It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, The Environment; and the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, The Environment.
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
I am very happy to speak to this very important motion put forward by New Democrats on the minimum wage. What this motion would do, of course, is increase the minimum wage over time to $15 an hour as a measure to combat inequality and to boost the standards for workers in the federal jurisdiction. It is a very important motion we are debating here today, something that really gets to the heart of what so many Canadians are experiencing, which is growing poverty across the country and certainly a real squeeze on the middle class in Canada.
This motion would also correct the terrible injustice created by the Liberals in 1996 when they eliminated the federal minimum wage, much to their shame. However, even before that, for a decade, the minimum wage had been stagnating in Canada. It had been languishing at just $4 an hour. When they eliminated the minimum wage, some people actually benefited, because some provinces had a higher minimum wage, but that does not let them off the hook, because what they did was start a downward spiral. In fact, under their watch, inequality increased dramatically. More than 94% of the increase in inequality over the last 35 years has been not under Conservative governments but under Liberal governments. That is shocking. New Democrats are here to help correct that. We are here to reinstate a minimum wage.
The current government has not been a particular friend of working people. Back in 2006, the federal labour standards review recommended that the federal government reinstate a federal minimum wage and benchmark it to the Statistics Canada low-income cutoff. Of course, that was not done at the time. I introduced a private member's bill at that time calling for the reintroduction of a federal minimum wage but was not successful in getting the support of my colleagues.
I know something about the federal minimum wage. I began my working life in the federal jurisdiction, working for a crown corporation, and I was very fortunate as a young person starting out in the workforce. It is very different for many young people starting today. I went into a workplace that was a crown corporation represented by a union, so I was very privileged to start with a collective agreement, where everyone made the same wage. We had benefits. We had strong working conditions. That is not the case for far too many working people today. In fact, what we often see is that the global economy, in many cases, relies on low wages as a way to boost profits around the world.
We see far too many, young people especially, who are suffering because they are getting contract temporary work and work at low wages with no benefits. That is no way to start out in life, especially for young people who are getting into the workplace already saddled with high student debt because of the dramatic increase in tuition costs in post-secondary education. If we were to ask young people if they think they are going to have pension plans when they retire, overwhelmingly they are going to say no, because they are only temporary and they do not get any benefits, or the employer got rid of the pension plan, or it has become a defined contribution and not a defined benefit pension plan.
Far too many people are losing confidence in the ability of the marketplace to offer them a decent standard of living, and this is at a time when profits are rising, when the top 1%, thanks very much, is doing extremely well here in Canada and around the world. Yet the average family is being squeezed and too many people are living in poverty.
There is a constituent of mine in Toronto, Professor David Hulchanski, from the University of Toronto, who has written a report called “The 3 Cities within Toronto, Income Polarization”. What he talks about in that report is that other cities, not just the city of Toronto, are increasingly becoming three cities. The people at the top are increasing their wealth and doing better. There is a shrinking number of people in the middle, and their incomes are pretty much stagnating. Then there is a growing number of people at the bottom who are losing their ability to make ends meet and who cannot keep their heads above poverty.
This House, back in 1989, voted to eliminate child poverty. I wonder if people here today know how many kids in Canada are living below the Statistics Canada level for low income. It is close to one million children in Canada. These children are poor because their parents are poor, and far too many of those parents are working. They are trying to make ends meet. They go to work every day, and they cannot get their heads above poverty.
Canada needs a pay increase. This particular motion would not do everything. It would not solve all of the problems, but it would be a very positive step. I salute my colleague who introduced this motion, and I salute the House for having this debate today. It is extremely important that we talk about the pay levels people are getting.
We talk about CEO paycheques and how they are spiralling out of control. They are getting many millions of dollars, sometimes for seeing the business they run decline. Sometimes we see huge payouts for people who work for a company for just a very short couple of years, yet we have a growing number of bankruptcies, where working people who have spent their lives building their company are then thrown out of work.
We need to send the signal that it is not right to pay people rock bottom wages. If people work full time and they contribute to the economy, they deserve to get a decent level of pay.
It is not just the labour movement that is supporting this kind of change, although I will quote from Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, who said:
Minimum wage jobs are not only for the after-school crowd of kids looking for spending money, but also an entry into the workforce for immigrants, recent graduates and many others who can only find part-time work and need to hold down two or three jobs to survive.
He certainly supports an increase in the minimum wage.
I will also quote from the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Paul Meinema. He said that a $15 minimum wage would be a bold step towards establishing the principle that no full-time worker in Canada should live in poverty. He said that he was delighted to see the NDP taking a leadership role in advancing this important tool for combatting poverty and rising inequality.
This clearly makes sense for working people and for people who represent working people, but it is not just labour that supports this. Let me quote from a very recent editorial in the New York Times. They were commenting on the German increase in minimum wage, which is going up to $11.60, or 8.5 euros, next year. This is what the New York Times said:
In Germany, as in the United States, business lobbyists and some economists have warned that a robust minimum wage will lead to job losses and higher prices, but that has not been the historical experience. Rather, higher wages for low-wage workers are generally offset by lower labor turnover, while the boost in consumer spending from higher wages is good for the economy. Boosting consumer demand is especially important in Germany, whose economy is overly reliant on exports.
I submit that it is also essential here in Canada. I urge every one of my colleagues to support this call for a higher minimum wage. Let us get Canadians an increase. Let us give them a pay boost.
I just want to remind the hon. member to address his comments through the Chair, not directly at his colleagues.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-31. It is under time allocation, so not many members of my party will be able to speak to it.
This huge omnibus bill which, according to the member for Palliser, is very easy to read, does call into question some person's ability to have basic math skills, because math skills are some of what is necessary to actually follow the money. Some of the money that is announced in this budget bill and in government's budgets is money that is old money. It was here before.
I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Like the current Ontario Conservative leader, math is not the Conservatives' strong suit.
One of the things about the bill is something called FACTA, which is a U.S. legislation that we are now imposing on Canadians. That U.S. legislation applies to Canadian citizens, according to the government, who happen to be considered American citizens by the U.S. government.
The legislation before us would require Canadian banks to disclose personal, private information to the U.S. government through the Canada Revenue Agency at some unknown cost. Again, being math challenged, the Conservatives have not figured out just how much this will cost us. The banks estimate it would have cost them $100 million per bank to implement FACTA and now it is being passed on to the CRA. The CRA will then have to cost that out and it will be taxpayers ultimately paying that cost. However, that is not the worst part of this.
This legislation would give the American government, through our own government, the personal, private information of Canadian citizens. We are now discovering that this has happened through the CPIC database with personal medical information being shared with the U.S. government to stop people at the border, to prevent them travelling. Do we really want to help another government to tax Canadian citizens, people born here who have never been to the United States in their lives?
Maybe the members opposite do not understand what the U.S. government has decided. It has decided that some individuals who were born in Canada and have never lived in the United States are now U.S. citizens. Those people are U.S. citizens because their parents happen to be U.S. citizens. Therefore, it is the parents of children who cause the children to be deemed to be dual citizens by the U.S. and therefore caught by FACTA. They are dual in Canada, but they are U.S. citizens under the U.S. law.
Let me tell members about a woman in Calgary whose son is caught in this dilemma. He is disabled and he has filed his U.S. taxes. His mother filed them for him. It cost his mother thousands of dollars because our government has not negotiated a tax treaty with the U.S. that allows the individuals in Canada to be treated the same under the law in Canada as they are in the U.S.
If the members opposite would stop shouting, I could actually explain this to you, Mr. Speaker.
Those individuals who have disability tax credits in Canada are not allowed that exemption in the U.S., so they have to pay taxes in the U.S., thousands of dollars of taxes. He cannot renounce his citizenship because the U.S. government will not let him.
There is laughter across the way because they do not understand this situation. The individual is mentally challenged and the U.S. government will not allow him to withdraw his U.S. citizenship—
The hon. member is actually out of time.
We will move on to questions and comments.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is just that it is a name that I repeat often, and Canadians repeat often.
Since I have the opportunity, I would like to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Beauport—Limoilou.
When it comes to first nations, for the last number of weeks I have had a chance to travel on the winter ice roads, connecting with some of the most marginalized communities in our country. At the doorsteps, I often hear people ask why it is that the Prime Minister is flying around with his jet and cutting favours for his friends. I am hearing this at a time when they have an underfunding of education, or not enough housing, or where there is no investment from the federal government in making sure that first nation communities have running water and proper sewer services.
Where is the federal government when it comes to making investments to an all-weather road system, which the Province of Manitoba is investing in? The federal government shrugs its shoulders and says it has nothing to do with improving the lives of first nation people.
People on the ground, first nations people, indigenous people, and all Canadians, see a major disconnect. They see the ways in which the Prime Minister and his government are cutting favours for their friends. They are spending taxpayers' money to make their friends happy, all the while cutting essential services for Canadians.
We know that the Conservatives spent $118,090 on the flights in question. That is equal to old age security for 19 seniors, a GIS allowance for 20 seniors, survivor allowance for 16 seniors, or an average annual pension for five retired veterans.
The cost of flying around the country and around the world, of flying around friends like Mr. Mark Kihn, the fundraising project manager for the Conservative Party of Canada, and flying around friends and donors of the Conservative Party, unfortunately, equals the same cost that would make people's lives livable.
When we are talking veterans' pensions or survivor allowances, I am sure that every single member on that side of the House knows constituents who are struggling and are hurt by the cuts that their Conservative government has brought forward. Yet, they sit by while their Prime Minister, who is enforcing these cuts, continues to spend money on this culture of entitlement, which they have indulged in as well.
Words like “hypocrisy” come to mind when we hear about these kinds of expenditures. We have to look no further than a record of statements, and there are many, where the same members, including the Prime Minister of the government, used to cry foul about these kinds of expenditures that they are now engaging in.
I want to read a quote from the former leader of the official opposition, who is now the Prime Minister. He said:
What Mr. Martin wants now is to have a 10-month election (campaign) where he can fly around the country on a government jet at taxpayers' expense, and he can throw enough money all over the country to cover up the stench of corruption.
The “stench of corruption” are strong words. They are words that are entirely applicable to the kind of behaviour we are seeing from the government today.
The Prime Minister also said, in 2004:
It's not a question that I'm hanging back. It's a question that I don't have a Challenger jet paid for by the taxpayers to fly myself and my people around the country....
Well, the Prime Minister now does have a Challenger jet that he can fly himself and his people around the country. What is he going to do about it?
We heard from the Minister of Employment and Social Development, who many years ago, as a member of Parliament in the opposition, said:
Mr. Speaker, imagine taking a Challenger jet across the country at a cost of $55,000 for an 800 word speech. I think that works out to about $72 a word.
I wonder if the Minister of Employment and Social Development is calculating the per-word dollar count that his government is racking up at taxpayers' expense.
There are numerous quotes by people who are now senior ministers in the Conservative government, including the Minister of Justice, that decry the kind of culture, entitlement, and waste of taxpayer money that we saw from the previous Liberal government. Yet, we are seeing that hypocrisy loud and clear as they sit by and engage in those kinds of expenditures, certainly fanning the flames of that stench of corruption that they decried so clearly.
I am proud of the position that we in the NDP are taking to shine a light on the waste, the culture of entitlement, and the hypocrisy that we have seen from the government. We are here to speak out on the fact that this is about priorities. The government is here to govern in the best interests of the Canadian people.
Our message is that if the government is not willing to do that, then it is time to step aside and let us govern with the best interests of Canadians at heart.
Before continuing with questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that questions to be raised at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, Health; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Rail Transportation; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Library and Archives Canada.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Mr. Speaker, I am humbled to rise today to wrap up this debate on Bill C-444, my private member's bill.
It is not often we get to work specifically on behalf of a constituent in such a significant way, by making a change to the Criminal Code of Canada. First and foremost, I want to thank the brave young woman and her mother who inspired me to table this bill. There are also many folks on the Hill I would like to thank for the support and encouragement they have extended to me along the way, as well as for the personal work they have put into our debates on this bill. This also includes my wonderful staff, here in Ottawa as well as back in Red Deer.
As I have said, this bill is about sentencing. It speaks to the need for tougher penalties for personating peace officers and public officers, and it is in line with the fundamental sentencing principle of proportionality, which is stated in section 718 of the Criminal Code. We must preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for police officers. When citizens see a police uniform, they trust the authority that comes with it. We are giving the tools that they need to deliver harsher sentences to criminals who breach this trust to cause harm.
Within the parameters of the maximum sentence for this particular offence, the decision of what sentences are appropriate will still rest with sentencing courts. We know that a number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim.
Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider when the Crown is successful in a conviction. Sentencing achieves a number of results, and one of them is support for victims. The rights of victims need to be protected. They must know that there are serious consequences for criminals who have hurt them.
I extend my heartfelt condolences to any Canadian who has been a victim of someone maliciously personating a police officer to do further harm. I dedicate this work to those victims.
I thank my colleagues for their support. If I still have a moment, I would like to thank the following members for their contribution to debate: the Minister of Justice; the members of the Standing Committee on Justice for their thoughtful study and debate, and their support; the seconders, the members for Sault Ste. Marie and Oxford; the members who contributed their time in speaking here in the House, the members for Gatineau, Mount Royal, Montcalm, Brome—Missisquoi, Charlottetown, Beauport—Limoilou, British Columbia Southern Interior, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Louis-Hébert, Nanaimo—Cowichan, Chambly—Borduas, Northumberland—Quinte West, Edmonton—St. Albert, Windsor—Tecumseh, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, as well as the Associate Minister of National Defence.
There is a special symbolism of having every member present in this House stand to show their support, not just for a bill but for victims and police officers throughout this great nation.
However, because of the uncertainty that surrounds the closing days of any session, I would be proud to use this opportunity to stand on behalf of all members and to accept unanimous consent if the House so chooses.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Beauport—Limoilou for sharing his time with me and for ably outlining both his support for the bill and his concerns.
Others have mentioned it, but just to put it in context, New Democrats will support the bill at second reading. However, as the member for Halifax outlined, we have a number of concerns. What we are talking about is the fact that the bill, which proposes making Sable Island Canada's 43rd national park, has the support of national and local environmental groups. However, there are a number of concerns with respect to drafting. It requires study at committee.
The bill would ban drilling within one nautical mile of the island as well as drilling on the surface of the island. Unusually, exploration activities would be allowed on the island, a first for a national park. These exploration activities would be limited to those that are low impact. However, this term is currently undefined.
Parks Canada would also have to be consulted by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board before permits for petroleum-related activities could be issued. The board would be given the discretion to include conditions for mitigation or remedial measures for the company to address with respect to the impact of the proposed project on the park.
It is not just New Democrats who are raising concerns that need to be considered at committee. CPAWS testified at the Senate committee, but it also issued a press release, which stated:
In our view, it is unacceptable to allow oil and gas exploration inside a national park.... Even low-impact activities can be detrimental to such a sensitive ecosystem, and we need to take all necessary precautions to ensure that the ecological integrity of the island is the management priority.
To ensure that conservation remains the top priority for the management of the island, CPAWS continues to advocate for developing off-site visitor experiences, limits to visitor numbers, continued scientific research on the island, and restrictions on oil and gas development.
I am going to turn to the west coast, because although we have very different ecosystems, there are some commonalities that are important to highlight in the context of talking about Sable Island. I want to start by pointing to a report by the Royal Society of Canada in 2009. CBC reported on this in 2012, with the headline “Canada failing its oceans, biodiversity panel finds”. It went on to say:
An expert panel investigating the state of Canadian marine biodiversity has accused the government of failing to protect the country's oceans, leaving marine life threatened and the nation's ocean species at risk.
It is talking about risk to Chinook salmon, which, of course, are iconic on the west coast. It is related to national parks, because these protected areas provide avenues for biodiversity to flourish, and when we do not do a good job of protecting them, and we talk about things like potential exploratory drilling for oil and gas, we start to wonder whether the priority is the protection of the environment. The story went on to say:
“It leaves huge discretionary powers to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who is given no science-based guidelines, targets or principles,” the report said. “The panel found not lack of knowledge or lack of sound policy, but a consistent, disheartening lack of action on well-established knowledge and best-practice and policies, some of which have been around for years”.
It goes on to say that among the species the panel listed at being at risk of extinction is the Chinook salmon.
When we are talking about protected areas and national parks, I want to give a couple of examples from my area of the country. They are instructive in terms of both the actions that have been taken to protect these areas and the continuing risks. These are in the context of what we need to consider with regard to Sable Island.
I want to start with the southern Strait of Georgia. This is from a report called “How Deep Did Canada Dare?” One of the interesting things they did was rate these protected areas. In the particular case of the Southern Strait of Georgia, the report says that progress has been significant but conservation measures remain uncertain.
That is part of the concern that has been raised with regard to Sable Island. What will those conservation measures look like? Will there be enough resources put in place? Will Parks Canada, Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans do their part to ensure the ongoing protection of this very special area? I think most Canadians have heard of Sable Island
With regard to the southern Strait of Georgia, I want to point out a couple of important facts. CPAWS says:
Although Parks Canada and the BC government have been working on the feasibility study for over 10 years, it is still not completed. In the meantime, the Southern Strait of Georgia is open to intensive shipping and heavy recreational fishing use. While the Canadian and BC governments have agreed to proceed with the NMCA [the National Marine Conservation Area], no specific protection measures have yet been outlined. We are also concerned that a vaguely defined and “phased approach“ to establishment may be used, which would leave much of the area unprotected for years to come.
I come back to some of the language around low impact on Sable Island. The same kind of concerns are being raised. Low impact has not been defined, and we have the same kinds of issues around a vaguely defined phased approach.
These are questions that need to be asked at committee about more definition, more targets and more timelines.
What is at stake when we are talking about the southern Strait of Georgia?
[T]his body of water between the southern BC mainland and Vancouver Island has long been revered for its role in nurturing both human and natural ecosystems. It includes critical habitat of the federally endangered southern resident killer whale and many fish species, including rock fish, lingcod and herring.
Approximately two million shorebirds and seabirds use the region's estuaries, tidal flats and coastal waters as summering, staging and wintering grounds. Harbour seals are year-round residents. Steller and California sea lions are present during the winter months. Many “world giants” make their home here, such as the world's largest octopus, sea urchin, nudibranch, anemone, intertidal clam, sea star, scallop and barnacle.
CPAWS goes on in the article to talk about the human threat to this very important ecosystem. One of them, aside from urbanization and increased shipping, is the threat of increased oil tanker traffic through the area.
The sad thing about this is that in 1971, the federal government reported that “the Gulf Islands and the Saanich Inlet area should become a National Marine Park. The area is in the process of rapid development, so prompt action is required if its natural charm is to be preserved”.
Then for 25 years, there was no progress. It was only because of organizations like CPAWS, which spearheaded the development of the southern Strait of Georgia marine conservation network, that it brought together a coalition to work on this special area. Of course, part of this is on the boundary of my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. The people where I live really care about the health of the waters around our area and are concerned about making sure that we all take seriously our responsibility for protection and preservation.
I want to touch on another special area outside of my riding called the Hecate Strait glass sponge reefs. These are special reefs. The goal of CPAWS and others is “full legal, long-term protection as an Oceans Act Marine Protected Area and designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for the Glass Sponge Reefs in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound”.
The reason I raise this is because this is such a unique area. CPAWS talks about the uniqueness of it in this report. It says:
These unique marine animals were first discovered off the coast of BC in the 1980s and are the only known living glass sponge reefs of this size anywhere in the world.
We have something so special in British Columbia. The Hecate Strait glass sponge reefs are estimated to be 9,000 years old and reach 25 metres in height, the size of an eight-storey building.
The reason I bring this up in the context of Sable Island is because we know what is damaging these fragile ecosystems, the glass sponge reefs. Some steps have been taken. The bottom trawling that was seriously damaging these reefs was finally halted, but it has not stopped some of the sedimentation and some of the trawling that is impacting on this fragile area outside of the protected zone.
When people are looking at Sable Island and the protection zone around it of one nautical mile, they need to carefully think about whether activities just outside of that one-nautical-mile zone are going to impact on the health and well-being of Sable Island.
I am pleased to be able to bring these facts forward for consideration in the House. I hope that there is a fulsome debate at committee. I hope we will hear from witnesses at committee so as to consider some of these implications.
Before we get on to the hon. member for Winnipeg North on resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, Health; the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Employment.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Before moving on to questions and comments, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Public Works and Government Services; the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, International Cooperation; and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, Citizenship and Immigration.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou for questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, I want to, first of all, thank my NDP colleague from Victoria for introducing and supporting the debate on this important opposition day motion. I also want to say that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Beauport—Limoilou.
I am very pleased to speak on this important motion today. At heart, what we are talking about is taxes, but ultimately, it is about hypocrisy on the part of the government. I would go even further and say that it is hypocrisy and disregard for Canadians and the difficult times that so many Canadians find themselves in.
Let me start with hypocrisy. The current Prime Minister promised that during his term as prime minister, there would be no new taxes. That was echoed by the Minister of Finance when he said in this particular budget that there would be no tax increases. Let me just clarify with a couple of quotes.
I give you my word: As long as I will be prime minister,...there will be no new taxes.
You know, there's two schools of economics on this, one is that there are some good taxes and the other is that no taxes are good taxes. I'm in the latter category. I don't believe any taxes are good taxes.
That was the Prime Minister who said that.
The Minister of Finance, in his budget speech just this year, said, “We will not raise taxes”.
It is profound hypocrisy to then, in this budget, forget this promise and raise taxes for Canadians that will mean nearly $8 billion out of their pockets. The Conservatives are raising taxes on over 1,200 types of goods that will hit Canadians right in the pocketbook, things Canadians have to pay for every day—basic goods and services—whether it is school products for kids, household utensils or bicycles. Even iPods are not exempt. The list of taxes is quite significant. Over 80% of consumer goods will be affected. They include baby carriages, school supplies, as I said, shoes, clothes, and many other consumer products in a time of a still very fragile economic situation. The economy is still in a fragile state, and to have this kind of tax on everything is very difficult for consumers.
I want to emphasize the iPod tax, which is, of course, buried among the taxes listed in budget 2013. It is a new 5% tax on MP3 players and iPods that are coming into Canada. To emphasize the hypocrisy of this tax, I want to cite the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, who, in December 2010, said:
During this fragile economic recovery, the last thing Canadian families and consumers need is a massive new tax on iPods.
However, that is exactly what the government has introduced. This is going to be hitting more than 80% of Canadian products, things such as safety deposit boxes and insurance programs and even more substantial programs, such as labour-sponsored venture capital corporations, which are investment bodies that create jobs and help build communities across this country.
I have spoken to chambers of commerce and investors who are very concerned that the government has simply misunderstood what these venture capital corporations are about. It saw the word “labour” and thought maybe it would just be attacking unions by raising taxes on these labour-sponsored funds rather than attacking communities and jobs and upsetting business and the investment community.
The government has also raised taxes on credit unions. We believe that competition is a healthy thing, including in the financial sector; credit unions provide healthy competition for the major banks in this country, but instead the government has opted for a cash grab that is going to impact the operation of credit unions across this country. Again, I do not know whether this is just an exercise in hypocrisy or whether they really do not like credit unions, because the impact of this tax on credit unions is going to be significant.
In sum, Conservatives are increasing the costs on average Canadians, but let us look at the record of the government when it comes to profitable companies and when it comes to the wealthy in this country. We have seen the current government, like the Liberal government before it, cutting tens of billions of dollars in taxes on profitable corporations. At the same time, it has turned a blind eye to tax havens and money going offshore that could be contributing to the public coffers. Maybe it would mean Canadians would not have to be taxed on iPods, bicycles and kids' shoes.
Fully one-quarter of all Canadian foreign direct investments has gone into tax havens. In 2011 alone, Canadians invested, so to speak, $53.3 billion in Barbados and $25.8 billion in the Cayman Islands. Is this money that should be here in Canada, being taxed and contributing the public good in this country? Would that not be a fair way to treat Canadian tax dollars?
At a time when nearly 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed and when in March alone Canadians lost 54,000 full-time jobs, we have seen a record increase in temporary foreign workers. They have tripled in number. Companies are allowed to pay them 15% less than Canadian workers, so we are seeing the suppression of Canadian wages and the undermining of jobs and taxes here in Canada at the same time as the dinging of average consumers in the pocketbook, which will affect every Canadian family across this country.
It is the height of hypocrisy. It is a betrayal of the needs of Canadians during this fragile economic period.
We believe that fair is fair. We should all be contributing fairly to the good of this country to make sure that our social programs and services run in a manner that Canadians want to see and contribute to the public good right across this country.
Before recognizing the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, I would tell hon. members I realize that we have a large gallery here in the afternoon just ahead of the budget, and of course we will do whatever we can to accommodate that in the best spirit we can. You may want to increase the audio on your control. We will seek the best co-operation we can from the gallery in all instances, but it is welcome to have members of the public here for the budget.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-48, the technical tax amendments act, 2012. It is a very important piece of legislation. While the legislation may be technical, it is nonetheless important legislation that would benefit all Canadians, providing the clarity and certainty to Canada's tax system.
Our government has conducted extensive consultations on the provisions of the bill, some provisions having been announced over a decade ago. As previous parliamentarians' efforts to pass these amendments were unsuccessful, the backlog has increased over the years, and it is more important than ever to pass these technical amendments. In fact, among those calling for Parliament to quickly pass the amendments includes the Auditor General of Canada, who in a 2009 report stated:
Taxpayers' ability to comply with tax legislation depends on their understanding of how the rules apply to their own circumstances. [...] Uncertainty about how the law should be applied can also add to the time taken and costs incurred by tax audits and tax administration.
I could not agree with the Auditor General more. However, it is not just the Auditor General who is saying this; it is all the other parties in the House, as the bill has all party support. In fact, earlier this week, during the finance committee study of Bill C-48, the NDP member for Parkdale—High Park, and finance critic for her party, said, “Obviously we support the goal of closing tax loopholes and making the tax system in Canada clearer and easier to understand for Canadians”. The NDP finance critic went even further, on Bill C-48's first day of debate, saying, “the official opposition [New Democrats] will be supporting the bill”.
One would think that after making such an unequivocal statement of support for the legislation that she and all NDP members would be eager to vote on this important piece of legislation and ensure its timely passage through the House of Commons.
Alas, the actions of the NDP seem to be at odds with the NDP finance critic's statement. I have to ask: What is the reason for the NDP delay? Even more puzzling, it is not simply the NDP finance critic who is displaying these bizarre tendencies; it is every member of the NDP. My hon. colleagues have all declared their support for the bill while at the same time trying to filibuster second reading, for over 100 days. This attempt to disrupt what is only the first stage in a long legislative process continues to delay the finance committee's opportunity to formally study the bill.
I have taken the liberty of reviewing the debate on the bill and, time after time, the NDP MPs are vocal in their support for this piece of legislation. For example, the NDP member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques said, “We will support this bill because it eliminates some tax loopholes and other measures that lead to fiscal inequity”. The NDP member for Beauport—Limoilou said, “It will be a great pleasure for me to support this bill”.
The NDP member for Manicouagan said, “We support the changes this bill makes, and particularly those aimed at reducing tax avoidance”. This sentiment was echoed by the NDP member for Surrey North, who said: “We support the changes being made in the bill, especially those aimed at reducing tax avoidance”.
The NDP member for London—Fanshawe said, “The bill makes important and long-overdue changes to the tax laws” , and then went on to say, “New Democrats support the bill..”. The NDP member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing said, “As the House is aware, the New Democrats are supporting the bill...”.
The NDP member for Scarborough—Rouge River even highlights that her reason for supporting the legislation is that many of the provisions have already been announced, declaring, “Once they've been announced, people accept them as adopted. It's for these reasons that we are supporting the bill”.
These kinds of comments from the NDP continue and continue. NDP member after NDP member have all voiced their support for this piece of legislation, which has been in Parliament for more than 100 days. Furthermore, all of these statements of support came on the very first day of debate; yet more than 100 days later, we are still debating the bill at second reading.
This is simply unbelievable. Why would members of the NDP support the legislation, but not ensure its passage at second reading to the finance committee for closer examination by their own NDP colleagues? One wonders what the NDP hopes to gain by prolonging the debate. Again, perhaps the members are unaware that many of the measures have already undergone extensive debate in this House.
In fact, Bill C-48 has been before Parliament for five months now, as it was introduced in November of last year. Do members know what this means? Clearly, the NDP members do not, and so I will spell it out for them.
Let me state again that the House of Commons has had more than 100 days to examine and debate this bill at second reading stage already. We have already had days and days of debate and heard hours and hours of speeches, but what has all this debate yielded from the NDP benches? As I have highlighted, it is repetition upon repetition of support and praise for this legislation.
Well, if NDP members truly do support it, I plead with the NDP to not stall second reading in debate. Let us work together and pass this important legislation that would help Canadians. Let us make Parliament work. That would be an important change for the NDP, as its members have repeatedly shown that they have a track record of delaying and opposing legislation that would be beneficial to Canadians. For an example of this, we need look no further than our Conservative government's economic action plan legislation in these recent years.
What is more, NDP members have shown time after time that they would prefer to vote against tax relief measures that help Canadians and our economy, such as the hiring tax credit for small business and the introduction of a tax-free savings account. They even voted against a reduction of the GST to 5%.
However, we all know what the NDP does support: a carbon tax. I find this very puzzling. On the one hand, the NDP would gladly support a reckless $21 billion carbon tax that would raise the price on essential goods and services for Canadians, but it would stall well-reasoned and thoroughly examined legislation like Bill C-48.
While the NDP finds these partisan procedural games amusing, Canadian taxpayers and businesses, who are waiting for these technical amendments to be passed, certainly do not.
Despite the NDP's bizarre position on this bill, Canadians can rest assured that their Conservative government will work to ensure the passage of Bill C-48 through Parliament so that taxpayers' confidence is not lost in Canada's tax system.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for his question. In response to the question from the member for Beauport—Limoilou, I am pleased to comment on the incident that occurred last October at the Port of Quebec and that affected some residents in part of the Limoilou sector.
On October 26, 2012, Quebec Stevedoring, a company that operates on the quays in the Port of Quebec, unloaded a ship containing a cargo of iron oxide, which is a fairly fine iron ore substance that also contains fine dust. Unloading began during the day, and no incident was reported. However, unloading continued until dusk, and fine mineral dust in the bottom of the ship's hold was discharged. That was when the unloading created a red dust cloud that affected part of Limoilou's residential sector.
After learning about the incident, Quebec Stevedoring put in place measures to respond adequately to the situation and to make sure that this kind of incident does not happen again. Specifically, Quebec Stevedoring set up a telephone line for residents who were affected by the dust cloud to help them get financial assistance to clean their goods and property.
Quebec Stevedoring also improved its operations to minimize the risk of a reoccurrence, mainly by adding water cannons. For its part, the Quebec Port Authority is installing a new dynamic system to monitor the nature and quantity of air emissions from port operations.
As you can see, the port authority reacted promptly to the incident on October 26, 2012. I would like to point out that this is an isolated event despite the millions of tonnes of dry bulk cargo that are transported to the Port of Quebec each year. As a result, there is nothing to indicate that we are dealing with a public health problem.
I am fully confident in the ability of Port of Quebec officials to take the action required to ensure that strategic economic activities can continue in Quebec and in Quebec City, and to protect the health of city residents and the environment they live in.
Before we move on to questions and comments, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Winnipeg North, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, Health.
The hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques has two and a half minutes left for questions and comments.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou for sharing his time with me.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to debate Bill C-24.
While the members opposite might not want to recognize it, New Democrats are absolutely in favour of developing good trading relationships. We understand the need for expanding our markets, but that does not mean that we will give our support to bad agreements. We cannot give uncritical support for the mere notion of trade, and we will stand opposed to those agreements that unnecessarily expose Canada to playing fields that are anything but level.
New Democrats would like to see agreements that go about creating and preserving jobs here in Canada, not documents that hasten the movement of production to other countries. I think most Canadians would agree that keeping good-paying jobs in Canada should be a bare minimum condition for a trade deal and that creating more and better jobs should be the real goal.
The government is fully aware that only New Democrats proposed amendments to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement when the bill was studied at committee. That is a clear example of how we are willing to work to make this agreement better. We clearly are focused on agreements that prove to be of net benefit to Canadians. It cannot be said that New Democrats did not come to the table prepared to work and make the agreement better for Canada and Panama. In that respect, we are pragmatic about trade agreements. The government paints that as something else. However, we have seen that over time, New Democrats' reservations are usually based on probable outcomes and not on an exercise in wishful thinking.
With Bill C-24, there are critical problems that underline the significant differences in belief that separate us from the Conservatives and the Liberals when it comes to negotiating trade deals. For example, we believe that the preconditions to ensuring a level playing field should already be more or less in place. Without that, one country may reap a significant advantage, such as an abundance of cheap, poorly paid labour that operates under substandard labour laws with respect to important Canadian ideals such as workplace health and safety.
New Democrats have also had long-standing disagreements about the significance of environmental protection and the role that should play as these agreements are developed, contrary to the other side. In fact, this trade agreement, like too many others, has a critical flaw in terms of environmental protection. Those measures have been tucked inside a side deal instead of being given prominence in the agreement itself. That further entrenches the belief that the environment must take a back seat to economic interests, which is a view that is irresponsible and unsustainable.
Therefore, when we look at Bill C-24, we ask ourselves what the advantage is for Canada. Will Canada come out ahead? This is not guaranteed. Does this deal reflect the kind of country we are? Again, there are no guarantees, and there are more than a few requests that we take a leap of faith instead. We are asked to take a leap of faith on the environment, on labour, and on the transparency of the Panamanian government and its intention to deal with Panama's reputation as a tax haven. Quite simply, Panama has a long history of being a tax haven. It has gone out of its way to help people hide money from countries like Canada, and that sends up a red flag for many Canadians.
The Conservatives tell us that they are negotiating a separate deal with Panama to address this concern, but on this issue, the government has a credibility problem. It is easily argued that the Conservatives have little interest in addressing offshore tax havens. I will let members decide what the motives for that might be. We know that the Conservative government cut back on inspectors and the resources Revenue Canada uses to catch offshore tax cheats. That is not the stuff of a government that takes the problem seriously. It does not even make economic sense. We know full well that every dollar spent investigating offshore tax fraud nets five dollars in return. Any person on the street would tell us that this is money well spent. Therefore, we can dump the argument that this is somehow about saving money.
This is why New Democrats have a difficult time believing the government's claim that it is addressing the problem in a separate agreement. The fact that it is not already in place, ahead of this free trade agreement, is distressing. I am certain that most Canadians would agree that if someone were bleeding their income, they would not go out of their way to do more business with that person without first addressing that pre-existing problem. It is not as if we are the junior partner here. This is an agreement we do not absolutely need to make, so the question of why the tax loopholes were not addressed first is legitimate.
Labour conditions are another concern that should be considered more important in the negotiation of trade agreements in general and with Panama specifically. We know that any labour rights in the agreement are not built into the deal itself. They are part of a side agreement that does not really have much in the way of teeth.
Consider that Panama is quite a bit smaller than Canada, with only 3.4 million people, and is a significantly unequal society. A full 40% of the population is poor. The rate of extreme poverty is 27%. That problem is particularly acute among indigenous populations.
Given those facts, it should be clear that we are in a position to use a trade agreement as a tool to help Panama address its problem. Yet without better entrenching labour conditions, we are passing up that opportunity. It is too bad, since we know that the country has gone through significant structural adjustment, liberalization and privatization in recent years that has not translated into economic benefits for the population. Without a bit of a push from a larger partner in a trade agreement, it is difficult to imagine much changing, and it is an opportunity lost. I say that being fully aware of worrisome trends in Panama and how that country is vulnerable when it comes to labour rights and human rights.
Many members will know that in 2010, President Ricardo Martinelli unilaterally changed Panamanian laws. He put an end to environmental impact studies on projects deemed to be of social interest, banned mandatory dues collections from workers, allowed employers to fire striking workers and replace them with strike breakers, criminalized street blockades and protected police from prosecution. Predictably, President Martinelli's attack on labour rights resulted in strikes and demonstrations. Six people were killed, while other protesters were seriously injured. Many were blinded by tear gas and police violence. Ultimately, 300 trade union leaders were detained before the president withdrew the labour provisions and called for a national dialogue with moderate trade union leaders and business leaders. This is not the behaviour of a government that respects labour rights, or human rights, for that matter.
I know there are many on the benches opposite who view organized labour as adversaries. However, I am sure there are precious few who would agree with the severity of the Panamanian response or even with the measures that set these events in motion.
Therefore, when New Democrats say that we would like to see labour rights better protected in this trade agreement, one can see that this is based on very real concerns and unsettling trends. We are not convinced that Panama is quite ready to be given favoured trading partner status or that this agreement has the teeth needed to help lift Panama up to our standards.
I would like to reiterate that we are happy to use trade agreements as a way to make our economy stronger and more vibrant. We believe this can be done without blinders that limit the scope and imagination of what can be negotiated. On this issue, as with so many others, we hear the words of our former leader, Jack Layton, urging us on with a simple phrase: “Don't let them tell you it can't be done”.
Therefore, we call on the government to similarly challenge itself to arrive at trade deals that expand Canadian exports by reducing harmful barriers to trade, that encourage the development of value-added industries, that create Canadian jobs by increasing market access for our products and that increase productivity by encouraging new investment. We say negotiate agreements that diversify our exports, especially in emerging markets, and deals that help reduce Canada's trade deficit and improve protections for labour rights, human rights and the environment.
We support agreements that benefit consumers by expanding choice and bringing down prices and that reflect Canadian values such as transparency, accountability and human rights. That is what Canadians deserve.
Order, please. We are out of time.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
The electoral district of Beauport--Limoilou (Quebec) has a population of 101,331 with 83,834 registered voters and 233 polling divisions.
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