this raises the question for me of whether the EI program is the best vehicle for delivering this parental support.
I would point out that at one time the government agreed with me. As recently as 2011 the Conservative Party platform read, “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”. The Conservatives were right to adopt that approach.
Whether one is a waged worker, a senior manager, a professional, or a stay-at-home parent, the devastation of a critically ill child is the same. All Canadians who find themselves caring for their seriously ill child are incurring a myriad of expenses that go beyond lost wages, and they all deserve our support.
What happened to make the government change its mind? The grant for parents of murdered and missing children will be paid from general revenues and not through EI, but with respect to critically ill children, the Conservatives have ignored their election promise and are paying for their commitment through EI.
I do not need to remind anyone in the House that the EI fund is not the government's money. It is a fund to which only workers and employers contribute, so for the government to draw on that pool of money to create a photo op on a policy announcement no matter how positive is surely beyond the pale.
As tempting as it is for me to go on about that theme at greater length, let me leave the Conservatives' partisan antics aside and return to the policy itself.
Mercifully, I have never experienced the anguish of parents whose child is diagnosed with a serious illness. I can scarcely imagine how difficult and frightening it must be. It is precisely at life-altering moments like those that we all need not just our friends and families, but our communities and our government as well. At the very least, government must ensure that their burden is not increased by adding financial worries to the heap. Surely that is one of the principal ways in which government directly serves the needs of the community, of people, of taxpayers.
I am pleased that the government has finally moved to provide a basic level of financial assistance for those Canadians. It is not enough of course. Families going through serious illness incur enormous expenses, and EI benefits are a maximum of 55% of income, but it is a start.
Having said that though, a few other questions must also be addressed.
The government says that it intends to make these benefits available to the parents of children who are “critically ill or injured”. I am deeply concerned about how the government intends to define “critically ill or injured”.
As it stands now, compassionate care benefits have been available to parents of a child who faced “a significant risk of death within 26 weeks”. That incredibly cold and narrow definition of serious illness will certainly keep program costs down, but it fails a huge number of the very same Canadian families the government says it wants to help.
Serious illness just does not work that way. Health care does not work that way. Families do not work that way. The Canadian Cancer Society points out that parents of critically ill children have been reluctant to submit claims for financial support because they did not wish to acknowledge that their child had a significant risk of dying.
Of course, through the advance of research, survival rates are, thankfully, increasing. For example, over the last 30 years, childhood cancer survival rates have improved substantially. They have gone up from 71% in the late 1980s to 82% in the early 2000s, and the five-year survival rates have increased for several types of childhood cancers.
Obviously, I am not a health care professional, but I cannot imagine that the government's insistence on a formal declaration of near imminent death is medically wise, never mind emotionally tolerable. Rarely are parents or doctors comfortable being so categorical about a child's prognosis, and to put parents in the position of requesting such a declaration so they can access desperately needed financial assistance is, to me, unconscionable.
In reality, many childhood illnesses that were considered terminal even five years ago are no longer so. Childhood cancers are notorious for peaks and valleys, remissions and recurrence, and increasingly, cure. The current black and white definition of critical illness means the parents of the child that faces a difficult and uncertain course of chemo or an organ transplant, but whose child has a reasonable chance of survival cannot currently access this benefit. Surely the minister appreciates that those parents need support too.
It is a situation that the minister must ensure is remedied in the regulations attending this bill. The definition of “critically ill or injured” must not be conflated with “significant risk of death within 26 weeks”.
Let us move on to some of the other provisions in the legislation before us.
Bill C-44 provides for changes to the Income Tax Act that will facilitate a direct grant to the parents of missing or murdered children in Canada. Importantly, there is a caveat. The missing child must be missing on account of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code.
A couple of concerns come to mind immediately. First, while this grant is unique in the legislation insofar as it is not part of the employment insurance system, it is nonetheless tied to the income of the parent. In order to apply for the benefit, a parent must have earned a minimum of $6,500 in the last calendar year. I wonder what the government has in mind with respect to stay-at-home parents, for example, whose child is missing as a result of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code. That parent, who may have other children to care for, who may be a caregiver for an elderly parent, who undoubtedly has responsibilities in his or her own home and community, has no access to this benefit.
Why has the government tied this grant to income? Surely all parents of children missing in a suspected criminal case need and deserve the financial support that permits them to focus on the crisis in their family.
Second, and I spoke to this in response to the minister's speech just a few minutes ago, I am still not sure I understand the rationale behind providing support only for parents whose children are missing “as a result of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code”. If I am understanding this right, if a family were to go wilderness camping, say, and their toddler wandered away from the campsite and ended up missing, the parents would not be eligible for any support during their time of frantically searching for their child. Why is that? Why is that awful situation any less worthy of support? Did the government's need to feed the rhetoric of its law and order agenda take precedence over good public policy here? I am simply not understanding why the Criminal Code caveat was deemed necessary to add in this bill.
That takes me to the larger context of the bill. I have acknowledged that the legislation before us today provides a small but important improvement for new parents who get sick while on parental leave. I welcome the additional support for parents of critically ill or injured children and those whose children are missing or murdered. Those are indeed positive changes, and I am pleased to see that the government is taking steps, tentative though they are, toward developing an understanding of working Canadian families and the struggles that they face.
What the legislation does not do speaks volumes about the government's view of the appropriate use of the EI fund. At a time when at least 1.4 million Canadians are out of work, the government crafts EI legislation that provides a benefit only for people who are not, in fact, unemployed. How ironic is that?
While the official number says unemployment sits at about 7.3%, we all know that the number is much closer to 14%. The government knows that as a result of its policies, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are not included in that number. Those no longer looking for work or who are employed in part-time, temporary or casual employment are not counted in the official figures.
The real unemployment rate is a frightening indictment of the government's failed economic policies. The fact is that 300,000 more Canadians are unemployed today than during the recession. This is a government with no industrial strategy and a government that is overseeing the decimation of the manufacturing sector.
The fact is that Statistics Canada pointed out last spring that there were almost six unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. The fact is that the government's failed economic policies have devastated workers and families across the country. Its economic action plan is comprised of little action and lots of advertising.
To add insult to injury, while Canadians continue to suffer the consequences of the Conservatives' discredited and ineffective trickle-down policies, the government has moved to restrict and undermine the very social safety net that was designed to help families weather such economic downturns.
Less than half of unemployed Canadians now qualify for EI benefits. Fully 60% of unemployed men and 68% of unemployed women get no support whatsoever from EI and 870,000 Canadians have no access to EI benefits, despite the fact, again, that employment insurance is a program entirely paid for by workers and employers, a program funded without a nickel from the government's treasury. That is an historic low.
No doubt the government is proud of successfully shutting more than half of unemployed Canadians out of the insurance system for which their own hard-earned wages have paid. It hurts workers, small businesses and communities, but it helps build that EI surplus, which successive Liberal and Conservative governments have raided to the tune of $54 billion to pay down their debts and to finance more corporate tax cuts.
The government has no understanding of the devastation that job loss can bring to a family. There are 1.4 million Canadians officially out of work. Those families are on the knife-edge of poverty. They are losing their homes and savings. Their kids cannot join sports teams or travel with the school band or, far too often, start the school day with a decent breakfast.
However, the Prime Minister betrayed his lack of compassion and understanding for unemployed Canadians when he told the American Council for National Policy, in 1997:
In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
Who knew that when Mitt Romney accused 47% of Americans of being work-shy layabouts, that he stole the line from the Prime Minister? Not to be outdone, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it”.
With that kind of cabinet leadership, it is no wonder that the prevailing attitude of Conservative backbenchers toward the unemployed is, in the now infamous words of the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's, they are “no-good bastards'”. What a way to blame the victims for the government's failed economic policies.
The Conservatives say that they are focused like a laser on jobs, but clearly their focus is on job cuts not job creation.
The stark reality is that unemployment in Canada is unacceptably high and access to employment insurance benefits is at a record low. When one of the 40% does manage to jump through the myriad of hoops designed to disqualify people from benefits, they can only get benefits that max out at $485 per week and are available to them for shorter and shorter periods.
I will remind members again that all of that must be seen in the context of one overriding truth, and that is the employment insurance system is 100% funded by employees and employers. Indeed, the Conservative fondness for Tea Party politics is evident again.
EI begins to look more and more like U.S.-style private health care coverage. Sure, companies offer insurance, provided people are young, healthy, have no pre-existing condition and are statistically unlikely to ever claim a nickel from them. So it goes with Canada's EI.
Sure, we have employment insurance. Individuals and their employers will have to fully finance it with significant premiums, of course. However, goodness, if they ever actually want to use the safety net they paid for, the government will throw up as many roadblocks as it possibly can. They have to wait two weeks without any money, even after filing their claim, and they cannot get benefits if they have not worked immediately prior to their claim, even if they have paid into the fund for many years. If they somehow manage to clear those hurdles and they do get benefits, it is only 55% of their wages. Retraining for a transitional economy, new skills? Oh dear, no, the government does not do that.
Where is the comprehensive study of the employment insurance program? Where is the strategic analysis and the comprehensive reform the system so clearly needs? Where is the jobs strategy, the skills training, the second career program, the forward-looking, aggressive and progressive programs to get Canadians' skill sets renewed and retooled and to get Canadians back to work? Where is the vision? Where is the leadership? In fact, there is none in the bill, not from the government.
We have before us a bill that provides important support to, by the government's own admission, perhaps 6,000 Canadians. However, we are puzzled. None of those 6,000 Canadians are actually unemployed. Do they need and deserve government support? Absolutely. Can I remind the minister of the very first line of the Service Canada website, which stipulates, “Employment insurance provides temporary financial assistance to unemployed Canadians who have lost their job through no fault of their own while they look for work or upgrade their skills”.
The bill before us today would do absolutely nothing to support that mission statement. It would provide financial assistance to not a single, unemployed Canadian. It fails completely to address the urgent needs of the at least 1.4 million Canadians without work, without a paycheque and, increasingly, without hope.
On this file, the only leadership is coming from this side of the House of Commons under the leadership of the member for Outremont, the leader of the official opposition. We are the only party that offers policies to extend access to EI benefits, not to limit it further.
When will the government listen to Canadians, as we have done, and undertake a strategic review of the entire program, with a view to: extending EI stimulus measures until unemployment falls to pre-recession levels; eliminating the two week waiting period; returning the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment; raising the rate of benefits to 60%; and improving the quality and monitoring of training and retraining?
That is the kind of support unemployed Canadians, and the Canadian economy, needs from the government.
Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the Conservative backbenchers cherry-pick quotes from testimony that I sat through. I had heard a very different set of testimony from all the people they are quoting. However, it is a larger issue. It is the contempt for Parliament that this government shows again and again.
Yesterday, the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's said that our participation in this debate was not legitimate, that there was no legitimacy for members of Parliament to do their job. The fact is that it takes them a day of having to listen again to the problems with this bill. That is what debate is about.
I ask my hon. colleague to at least be truthful on this. The Conservatives did not work with anybody on amendments. They did not listen, so it is our right as opposition to point out the flaws of the bill. That is the democratic process. If he does not like the democratic process, they should just shut this place down.
Mr. Speaker, I sat with my hon. colleague on the committee. We heard witness after witness. The Conservatives keep talking about all the witnesses we heard, but they ignored every one of them. Sure we had lots of testimony. They ignored it. They said that they were willing to work with everyone, but ignored everyone.
Then the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's said that it was not legitimate in the House for us to debate because they were tired of debating. The issue is that he has accused us. When we have tried to get simple answers about the attack on artists' royalties, the attack on students, on the need to modernize copyright, our willingness to work, the Conservative member has said that there is no legitimacy to debate.
I would like to ask my hon. colleague about a bigger principle than the issue of copyright, and that is the importance of democratic debate and a government that continues to attack the witnesses, to misrepresent the facts, to attack the opposition and to cut down legitimate debate. Our job is to debate, especially when a bill is as wrong as this copyright bill.
Mr. Speaker, today I would like to recognize one of Canada's great young sport stars.
Whitney Lohnes, from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia in my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's, recently won a gold and silver medal in Judo at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. She also medalled at the Pan-Am Games and won a gold medal at the 2011 Canada Games.
Whitney is currently studying at Concordia University in Montreal and training with Olympic coaches and national team members in the hopes of representing Canada in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
Ms. Lohnes is a recipient of the 2011 Roland Michener Canada Games Award received by two Canada Games participants in recognition of their strong leadership skills, athletic and scholastic excellence.
In closing, I congratulate Whitney on her many accomplishments and wish her continued success in all of her future endeavours.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans for bringing this issue to the attention of the House of Commons so that we could have this important discussion.
I am very happy to have an opportunity to participate in this debate around childhood obesity, something that is, unfortunately, a problem for too many Canadian families. It is an issue that was included as part of the health committee's 2011-12 study on health, health promotion and disease prevention.
The Standing Committee on Health also tabled a report on obesity in 2007 that called for a public awareness campaign, simple label packaging and the removal of transfats from the Canadian diet.
Those of us who are parents know the challenges of raising children in an age where kids are more interested in playing video games than in going outside to play catch, or street hockey, or ride their bikes. I am pleased to say that tomorrow I will be out with my 15-year-old son and his venturers company, as it is called, cycling in the St. Margaret's Bay area, partly in the riding of my colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's and partly in the Halifax West riding. I am looking forward to that. However, I know what a challenge it is for all parents to get their kids away from their Game Boys, their XBoxes--
The electoral district of South Shore--St. Margaret's (Nova Scotia) has a population of 82,855 with 66,733 registered voters and 192 polling divisions.
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