Mr. Speaker, may I first thank all of my colleagues from all parties, across the aisle and on this side, for their participation and for taking this matter seriously. It is very important to the people of Hamilton, so I thank everyone for that.
Having said that, I have to say that there was not a government member who got up and said anything that was of any real value, other than a lot of rhetoric and reading out Conservative talking points about what they have done. Nowhere did anyone stand up and address the key issues we have placed before Parliament. Once again, it shows that these workers, employees, potential pensioners and those already on a pension are just not a priority for the Conservative government. Anyone who wants to question that should read the Hansard. Read Hansard and see what was not said as opposed to what was said.
On the other side of the spectrum, let me also thank my two Hamilton colleagues, the member for Hamilton Mountain and the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. They both spoke very passionately and knowledgeably on the issue in front of us and on the harm and damage being done to these U.S. Steel workers, formerly Stelco workers, and members of Local 1005 USW.
If people are interested, a lot of the rhetoric came up about what happened with the pensions at Stelco back in the 1990s provincially. I urge anyone who wants to know the truth and the facts about that to visit the remarks of my colleague from Hamilton Mountain on December 4, 2014, when we first debated this. She went into great detail, spelling out exactly what is the truth and what is just a lot of myth, politics, and spin. I thank her so much for that.
I also want to thank my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup so much for his passionate remarks. We can certainly tell that he gets this issue.
My motion asks for three very simple things. It is not that complicated. Number one, we asked for an apology, and we feel that we are owed an apology, because it is the government that makes a decision, under the Investment Canada Act, as to whether a foreign takeover can take place. That is a judgement call, and it is supposed to be based on whether there is a net benefit to Canada. There was no net benefit to Canada. There sure as heck was no net benefit to those pensioners whose pensions are on the line right now. Their whole quality of life is on the line right now. There was no net benefit for them.
This was a terrible decision at best. It is not unreasonable for the people of Hamilton to ask for an apology from the government for making this really awful, horrid decision that has led to this crisis in all of these hundreds and thousands of Canadians' lives. It is nothing less than that.
We asked the government to make public its secret deal that got us to this point. The Hamilton city council has asked for the documents. It has taken this so seriously that it has struck a special steel subcommittee. I believe it was today that Councillor Scott Duvall was re-elected as the chair of that committee. Councillor Sam Merulla is the vice-chair. That is how seriously the people of Hamilton take this issue.
We asked that the government make amendments to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the CCAA, to ensure that in the future, pensioners go to the top of the list, not the bottom.
Here is the crime of this. One cannot relive the years it takes to build up a pension. To deny people the right to the pension they worked for is unacceptable in this country. It is immoral to do that to people, yet that is exactly what is happening here. It is not just the union workers. It is also the salaried non-union workers. Their pensions are on the line just as much.
This is unacceptable. We need to turn around and elect a government that is going to care about the people of this country by doubling the CPP, for example, rather than throwing people off pension lines in terms of the amounts they are entitled to receive.
This action by the government has caused countless heartaches and stress for all those people affected, and the government to this minute, has still not given Hamiltonians the justice and decent attention that they are entitled to.
Until the government does, we in the NDP and those of us from Hamilton will stand up and holler from the rooftops that this is wrong, and we want pensioners and Hamiltonians to attack it the way it deserves.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to respond to comments made earlier by the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup regarding construction and safety standards in this country.
The safety of Canadians is of primary importance for our government. We were all terribly saddened by the tragic fire that occurred at a nursing home in January of last year in L'Isle—Verte, Quebec.
This tragedy brought to all of our attention the consideration of building codes, in general, and sprinklers, in particular.
As members may know, it is the responsibility of provinces and territories to regulate construction and fire safety standards under their respective jurisdictions.
Following a thorough review, Coroner Delâge released his report on February 12. As the coroner's report highlights, tragedies like the fire in the community of L'Isle—Verte can only be avoided through concerted efforts from all concerned parties. He noted in his report that the absence of automatic sprinklers in the nursing home was a contributing factor in this tragedy.
As members may be aware, the Quebec government has decided to make it mandatory for private seniors homes to be equipped with automatic sprinklers.
The role of the federal government related to building codes is to develop model codes, which help ensure uniformity in building construction. These codes are published roughly every five years and, as these are indeed model codes, provinces and territories have the flexibility to adopt them exactly as they appear or, instead, to develop their own.
The process of updating the model codes is managed by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, which is an independent and public committee. Over 300 volunteers from industry, the regulatory community, and general interest groups make a considerable contribution to our country by ensuring that the model codes take into account developments in their respective fields of expertise. This consensus-based approach leads to a list of proposed technical changes, which are then submitted for public review. Any changes are approved by the commission before they are included in the new model codes.
The current iterations of the model codes were updated in 2010 and require any new or renovated care facility to have sprinklers. Updated versions of the model codes are expected to be released later in 2015.
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 Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, Social Development.
That concludes the debate.
I assure the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup that the Speaker will consider everything and respond as soon as possible.
I thank all members for their interventions.
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 would first like to congratulate my colleagues, the hon. members for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup and Drummond, for their hard work on this issue. It is a great example of the outstanding work accomplished by members who are engaged in and committed to real consultations in their communities. It is impressive, and I am proud to work with them.
I will start by picking up on some of the criticism that we have heard from the Conservatives about our motion today. They are trying to tell us that two plus two equals zero, and that zero is zero environmental protection.
The NDP has been really clear. Our leader, who was minister of environment in Quebec, is a man with an incredible environmental record. He gets economy. He gets it full well. He has talked, and so have we all, very clearly about the fact that New Democrats are in favour of the movement of Canada's energy from west to east.
There are certain lenses that need to be applied there. Why would we be in favour of that? First of all, we are in favour of it for energy security. Let us look at this through the lens of energy security. Right now on the east coast, we are importing oil while we are exporting bitumen. It does not make sense that we are an importing and exporting nation of the same product. Let us look at it through the lens of domestic energy security needs.
Let us look at it through the concept of Canadian jobs. We will not support projects like Keystone XL that will export our jobs to the U.S. We would like to see value added happening here, creating jobs here in Canada. We have unmet refining capacity in Montreal and Saint John, for example. We have the ability to do upgrading here in Canada. Why would we not seize on those opportunities? That is the second lens, Canadian jobs.
The third lens is, of course, environmental protection, making sure we have robust environmental legislation for any big energy project, including pipelines, including terminals like this one. When we have that environmental protection in place, we know that any project is going to meet a certain standard. We can feel comfortable with that standard. We can know that this is a project that has met certain tests, stringent tests, and that can go forward.
Unfortunately, we do not have that sense anymore. We do not have that social licence when it comes to big energy projects, because we have seen a lot of our environmental regulations gutted and, in the case of the Environmental Assessment Act, actually repealed. It was not tinkered with; it was actually taken off the books, with a new and inadequate, I would argue, piece of legislation put in its place.
All of our thinking about west-east has to be with those lenses applied. Here we have a situation where we are not talking about that pipeline. We are talking about a terminal that fails every possible test.
If an energy company were thinking about creating a terminal for the export of raw bitumen—and, first of all, we would not have our value-added criterion met—where would it put it? It might think about putting it in a beluga nursery, possibly picking the worst spot in Canada.
The St. Lawrence River is a delicate ecosystem. It is an iconic river, but it is also one of the most biologically diverse marine environments in the country. In addition to it being biologically diverse, we see a species at risk. The beluga whales are there.
This is a nursery for the baby belugas. All of us in English Canada know that song by Raffi, Baby Beluga. This is where the baby belugas are, baby belugas in the deep blue sea. This is where they are. This is where they are being calved and raised.
It is incredible to me that a company would think that this is an appropriate place to put an oil terminal that would export raw bitumen and not create those value-added jobs and not consider energy security for Canadians.
It fails on so many levels that there has actually been an injunction issued by the Superior Court of Quebec. It halted exploratory drilling, proving that the Conservatives have failed to provide scientific answers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to the Quebec government.
When looking into the belugas and the impacts of not just drilling but a potential terminal here, I actually went to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website and looked at what it is saying about belugas. It is a species at risk, but maybe I was missing something here. Maybe there is some kind of exception, to threaten them in some cases. I was looking for answers. This is from DFO's own website, and it talks about the threats to the beluga. It says:
Hunting is certainly the main cause of the dramatic declines in beluga populations. However, contributing factors could include alterations to habitats—such as damming of rivers—and possibly noise pollution caused by ships and pleasure craft. The boats might interfere with the belugas’ echo-location method of hunting.
As well, dredging, shipping, industrial activity and environmental pollution have degraded the quality of the water in which the beluga lives. This could also lead to a decline in food supply.
Shipping, noise, industrial activity, and pollution are all potentials in this spot. It is mind-boggling that anybody thought this was a good idea.
Here is a really interesting part. DFO actually has a section titled “What can you do?” We realize it is not just about government; it is about each and every one of us taking responsibility and doing what we can to help. Listen to what our government department suggests that we do.
Beluga whales will get the protection they need only if all Canadians work together to reduce threats. Find out more about beluga whales and be aware of man-made threats. Do your best ....
I am laughing because I cannot even believe this is the advice, when we are looking at this terminal being built. It says:
Do your best to reduce these threats wherever possible to better protect the whales' critical habitat. Get involved with the habitat stewardship program for species at risk or another conservation organization.
We should take that advice, and that is why my colleagues from Drummond and Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup have come up with this opposition day motion. They have taken to heart the advice from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and they have put forward this motion.
Where is the hook here for the federal government? What are we asking? Is this just a statement saying we would oppose this kind of terminal? There actually is a role for the federal government here because, once a species is listed under the Species at Risk Act, it becomes illegal to kill, harass, capture, or harm it in any way. Critical habitats are also protected from destruction. The act requires that recovery strategies, action plans, and management plans be developed for all species.
That is not happening here. Again I go back to the fact that the Conservatives need to take advice from DFO when it comes to this project. The federal government can step in if a province is failing to protect a species in its habitat, but it also has an obligation to act. Our federal government has been taken to court several times for failing to put in plans to protect species at risk; notably sage grouse in western Canada, where I think there are 12 sage grouse left in all of Alberta. The government has failed to protect species in the past, and it is failing now. The Conservatives need to take the advice of their own government department and they need to act.
It is not often that we get to quote Raffi Cavoukian, better known as Raffi. He is a singer-songwriter who focuses on social and environmental causes. My generation and folks younger than I grew up with Raffi, and he actually calls us “beluga grads”. That comes from his Baby Beluga song. He calls us “beluga grads”, and he wants us to change the world. Raffi is saying to us: Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea Swim so wild and you swim so free Heaven above and the sea below And a little white whale on the go
As Raffi says, we need to act. We need to protect this endangered species and stop putting our blinders on when it comes to how environment and economy can work together.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
We are talking about Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures. We have heard a lot of talk by all members of the House today about Canada's economy and our fiscal performance over the years.
It is appropriate to start my speech by going over some metrics, some actual numbers that tell Canadians what the performance of the government has been since Conservatives took office in 2006 until the end of 2013, which is where we have our most recent numbers.
The amount spent by the Conservative government on advertising since 2009, touting its economic action plans, is $113 million. The national unemployment rate in Canada in 2006, just before the government took office, was 6.6%. Today it is 7.2%. The national unemployment rate of youth in 2006 at the time the Conservatives took office was 12.2%. Today it is over 14%.
Among 34 OECD nations in employment creation in the 2006-13 time period, Canada ranks 20th. The number of annual consecutive deficits filed by the government is six. The number of budget deficit targets hit by Conservative finance ministers since 2006 is zero.
The amount added to Canada's national federal debt since the Conservative government came to power in 2006 is $123.5 billion. The portion of total federal debt that we have in Canada today, accumulated just since the government came to power in 2006, is one-fifth.
The per cent increase in the real average hourly wage of Canadians in 2006-13 is zero. The percentage drop in productivity, that is the GDP per employee in our country from 2006-13, is negative 1.9%.
In terms of trade, which is the area of my responsibility to watch and critique the government on, when the government came to power in 2006, Canada had a current account surplus of $20.4 billion. That is the total of all goods, services and investments going in and out of the country. At the end of 2013, we had a deficit of $60.4 billion. That is an $80 billion swing to the negative in the last seven years, over $10 billion of lost goods, services and investment in our country for each and every year that the government has been in power.
The merchandise trade deficit that exists in Canada today is a staggering $110.4 billion. That means that we import $110.4 billion more of manufactured items, the kind of items that characterize modern industrial economies, than we export. That is not surprising because under the current government, since 2006, the percentage of Canada's exports that are raw resources has gone up by 50%.
Quantitatively and qualitatively the trade performance of the government has been a disaster, no less a figure than former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney said that the single biggest drag on the Canadian economy had been the government's underperformance in trade.
My hon. colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who is our finance critic now, talked about 2008 and what the real state of affairs was then. I happen to be fortunate enough to be sent here by the good people of Vancouver Kingsway at that time, so I was in the House in October 2008 as well, and I campaigned in that election.
I remember the Prime Minister, who was touted as an economist, during the campaign in September 2008 when asked if there was a recession coming, said that a recession was a “ridiculous hypothetical”.
I was in the House with many other members in October 2008, when the finance minister tabled an economic update that projected a surplus for the next year and projected an austerity budget, only to be hit within a matter of weeks with the biggest recession to hit this country since the Great Depression. Neither the Prime Minister, through his economics training, nor the finance minister, with the full resources of the Department of Finance, with all of the tools at their disposal, could forecast that Canada was headed for a massive recession.
I want to talk about the deficit position of this country. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they inherited seven consecutive budget surpluses that averaged $12 billion. From 2006 to 2008, the government cut the GST by two percentage points. With each percentage point cut, federal government revenue was reduced by $6 billion. With that one move alone, the government had essentially eliminated the budgetary surplus, and it would have put Canada at balanced budget with just that one move.
However, the Conservatives did more. They made a policy decision to carry on with the Liberals' orgy of corporate tax cuts to go from 27% down to 21%. The Conservative government took corporate tax rates from 21% down to 15%—
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 Budget; the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, Industry.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.
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 Brossard—La Prairie, Champlain Bridge; the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, Economic Development.
moved that Bill C-201, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel and accommodation deduction for tradespersons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that the time has finally come to debate Bill C-201, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel and accommodation deduction for tradespersons). It is the very first bill I introduced in this chamber after being elected in January 2006 and it is a bill that is near and dear to my heart.
However, my wait is nothing compared with the wait experienced by the workers who are at the heart of my bill. The Canadian building and construction trades have been lobbying for this legislation for over 35 years. Their tenacity on this file is remarkable and ought to be indicative to the government that this issue matters deeply to the very people who have literally built our country.
In fact, I would be remiss if I did not publicly thank Bob Blakely, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Building Trades Unions, for his personal commitment to this bill and for never ceasing to fight for the best interests of his members. Bob knows only too well what a bumpy road it has been to get to this point today.
Both Liberal and Conservative governments have made promises to the building trades in the past about concrete action to come. However, those games of political footsie led exactly nowhere.
It is time for the games to stop and for all members in the House to stand up and be counted. Lip service is no longer good enough. I am delighted to give members the opportunity to clarify their positions in the coming vote on my bill.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you follow American politics closely, so you will remember former Speaker Tip O'Neill coining the phrase “all politics is local”. It is the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his or her ability to understand and influence the issues of constituents.
While that certainly encapsulates the genesis of bill that we are debating today, I introduced it because of the amazing education and awareness-raising efforts of the members of the Building and Construction Trades Council in my hometown of Hamilton.
In particular, I want to single out the leadership of business manager Joe Beattie, who invited me to meet with the building trades about this issue before I was even elected.
We can see that the Hamilton building trades are not just savvy lobbyists, they are also clairvoyant. They knew I would eventually get elected, even before I believed it myself.
The case that was put to me by Joe, along with the members of Carpenters Local 18, UA Local 67 and Sheetmetal Workers Local 537, made sense then, and it still makes sense now. It makes sense for workers, who would benefit from a reduction in their temporary relocation costs and a reduction in time spent unemployed. It makes sense for employers which will benefit from access to larger pools of qualified workers and reduced costs relating to participation in programs such as the temporary foreign workers program. It makes sense for the government, because it would benefit from increased long-term income tax revenues and reduced dependence on costly social programs.
However, let me not put the cart before the horse. Let us start at the beginning and look at the issue that my bill is seeking to address, the specific remedy that it offers and the opportunity that it represents for the government and all members of the House.
Right now, there are two major human resource challenges facing Canada's construction industry: regional labour shortages and barriers to labour mobility.
The 2011 edition of the Construction Sector Council's “Construction Looking Forward” report suggests that to replace retiring workers and maintain productivity, construction employers, collectively, must hire more than 320,000 new workers between now and 2019. While training programs and recruitment from non-traditional labour sources are part of the solution, they will not be enough to ameliorate the significant labour shortages that are projected for the decade ahead.
Compounding this problem is the unevenness of demand for construction workers. Some regions of the country, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, are expected to face significant worker shortages until next year. Others, such as Ontario, will offer fewer work opportunities in the short term, but many more between 2015 and 2019. A third group, including Quebec, Nova Scotia and Alberta, will offer consistently high numbers throughout the forecast period.
With the demand for labour thus high in some parts of the country and lower in others, it would be in everyone's best interest to facilitate the mobility of unemployed workers from one part of the country to job openings in another.
This would be an easy problem to solve if construction jobs were permanent, but they are not. Construction is a transitory business. When a hospital, a mall or, for that matter, a Pan Am stadium is built, the job is done. Work can last for days, weeks or months, but the bottom line is that it is not permanent and no worker can fairly be expected to move his or her family to a new city every time the workplace changes, and therein lies the rub.
Under current rules, construction workers often incur large personal expenses to accept jobs in other parts of the province or country because neither their travel nor accommodation expenses are tax deductible under the Income Tax Act. As a result, these costs create a huge disincentive for workers to accept work in those parts of the country that are experiencing skills shortages.
Figures compiled on behalf of the building and construction trades department of the AFL-CIO suggest that the average mobile worker spends approximately $3,500 of his or her own money to temporarily relocate. That is a significant barrier to the appeal of working mobile. Without wanting to be too cute, I ask my hon. colleagues to imagine what would happen in this place if we told members tomorrow that they could no longer get financial assistance for their secondary residence here in Ottawa while they are here on the job, or for their travel for that matter.
If that is not enough to spur us on to creating fairness for the building trades, let me just remind members that this House already acknowledged that transitory workers merit financial support, and budget 2008 provided a tax break to truck drivers to assist with mobility challenges in that industry. I am calling on us to do the right thing here today and create a labour mobility tax credit for the building and construction industry too. Specifically, my bill would allow tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income, so they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres from their home. Adopting this bill would remove one of the largest stated barriers to labour mobility in our country and would pave the road for workers to move freely between regions of the country where their skills are in demand. For me, this is absolutely the right thing to do, and I do not believe that this issue has to be partisan. In fact, I know it is not.
Let me remind members than in April 2008, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities supported my bill in intent if not by name. The two germane recommendations were numbers 1.6 and 1.7. Recommendation number 1.6 reads:
The Committee recommends that the federal government examine the moving expenses provision of the Income Tax Act with a view to extending this provision to individuals who must leave their principal residence to work on a temporary basis, provided their principal residence is retained.
Recommendation number 1.7 says:
The Committee recommends that the federal government provide funding to assist individuals who agree to relocate to enter employment in occupations experiencing skills shortages.
Both of those recommendations are spot-on.
Yes, these recommendations were adopted during a minority Parliament, so it may be assumed that the government members did not actually support them. However, let me provide further evidence to the contrary. Before the Standing Committee on Finance on November 19, 2012, the Conservative member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca responded to a presentation by a representative of the building trades by saying, “...I've been advocating since 2005 for a tax credit on travel and mobility”.
Just a month later, another report by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made this its 30th recommendation. It stated:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada study the anticipated cost of introducing new fiscal measures that would help people who find jobs far away from where they live, for example a tax credit for travel and lodging if a person must work more than 80 kilometres from his or her residence, and that it study the potential impact of such measures on labour mobility and labour shortages.
This time, the government had the majority of members on the committee, so that recommendation would not have passed without the support of the Conservatives.
I want to publicly thank the Conservatives who were members of the committee at that time. They are the members for Mississauga—Streetsville, Don Valley East, Okanagan—Shuswap, Brant and Calgary Northeast, and the member for Simcoe—Grey, who is now Canada's Minister of Labour. I know that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, in particular, understands this issue and has been advocating for it inside his own caucus. Also, I hope the Minister of Labour is using her new clout to assist his efforts in every possible way. Since she has repeatedly mentioned her own family roots in Alberta's construction industry, I trust that she understands what is at stake here.
Certainly, all of the opposition members on the committee got it right away. I was but one member of that committee, and I was proud to note that my NDP colleagues at HUMA, the members for Hochelaga, Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup and St. John's South—Mount Pearl, have always stood four-square behind the building trades in their communities and immediately expressed their support for my bill.
I am also cautiously optimistic that my Liberal colleague from Cape Breton—Canso will see fit to vote for it, although truthfully I am not sure which side he was on when the issue was being discussed when the Liberals were in government, during their 13 years in office. What I do know is that in opposition he has been nothing but supportive, and I want to thank him for that.
This issue does have broad-based support. What is stopping it from becoming law? At one point both the Minister of Finance and the former Minister of Labour were concerned about how much my proposed tax credit would cost. They were not entirely convinced by the admittedly rough initial calculations, which showed that it would be revenue neutral, since the cost of the tax credit would be more than offset by savings in employment insurance payments that would no longer have to be made as unemployed Canadians went to work in other parts of the country.
However, the building trades took the minister's concern seriously and had the projections related to my bill audited by Hendry Warren. The audited numbers were given to every member of this House during the last building trades lobby day, and I trust that everyone will have familiarized themselves with the costing of my proposal. However, let us take a quick look at the numbers again just to make absolutely certain that we are all on the same page.
Hendry Warren estimated that there are 1.6 million construction workers in Canada. An estimated 10% of them travel each year. At an average cost of $3,500 per worker per year, a 15% tax credit would cost the government $525 per mobile worker per year, for a total cost of $84 million.
Working with the same number of 160,000 travelling skilled trades workers whose average weekly employment insurance benefit would be $393 per week for an average period of unemployment of four weeks if they were not working means that the government would pay $251 million in EI benefits per year. That means that the tax credit proposal in my bill would actually save the government $167 million per year.
Let me repeat that, Mr. Speaker, because these numbers will be germane in your consideration of whether my bill will ultimately require a royal recommendation. Far from being an expenditure, my bill would actually save the government $167 million each and every year, and that is just premised on savings on EI.
As the audited statement makes clear, when savings from all social programs are taken into account along with increased long-term income tax revenues from employment, the labour mobility tax credit is more likely to yield a return on the government's investment of nearly five to one. We would think the Minister of Finance would be doing a happy dance at the prospect of such a windfall.
The bill really is a win, win, win. As I said at the outset, workers win because the travel and accommodation costs would no longer be a barrier to accepting decent jobs for decent wages in other regions of the country; employers win because they would have access to larger pools of qualified workers without needing to resort to the costly temporary foreign workers program; the government wins by having taken a concrete step toward addressing regional skilled labour shortages, all the while reducing dependence on costly social programs and actually boosting long-term income tax revenues. It does not get much better than that.
Let me conclude by bringing this discussion full circle. I want to end where I began.
Locally and nationally, the building and construction trades have lobbied for the bill for over 35 years. They represent an industry that is critical to our economy. In fact, construction is Canada's largest private sector industry. Its direct impact is immense. Construction accounts for 12% of Canada's GDP.
The industry has more than 260,000 businesses, employing more than a million Canadians. It is responsible for installing, repairing, and renovating more than $150 billion worth of infrastructure every single year. It is a threshold industry on which everything else is based.
In a very real sense, the building and construction trades have built our country. It is time for us to shore up their work. It is time for us to heed their call for action. It is time for us to provide them with a tax credit for travel and accommodation expenses when they accept work more than 80 kilometres away from their home. It is time to pass my bill.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
I must inform the member that he has only five minutes to speak.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and close the debate on my private member's bill, the discover your Canada act.
I outlined previously to the House why we should send the bill to committee. I spoke about why I believe this legislation is important for building Canada's unity. I was very clear that this legislation is an initiative to encourage Canadians to travel within Canada, period. I have produced figures, testimonials and polling data. I have even shared personal insights to help my colleagues better appreciate my reasoning for introducing this bill. I do not intend to spend the little time I have today restating what I have already said. I will instead use the limited time I have to address some of the criticism brought forward by members, because I am disappointed by the pessimistic tone and the calibre of debate.
Our duty as members of Parliament is to assess the merits of legislation. In order to do so we must have accurate and detailed data to make better-informed decisions. However, many members are obviously not using accurate information. I heard the remarks made on March 27 by the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, who said that the bill is really just a novelty, a gimmicky distraction that would cost taxpayers more than $200 million without really encouraging tourism within Canada. I have problems with this statement that go beyond its non-collegial tone. Accusing me of imposing a gimmicky distraction upon Canadians is bad enough, but I dispute the claim that the discover your Canada act would cost over $200 million a year. It is a little exaggerated.
When researching where this number came from, I realized it was based upon a number that the Department of Finance came up with. To this date, the department has yet to provide me with a breakdown on how this number was arrived at, so I am not sure how credible this number is.
However the independent Parliamentary Budget Office has provided everyone here with a full-blown detailed analysis of this legislation so they can better understand the fiscal implications of what they would be voting on. The PBO calculations determine that the discover your Canada act would have a fiscal cost of $90 million, but at the same time, it also says there will be a revenue windfall of as much as $110 million due to the increase in tourism spending. If I were to use industry standards, which are quite conservative, every $1 spent would generate $5 of economic spinoffs. Members can see that the cost is not even a factor, contrary to what some Conservative and NDP members have said, who have used this as an argument to speak against the bill.
Therefore I am left to ask the question: What passes for solid evidence on the government side and on that of other members of the House, when time and time again the PBO has put out estimates more accurate than the government's? This happens when the government is more interested in partisanship than pursuing the best interests of Canadians. It is shameful. It is ongoing. It has to stop.
Unfortunately, I was also disappointed with the NDP's arguments against this bill.
My colleague for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup read the report by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but he does not seem to have understood it very well.
He seems to think that we are milking the Canadian tourism industry. If that were the case, why would the Parliamentary Budget Officer state that the measure will have $110 million in tourism spinoffs? It seems that there is some milk left.
My colleague also talked about potential fraud that the bill could encourage. For example, people could claim that a business trip was a vacation. As an accountant, I am very familiar with taxation. Business deductions are far more generous than the proposed measures in this bill.
In short, a business person who tries to claim a business trip under the provisions of this bill will pay more taxes because this deduction is less advantageous.
The bill may not be perfect. I accept that, and I am ready to work on it at committee. However there appears to be no desire by some Conservative or NDP members to work with me on the bill, which has the support of 70% of Canadians and would come into effect in 2017, in time to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.
The PBO's estimate of $110 million in economic spinoffs is another piece of information that my colleagues have failed to mention in their haste to discredit the bill by claiming it would not encourage tourism within Canada, which is totally false. An independent Harris/Decima study confirmed that four out of ten Canadians surveyed would be more than likely to travel within Canada if the bill were passed.
I am asking all my colleagues to set aside partisan politics and vote for this bill so that we can study it in committee and improve it.
I will close by simply stating that we should vote in favour of the bill, which 70% of Canadians support in its current form, so we can send it to committee, work collaboratively to improve it and pass an even better version at third reading, so that even more Canadians will approve. We owe it to Canada to support the bill, which is good for national unity.
I would remind the member that he has the floor to resume debate.
The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
I would like to remind the hon. members that it is inappropriate to refer to the absence or presence of other members. In addition, all hon. members should direct their comments through the Chair rather than directly to other members. For example, it is best not to say “you” or use other terms that refer directly to other members. It is preferable to use the third person.
The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
Before we proceed 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 Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, small and medium-size businesses.
Questions and comments, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup for his motion and his speech in the House of Commons today.
Since the member was elected on May 2, 2011, asbestos has become his passion because he wants to help Quebeckers affected by it. I thank him for that.
Someone else I would like to thank is the member for Winnipeg Centre, who, for years and years, has presented petition after petition in the House of Commons from Canadians from coast to coast to coast who want asbestos banned in Canada. I also thank all of the activists, scientists and doctors who support our position on asbestos.
I am particularly interested in this motion. Back in October 2011, a motion was debated in the House that I presented. I do not want to read the whole motion but I will read parts of it. The motion read, in general, “(a) ban the use and export of asbestos; (b) support international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical[s]”, and this is the important part, “(c) assist affected workers by developing a Just Transition Plan with measures to accommodate their re-entry into the workforce”, something the Conservatives voted against. They voted against helping the workers.
It went on to say, “(d) introduce measures dedicated to affected older workers, through the employment insurance program”, something the Conservatives voted against. As far as I am concerned, this is the key part, “(e) support communities and municipalities in asbestos producing regions through an investment fund for regional economic diversification”, which would have helped the communities that produce asbestos. The Conservatives voted against that and shame on them.
I will now talk about the community of Elliot Lake in northern Ontario which at one time was a producer of uranium. However, because of the markets, the mines had to shut down. What did the municipality and the provincial and federal governments do? Instead of throwing up their arms like the Conservative government is doing, they got together and formulated a plan. They diversified Elliot Lake and today Elliot Lake is not producing uranium. It is a diversified and vibrant community that is alive and well because a plan was formulated to help the community, something that the Conservatives do not want to do for communities that are affected by asbestos.
In my previous life, I worked for a mining company and I used asbestos. We had to mix an asbestos powder with oil when we were pouring Babbit bearings. At the time, the boss said that it was okay, that there was no danger. We used to grab some asbestos flakes and mix them with oil. We did not use masks or protective equipment, but the boss said that it was okay. It is a lot like what the bosses on the other side of the House are telling the asbestos workers; that it is okay to work in an industry that causes cancer.
Asbestos is banned in 50 countries across the world but Canada is exporting asbestos to countries such as Indonesia, India and the Philippines. Those are the primary customers for Canadian asbestos. As we know, there are no safety rules in those countries. No one is watching out for the workers. I recently saw a film clip on CBC television of some of these workers handling asbestos with no masks and no protective equipment. They were just throwing it around because they do not know any better.
However, we in Canada know better. We know that asbestos causes cancer. Only the Conservatives do not know that. Science has proven it. Scientists and doctors say that it causes cancer but the Conservatives do not believe the science.
Today, during question period, I was astounded to hear the Minister of Agriculture say that E. coli testing is done on a scientific basis. If there had been more room between my chair and my desk I think I would have fallen out when I heard a minister of the government say that the government was using scientific evidence. There has been scientific evidence for years and years that asbestos causes cancer but the Conservatives have chosen to ignore that.
It is estimated that, worldwide, asbestos costs 100,000 lives every year. That is a lot of lives. To put it into perspective I will read something. When this survey was taken, 103,617 citizens were living In the riding of Beauce. If 100,000 of them were killed, that would only leave 3,617 people in Beauce, which is not very many. Lévis-Bellechasse has 105,927 citizens living in that area. If 100,000 of them were killed that would not leave very many of them. We hear a lot of discussion in the House of Commons about the riding Fort McMurray—Athabasca. It has 100,805 people. If we were to take the numbers from the World Health Association, we would only have 805 people left in that riding. More Canadians die of asbestos related disease than any other occupational health disease.
I will relay a very short story. When I was elected back in 2008, I moved into my office and wanted to put up some pictures and decorations. I was getting ready to do that one day when one of the workers came into the office and said that I could not put up a picture, that I could not put a nail in the wall. I thought he was upset because I was doing his job. I was not sure, so I talked to him about it. He explained that I could not do that because the walls were full of asbestos. He said that if I wanted to put up a picture he would need to do it. He said that he would need to wear special clothes and a mask and that after he had hammered the nail in the wall he would need to use air exchangers to get rid of any asbestos fibres that might have moved around. That was unbelievable to me.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate on the motion moved by my hon. colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
Motion No. 381 outlines a plan of action for dealing with asbestos, including economic diversification, including having this dangerous substance listed on the Rotterdam Convention and public hearings.
Today is not a day to celebrate. Yes, it is good to have the substance on the list, but the people in the affected regions will have a hard time once the industry ceases to exist. The government must implement measures to help these people and the regions. People will have to find new jobs, another source of income.
Everyone is familiar with the dangers of asbestos, so I will not retill that particular soil. While this motion is non-binding, it is certainly welcome, given the events of the past few weeks. The Liberal Party has for a number of years been pushing to have asbestos listed on the Rotterdam Convention's list of dangerous substances. It has become more clear in the last few years that this is necessary. We have been urging the Conservative government to ensure that workers in this industry have the assistance they need to transition to other forms of employment.
That is why we intend to support this motion.
Last October, during the opposition day on asbestos, the NDP moved a similar motion. The main difference is that the motion moved last year would have prohibited the use and exportation of all forms of asbestos, which today's motion does not do.
During the debate last year, the Conservatives were incapable of thoroughly analyzing problems related to asbestos and the harm that exporting this dangerous substance was causing to Canada's international reputation.
However, the minister defied all logic and defended the government's position even in light of the incontrovertible facts.
Then earlier this month something happened. As we all know, a minority PQ government was elected in Quebec. I am not celebrating that either, but as a result the minister has apparently had a change of heart, although one has to question his motives; if he had listened a year ago, we could be much further along now in the process of providing assistance to communities like Asbestos, where the Jeffrey mine is located.
This month, the government announced that it will no longer oppose adding chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention's prior informed consent procedure list. I should point out that in July 2011, Canada was the only country in the world to object to adding chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention's list of hazardous chemicals. Adding asbestos to the list will force exporters to warn recipient countries of any health hazards.
That is very important because we know it has been going around the world and it has been going to countries where it has not been handled properly, especially when people are taking buildings down. All we have to do is go outside this building, the Centre Block, and look over to the West Block, which is surrounded by a fence and has been enshrouded for the past year or so, as work is being done to remove asbestos from it. It is pretty obvious to us, just looking at how carefully the public is excluded from that area, that this is considered a real problem. When people are working with any kind of asbestos, to try to remove it from a building, they have to take very careful precautions, so we all know it is a serious matter.
The federal government also promised to provide up to $50 million to help the region diversify its economy, but it has not provided much so far in the way of any detailed plan.
The Conservatives also tried to blame the new PQ government for the demise of asbestos mining in Quebec, because that government said it would cancel the $58 million loan the Charest government had announced earlier this year, and the intent of that loan was to revive the country's only asbestos operation in the town of Asbestos.
If the government actually based its decisions on science and facts instead of political gamesmanship, it would have followed the scientific evidence far sooner, and that has clearly established the health dangers of chrysotile asbestos.
Let me conclude by noting that despite the recent announcements by the federal and provincial governments, opponents of asbestos continue to argue that the problem is far from over.
For example, recent media reports say that $2.6 million worth of asbestos-containing brake pads were imported into Ontario last year. There are concerns about exactly what the government's new position will mean. We will have to wait and see. But the fact that asbestos is still moving around this country, is still being used, is a concern. That makes me concerned about mechanics in auto shops who have to work on these brakes. They may have no idea that they contain asbestos and may not be taking the measures necessary to protect themselves from inhaling asbestos. I hope they are taking the necessary measures. I would be very concerned about that. It is time steps were taken to end this activity.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Thetford Mines in this debate which affects them more than any other community in the country.
I am of course referring to Thetford Mines and Asbestos. I listened to the remarks made by my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, who told us of the mischief that Pierre Trudeau got up to during the 1949 strike—the member gave us a full account. He was quite accurate in his account in several respects, but I just want to remind him which region was affected, and it was not Beauce. It was Thetford Mines, not Beauce, which is located beside it. It is important to provide an accurate account when presenting information regarding matters that have significant ramifications. When referring to the affected regions, it is important to at least have the decency to refer to the right regions.
That is why I want to remind members that the people in my riding have been living with chrysotile on a daily basis for 100 years. They work in the mines, they have previously worked in them or their friends or family have worked in them. They were also in the front lines of every fight waged against chrysotile. It was the workers of my riding who were the first to warn people about the risks associated with the misuse of asbestos. This goes back a long time. There was amphibole asbestos and sprayed asbestos; it was not encapsulated asbestos. And after that, a distinction was made between chrysotile fibres and amphibole fibre. There is quite a background to all of this.
The workers of my region contributed, alongside employers and governments, to develop an approach for the safe and controlled use of chrysotile. It is a legacy of which my region is proud. Today, my constituents face a new challenge: an economy without chrysotile. This is a new fight that they must wage; it is a fight that they did not choose, despite being those most affected.
A few weeks ago, the new Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, clearly indicated that her government was going to prohibit the use of chrysotile in Quebec. She also indicated her intention to cancel the loan guarantee, which was previously offered by the Charest government to the Jeffrey mine in the Asbestos sector. Her remarks were unequivocal: there will no longer be a chrysotile mine in Quebec.
This decision obviously has negative ramifications in terms of the prosperity, both current and future, of my region. Hundreds of miners, who were hoping to find work as a result of the reopening of the Asbestos Lake mine, have consequently lost all hope. Many SMEs that gravitate around this mine will no longer be able to rely on this major client. What is more, this natural resource, that is found in abundance, will now be locked forever in the ground.
I know all too well that the fate of my constituents will not be of concern to my NDP colleagues. Indeed, whenever there is a natural resource project that brings jobs and opportunities to a rural community, the NDP does all it can to close those projects down. This is not new. That is why I am so proud to be part of a government that listens to our regions and that cares about their development and prosperity. My region is a concrete example of this.
I mentioned a little earlier that hundreds of workers in my region are currently jobless and facing uncertainty. I met with those workers. They lived in hope, but now, all that is left is uncertainty. The mine has been closed for a year and they have been waiting. They were told by the Quebec government that mining would be banned, and were told at the same time that there will be educational consultations. When a family is struggling to make ends meet, consultations for educational purposes are not going to put food on their plates. That is the reality faced by my region. I have seen the miners and their families in distress over recent months and even more over recent weeks. Some have almost run out of employment insurance benefits. That is the reality that we face. We can debate all we want here in this House of Commons, but that is the reality on the ground.
The last thing they need is a bogus consultation when the decision to shutdown the industry has already been made by Ms. Marois. That is why our government has taken swift action and committed to invest up to $50 million to support the diversification of the asbestos communities. Our government has, therefore, taken the most responsible decision by focusing on our economy's transition in order to create jobs for our workers as soon as possible.
Fortunately, the region has worked tirelessly over recent years in order to diversify its economic base and our government is no stranger to this effort.
Efforts by our government in this regard include the gas pipeline between Vallée-Jonction and Thetford Mines, an important project that was recently announced in the presence of the Prime Minister. With this investment of more than $18 million, the government is making possible the construction of a $24 million pipeline that will provide access to a reliable and less costly source of energy, natural gas.
The project will contribute to the economic development and diversification of the region and of the surrounding communities. It will also enable businesses to improve their competitiveness, in addition to incentivizing others to set up shop in the region, thereby creating wealth and employment.
The Government of Canada's contribution is an exceptional measure to diversify this region's economic base. Since it has been a single industry region for years, it has fallen behind in terms of energy supply compared to other regions in Quebec.
Various contributions have been made to set up and operate two research centres in Thetford Mines. These research centres are the pride of the business people in our region.
The Centre de technologie minérale et de plasturgie provides professional expertise in the plastics and mineral sectors, and the Centre collégial de transfert de technologie en oléochimie industrielle provides businesses with applied research services, technical assistance and information in the area of synthetic organic chemistry and oleochemistry.
It is also in this context that we launched, in Thetford Mines, a research project to examine the economic opportunities to be derived from mine tailings. The objective is to provide a complete portrait of the physical and chemical composition of the tailings in the mines. We will review all the documentation on the issue and we will analyze samples of tailings and surrounding waters.
The results will enable us to assess the stability and the chemical evolution of the tailings when they are subject to erosion and water infiltration, to identify the minerals that may constitute trade opportunities and examine the sustainable extraction methods for the re-cleaning of tailings. This project may eventually lead to secondary activities at the same site.
My constituents in Thetford Mines have worked hard to diversify their economy, and they will have to continue, because another blow has been struck. They can be proud of what has been accomplished.
Like all other regions of Quebec and Canada, the Thetford region has assets when it comes to resources, and it can count on our government to support it in its future development. A blow has been struck; a decision has been made by Ms. Marois. We are aware of this, and Canada now no longer has any logical reason to object to the inclusion of chrysotile on the list in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. We are pragmatic, and the region knows it can count on us. It knows it can count on a government that recognizes the importance of its natural resources to the economy of the country and the regions, and all regions of the country can count on our government.
We are in favour of economic development. We believe in exploiting our resources and we will continue to bring forward promising projects, like the oil sands and shale gas. There are opportunities galore. With the Plan Nord in Quebec, investments of over $4 billion are being proposed. There is also the Ring of Fire in Ontario. The economic benefits are extraordinary.
This is a school of thought that believes in economic growth, in job creation and in developing our land, unlike the NDP, which simply wants to lock the door to anything that falls under the heading of natural resource development projects. The choice is clear, and we urge Canadians to get on board with a responsible government that believes in economic development and the welfare of society. That is what will enable us to occupy our land, to develop a strong country, with quality of life, everywhere in Canada.
That is also why, in my own department, we are constantly working toward providing the greatest possible number of Canadian homes with high-speed Internet access, and we are making headway. We now know that 98% of Canadian homes have that access, and I am very proud of that. It is part of a global vision.
But the NDP opposed all these investments that were made in the past, to develop this basic infrastructure. There are clearly two schools of thought. The Conservative Party is responsible, and Canadians can count on our government for the development of our regions.
The electoral district of Montmagny--L'Islet--Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup (Quebec) has a population of 97,492 with 77,851 registered voters and 241 polling divisions.
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