Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Terrebonne—Blainville.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-43. This is the 77th time the government has moved a time allocation motion. This time allocation motion is on a budget bill, which is very important. The government gave us two days to debate the bill at report stage and one day, today, for third reading stage. This is how much time we have had in Parliament to debate a bill that is more than 460 pages long, has more than 400 clauses and will amend a dozen of our country's laws.
We want to hold an intelligent debate on a budget that matters to Canadians. Ten minutes go by quickly, but I cannot ignore the comments made by our Conservative colleague, who said that the NDP wants to introduce a 45-day work year. Every time we ask a question about employment insurance, the government says that the NDP wants everyone to work only 45 days a year.
According to The Globe and Mail, the Minister of Employment and Social Development said that he would have to hire more than 400 employees to answer calls from seniors and workers, as a result of delays in processing employment insurance, old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments.
This same government wants to reduce employers' EI premiums by half a billion dollars, telling us that this will create jobs in Canada. However, Ms. Doucet, who runs a Christmas wreath company in a town in my riding, said that the EI reform was discouraging seasonal workers.
The government says that these cuts are justified. It says it wants to create jobs and help people work instead of being unemployed. The government thinks workers are lazy slackers. This is not the first time that I have criticized the government's actions in the House, and it will not be the last.
People have to wait up to 25 weeks to get their guaranteed income supplement, which helps the most vulnerable members of our society. I am talking about seniors whose only pension is old age security and who need a supplement. Can a person really live on $543 a month? These people are being made to wait 25 weeks.
This week and last week, the Minister of Employment and Social Development had the nerve to say that he had asked some Social Security Tribunal officers who were working on employment insurance files to work on old age security and guaranteed income supplement files. However, the tribunal already has a six-month backlog of employment insurance files.
Yesterday and today, the minister acknowledged this and said that 400 people would be hired. However, it takes 12 to 18 months to train a person on how to process an employment insurance or old age security file.
The government has even admitted that Service Canada offices received 10,000 complaints. The government closed offices and cut front-line staff.
In Pleasantville, Newfoundland and Labrador, 100 to 150 people are visiting the employment insurance office because they cannot reach anyone by telephone. Even if the government hired 400 people tomorrow morning to work at Service Canada, they would not be answering the telephone. The Conservatives have created a mess for Canadians. The government should be ashamed of tampering with a program and a responsibility they have toward seniors and workers, and they should be ashamed of laughing at at them.
Our colleague in the House of Commons from Madawaska—Restigouche said the following in the newspapers. I will not name the MP that he quoted, but it appears he is from Acadie—Bathurst. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche said:
The campaign of terror waged by [the member for Acadie—Bathurst] and company did not achieve the expected results. They scared people, and everyone across the region sees that.
Yes, people in that region clearly see that they cannot get employment insurance benefits. They see that they have to wait six months for the Social Security Tribunal to hear their case. In my riding, seniors see that they cannot get the guaranteed income supplement and they have to live on $553 a month. People see that they need to apply for welfare.
Rather than allowing MPs in the House to express their views, as in a democratic country, on Bill C-43, the Conservatives have imposed a time allocation motion so that we can only debate it for one day. This is shameful.
It is shameful to hear a government tell Canadians that the NDP is proposing, among other things, that people should work only 45 days a year. It is shameful that the government thinks that workers are lazy slackers. In fact, this is what they are actually saying in their speeches.
It is completely unacceptable for men and women who have worked all their lives and who want to retire. This is the same government that increased the retirement age from 65 to 67.
Yes, I am proud of belonging to the NDP and to say that we are going to bring back 65 as the age of eligibility to old age security. Yes, I am proud to say that I am with the NDP and not with the Conservatives who persecute workers, seniors and ordinary Canadians. They are going to cut $36 billion from the health care sector by 2017. Yes, I am proud of the NDP, which has said that this $36 billion is going to be returned to the health care sector.
We hope that Canadians are aware of what the Conservatives will do, if they ever get back into power.
The Conservatives are attacking the poorest and the most vulnerable people in our society. It is a shameful way to treat people who are just reaching retirement age after working all their lives.
This is the kind of thing that this bill does, in addition to decreasing contributions from employers. This is not something that will create 800,000 jobs, as the government would have us believe.
What do our entrepreneurs do when the Conservatives make cuts to employment insurance for seasonal workers? They go west, but that is artificial. Our national economy cannot be based on just one element, that is, only on oil wells.
The price of oil is going down. If there are layoffs in western Canada, what will happen to all the people who take the plane every week to go to jobs out west? The Conservatives boast about creating jobs, but those jobs have only been created in one place because the price of oil was going up. Jobs were created out west, but not here at home, in the Atlantic region, nor in the rural areas of the country. If they want people to stop needing employment insurance, they have to create jobs. This is absolutely not what is in this budget. The Conservatives should be ashamed of how they are leading the country.
It is to be hoped that Canadians will remember this when the next elections are held and that they will kick them out once and for all or for a long time.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that I will share my time with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who looks after consular affairs.
I rise today to speak to the motion moved by the Prime Minister of Canada on Friday. I must admit that I deplore the position the New Democrats and the Liberals are taking in this debate. They had already made their choice before we even started debating the motion. I must also admit that I am particularly disappointed in the weak arguments I am hearing today, especially with respect to Canada's approach to supporting the Iraqi people and participating in the effort by the international community.
I have here a press release issued by the Minister for La Francophonie on August 10, 2014, which announced that Canada would be providing assistance to the Iraqi people who are suffering at the hands of this terrorist group. There are no words to describe the cruelty being inflicted.
The Minister for La Francophonie said in August that he was providing additional humanitarian assistance and support for this community with food, tents, blankets and medical equipment. At that time, there were already 850,000 displaced persons in Iraq. This was obviously part of a strategy, and the government condemned the fact that these refugees were suffering at the hands of the barbaric Islamic State.
On August 29, the government once again announced more assistance. All remaining food resources in Canada would be sent to those in need. The August 29 press release stated that there were up to 1.4 million refugees.
How bad does the situation need to get before we take action? The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is working extra hard to welcome Iranian and Syrian refugees. However, more than a million people are now affected by these barbarians who have no rules, no faith and no laws and who are committing heinous acts, as we are unfortunately seeing on social networks.
Canada is doing more than its share when it comes to humanitarian aid. Our country is doing more per capita than the rest of the members of the international community. That makes us the seventh largest donor. This is the right thing to do and it is important to continue doing it. Nonetheless, how are we going to stop this flow of refugees? There is only one way: taking action. We must support the ground forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces. We must give them technical support to help them drive back these terrorists.
Why does this concern us as Canadians and Quebeckers? It concerns us because this terrorist threat is right here in Canada. We know that there are Canadians who leave our country, swept away by these radical ideas, and who want to turn against the society that sheltered and welcomed them.
That is why there are three valid reasons for supporting the motion moved by our Prime Minister: to support these refugees who cannot stay in refugee camps indefinitely and whose situation is deteriorating; to stabilize the situation; and, finally, to protect Canadians from this terrorist threat found here at home.
Over the past few months, the situation in Syria and Iraq has continued to deteriorate.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is a barbaric, terrorist caliphate. It poses a real and present threat not only to the security and stability of that part of the world but also to us here in Canada.
That is why Canada is joining forces with 60 countries. The opposition has a very clear picture of what is being proposed.
This mission, including six fighter jets and equipment involving the deployment of 600 soldiers, will also add to the efforts of the international coalition of 60 countries with a fixed term of six months. The requested mandate is very clear.
Recently we have seen the violent murders of civilians and journalists, planned attacks in Australia to organize public murders in support of these ISIL barbaric extremists, and calls from these same terrorists to commit acts of terror in our country.
It is absolutely unacceptable to attack American and European citizens, and, of course, Canadians as well.
Our allies have been clear about the need to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state bent on raping and pillaging the Middle East.
They are committing acts of genocide against minorities, beheading western journalists, kidnapping women and selling them into slavery, and plotting terrorist attacks against Canada and our allies. These are the reasons we are debating this motion today. These are the reasons Canada is standing up against terrorism.
Canada has always shown its unwavering support for other countries in the fight against violence, terrorism, Nazism and barbarism.
Canada holds a place that we can be proud of. We are a member of the G7 and other major international bodies. The place that we as a country hold in history is a result of our support for our world partners in times of peace and in times of war.
To whom do we owe the place that we hold? We owe it in large part to our veterans, the men and women who were willing to risk their lives to defend our democracy and our freedom.
In my riding, there is a Second World War veteran who is over 90 years old. His name is Jean Cauchy. He was a member of the first French-Canadian squadron that fought. Aimé Michaud, a veteran of the Korean War, defended Canada as a member of the Royal 22e Régiment by pushing back the tide of Communism in South Korea in the early 1950s.
People have given their lives recently. I am thinking of a young woman from Les Méchins, Karine Blais, who gave her life for her country in Afghanistan.
Even more recently, General Bouchard participated in a mission with the same fighter jets that we want to send to Iraq and that were used productively in Libya. This Quebecker led the coalition and conducted successful military operations.
In Canada, we are not idiots. We will not bow down to terrorists. That is clear. We are going to stand up and send a clear message to those who want to attack our values, attack the equality between men and women and attack the foundations of our society. We are going to stand up and shoulder our responsibilities.
That is what I am going to do with the member for Madawaska—Restigouche at my side. He was a minister under Brian Mulroney. We are going to stand up and support this mission because that is the Canadian thing to do. Quebeckers, French speakers, aboriginal people and English speakers: we are all going to stand together and meet this challenge. Will it be easy? No. Will it cost money? Yes.
Nevertheless, I am going to do this with the member for Calgary East, the member for Edmonton Centre, who was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the member for Mississauga—Erindale in Ontario.
I am going to do this because we need to neutralize this threat in Iraq. We want to keep our streets safe, and we are going to do everything we can so that Canada remains a good country to live in.
I would be pleased to answer my colleagues' questions.
Mr. Speaker, I stand before my hon. colleagues tonight to close the second hour of debate on Bill C-208, my bill that aims to make English-French bilingualism a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
I also want to thank my NDP colleagues who have spoken tonight and in the first hour and who support my bill. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and the Liberals who supported my bill in 2008, in 2010 and again today.
Everyone can see that the Conservatives are the only ones saying no.
This is my third attempt to get this bill through, and I hope that all my colleagues on the other side of the House will vote in favour of the bilingualism requirement for Supreme Court judges when we vote on May 7.
In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit a few universities and a few communities to talk about Bill C-208. I went to Sudbury and had the opportunity to present my bill to students at Laurentian University. I also presented my bill to students in the faculty of law at the Université de Moncton and law students at the University of Ottawa.
People in my riding support my bill enthusiastically. Everywhere I went, people said that the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges was important for the equality of both official languages and equality in the access to justice.
Let me now tell the House about the support I have received from various stakeholders in the fields of official languages and justice.
In his letter of support for Bill C-208, the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, said:
...since 2008, I supported the principle that all Supreme Court justices should be bilingual, and that is still my opinion. I believe, out of respect for all Canadians, that it is a matter of ensuring that they are all served by judges of the highest distinction and greatest ability, who can hear and understand a case in either official language
The Barreau du Québec also supported my bill and said that:
[It] has always believed that functional bilingualism should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice...
The Quebec Community Groups Network also supports this important bill. Its letter of support for Bill C-208, it stated that the QCGN supports the requirement that Supreme Court Justices be capable of executing their responsibilities in both official languages without the aid of an interpreter on the same basis. In addition, the letter stated that the QCGN believes that Bill C-208 strengthens the principle of the rule of law upon which our society is based.
The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, or the FCFA, and its members have also shown their support for Bill C-208. In its letter of support, the FCFA indicated:
...we find it completely unacceptable that, in this day and age, French-speaking Canadians still cannot be heard and understood by all of the judges who sit on the highest court in our country without the assistance of an interpreter.
I would like to thank all the people, groups and associations who shared with me their support for the important issue of the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges.
I would like to remind hon. members of the importance of my bill. This is a matter of access to justice. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and it is very important for its judges to be able to understand both official languages without the help of an interpreter.
Second, having bilingual Supreme Court judges would ensure the equality of both the official languages. We have to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized the equality of French and English.
In conclusion, I urge all my colleagues to vote in favour of my Bill C-208.
We must protect the equality of our two official languages and equal access to justice. In particular, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec and the members who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and the member for Saint Boniface, who is the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, to ask their Conservative colleagues to support my bill, which seeks to ensure that Supreme Court judges are bilingual. It is a matter of justice and equality.
moved that Bill C-208, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise for the third time in the House to speak to Bill C-208, which would require Supreme Court justices to be bilingual so that they can respond to Canadian citizens.
Thirteen years ago, on February 28, two hours before I made a speech in the House of Commons about taxes on mechanics' tools, I was thinking that my grandson Jonathan, who was born two days later, might one day use these tools if he decided to become a mechanic.
Today, as I wish Jonathan a happy birthday, I hope that my other grandson and my granddaughter will be able to be heard in the official language of their choice, which is French, if they ever need to go to the Supreme Court.
Today, my New Democrat colleagues and I are back with my Bill C-208, which would make being bilingual in French and English a new condition for appointing justices to the Supreme Court of Canada.
This is my third attempt to get this initiative passed. In 2010, this bill, known at the time as Bill C-232, was passed by the House of Commons. To my great disappointment, the Conservative senators used their majority in the Senate to block the bill. The bill then died on the order paper when the 2011 election was called.
The Conservatives have repeatedly shown their contempt for official languages by appointing two unilingual anglophone justices to the Supreme Court and by appointing a unilingual auditor general.
The NDP thinks that there is another way to do things. The NDP is the only party that is proposing concrete measures to promote and protect our official languages. Thanks to the NDP, the House recently passed Bill C-419, which corrects the Conservatives' mistake by ensuring that officers of Parliament will now have to be bilingual when they are appointed. It is time for us to make understanding both official languages an essential condition of being appointed to the Supreme Court.
I would like to speak to the importance of this bill. This is a question of access to justice. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and it is very important that the justices be able to understand both official languages without the help of an interpreter. I have the utmost respect for the work of interpreters, but we know that interpretation has its limits. Numerous lawyers have noticed errors and omissions in the interpretation of their arguments before the Supreme Court.
I am thinking, in particular, about Michel Doucet, a law professor at the Université de Moncton, the former dean of the law faculty at the university and a language rights expert. He spoke to the issue when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages:
In the week after I had argued a case before the Supreme Court, I had an opportunity to hear the English version of my arguments on CPAC, and I understood why I had lost the case five to four. The translation did not allow me to understand my own words. I wonder how justices can fully understand the matter at hand when they have to go through translation in which significant aspects of a submission are missing. When you win 9:0, there is no problem, but when you lose 5 to 4, you automatically wonder whether you should not have argued in English.
There are many examples of questionable interpretation at the Supreme Court. A lawyer arguing his case before the court mentioned a Monsieur Saint-Coeur and the interpreter rendered it as “Mr. Five O'clock”. Even the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, has weighed in on the importance of understanding the arguments presented without the help of an intermediary.
In June 2009, he told members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights:
Given the complexity and the extreme importance of the cases heard by this court, judges should be able to hear arguments presented to them without using an interpreter to understand nuanced and complex legal arguments.
According to Sébastien Grammond, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, interpretation may lead to “loss of precision which, in some cases, can even involve the omission of certain sentences”.
This loss of precision can also be found in the documents submitted by the parties to the proceedings. These documents are not translated by the court. Unilingual judges must rely on the briefs prepared by court clerks, who are often young lawyers with little legal experience.
The presence of unilingual judges on the bench of the Supreme Court also poses a problem during closed-door deliberations without an interpreter. Francophone judges must always express their opinions, ideas and knowledge in their second language. Therefore, there is a risk that they will be much less precise.
If the justices can function in both official languages, everyone can work in the language of their choice. The bilingualism of judges is therefore a question of the equality of francophones and anglophones in terms of access to justice.
The bilingualism of Supreme Court justices ensures the equality of both official languages.
We have to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized the equality of French and English.
Laws are drafted in both official languages. Both versions have the same weight and neither one takes precedence over the other.
Our language duality is part of our Canadian identity. We have to embrace it.
Is there substantive equality when a francophone appears before the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is not there to reward ambitious lawyers or judges. It is there to dispense justice for all Canadians.
Serving on the Supreme Court is not a right, but having fair access to justice is a right. Remember that the court is there to serve Canadians, not the interests of the judge.
The issue of requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual has been debated for several years.
I think it is wrong for francophones to have to make themselves understood by unilingual judges through the filter of interpretation, especially before the highest court in the land.
If Canada's two official languages are to be truly equal, it is important that bilingualism be an essential requirement when judges are appointed to the Supreme Court.
Lastly, my bill would ensure that the Supreme Court can serve all Canadians equally, whether their mother tongue is English or French.
The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, who is highly respected by all Canadians, has said several times that he supports requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual.
The Barreau du Québec has supported this bill for years now:
The Barreau has always believed that functional bilingualism should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice, and it deplores that even today federal legislation has no provisions requiring that the nine Supreme Court judges be proficient in both official languages.
Many stakeholders in the official languages community support my bill, particularly the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne and its members:
The FCFA believes that all citizens have a right to be heard and understood before the highest court of Canada in their official language of choice, without the assistance of an interpreter.
Lastly, various linguistic rights experts have spoken out in favour of my bill, including Sébastien Grammond, Dean of Civil Law at the University of Ottawa, Gérard Lévesque, a very well-known lawyer for language rights, and Serge Rousselle and Michel Doucet, both law professors at the Université de Moncton.
Let me remind members that the NDP is the only party that proposes concrete measures to advance Canada's linguistic duality.
Bill C-419 on the mandatory bilingualism of officers of Parliament, introduced by my colleague, was passed by the House of Commons in 2013.
Let us not forget that the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre remained open thanks to the pressure that my NDP colleagues and I put on the Conservative government, which intended to close this centre, the only French-language marine rescue centre in Canada.
The Conservative government has not shown any respect toward our official languages. I want to remind the House that it is the Prime Minister who appointed two unilingual judges to the Supreme Court. It is also the Conservative government that appointed a unilingual Auditor General to Parliament. Even the minister responsible for official languages is not in favour of my bill. Her riding of Saint Boniface, in Manitoba, includes thousands of francophones. What an insult to that community.
I also want to remind the members opposite that this former bill, Bill C-232, was passed by the House of Commons in 2010.
All the Conservative members voted against that bill, even the members from Quebec and those who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the members for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and Madawaska—Restigouche. Despite the opposition of the Conservative members, Bill C-232 was passed by the House of Commons; however, the unelected Conservative senators, including a number of francophones, held up the bill until the 2011 election was called.
The majority of the members in the House of Commons, who were elected by Canadians, voted in favour of this bill, but the unelected senators defeated the bill. Do not try to tell me that the Senate stands up for linguistic minorities.
In closing, I ask the members of all the parties to support this bill so that it can move along and be considered at the Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights. We must protect the equality of our two official languages and equal access to justice.
In particular, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec and the members who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the members for Madawaska—Restigouche, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and Saint Boniface, to pressure their colleagues to support my bill, which seeks to ensure that the Supreme Court judges are bilingual.
If the Conservatives thought that bilingualism was necessary for becoming an officer of Parliament, then there is no reason why they should not do the same for the judges who sit on the benches of the highest court in the land.
The bill is a matter of justice and equality.
It is a matter of justice and equality.
Canadians have the right—it is more than just a privilege—to appear before a judge at the Federal Court of Canada and be heard and understood in the language of their choice. The same applies to the Federal Court of Appeal. It should also apply to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country.
I was at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this week, and I asked officials from the Department of Justice whether there are enough bilingual judges in each province. If Canadians were to read the committee minutes, they would see that the response was yes. I then asked whether there are a lot of judges, and they said that there are enough.
I am waiting to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice tell us that the pool is not big enough, even though officials from his own department clearly told us in committee that it is a big pool. They told us that there are enough bilingual judges in every province.
I hope that the Conservatives will support my bill and bilingualism in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, two weeks ago, I asked a number of questions about VIA Rail.
CN decided that the railway tracks between Moncton and Campbellton needed repairs. New Brunswick's provincial government negotiated with CN. I am not proud to say it, but New Brunswick is one of Canada's poorest provinces because of all the infrastructure and the fact that only 750,000 people live there. The provincial government invested $25 million to repair the tracks between Moncton and Miramichi, and Bathurst and Campbellton. CN invested $35 million. These are tracks for freight trains.
Consequently, freight will leave Miramichi and travel through Moncton and Rivière-du-Loup to get to Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto and the rest of the country. To make things clear, from Bathurst, the train will go through Campbellton, Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup and then on to Montreal and the rest of the country. A piece of the puzzle is missing between Miramichi and Bathurst. That is the part they do not want to repair, because freight trains do not use that section of track. VIA Rail would have to foot the bill.
We have had a train since Canada was founded. We built a national railway, from sea to sea, as they say. People can take the train from Vancouver to Halifax. Without the link from Miramichi to Bathurst, VIA Rail trains will no longer go through Moncton, Rogersville, Miramichi and Bathurst and on to Beresford, Nigadoo and Petit-Rocher to get to Dalhousie, Campbellton and the Acadian peninsula, where they get on the VIA Rail line to the Gaspé.
That means VIA Rail will lose 50% of its passengers. That means we will also automatically lose VIA Rail service from Quebec City to Halifax. We will no longer be able to talk about a train from sea to sea. We will have to talk about a train that goes to the St. Lawrence, that stops at Quebec City. This is part of our heritage. It is important for our seniors who use the train to get to Montreal. They go to hospitals, they go to see specialists, or they go to Halifax. Our students go to Halifax, Moncton, Montreal and everywhere. There are also people who are travelling as tourists.
I have asked the question a number of times in the House of Commons. Will the Conservative government at least invest $10 million? That is how much is needed to repair the railway. The government says that VIA Rail is a crown corporation. We are asking the government to save the railway. It is important to Canadians.
Finally, we learned that the hon. member for Miramichi said that she was working behind the scenes and on the ground with the government to make it aware of the needs. The hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche said the same thing. He said he is not like the member for Acadie—Bathurst and he does not do this out in public. That is what he told the journalists, on the radio. He said he was working on this.
My question for the government is simple. Does the Conservative government today want to be the government that will go down in history as having lost VIA Rail from sea to sea? Will it be the government that takes away VIA Rail from the Atlantic, from Quebec City to Halifax? Will it be this government? I ask the question very respectfully.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives refuse to invest in order to save trains in eastern Quebec and New Brunswick. Voting for the right party does not even help. We have not heard a peep from the members for Moncton, Miramichi and Madawaska—Restigouche.
We need to work together to ensure the future of VIA Rail. It is essential to economic development in the east and the rest of Canada.
Are the Conservatives going to stay asleep at the switch or are they going to do something to save the trains?
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives said that they do not intend to invest in the rail line linking Bathurst to Miramichi, which allows VIA Rail to transport passengers in Acadia.
The Conservatives are killing VIA Rail service in eastern New Brunswick and eastern Canada, and the Conservative members for Miramichi and Madawaska—Restigouche have not said a word.
Will New Brunswick's Conservative MPs show some backbone and oppose their government's decision?
New Brunswick has eight Conservative MPs, and they are not working on behalf of the province of New Brunswick.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, that it was the Conservatives who abused their power when they appointed senators to fundraise on behalf of the Conservatives. That is an abuse of the institution of democracy.
I have a question for the minister. If he knows, could he tell us why aboriginal women and chiefs are against his bill? Does he at least know why? Why are aboriginal people opposed to his bill?
The government is trying to get the legislation passed quickly, but the reason the bill has not been passed is that the Conservatives prorogued Parliament and called elections. The bill was not defeated as the result of a democratic debate in the House.
Mr. Speaker, today, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-45. This is not the first time that the Conservative government has introduced this omnibus bill. The Conservatives introduced it in the spring and they are introducing it now. It is the second part of the budget. How many laws does this 400-page bill contain?
First, the bill prevents parliamentarians from representing their constituents. In my opinion, in a democratic country and a supposedly democratic Parliament, when election day comes and Canadians choose representatives in Ottawa, it is so that those representatives can do something. First, parliamentarians have the right to talk about a bill. Second, they have the right to examine it. Third, they have the right to vote on it.
I would say that this Conservative government is a reform government because that is really what it is. The Conservative Party used to be a progressive party but such is no longer the case. This majority government is introducing bills that are setting back democracy.
I do not understand how Conservative members can feel comfortable with this situation. Even the public is starting to stand up and say that it does not make sense that their elected representatives are no longer allowed to do anything because of the Conservative—or the reform—government. Democracy is suffering.
I do not have much time so I would like to give some examples right away. Ten minutes is not a lot of time. In fact, two minutes have already passed and I have only eight minutes left.
Let us look at employment insurance. This is an issue that is close to my heart, and I will explain why. In my riding, there are a lot of seasonal jobs. Seasonal workers do not exist. There are only seasonal jobs.
In July, there were five demonstrations in my area: one in the riding of Miramichi, three in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst and one in Madawaska—Restigouche, the riding of the Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. This is the same minister who said that people should have to have a grade 12 education to be eligible for employment insurance benefits. He is also the one who told his constituents that there are still people out there today, in 2012, who would prefer to collect employment insurance benefits so that they can go hunting instead of going to work. What an insult to workers!
On the weekend, I participated in a demonstration that deeply touched me, and I will tell you why. More than 2,000 people participated in this demonstration. When Acadians and anglophones from New Brunswick marched on the J. C. Van Horne Bridge in Fredericton, they saw aboriginal peoples from Gaspé and francophones from Quebec marching towards them. It was called the meeting of the peoples. We told the Conservative government that it was not heading in the right direction with employment insurance reforms.
In this budget, the Conservatives could at least have changed some of the regulations. What they are doing is cruel. We talk about cruelty to animals. What they are doing to workers who have lost their seasonal jobs in the fisheries, forestry sector or tourism, is cruel.
Every week, those very people have to present themselves to employers and ask if there are any jobs. Women over 60 are calling me to say that they have to go into stores to ask about being hired, otherwise the government will cut their employment insurance benefits. They are being humiliated even though they have worked their entire lives in a fish processing plant, for example.
In my riding, no matter if the person lives in Caraquet, Shippagan, Lamèque, Miscou, Tracadie-Sheila, Inkerman, Saint-Simon, Maisonnette, Anse-Bleue, Grande-Anse, Saint-Isidore or Paquetville, there is simply no work.
The government boasts that it has created 820,000 jobs, but it does not talk about the jobs it has eliminated. For example, it eliminated jobs at the Canada Post call centre in Fredericton and replaced them with jobs that pay $12 an hour and no benefits. The government does not talk about that.
They humiliate people and scare them by making cuts to the employment insurance program. I get calls from employers who tell me that they have no jobs to offer. They have a small store with two employees. They get 50 to 300 people every week who come in asking for a job. They say that the government is hurting their businesses. These are not customers coming to buy from them; they are people looking for a job.
We see the way the government is acting. It is forcing people down home to go elsewhere to look for jobs. I understand what the Conservatives are saying. They are saying that if people are on EI, they are supposed to be looking for jobs.
However, they live in an area where unemployment is up to 20%, because the fish plant has closed down and tourism and forestry have closed down for the winter, because that is what we have at home. They are telling those workers to look for jobs three times a week, and if not, they will cut their employment insurance.
Store owners are calling our office saying that they do not have jobs, and when these people go to their establishments, they are hurting their enterprises. It is not that they do not like them, but they are not buying in their establishments. As a matter of fact, they are putting signs in their windows now, stating that they are not employing anybody. As matter of fact, some of them are saying that they are going to start charging $15 for each person who wants to have the owner fill in the form human resources wants. Some of them are saying that they are going to start charging $20 for the forms human resources wants them to sign.
Just imagine that. They have already lost their jobs. They are only getting 55% of their wages, and they have to travel around the Acadian peninsula looking for jobs that do not exist. Imagine the amount of money they are spending just on gas, and that is money they do not have. How can the government say that it has put that in place to help people find jobs where they did not know that a job existed?
I invite the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to come down to the peninsula to Acadie—Bathurst, Miramichi or Madawaska—Restigouche any day to see if there are jobs. The jobs are not at home. In her bill she is saying that they have to look an hour away from home. Does she understand where they are living?
Madam Speaker, I am going to answer the questions of the hon. member for Beauséjour regarding the fact that some people prefer to take advantage of the EI program to go hunting. Imagine. I do not know whether the hon. member likes to hunt, but I do know that the Minister of National Defence goes fishing and uses a government helicopter to pick him up on the shore. The Conservatives do that.
If they want to slash spending, they could begin there. They have earned that reputation. A minister travels to England or to another country and uses a big limousine at a cost of $3,500.
People back home are hard workers. The Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and member for Madawaska—Restigouche should remember that, in 1993, under the government of Brian Mulroney, there were only two Conservatives left in the House because that government had begun cutting back on the EI program.
Now that he is the minister responsible for ACOA, he should provide the regions with economic development tools, to give people an opportunity to find work. Instead, he is cutting $18 million. He is slashing funding for agencies such as the community economic development agencies in all the regions of New Brunswick, including Enterprise Peninsula, Enterprise Chaleur, Enterprise Restigouche, and everywhere.
Instead of uttering such nonsense, the minister should help the region, and he should be proud of it. He should say that he was elected to defend the interests of his region in Ottawa, instead of insulting it. But that is what he is doing: he is insulting our region.
He is the minister responsible for La Francophonie, but he is not even able to state our case regarding Supreme Court judges and the Auditor General of Canada. He does none of that. Last week, people in his riding told me that they were ashamed of their MP and that they regretted electing him. They had forgotten what happened in the late 1980s. Now, they see what he is doing. There are seasonal workers in Madawaska too. The minister is also calling them lazy, and that is unacceptable. What the minister did last week is unacceptable.
Madam Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.
First I would like to say that I am proud the NDP has proposed this motion on employment insurance.
I find it sad that the government thinks that people who receive employment insurance are a bunch of lazy slackers. As the member for Madawaska—Restigouche put it so well, there are still people who prefer to receive employment insurance because they want to go hunting. That is how the Conservatives think.
The parliamentary secretary asked whether it was not better to have a job 12 months a year rather than six months a year.
Yes, it is much better.
The parliamentary secretary said she went to visit Newfoundland. I would like to know whom she spoke to in Newfoundland. Let her report to the House on whom she met in Newfoundland, because there is a fishing industry in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé.
If the Conservative government is so smart, I invite the Prime Minister to introduce a bill to melt the ice in Chaleur Bay so that people can fish in winter. If he is so smart, if he really believes in jobs 12 months a year and if he wants to support the fishing industry, I invite the Prime Minister to melt the ice in Chaleur Bay. That way, people could fish 12 months a year.
In addition, let him put some fish in the sea because this same government shut down the groundfish fishery. I invite the parliamentary secretary to come and tour New Brunswick. Let her come, and I will take her around to the employers who are having problems as a result of seasonal jobs: they want to keep their employees. However, the government's bill does the exact opposite. It wants those employees to go work elsewhere.
Industry back home in New Brunswick, and in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, amounts to fishing and peat moss. Has anyone ever wondered how you harvest peat moss under the snow? This Conservative government is really out of touch with the reality of the regions to a ridiculous degree. The parliamentary secretary says she comes from a rural area. All right, but she may come from a rural area where there are secondary or tertiary processing jobs and employment 12 months a year.
If the Conservative government wants to do the right thing, let it put tools in place. Let the human resources minister put the tools in place for us to do the secondary and tertiary processing instead of sending all our fish to Japan.
Under these new regulations, unemployed workers are required to look for work twice a week. Some 3,000 people lose their jobs at the end of June because the fishery winds up in June and starts again in mid-August. The biggest surprise this government could have right now would be for fish plant employees to decide, twice a week, to go and see employers one hour’s drive away about jobs those employers do not have. Employers would tell the Conservative government to get those workers off their backs because they would not be able to produce anymore with them coming to work in their yards when there are no jobs.
The government's parliamentary secretary said they were going to send unemployed workers job alerts twice a day to tell them where they could find work, but the problem that was raised is that some of them do not even have a computer. The government responded that 85% of people filing employment insurance claims did so online.
They file employment insurance claims online because the government requires them to do so. It has shut down human resources offices everywhere. There were more than 100 human resources offices in Canada, and since the Conservatives intend to close some of them, there will only be 22 left.
Applying once for employment insurance means going to a neighbour and asking to use his computer. This happens once a year. But if a person has to ask to use his neighbour’s computer twice a day to check jobs, the neighbour will get fed up.
The government is saying that if you want a job, you will have to use a computer to get it, because that is where the jobs are. Is the government telling us that it is going to send out two letters a day to Canadians to tell them that jobs are available? My goodness, I do not know what planet I am living on. If there are that many jobs in Acadie—Bathurst, I cannot wait to find out where they are. I am sure that the residents of Acadie—Bathurst cannot wait to know where all these jobs that the government is announcing are.
We are not against motherhood and apple pie, we are not against the fact that the government is telling people that there are going to be jobs available at specific locations. We are not against employers posting jobs or workers being available. The problem is telling somebody that if he does not go to a specific location for a job and accept it, his employment insurance will be cut off. If I were an employer, I would tell the government to mind its own business because it is not up to the government to dictate who should be in the private sector. If the government forces somebody to work for a particular employer and the person does not like the job, how productive will he be?
The 70% model sounds good, does it not? For those who get a job at 70% of their salary and are then laid off, will the next job be at 70% of that salary? Will it be 70% until the person receives the minimum wage? The government wants to help employers keep wages down. The government is going to play a role in forcing people to go and work for employers who will not increase wages. The Conservatives are going to make sure that people remain in poverty. That is what this measure is all about.
Furthermore, this measure is found in Bill C-38. Why did they not separate it from Bill C-38? They should let the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities conduct a real study. If the bill put forward by the minister and the federal Conservative government is so good, why is the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador not satisfied and why was it not consulted? Why is the Province of Nova Scotia not satisfied and why was it not consulted? Why is the Province of Prince Edward Island not satisfied and why was it not consulted?
The exception is New Brunswick, because we know that our premier, Mr. Alward, follows everything that the Prime Minister of Canada says. The Conservatives are in power in New Brunswick and they will not touch this with a 10-foot pole. The premier might have to answer for this in the next election in New Brunswick, because at the moment he does not represent the seasonal workers in our province.
The people in our province who work in the fisheries are wondering where they are expected to find a job. What will happen to the 60-year-old woman in Caraquet who has almost reached retirement age if she tries to take her car to work at a McDonald's in Bathurst with the winter road conditions that we have? By the way, it is not funny when you drive along the coast. With the wind, even if there is not much snow falling, it becomes a storm. On the peatlands and in open country, the roads can be impassable just because of the winds. This is what they are doing; they are putting people's lives in danger.
The Conservatives think that people are happy to receive 55% of their salary and feel as though they are on vacation. They should see these people's living conditions and they should live in these conditions. They should answer the calls that I get in my office from people saying that they would like to work. They should remember the time when the fisheries were good and people worked 35 weeks per year. They worked 15- and 16-hour days, 7 days a week, for 35 weeks. I will never allow them to call our workers lazy slackers. These are the same people who leave our region to go work out west, where they can find jobs.
If the Conservative government wants to help people get jobs, it can help us get a better airport in Bathurst. The runway needs to be lengthened. It can give us a building that is capable of handling our people travelling up to the far north for jobs. This is the same government that cut $18 million from ACOA and that gives us no tools. Tools are what we want. It is the government's responsibility to provide tools and to make it possible to get jobs, not to do what it is doing at the moment, cutting employment insurance so that people fall on hard times, sending them onto welfare and putting all the burden onto the provinces.
I hope that the Premier of New Brunswick is also listening to me; I hope he realizes that we, the taxpayers of New Brunswick, are the ones who are going to be paying for the federal government's mistakes—
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Jonquière—Alma.
I will begin by saying that this is déjà vu. This is the same old same old. We have seen this before.
It is not surprising that the Conservative government is introducing a bill to force people back to work because this is what it has done since winning a majority. During the lockout ordered by Canada Post, no doubt with the Conservative government’s encouragement, I remember making the following comment in the House: what have the working men and women of Canada done to this Conservative Prime Minister—we cannot name him, but I believe everybody knows who the Prime Minister of Canada is—to make him hate them so much?
Legislation has been passed to send people back to work or to force them into arbitration, but this Conservative government holds the record for saying in advance that, if a collective agreement is not ratified, it will pass back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike or lockout.
My colleagues have put it well: what employer will want to negotiate a collective agreement in good faith when it knows the government has a sledgehammer that it is ready to bring down on workers? The government has never brought the hammer down on employers, only on workers. And it is doing this on behalf of Canadians. What an insult! In Canada, the workers are Canadians.
The only argument we hear from the other side of the House is that we, the NDP, want to deal with the union officials. There is no shame in belonging to a union. It is a fundamental right under Canadian law. The Charter of Rights gives workers the right to belong to a union, but this government has never shown any respect for unions or for workers.
Shame, shame, shame. This government continues to abuse workers' rights, especially by announcing in advance that it will never permit national strikes or lockouts. And yet that is a fundamental right under the Charter of Rights. It is a fundamental right that has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The government is the worst law-breaker in Canada. This is unprecedented in the history of Canada. The Conservative government we have before us today is the worst in this regard. It did it with Air Canada, it did it with Canada Post, and now it is doing it with Canadian Pacific. It says there are no other ways to do things.
The member from Manitoba said the train went through her region and people would no longer be able to ship things by rail. I have taken the train from Vancouver to Halifax. It is funny, because I was with CN and I went through Winnipeg. So there are other avenues.
If they are trying to make us believe it is the same in Medicine Hat, I am not sure of that. I will not question it because I would have to check. But I think CN goes through there. It apparently still goes through Winnipeg. And there are also other modes of transportation.
When the government says in advance that it is going to get involved in the negotiations and take the side of the companies and the big corporations, it is to be expected that the companies will not give their employees anything. They are even going to take things away from them.
The Conservative government says that it is doing this for the economy of our country. On the contrary, it is crucifying our country’s economy in the long term. If working people lose their pension funds, and their wages are driven down, who is going to pay the price? The Canadian economy will pay the price.
This is not something that affects just the employers. The government is even attacking the programs working people have, like employment insurance.
They are talking now about 70% of earnings. So let us talk about that 70%. If someone cannot find a job after six weeks and is a frequent employment insurance claimant, they have to accept a job that pays 70% of their previous earnings. If they lose their job again, they will again have to reduce their earnings to 70%. And that will go on until they get down to the minimum wage. If they are thinking about imposing that on fish plant employees, they are mistaken: the 70% formula does not work, because fish plant workers are paid only minimum wage to start with. They are not going to be able to hurt them that way.
When it comes to employment insurance, the Conservative government is telling seasonal workers that if they are not able to find a job, it will find them one, it will grind them down and it will take away their employment insurance. I say that because this is an attack on working people, just like at Canadian Pacific, at Air Canada and at Canada Post.
The Conservatives say that they are doing this because they cannot accept the fact that foreign workers are able to work in Canada, while Canadians are being forced to look for work. They do not understand that when there is work in the fishery, for example, nobody is looking for work, because everyone is working. It is when the fishing is over that these people are out of a job.
The government says that Canadians should go west. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who is the Minister of State responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, says that people from our part of the country prefer to go hunting and receive employment insurance benefits than work. Residents of Madawaska—Restigouche who have spoken to me recently say that they are now ashamed of their member. Rather than standing up for New Brunswick, the member insults his fellow citizens each time he opens his mouth.
The member for Madawaska—Restigouche should remember what happened in the late 1980s, when he made cuts to employment insurance when he was Minister of Employment and Immigration under Brian Mulroney. Canadians booted him out. There were two Conservatives left in power: Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne from Saint John. They were the only two that were left. Remember what happened to the Liberals when they made cuts to employment insurance in 1996: in 1997, they completely lost Atlantic Canada. It is important to remember what happened. Unless we close the fisheries, people from Atlantic Canada will go and work in the west, and foreigners will come and work in our region.
That is the trick that the government has devised. Foreign workers will come and work in the plants because Atlantic Canadians will have headed west. Then the foreign workers will go home and will not get employment insurance. They will not receive benefits. The Conservatives have got things all worked out. Back home, we call that a quiet deportation. In 1755, the Acadians were deported and scattered far and wide both in Louisiana and elsewhere. This is a new way of deporting Acadians, of sending them elsewhere rather than coming up with a proper response and engaging in economic development in our regions.
Rather than doing that, the government is attacking workers. It is shameful. The major centres think that they are the only ones and that the world revolves around them. They do not recognize our country's rural regions. It is a lack of respect. Even debate is limited in the House of Commons. What a great attitude the Conservatives have: they do not even believe in democracy. Their way of doing things is to rush to make us vote at 2 a.m. because they want to get rid of a bill rather than debate it. They are not even prepared to do that.
They have imposed gag orders on over 20 bills. Their undemocratic measures are at an all-time high. This has never been seen before in Canada. It has become embarrassing to be Canadian and to live in our country. It is shameful. It hurts me to say these things because I love my country, but the Conservatives are destroying it. They are destroying our democratic country and the pride we have or had.
I think that the Conservative government will learn its lesson in three years, in 2015. It is coming. If the Conservatives looked at the polls and listened to what people are saying, they would see that they are not upholding Canadian values.
We have the ability to help each other. We should respect workers. The Conservatives are not respecting workers when they allow companies to cut pensions and decrease wages. These workers are Canadians just like the rest of us.
Mr. Speaker, I very pleased to speak to Bill C-308, a private member's bill presented by my colleague for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, and I am very proud that he has brought forward this bill. I also heard the member for St. John's East, the member from British Columbia and the other government members who spoke to this bill. It is unfortunate that the government opposes this bill.
The members spoke very well on the topic of the bill. They proposed a public inquiry to try to find answers and to restore our fish. I come from northeastern New Brunswick, and I do not have to tell you that my riding is bounded by the ocean, Chaleur Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is the most beautiful riding in Canada. We have the ocean on one side, and the forest on the other. We have everything. But it is unfortunate to see what is happening. I do not want to mix fishing with forestry, but we have lost both our fish and our forest because the paper mills in Miramichi, Bathurst, Dalhousie and New Richmond have been closed. The primary sector has fallen.
Who would have thought that this would happen? All the fishermen said that they once had fish in abundance. I remember going to the Shippagan harbour with my parents when I was very young, and the people working at the plant were walking around with wheelbarrows full of fish. Cod were falling off every side. There was fish in abundance. What is going on now? There are no more. It was closed in 1992, as my colleague for St. John's Eastsaid when talking about Mr. Crosbie, the former Minister of Fisheries. I have never been a fisherman, and my family has never been a family of fishermen. I was a miner and worked underground, but not far from the ocean. I was about 2,300 feet underground and had nothing to do with the ocean.
However, when I became a union representative in 1988, I started to get involved in the fishing industry and began working with the employees of fish plants in the Acadian peninsula. That is where I saw the damage that occurred in the communities when the groundfish fishery was eliminated in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
I have read newspaper articles when the media has covered this subject. They used words like “managed annihilation”, “the biggest failure of Confederation”, “national embarrassment” and “national disgrace”.
The collapse of the cod fishery off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador two decades ago is now considered a legendary environmental and economic disaster. I would go further and say that it affected not only Newfoundland and Labrador, but the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence and every other Atlantic province. It was a national disaster.
“An inquiry would reveal telling similarities with agriculture—small coastal fisheries are equivalent to the family farm, and the big freezer trawlers are the ocean's equivalent to the mega-farm. Such an analysis would inevitably lead to the realization—which is always the case when people band together—that in one way or another, we are all in the same boat. It is not surprising that the Conservative government is not taking the request for an inquiry by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP seriously.” That was an excerpt from an article written by Helen Forsey, published in the November edition of The Monitor, a publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
I could read aloud a lot of other newspaper articles were journalists have picked apart these issues.
Perhaps the bill should go further. There should not be an inquiry only in Newfoundland, but also in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. In fact, there should be an inquiry in every Atlantic province to determine what went on.
The member for St. John's East is right; we do not want to accuse anybody. The fish are no longer there, period. Fishers and scientists need to work together to find solutions to bring the fishery back to the Atlantic.
We are talking about resources, food and jobs for these people. Rather than calling them a bunch of lazy slackers who do not want to work, like the member for Madawaska—Restigouche did by saying that too many people remain jobless in order to get employment insurance, why does the government not hold a public inquiry to get people back to work?
In my riding, people worked up to 35 weeks a year in the groundfish fishery, including crab, cod, and redfish. These are hard-working people, men and women who used to get up in the morning to go to work. What happened is unfortunate.
If the government wants to do something positive and if it has nothing to hide, why does it not sit down with scientists, fishers and experts and come up with solutions, for example, a public inquiry? Before fixing the problem, the root cause needs to be identified. Perhaps it was because of overfishing; but there may be another reason. The experts need to work together.
That is why I am going to support this bill. It is our hope that the government will reconsider things and admit that holding a public inquiry would not be the end of the world. An entire industry has shut down. That is not right. We need to get to the bottom of things and come up with solutions.
The electoral district of Madawaska--Restigouche (New Brunswick) has a population of 62,593 with 52,222 registered voters and 162 polling divisions.
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