Mr. Speaker, this debate is the furthest from hypothetical debates we could find.
I want commend my colleague, the member for Sydney—Victoria, for bringing forward his motion, which is extremely important. He is a very active advocate for agricultural producers and for agribusiness. He viscerally understands the role and the purpose of Canada's agricultural sector in a larger economic context, a theme I will come back to in a few moments.
I want to go back to first principles for listeners, readers or people watching this debate. Let us collectively recall that Canada's railroads were built chiefly with the leadership of government and that they had a unique foundational role to play in helping to kick start our economy and underpin this post-modern economy in which we now live. In fact, rail is indispensable to Canada's economic success. That is woven into the fabric of the specifics that my colleague from Sydney—Victoria wants to see examined in his important motion; what we see with respect to the government and how it interfaces with the transportation sector and its responsibility for transportation.
First, governments have an obligation always to get the big things right, the things on which Canadians count. One of the chief responsibilities of a federal government is transportation, which includes transportation policy, regulation, enforcement and so on.
We have seen an increase in agricultural production, in natural resource exploitation, the transportation of oil by rail and stability, if not a slight increase, in passenger rail transportation across Canada. The government knows this. In fact, for almost a decade now it has watched this growth. However, as my colleague from Sydney—Victoria pointed out, we have seen the government reacting in knee-jerk fashion. It is almost as if it is jumping from one ice floe crisis to another ice floe crisis, depending on the crisis of the week, month or year. It is so much so that now our rail system is in flux.
Our rail system is in crisis. We have ships waiting off the west coast of Canada for our grain, our agricultural products and sometimes for other natural resources. We have seen a massive 1,200% increase in the transportation of oil by rail. The government has known this for almost a decade. We have seen a crisis emerge in passenger rail services in the country. There have been complaints from all over northern Quebec, from Sarnia, Sault Ste. Marie and so many other smaller parts of Canada that are witnessing a decline in service, frequency and availability. On all fronts, we have a problem.
What has the government's reaction been to this problem in almost a decade? Its first reaction was to appoint five transportation ministers in less than nine years. No minister can take on a portfolio like Transport Canada seriously and commit the time and effort that is required to improve the transportation system by flitting in and out, either heading up, down or out of cabinet. This is what we have seen with a succession of cabinet ministers.
One of the things I have noticed in my time as the transportation critic for the Liberal Party of Canada is a proximity relationship between the regulated railways sector and the regulator at Transport Canada. This has deeply concerned me. This relationship, in my view, and I do not say this lightly, between Transport Canada, its minister, its staff, its good officials and the regulated sector of the railway is too close. It is too cosy. It is almost too integrated, and we have seen this as we have studied the safety management systems that apply as much to the transportation of grain as they do to the transportation of oil.
The facts are, as I mentioned, there have been five ministers in nine years. There has been an Auditor General's report, which can only be described as scathing. Over a four-year period, the Auditor General ferreted through what was happening at Transport Canada and came back with some incredibly problematic and troubling findings, thing likes in a four-year period, the government had not had Via Rail, with its millions and millions of rail passengers a year, audited by a qualified inspector for its safety management system.
In the entire rail sector, only 25% of all the audits that were supposed to have been done, planned by the government, were in fact done. It does not increase our confidence in rail safety, particularly in response to and after the terrible tragedy of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec.
As my colleague pointed out on penalty provisions, the minister was buttonholed last week by media. On camera, the minister said that the government would have to see whether it would impose a fine and how much it would be. Agriculture producers and shippers have to know. The government has said that it will be $100,000 a day in fines. Now it has said that it will not be $100,000 a day, but $100,000 a week. It actually is not $100,000 a week either. It is full of discretion. The minister will decide, when she feels like it, or whoever the next minister is, whether the railway company should be fined. I do not know on what grounds or on what basis, because the criteria is not clear.
The fines do not go to the shippers. They do not go to those who have been affected by the choices made by the railways or the constraints imposed on the railways. The fines are paid to the government, not to the shippers who have liquidated damages, with crops and yields and grain sitting in storage waiting to get on to ships that are moored off the coast of B.C. It makes no sense, but these are the kinds of changes and actions the government has brought in, again in a very ad hoc way, dealing with a bottlenecked railway system.
Prairie provinces are the world's top canola producing region. It is incredible what our agricultural producers have done, the efficiency, the environmental sensitivity, the quality of the grain. We are the second largest exporter of wheat, up 14% to record 81 million metric tonne levels in a short number of years.
The Liberal Party of Canada thinks that with the relationship between the regulator and the regulated, the railways companies being regulated, it appears is if the railways are now picking and choosing, based on profit margins, what they will or will not essentially ship. Some volume standards have been brought to bear, but even these do not deal with the crisis that is in play.
To recap, our are shippers captive. They have no competitive commercial alternatives, no legal recourse when the system fails. The threatened fines have no real impact. They are no substitutes for liquidated damages for the affected shippers. The government has brought in an order to move certain minimum volumes of grain, which expired in November 2014, and is making it up again as it goes along.
We need this motion. We need a comprehensive examination of the rail transportation system to get it right and get it better. We owe it to Canadians, to our future, to our economy and we really owe it to the future success of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from Sydney—Victoria for his remarks. This is an extremely important motion. The member has really touched on some fundamental points.
I want to ask him about a few things.
It is important for Canadians to remember, first of all, that the government has had five ministers of transportation in nine years. I think that speaks volumes to the level of commitment and follow-through by a single minister during this time and during this government.
The second thing I would like to say is that there really is a crisis in transportation. We are seeing it in the transportation of grain. We are seeing it in the transportation of passengers. We are seeing it in the transportation of oil. There has not been a serious adult conversation led by the federal government.
As my colleague rightly points out, it has been sort of ice floe to ice floe, crisis by crisis. Can the member help us understand why our counterparts in the United States and Mexico, for example, are not facing the same government-made crisis?
Mr. Speaker, the member of Parliament for Sydney—Victoria and I raised a series of questions on the inadequacy of the government's response to protect Canadian producers as a result of the loss of our access to the United States Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act. For those who do not understand the background on this issue, let me explain what happened.
Until now, Canadian exporters have had the same rates as American suppliers to recover payments quickly and efficiently if a buyer refuses to pay or declares bankruptcy with unpaid bills. That seriously impacts producers, as we know. When farmers grow products, process them and send them into a business, they expect to be paid. In fact, the consequences of non-payment of those bills could force a single producer or supplier out of business.
Canadian exporters have had special access to the United States Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act, or PACA, as it is best known by, and that access has been revoked. The fact is that our trade in fresh produce with the United States is worth about $1.6 billion. There are a lot of dollars at risk and a lot of risk to Canadian producers in the supply chain.
The Canadian government knew for a considerable time the protection was at risk because the United States had been warning of the loss of that special privilege. However, the Conservative government failed to be prepared when it happened and, as a result, both Canadian producers and consumers could be seriously affected.
There are 140,000 Canadians employed in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry and without the protection of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, the risk of someone not paying his or her bills for produce that has already gone to market would be multiplied many fold.
I know the parliamentary secretary will respond that consultations are ongoing and, yes, I recognize that. However, the problem is that consultations are a two-way street and government has to listen to what industry and producers are saying. The proposal from the government is not acceptable to producers and they have made that clear.
As I said in my question, that proposal from the government will not work and the industry has told that to the government. The facts are that Canadian fruit and vegetable sellers have had long-standing protection under the United States law, and they no longer have that protection as of October 1. As a result, jobs and Canadian farmers are at serious risk. Industry has made it clear that it needs a Canadian-made perishable commodities act, and that is the only option to protect produce suppliers. Why not implement that viable option?
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to respond to the member for Sydney—Victoria. I know that he works very hard on our agriculture committee.
One of the things he spoke about was the advance payments and the maximums that are given. As he is aware, it was a small number of people who actually reached the $400,000 during a time when they were being encouraged to do so but who realized that perhaps selling into some depressed markets would hurt their bottom line. So when making statements about the costs in agriculture, if members first looked at the size of the farm one would have to have in order to reach the $400,000 maximum, I think they would be quite surprised. If we are looking at groups of people, even the smaller farmers might not reach more than the $100,000 that is interest free in this particular program. Moreover, those who are in that type of framework would already have their financing available.
When there are such a small number of farmers who have reached the limits, does the member think we should put it into legislation when we have the opportunity to deal with this as far as regulations are concerned?
With regard to government funding, for each fiscal year since 2007-2008 inclusive: (a) what are the details of all grants, contributions, and loans to any organization, body, or group in the electoral district of Sydney—Victoria, providing for each (i) the name of the recipient, (ii) the location of the recipient, indicating the municipality, (iii) the date, (iv) the amount, (v) the department or agency providing it, (vi) the program under which the grant, contribution, or loan was made, (vii) the nature or purpose; and (b) for each grant, contribution and loan identified in (a), was a press release issued to announce it and, if so, what is the (i) date, (ii) headline, (iii) file number of the press release?
Mr. Speaker, the member is correct.
Part of what we were trying to accomplish, and the reason we said to the minister at the beginning that we would be helpful in moving the legislation is that we wanted to do exactly that. We wanted to find a way to help farmers who literally had millions of tonnes of grain sitting on the Prairies.
There are two truths to that. Some of it is in bins, for sure, and some of it is in elevators, but a lot of it was sitting on the ground, literally on the Prairie ground. Some was covered by tarps. I witnessed when I was in Saskatchewan not long ago that some of the tarps are gone.
When there is a bit of a thaw and rain, the wheat gets spoiled. A farmer said that I should come back to Saskatchewan to hunt deer, because they are going to be the fattest deer ever seen due to the amount of grain they will eat, which is just sitting on the ground.
It is true; they will be. The dilemma with that is that it is now contaminated. It cannot be sold for feed because of the contamination. We lost some time, and we lost some opportunities.
My colleague, the member for Sydney—Victoria is right. This could have happened through the rail service agreement a year ago, but it did not happen. We cannot look back and say it should have been, could have been, and we hoped it would be. It did not happen.
Now we are at a point where we have moved it a bit but not nearly enough. There were some things we suggested that would have moved it even further. They were not taken up by the government side. Maybe in hindsight it is looking at them and wishing it had, but that was, again, an opportunity missed.
I look forward to getting this moved forward, to at least getting this amount done for farmers. Farmers are looking for a signal from all of us here that we understand the dilemma they face. It is real. It is not just a statistical number. It is real for them and their families, and for many of them it is a question of their livelihood and going into further debt when they cannot move the grain. If they cannot sell it, they do not get paid. That is the reality of not moving their product.
The bigger issue across the country, of course, and the minister addressed it during his speech, is reassuring our international customers. We saw through testimony at the committee that Japan had said it was going to buy somewhere else because Canada was not a reliable supplier. The Canada brand has become “not reliable supplier”. That is a shame.
Farmers across this country have spent decades building that Canada brand to the point where we were seen as producing the finest quality wheat in the world and as the most reliable supplier, on time with good delivery. Now we are seeing that erode so quickly.
We all know, in a competitive marketplace, how quickly customers get frustrated and simply say they can go somewhere else, and because they can go somewhere else, they do not need to get it from us. That is a shame.
We are going to have to work hard on that. Farmers will redouble their efforts, no doubt. I would look to the government and suggest it is going to have to redouble its efforts, as well, to ensure that at the end of the day we find those customers and convince them that they need to come back, because we can and will be again not only the best in the world but a reliable supplier of that great grain that is grown on the Prairies.
Before I go to questions and comments, I would like to remind all hon. members that if it is their intention to split their time, they ought to announce it at the beginning of their speeches rather than at the end. If this member had gone on for about another 10 seconds, he would have been over the 10-minute limit, which would have precluded his colleague from Lambton—Kent—Middlesex from the opportunity to participate in this debate. I am sure that was not his intention.
We will go to questions and comments. The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act, which was introduced on December 9.
To begin, I will explain basically all of the areas it touches, so that people understand how big this bill is.
It would amend nine separate pieces of agriculture-related legislation, affecting plant breeders' rights, as well as affecting seed, fertilizer, animal health, plant protection, monetary penalties, agriculture marketing programs, and farm debt mediation. It appears that the bill attempts to streamline regulatory processes affecting farmers and the agricultural industry more broadly. I will speak specifically to some of those areas.
I would point out that, when I look at where Canada is going in terms of support for its farmers versus where our major competitors are at—the European community and the United States—I see that we as a country are not in any way supporting our farm community to the extent other countries are supporting theirs.
A moment ago I mentioned the United States farm bill. It incorporates country of origin labelling, which has been a disaster for our producers in Canada. The Government of Canada claims it will retaliate. However, as the Speaker well knows, because he is a farmer himself, the damage has been done with country of origin labelling. It has cost our beef industry around $5 billion in losses and is still hurting it. We see that it has targeted price programs in which basically some American farmers just go to the mailbox and pick up money. Our producers are supposed to compete against that happening just south of the border.
I do not need to go into any great detail in terms of the common agriculture policy in the European industry. I know why the governments of the European community have done this.They have said that their people had gone hungry during World War II and will never go hungry again. Therefore, they will ensure that the farm community is supported and paid for what it produces. That is what our farmers are up against in terms of competing against these other countries. Our government is just not there with the kind of support for our producers that there should be.
I look at this bill and I see a heck of a lot more in terms of protecting corporate rights than farmers' rights. That is the basic thrust of the bill. It is more protective of the rights of corporations, global corporations mainly, than it is of the rights of Canadian farmers.
Bill C-18 would amend, among other things, the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. It would amend certain aspects of the plant breeders' rights granted under the act, including the duration and scope of those rights and conditions for the protection of those rights. It also would provide for exceptions to the application of those rights.
It would amend the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, and the Plant Protection Act. Rather than my going through it, the summary of the bill outlines quite a number of areas where amendments would be made, for certain reasons, to all of those various acts.
It would also amend the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act to, among other things, increase the maximum limit of penalties that may be imposed for certain violations.
Bill C-18 would amend the Agriculture Marketing Programs Act. The minister claims the bill would modernize the requirements of the advance payments program in an effort to improve its accessibility and enhance its administration and delivery.
I want to make a point on that. The minister is talking of using the advance payments act to assist farmers in western Canada who no longer can deliver their grain. The reason we have a disaster in western Canada at the moment is really due to the actions of the minister. He is talking about using the advance payments to assist in that regard.
Mr. Speaker, because you have shipped grain too, you very well know that the advance payments act was not originally intended to be a loan program, and to a certain extent that is what it has become. The first $100,000 is interest-free and an individual can get up to $400,000. This legislation may increase those numbers.
Originally, the whole purpose of the advance payments act was to assist producers when harvesting their crops in the fall so they would not dump product on the market to pay for their combine or their harvesting costs or labour and so on. The whole purpose was to give farmers advance payments so they could feed the market, over time, rather than dumping product on the market and lowering its price as a result of oversupply. It was a wonderful program in the beginning and served its purpose well. It was a marketing tool by which to hold prices up.
Under the present Conservative government, and under the previous government, to be honest, the advance payments program to a certain extent lost its most important purpose of being a marketing tool, and is now being used for the spring and fall advance as a loan program to tide producers over. All sight of its original intent has been lost.
Bill C-18 would amend the Farm Debt Mediation Act to clarify the farm debt mediation process and to facilitate the participation of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in the mediation process when the minister is a guarantor of a farmer's debt.
There is no question that the farm mediation process has to be improved. The intent was to bring creditors together to try to find a solution through mediation. A farmer would have some assistance through the government itself in personnel, and money as well in terms of putting together a business plan for that operation. Some of that has slid by the wayside and that mediation process does need to be cleaned up.
As the House can see from the many amendments, Bill C-18 is predominantly an omnibus bill that is causing some concerns among farmers. The committee must carefully investigate this. I am not on the committee, but my colleague from Sydney—Victoria is a member. That committee must carefully investigate each of the acts that would be affected so as to ensure that there is proper consultation. It is important to give people a look at exactly what changes would be made so that some analysis of the impact of those changes could be undertaken.
The more broadly-based the proposed changes are, and in this legislation they cross a number of areas dealing with regulatory issues and industry standards, the more difficult is our basic understanding.
We have seen that the Conservative government has a tendency to push through legislation, limiting debate in the process, and farmers may be faced with dramatic changes that they were not even fully aware were in the act in the beginning.
I am going to speak for a moment about the changes that the government made to the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The minister did, so I probably should as well, because I certainly do not agree with the minister's interpretation of the results of his killing the Canadian Wheat Board.
It was one thing for the government, if it so decided, to not allow the producers to have a vote on the Canadian Wheat Board. It was another, if it so decided, to do away with single-desk selling.
Instead of taking a four-year planning period in which it would have looked at all of the other things including the logistics the Canadian Wheat Board was in charge of and the authority it had, as a result we now have an absolute crisis in western Canada. As many as 50 ships are lined up in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and producers are paying as much as $15,000 to $20,000 per day per ship. That money comes out of the producers' pockets in demurrage payments. Prices have been discounted in western Canada by as much as 40%, compared to U.S. prices.
Without question, the minister himself has to accept responsibility for the disaster that is in western Canada at the moment.
I should mention, in terms of the changes to the Canadian Wheat Board that have allowed this transportation and delivery of grain crisis to exist and that have perpetuated it, producers in mainland B.C. cannot get grain rail-shipped into their operations either. They cannot get it into their mills or into their feed, whether it is for poultry or for cattle. That livestock has to be fed daily. As a result, those producers are forced to turn to trucking. Whether or not they are in supply management, their costs are higher. Now, they are non-competitive and some of them are losing money.
It all comes back to the way that the government made its decision regarding the Canadian Wheat Board, instead of looking at all of the aspects of it and rather than single-desk selling. In changing legislation, we have to be careful that we do not cause other unforeseen difficulties, which is what happened in this particular case.
One of the big areas of the bill about which there is a lot of concern is the amendment to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act that would align plant breeders' rights with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, which is really UPOV ’91. The minister talked about that. This move would update Canada's legislation from the UPOV ’78 framework. These amendments would include farmers' privilege, which allows farmers to use seeds from the crops they grow.
There is a lot of debate, as the minister said and responded to in his questions and as the member for Welland talked about. There is a lot of debate on what “farmers' privilege” really means. There are some concerned organizations out there. One of them, certainly, is the National Farmers Union.
The minister, in response to questions, said that it is outlined on page 7 that the farmers' privilege is really going to protect farmers. Keep in mind how the minister answered. He said that the farmers' privilege can “…be enhanced as we move forward….” If it can be enhanced as we move forward, in other words, by a change in regulations, then it can also be that some of that farmers' privilege can be taken away from that privilege we believe may be there and may exist in the legislation.
We know for a fact that this particular government has always, in its decisions, come down on the side not of the producer but of the corporate sector, and that is what worries me.
I want to quote what the NFU said in terms of the their concern. It stated:
The farmers' privilege provision in C-18 does not include stocking seed. Bill C-18 does not protect farmers from being accused of infringing on PBR-holders’ rights for any of these traditional practices: storing seed harvested in the fall for planting in the spring; storing unsold grain in bins in the farmyard—since the grain could potentially be used to grow more wheat; cleaning three years’ supply of seed to protect against crop failure, disease or frost.
It went on to state:
Worse, Section 50(4) of Bill C-18 enables the Governor in Council (ie Cabinet) to make regulations to put even more limits on the farmers’ privilege provisions. These regulations can exclude classes of farmers; exclude plant varieties; exclude uses of harvested material; restrict farmers’ use [of] harvested material; put conditions on farmers’ use [of] harvested material; stipulate what is to be considered “conditioning” of seed.
It further stated:
We do not know the text of Canada’s future [plant breeders' rights] regulations, but we can expect them to follow the official UPOV ’91 Guidance Document....
There are legitimate concerns. In the answer from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food when he was questioned about farmers' privilege, he said that they can be enhanced as we move forward. That, in fact, increases my concern as it relates to this particular bill.
As I said in the beginning, I am very concerned that this bill, compared to the way the U.S. and the EU are moving, puts our primary producers at a disadvantage because we are giving more authority to the corporate sector and taking it away from primary producers.
The bill also proposes that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will have the authority to consider foreign reviews, data, and analysis during the approval or registration of new agriculture products in Canada, which can allow for a more effective approvals process. The act includes a new licensing and registration regime for animal feed and fertilizer operators and establishments, increasing monetary penalties for violations, stronger controls for agriculture products at the border, and requirements for more stringent record keeping to enhance safety. Most of those are good points, and I am sure the bill has a mixture of good points and some not so good, if I could put it that way.
Let me close by summing up. Bill C-18 is an omnibus bill. The record of the government with the farm community is not a good one: the killing of the Canadian Wheat Board, which has resulted in the absolute disaster in western Canada in terms of transportation and pricing; the cutting by 50% of AgriStability, which farmers will be in dire need of if they cannot ship their grain; the cutting of AgriInvest by the government; and finally, we should be going to public plant breeding instead of private plant breeding.
There, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with years of experience, are moving to other countries and taking that knowledge with them to compete against Canadians.
The bill needs to be examined closely.
Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by over 400 of my constituents from my riding of Sydney—Victoria calling on the government to address the issue of moving cluster mailboxes to Halifax centre. These residents are concerned in relation to next-day delivery of their local mail not being maintained and also about the loss of jobs of Canada Post employees in Cape Breton.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with sadness and pride today to pay tribute to a gentle soul, a great person and a much-loved Canadian.
Rita MacNeil passed away last night. During her stellar career, Rita recorded 24 albums, selling millions and earning countless ECMAs, CCMAs, Junos, a Gemini and, of course, the Order of Canada.
Rita's personal story is almost as well known as her music. She overcame many challenges to achieve her dreams and many of her songs speak of having the courage to rise above life's difficulties.
I am reminded today of a line from one of Rita's most famous songs, Flying on Your Own, “when you know the wings you ride can keep you in the sky...there isn't anyone holding back you”.
Rita rode the wings of her Cape Breton home on her journey to stardom, and we will continue to hold her up through her music even though she is gone.
On behalf of my colleague for Sydney—Victoria and the entire House, I offer my deepest condolences to Rita's children, Wade and Laura and her entire family.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to the opposition day motion.
First, the temporary foreign worker program was established by a Liberal government, and that government achieved a careful balance of three equally important objectives: protecting the jobs and wages of Canadian workers and protecting Canadians' access to employment opportunities; assisting small businesses and companies having legitimate difficulties finding workers; and protecting the dignity of temporary foreign workers by ensuring that they are paid a fair wage and are treated as fairly as Canadian workers doing the same jobs.
The Conservatives, we believe, have reduced, or perhaps even destroyed, balance in this program. They have skewed the system in favour of the employer alone, have removed important protections for Canadian workers, and, in some cases, may have exposed foreign workers to unfair practices.
I want to speak to some of the positive aspects of the temporary foreign worker program when it is carried out and executed properly.
John Eisses is the president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, a very important organization to horticulture in Nova Scotia. He is very concerned about the potential negative effect the proposed changes to the EI Act and associated regulations could have or will have on the Canadian seasonal agricultural workforce.
For decades, it has been demonstrated that very few EI recipients, or Canadians in general, are...capable of meeting seasonal agricultural workforce requirements.
He goes further. He says:
...the temporary foreign worker program...currently provides the industry with a consistent, reliable and trainable workforce that positively impacts the ongoing economic viability of the sector and its supporting value chain. If foreign workers are displaced...farms will go out of business or become less competitive, putting employed Canadians out of work.
This is a key point. As we study the temporary foreign worker program, it is important to understand that for some industries, in some cases, it is working quite well. We want to have the study to understand where the failings are and address those.
In ridings like mine, where the temporary foreign worker program is actively used by the horticulture industry, as an example, it creates a lot of value-added jobs further up the value chain. For instance, when temporary foreign workers are engaged in picking apples or berries, Canadians are involved in processing those foods, driving the trucks to get the fruits to market, and making pies. There are all kinds of opportunities. In the grape industry, as an example, people pick the grapes, and people make the wine, so there is an opportunity. It is very important to recognize that some of these value-added jobs further up the food chain actually require temporary foreign workers to create that opportunity.
He goes further. He says:
Contrary to public opinion, seasonal agricultural foreign workers support a viable horticultural farm community. Foreign workers are paid minimum wage or more; their employers provide housing that meets code, partial funding for international transportation, local transportation, workers' compensation and additional health care insurance in some cases. Foreign workers pay income tax.
In fact, they also contribute to CPP and EI, but they are ineligible to collect either. They contribute to the local economy as well.
He also tells us that farming:
requires trained managers, use of current technology and equipment, skilled and unskilled workers; this means that a dedicated, reliable and trainable workforce is required which is not available using sporadic EI recipients.
The message is truthful. First, be very careful in the changes being made to EI. It is a warning to the government that some of the changes could be deleterious to the important horticulture industry, but also that when run properly, when there is a balanced temporary foreign worker program, there are industries that depend on it, and it can operate well.
I also have in a recent article in the Chronicle Herald the St. Mary's River Smokehouses saying that if their access to the temporary foreign worker program is reduced, it would be very detrimental to this small business.
We also heard from Lee Cohen, a Halifax immigration lawyer, who said that the temporary foreign worker program is a good idea if it achieves two objectives, as follows:
One is that it helps fill labour shortages...with skilled and sometimes not so skilled workers from abroad. This meets a market need and it helps employers in Canada get production done and get work done that wouldn’t otherwise be done in the absence of having domestic workers.
He also stated:
it gives foreign workers an opportunity to experience Canada and that group of foreign workers could, if they wish, form a body of people that will…eventually become permanent residents and help build the (country) and add to the Canadian economy.
He does say that he wants to see the program rules fixed to ensure that these are the objectives being met. He says that the program has “lots of shortfalls” and that there is a need for clarity on what is allowed. That is what greater study in the House can help facilitate.
Immigration strategy can be incredibly important to economic growth and opportunity. I live in and represent a riding in Atlantic Canada. In Atlantic Canada, there is a declining and aging population. The demographic trend is very bad. It is a demographic time bomb. Rural communities in Atlantic Canada face even more challenges in terms of an aging and declining population. I want to propose to the House and to members an example of an idea related to immigration and economic growth and opportunity that combines federal and provincial government leadership. It is actually focused on drawing people to rural Nova Scotia. It is focused on a very specific industry, and that is the grape and wine industry.
In 1997, when I was first elected, there were two wineries in Nova Scotia. Today there are over 15, and more are on the way. To put this in perspective, in 1995 there were 19 wineries in the Niagara region of Ontario, and today there are over 130. The Canadian government could work with the Nova Scotia government to turbocharge the Nova Scotia grape and wine industry and create jobs throughout rural Nova Scotia.
My colleague from Sydney—Victoria is here today. His family came to Nova Scotia as part of the most successful wave of immigration to rural Nova Scotia in our history. That was the wave of immigration from Holland post World War II and in the 1950s. I believe that his family came to Cape Breton in 1952, in fact. At that time, families like the van Oostrums and van Dykes came to Nova Scotia and found opportunity.
There was a deliberate strategy. The provincial department of agriculture in Nova Scotia advertised, along with the federal department of immigration, in Dutch newspapers saying come to Nova Scotia, and we will help identify farmland, help finance your acquisition of that farmland through the farm loans board. We will help bring you to Nova Scotia, where you can find opportunities. They had a very targeted, economically focused immigration strategy.
Fast forward to today. There is tremendous growth in the wine industry and tremendous demand for Nova Scotia wines. In fact, I met with Carl Sparkes and Pete Luckett recently, two of the entrepreneurs involved in our wine industry. They told me that they could sell thousands and thousands of cases of Nova Scotia wine. They sell out every year. There is Chinese demand. The global demand for Nova Scotia wines is growing. The quality has developed very positively. There are gold medal winning wines being produced in Nova Scotia. The biggest challenge is grapes. Nova Scotia does not currently grow enough grapes to meet the demand for Nova Scotia wines. Yet there is farmland across the province that is underutilized, prime farmland, which could be incredible for vineyards.
Fast forward from the Dutch example to today's example. The hardest hit European economies, countries such as Portugal, Italy, Spain and even France, are also countries with a disproportionate amount of expertise in the areas of grape production and wine production.
There are also countries with, in some cases, up to 40% or 50% youth unemployment and a lack of opportunities. There are also countries that, because of their fiscal situations, are increasing taxes significantly and taxing the heck out of people with capital. There are countries where vineyard land is not affordable; it is some of the highest-cost vineyard land. In Nova Scotia we have high-quality land for potential vineyards, but it is also affordable.
Furthermore, there is even a climate change dynamic to this. Some of the traditional wine production regions, including the Champagne region, some experts are saying, will be rendered less ideal for grape and wine production in the future because of climate change, while Nova Scotia will actually become a better place to produce wine.
Therefore, if we consider the success of that Dutch immigration example and then apply a model requiring federal and provincial leadership working together to today's issue and opportunity around the grape and wine industry in Nova Scotia, it would provide us with an example of an idea—and politics ought to be a business of ideas and leadership around ideas and developing ideas and engaging people on them—that could actually work and could transform rural Nova Scotia's economy.
Carl Sparkes recently bought Jost Winery. He placed an ad recently on the Internet for a viticulturist. He had 60 applications. About 50 of them were from Europe. This bears out the point that there is an opportunity to have a very targeted immigration strategy. It would not be just temporary foreign workers, but on a permanent basis, drawing those people to opportunities to invest in, work in and develop businesses in rural Nova Scotia.
We need to map the land resource. We need to identify land that may be available. We need to target those European countries, perhaps even economies like South Africa, where there is a lot of expertise in grapes and wine and where there are some challenges.
We could attract investors from these countries. We could attract workers from these countries. We could matchmake land in Nova Scotia with the investors and the workers to develop that land into what could be a very highly successful value-added industry in rural Nova Scotia: the grapes and wine industry. We could utilize the farm loans board and other vehicles to help finance some of this. We could engage the Nova Scotia Community College and Acadia University and the federal government's research station in Kentville, which is another reason decentralized agricultural research is so essential. We have seen an atrophy of that research in recent years under the current government. We need to actually restore and increase funding for decentralized research. Certainly the research done for wine in the Annapolis Valley might be quite different from that in the Okanagan Valley or the Niagara region, as an example. We should be helping train Nova Scotians increasingly on viticulture and winemaking.
The opportunity here is not only to reverse the demographic decline of our rural communities and attract a new generation of new Canadians who would bring their families to rural Nova Scotia and help build their wineries, their vineyards and their families as citizens and nation builders in our province, but to create jobs and opportunities for other rural Nova Scotians.
In Canada, one of the most innovative immigration programs in the country is in Manitoba, which has been successful for some time. In fact, Manitoba last year attracted 16,000 new Canadians; Nova Scotia attracted around 2,000. Manitoba's focus has been to engage communities, to engage businesses and to target immigration around economic opportunities. This is the kind of approach that I think would commend itself to the pioneers in this policy in Manitoba: a targeted approach.
However, it is very important when we are having debates on this kind of issue that we do not demonize immigration, that we do not demonize people who come to Canada to create opportunities for themselves and that we recognize the importance of a well-run temporary foreign worker program and an innovative economic strategy around a targeted and long-term immigration strategy, and it is twofold.
While we are very concerned about the flaws that exist within the temporary foreign worker program, it is really important in the course of these debates that we do not choose language that puts out some sort of xenophobic tone that stigmatizes people who come to our country to work, either on a temporary basis or on a permanent basis as immigrants.
I was speaking recently to John Bragg, who is one of Nova Scotia's greatest entrepreneurs, about this issue. He expressed the importance of temporary foreign workers in the horticulture industries that he has been a pioneer in, but he also reminded me of the time in the 1950s when the Dutch were coming over to rural Nova Scotia. He said he remembered people in our rural communities, up in places like Collingwood where John lived, saying, “Why do we need those Dutch coming in? They are going to take our jobs.”
That is what people used to say. The reality is those hard-working Dutch immigrants not only built futures for their families but also built jobs for all Nova Scotians who lived in those communities in what was the most successful wave of immigration to rural Nova Scotia.
It is important to realize that the first question we have to ask ourselves is, “Do we want them?” Sometimes there are concerns in the public about this. People feel it is a zero sum thing, that someone coming in is going to take a job from a Canadian worker. In most cases, that is not the case. In fact, these workers create jobs for Canadians higher up the value chain.
About a year ago I read an online survey in The Chronicle Herald in Nova Scotia. It asked online readers the question, “Would you support programs to attract more new Canadians to rural Nova Scotia?” Some 65% said “no”, and the commentary was along that line. Nova Scotians were afraid they would take jobs from us.
The best kind of politics is changing people's minds. One of the things we have a responsibility for at all levels of government is to make sure Canadians understand that immigration does not take Canadian jobs; rather, it creates Canadian jobs and opportunities. Canada has been built by people who chose to come here, and we need more workers choosing to come here. We need leadership from the federal government, working with the provinces, for targeted immigration strategies to attract a new generation of nation builders in this fabulous multicultural masterpiece we call Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, but he is absolutely incorrect in saying that this is a situation created by government. This is a situation created by the need of companies, especially in certain regions of the country. I can say from having been on the committee and travelling across the country, particularly in western Canada where there are acute shortages, that businesses would actually have to close their doors if temporary foreign workers were not available to them.
I might say that, if anything, the increases the member mentioned are driven by members of his caucus, like the members for Sydney—Victoria, Winnipeg North, Random—Burin—St. George's, Mount Royal and Cape Breton—Canso, who ask the minister for permission to bring in temporary foreign workers. That is what has driven it. It is driven by the need in this country and by persons from your side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I will advise you at the start of my remarks that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for St. Catharines, who does an excellent job with this file as parliamentary secretary.
I am pleased to take this opportunity to address the motion put forward by the member for Cape Breton—Canso regarding the temporary foreign worker program. First, let me very clear. The original intent of this program was to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages. As a member of Parliament from Alberta, I know all too well about labour shortages.
The media reports regarding the program of late are concerning, and we are investigating to ensure that the program is working to fulfill its original purpose. We have committed in the budget to fixing the program to ensure that Canadians always have the first crack at available jobs. On the subject of the budget, I would like to speak to the current state of our economy because this has always been and continues to be, of course, this party's top priority.
Canada has fared well despite the current global economic challenges. We have the strongest job creation record in the G7. Thanks to the strong leadership of our Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, Canada has seen the creation of more than 900,000 net new jobs since the darkest days of the recession, most of which are full time private-sector jobs.
As the economy continues to grow, the demand for workers whose skills are in demand will also increase. In some regions, the demand for certain skills has skyrocketed, which results in labour shortages in key occupations that are important to our economy and to our future prosperity. This mismatch oftentimes presents a challenge for employers, workers and, of course, government. That is why I was very pleased to read the human resource committee's report on skill and labour shortages. This work has already been concluded. The report that involved the committee travelling across the country to engage directly with Canadian businesses contained some excellent testimony on the challenges these employers face.
In fact, the member for Cape Breton—Canso was a member of the committee during the study and participated in the hearings, where businesses communicated precisely the ways in which the temporary foreign worker program is helping them address these challenges. I raise this because the motion today proposes to set up a special committee to examine an issue that the human resources committee is already empowered to study and has already heard the concerns of Canadian businesses and workers alike about the growing skills mismatch. This study, as well as other pre-budget consultations, was part of the reason we focused so heavily on skills and training in the recent budget. Through economic action plan 2013, we are taking a multifaceted approach to addressing labour market shortages and mismatches.
To start with, economic action plan 2013 invests significantly in skills and training to ensure that all Canadian workers, especially those currently sitting on the sidelines, are qualified to play an active part in Canada's economic growth. We are also increasing support to groups that are currently under-represented in the job market. These include youth, Canadians with disabilities, aboriginals and newcomers to Canada. We want to ensure that every Canadian can find a place in the job market, because Canadian employers need every last one of them.
Most notably, budget 2013 includes a new Canada jobs grant that would provide up to 130,000 Canadians a year with $15,000 to retrain, $5,000 of which would come from the federal government. Provinces and employers would also be expected to match that contribution. As the Minister of Finance said, for the first time the Canada job grant would take the skills training choices out of the hands of government and put them where they belong: in the hands of job creators and Canadians who want to work. Most importantly, the new grant should lead to one essential thing for unemployed or underemployed Canadians: a new or better job.
We are continuing to invest in reducing barriers to accreditation for apprentices. We will also reform procurement practices to encourage contractors to employ apprentices on federal construction and maintenance projects. Lastly, to make maximum use of the education and talents of recent graduates, we will invest $70 million over three years to support 5,000 more paid internships for recent post-secondary graduates.
However, we recognize that in some parts of the country there are skills and labour that are needed and cannot be found by local businesses. This is very true in my riding and this is why temporary foreign worker programs exist: to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages.
Indeed, the member for Cape Breton—Canso himself acknowledges the importance of this program as he has previously penned letters in support of bringing in temporary foreign workers. The member is joined by members of the Liberal Party, such as his colleagues from Sydney—Victoria, Winnipeg North, Random—Burin—St. George's and Mount Royal. Even the NDP, despite its rhetoric, has had an impressive number of members write in support of this program, including their House leader and even one of their deputy leaders.
It is quite clear that this is a program that has broad support from across party lines. This program allows employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill immediate skills and labour shortages when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available to do the job.
The program plays a critical role in meeting the short-term needs of business in dire need of workers, and I would like to emphasize the notion of dire need. The temporary foreign worker program was designed and should only be used by employers as a last resort.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the media reports concerning the program of late have been very concerning and the government is investigating to ensure it is running as it should.
Our government has committed to ensuring that Canadians always have the first crack at available jobs. Canada's economic action plan 2013 has emphasized that going forward we will work with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers are only called on when Canadians genuinely cannot fill those jobs.
We will expect companies to increase their recruitment efforts to hire Canadian workers before they will be eligible to apply for temporary foreign workers. For instance, they will need to increase the length and reach of advertising about job openings, and we will restrict the identification of non-official languages as job requirements for hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.
I would like the House to take note that CIBC World Markets reported in December 2012 that 30% of businesses in this country are facing a skilled labour shortage. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business stated in its business barometer report that 34% of small and medium-sized companies identified skills shortages as a constraint on their growth.
To meet these demands and to further our economic recovery, our government is increasing support for skills training and apprentices. At the same time we are focusing on creating job opportunities for those facing greater barriers to the labour force, such as youth, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities.
We recognize the need to make sure every Canadian has the opportunity to fully contribute to the Canadian economy. Our economic action plan is continuing to improve Canada's economic growth and long-term prosperity.
Throughout this time of economic growth, we will ensure Canadians get the first crack at all available jobs here at home. Instead of voting against investing in skills for Canadians, the opposition should support our economic action plan. I would encourage all members of this House to recognize that the time for talk is done, and to support concrete actions to improve the temporary foreign worker program.
For these reasons, I will not be voting in favour of this motion. The work has already begun. I thank the House for taking this time to hear me. I would be happy to answer any questions.
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 neglected to mention in my speech that I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Sydney—Victoria.
Indeed, in an election campaign, many issues are discussed, parties have their platforms, but obviously not every conceivable issue that will come to the floor of the House of Commons after the election is brought up in a campaign.
In the last election campaign, I do not remember anyone talking about weakening the Fisheries Act. Maybe I missed it or maybe I was not following the news that day, but I never heard it.
It is incumbent upon a government, even if has a majority, when it introduces something that has not been debated in the context of an election campaign to show a bit more openness to debate and compromise.
I would agree with my hon. colleague that democracy is not a simple thing of going to the polls every four years, voting and then tabulating the results. Yes, that is extremely important. It is at the centre of our democracy.
However, people elect representatives to come to the capital, to this legislature, to further debate, to come up with new ideas, to challenge old ideas and to create good legislation, which is very complex and obviously is not always discussed during a campaign.
Mr. Speaker, indeed, I remember that campaign. My colleague from Sydney—Victoria already had his bill positioned and it was on the table. There were two ladies who worked in his office, one who had fairly severe heart problems and the other who was battling cancer. The bill was sort of inspired by those in his office and by speaking with officials. However, I recall very well the campaign by the young lady.
EI is about making decisions. It is like the tax structure. The Conservatives have boutique tax credits that cause people to question whether they really impact any behavioural change. With EI, we want the system to work for the vast majority of Canadians who lose their jobs and are out of work. That is what it is there for. Beyond that, we are compassionate people in a compassionate nation and we have to care for and provide for those going through those horrific situations.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to joining and contributing to this debate. As I indicated earlier in my question to the minister, the Liberal Party will be supporting this bill. We see it as a positive gesture in that it will have a positive impact on Canadians who are in a very traumatic position, who are battling and going through some great personal challenges. For Canadians who are facing such hardship and facing such emotional, physical, mental and spiritual pain, the anguish they go through in these types of situations should never be compounded by a further financial burden.
This bill would certainly go toward that. I know my friend and fellow member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development, the member for Brant, is going to speak on this issue. I know he can speak first-hand and I look forward to his intervention and comments today on this piece of legislation.
As I tried to impart to the minister at the time, it is a bit strange that we are debating this today and then we are invited to the technical briefing on the bill later this evening. We are debating what we think the bill is going to include and how it will impact Canadians and how it plays out, but we have seen that the track record of the government is not great on actually saying and implying it is going to improve on a particular issue in a particular situation. The old adage is that the devil is in the details, and when those details finally unfold, we see that there are unintended consequences or that the consequences have such a negative impact on a group that it makes no sense whatsoever for the government to have proceeded in this manner.
My colleague from Hamilton Mountain made note of the working while on claim provisions. I would like to welcome the New Democratic Party to that discussion, because we started that when the House opened. We have been pounding that one, so it was nice to see NDP members getting engaged today and giving it the old college try. We appreciate the support, but we have been hammering all last week on it. It was probably the article in The Globe and Mail that finally sparked them to see that there might be something going on there that they might want to pay attention to.
What we have seen from the minister and her handling of the working while on claim file would make the NFL replacement officials blush with competency. Whatever took place through the genesis of that bill, whatever is going on there, there are people being hurt, and that is the part about the devil being in the details. That is why we look forward to the technical briefing. That is why we support sending the bill to the committee.
This bill impacts 6,000 people. This is an important piece of legislation, an important piece of assistance. An estimated 6,000 people will benefit from this change. We will go through this at committee.
The same cannot be said about the other changes, because they impact 850,000 Canadians. When we look at the unemployed, we see they number 1.4 million, but 850,000 Canadians received some type of support through the EI program last year, and they would be impacted by the changes made by the government.
Again, I do not know if there is a great deal of trust between Canadians and the Conservative government. The minister is now saying that the best way to support this program is through the EI system. However, she is clearly on the record in response to an announcement made prior to the last election about a family benefits package, much of which is in the bill here, when she said that there are other options for people trying to care for loved ones, including the fact that “most employees do have vacation leave that they can use.”
She felt that people could take vacation to accommodate some of the time needed to care for those loved ones in a tough situation. This shift in her position might cause some concern, and members can understand why we look forward to the technical briefing.
Again, it is great to come in and read a speech, but it is about understanding the files. When there are a couple of variables within the files, all Canadians want to know is the truth about how it will impact them.
The minister went out on a nationwide public relations initiative this year to sell the working while on claim program. However, even today in the House, she responded to a question posed by the member for Bourassa by saying that under the old system, workers were only allowed to earn $75. However, that was the minimum; members know that it is 40% of their EI earnings, so if a person was earning maximum dollars, they would be able to earn $194 before dollar one was clawed back.
I think that is about the minister not understanding the files. She can read her eloquent speech here, but I look forward to sitting down with the bureaucrats to see how this would impact Canadians. I will put my trust in the bureaucrats.
The minister gave two examples today in answer to questions and cited examples in relation to someone working for three days. However, when the EI benefit variables are changed and the maximum EI benefit is used, in both of her examples they would have lost under the new program as well. She is being a little cute with some of her answers, and totally disingenuous.
We look forward to going to the technical briefing this evening and quizzing the officials on how they see this rolling out and the impact it would have on Canadians. Whenever we work with and make changes in the EI program, it does have an impact.
I think the comment that was made by the member for Hamilton Mountain was worthwhile. If somebody utilized this program within the EI system, used 35 weeks of leave, but was then unfortunate enough to lose their job, what happens then? Certainly a stand-alone program may make more sense in this particular situation.
My friend and colleague for Sydney—Victoria came forward with a private member's bill in the last Parliament. It was supported by the NDP and the Bloc, but it was not supported by the Conservatives. The bill was for the extension of EI benefits for those facing additional hardship.
Right now, the benefit runs for 15 weeks. However, there are a number of different statistics. The representatives from the Canadian Breast Cancer Society had talked about the normal period, especially if somebody is going through chemotherapy, running about 35 weeks. To have one's benefits run out after 15 weeks poses an incredible hardship on somebody who is battling a disease like cancer. Representations were also made by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
When the bureaucrats, the people who work at Service Canada and the employment insurance offices, have to phone somebody who is fighting a catastrophic illness and tell them that his or her benefits are running out and can no longer continue, they know the hardship and the stress that they are placing on that person. They advocated for the changes that were being advocated by the private member's bill put forward by colleague from Sydney—Victoria.
It comes down to those types of choices. It comes down to who we are going to be able to provide for. I think it would have been a worthwhile initiative to support that bill.
There are some concerns, even with the EI, about the information we are using when we make these decisions. It has been said that the Conservatives are not that interested in facts or science. They never want to let the facts interfere with sound ideology. My colleague from Malpeque says the only science they believe in is political science.
In 2010, the EI tracking survey conducted by Human Resources and Skills Development shed some light on the inadequacy of the current 15 weeks off. In that survey, 16% of respondents who took time off work due to illness required 13 to 25 weeks off, while 20% required over 25 weeks off from their workplace. There is evidence from medical stakeholders that reaffirms that these timelines are pretty standard.
That tells us that the current EI system takes us part way, but not all the way.
This bill is a good first step, I think, and it is a nice gesture. However, I think there is so much more that can be done.
Other nations recognize that. European Union countries, Lithuania, Japan, all look at 22 weeks for sick benefits, while we are still at 15. Again, 22 weeks is not enough but it is closer to the standards that are being advocated by stakeholders that know these issues.
There are some other changes that could be made. There are worthwhile changes being put forward in Bill C-44, but there are other changes that could be made.
I am sure all members of the House have had an opportunity to work with and to listen to people who suffer from multiple sclerosis. My office manager is an MS patient. She is a tremendous lady, but there are peaks and valleys. There are times where she is able to work full out but then there are times where she needs rest. It is the disease that dictates how much energy one has on a particular day. It is a terrible affliction.
If there were some flexibility within the EI system then we could accommodate a worker who is skilled and trained and wants to work, and who works in a job that has some flexibility within it.
The government talks at great lengths about skills shortages and the need for skilled labour. Someone could be dealing with MS for many years and still be a valuable contributing member of the workforce. If there is a bit of accommodation through the EI program, then that is a good fit for everyone. It is a good fit for the person, it is a good fit for the employer and it is a good fit for the economy.
Bill C-44 is a good step. It is an important gesture and a good gesture, but much can still be done within the system without costing a lot to the system, especially trying to accommodate those who suffer from MS. It just makes so much more sense to try to make sure that the person is a productive and contributing member of the community.
We on this side of the House have stated before that we understand the impact on these families. It is an intense expectation on these families. It is one that no family wants to go through. When people are dealing with an illness, when parents are dealing with a son or daughter's affliction, we as Canadians are compassionate enough to do what we can to help them through that situation. I think Bill C-44 would at least go some ways toward that.
My party and I look forward to supporting the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a petition which supports Motion No. 312. The petition contains about 150 signatures from the people of Sydney—Victoria and visitors to my area.
The petitioners call upon the House of Commons to affirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as a human being by amending section 223 of our Criminal Code.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour but a disappointment in a way that we have to stand in the House to debate this motion that our hon. leader has presented.
I do not know the time that is permitted, but if there is extra time beyond my 10 minutes, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.
I would like to start with a news item that was on CBC Newsworld this morning. It was stating what wonderful shape Canada is in, compared to all the other countries. We are number two as far as standard of living goes or the happiest people in the world. We are only number two. Number one is Denmark, so it is a pretty good standing.
When we look at other rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, we are way above them. One might ask why we are so far ahead as far as standard of living goes. Of course there is health, education, the cost of our food and many reasons. However, one of the biggest reasons, similar to some of the Scandinavian countries that are in the same league as us, is how we take care of each other. We have an economy that prospers; we have all the tools to keep a good economic engine. Also we have good social programs that take care of the people who are in need, who may be going through stages in their lives that are disruptive.
We often talk about the individuals, and that is key. However, we also have to look at the bigger picture, how some of these changes help the local economies and local small businesses. Some news articles are saying that in Canada the gap between the rich and poor is growing. Canadian families have watched their incomes stagnate and decline even though their cost of living has been driven up, the cost of everyday goods like groceries, education and pharmacare.
Over the past year, the Conference Board of Canada; the dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin; and the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, have all warned us that income inequality could limit Canada's growth and threaten a sustainable prosperity.
As was mentioned by the late President Kennedy, the tide has to bring everybody up. If we start separating those different gaps, we will slip back in time. I remember a time in Cape Breton when the people who ran the coal mines were the rich people in the community and the people who were working in the coal mines could barely make ends meet. I hope we are not, as a society and as a country, slipping back to that era where we are going to have that gap. The OECD noted that the average income for the top 10% of Canadian earners in 2008 was $130,000, 10 times more than the bottom 10%. That gap is widening.
One would question what the Conservative agenda is. Is it to increase that gap? According to the June 2012 Statistics Canada report, the median family income did not increase in 2010 and it has been falling from 2008 and 2009. This was the first drop of the median family income since the 1990s. We are a prosperous country and we are letting people fall through the cracks. We are not taking care of them. I could give examples in my riding.
There are things we have established over the years, not just the Liberal Party, but all parties. We talked about education and health, but take even our agriculture system, with supply management, for example when we had the Wheat Board. Those were things that made farmers prosperous. Take the policies that the fishermen have in my community alone, with small fleet owner-operators. They own the fishing licences. They have the resources of themselves to reap the profits, and the EI system helps fill the gaps.
Even in the United States, how well are the fishermen in Maine doing? They are doing very poorly with their system, because the government allows a free-for-all. The same is true for agriculture. Dairy farms in Vermont and across the U.S. border are not doing as well as our farmers.
Therefore, when we look at different segments of our society and compare them with other countries, even south of the border, there is a reason why we are number two. It is that we have good social programs and good economic drivers.
Getting back to my riding and some of these changes in EI, for instance, my riding is an urban and rural split. Most of my rural area is over a mountain range, away from the urban area. We have a county called Victoria County. That is where I get the Sydney—Victoria name, because I have the Sydney area and Victoria County.
Victoria County has a lot of fishing and tourism. Communities like Neils Harbour and Ingonish rely on fisheries and Parks Canada, but in the wintertime these industries are shut down. People might get a job at the Legion, sweeping up, or help somebody down the road make traps, or get a day here and there doing something else just to make ends meet. If they are lucky, they might get one day a week.
The changes to the EI system that the Conservatives are doing tells them to get another job. Where are they going to get another job? How are they going to travel in the snowy winter conditions over the mountain? These policies are just driving people right out of these rural areas and they are a detriment to the businesses.
These are seasonal workers I am talking about. It has been brought up many times today that not only will seasonal workers in forestry, fishing, farming or tourism be affected, but substitute teachers will be affected as well. Some of them travel a long distance just to do one day in school. They are going to be penalized.
We are also looking at health care workers who might have been laid off. They sometimes fill in on the weekend when there is a shortage of nurses. They will come all the way in for what? They will have to get a babysitter. They will need to have a car available and pay for gas. Clawing people's EI back by half will be a real cut.
Probably 30% to 40% of many regions in Atlantic Canada rely on the resource industries out west. The NDP has taken a shot at that, calling it the Dutch disease. Resource industries are key to the economy of Cape Breton and Atlantic Canada. However, a lot of those industries have shutdowns because it could be too muddy to put a pipeline in or it could be too cold.
Therefore, sometimes many of my fellow Cape Bretoners have to take time off, and they are going to be penalized by the government for doing just that. The Conservatives think people should be able to work 52 weeks a year. If the work is not there, where are they going to work? Mines could be shut down. Commodity prices sometimes go down in nickel or gold, resulting in layoffs. All of these people will be penalized, and my riding of Sydney—Victoria is going to feel the Conservative government's hits. More than 150 people have already been fired from the federal job bank.
These changes are even more stringent.
I have a letter from Sandra McPherson. It takes quite a bit to write a letter and put one's name out there. She received the famous notification letter from Service Canada on the pending changes to new EI recipients. She says the letter was extremely misleading. When one starts to look at the numbers and ratchet it down to what was going to happen, it might be true under the comparison they used. The comparison that the department used involved three or four days a week. If someone gets to work three or four days a week, they consider that like being back to full-time work. That is not the case. Most people are lucky to get one day of work a week.
Ms. McPherson is a mother with dependent children. She works an eight-hour shift for $10.50 an hour, thereby earning $84. With the EI clawback $42 will come right off of that. She has to pay for a child care provider, which is at least $25, leaving her $17 for that one day of employment. Ms. McPherson made a comment that is so true. She said some of the Conservatives buy orange juice for $17 a glass. That is not going to help this lady.
The Conservatives have an attitude. They can spend money on their buddies in corporations, yet look at what they are going to do with the fishery. They are going to sell the fishery to big corporations, yet they turn around and pick on the little guy.
Ms. McPherson is a taxpayer. She went on to say that, while she is certainly in favour of saving federal coffers, this pilot project takes from the poor and gives to the rich. If people are called in for one day of work a week, they will suffer financially. If someone is called in for four days a week, that individual considers it a full-time job. That does not happen.
We get many cases.
Another lady did seasonal work for the same employer for 25 years. She always had the opportunity to pick up a few hours a week in the off-season. This made her life a little easier while trying to survive on EI. Now it will cost her. She will lose $112 every two weeks.
Another lady has been working 40 years in an office. She works six months full-time as a bookkeeper around income tax time, and the other six months she works part-time helping some people with books, during which she has collected EI. With the new changes, she is going to lose $400 a month.
I have more examples here, but my time has run out.
Mr. Speaker, the Ukrainian parish community has been a vital part of Sydney for the last 100 years, enriching the lives of not only the Ukrainian people but also the people of Cape Breton.
On August 2, I attended the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Holy Ghost parish in Whitney Pier. There was an immense turnout at the event, which included dancing, singing, socializing and the awarding of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal to Father Dusanowskyj.
As member of Parliament for Sydney—Victoria, I was proud to recognize and present the Queen's Jubilee Medal to Father Roman, pastor of the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Whitney Pier in honour of his commitment to the Holy Ghost parish over the last decade and keeping the Ukrainian community alive in Cape Breton.
I congratulate everyone who attended and the community for its 100th anniversary, and I offer my best wishes for many more future celebrations.
The electoral district of Sydney--Victoria (Nova Scotia) has a population of 76,801 with 61,448 registered voters and 185 polling divisions.
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