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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain.
I represent a riding with a very mobile workforce. People from Guysborough, Canso, Mulgrave and all through Cape Breton Island have travelled for years to some of the biggest construction projects in North America and around the world. It is very interesting to have an opportunity to share conversations with people at the airport who are travelling to seek employment and ply their trade.
My colleague from Sydney—Victoria just shared a statistic. In 2006 in Cape Breton there were 1,700 workers from Cape Breton employed in Alberta. It was bringing something like $3 million a week into the local economy. Obviously, there are some social challenges when people are having to travel to work, but certainly it is of benefit to both places. It is of benefit to local communities when they are able to earn that level of income, but it is of benefit to Alberta, Saskatchewan and those provinces that need access to a labour force. Therefore, know full well that I am comfortable with understanding the benefits to both the employers and the employees when a workforce is mobile.
That is not the case in this instance with the changes in regulations. I would like to address them in a couple of different ways. I want to talk about the impact on business; about the department's capacity to really handle these changes, which I call into question; and then whether or not there are better ways to go about it.
First, the impact on business. My good friend from Tobique—Mactaquac had indicated that both employees and employers contribute to the EI fund. The employers in seasonal industries in our communities contribute to this as well. I fear that with the changes in the legislation, it will decimate business operators in seasonal industries. It has the potential to rob them of skilled workers, people who have been with them and provided expertise and services over a long period of time.
I have talked to people in the tourism sector and the forestry sector. They, and obviously people in the fishery, are very nervous about these changes and the potential impacts. I want to read into the record a letter I got from the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Beth Densmore, the president, has shared her concerns with both the minister and MPs from Nova Scotia.
First, she makes reference to the fact that the majority of the labour force in the agriculture sector is skilled in a particular profession. It is just that the profession is in a seasonal industry. She says:
We, in the Federation, believe that the proposed changes have not been well thought through and would urge that the Federal Government give greater consideration to the perhaps unintended consequences of such action. Is this simply a way to move the responsibility for the working poor from one level of government (Federal) to another level where the worker's only recourse will be to apply for social assistance (Provincial or Municipal)?
The federation even suggests a possible amendment:
One possible scenario would be to provide an exemption from the proposed EI changes for the resource based industries which depend on a skilled workforce, but, only for a portion of the year.
Maybe that would be something that would make sense. It would certainly alleviate some of the fears that are being put forward by, not just the workers in seasonal industries, but those who operate those businesses and who are really the foundation of rural communities.
In this particular legislation, the government did put $21 million into a particular program. That is the e-alert program. I think it is worthwhile to make more information about potential for job opportunities available to those who are unemployed. That is a positive thing. Right now the rules are there that it is incumbent on those receiving EI benefits to pursue work opportunities, but I think this is of benefit. It is a fairly hefty cost, but it is of benefit.
However, if the government thinks this is going to solve all the problems, it is not. Forty percent of families with a total household income of $30,000 or less have no access to the Internet, and 25% in the bracket of between $30,000 and $50,000 annual household income have no access to the Internet.
We know that the government has carved the guts out of the community access program that enabled people to go to libraries and community centres to access the Internet. That has been lost now, and what we are doing with these actions is placing greater hardship on those who most need that access.
The burning question that begs to be asked is how the government is going to handle the changes in these regulations. We know that right now approximately 180,000 Canadians have waited over 29 days to receive their first employment insurance cheque. The EI processing centres no longer have the capacity to process these claims. We have seen closures in a number of different areas.
We saw the minister try to shore things up and put a band-aid on it last year by putting 400 people in over the Christmas rush to address this issue, but it remains a problem when 180,000 Canadians have waited over 29 days for their first EI cheque.
I know the minister herself was not very aware. The payment indicator, when correspondence is kicked out to someone who has applied for EI, measures both those who get notice of nonpayment and those who actually receive a cheque; she thought everybody was getting a cheque within that period of time. She thought they were doing famously over there, that everybody was happy and everybody was getting their money.
Actually, it is really hard to take a notice of nonpayment to buy groceries for the kids. Once the minister realized that, she did put some additional resources into the processing centres at Christmas time. Again, it was an interim measure.
Now, with all these regulations, we have to hound and pursue workers and find out if they are chasing down the jobs, whether or not the jobs are deemed suitable. There is nothing in the estimates about more resources being provided to make sure these regulations are concurred with. That should raise an alarm to everybody that we should anticipate further delays in payment of EI benefits to those who have earned and deserve them. I am not that confident there and I see nothing in the estimates for that.
I will close with this. The minister was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, recently. I want to read a quote from her into the record. She said:
Why would we want to bring in people from outside when we have people here who need the jobs and who can do them? It only makes economic sense.
There are 140,000 unemployed people in Alberta. There are 25,000 unemployed people in Saskatchewan. If we put them together, that is more than the number of unemployed people in Atlantic Canada. Would it not make more sense to put money into training for those people, rather than shaking people in Atlantic Canada out of their communities? All that is doing is contributing to the further decline in population in rural communities. I think that is the question I would like to pose to the member today.
I want to thank my colleagues in the NDP for bringing this motion forward to the House today.
It being Wednesday, we will now have the singing of the national anthem led by the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.
[Members sang the national anthem]
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-4. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken for and against the bill with great passion over the last few days. I will now inform the House of my views on this draconian and, as some would say, backward bill.
First, the bill would give the minister the power to create a two-tiered system and designate groups that he or she feels are an irregular arrival if the minister deems that people's identity or their inadmissibility cannot be determined in a timely manner. It would give the minister a new discretionary power that he or she can exercise in the public interest to order the arrival in Canada of a group of persons to be designated as an irregular arrival.
These individuals are then subjected to mandatory arrests and detention. Those who are detained are forced to wait at least 12 months before their cases are reviewed. This goes against section 9 of the charter that calls for prompt review of detention.
Those deemed irregular arrivals, which automatically makes them designated foreign nationals, would need to wait at least five years before they could apply for permanent residence, temporary residence, a temporary resident permit or an application on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.
We cannot let the politics of fear undermine the Canadian commitment to protect the rights and freedoms of those who come to our shores fleeing persecution.
I will give an example of how the bill would hurt refugees to whom we should be giving safe haven.
In 2009, Mr. Arjan Tabaj and his wife, Anilda Tabaj, along with their daughter, Maria and their two sons, Vincenzio and Christian, were deported from Canada despite interventions personally made on the family's behalf by the former member of Parliament for Etobicoke Centre. These were made to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.
Mr. Tabaj is a partially paralyzed survivor of an assassination attempt during the elections in Albania. Albania continues to experience regular political assassinations and the shooters in this case are free due to alleged political connections. The Tabaj family has spent the last two years in hiding out of fear for their safety in that country. They were here in Canada before and were sent back.
Following the government's wrongful deportation, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj, the former member for Etobicoke Centre, privately sponsored immigration lawyer Katherine Ramsey to challenge the decision in the Federal Court of Canada. The hon. Madam Justice Simpson's August 30, 2011 ruling compelled the Government of Canada to issue temporary resident permits and visas to facilitate the Tabaj family's immediate return to safety in Canada.
Upon learning of the court victory, the Tabaj family left their hiding spot in Albania, first travelling to Greece and then to Italy. They finally arrived yesterday at terminal 3 at Pearson International Airport at 2:45 p.m. They finally came back after being sent to Albania.
Supporters and Etobicoke community members, including Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj, were present at the airport to greet this family. What a wonderful end to a tragic story.
This is a prime example how the government is failing to deal with the smugglers but hurting legitimate refugees.
The House of Commons and, in particular, the government, should realize what damage can result when we are dealing with refugees who come to our shores.
Many of us in this House and maybe some of the listeners today may not realize the terrible mistake that Canada made in 1944 when Canada refused entry of the S.S. St. Louis to our ports. On board the S.S. St. Louis were a shipload of Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany trying to find a new home. They were refused in many countries and, of course, at that time the minister made a terrible decision and he refused them access to our shores. The boat went back and terrible things happened to those people. That is an example of what we did wrong.
As Canadians, we have done things wrong and I think we realize that and we move forward with better legislation. I just talked about the Tabaj family. The Conservatives made a mistake as that minister in 1944 made a mistake. The Conservative minister made a mistake and he should apologize to that family for what it went through.
I bring this example of the S.S. St. Louis because Bill C-4 is a knee-jerk reaction, if we think about how it came out this summer, to make political points. Who are the points to? These refugees are not voting. However, like the Tabaj family, those passengers on that S.S. St. Louis were sent back to a terrible situation. We are fortunate that the Tabaj family came back here alive.
This bill fails to achieve its stated principle of cracking down on human smugglers and instead targets legitimate refugee claimants and refugees. I believe the House should pass our amendment that states the following:
this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-4, an Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, since the bill fails to achieve its stated principle of cracking down on human smugglers and instead targets legitimate refugee claimants and refugees, and because it expands the Minister's discretion in a manner that is overly broad and not limited to the mass arrival situation that supposedly inspired the introduction of this legislation, and because it presents an imprisonment scheme that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention, and because its provisions also violate international obligations relating to refugees and respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection.
I am a son of immigrants. They were welcomed into this country in 1952. Our family has been embraced by Canadians since that time. It is a great honour that I stand here today as a son of immigrants to represent the people of Sydney—Victoria. My father often stated that Canada was one of the best countries in the world because of its opportunities and fairness.
I believe when we draw up legislation in this House we must constantly ask ourselves two questions: Does it give opportunity to people? Is it fair? Those are two major questions that fit into all legislation. That makes our country one of the best countries in the world.
As we move forward with this legislation, we would hope that the government would see the relevance of these amendments that we are bringing forward and just stop here for one minute and see what we are doing here. I ask that it look at the amendment, take it back to committee and see what other countries are doing.
We have such a great record in this country dealing with immigrants and with refugees, which is why they come here. When we go into a business shop or go with a taxi driver, these are refugees who came here over the years and we gave them opportunities and they have given back to us.
Let us not go on the slippery slope for ideological reasons and have draconian measures that may suit some voters. Let us move forward as one of the best countries in the world, accepting people out there to come into our country. Just because they come by water, they should not be discriminated against?
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the chance to spend some time in this debate. I want to express my appreciation to the member from Sydney—Victoria for sharing his time. When we become a Gideon's army, we have to share more, and we are happy to do so.
The member from Ottawa Centre and the minister have outlined some of the history of the conflict. I simply want to say a couple of things in addition to the comments that have been made by my friend from Sydney—Victoria.
First, we should not make the mistake of believing that military intervention on its own represents a diplomatic and comprehensive solution to the challenges that we face in the world. It is very important for Canadians to have the understanding that while Canada deeply appreciates and respects the work that our military is doing in Afghanistan and in Libya, as it has done in many other conflicts, the resolution of these conflicts requires more than simply a military effort. This is the first principle that we need to observe.
There are many times when it becomes a little easy to think that if we send planes over and drop some bombs, we are doing our bit for the mission. However, I was pleased to hear the minister today reflect on the fact that Canada's role needed to expand well beyond that.
Also, for my colleague from Ottawa Centre, we are fully supportive of the amendments he has proposed. I hope very much that those amendments will be satisfactory to the government.
We need to understand what is happening. We live in an unstable world where democracy does not exist for everyone and where human rights are not respected. In certain areas of the world, people live in terribly difficult economic conditions and an unstable political climate where repressive governments do not respect human rights. That is the world we live in.
As the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria said, we could rhyme off examples of significant progress that has been made. We have seen much positive change in Eastern Europe and Latin America over the past 50 years. There are still major challenges in Africa, the Middle East and China in particular. China is not currently a democracy, but it is a country of more than one billion people.
The question becomes, what is this standard? How do we deal with the fact that the world is not fully democratic, that the world is not one that fully respects human rights? Do we simply take the case of national sovereignty and say that we can never intervene in the affairs of another country, or do we understand, which I think we have to do, that the entire evolution of international law has taken us to this point where we have to say that what goes on inside a country is just as important as what happens between countries. The question is not so much any more what are the rights of the state, vis-a-vis other states. The question much more is whether the rights of citizens in countries, who are being mistreated by their government, are important.
This afternoon, and I am sure the minister will be there, we will be commemorating the Holocaust. We will be reflecting on the fact that the world turned away from those who were being viciously discriminated against in Germany. We waited for a long time and then the interventions came in Poland. Then the interventions came in Russia and then in all of eastern Europe, and six million people were killed because they were Jews.
After the second world war, we began to realize that we had to develop some sense of the rights of the world community and the rights that people had as a result of the injustices that were being faced.
That is the way we have to understand what is happening in Libya. People ask me, “Why Libya? Why not Syria?” How do we explain this intervention and not that one? The answers are not always simple and, in fact, the answers are not always clear, but we are, slowly but surely as a world, taking the human footsteps toward the point where we can say that we will not allow people to be brutalized by their own government, that we will not simply sit back and do nothing and that we will intervene. Yes, that intervention may have a military component and people will be killed as a result of that intervention, and none of us should take joy in the fact that it is a consequence of what happened.
However, we also understand, from everything we have learned in human history, the consequences of appeasement, of not facing up to dictators, of letting people get away with impunity with killing their own people.
I would like to move an amendment to the amendment proposed by my colleague from Ottawa Centre. I move:
That the amendment be further amended by inserting after the words “political transition”, the following:
That the Government of Canada engage with the Libyan National Council (LNC) based in Benghazi as a legitimate political entity and representative of the Libyan people; that it provide the LNC with advice and assistance in governance, including women's rights;
And further by inserting after the words “alleged crimes”, the following:
That it ensure that Canadian citizens, landed immigrants, or visitors to Canada are not subject to any threats or intimidation by representatives of the Gadhafi regime.
I would add that I fully support the amendments proposed by the New Democratic Party. We had additional language, but we did not want to be redundant in simply putting forward the same perspective. I hope these proposals will have the support of the government. They are entirely consistent with the comments which the minister made today, and I hope they will be accepted.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for Toronto Centre.
First, I thank the hon. member for appointing me as the CIDA critic in the Liberal shadow cabinet. I also thank the people of Sydney—Victoria for once again placing their trust in me to represent them here in Ottawa.
Helping people around the world in need has always been a passion of mine even before I entered politics. Since entering politics, the last 11 years I have had a lot of input on the foreign affairs committee and I have travelled to many countries to see the benefits of the help by Canadians.
As the Liberal critic for CIDA, I am honoured to stand in this House today to talk about our country's role in Libya post-Gadhafi.
I will begin by commending the brave men and women in the Canadian armed forces for the amazing job they are doing in Libya and around the world on behalf of all Canadians.
What will we see in Libya after the Gadhafi regime is gone? We will see reports of injustice toward Libyan women, men and children. We will hear more reports of mistreatment under a regime that must be dealt with. Funds will be needed for infrastructure but, most important, Libya will be without a democratic and judicial system, a basic right that we all cherish in this country.
When the G8 met at the summit last month in Deauville, the Prime Minister said that he did not intend to contribute any more funding to new democracies in Egypt, Tunisia or any other country that is now facing rebellions, such as we have seen in Libya and Syria, even though he strongly supports the democratic movements in these regions.
Democracy will not flourish without funds and proper guidance. The absence of social and government cohesion will be a tremendous obstacle in any possible transition to democracy. In fact, a post-Gadhafi Libya must first embark on a process of basic state formation, particularly the construction of a national identity and public administration, and, of course, the return of law and order before this democracy can take root.
The government seems to be in need of a bit of a history lesson. Some historians say that World War II may not have happened in Europe if the allies had assisted Germany in the reconstruction and instilling proper institutions. Instead, the victors after World War I were mostly interested in obtaining more land. The allies learned from this mistake and after World War II they set forth with a major reconstruction effort in western Europe. This was known as the Marshall Plan which was enacted in 1947 as a way to help rebuild Europe. This was also set up to discourage Communism from entering the region.
Canada also played another big role in the development of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We see that many of the east bloc countries have instilled our democratic institutions and our Charter of Rights in their constitutions.
Another example in Europe is the role we have played in the former Yugoslavia. We now see that justice is still moving forward in the court system .
At present, Europe is a thriving democratic region and, over the last century, Canada played a big role in making that happen.
Another example is after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Iraqis were faced with turmoil and civil war. This House and many Canadians may not know but, under the Paul Martin Liberal government, Canada pledged over $300 million over seven years for reconstruction. The largest share of Canada's contribution of $115 million was disbursed through the international reconstruction fund for Iraq and was managed by the World Bank and the United Nations.
Canada's support focused on the development of stable, self-governing and prosperous Iraq, with a representative and a democratic government respectful of human rights and promoting equality between women and men. The Canadian assistance in the areas of social and economic development also helped meet human needs, such as food, water and medical care.
Another more recent example of the work we are doing is in Afghanistan where we are helping it move forward as the conflicts diminish. Why are we not taking lessons learned in Afghanistan to other missions such as Libya?
Afghanistan is Canada's largest ever bilateral aid recipient. We are rebuilding schools, helping to build a governance structure and we are training the military and the police. We also have programs to support maternal and child health. We are doing it in Afghanistan and we must continue to do it in other countries.
Another personal experience I have witnessed with the reconstruction of another country post a notorious regime was in Panama. In 1980, Panama, under Noriega, was a police state with no democracy. The largest revenue was from the drug trade. After the fall of Noriega, the Panama Canal was handed over to the people by the U.S. and a new constitution was formed, but the economy also had to be restructured. I was asked to help with the reconstruction of its agriculture industry. I witnessed a transformation in Panama, which is now one of the most democratic and thriving countries in Central America.
Those are all examples that the House must realize have made countries vibrant and democratic.
Where is the government's post-Gadhafi strategy? The government has been notorious for its lack of detail. Why has it not put forward a more detailed plan regarding the future of a post-Gadhafi Libya or what if any role will Canada play in it? There is a known presence of extremist forces in certain areas of Libya, including some links to al-Qaeda. There is a very real fear that the extremists will gain a footing in a power vacuum that will undeniably occur once Gadhafi is finally ousted.
We know the situation we are facing in Libya. I have spoken of the great contributions Canada has made to help foster democracy. The reality is that the government has changed the way Canada operates on the world stage. By only offering to take military action and letting other multilateral international organizations do the restructuring is not acceptable.
The Prime Minister in a recent speech talked about playing a bigger leadership role on the international scene, but what we have seen is completely the opposite. It was with great interest yesterday when we heard in the House the member for Toronto—Danforth criticize companies for working in Libya. The companies the hon. member criticized will be instrumental in rebuilding Libya.
We need to work with Libya to help with reconstruction. There will be a benefit for our companies as we get the oil industry back and get everything to work well in that area. We saw the situation in Egypt where there was insufficient international support after the regime change left Egypt in a vulnerable state.
We cannot let this happen in the Middle East. We especially cannot let it happen in Libya. I ask the House to vote for the subamendment by the member for Toronto Centre.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my thoughts today on Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans).
I would like to start by thanking the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for introducing this proposed legislation.
The bill seeks to address the plight of beneficiaries of long-term disability benefits plans in cases where the employer has gone bankrupt. In essence, it aims to protect employees on long-term disability by granting them preferred status during bankruptcy proceedings.
The Government of Canada does not view the bill as the best approach to addressing the challenges these beneficiaries may face, but we agree that this is an important issue. Fairness and compassion matter to all of us as Canadians.
The Government of Canada understands the challenges faced by workers whose employers go bankrupt, including the possible reduction or loss of benefits, such as for long-term disability. That is why our government has already put in place a series of measures to help deal with the challenges these beneficiaries face. In fact, this issue was identified in the 2010 Speech from the Throne. We made a commitment to Canadians that we would look at how we could better protect workers when an employer faces these kinds of difficult circumstances, and we are delivering on that promise.
We have consulted with citizens and are exploring workable, lasting solutions, but we are doing even more than that. We already have initiatives in place that are making a difference.
I would like to take a few minutes today to outline what the Government of Canada is doing to support Canadian workers and to provide the protection they need while maintaining a balanced approach.
The government recognizes that when an employer goes bankrupt, employees are often left in a difficult situation in regard to wages. Through no fault of their own, they can suddenly find themselves struggling to make ends meet. That is bad for workers and their families and it is bad for our economy.
In response, our government established the wage-earner protection program, or WEPP. It provides timely compensation to employees who are owed money when their employers go bankrupt. As a result of this important program, eligible workers who lose their jobs and are owed money because their employer has gone bankrupt, or has become subject to receivership, are now compensated for unpaid wages and vacation pay. They are also eligible for more recent severance and termination pay up to a maximum of approximately $3,400.
The WEPP was expanded in 2009. As a result there has been improved financial support for Canadian workers during the economic downturn, as more Canadians have been able to qualify for WEPP financial support and to secure higher average monetary claims. As a result, since January 2009, over 30,000 WEPP claimants have received almost $67 million in payments. In other words, the WEPP has made an important difference to those in need.
We have also taken action to ensure better pension regulation in Canada. In December 2010, a number of regulatory amendments were proposed to the pension benefits standards regulations.
The proposed amendments are designed to make federally regulated private pension plans less sensitive to financial market volatility while protecting plan members and retirees. It calls for four key measures.
First, it would permit plan sponsors to secure properly structured letters of credit in lieu of making solvency payments to the pension fund, to a limit of 15% of the plan assets.
Second, it would require plan sponsors to fully fund pension benefits on plan termination.
Third, it would render void any amendments to a pension plan that would reduce the solvency ratio of the pension plan if the plan's solvency ratio is below 0.85 or the amendment causes the solvency ratio to fall below 0.85.
Fourth, it would introduce a distressed pension plan workout scheme.
These changes are part of the Government of Canada's overall commitment to further strengthen the retirement income system for our citizens. This is the kind of action that Canadians have been asking for and that we have been delivering.
The Government of Canada stood side by side with Canadians during the recent global recession. We have worked very hard to ensure citizens have all the tools and all the support needed to ride out challenging times. We moved quickly to protect jobs. We have also invested in an unprecedented two year $62 billion stimulus program to create jobs, to strengthen innovation and to build for the future.
From major infrastructure projects to reductions in personal and corporate taxes, from support for the unemployed and those at risk of losing their jobs to transfers to provincial and territorial governments for training, we have invested wisely in Canada and in its people.
Our efforts did not stop there. Some $13.3 billion have been directed in targeted efforts to support regions and industries hardest hit by the recession.
In addition, we also developed measures to allow for greater access to employment insurance benefits. This included extra weeks of benefits and extensions to work-sharing arrangements for eligible recipients. Combined, these initiatives have helped over one million workers and their families. The enhancements to the work-sharing program have meant that more workers have been able to keep their jobs while employers have retained skilled workers with years of experience.
Our government believes in maintaining a fair and balanced approach to this issue. We are determined to continue showing our capability and capacity to act so that workers know that they will be protected.
Through Canada's economic action plan, our government has acted decisively to protect livelihoods. We have acted to protect incomes. We have worked hard to help create jobs and to ease credit markets. Just as important, we have taken steps to help ensure that workers get back on their feet.
We also emphasized in the Speech from the Throne and elsewhere that jobs and growth remain the top priority for Canada.
There is a need for balance. We need to protect workers. We also need to protect our nation's economic competitiveness, something that we have all worked so hard to build and maintain.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-624 brought forward by my colleague and my friend from Sydney—Victoria.
The member has a history of standing up for people who need help. His bill on extending employment insurance sick benefits from 15 to 50 weeks was a very well crafted piece of legislation as well. It passed through the House and went to committee where we heard from a number of stakeholders who said this is exactly what is needed. The bill passed at committee and came back to the House. It needed a royal recommendation which the government refused to give.
The member has done his homework, as he always does. He stands up for people who need help, whether it was getting money for the tar ponds, or whether it was forcing the government to come forward with money for the dredging of Sydney Harbour. He has always done the work. He has led the way, and I am sure he will do that for many years to come in this place.
Bill C-624 would protect beneficiaries under long-term disability plans by giving them preferred status. As my colleague said, this is not about pensions. This is about long-term disability. My NDP colleague who just spoke mentioned the Urquharts and the work that they have done.
I had the opportunity to meet with Nortel workers in my office. It is a very sobering experience to sit in an office with a number of people who have multiple sclerosis, cancer, crohn's disease. These people cannot work, not because they do not want to work, but because they cannot work.
All of a sudden the money they have to live on in long-term disability is being reduced in some cases by over $2,000 to $300 or $400 a month. I would like members to think about that. All members in this House make $150,000 or more. How would we be able to live on 20% of that salary? At least we would have the opportunity go out and work and add to that, but it is very difficult to do that when one has advanced multiple sclerosis or cancer. This is a fundamental issue of fairness. There are 400 Nortel workers affected by this and there are many others across the country. Imagine living on 20% of a salary that is pretty meagre to begin with.
I asked a question earlier in the House about what people with disabilities make in this country compared to what was paid out to the former Integrity Commissioner. The average salary for a person with a disability is $28,000 a year. Some of these people have families to support on that. Why add to that burden? It makes no sense.
Other countries have done this. Studies by the OECD and the World Bank indicate that well over half of the countries that we would consider comparable have some kind of pension protection. Countries like Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. have preferred status for people on long-term disability.
We pride ourselves in Canada on our social infrastructure. We pride ourselves on the way we stand up for people who need help but we do not always help them. This bill provides us with an opportunity to do that. This bill provides us with an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and say that this is patently unfair. We pride ourselves here in Canada on what we do to protect people who need help. Sometimes we miss that opportunity. We do things individually and collectively as members of Parliament to try to help the people in our constituencies. What happens to people whose companies have experienced a downturn and go bankrupt?
I had a similar experience in my constituency a couple of years ago. The Moirs plant, a well-known company in Dartmouth that has been there for many decades, all of a sudden went out of business. The union came to see me and asked me for help. Monte Solberg, who was the minister of human resources at the time, was somewhat helpful in that regard. The people at Service Canada went out of their way to ensure that we could help those folks. But they did not lose their pensions in the way the Nortel workers did.
How many people in this country think they have a solid pension and/or disability plan? The people at Nortel certainly did. Who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that Nortel would go under? Who would have thought this would happen? Who would have thought that their pension and their long-term disability was self-insured? They were not given any reason to believe that. All of a sudden, through no fault of their own, they are without luck.
There are enough problems for people already in this country, particularly through the economic downturn that we had. People at home spend nights at the kitchen table wondering how to make ends meet, how to pay for gas when the price of gas is where it is. They see articles about the price of food going up. The cost of sending their kids to post-secondary education has skyrocketed in the last couple of decades. People are sitting down everywhere across this country and asking, “How do I stretch what I make? How do I do it? What is my pension like?”
There are a million Canadians who probably think they have a long-term plan or a pension plan who do not even have it. Add to that the fact that three-quarters of people who work in private companies do not have pension plans to begin with. People are concerned. They are scared. They do not know where to turn.
Credit card debt is through the roof. People are being dinged exorbitant rates of interest on their credit cards. People just do not have the ability to stretch their paycheques to cover their expenses. They worry about paying for their kids' post-secondary education. Many of them cannot afford RESPs and things like that that perhaps we have the benefit and luxury of doing.
Government has a responsibility to assist in those areas. People do not ask that much from government, but what they do ask for is some consideration of their circumstances. They sit at the kitchen table trying to match what comes with what goes out. When what comes in goes down by 80%, who among us could survive that? We need to do more. We need to help.
This bill initially was brought forward by Senator Art Eggleton, who has done a lot of work on issues of poverty as well. He is somebody for whom I have great regard and respect. He has done a lot of work on the social condition in Canada.
This bill had a chance to be passed by the Senate just before Christmas. The night the Conservatives had their big Christmas party, the night the Prime Minister sang and played piano for his caucus, the night they were making merry in Centre Block, enough senators snuck away from the merriment to kill the bill.
Now my colleague from Sydney—Victoria has picked up the challenge. He said that someone has to stand up for these people. These are not people who are hurt because of anything that they have done. They are hurt because of circumstances beyond their control.
Let us think about who is at stake. Let us think about the people we are talking about. Let us think about people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and other debilitating diseases. They are trying to survive on a pension of $2,000 or $3,000 a month, on top of which there are medical bills, on top of which there are all kinds of other concerns. All of a sudden, they are left defenceless and their income is chopped.
How do we tell people with advanced multiple sclerosis to go out and make the money that they have lost in their long-term disability? It cannot be done.
We need to do something. I have never been one to say that government has all the answers, because I do not believe that government has all the answers. Sometimes government does not even know the question. In this case we know the question and we know the answer. The question is, how do we stand up for workers who, through absolutely no fault of their own, have been let down by their company, who thought they were protected and it turns out they are not? They are looking to us to stand up and do something.
Well, we can do something. It is within our power to do something about the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. We have the chance to do it. Bill C-624 is a very important step.
Again I want to congratulate both Senator Eggleton and my colleague from Sydney—Victoria. I also want to thank my colleague from York West who is our critic for seniors. She has been tireless in her support of workers, whether it is on retirement or long-term disability issues. She has been on the front lines, making sure her voice is the voice for people who need a voice in Parliament.
If there is one thing we should all do as parliamentarians, it is stand up for people who need help. There are all kinds of people in this country who will stand up for people who do not need help. There are chambers of commerce and business organizations, labour unions and lots of other organizations. What we need to do as parliamentarians is stand up for those who do not have a voice, for those who are stuck in a situation that they did not create, over which they have no control, and out of which there seems to be no solution.
Bill C-624 is a solution.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Sydney—Victoria two questions, very briefly.
The first has to do with the constitutional obligation of the Government of Canada to Marine Atlantic and to the people of Sydney.
The second has to do with a question from my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso and the obligation of the Government of Canada to maintain the efficiencies and the reputation of Canada through the citizenship and immigration offices in Sydney.
First of all, in terms of maintaining the culture of continued growth, as the member for Sydney—Victoria asked me to attend Marine Atlantic in my capacity as transport critic at the time, we realize and we see that the government is not fulfilling its obligation. I wonder whether he would address that issue, the constitutional obligations of government to do that.
Secondly, why would the Government of Canada refuse to make the investment in a very large processing centre in Sydney so that we could eliminate that long, 18-month waiting period before an application for citizenship gets considered?
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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