Mr. Speaker, Christmas and New Year's are fast approaching, and it is time to take advantage of the enhanced children's fitness tax credit. Hockey, ice skating, and other winter sports are high priorities on many children's Christmas wish lists.
Now mom and dad have a large Christmas gift as well. We have doubled the children's fitness tax credit to $1,000 and made it refundable. In addition, families in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex will be able to claim the new family tax cut of income-splitting savings of up to $2,000 a year. They will receive the enhanced universal child care benefit of almost $2,000 for each child under the age of six and $720 for those aged six to 17. They can also start saving receipts for the extra $1,000 per child in increased child care expense deductions.
The Conservative government is about giving to Canadians. The opposition says that it will take it away. Now, that is not very Christmaslike.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and pleasure for me to illustrate to this House my party's support for Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act.
First, I wish to express not only my appreciation but that of the farmers in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, and I believe the large majority of farmers across Canada, to the Minister of Agriculture for his foresight and action in bringing this bill forward and the work that the parliamentary secretary has done to get the bill to committee. I also want to thank the committee, which has worked hard to get the bill to the form it is in today, so that we can move the industry of agriculture forward.
At one time or another, all of us have read the sign “If you ate today, thank a farmer”. In fact, I have a few of those in my office. I have one around the licence plate of one of my vehicles. It is an important sign as a consumer, farmer, dairy farmer and cash cropper. It raises the importance of not only what agriculture is but the importance of food.
As parliamentarians we need to do more than talk. We need to express more than just saying “thanks”. I need to ensure that farmers, and the industry as a whole, have the support of this effective legislation that is before us.
Before I focus on the main element of the bill, I would like to address the amendments that have been proposed by opposition members. If members can imagine, there are 56 amendments on the order paper, which would meet their objective to gut the bill and take away its effectiveness.
I will not, and my party will not, support those of types of motions. In fact, I urge everyone with a level head on their shoulders not to support the amendments, and move forward and adopt this great bill. Should we start to approve the gutting of the bill, it would turn the clock back in agriculture about 25 years. We are not prepared for that and I do not believe the country is prepared for that.
Bill C-18 proposes broad controls to ensure the safety of Canada's agriculture inputs. It would allow the licence and registration of fertilizer and animal feed operators, and facilities that import and sell products across provincial and international borders. That is in addition to the current system, which registers feed and fertilizer individually, product by product. However, licencing and registering facilities and operators is a more effective and timely method to verify that agriculture products meet, and surpass in many cases, Canada's stringent safety rules and other standards.
The bill is also important because we need to ensure that we align ourselves with our major trading partners and help our feed, seed and fertilizer industries maintain access to those markets, especially with our closest neighbour, the United States.
For the information of members, exports in the agriculture industry range up to 85% of what we grow. That is an incredibly high number. It means that one in eight jobs in this country is related to the agriculture industry. The agricultural growth act proposes to keep these jobs safe and secure, but that can only be done through modernizing our current antiquated legislation and by improving Canadian access to the latest farming technology.
Exports are part of the solution, but what we grow here is the other part. Members may recall that during the last Parliament, Motion No. 460 was debated. It read:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
I was glad that the motion was adopted by the House, but I did not get help from the NDP, which I find strange. It is clear that it does not support the idea, but do members know who does support it? Farmers. Who is fulfilling the promise to farmers? Our Conservative government.
During the 2011 federal election, the Conservative Party platform said:
Like other businesspeople, Canadian farmers want access to the latest innovations, to succeed in the global economy. Unfortunately, long and burdensome approval processes imposed by the federal government are preventing Canadian farmers from obtaining the best fertilizers, pesticides, and veterinary drugs available on the market. We will revise current approval processes to allow for international equivalencies in such products. We will eliminate needless duplication, while protecting our national sovereignty and maintaining the highest safety standards.
What did the stakeholders tell us about this at committee? The president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers, for example, said in October 2014:
...allowing the CFIA the opportunity to use data that is sourced externally to Canada, not having to be reproduced, and to use data that is from a country that is considered to be equivalent to the standards in Canada is, I think, a significant improvement in terms of allowing the CFIA the freedom to operate, and reducing that administrative burden of recreating data that would be already acceptable in terms of identifying the safety and the ability to use that product in Canada.
Our bill would do this. Indeed, we have such a strong belief in this idea that clauses 56, 67, 77, and 96 of Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act, would implement this idea. The amendments proposed in Bill C-18 would provide the CFIA with stronger tools to fulfill its mandate to protect Canada's plant and animal resource base. The changes would provide additional reassurance that imported agricultural products meet Canadian requirements. Those are strict requirements. Bill C-18 would be part of our government's strong agricultural agenda—and I am not alone in seeing Bill C-18 as a key milestone for Canada's agriculture sector.
The Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and the Canadian Horticultural Council are only a few of the many agricultural organizations anxiously waiting for the proposed legislation.
New, stronger border controls for agricultural products are urgently needed. Bill C-18 would respond to that. It would give inspectors from the CFIA the authority to have important shipments of feeds, fertilizers, or seeds that do not meet legal requirements to be ordered out of Canada. That would be similar to the current treatment of imported plants and animals that do not meet those requirements now.
Canadian farmers would benefit because they would be competing on a level playing field with their international counterparts. That is so important because Canadian consumers would benefit from a strengthened food safety regime.
To be clear, the CFIA already takes action to seize illegal animal feeds, seeds, fertilizers, and related products. Bill C-18, however, would propose to update that as we do this.
In some cases, under the current process, seizure of illegal products is followed by lengthy and costly court proceedings and, at that time, Canada must pay to dispose of those illegal products. Members can see that being able to order the products out of the country becomes a much more efficient and a much more practical procedure.
At the same time, Bill C-18 would give CFIA inspectors the ability to allow the importer to fix the problem at the border, if there are no safety concerns and if the inspector can be certain that the issue would be addressed.
It has been an honour and privilege for me to make this presentation on Bill C-18 on behalf of our government and I look forward to addressing any of the questions or comments that may come forward.
Mr. Speaker, it is an opportunity and a pleasure to speak tonight on CETA. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, and I look forward to hearing his intervention, following mine.
As chairman of the agriculture committee, I want to first thank all the members of all parties for their interventions and the work that was put into coming forward with the report on the economic trade agreement with Europe.
The historic agreement with Canada and Europe came about because there had been an incredible amount of consultation with farmers, which I am pleased to say has been my life occupation. When we talk about dairy, I lived that for a few decades. Thankfully, I still have the opportunity to be in farming by having someone to help manage it.
What we did as a government was make sure that we had a full impact, whether it was with farmers or processors. I guess we can talk about all the stakeholders. We did that because we wanted to make sure that when we got to the negotiating table, we had the support and the concerns of each and every one of those stakeholders.
We are at the stage now where we have the report. I am pleased to say that we have the committee's recommendations, and our government supports those. Basically there are five. It recommends that we approve the agreement to expedite the economic benefits it would bring to Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector; that we continue our strong defence of supply management, which seems to have captured a lot of the discussion here tonight; that we leverage this agreement to harmonize approvals for new agriculture and agri-food technologies; that we work with industry to protect maple products from unfair competition from substitutes in the EU; and that we continue to pursue additional comprehensive trade agreements. That last one is key to what our agriculture and agri-food industry wants us to do.
This, without a doubt, is one of the most exciting times to be in agriculture. This is an exciting time for farmers and processors. It is an exciting time for those in the agri-food industry. It is because of the 24 agreements with 43 countries that have been negotiated and finalized. What it means to our producers and our industry is that we have opened opportunities. We can produce and sell into markets and invest in our technology and innovation so that our industry looks forward.
I talk to the young farmers and the farmers who are coming along in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex and Southwestern Ontario.
I am very fortunate to represent my riding, which is not unlike that of my colleague across the way from Pontiac. We talked earlier today, and we have similar ridings, very rural and agricultural with small towns, which means small family-oriented businesses. There is a diversity of livestock, supply management, grains and oil seeds as well as horticulture and greenhouses across my riding. There is incredible diversity, and each and every one of these businesses sees the opportunities in this trade agreement.
However, we are hearing from the other side: what about supply management? It is sort of an interesting comment, because everybody has their quotes, but for supply management, we must look in terms of the amount of imports that would come from this agreement, which I believe is around some 17,000 tonnes for cheeses.
Canadian cheeses are so popular. In fact, during the debates and witness testimonies in committee, we had a cheese producer from Quebec come in with some samples of cheese. I have to say that it was incredible cheese. The owner of the company commented that she did not have a concern with the agreement and actually saw an opportunity to market her product. She saw an opportunity to grow the market for these great cheeses.
We love cheese in Canada. The growth in cheese consumption in Canada is somewhere in the range of 8,000 tonnes per year. It seems to me that, when I listened to those producers and processors, they were saying that they have an opportunity and wondered why they could not meet that demand domestically in Canada. Those of us who are in the dairy industry and understand it know that it is true entrepreneurism. Those entrepreneurs think that this is a challenge and an opportunity.
When I talk to the young farmers in my riding, they are excited. The industry of agriculture is not unlike any other industry, such as high technology, and there is innovation and opportunity. This agreement talks about all of that. It talks about our farming generation that wants opportunity. The members of this generation want us to give them access to markets and then let them go.
Will they be able to provide hormone-free beef? Give them the opportunity and they will. Will there be processing plants to deal with the pork? We have had those conversations with the member from Manitoba, and we respect the concerns in Manitoba for that growth. However, we have opportunities in Alberta, where they want to build or expand a plant to process hormone-free beef. Why? It is because this agreement gives them the opportunity to sell it in a new market.
In closing, with almost half of Canada's total agriculture production exported, we have potential for growth in the sector, which lies in its ability to expand its markets abroad, making market access a key priority for this great industry that I am involved in along with many others across the country.
I ask the NDP in particular to stand and support this agreement, because not only will it be good across Canada, but it will actually also be good for those in Quebec the members keep taking about and are concerned it will harm. It will not. It is good for Canadian agriculture.
It being Wednesday, we will now have the singing of the national anthem, led by the hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.
[Members sang the national anthem]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about one of the historic agreements that Canada has embarked upon and what it means in the creation of jobs and prosperity, not only for the individuals in Canadian businesses but for individuals and their families as well.
I am pleased to talk about the Canada-Korea free trade agreement and the effects it will have on our economy.
My riding is Lambton—Kent—Middlesex in southwestern Ontario, so I am likely going to focus a little more on the particular area of southwestern Ontario. However, in Ontario in general, Ontario's exports to South Korea were an average of about $516 million. When this agreement comes into force, Ontario's key exporters and providers will see a significant amount of new opportunities. Exporters to South Korea will benefit not only from markets that open, but from non-tariff provisions as well. These provisions will ease regulatory barriers, reinforce intellectual property rights and make open, transparent rules for market access.
Today, colleagues will be speaking, and from what I understand, we are going to see consent to support the agreement, which is good.
I want to also direct my comments and appreciation for the Minister of International Trade, who spends so much time not only travelling but with his colleagues across the world to make agreements like these come into place. In this case it is South Korea.
A little while ago we heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade speak. He spoke in depth about the trade and benefits that would be seen, not only by Canada but also the reciprocal benefits for South Korea. He spoke with compassion that comes with the history of why Canada and South Korea were able to make such a strong agreement that would give Canada, in some cases, such preferential treatment.
We have talked about the Korean war and its effects on Canadians. Because of our government wanting to recognize that significant conflict, these tributes have been made across Canada to recognize our veterans who died in that conflict.
This agreement will not only improve market access, but it will also look at the interests of Ontario in many areas. We think about agriculture, minerals and metals, but in many cases we do not think about aerospace, medical devices and clean technology. We are a leader in the environmental aspect of clean technology. We have food manufacturing, information, communications technology and life sciences. Canada and Ontario are leaders in these areas. It will also improve access to professional services with Ontario, with greater and more predictable access to a diverse South Korean market.
The agreement would also provide predictable and non-discriminatory rules for our investors and ensure that investments benefit from greater protection in the South Korean market. Suppliers from Ontario would also benefit from preferential access to procurement by South Korean central government agencies for contracts that would be valued above $100,000.
There will be strong provisions in the agreement, such as on non-tariff measures. That is a critical point. When we talk about developing trade agreements, we need to talk about effective dispute settlement provisions for non-tariff measures.
As was said earlier, particularly by the parliamentary secretary, the benefits for Canada in terms of those dispute settlement provisions in this agreement will give strong reference to Canada, should those issues ever arise. We often look at how that would work for Canada in relation to the examples of Europe and the United States. What we have is a stronger agreement with South Korea than even Europe or the United States have. That is not in all areas, but they are comparable, and in some areas we are preferred.
Let us talk a bit about the industrial goods sector, which accounts for about 12% of Ontario's GDP. It affects about 525,000 workers in Ontario. Once this agreement is in place, 95% of tariffs on industrial products will immediately go away. This is going to be a huge benefit to Ontario and to the industrial sector. Unlike in the United States, where they will go in three to five or 10 years, the majority of ours will go right at the start.
In terms of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, most of us in this House recognize the name Jayson Myers, who is its representative. He said:
Our Free Trade Agreement with South Korea is...a first step in gaining more open access for Canadian exports.... this agreement should make Canada an even more attractive destination for investors and manufacturers, create jobs and opportunities for Canadians and level the playing field for Canadian businesses making them more competitive on the global stage.
I want to also touch a bit, as others have, on the automotive sector, which will benefit from this agreement. It looks at going beyond the traditional North American markets and reaching into South Korea. It will provide a level playing field for competition for our auto industry. In fact, in terms of this agreement, Canada got preferential treatment over the EU and the United States, particularly around accelerated dispute settlements. Our agreement between Canada and the South Korea government will have an expedited dispute settlement agreement provision.
I want to get to an area that is close to my heart, and that is agriculture and the processing part of agriculture. As we know, the agriculture and food processing industry is a significant driver in Ontario, with some $44 billion in GDP generated by that industry alone. Almost one-third of that $44 billion comes from agriculture and food processing. As well, the total agriculture-agrifood system, which includes primary agriculture, processing, food services, retail, and wholesale accounts for almost 12% of jobs in Ontario.
Since the implementation of Korea's free trade agreements with the U.S. and EU, Canada's share has dropped significantly, which is the other reason this agreement is so important to get into place now. This agreement will eliminate tariffs, in whole or in part, on 86% of current agricultural exports. This duty-free access will give Canadian products, particularly beef and pork, preferential access to the South Korean market.
We know that there are other products in Ontario, and those are our great wines. This will take away that 15% tariff on our ice wine, something that is unique. The 20% tariff on Canadian rye whisky will also disappear. Spirits Canada has been very supportive of that.
We are looking forward to getting the agreement signed by January, because it is not only good for Canadians as a whole but is good for Ontario and Lambton--Kent--Middlesex.
Mr. Speaker, it was an honour and a pleasure for me to be on the international trade committee for two years while we were going through the negotiations.
Agriculture in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is one of many small businesses in my riding, but it is the main industry. With respect to the trade agreements that have been made, I have always believed that agriculture forms the foundation because we want safe, secure food in our country and then we build on that.
Could the minister clarify the significance of what this trade agreement will mean to pork and beef producers in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex? They are some of the best in the country. We have the greatest around the world. What will the impact be on their industries as a result of this agreement?
Mr. Speaker, fall fairs are occurring in my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex and across Canada.
These fairs draw communities together and provide the opportunity for both children and adults not only to celebrate agriculture, but also their communities, the backbone of our country.
I am particularly impressed by the young people who put their names forward to act as ambassadors not only for their fair, but also for their community and the businesses in it. Each and every one of the contestants I have met so far show the qualities to be leaders throughout their life.
I extend my best wishes to all the young people who participate in the Fair Ambassador competitions. Each ambassador for their regional fair then goes on to compete for the Ontario Ambassador. Many times that title has been brought home to Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.
Fall fairs are not done yet, and I look forward to many more before the snow flies.
Mr. Speaker, my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is an agricultural riding. I met with my constituents and made part of the announcement when Bill C-18 was tabled. I have had the opportunity to talk to the commodity, fertilizer and livestock people because of their involvement in the advanced payment component of the bill. Of the farm organizations, only one has not yet come on side.
Agriculture in Ontario has had some blips in the beef and pork sectors, which we know about, but one should never take the notion that agriculture is not a significant industry for our economy.
How much dialogue has the member had with the farmers, the commodity people,and the organizations in his riding, so we can get this, in a positive attitude, to our committee?
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to speak in the House as a representative of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, particularly today as we speak in support of Bill C-13, the protecting Canadians from online crime act. As we have heard today from all speakers, it addresses the serious criminal behaviour associated with cyberbullying.
This is an issue that affects Canadians across the country, whether in small communities, like mine, or in large cities, in remote areas, or in urban areas. It is an issue of grave concern to all of us. For Barb and me, who are parents and grandparents, as aunts and uncles, as parliamentarians and as Canadians, we take this for what the act talks about.
We have all heard of the tragic results of cyberbullying. My colleagues who spoke mentioned a number of individuals who have been captured and caught in the effects of cyberbullying. There are stories of children so distraught that they take their own lives because they can no longer handle the barrage of taunts, threats, and humiliation that is absolutely heartbreaking to them and everyone around them.
We have the opportunity to take decisive action now and try to prevent, as much as we can, future tragedies. The legislation before us is one that would move us ahead with reforms to our laws to deter the effects and types of destructive behaviour. Certainly, having stronger penalties in place would act as a strong deterrent to those who would post intimate pictures of someone online without their consent. It is also critical, and we have heard a lot about that today, that every possible step be taken to prevent bullying in all its forms.
In my time today, I want to talk about our government, and specifically Public Safety Canada, which is prepared to establish a number of prevention, education, and awareness activities. As the lead federal department on the issue of cyberbullying, Public Safety Canada is tackling this form of intimidation. This includes supporting programs that work to change behaviours among young people to prevent bullying of all types, whether online or in person.
For example, our government is currently supporting the development of a number of school-based projects to prevent bullying as part of the $10 million that was committed in 2012 toward new crime prevention projects to address this and other priority issues such as preventing violence among at-risk youth and offending among urban aboriginal youth. Education and awareness are also critical to addressing this harmful and extreme behaviour. We are working on a number of initiatives to encourage youth. We need youth themselves to speak up and to let adults know what is happening.
Our government supports the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which operates Cybertip.ca, an initiative that started in 2002, and NeedHelpNow.ca. These are websites that Canadians can use to report online sexual exploitation of children and to seek help for exploitation resulting from the sharing of sexual images.
In addition, the RCMP Centre for Youth Crime Prevention offers resources such as fact sheets, lesson plans, and interactive learning tools to youth, parents, police officers, and educators on issues such as bullying and cyberbullying. We also talk about cyberbullying during Cyber Security Awareness Month, which takes place each October.
The focus of Public Safety Canada’s Get Cyber Safe campaign is to educate Canadians of all ages on the simple steps they can take to protect themselves from people who want to do harm to them online, or for things like identity theft, fraud, and computer viruses.
Part of helping our people stay safe online includes making them aware of the dangers of cyberbullying and what they can do to stop it. As part of our efforts in this regard, Public Safety Canada launched a national public awareness safety campaign called “Stop Hating Online”, in January 2014. It does a number of things. It provides information to youth and their parents about the potential serious legal consequences around cyberbullying and the distribution of intimate images without consent.
It also informs Canadian adults that they have a role to play in the prevention and reporting of cyberbullying and raises awareness among young Canadians regarding the types of behaviours that constitute cyberbullying and the impacts of that on people. We want to help them understand that they can be more than a bystander, and give them information on how and when they can stand up to cyberbullying.
We want to make sure that we go beyond that. In order to reach as many people as possible, we want to make sure that we cover both adults and youth. Our government wants to work closely with the private sector and other government partners to deliver the campaign using a wide variety of media, awareness activities, but with a particular focus on using social media to spread the word and encourage Canadians.
I hope that members of the House were able to see some of the ads played on national TV networks between January and March. The idea was aimed at parents and youth, the latter being a little more edgy and dynamic to capture the attention of our tech-savvy youth. Both ads illustrated how easy it is for kids to share intimate images of each other through mobile phones and social media, often without much thought. Both ads end with a clear and serious message: that sharing intimate messages and images without consent is not only wrong, it is also illegal—something we are working toward with the legislation before us.
Because the younger generation is not necessarily watching the evening news, the same ads were played online and at movie theatres. The ads drove people to a comprehensive website called “Stop Hating Online”, which provides concrete tools and tips for youth, parents, educators, and all those concerned about cyberbullying. The campaign uses social media like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to reach out to youth.
This is where we are seeing a significant engagement and positive feedback from youth and parents who are embracing this campaign and telling us clearly that they are not going to accept this destructive behaviour for themselves, their families, or their friends.
In fact, Facebook Canada reported that interest and engagement is much higher than average for the Stop Hating Online initiative. It has also had over one million views of the youth-oriented ad on YouTube since its launch. Facebook accounts for more than 60,000 times its usual hits. We are saying that when we reach out across all media and all types of contacts, it is starting to hit home. As we watch television news and listen to reports of those who have been caught in this, they need to understand the severity of it.
For obvious reasons, as a proud parent and grandparent, I would ask members of the House to support Bill C-13.
Mr. Speaker, the remarks by the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex were interesting, as I would expect coming from a government member supporting this legislation.
I want to ask a question on the changes the bill would make to the feed and fertilizer components. I have enjoyed sitting on the agriculture committee with the member, but I want to ask if there would be any protection for producers with proposed changes to the fertilizer act. The member and I have both sat on that committee, so we know that potash companies and fertilizer companies have joined together around the world in the past and have basically managed supply, or actually shortened supply, to increase the price of fertilizer to the farm community. I am wondering if there is any protection in the bill for producers, not just fertilizer companies. Is there any cost protection in the bill that would protect farmers from excessive pricing by potash and fertilizer companies as they get together around the world and shorten supply, to the disadvantage of producers?
Before I go to questions and comments, I would like to remind all hon. members that if it is their intention to split their time, they ought to announce it at the beginning of their speeches rather than at the end. If this member had gone on for about another 10 seconds, he would have been over the 10-minute limit, which would have precluded his colleague from Lambton—Kent—Middlesex from the opportunity to participate in this debate. I am sure that was not his intention.
We will go to questions and comments. The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak again today, this time about Bill C-504. I think everyone in the House appreciates that the member has brought forward an interesting bill that has the best of intentions.
All of us have the utmost respect and appreciation for first responders in this country, particularly volunteer firefighters. These are individuals who risk their own safety to save lives, property, and their own communities. We owe them much.
However, what sometimes looks good on paper in reality does not always meet what is needed and what it was meant to fulfill. Unfortunately, this bill fits into that category.
One of the first things we should consider is who we are trying to help. The bill seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to protect volunteer firefighters from negative repercussions from their employers when they take time off from their work to go and fight a fire or deal with another emergency in their community.
As we all know, the Canada Labour Code applies only to federally regulated industries. Of the 85,000 volunteer firefighters in this country, it is estimated that only around 4,420 work in federally regulated industries. In other words, this legislation would only apply to about 5% of all volunteer firefighters in Canada.
Imagine for a minute that two best friends are both volunteer firefighters. They live across the street from each other. One works in a federally regulated industry, but the other is one of the 95% of volunteer firefighters who do not. They both answer an emergency call. They both leave their work. They both fight the fire. They both risk their safety to help others.
If this law were to be put into place, do members think that they would each be treated differently when they got back to work? Do members think that they might get fired by their manager for leaving work to help put out a fire that might in fact be at his house, his neighbours' house, or one of their businesses? No. In fact, since 1985, the labour program has not received any complaints of a reprisal related to volunteer firefighter duties. There has not been one.
This is one of the severe shortcomings of the hon. member's presentations in support of this bill. She has not provided any examples of a situation in which a volunteer firefighter has been penalized by his or her employer for going out and fighting a fire. That is quite significant.
An notional argument has been made that some of the fire department heads have said that the lack of this legislation inhibits their ability to recruit volunteers. However, a report by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs indicated that a primary reason they have difficulty recruiting local volunteer firefighters is that potential volunteers do not work close enough to the area they live in to respond to an emergency, not that they fear a reprisal from their employer.
I can speak to that in terms of distance and length. In my municipality of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, there are number of volunteers and small villages, and many of those in rural areas work in larger urban areas. The comment I just made about having access for immediate response becomes a much larger issue.
Furthermore, in a sample of more than 3,000 collective agreements across the country, the issue of voluntary firefighters is only mentioned in two of them. The question then is whether this is really a problem. Is it really an issue that needs legislation? Do we really want to change a process that has been working well for so many years? Do we really want to tell the employers of the 5% of volunteer firefighters and the volunteer firefighters themselves that we are going to give them some more forms to fill out and processes that they will have to follow just to do something that really already works well?
It seems the New Democrats wish to create laws for the sake of creating laws, but we respectfully disagree with this approach. So why do we not do something that will help not only the 5% of the volunteer firefighters under Canadian labour law, but also do something for all of them? Of course the hon. member knows that this has already happened.
In budget 2011, our Conservative Government of Canada brought in the volunteer firefighters tax credit. It is available to volunteer firefighters who provide at least 200 hours of eligible services per calendar year. This is an example of the real, fair application for all volunteer firefighters, with tangible results all the way across Canada. In 2011, more than 37,000 Canadian volunteer firefighters took advantage of this tax provision. It put about $450 back into the pockets and the hands of volunteer firefighters who helped their communities with fires or deal with other emergencies. This is Canada's way of thanking a group of people who volunteer to carry out dangerous work on our behalf.
We should keep in mind that this is not a job that everybody can or, in fact, wants to do. It requires a level of physical strength as well as courage. These are a special breed of individuals who deserve our deepest appreciation for what they do. Who really appreciates these people the most? It is the folks in our communities, not only their neighbours but also the people who own the pizza parlour or the barber shop, or the business person who owns a factory, or the local farmer. All of them are employers and all of them benefit from the services that these volunteers provide.
It is well worth noting that in my business as a farmer, I have had to call on the fire department to come to a situation. I also noticed, when I was mayor of our municipality and involved in municipal work for a number of years, that not only do we have volunteers who are working for businesses, we also have a number of business owners who are volunteer firefighters, and in some cases the owners and the employees all drop their work and come to do their duty as volunteer firefighters. So, whether or not they are employees, all of them benefit from the services these volunteers provide. All of them want to have volunteer firefighters in their communities and they also want to have them as part of their business protection. They quite rightly see it as a good investment.
There are over 3,000 volunteer fire departments in Canada, and the majority of them, as in my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, are in small and medium-sized communities. In many cases, the volunteer firefighters provide the only emergency services in the area. They are relied on to act quickly to respond to fires and to other emergencies.
In these communities, business people recognize the valuable contributions of these volunteers, and they continue to accommodate them without the need for additional legislation. Volunteer firefighters are part of every community in this great country of Canada, and their employers know that they provide a unique and an invaluable service that protects property and yes, in some cases, saves lives. The goodwill and co-operative spirit between volunteers and their employers have existed for many years, and we expect that to continue for many years to come.
In short, I do not agree with the NDP that we should try to fix something that is not broken. So we on this side will not be able to support this proposal.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure for me to stand in this great place and talk about the budget in economic action plan 2014.
When I joined and became a part of this House, times were good. In those times, we took the good times and the surpluses and we paid down the debt.
I come from a rural municipality called Lambton—Kent—Middlesex. My largest urban area is made up of 14,000 people. The next one, at the other end of the riding, has somewhere around 12,500. This means that Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is made up of small towns and small businesses, dominated by agriculture.
One of the things I know about the businesses in the riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is that small businesses go into debt from time to time. I also know from experience, coming from a small business myself, that when we have debt, we work and build a business plan around it so that we can pay the deficit down to get that debt under control. That way, there is money left to spend on our families, to grow our businesses, and to be part of the community.
Today, it is again my pleasure to rise to speak on budget 2014, which takes the same principles that were here when I had the honour of being elected to this place in 2006. Now, we are here in 2014, getting ourselves back to the position that we were in. We will get there in another year.
Having a surplus and our deficit paid down would come with great joy to me, the businesspeople, the communities, and the families in my riding. When the time of a surplus comes, we will take some of that money and pay down our debt once again. Budget 2014 would have many benefits for the people of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex this year.
When we look at how business stands, we look at how a country stands. This year, Canada went from sixth place to second place in the ranking that now says that this is the second-best place in the world to do business. That does not just happen because somebody says that we have a good budget or because we have come out of the recession stronger than anyone else. It comes about because of determination and because we have a government that has the foresight, the focus, and the goal ahead of it to create an environment for businesses in which they continue to grow and sustain themselves.
It is not only important that we attract businesses into our communities and into our country. It is just as important, if not more important, that we keep our businesses, and that the businesses within our communities have the ability and the financial goal and vision ahead of them, along with the business plans and markets so that they will stay and grow. I say that because when they stay and grow in communities like mine, that means that they are the employer, and employers hire people. When we have strong and vibrant businesses within our community, that means jobs.
When we look at budget 2014 and the economic action plans of 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and beyond, they were about creating a strong, viable community and a country with strong opportunities for our businesses and for our families.
This would be the third consecutive year where we as a government would spend less of Canadians' money than we did the year before. As a result, this year's deficit would be less than last year's. The direct program spending has fallen for three consecutive years. For the first time in decades, and in 2012–13, it was over $5 billion lower than it was in 2009–10.
Specifically, action plan 2014 announced that the deficit is expected to decline to $2.9 billion in 2014–15. Then, in 2015–16, we would have a budget surplus of $6 billion, as we have continually talked about through our Minister of Finance, who is, by the way, recognized around the world as one of those solid finance ministers. That would take in, as any budget does, certain dollars for risk. As Canada is large and diverse with areas that have disasters, as we noticed last year, we need to have an adjustment for risk, and we have put in $3 billion for that.
The key issue is how we have been able to do that, and that sort of runs contrary to the opinion on the other side. We have been able to do this while keeping taxes low. Over the last eight years, not only have we kept taxes low, but we have also reduced them 160 times, which relates to a figure that puts Canada in the lowest tax regime in 50 years. I know the minister is looking at me in astonishment, but that was at the time of Prime Minister Diefenbaker. So we are back to that tradition of having those low taxes.
In fact, as I mentioned, my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is made up of small businesses, agriculture, and middle-income families. The majority of our families are hard-working people. They get up every day, go to work, pay their taxes, and when they come home they become part of their community, which they get involved in. We have been able to leave $3,400 in their pockets, which we have not collected. We did not collect it and say that we would send them back a cheque. No; we just did not collect it.
I remember when we were talking about removing or lowering the GST. We did not say that we would remove it; the opposition party said they were going to but never did. However, we lowered the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%, and I remember one of the debates where the opposition said that all that meant was that we would save a dollar or something on a pair of jeans or a few cents here and there. I will tell members what it meant to my constituents in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.
One percent put $18 million back in the pockets of the people in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex. Now, I am not a great mathematician, but 2% left $36 million. That was accomplished by taking the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%.
Also, we have a particular interest within this budget for local municipalities, such as my riding. I have a bit of a unique riding because I have one single tier. I have two county ridings and 14 lower tier municipalities. I was privileged and honoured for a number of years to have been the mayor of Middlesex Centre and of Lobo Township before that. However, the $21.8 billion in gas tax refunds has now been indexed, which means it is $1.8 billion in payments for municipalities. That is secure funding for municipalities for their capital projects.
I had a lot of things I wanted to say, but I will wrap it up.
One of the things I want to talk about is the General Dynamics Land Systems announcement we made a week ago in London, which is just outside of my riding but the impact affects us. This was a multi-billion dollar announcement. It is the largest new program in Canada's history. It is not in my riding, but I can say that the small businesses in my riding now are so excited. Small businesses know that they have the opportunity to compete and be there.
Our commitments to Canada's economy and prosperity for the residents of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is no different than across the country, and we will continue to work to balance this budget and to work hard for Canadians in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I have a question on middle income families for my colleague.
Statistics Canada just released the figures on middle income families, noting that our government has actually reduced the taxes by $3,400 for a family of four. Those families of four are what I would call “average families” in my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, families like mine. I have three children. We have nine grandchildren and they are the pride of our life.
Statistics Canada has just stated that the net worth of Canadian families has gone up 45% since 2005, and almost 80% since 1999, but with the largest increase between 2005 and 2012 in the middle income bracket.
I wonder if my colleague has a comment about our work with the middle class.
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to take the time that you have generously given to me to say two words that we do not hear often enough in this chamber: “thank you”.
It is with humility that I would like to thank the members of Parliament and the House of Commons staff for all their kind words of encouragement over the past few weeks and months.
I wish to say a very special thank you to the members for Barrie, Brant, Burlington, Don Valley East, Kitchener—Conestoga—right here behind me—Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Mississauga South, Okanagan—Shuswap, Sarnia—Lambton, my seatmate, Saskatoon—Humboldt, Scarborough Centre, Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, Vancouver South, Willowdale, and Winnipeg South Centre, and to the very dedicated vice-chair of the veterans affairs committee for carrying my duty in this chamber and in committee.
Also, thank you to the citizens of Orleans and my friends and family for their visits, their encouraging words and their prayers. Their support and assistance has helped me to feel better and to get better. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Even in the most difficult times, I made an effort to be in this House and to vote, as it is our duty to do. Voting is a fundamental Canadian right. It is a symbol of our identity. It is the oxygen that keeps our democracy alive.
In many countries, much blood has been spilled and many diplomatic efforts have been made to establish democracy and the right to vote. It is our way of saying yes or saying no to the type of society that we want to build. Canada is a model of modern democracy around the world.
Developing democracies call on Canadians when they want to ensure that their elections are free and fair. Our sense of duty and our expertise give us international credibility in election monitoring.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency, with the assistance of CANADEM, deployed more than 800 Canadian election observers in bilateral missions and 30 multilateral missions in more than 20 countries.
These observers went to Haiti, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Senegal, and many other nations.
Because I participated in one of these missions, I have a keen interest in this subject.
In 2004, I was assigned by CANADEM to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to co-chair a team of international observers during the rerun of the second round of the presidential elections in Ukraine. The other co-chair was a Swiss engineer. We were sent to Dnipropetrovsk.
It was an exhilarating experience. I was able to see first-hand that Canada is synonymous with democracy and freedom. However, that which does not evolve is doomed to disappear. We can continue to be proud. We can continue to improve things.
We will continue to be a model of democracy around the world only if we allow democracy to evolve. The separation of powers is a basic component of our system.
Consistent with separating the administration of the law and its enforcement, the fair elections act proposes that the commissioner be under the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In a hockey game, would we ask the owner of the Ottawa Senators to referee a game between the Sens and the Canadiens?
Our Minister of State for Democratic Reform said it well: the referee should not be wearing a team jersey.
Canada's government, which I support in this House, proposes that greater independence be given to the person with the power to conduct investigations and enforce the law.
The fair elections act will make our legislation more stringent, clearer and easier to follow.
It would protect Canadian voters from fraudulent and misleading calls by setting up a mandatory public registry. We want to establish a new public registry for mass calling.
Telephone service providers involved in voter contact calling services, and any individual or group that uses these providers would have to register with the CRTC.
We also propose that the fines for preventing or trying to prevent someone from voting be 10 times higher. Under this legislation, anyone convicted of impersonating an election official would face a jail term. These penalties would be more severe for individuals who deceive people out of their votes.
According to the Neufeld report, identity vouching procedures are complicated and have a 25% error rate. That is one in four. This problem is threatening our democracy, and we must take action, and so we propose to put an end to vouching.
The fair elections act would also require Elections Canada to tell Canadians which pieces of identification will be accepted at the polling station so that they know what to bring with them.
Thirty-nine different pieces of ID can be used to prove a voter's identity.
In addition, the voter information card would no longer be considered valid identification.
Elections Canada must also inform voters which pieces of ID are valid and would be accepted at the polling station. These cards contain incorrect information one out of six times.
The show Infoman highlighted the problems with voter information cards during a segment called the “Elections Canada two-for-one special”.
To prevent the more powerful elements in our society from drowning out citizens’ voices, we would ban the use of loans to sidestep donation regulations.
Some people have used unpaid loans to evade donation limits and make larger donations.
As elected representatives, we must stay clear of this type of pressure.
That is why we insist on standardized and transparent reporting for political loans.
In addition, candidates and political parties that have exceeded the ceiling on election expenses, would see their reimbursements reduced, and we would maintain a total ban on loans by unions and businesses.
I am pleased to say that Marc Mayrand, the current Chief Electoral Officer, lives in Orleans, as does his predecessor, Jean-Pierre Kingsley.
While Mr. Mayrand does not seem to support this brilliant bill produced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, his predecessor appears to. Mr. Kingsley gave it an A minus, indicating that it is a good bill.
When I received an A minus, I did not ask for a rewrite—
Mr. Speaker, this past week, I announced the second installment of our government's federal gas tax rebate to municipalities in my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex. More than $14.7 million go to support local infrastructure priorities. Also, area municipalities will receive more than $3.3 million from the Government of Canada's GST rebate program.
The rebate program has been extended, doubled and legislated as a permanent program, and it is now indexed at 2% per year starting in 2014. As well, the eligible project categories have been expanded to provide maximum flexibility for municipalities to focus on their infrastructure priorities.
Important infrastructure projects create jobs, promote growth and build strong, prosperous communities across Canada. I am proud to say the communities in my riding have shovels ready to get the job done.
Mr. Speaker, years from now my great grandchildren will learn in school of a historic European trade agreement that helped benefit Canada and continued to do so.
Opportunities are endless across the nation, and in my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, local businesses see this as an important opportunity to strengthen their consumer base in the European Union, and for some, domestically. For example, Cedarline Greenhouses of Dresden will benefit by having more markets for the quality products they grow.
Our government understands agriculture like no other. We stand by many diverse commodities to ensure that each has fair market access and support.
We have a Prime Minister who stands up for Canada and will not back down. The result is CETA, the greatest trade agreement since NAFTA, and an achievement all Canadians can be proud of.
The electoral district of Lambton--Kent--Middlesex (Ontario) has a population of 107,635 with 78,559 registered voters and 222 polling divisions.
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