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.
Mr. Speaker, while listening to the sensitivities, I was about to get up because the member for Mississauga—Streetsville twice uttered something much more serious than what my hon. friend across the way has suggested. However, if the hon. minister is sensitive to these particular statements, then I am sure she would like to take up the conversation with her friend from Mississauga—Streetsville.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to join in a debate that I find increasingly difficult to stay out of. The more I listen to some of the diversionary tactics being put forward by my Conservative colleagues as they try to obscure the depth and the breadth of the real substance of the issue that we are debating today, the more increasingly uncomfortable I get. They either do not get it or they are deliberately trying to avoid the reality of what they are doing today to undermine, sabotage and diminish our parliamentary democracy as we see it today.
I agree with my colleague from St. John's and also my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley who made the point that there is nothing untoward, nothing particularly unconstitutional about prorogation. However, when that legitimate parliamentary procedural tactic is abused in a systematic way, it undermines and diminishes the integrity of the parliamentary democracy that both sides of the House dedicate ourselves to.
Maybe the masterminds, the architects of their strategy, realize it, but I am not sure some of the backbenchers realize what a fragile construct we enjoy in our Westminster parliamentary democracy. It requires the two requisite parts to play their roles, to effectively debate and test the merits of legislation put before us. Our strict and rigid guidelines with which to do that are being systematically undermined as we speak because there is nothing normal about using prorogation to avoid being accountable to members of the House of Commons, and by extension to the people of Canada that those members of the House of Commons represent.
By the same reasoning it is completely an affront to democracy to bypass after prorogation the normal negotiations that often take place in order to put certain pieces of legislation of particular merit and virtue back where they were before prorogation.
What is happening today and what my colleague from St. John's was trying to point out is that the government is trying to do an end run on all of that. The Conservatives are trying to have it both ways. They prorogued Parliament to avoid accountability for the increasingly embarrassing Senate scandals. They delayed for an extra six weeks because they said they needed more time to craft a new legislative agenda for the fall session. That is what they told the general public. Yet when we have taken this extra six weeks off so that they can presumably recalibrate their legislative agenda, the first item of business, Motion No. 2, would reinstate everything that happened before. Everything would start exactly where it left off as if prorogation never happened. The Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They should not be able to have it both ways. I would argue that it is an affront and it should offend the sensibilities of any member of Parliament who considers himself or herself a democrat.
The Senate scandals are perhaps deeper and more fundamental than we even realize. I am sure Conservative members are reeling with shock and horror at every revelation that comes forward. It now becomes apparent that the good senator currently at the eye of the hurricane is not going to go gently into that good night. In fact, he is going to go down kicking and screaming, and he fully intends to take a lot of people down with him.
The Conservatives have not done a very good job of avoiding the very reason that I believe they prorogued Parliament, but let us put it in context.
The whole idea of prorogation and a new Speech from the Throne is to put forward a new vision for where the government wants to take the country. A Speech from the Throne should not simply tweak existing programs or make minor alterations to what had already been under way. We did not hear anything of substance in the Speech from the Throne to deal with what I believe is the biggest problem that Canada has right now, and that is the fact that it has now become increasingly obvious and declared by the courts that the 2011 federal election was decided by widespread electoral fraud.
One would think that the ruling party, the government in power, would be concerned by this now that the courts have ruled that in 246 ridings, by their count and they are not finished their examination, there was widespread fraud that sought to undermine the democratic process and deny Canadians the right to cast their ballot in a free and fair election, free of intimidation, harassment and molestation. In fact, people systematically tried to deny Canadians the right to vote. That should horrify every person in this room. Yet the Speech from the Throne is silent on it and there is nothing in the legislative agenda to correct it in the 18 months or two years that we have before we go to the polls again in another federal election. We are just as vulnerable to those who would seek to defraud the electoral system and steal another federal election by cheating. It concerns me that not a single word in the Speech from the Throne deals with this, whether it is robocalls or widespread electoral fraud. As I have said, people should be horrified by this.
The Conservatives have made reference to the loophole loans bill. In fact, we used to call it the Mazda bill because it was the Conservative member for Mississauga—Streetsville who used his own Mazda dealership to loan himself a quarter of a million dollars to run his election campaign. Of course, when is a loan not a loan? If one never pays it back it is not really a loan, it is a gift or a donation. This is what gave cause to bring in some kind of a loophole bill to plug this loophole. We are not going to have any satisfaction in that either.
We have a problem. We have a serious democratic deficit. We have a democracy that is really only a facsimile of a democracy. I mean, our democracy today in 2013 reminds me of one of those California strawberries or those tomatoes from the supermarket that taste like cardboard. It looks like a tomato but it does not taste anything like a tomato. That is kind of what the public sees. They see us going through the motions of a democracy here, but in actual fact the people across the aisle with their logic that the end justifies the means in every single case have been sabotaging and undermining this fragile democratic structure that we call the Westminster parliamentary system in every way imaginable.
Going back to the widespread electoral fraud, one has to look to motive and opportunity I suppose any time one looks for who committed an offence. The courts have been very helpful to us, but failed to point out specifically, or could not say specifically, that it was the Conservative Party of Canada that orchestrated this widespread electoral fraud. However, the courts did say that it was the Conservative Party of Canada's CIMS database that was used to orchestrate this widespread electoral fraud. One looks to who would benefit from cheating at this level. I mean, why would all the NDP and Liberal voters be phoned in a riding and lied to that their polling station had moved? I do not think we would do that ourselves.
These are some of the concerns that I have as I listen to this debate about what is really red herrings and smoke screens. We are debating the relative merits and virtues of having a museum change its name, when the big picture here is that we have a democratic deficit that is severely problematic. I do not know how we can continue unless that is dealt with. Therefore, if one is going to prorogue Parliament and come back with a Speech from the Throne, one is either negligent or demonstrating wilful blindness if one does not talk about what I think is the most serious thing facing us today as members of Parliament.
I have mentioned the political loans bill, but I would also like to point out some of the things that are happening in Parliament today, never mind political loans and electoral fraud. There is the whole notion of omnibus bills. We are dealing with an omnibus bill now. Essentially this motion is omnibus by nature in that it affects however many pieces of legislation introduced in the 41st Parliament.
However, there are two things I would like to point out about what is problematic in the period of time leading up to the situation in which we find ourselves. This whole notion of omnibus bills is, by its very nature, undemocratic and has to be challenged. We have 60 or 70 pieces of legislation rolled into one with a few hours of debate and a few hours of committee hearings. Some of the things that happened within those omnibus bills are wide, sweeping and deserve a great deal of national attention and scrutiny. How much time did we really spend in the House of Commons on the issue of changing the age of retirement from 65 to 67? How much time were we allowed? How much time at committee could we call witnesses to ask them about the need to change the age of retirement to 67 years old?
There were pieces of legislation affected by these omnibus bills that had huge impacts on industrial sectors where not a word was spoken. It was by accident that we stumbled across one bill that was repealed and was called the construction fair wage and hours of work act. It set minimum wages in the construction industry. Then the same omnibus bill has changes to temporary foreign workers legislation where people can get a temporary foreign worker in 10 days. In one step, they would eliminate the minimum wage laws for construction workers to where people can pay them the provincial minimum wage, and in the second step they invite contractors to bring in temporary foreign workers within 10 days. How is a fair contractor in this country who hires construction workers at a living wage ever going to compete on another job if contractors can now pay a minimum wage on a federal construction project and bring in temporary foreign workers? These things would have come up if we had the opportunity to test the merits of their arguments with rigorous, robust debate as was intended by the very structure of the House of Commons.
Then these things go to committee stage where they also gerrymander the type of witnesses we can hear. Committees used to be the last bastion of some non-partisan co-operation, where we would leave our political baggage at the door and do what is right for the country. I have been a member of Parliament for awhile here. I was here when the Liberals had a majority government and I was the only NDP member on that committee. I used to move amendments to pieces of legislation and have them succeed. That sounds like pie in the sky today, it sounds like a fantasy.
Mr. Speaker, do you know how many amendments have been passed? You probably do, or the table can help us.
Not a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the entire 41st Parliament has been allowed. Does that mean the Conservatives have a monopoly on all good ideas? Does that mean they would not benefit from any suggestion from anyone? Amendments are being denied and declined on the basis of where they come from, not the merits of the language.
This is what I mean about undermining some of the most fundamental principles of our parliamentary democracy. It is almost absurd when we think about it. The Conservatives will not allow any controversial subjects to ever be debated anymore. We used to have some really interesting exchanges. Studies that I think elevated the standard of political discourse in the whole country occurred at parliamentary committees once upon a time, but not anymore. If we suggest a study that is any more challenging than pablum, we will not get it through. The Conservatives will deny it. They want to tie us up with busy work for 18 months, studying nothing and producing reports that go nowhere and gather dust. That is the state of the nation.
I am not proud of it and in fact I think we are wasting our time. In actual fact, our democracy is in tatters. We are getting these omnibus pieces of legislation so there is no scrutiny, no oversight, no due diligence, pieces of legislation flying past us. We hardly even get a chance to read them by the time this guy, the House leader for the Conservatives moves closure. He sometimes moves closure on the same day that he introduces legislation. There is nothing unconstitutional about time allocation or closure. It is permitted by our rules, but it is supposed to be the exception, not the rule. When I asked how many amendments were allowed into legislation, I could pose the same question about how many pieces of legislation had time allocation applied to them. The answer is easy: all of them, every single bill, every stage of every single bill. Time allocation and time allocation, it is absurd.
I would not have believed 10 years ago that this would be the state of the House of Commons and that our parliamentary democracy would have been so undermined, so eroded and so diminished that we find ourselves in this almost embarrassing situation. That is what I mean when I say we have a mere facsimile of a democracy. It is enough, perhaps, to fool an, unfortunately, quite unengaged public, but for those of us who are locked into this situation, it is depressing. I have talked about the parliamentary committees that used to be a last bastion for some semblance of co-operation. They, too, are gone.
The Conservatives seem to have the attitude that the winner takes it all. In actual fact, when a party wins a razor thin majority, with 39% of the popular vote, the system is such that there is an obligation to take into consideration some of the points of view put forward by the majority of Canadians who, quite frankly, did not vote for the Conservatives. They voted for the people on this side, and they are putting their ideas through their representatives to have them added to the mix and to make good legislation that is for the whole country. That is the way it is supposed to work. However, again, it sounds like some distant fantasy dream now, because I have not seen any evidence of that kind of responsibility whatsoever.
I have a real concern that there are fundamental changes going on in society. There is an agenda going on. There might be two parallel legislative agendas going on. One on the face of it and another, far more sinister, situation going on behind the scenes. I am concerned that the Conservatives have essentially launched a war on the middle class. I saw a bumper sticker the last time I was in Washington that said “at least the war on the middle class is going well”. The same could be applied to this country.
The Conservatives are consistently trying to undermine the influence of unions. There is going to be an attack on labour. They are running out of red meat issues and hot button issues that they can raise funds for their base with. I am surprised they gave away the gun registry and that they finally did do away with it because that was the real money-maker for them, was it not? They were fundraising on the gun registry for years. That has gone.
The Conservatives do not have the Wheat Board to raise funds on anymore, so how are they going to excite their base? They could pick on the public service pension plans, they could pick on unions and they could try to pit worker against worker. It is easy pickings. It is the last refuge of the scoundrel to start picking on the public service and blame workers' pensions for the deficit hole that they have dug for other reasons. We can almost predict that is coming down the pipe.
The Conservatives are going to declare war on what they call “legacy costs”. They have already done away with the minimum wage laws associated with construction workers, the largest employer and the largest industrial sector in the country. Now the Conservatives are going to pick on public servants and say that their pensions are too fat. They will get into the Sun Media newspaper chain and try to convince other working people that the public servants have big, fat pensions.
It is one of these mug's games that is offensive, but it is effective. I can almost guarantee that the Conservatives will be fundraising on that.
I would like to go back, if I can, to another element of what I believe is widespread electoral fraud and some of the examples. I have an example of one guy who phoned me during the federal election, Gerald McIvor, who is an aboriginal man who lives in my riding. He received a phone call on election day, telling him that his voting station had moved across town. He replied that it could not be across town as he and his wife had just voted right across the street. He could see the voting station from his window. They had just got back from voting, so the caller was wrong. He demanded to know who it was, but the caller refused to say and hung up.
This is the kind of thing that went on right across the country and nobody is talking about it. We have been waiting for legislation to fix this since God knows when. We would think that if the Speech from the Throne would create a new vision for Canada, there would at least be some recognition of the problem that took place in the last election, so we could go with some confidence into the next federal election, knowing that our forefathers went to war to fight for democracy and that it is still alive and well in our country.
I put it to the House that it is not. It is sick, it is tattered and it desperately needs attention.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues on all sides of the House before I get to my prepared remarks to wrap up. One of the great things about being a member of Parliament is the opportunities to learn on an ongoing basis. I want to thank my colleague from Québec who shared his personal experiences, as well as my colleague from Halifax West who, as we have mentioned, worked on committee before.
I personally have never had family members who have had to deal with this, but as I have gone through the learning process, it has been most educational. The purpose of what we are trying to do with this motion is to make sure we educate people and raise awareness, as has been mentioned. I want to thank the two members on the opposite side of the House for sharing their personal stories. They were very helpful.
I would also like to thank everyone who has spoken on Motion No. 230. Their inspiring words of support are very encouraging. I am glad to see that so many members recognize the dangers of anaphylaxis. When I began this process, I received a lot of support from various individuals and organizations. I would like to thank the hon. member for St. Catharines who first introduced the precursor to Motion No. 230 in the 39th Parliament.
I also extend a special thanks to the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative and the Niagara Anaphylaxis Support and Knowledge. These two organizations do tremendous work. They spread awareness of anaphylaxis and have been unwavering in their support of this motion. They have provided me with much appreciated knowledge and expertise throughout this process, and I am grateful for their insight.
I would also like to thank the numerous people who have called, written and met with me in person to discuss their personal struggles with anaphylaxis. Their stories furthered my commitment to seeing this motion brought to the House and passed. This widespread support is an indication of the magnitude and dangers of this condition.
With 2.5 million Canadians affected, a number which continues to rise every year, it is concerning that many Canadians are not aware of the risks associated with anaphylaxis. An anaphylactic reaction is a very serious and potentially life-threatening experience and, on the average, there are 3,500 reactions per year in Canada, of which 12 will be fatal.
As mentioned in many of the speeches on this motion, epinephrine treats the short-term symptoms of anaphylaxis, but awareness can substantially reduce the amount of anaphylactic reactions in the future. Awareness includes an understanding of anaphylaxis as a condition, its different causes and triggers, and strategies to limit exposure.
On the first day of discussion in the House, I referred to the stories of Lucas, Liam and David. Their daily struggles with anaphylaxis and the fear of reaction can be reduced. Motion No. 230 aims for this goal. By bringing more attention and awareness to the Canadian public, this motion will help these children and many other Canadians who live with this condition. It will help Canadians understand the signs, dangers and consequences of an anaphylactic reaction. As was mentioned in the first hour of debate, important steps have been taken by various businesses and levels of government.
My colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville mentioned that the Toronto Blue Jays, a member of the private sector, introduced a peanut-controlled zone at three of their home games in the previous season. By doing this, they created a safer environment for their fans to enjoy the game. I am pleased to have recently found out that the Blue Jays plan to carry on this policy during the season. There will be at least another three home games that will have a peanut-controlled zone.
As a government, we have provided a significant amount of funds for allergy research, including $36.5 million to support AllerGen, which is the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network of centres of excellence that conducts allergy research. Also, in August 2012, new regulations were implemented which enhanced the labelling of priority food allergens on prepackaged retail foods. These regulations help consumers classify which foods are safe and which products they must avoid. Our government has also designated May as National Anaphylaxis Month.
Although these considerable steps have been taken, more can be done. Businesses and governments should do more to help those who live with the condition. More specifically, Parliament should recognize that anaphylaxis is a serious condition and create the necessary awareness to help those living with anaphylaxis have a higher quality of life.
Preventive measures should be taken by everyday Canadians in order to ensure the safety of those around them, especially those at risk of having an anaphylactic reaction. Understanding the condition and which allergens could cause reactions could lead to a reduction of incidents and more peace of mind for Canadians living with severe life-threatening allergies. With the passing of Motion No. 230, Canadians living with anaphylaxis will receive much needed recognition from our government. We stand with them in their efforts to promote awareness of the condition.
Once again, I would like to thank all the hon. members here today, as well as those who have pledged their support for this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
Canada strongly condemns the ongoing violence against civilians in Syria. We call for full, safe and unhindered access by humanitarian actors to all affected populations in need.
Canada remains committed to saving lives and addressing the most critical needs of those affected by the Syrian crisis. Let me take just a moment to bring the House up to date on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad started in mid-March 2011 in the southern city of Daraa. Fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups escalated and spread to most parts of the country, plunging Syria into further desperation.
Fierce fighting across large parts of the country has led to the massive displacement of civilians, increasing refugee outflows and decreasing access to basic services.
Violence has reached new heights over the last few months, including widespread shelling, bombardment of cities, mass killings and deliberate firing on civilian targets. According to reports, the conflict is primarily occurring in densely populated areas. The Syrian regime makes no distinction between combatants and civilians in conducting its military campaign against opposition forces, routinely violating international humanitarian law.
There is increasing use of heavy weapons in populated areas by both sides, leading to extensive destruction of infrastructure and massive loss of life. The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the current situation in Syria as nothing short of catastrophic. Countless homes, clinics, hospitals and other essential infrastructure, such as water and sanitation systems, have been destroyed or severely damaged.
Civilians continue to be in the line of fire from this violent civil war. At this point, more people have been killed in the conflict since the start of this year than in the entire first year of the conflict. According to UNHCR, it is estimated that at least 80,000 people have died in the fighting, with many thousands of people wounded. In fact, while initially the number of monthly casualties was 1,000 per month in mid-2011, by July 2012, that number had risen to 5,000 per month.
As of today, nearly one and a half million Syrians have taken refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The conflict and the humanitarian situation are deteriorating rapidly as violence intensifies and fighting continues throughout the country.
Violence has spread to Damascus and other new, densely populated urban areas. This has led to increasing levels of destruction, casualties and displacement. The number of people affected by the crisis who are in need of humanitarian assistance is estimated to be more than 6.8 million. Within Syria itself, an estimated 4.25 million people have been displaced.
The strain on communities hosting refugees is compounding the other challenges they have. Tension between refugees and host communities is on the rise, mainly because of competition over jobs, housing and services. In both Lebanon and Jordan, energy, water, health and education services are strained to the limit from hosting the Syrian refugees. Both Lebanese and Jordanians are already facing high unemployment, high prices and poverty, so we can imagine how potentially volatile the situation is becoming.
Canada stepped up to the plate to help. On January 30, at the high-level pledging conference in Kuwait, the Minister of International Cooperation announced additional humanitarian support from Canada to help those affected by the conflict. He also made it clear that Canada continues to support the efforts of the international community to bring about an end to the violence. However, he stated that humanitarian assistance is not enough. A political solution to end the ongoing conflict must be found. Canada has repeatedly called on all parties to end the violence.
Canada's support to the World Food Programme is helping to provide food assistance for up to 2.5 million people. We are working with UNICEF to provide approximately 1.2 million children and their families with health services, immunization, nutrition support, water and sanitation, and education.
Humanitarian workers are making heroic efforts to meet the urgent needs of those affected by the violence. We commend their courageous efforts. They are placing their own lives at risk in order to provide life-saving assistance to those affected by the violence. However, these efforts continue to be obstructed. Even humanitarian actors are not immune to the violence and a number have laid down their lives in their efforts to save others.
Delivery of assistance continues to be precarious and constrained by security issues. As a result, several areas have been deprived of humanitarian assistance either because of the violence or because they have been denied access by both government and opposition groups.
Fighting in areas of humanitarian operations and places where relief supplies are stored remains a challenge. That is why Canada is providing operational support to the UN, to ensure adequate security measures are in place to provide humanitarian assistance and improve safety for humanitarian staff. We are receiving reports, however, that despite these conditions, humanitarian assistance continues in both government and opposition-held areas.
The heads of five UN agencies, UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization have appealed to the international community to use its collective influence to bring about a political solution to this crisis. They say that the region cannot sustain any more impact from this crisis.
Canada has been a compassionate and generous neighbour to those in need. However, we have repeatedly called on all parties to end the violence. We all know that humanitarian assistance is not enough. A political solution to the ongoing conflict must be found. Canada continues to support the efforts of the international community to bring about an end to the turmoil. The violence in Syria must end.
Mr. Speaker, this past weekend, students from Crescent School in my riding of Don Valley West and Rick Hansen Secondary School from Mississauga—Streetsville were on the winning team and won gold in the 21st annual International High School Robotics Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.
Four hundred teams from 37 countries entered to create robots designed to compete with each other. In the end, the students from Crescent School and Rick Hansen Secondary School were the best robot designers in the world. It is the first time in the competition's history that two Canadians teams have teamed up to finish first.
Crescent School was founded in 1913 and the student's championship appropriately falls on the school's centennial anniversary year. I am proud to recognize the world champion robot design team from Crescent School in Don Valley West.
As mentioned, when this matter returns before the House, the hon. member for St. John's East will have eight minutes remaining in his speech.
Statements by members, the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
Order. The matter raised by the member for Malpeque is a matter of debate as opposed to a point of order.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to have this opportunity to speak about economic action plan 2013, which was put forward by the Minister of Finance last week.
As we all know, we are on track and continue to focus on economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity while keeping our promise to balance the budget by 2015. We are quite proud of that.
I want to note that many Canadians may have heard of the 950,000 new jobs created since the economic downturn of 2009, but they may not be aware that most of those jobs are full-time, well-paying jobs with almost 80% of them in the private sector. I want to note that as a bit of a success story.
We have heard about the innovative initiative put forward in economic action plan 2013 for skills training. This initiative would address the demand for skilled labour, something I have heard about many times in Mississauga South. I heard about it when we were holding pre-budget consultation meetings and local economic round table meetings. I heard about it when I met with the Port Credit BIA and small business owners, who told me that they had skilled labour shortage issues in their businesses. I heard it again when the Minister of State for Finance spoke with Mississauga Board of Trade businesses, and the minister heard it as well. The hon. members for Mississauga—Streetsville, Mississauga—Erindale and Mississauga East—Cooksville held a town hall meeting where we heard the same thing. We in Mississauga are especially pleased to hear about the Canada jobs grant because it will help Canadians to become apprentices. It will help both the unemployed and the underemployed. We are talking about 130,000 people who will be helped through community colleges and other training institutions. This is good news.
What I want to talk about today are the initiatives in the budget that would affect certain people who have been contacting my office, people in Mississauga South in particular. I went through the budget in search of these types of examples and found my favourite page numbers from budget 2013. I would like to tell the House what they are.
I am going to start with tax relief for home care services. Lucie Shaw in Mississauga South runs Nurse Next Door. These individuals drive around in little pink Volkswagen Beetles and help people who live in their homes. We see on page 222 that the Minister of Finance has decided to expand tax relief for home care services by extending the GST and HST exemption for homemaker services to include personal care services to individuals who, due to age, infirmity or disability, require this kind of assistance at home. This change was effective last week. I am particularly pleased about that.
I also want to tell the House about page 243, which is a good page for two reasons. The first reason is this government will continue to support the Nature Conservancy of Canada with $20 million in 2013-14 to allow it to continue to serve ecologically sensitive land under the natural areas conservation program. Each federal dollar will be matched by $2 in new funding from other sources, leveraging additional funds for the conservation of Canada's natural environment.
The government is also working on the development of a national conservation plan, and I was a proud member of the environment committee when we studied the recommendations for the minister for the national conservation plan. It included a very strong component on urban conservation. To me and to my constituents in Mississauga South, which sits on Lake Ontario and has the beautiful Credit River running through it as well, these kinds of initiatives to protect and conserve our environment are very important.
On the same page and in the same line of thought is also a new initiative for improving the conservation of fisheries through community partnerships. Budget 2013 proposes $10 million over two years to improve the conservation of fisheries by supporting partnerships with local groups. In Mississauga South these local groups would be groups such as the Credit River Anglers Association and the Port Credit Salmon and Trout Association, which do great work in my riding. One would not think of this, because Mississauga South is obviously an urban riding and is right next to Toronto, but the constituents of my riding care very much about our lake, our river and our environment. This is a great way for this government to show what a high priority we put on conserving our natural environment.
I would like to draw attention to page 226, where the topic is financial literacy for seniors. In particular, this budget will support efforts to make public awareness a priority to improve financial literacy, because sometimes older Canadians can be vulnerable to financial abuse. It will help them make more informed decisions about protecting their financial interests in the future.
I sat on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, which studied, voted on and tabled a report on elder abuse. This was one of the topics that we did not expect to come up, but financial abuse of seniors is actually quite a serious problem. In addition to improving awareness and improving financial literacy, we have also adopted Bill C-12, which helps to combat financial abuse of seniors by allowing banks to report suspected fraud to the police and other social service agencies.
The Protecting Canada's Seniors Act, which received royal assent in December 2012, protects seniors better by considering age and other personal circumstances as aggravating factors in applying tougher sentences for those who take advantage of the elderly. I am proud that we are supporting our most vulnerable in society through this budget.
With regard to innovation, in particular there is mention on page 201 of a business by the name of Electrovaya, which is located in Mississauga South. It was able to take advantage of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, SDTC, which the government is going to continue supporting with $325 million over eight years for the development and demonstration of new clean technologies that create efficiencies for businesses and contribute to sustainable economic development. Clean technology and efficient practices can save businesses money, create high-paying jobs, drive innovation and improve the productivity of Canada's natural resources. Electrovaya, which produces batteries for cars, energy storage and smart grid power is a great example.
I thank the Speaker for allowing me to tell the House about my favourite pages in budget 2013.
Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville has rightly pointed out, the events at Dara, and many more since, have shown the world that Assad is completely unfit to govern and increasingly unable to rule. The actions of Assad and his thugs have so far left 70,000 Syrians dead and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Our government, and indeed all Canadians, continue to stand by the Syrian people in their time of need.
Mr. Speaker, it would be my great honour and pleasure to answer the question from the hard-working member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
Today the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development outlined that there is a skills mismatch in Canada. She stated that it is actually becoming Canada's most significant socio-economic challenge that in too many cases, Canadian workers do not have the skills that employers seek. Our government is committed to better helping Canadians, particularly young Canadians, to get the skills and the training they need for that labour market. We are going to work with our partners, and we are going to encourage employers to step up to the plate for training.
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to acknowledge the apology from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. That was a very classy thing to do and I thank him for that.
I would like to speak to Bill C-45. I am honoured to stand in the House to talk about Bill C-45, but one of the sad things about speaking to the bill is that I will be one of the few MPs who will get to do this, because once again the Conservatives have brought forward time allocation on the bill. I believe it is a record. I believe we are at 31. Unfortunately, when we take away democracy 31 times it is not cause to be proud.
I stand today speaking against Bill C-45, but again, it is with much dismay that we do not see enough people being able to debate in this House, with time allocation.
Ironically, Bill C-45 is entitled the jobs and growth act, and it entirely lacks significant measures to create jobs and stimulate growth in the long term for Canadians. Tax credits to small businesses are short term and very small in size. Support to business research and development has been cut. Where is the Canada-wide strategy to create good jobs, while 1.4 million Canadians are still unemployed?
The Minister of Finance announced during the November constituency week that the government will fall short of its own deficit targets. Worse still, the Conservatives have failed to outline any contingency plan to deal with slowing growth and increasingly negative fiscal indicators.
The Conservatives are focused on austerity measures that will act as a further drag on our economy. They have claimed that their budget is about job creation, but again, even they admit it will lead to 19,200 lost jobs in the public service and the PBO projects a total of 102,000 jobs lost.
In his appearance before the House of Commons finance committee on April 26, the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed that the Conservative austerity budget would mean a loss of 43,000 jobs and would slow Canada's economic recovery. He confirmed that when combined with prior cuts, there would be a total of 103,000 jobs lost.
The PBO's numbers point to the fact that the budget would create a significant drag on our economy. Even the Centre for Policy Alternatives states: “In total, federal spending cuts could lead to the elimination of over 70,000 full time equivalent positions”. These are not only public sector losses. About half of these jobs would be lost in the private sector.
Taking a look at the changes to SR and ED and business R and D support, Bill C-45 would implement significant changes to SR and ED tax credit programs, as outlined in the budget. These changes would reduce the tax credit rate, particularly for large businesses, and eliminate the eligibility of capital expenses. This change could be highly distortional for firms' labour-capital ratios.
While the government has cut at least $500 million per year through the SR and ED, it has not introduced any new direct funding to replace this gap. The combined effects would be to reduce government support for business R and D at a time when Canadian businesses most need to increase innovation and productivity to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy. This would particularly hit the manufacturing sector, and it is likely to drive firms to move their R and D activities to other countries with better incentives.
The Conservatives are engaged in cost cutting under the guise of addressing underperformance in innovation. They have done nothing to fix the complexity and overhead costs of applying for and administering SR and ED tax credits.
Another thing the bill is reducing and eliminating is the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It removes water protection from the name of the bill. Now it is just about navigation protection. This is not a small change, and it demonstrates the government's reckless attitude toward environmental protection.
In fact, the Conservatives would not allow these changes to be studied by the environment committee, despite the fact that the proposed changes have significant implication for our environment.
The government issued a press release, bragging about the change of the title from Navigable Waters Protection Act to the navigation protection act.
This type of measure shows just how out of touch Conservatives are with Canadians' desire to protect the environment and build a sustainable economy. In fact, Bill C-45 completely guts the Navigable Waters Protection Act, with the exception of the 3 oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers. The act would no longer automatically apply to projects affecting waterways. This would leave thousands of waterways without protection, meaning fewer environmental reviews by Transport Canada. Efforts by the opposition to ensure protection for all navigable waters were defeated at committee.
Under Bill C-45, only 10 of Canada's 37 designated Canadian heritage rivers would be protected. Those left out of the new act include the Cowichan River, the Clearwater River, the Main River, the Margaree River in Nova Scotia and the Mattawa River, which is close to me. Speaking of what else is close to me, it is the city of Sudbury. The City of Greater Sudbury is known as the city of lakes. There are 330 lakes within the boundaries of the City of Greater Sudbury. Also my colleague from Nickel Belt would have the same concerns as I do.
When all of the lakes and rivers within a riding are eliminated from having the same protections, it makes one scratch one's head as to why we are doing this. Protecting our lakes and rivers is paramount. The City of Greater Sudbury, for example, as I mentioned, has Ramsey Lake within its city boundaries. People can fish and swim practically in downtown Sudbury. People in parts of the city use Ramsey Lake for their drinking water. That would no longer be protected under the Navigable Waters Protection Act or the navigation protection act. That is sad. It leads people to wonder what kind of country we will be leaving for our children.
We need to ensure that our children have places to swim and fish. We need to protect the wildlife within those areas as well, from fish habitat to duck habitat. Throughout my riding and northern Ontario, lakes and rivers would no longer be protected. As I said, 97 lakes and 62 rivers are being protected, and that is what is being changed. We need to ensure we protect more lakes and rivers right across our country because we need to ensure we leave clean lakes, rivers and air for our kids in the future.
New Democrats oppose budget 2012 and its implementation bills, unless it is amended to focus on the priorities of Canadians: creating good quality jobs, protecting our environment, strengthening our health care system, protecting retirement security for all and ensuring open and transparent government. As mentioned, this is another massive omnibus bill that contains a wide range of unrelated measures. The government is trying to ram legislation through Parliament without allowing Canadians and MPs to thoroughly examine it.
One thing my hon. colleague on the other side talked about earlier in his speech is the greatness of our nation. We are blessed to have resources from coast to coast to coast in forestry, mining in my community, lakes and rivers right across the country and the oil sands in Alberta. We should be debating the changes that are being proposed. Unfortunately, as I stated at the outset of my speech, there has been lack of debate and conversation because the government is shutting it down once again. There have been 31 time allocation motions, which is shameful, especially when we are talking about an issue that is so important to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Mr. Speaker, during question period I witnessed the member for Mississauga—Streetsville make a gesture in the House that is truly unacceptable.
After the last question by the member of Toronto Centre, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville used his hand by forming a gun and putting the trigger to his head.
As you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, many families have had some of their loved ones fall victim to gun-related crimes and suicide. Such gestures have no place in the House of Commons.
I respectfully ask that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville apologize to the member for Toronto Centre and to the House.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and for the indication that her party will indeed be supporting the bill.
One of the most rewarding opportunities I have had since being elected to Parliament almost seven years ago was to co-chair, along with her colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh, a parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care. We had the opportunity to go across Canada and listen to dozens of witnesses who gave input on the issue of palliative care. One of the issues was dealing with gravely ill children. I would like to read an excerpt from Sharon Ruth with respect to her daughter Colleen Ruth.
Governments must support and invest in families during these tragically difficult times. The long term socio-economic benefits and returns of supporting families are far greater than the supposed cost savings that result from a politics of inertia. Doing nothing simply raises the toll of broken individuals and families. Colleen is living proof that there are gaps in our social and support systems that need to be updated. I am asking you to extend compassionate leave benefits to at least 26 weeks in a 52 week period. I am also asking that you change the qualifying criteria to “gravely ill” as opposed to “significant risk of death”.
I ask my colleague this. Rather than focusing on some of the things that, yes, we could improve, could she just acknowledge that the 35-week benefit is much better than the 26 weeks that many were requesting? Indeed, not only is it 35 weeks, but my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville pointed out many other positive initiatives. I wonder if she could acknowledge that.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be splitting my time with the very affable and capable member of Mississauga—Streetsville.
I am pleased to respond to the motion put forward by the member for Toronto Centre, as I always welcome an opportunity to compare our record to that of other governments.
For instance, in the 2003-04 year in which the Liberal government was in power, it presided over a 28% default rate for student loans. In the 2009-10 our Conservative government reduced this to a 13.8% rate.
In 1996 the poverty rate was 15.2%. In 2010, under our Conservative government, it was 9%. In 1996, under the previous Liberal government, 18.4% of children lived in poverty. This is a troubling number. In 2010, under our Conservative government, this number has been cut in half to 8.2%. Since 2006, 225,000 less children are in poverty than under the previous government.
It is not about national strategies and glamorous meetings. Rather, it is about getting the job done for Canadians with real action and a real plan.
Here are the facts.
The Liberals gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering, unprecedented cuts, totalling tens of billions of dollars annually in the mid-1990s, downloading that cost and responsibility on to the provinces and the municipalities.
Our Conservative government has increased them back beyond the 1990s levels to record levels. In fact, in my home province, by simply treating this in a principled, fair manner, we are treating all Canadians equally. Per capita funding has actually increased the amount of transfers to Alberta to record levels.
In 2012-13 the federal government will provide provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06.
As a result of the actions of our government, the typical family in Canada pays $3,100 a year less in taxes than under the previous government. We have increased transfer payments, there is less child poverty and lower taxes.
Unlike previous governments that just needed four more years, we have taken real action for all Canadians, especially middle-class and low-income families.
However, tax cuts and direct financial support can only go so far. We have been clear. The best way to fight poverty is to connect Canadians with jobs. Acquiring skills is crucial to securing a good job and a promising career in today's knowledge-based economy.
A post-secondary education is especially important when it comes to an individual's pocketbook. Research by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada indicates that a university graduate makes up to $1.3 million more over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate.
I am proud to be part of a government that is ensuring more young Canadians can take full advantage of what higher education has to offer for themselves as individuals, but also for our country and our society as a whole.
As all members of the House are aware, job creation and economic recovery continues to be our government's top priority. Thanks to the strong, capable leadership of the Prime Minister, Canada has created 770,000 net new jobs since the worst of the recession.
We have been clear. We are committed to creating more education opportunities for Canadians that will lead to better jobs and a sustainable and competitive economy.
We have invested $10 billion annually in support to students and their families, research and infrastructure funding and transfers to provinces and territories to create post-secondary education opportunities for all Canadians. Much of that money goes directly to supporting students. In 2010-11 over 500,000 students received $2.2 billion in Canada student loans. Since its introduction, 4.7 million students have received $38 billion from the Canada student loan program to achieve their educational goals.
This investment has yielded impressive dividends. In 2011 Canada ranked first in overall post-secondary education attainment among OECD countries, with 50% of adults aged 25 to 64 having some form of higher education. That compares to the OECD average of 30%. Even more remarkable, this share rises to 56% for younger Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34.
In addition to loans, there are the Canada student grants that provide extra non-repayable financial support. The grants reduce the amount students need to borrow, putting a post-secondary education within reach of families that would otherwise struggle to help their children attend college or university.
In my riding, working fathers and mothers realize that education is the key to their children's future and they often tell me they just need a little more help to ensure that every child has the opportunity for an education.
Over 320,000 students from low and middle-income families, along with students with permanent disabilities and those with dependents, have benefited from these grants in 2010 and 2011 alone. That is 25,000 more than benefited from these grants the year before. We also paid out $703 million in Canada education savings grants, which provide a 20% top-up on parents' savings for their children's post-secondary education.
We have worked hard to make these important programs more accessible to all Canadians. We have made numerous improvements to them in recent years. They are helping more students than ever before pursue higher studies.
For example, income thresholds have been raised for part-time student loans. As of the 2012-2013 school year, that means students can earn more money but still qualify for loans and grants. The maximum amount part-time students can receive has recently been increased from $4,000 to $10,000.
It is projected that over 2,500 additional part-time students will be eligible for a Canada student loan in 2012-13, rising to just under 8,000 in year five and on an ongoing basis. Nearly 500 additional part-time students will receive a Canada student grant in year one, rising to about 1,500 in year five and continuing to rise after that.
Another major improvement is our decision to no longer charge interest on part-time loans. While a student is in school, this amounts to roughly $350 in savings each year for the average student. These changes to part-time loans enable people who may be working full-time to achieve their educational goals for themselves and their families.
We have also made it easier to pay off student loans. The repayment assistance plan allows borrowers to make affordable payments based on their family income and family size. In this way we help ensure student loan repayments are kept affordable. One hundred and sixty-five thousand students benefited from the repayment assistance plan just last year.
We also announced earlier this summer that we would be delivering on our commitment to forgive loans for new doctors and nurses who chose to practice in rural areas. In rural communities, such as mine, this is one of the most significant social enhancements we can do to help enable more of our young people to come back to our communities and practice medicine in our communities, and not just doctors, but nurses as well.
Our government has set aside $9 million a year to forgive a portion of Canada student loans for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners and nurses who work in underserved rural or remote areas, such as first nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
From new online services for students to streamlined processes for applications and loan payments, often in partnership with the provinces and territories, we are taking major steps to increase accessibility to higher education.
Our government's mandate is to help the economy grow and create jobs, which means more employment opportunities for students. We are committed to having the most skilled and most educated workforce in the world.
What we need now is not a national strategy to tell us what is important. What we need is to continue with the plan that we have set forward, the plan for economic recovery and economic success.
It is time the opposition do more than just talk about poverty, equality and opportunity. It is one thing to talk about creating hope; it is another thing to actually provide hope and equality for all Canadians.
I urge all members to join our Prime Minister in implementing a real plan, which has already demonstrated impressive results.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and contribute to the debate on the third reading of Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act.
Bill C-38 would implement the measures announced in the March budget speech. My comments this afternoon will focus on several of the themes contained in that budget, and those are the need to return to fiscal discipline, reduce the size and cost of government, reduce deficits and eventually pay off the Canadian debt which is in excess of $590 billion and counting.
Certainly the Canadian economy is the envy of the industrialized world, with healthy job growth, a manageable rate of unemployment and comparatively low levels of debt. However, this is not to state that Canadians can be complacent about either our debt or our economy. The recovery is fragile and the situation in Europe is even more so.
As countries in Europe, specifically Greece, Spain, Italy and even Great Britain, have demonstrated, growth in public sector spending in excess of growth of the economy cannot continue forever. High deficits will inevitably lead to higher interest rates and exchange rates, capital leaving the country and higher taxes in the future.
High debt mortgages our country's future and imposes higher taxes on future generations that are forced to pay for the current borrowing. This is the ultimate violation of the principle of no taxation without representation.
I forgot to mention at the outset, Mr. Speaker, that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
Several months ago, I attended a conference in Ottawa put on by the Manning Institute, Preston Manning's Conservative think tank. The Manning Centre has published credible research indicating that a vast majority of Canadians are becoming less dependent on government. In fact, 66% of Canadians expect less of their government, except in core areas of government services such as in public safety. Canadians are increasingly becoming more reliant on themselves, their families and volunteer organizations such as churches and as a result they are becoming less reliant on government.
Sadly, part of this is due to Canadians' perception of government's inability to actually solve any of their problems. As Ronald Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. Regardless, I believe that self-reliance is a positive trend.
Stimulus spending notwithstanding, the cost and size of the federal government is bloated and I would suggest bloated unnecessarily. Between 1999 and 2009, the Canadian population increased by 11%, but the federal government's civilian workforce grew by 35%. Meanwhile, public-sector compensation grew by 59% as compared to only 30% in the private sector. Canada is fortunate to have an outstanding civil service. However, if balanced budgets are to be achieved, all sustainable trends must be addressed.
Any business which has experienced human resource shortages in its own business, and we have a lot of them in Alberta, knows all too well the competition from the public sector, with attractive wages, benefits and pensions, adds to the difficulties a private business has in attracting and retaining qualified labour. We simply cannot continue to grow government in the way that we have been.
I will talk about some specific areas where the federal government must engage in cost containment to avoid a system that becomes so expensive that it will eventually collapse under its own weight. These costs would be contained by measures taken in Bill C-38.
The first is the old age security system. The old age security system is funded through tax revenues and is premised on there being enough taxpayers to support retirees. However, by 2030, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will increase from today's 4.7 million to 9.3 million. Two demographic trends that exacerbate the issue are that Canadians are living longer and our fertility rates have steadily been declining. When OAS was first introduced, life expectancy for Canadians was 71. Today it is 82. Consequently, the cost of OAS will increase from $36 billion per year in 2010 to $108 billion by 2030. Meanwhile, by that same year, the ratio of taxpayer to retiree will be 2:1, down from its current 4:1. This trend is clearly unsustainable and must be addressed now in order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the entire system.
Second, Canada must seriously look at many of its social safety net mechanisms, given their increased cost and ultimate unaffordability. In my view, no problem is more troubling than our current system of employment insurance.
In Alberta and Saskatchewan employers cannot fill tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and are often forced to seek expensive temporary foreign workers to fill everything from skilled jobs in the construction and pipeline industries to service jobs in the hospitality and restaurant industries.
However, in other parts of the country hundreds and thousands of Canadians are collecting employment insurance, many for parts of the year, every year, for decades. In fact, employment insurance, by its very design, incents unemployed workers to do just that: to go on and off employment insurance rather than seek out stable employment elsewhere.
In the areas of the country with the highest unemployment, the qualifying period for employment insurance is the lowest. This, in my view, represents one of the worst failures of the modern welfare state. In an attempt to reduce income equality and regional disparity, the government has actually created a system which discourages human resources for moving to parts of the economy that are operating more efficiently.
Those who can work should work. Bill C-38 makes it clear that unemployed Canadians are expected to find a job when and where it is reasonable to do so. Safety net programs such as EI were designed as temporary insulators from unemployment, not as a substitute for employment. Dignity is enhanced not diminished when reliance on EI is replaced by gainful employment.
I just want to mention a word about environmental protection because much misinformation has been proferred concerning the government's concern or alleged lack of concern for environmental protection.
Clearly, Canadians deserve the cleanest air, water and environment possible. However, Canadians also value jobs and a functioning economy. In fact, over the next 10 years, more than 500 proposed new projects, representing potentially $500 billion in new investment, will be under consideration in Canada.
Currently, developers undertaking major projects must navigate a complex often repetitive maze of regulatory requirements and processes. However, by providing predictable timelines for project approval, Bill C-38 would streamline and rationalize the environmental approval process. This is key. Canadians should not confuse quantity and length of the environmental approval process with a quality environmental approval process. Bill C-38 would prevent long delays that kill potential jobs, investment and stall economic growth for projects that would not have any negative environmental impact.
Bill C-38 fulfills the government's commitment to practise fiscal discipline and return to balanced budgets. Although short-term debt is tolerable and sometimes even necessary, excessive long-term debt is incompatible with long-term economic growth.
Currently, $30.9 billion, almost $31 billion, or 11¢ of every tax dollar, is paid on public debt charges, otherwise known as interest. Accordingly if we had no public debt, and therefore no interest charges, we would be running essentially balanced if not surplus budgets. Alternatively, for those members how are interested in program spending or social engineering, had there been no public debt, there would be an additional $31 billion available for spending on whatever programs are important to them.
Government cannot, in the long term, sustain economic growth through public spending. Canadians spending left unchecked has not led to economic growth anywhere. It is quite the opposite. Extreme public debt has led to crises in Greece, Italy and Portugal, economic downturn and political deadlock in the United States and extreme austerity measures in Great Britain.
However, some Canadians believe that we are somehow immune from such basic economic realities. Worse, there appears to be a real disconnect between government and the taxpayers who we represent.
Fiscal Conservatives understand that the government has no money except for that which it taxes from its citizens and corporations. Fiscal spendthrifts erroneously believe that the government magically like fairy dust has resources of its own and therefore can generously spend on all projects and all programs without consequence. Government does not create wealth. It merely redistributes wealth. It only spends resources taken out of the private economy.
Government programs and Public Works can and do sustain demand in the short term, but they also monopolize available resources, taking them away from private business and resulting in the eventual slowdown of our economy. Accordingly the best long-term economic stimulus is for government to reduce its spending, pay down its debt and let resources be allocated in a sustainable method through private investment.
The great Margaret Thatcher once said, “And, you know, there is no such thing as a society“. She went on to say:
There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour...people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation...
The next time a member of Parliament asks if a certain program or project is a necessity and affordable, we should ask two questions: Who is entitled? Who has the obligation to pay? We will soon learn that the answer is one and the same.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville does a fantastic job of representing his constituents in a neighbouring riding to mine. I would like to ask him about seniors who he is speaking to in his riding and what they are saying about OAS, particularly the sustainability of the program for future generations.
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech given by the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
I wonder if the hon. member is aware of what has been said about this enormous 425 page budget bill by people like Conservative commentator Andrew Coyne, who talks about the length of it, the fact that it amends some 60 different acts, repeals half a dozen and adds three more, including a completely rewritten Canadian Environment Assessment Act.
It ranges far beyond the traditional budget concerns of taxing and spending, making changes in policy across a number of fields from immigration...to telecommunications...to land codes on native reservations.... So this is not remotely a budget bill, despite its name.
He goes on to say:
Moreover, it utterly eviscerates the committee process, until now regarded as one of the last useful roles left to MPs. How can one committee, in this case Finance, properly examine all of these diverse measures, with all of the many areas of expertise they require, especially in the time allotted to them?
I wonder if the hon. member would like to answer Mr. Coyne's question.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for his great intervention today and for laying out the mathematics and the reality of what is facing Canada in the next 30 years.
We had seven workers for every senior in 1975; today we have four working Canadians for every senior. By 2030, we are going to have two working Canadians for every senior. The opposition is suggesting that it is going to be sustainable.
I am wondering if the member would agree with me that the only way it is sustainable is if those two working Canadians for every senior pay a lot more personal income tax to support seniors under the OAS system.
The electoral district of Mississauga--Streetsville (Ontario) has a population of 130,033 with 85,008 registered voters and 225 polling divisions.
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