Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, it gives me great pleasure to speak in favour of budget 2013. I am pleased to congratulate the hon. Minister of Finance for the outstanding job he is doing on behalf of our government and all Canadians. Canada is recognized internationally for the sound economic and fiscal policies of our Conservative government. The appreciation of the world of the sound economic policy practices of Canada is a vote of confidence in our Minister of Finance. Average Canadians—those who work hard, obey the law and pay taxes—understand leadership on the economy.
There are many benefits to the passing of budget 2013 for the people in the great riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. I intend to focus on the aspects of this important statement of federal government economic policy that are of interest to my constituents.
A number of my parliamentary colleagues are proud of the many immediate beneficial measures in the budget, such the benefits to municipalities, seniors, veterans and students. I am focused on the future and why the sound economic policy in the budget is so important to the future prosperity of the Ottawa Valley and our nation.
Innovation valley north is what the upper Ottawa Valley will become through the adoption of the measures in the budget. Innovation valley north represents jobs of the future and the long-term economic future of the upper Ottawa Valley, eastern Ontario and Canada. Innovation valley north in the Ottawa Valley is the combined impacts of the defence, nuclear and aerospace industries as well as the historic Ottawa Valley lumber producers coming together to respond to the various initiatives announced in budget 2013. Their synergy has the potential to create new employment and sustain existing jobs as our local economy positions itself to take advantage of such budget measures as the almost $1 billion in the strategic aerospace and defence initiative, SADI, to enhance the competitiveness of Canada's economically important aerospace and defence industries, which include businesses such as Allen-Vanguard, formerly MedEng, which produced the bomb suit in the movie The Hurt Locker.
By encouraging new innovation in Canada's aerospace sector and by creating the aerospace technology demonstration program, which would be $110 million over five years beginning in 2014-15 and $55 million every year thereafter, we would support large-scale technology projects with commercial potential for companies like Magellan, Haley Industries in Haley Station and Arnprior Aerospace just down the road.
Critical to innovation valley north is the hub, the ideas generator, which turns ideas into employers. In the upper Ottawa Valley we are very fortunate to have two hubs that form the nucleus of innovation valley north.
The first hub is Chalk River Laboratories of Atomic Energy of Canada. Budget 2013 would invest $144 million to the continued operation of AECL's Chalk River Laboratories to ensure that Canada has a reliable supply of isotopes. This investment in the future of AECL represents a vote of confidence to AECL and its 2700 local employees to complement the previous announcement made by our government to continue the process of modernization at Chalk River Laboratories by moving to a government-owned, contractor-operated governance model.
A government-owned, contractor-operated GOCO model of governance following the United States and British practice provides for a proven, cost-effective, high-accountability approach to management and operation of a national laboratory. A GOCO partnership shares the risk between government and the private sector. It allows each partner to perform duties for which it is uniquely suited. The government establishes mission areas and sets performance targets and the private sector implements the missions, using best business practices that ensure simultaneous excellence: excellence in technology solutions, delivered by the best scientists, engineers and managers; excellent operations, protecting employees, the public and the environment; and excellent community involvement, contributing to our all-important economic needs.
A comprehensive program of technology transfer and commercialization implemented by the Chalk River national nuclear laboratory would sustain, attract and create companies and employment in the upper Ottawa Valley as a technology, research and development hub. Innovation valley north in the upper Ottawa Valley is a partnership, taking advantage of the AECL platform of knowledge and assisted by many initiatives announced in budget 2013.
This is all about putting in place the conditions for Canada's knowledge industry to thrive.
During the decade of darkness under our old government, AECL was directionless and starved for funding, just as our military was. Throughout the late 1990s, AECL's future was so uncertain that it could not even complete a budget. We cannot build a future on false promises; as a consequence, the 1990s was a lost decade of opportunity for Canada's nuclear industry.
The field of nuclear science and technology has potential for innovation and clean energy technologies, both directly related to nuclear energy and in strategic areas of technology development and overlap, such as hydrogen technologies. The next generation of nuclear reactors, generation IV technologies with reduced capital costs, will enhance nuclear safety, minimize generation of nuclear waste and further reduce the risk of weapons proliferation through the use of natural uranium.
Budget 2013 would provide $325 million to support the development and demonstration of new clean technologies in Ontario and across Canada, and that would create savings for Canadian businesses and support job creation for Canadians. One of the byproducts of a generation IV power reactor is hydrogen, which can be used as a clean fuel for vehicles or be stored until needed for other uses. When hydrogen is used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine modified to use it, water is what comes out the tailpipe.
The Canadian nuclear industry has a critical role to play in climate change and the economy in keeping the price of electricity affordable and in protecting the air we breathe.
The second hub in the Upper Ottawa Valley that has the best potential is Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
Our government committed to providing the women and men in uniform with the best equipment to do the many tasks we ask them to do on our behalf. It only makes sense for defence procurement to support economic activities and opportunities for all Canadians. As the training ground of warriors, Canadian Forces Base Petawawa has greatly benefited from the implementation of the Conservative government's Canada first strategy, as have the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. Our Canada first strategy reversed the decade of darkness, the hollowing out of our military by the old government that the voters of Canada wisely replaced in 2006.
Our government, like all Canadians, has the utmost respect for the women and men who put their lives on the line for freedom. For their service to Canada, we must ensure that when they pass on, they receive the dignified funeral and burial they so rightly deserve. To that end, I am pleased to confirm for the soldiers and their families at CFB Petawawa and all veterans in my riding that economic action plan 2013 would improve the existing funeral and burial program by simplifying it for veterans' families and by more than doubling the current reimbursement rate from $3,500 to over $7,300.
The upper Ottawa Valley has benefited from the standing up of the new Canadian Special Operations Regiment, CSOR, at CFB Petawawa. This new regiment reverses the bad defence policy decision of the old government to make scapegoats of the historic Canadian Airborne Regiment. With the acquisition of new strategic airlift and the purchase of new heavy transport Chinook helicopters that will be stationed at CFB Petawawa, our local civilian economy is already benefiting from local procurement and supply contracts.
Innovation valley north is here, brimming with potential, and I, as its member of Parliament, am ready to help.
I am going to stop the hon. member there. I saw several members rising, and I want to be able to accommodate them. I am not sure, but it sounded as if he was reading the actual text of the petition, which members are not supposed to do. Hopefully they will keep that in mind in the future.
The hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
Mr. Speaker, I share my colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke's sentiment with respect to our government and our country's proud and grateful attitude toward our members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice, and that of their families.
As a result of an administrative error resulting in roughly 100 members of the Canadian Armed Forces having to face an overpayment that was going to be reclaimed, as Minister of National Defence, I firmly believe that it is unfair to penalize soldiers and their families as a result of an accounting error, so we will not be asking our soldiers to pay back the difference.
Earlier today, I instructed my department to take whatever steps were necessary to reverse this collection.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
Earlier, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke stood up and said that this bill has been debated for 100 days. I checked, and it has actually been only nine hours. There is a big difference between nine hours and 100 days of debate.
I think the Conservatives are frustrated. Could my colleague please give me his opinion on the Conservatives' frustration?
For her five-minute right of reply, the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to stand today in support of this important legislation. I want to thank and compliment my friend from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for undertaking the initiative, which aims to reverse a trend that has seen a vulnerable segment of our society, Canadians with disabilities, increasingly taken advantage of. It is a phenomenon that has left many Canadians rightly outraged.
The disability tax credit, or DTC, for short, is a non-refundable tax credit. It reduces the amount of income tax that either individuals with disabilities or those who support them have to pay. People who qualify for the credit must have a severe and prolonged impairment of mental or physical function as defined by the Income Tax Act and as certified by a qualified practitioner. This means that they must be unable to perform one or more of the basic activities of daily living, even with therapy and the use of appropriate devices and medication. Basic activities of daily living include things like speaking, hearing or eating.
Parliament brought in this tax credit recognizing that Canadians with disabilities face particular financial challenges for which they should receive tax relief. The maximum federal amount that could be claimed last year was $7,341, resulting in tax savings of up to $1,101 for the tax year 2011. The credit will be worth even more when people file their taxes this year. In 2012, federal tax savings will be up to $1,792 for a child under the age of 18 and $1,132 for remaining eligible individuals, or their supporting families, when they file their tax returns. A corresponding credit is also available for the calculation of provincial tax.
For the one in five Canadians with disabilities living on low incomes, this tax saving can make a major difference in the quality of their lives. We should not forget that people with disabilities are often seniors. It was shocking to learn that some of these individuals were being asked for and charged 20%, 30% or as much as 40% of the tax credit owing to them. That amounts to over $20 million a year earmarked for people with disabilities that instead goes to the private sector promoters that help to prepare their claims.
These fees are being paid to promoters to complete part A, the first step in the application process to obtain a disability tax credit certificate. There is usually no need to get outside help to fill out this paperwork. Either the individual applying or someone in his or her family can generally complete it without assistance. If someone does need help filling out the forms, the CRA's call centre employees provide assistance by phone. Of course, this service is provided free of charge.
Once this step is out of the way, the applicant has a qualified health practitioner complete part B. After the form is filled out, it needs to be submitted to the CRA, which determines if the person is eligible for the tax credit, based on the information supplied by the medical practitioner. If the CRA concludes that the person qualifies, he or she only needs to include the disability amount on his or her income tax return. That is all there is to it.
Bear in mind that the CRA receives, on average, 200,000 new disability tax credit applications per year. It is estimated that roughly 9,000 of these requests are received from taxpayers who use the services of a disability tax credit promoter. Consider that last year alone, $800 million in credits were issued. That is a lot of money, money intended to help the person with a disability, not a promoter.
If adopted, Bill C-462 would restrict the fees that can charged for or accepted by promoters preparing a DTC application on behalf of someone with a disability.
A maximum fee will be established, and anyone who fails to respect this fee will face penalties. A minimum penalty of $1,000 would apply when the maximum fee is exceeded. Just what the maximum fee should be will be determined following public consultations.
The bill also introduces a requirement that promoters notify the CRA when more than the maximum fees have been charged. Failure to inform the agency when an excess fee is charged would be an offence, and the promoter would be liable to a $1,000 to $25,000 charge. These provisions would come into force on a day to be fixed by the order of the Governor in Council, at which time the proposed maximum fee would be made public.
I remind the House that our government offers a very generous range of tax credits and benefits for Canadians with disabilities. These include the child disability benefit, a portion of the working income tax benefit and certain expenses eligible for the medical expense tax credit, among others. These valuable tax credits are among the many ways we are advancing our government's economic action plan, a plan for jobs, growth and prosperity, which is working for Canadians even as they face challenging times.
I want to be clear. This is not an attempt to crack down on the individuals legitimately claiming the credit or an attempt to deny anyone's claims. On the contrary, Bill C-462 is meant simply to make sure that those who qualify for the tax credit are able to receive it without paying unfair charges.
I want to be equally clear. Our goal is not to hinder businesses that operate above board. We believe firmly in a fair and functioning marketplace. We recognize that there are legitimate businesses, doing good tax preparation work, that are charging reasonable fees. The new provisions in Bill C-462 would apply only to those who take advantage of Canadians with disabilities by taking a huge cut of the tax credit they are due. We want to be sure that the price Canadians with disabilities pay for these services reflects the real value of the services they receive.
Tax discounters are guided by the Tax Rebate Discounting Act, and the fees they can charge for their services are capped. Tax professionals also have organizations that promote ethics and peer review of business practices. Once this act becomes law, the same standard of professionalism would apply to currently unregulated promoters that offer their services related to the disability tax credit, because we expect the same level of accountability and assurance of fairness for people with disabilities that all other Canadians enjoy.
This is a necessary and worthy step and is legislation that deserves the unanimous support of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to stand today to speak to this private members' bill that the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke has brought forward. It is very important legislation.
Perhaps before starting, I would point out that I was very surprised to hear some of the comments by the hon. member for Victoria and the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. If one actually looks at the application form, there is a small part that has to be done by the promoters. Actually, as someone who has experience in the health care field, as I go through the section that the medical practitioners fill in, it is very logical. It is quite a simple form, in terms of the areas that are non-applicable and that one can really target. Thus I find their comments about the application process surprising.
I have heard from many people about the responsiveness of the CRA when they have called it, and how willing, able and quickly helpful CRA is when dealing with any of these issues. I do not know if the hon. members were trying to find areas of disagreement for disagreement's sake. I think sometimes it would be nice to just look at what is a really good piece of private members' business, not government business, and to look at it in the spirit with which it was brought forward.
Certainly our government understands that Canadians have a difficult time making ends meet. As a result we offer a very generous range of tax credits. In fact, the tax credits are key to our economic action plan, a plan for jobs and growth that is working for Canadians as we face the global economic downturn. I could go on at length about some of those very important measures, whether the universal child care tax benefit or the home buyers' tax credit. These have been very helpful, as I hear every day in my office.
Since forming government, we have continued to lower taxes for hard-working Canadians. The average family now pays $3,000 less in taxes each year.
We are certainly committed to enhancing the participation of people with disabilities. Through our policies and programs we support the full and equal involvement of those with disabilities in every aspect of Canadian life.
A key component of our strategy to assist the estimated 4 million Canadians with disabilities is the use of tax measures, particularly personal income tax provisions. As the House is aware, the Department of Finance is responsible for developing federal tax legislation in the areas of personal and corporate income tax. The Canada Revenue Agency administers this legislation and the various social and economic incentives delivered through the tax system.
One of the most important measures to help Canadians with disabilities is the disability tax credit. It recognizes that the cost of some disability related expenses can affect a person's ability to pay tax, and provides a tax reduction to people with a severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental function. Their disability must be severe enough to restrict them in their basic activities of daily living or cause a person to take an inordinate amount of time to perform such activities, even with appropriate therapy, medication and devices. The restriction must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months and must be present at least 90% of the time.
People may also be eligible under the cumulative effect of two or more restrictions, which in combination are present 90% of the time. To claim this fund, the affected person or family members caring for him or her need to complete the disability tax credit certificate.
Members have talked about the process and the form, and how it certainly is a very sensible form. There is a section for a medical practitioner to fill out information on the impairment. Again, contrary to what the opposition members say, I think it is very sensible and well laid out. The first page is also very simple.
Once that step is complete and the CRA confirms that the person is eligible for the credit, the disability amount can be claimed on their income tax return. If for any reason someone with a disability or family member providing care needs assistance, there are agents who specialize in the disability tax credit. They are available to assist taxpayers and qualified practitioners by providing information on both the criteria and the application process. They are readily available and very helpful.
As Bill C-462 underscores, however, Canadians with disabilities applying for the credit are not always treated fairly. In recent years the Canada Revenue Agency has witnessed an increase in the number of businesses promoting their services to people with disabilities and their families who want to apply for the disability tax credit, or the DTC. Often, these businesses are focused primarily on completing the application form. Again, it is that early section, part A, I referred to. They are charging up to 40% of the amount of the person's income tax refund, often amounting to thousands of dollars, for something that is very simple to do. That can hardly be called fair. People with disabilities receive as little as 60% of the amount they are entitled to receive.
In 2012, the federal tax savings for someone eligible for the DTC will be up to $1,132 for adults, and can be as much as $1,792 for a child under the age of 18 and/or the family member supporting them. Of course, as we have mentioned already, these can be claimed retroactively, so thousands of dollars are at stake. For the one in five 5 Canadians with disabilities, living on lower incomes, this can be a tremendous amount of money. We should not forget that disabilities are also frequently an issue with seniors.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that all Canadians are treated fairly by the tax system. The disability tax credit should be given to the person for whom it was intended. To make sure that happens, Bill C-462 would restrict the fees that can be charged or accepted by businesses that request a determination of DTC eligibility on behalf of someone with a disability. That is the key point, which also speaks to some members' concerns about whom this is targeting. It is not targeting practitioners but the person who has submitted the eligibility form on behalf of someone with a disability.
The legislation would prohibit firms from charging or accepting more than an established maximum fee. That would be determined following consultations. We certainly do not want to interfere with a fair and free market and inadvertently hurt businesses that charge reasonable amounts consistent with the value of the services they provide. Our goal is simply to ensure that when Canadians with disabilities are eligible for the tax credit, especially if their claim goes back many years, they receive the maximum amount due to them.
To discourage those companies that charge their clients more than a reasonable fee, Bill C-462 would require businesses to notify the CRA of any fee charged in excess of the maximum amount permitted. If they fail to do so they would face fines of $1,000 to $25,000 for not notifying the CRA, or for any false or deceptive statements. A separate fine equal to 100% to 200% of the excess fees could also be applied in addition to the penalty. Such fines would be applied in serious cases, such as repeat offenders.
There is very little to fault in the legislation, which is why it earns my endorsement, with several small caveats. To enhance the bill's effectiveness, our government proposes three amendments. First, we want to strengthen the monetary value of the penalty so that it will represent more than just a return of profits. Without this amendment the penalty as written could be perceived as an unacceptable business risk. We also want to make sure that the provisions of the bill apply to all types of DTC promoters and preparers, regardless of how their businesses are structured. Finally, we want to ensure that the CRA is allowed to make full use of the information at its disposal to identify non-compliance and to enforce the provisions of the bill.
With these improvements, Bill C-462 earns my wholehearted support. I trust I can count on all members of Parliament to give their stamp of approval to this very worthy legislation.
moved that Bill C-462, An Act restricting the fees charged by promoters of the disability tax credit and making consequential amendments to the Tax Court of Canada Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, it is my pleasure today to speak in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-462, An Act restricting the fees charged by promoters of the disability tax credit and making consequential amendments to the Tax Court of Canada Act.
My intention for bringing this legislation before the House is straightforward. I want to see increased protection for disabled Canadians from the predatory practices of some disability tax credit promoters who see the tax credit as an opportunity to profit on the reduced circumstances of others.
The disability tax credit is a non-refundable tax credit that reduces the amount of income tax that either individuals with disabilities or their supporting persons have to pay. Parliament voted in this tax credit with the recognition that Canadians with disabilities face financial challenges.
Canadians may be eligible for the disability tax credit if all or substantially all of the time they are unable to perform one or more of the basic activities of daily living, even with therapy and the use of appropriate devices and medication.
Basic activities of daily living include things like speaking, hearing and eating. The wide array of disabilities eligible under the disability tax credit is important. As the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, which includes CFB Petawawa, I am acutely aware of the number of disabilities with which Canadians are living. The soldiers and veterans of my community are at a greater risk for a number of disabilities because of the sacrifices they make for our country, and the tax credit is of particular importance to them.
For the average Canadian, the maximum federal amount that could be claimed last year was $7,341. This resulted in a maximum federal tax savings of up to $1,101 for 2011. This is significant tax relief for Canadians living with a disability, and that money should be staying in the pockets of Canadians who need it. It should not be swindled away by unregulated promoters. This tax credit is important to them.
My decision to introduce the legislation restricting the fees charged by promoters of the federal government's disability tax credit is a direct result of the aggressive tactics employed by some providers who objected to my decision to issue consumer alerts.
I started issuing consumer alerts in my riding last year when I found out that some individuals were being charged 20%, 30% or as much as 40% of the tax credit. I felt, and I am hoping that other members of Parliament will agree, that those kinds of charges are unfair, especially when we consider that the purpose of the disability tax credit is to support Canadians living with serious disabilities.
I wanted my constituents in Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke to know that they can access their federal member of Parliament regarding any federal tax credit without being charged a percentage of the tax credit.
Changes were put in place in 2005 that made benefits receivable on a retroactive basis. This created a new incentive for those claiming to be consultants to work with Canadians on their claims, as the dollar amounts on a 10-year retroactive tax refund can be significant.
I started to get a sense of how big an activity this whole tax credit promoter scheme is when a promoter complained about my consumer alert by telling me that he had spent $25,000 on booking space, hotel rooms and media coverage. He expected to make his money back after driving the 905 kilometres to my rural eastern Ontario riding with his travelling road show.
His complaint was: How dare I tell the people to see their member of Parliament and let them have all of the tax refund they qualified for with the disability tax credit?
We are also not talking about a small number of Canadians. The Canada Revenue Agency receives on average 200,000 new disability tax credit applications each year. It is estimated that approximately 9,000 of these requests are received from taxpayers who use the service of a disability tax credit promoter. Last year alone, $800 million in credits were issued.
I am still receiving phone calls and emails with complaints from these promoters. Many of the comments I have received are along the line that they are just helping our government to promote the disability tax credit and they deserve the fees they are getting. I could not disagree more. There may be legitimate companies doing this work. Unfortunately, it is the less scrupulous operators that have identified the need for the legislation I am proposing today.
I ask all members of the House to support Bill C-462. Concerns have been raised by medical professionals who feel they are dealing with an increasing number of fraudulent claims and have at times felt pressured to fill forms out fraudulently by constituents. I know this to be the case because doctors in my riding have told me that this has been their experience.
One doctor related the incident of having an individual sit in his office and refuse to leave until he filled out the disability tax credit certificate to get the tax credit. The doctor, giving his expert medical opinion, insisted on being truthful when asked to complete the tax certificate. This same patient, who had been encouraged in this behaviour by a disability tax credit promoter, was revealed to have visited four doctors previously, looking to have the certificate completed in such a way as to qualify for the tax credit.
Some consultants have even taken the step of employing in-house medical practitioners to sign the medical portion of the disability tax credit application, perhaps having only met the person just once and having no prior knowledge of the applicant's medical history.
Let us talk a bit about the credit. To qualify, an individual must have a severe and prolonged impairment in mental or physical functions, as defined by the Income Tax Act and as certified by a qualified practitioner. Eligibility is not based on the diagnosis of any specific medical condition, but is based on the effects of the conditions on an individual over a prolonged period of time.
Some examples of conditions that may qualify relate to walking. A person with no apparent mobility impairment, who is unable to walk a short distance without stopping frequently to rest because of shortness of breath or pain, may qualify for the disability tax credit because it takes him or her an inordinate amount of time.
Vision may be a condition. Someone who is suffering from a degenerative condition that will not improve with the use of corrective lenses or medication and has a severe visual impairment may qualify for the disability tax credit.
Hearing: A person who, even with the use of a device, is unable to hear or who takes significantly longer than an average person who does not have an impairment to understand spoken conversation may qualify for the disability tax credit.
Speaking: People who, even with therapy devices, are unable to speak so as to be understood and must rely upon other means of communications, or who take significantly longer than an average person who does not have the impairment to make themselves understood may qualify for the disability tax credit.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. These are just a few examples, and the information is gathered directly from the Canada Revenue Agency website.
My intention in bringing the bill before the House is straightforward. I want to see increased protection for disabled Canadians from the predatory practices of some disability tax credit promoters, on the one hand, and also contribute to a fair, functioning marketplace for those who do wish to use the services of a disability tax credit promoter.
Bill C-462 would provide a new legislative framework to limit the fees charged by promoters for the services of assisting applicants for the disability tax credit. In particular, the bill would restrict the fees that can be charged or accepted by promoters to prepare a request associated with a disability tax credit, DTC, under the Income Tax Act. It would prohibit charging or accepting more than the established maximum fee and would introduce offences and penalties for failure to comply. The bill would introduce a requirement that promoters notify the Canada Revenue Agency when more than the maximum fee has been charged. The provision of the bill would come into force on a day to be fixed by the order of the Governor in Council, at which time the proposed maximum fee would be made public.
This is not an attempt to crack down on those legitimately claiming the credit or to deny claims. It is an attempt to make sure those who qualify and those who require the tax credit are able to receive it without paying unfair charges.
As member of Parliament for the rural eastern Ontario riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I understand, as does our government, that Canadians can have a difficult time making ends meet. As a result, we offer a very generous range of credits. These tax credits are a key component of our economic action plan, which is a plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity that is working for Canadians as we face a global economic downturn.
Examples of important credits include the universal child care benefit, the Canada child tax benefit, children's fitness tax credit, children's art credit, volunteer firefighters credit, first-time home buyers' tax credit and public transit tax credit, just to name a few. These are all credits I encourage my constituents to take advantage of, if they can, and to come to my constituency office where we will help them apply, no charge.
I have spoken to the minister and, to be clear, if individuals qualified for the disability tax credit in 2007 or 2008, say, and their medical situation is the same now as then, they would absolutely qualify for the credit. This is about protecting Canadians from predatory and unfair practices of unregulated promoters. This credit is not intended to line the pockets of promoters.
The disability tax credit promoters are currently totally unregulated. This is producing a system that is increasingly ripe for abuse. Lawyers charge contingency fees, but they are bound by strict codes of ethics, and bar associations carefully scrutinize actions to ensure appropriate professional ethical behaviour.
Perhaps most appropriate for today's discussion is that tax preparers are guided by the Tax Rebate Discounting Act and capped at what they can charge for their service. An accountant cannot take 20 minutes, prepare and submit one's taxes and then charge 40% of one's refund. Tax preparers also have a professional organization that promotes ethics and peer review of business practices.
I chose not to set a maximum fee in the legislation because I wanted to allow for consultations with disability groups, medical professionals and legitimate tax professionals to help inform this decision.
I want to ensure that disabled Canadians who do need the help of someone with their applications can get it and we are not imposing unnecessary red tape on doctors or legitimate tax preparers.
There is a rate set in the Tax Rebate Discounting Act for accountants and others who may be part of the discussion on the disability tax credit consultants. The rate under the tax rebate discounting allows for a $45 fee on the first $300 and 5% on amounts above $300. This fee level is something I would expect would be raised during the consultations. There are no similar accountability measures for the disability tax credit—
Mr. Speaker, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke is right. The contribution of Canadians to fighting illegal smuggling in the Americas is well-known and well-respected.
I am proud to inform the House that our Canadian armed forces personnel aboard the HMCS Ottawa, who are deployed as part of Op CARIBBE, assisted the U.S. coast guard recently in a boarding and seized over 1,000 kilograms of cocaine worth $32 million.
In one week in November alone, the Canadian armed forces crews have assisted in seizing over $145 million in illegal drugs.
The actions of Commander Van Will, his crew and the Royal Canadian Air Force members involved in this seizure demonstrates Canadian leadership abroad and at home. They are making our—
Order. The hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
Mr. Speaker, rain shortages, coupled with record high temperatures, have left many farmers in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke in the Ottawa valley and on both sides of the river, including the Pontiac and throughout Ontario, short of livestock feed.
Hay East 2012, a farmer and farm organization-led initiative, was created by western farm organizations that remember when eastern farmers sent hay west in 2002. We applaud the efforts of farmers, like Hay West organizer Wyatt McWilliams, for helping farmers today.
I am proud to say that the federal government, in partnership with Hay East and other levels of government, is providing $3 million to help transport hay to those farmers in need. This builds upon our government's targeted tax deferral for livestock producers in Ontario and Quebec.
The rural Ontario Conservative caucus continues to stand up for farmers everywhere, assessing the needs of these provinces and considering every option under existing programs. A farmer-friendly Conservative MP is always a farmer's best friend.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I take great pleasure in speaking in favour of the speedy passage of Bill C-45, jobs and growth act, 2012.
I am also pleased to congratulate the Minister of Finance for the outstanding job he is doing on behalf of all Canadians.
Canada is recognized internationally for the sound economic and fiscal policies of our Conservative government. Leadership on the economy is something that average Canadians who work hard, obey the law and pay their taxes understand.
While there are many benefits to passing Bill C-45 for the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, in the short time I have, I intend to focus on those aspects of this second budget implementation bill that are of interest to my constituents.
I intend to focus my comments on the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I've listened to a number of comments, starting with those of the Leader of the Opposition, which are ill-informed at best and misleading at worst, about this part of the budget bill and I believe it is important to set the record straight. Historically, the impetus behind the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882 was the result of representations made by Ottawa Valley lumbermen looking to protect the principal means they had at the time to bring their product to market.
In the 19th century, when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was legislated, rivers played an important role in the commerce of our great nation. The lumber trade of the upper Ottawa Valley relied upon rivers to bring the logs to market. Twelve years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act became law and three years after Confederation, Parliament passed An Act Respecting Certain Works on the Ottawa River. This act gave the federal government exclusive legislative authority in the construction of any works to ensure the Ottawa River is navigable. This was done to protect commerce and done years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act. That legislation is still on the books today.
What Canadians find misleading is when opposition members read things into the legislation that do not exist. Environmental protection for such things as pollution and fish habitat is covered by other legislation, not the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It was never intended for that purpose when it was written 140 years ago. The opposition may wish to stay trapped in the past, but our government believes it is time to leave the 19th century for the 21st century.
The public right of navigation is a common-law principle that dates back to Roman times. To my paddling friends, nothing in Bill C-45 detracts from the right to navigation in Canada. We respect the navigable qualities of any body of water that is indeed navigable, recognizing that any contemplated works need not compromise or undermine the recreational status of any body of water that is now or was previously the domain of paddlers.
This brings us to the Petawawa River. The decision by the federal government to include the Ottawa and Petawawa rivers in the list of 62 rivers retaining navigable waters constitutional jurisdiction protection was based in part on the real concern, on my part as well as that of my constituents, that the provincial environmental assessment process is being manipulated by the Ontario government to match a hidden agenda called the Green Energy Act. We needed to take an extra step to protect the Petawawa River.
In the province of Ontario the so-called Green Energy Act has been used to stifle democratic debate at the local level, running roughshod over the objections of local residents who are now being forced, through their power bills, to pay for unwanted and unnecessary power projects. Projects are being promoted under the guise of so-called green energy, when in fact the only green is in the pockets of the Liberal Party insiders who lobbied for 20 years to have industrial wind turbine contracts at outrageous financial subsidies. The collapse of the Liberal Party of Ontario and the resignation in disgrace of its leader led to the migration of these same individuals to Ottawa into positions of influence with their federal cousins.
The town of Petawawa unanimously passed the following motion at its September 4, 2012 council meeting:
That the Town of Petawawa advises the Premier of the Province of Ontario and his Ministers of Energy and Infrastructure, the Environment and Natural Resources that it does not and will not give any support or sanction to any project that is seeking or will be seeking ministry approval under the 2009 Green Energy act and in particular its “feed-in-tariff” provision.
To quote councillor Treena Lemay, who moved that motion: “The act promoted 'fast tracking' of environmental approvals for all electricity infrastructure projects, removed the long-established local planning process and left rural residents without effective noise complaint protocols and municipalities with no voice in their own community development”.
I thank councillor Treena Lemay for her leadership on this issue at municipal council.
In the case of the Petawawa River, plans to construct dam-like structures would destroy the fish habitat as well as recreational activities, including whitewater kayaking that now takes place on the river. I support the residents of Petawawa and their town council in objecting to the damming of the Petawawa River and will continue to object at the federal level until this proposal is withdrawn.
I share the concerns expressed by the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the fate of our other Ontario rivers, like the Vermilion. To quote the alliance:
We all want Green Energy, but let’s ensure it is truly Green, and not the “Green-washed” version that is being proposed for many of our Ontario rivers.
While I appreciate the concerns of Ontario residents and groups like the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the need for a federal presence in certain instances to provide a system of checks and balances to ill-conceived legislation like the Ontario Green Energy Act, these checks and balances remain in place with the passage of Bill C-45.
When the Navigable Waters Protection Act came before Parliament previously in 2009, I was honoured to welcome Jack MacLaren, a seventh generation Renfrew County orchard farmer, to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance. Mr. MacLaren contacted me after he ran into trouble with the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In his case what should have been a simple matter became a complicated issue because of a piece of legislation dating back to the 1980s.
I had also been contacted by municipalities that complained to me about the time and expense to clean out a municipal drainage ditch because of the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
In short, it is clear that changes are absolutely necessary to this act.
The other issue I intend to respond to is the criticism by the opposition that Bill C-45 is too detailed and complicated for them to understand. The opposition call Bill C-45 omnibus legislation, hoping that Canadians will buy into its delay tactics because it would rather complain than do its job.
Bill C-45 is the second budget bill. Here, I draw members' attention to a debate in the House that took place on June 13 of this year on the first budget bill between the opposition member for Markham—Unionville and the hard-working Conservative member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In that exchange the opposition member complained about a program he claimed was cancelled by our budget. Our government member responded with shock at what he had heard. He proceeded to set the record straight, reading directly from the budget that the program in question, the Canadian innovation and commercialization program, had not only been funded for another three years but had also been built up and made permanent. This led the member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore to ask the opposition member if he had even read the budget. The opposition member obviously had not read the budget, which brings me to my last point.
The opposition has had a copy of our budget for months, with plenty of time to analyze the budget document. If they were doing their job, they would be ready to debate and scrutinize all aspects of the budget now. Opposition for the sake of opposition is not acceptable to Canadians. The Library of Parliament can help out with a legislative guide for all things not understood, like the history of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This is why it is so important at this time to modernize a 140-year-old piece of legislation and proceed with the passage of Bill C-45.
Mr. Speaker, I was just wondering if the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was here from the beginning of the vote until the end of the vote?
Madam Speaker, a few minutes ago, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke suggested that the reason we have a deficit now is because of the stimulus spending, and that there was not one until then. I wonder if my hon. colleague agrees with that, in view of the fact that by April and May of 2008, six months before the recession began, this government had put the country back into deficit, that the budget brought down eight or nine months later, in January 2009, was for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which did not start until April 1, 2009. That was a year after the deficit of this government began. Of course, that money did not really go out the door. If we look at the record, we will see that the municipalities were complaining the following summer of 2009 that it still had not started. Really, the stimulus money did not actually start until the fall or late 2009. Therefore, how can the member opposite claim that the deficit was created because of the stimulus spending?
Madam Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, to speak on behalf of the people of my riding to Bill C-38, the budget implementation act, which speaks to the economic action plan for 2012, Canada's blueprint for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.
As has been stated elsewhere, under our current Prime Minister, Canada can fairly claim to be the best governed country among advanced democracies in the world. This year's federal budget would lock up Canada's lead.
I have listened very carefully to the comments made by the official opposition with regard to the legislation. What I found, and this is reflected in the comments I have received from my constituents who have followed the debate around the legislation, is that Canadians support the legislation, the efforts of our government to provide steady leadership on the economy.
There is a difference between questions about legislation, as opposed to opposition just for the sake of opposing.
As a member of this government, I am pleased to respond with facts. The fact is that Canada is the envy of the world during this time of turbulence in international markets. As an example, the budget comments put forth by the radical left-wing leader of the opposition is the disingenuous argument that Canada should not be exporting energy in the form of unrefined hydrocarbons. Confusingly, the other members of the opposition coalition suggest we should be refining bitumen from the oil sands here in Canada.
Therefore, quite apart from their real position in that they oppose any resource extraction whatsoever, they know that under the current regulatory regime the likelihood that environmental approval within a reasonable time frame occurring is absolutely nil.
The proper role of government is to allow for science-based decision making that is based upon facts. Bill C-38 would restore the balance to a regulatory bureaucracy that has become counterproductive to the environment and to the interests of all Canadians.
Canadians will never accept the opposition inspired left-wing voodoo economics precisely because what it proposes for the environment will destroy Canada's economy.
We believe that we can help the environment without destroying jobs. This is why I absolutely believe that Parliament needs to pass the legislation as quickly as possible so the Government of Canada can get on with the business of providing jobs, growth and economic prosperity to all Canadians.
What the opposition needs to focus on are the benefits the legislation would bring to our economy. Nowhere is that more important than in my home province of Ontario. The province of Ontario was once the undisputed economic engine of Canada. This is now disputed because the manufacturing sector in Ontario is suffering, not because of some ill-conceived NDP notion about some disease that is intended to confuse and divide, but because of the policies of the Liberal Party of Ontario that have taken away one of the primary advantages that built Ontario: economic, affordable power.
The province of Ontario has siphoned off tens of millions of dollars out of the pockets of Ontario energy users, particularly from households and our manufacturing base, resulting in a hollowing out of Ontario's once vibrant manufacturing sector. This is causing severe economic hardship among seniors and anyone else on a fixed income. It is causing the decline of Ontario's manufacturing sector and the jobs in that sector, not of some disease theory that has no relevance to our made in Canada experiences.
In the Ottawa Valley, which is a net exporter of energy, we have first-hand knowledge of Ontario's controversial so-called green energy act. Rather than generate clean hydroelectricity, we watched the province of Ontario spill water over the Ottawa River power damns.
Ontario taxpayers pay American states millions of dollars to take our power. The province calls this negative wholesale electricity pricing. Most terrible of all, this situation is expected to get much worse as more hugely expensive, heavily taxpayer subsidized industrial wind turbines are being forced onto rural Ontario residents every day.
The time has come to stop this environmental madness.
In the last election, Canadians voted for our vision of Canada as a clean energy superpower. Building an economic strategy on a natural resources foundation is good for our economy and good for jobs. This strategy was good for Ontario in the past and is good for Ontario now and in the future. The time has come to move forward and take advantage of Canada's economic action plan.
Canada's economic action plan will provide $107 million over the next two years to maintain safe and reliable operations at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories . The Chalk River Laboratories of AECL, in collaboration with the National Research Council, have been actively involved in the development of clean, safe energy.
There is a strategic overlap between nuclear science and hydrogen technologies. Hydrogen and electricity are the only known forms of energy that offer zero emissions from motor vehicles. The challenge with using hydrogen as a fuel is not the burning of the fuel, as it burns very cleanly, with pure water as a byproduct, but the process to produce the hydrogen. A next generation nuclear reactor is one that generates electricity and processes heat with hydrogen as a byproduct.
Hydrogen can be generated from energy supplied in the form of heat electricity through high temperature electrolysis, HTE. Since some of the energy in HTE is supplied in the form of heat, less of the energy must be converted from heat to electricity and then to chemical form, so potentially far less energy is required per kilogram of hydrogen produced. While nuclear-generated electricity could be used for electrolysis, nuclear heat can be directly applied to split the hydrogen from water. Working at 950ºC to 1000ºC, high temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors have the potential to split hydrogen from water by thermochemical means, using nuclear heat. Research by Chalk River Laboratories into high temperature nuclear reactors will eventually lead to a hydrogen supply that is cost-competitive as well as reliable.
Rather than paying other jurisdictions to take electricity or spilling water over the hydro dams, Ontario could be producing low-cost hydrogen today to power public transit. The Ottawa Valley has all the building blocks to start the hydrogen economy and the green energy jobs that go with it. The New Flyer bus company, with its maintenance facilities in Arnprior, is currently involved in a hydrogen-powered bus pilot project with financial assistance from the Government of Canada in British Columbia.
Ontario, with our natural advantages to develop the hydrogen economy, should be undertaking a similar pilot project in this province. Ottawa River power dams can provide electricity to power electrolysis as a cost-effective method to make hydrogen.
The Chalk River nuclear research labs are involved in cutting-edge activities such as developing hydrogen storage applications that are safe, reliable and economical. Nuclear energy is currently the only large-scale zero greenhouse gas-emitting source of electricity in Ontario that is not limited by geography or weather. Nuclear energy has helped Ontario reduce greenhouse gas emissions safely and competitively for over four decades. CANDU reactors have a unique Canadian design and an excellent safety record, and they can fuel with uranium or thorium. Nuclear energy could provide us decades, if not centuries, of time to find ways to generate more of our energy needs from affordable renewable sources or perhaps nuclear fusion at some point in the future.
According to the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, using nuclear generation to back up the variability of wind generation is uniquely available to Ontario because 55% of Ontario's power requirements are supplied by nuclear power plants.
Ontario needs Bill C-38 passed now so that we can start to deliver on the benefits of this legislation to the people of this province, and in doing so we help the rest of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak to the motion introduced by my neighbouring colleague with respect to search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Search and rescue is extremely important to Newfoundland and Labrador. Many thousands of miles of coastline and many different industries depend on search and rescue, from the fishery to the offshore oil to people at its location. St. John's has long been a hop-off for many people, adventurers who go across the Atlantic. Our search and rescue boundaries go well beyond just our immediate shorelines.
As a member of Parliament, it is a privilege and an honour to serve in this House. It is also a privilege and honour to go out and experience first-hand what our men and women do in the armed forces, in particular with respect to search and rescue. I have had an opportunity in the last year and a half to do two things. The first is that I spent three days at CFB Greenwood to see what our men and women in the armed forces do. I had an opportunity to see our SAR techs' abilities and to see them in action.
Let us not mistake this motion before this House today. It does nothing to talk about the excellent work of our SAR techs. It does not criticize them. We have great Canadian Forces members who do excellent work for the men and women in our armed forces. The SAR techs in particular are amazing individuals. The knowledge and comprehension required of these men and women as SAR techs is amazing, whether it is of high angle rescue, scuba diving or first aid.
This motion today does not talk about our forces. I heard the Conservative members talking about how much our search and rescue means, and I absolutely agree. This motion talks about response times. We are talking about 30 minutes to wheels up and being in the air. Currently that response time is Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 5:00, regular working hours. However, times have changed over the last 20 to 30 years. When this was first established, there probably were not a lot of people on the water outside of those normal hours. This has been on the books for many years. Times change, and so should the services we provide to Canadians. We need to look at that.
The second thing I did as a member of Parliament since being elected was tour the marine search and rescue sub-centre in St. John's, which the government has decided to close. It is another important search and rescue asset and is done through the Coast Guard. If one tours this facility, the local knowledge and skills that these people have on the ground in Newfoundland and Labrador is unbelievable. To stand on guard listening for that distress call is an important part of the search and rescue debate. To close the search and rescue sub-centre in St. John's does not make sense to any of us in Newfoundland and Labrador, because the people who are listening for that call know the local area, know what to listen for, and know the land and the sea. It is very disappointing that the government has chosen to do this.
Getting back to the motion at hand, members talk about “wheels up, ready to go”, this international standard of 30 minutes. The Americans pride themselves on their American Coast Guard. We often see it portrayed in a lot of circumstances. We need to portray our search and rescue in the same fashion. To be honest, I do not know what the standard is in the United States. However, in Canada we have to make sure that we have that 30-minute response time.
Are we surprised that the government is not supporting this particular motion? No, because a year or so ago the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was in Newfoundland and Labrador on a committee meeting, and she came under fire from our province for her comments regarding search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the country. This is where we get to the crux of the matter, which is the fact that the government just does not get this particular aspect.
I would like to read a quote from when the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was there and made a statement. It reads as follows:
Explaining that those who operate on the Great Lakes and Ottawa River don't count on the Coast Guard for help, the Ottawa Valley MP told an audience in St. John's — including those who lost relatives and fellow workers during marine accidents — that it's up to local communities, the province and private companies to make more of an effort to help with rescues and perhaps finance such services.
This is what the Conservatives think. They think it should not be up to the national government and that we should download it onto the provinces and put more burden on them. We should put this onto volunteer groups. They should be in charge of search and rescue.
The member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who sits on the defence committee, went on to state:
In Ontario we have inland seas, the Great Lakes, and it would never occur to any of us, even up the Ottawa River, to count on the Coast Guard to come and help us.
Search and rescue is for all Canadians. It is there for the Great Lakes, the Ottawa River, the St. Lawrence Seaway. One never knows when one is going to need search and rescue.
Time is very important. We need look no further than what happened to young Burton Winters in Makkovik this past winter. Time ran out on him after he walked almost 19 kilometres. In some circumstances, all we have is time, and the quicker search and rescue can get on site and deploy the resources needed, the better.
The cost on this to government is not a large amount of money. This is about scheduling. This is about having a couple of extra search and rescue crews on each of the bases, so that a 24/7, 30-minute response time can be scheduled. The costs now are even higher, because when a call does not fall into the 8:00 to 5:00 slot on Monday to Friday, there is overtime and other costs that come along with it. If we did the research, we would realize that it would not cost that much more to provide such a valuable service with a 30-minute response time. Weather never co-operates on the east coast of this great country, and we never know what to expect with regard to the weather. A 30-minute response time is very important, and we should strive toward this international response time so that our brave men and women who do this excellent work will continue to serve their country well.
I am pleased to have had an opportunity to speak to this motion today. Search and rescue is a valuable resource. The government needs to reconsider its decision to close the sub-centres in St. John's and Quebec City, just for linguistic purposes alone.
There is a community in my riding called Upper Island Cove. It is affectionately called Island Cove. When a call comes in from someone in Upper Island Cove, search and rescue staff need to know where the individuals are. If the people only have 30 seconds before their ship goes down and they are off of Upper Island Cove in Newfoundland, the person on the other end needs to know that they are off of Upper Island Cove, not Lower Island Cove. There is a very short window of time to get a distress call out, and that plays into the search and rescue assets being deployed. Many marine disasters that happen with fishing vessels occur early in the morning or late at night as they are steaming home with their catches. It is very important that they receive an on-time and timely search and rescue response.
I congratulate the member for St. John's East on putting this motion before the House. It is something that should be considered. There is nothing wrong with government saying it needs to strive toward this response time. I encourage all members who live in coastal communities, the Conservative members too, to strive toward a 30-minute response time. It might take some time for us to get there, but that should be our goal in today's day and age: a 30-minute response time.
I encourage all members, in particular those on the government side, to strive toward this important goal for search and rescue in our country.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the NDP motion, presented by my colleague, the member for St. John's East. This is an issue that all of us from Newfoundland and Labrador have addressed on numerous occasions because of our knowledge of how important search and rescue is, not only to Newfoundland and Labrador, but to people who have a need to access search and rescue services when they travel on the ocean around our province.
The idea of closing down the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, and the one in Quebec I might add, has been met with public outcry for a number of reasons, but certainly because of the impact it will have on safety. The work of MRSC St. John's and Quebec, when it closes in a year because Quebec has been given a one-year reprieve, will be consolidated and delivered by the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. However, given their already heavy caseload and the small number of search and rescue coordinators at these centres, it is unlikely they will be able to handle the increased workload caused by the St. John's and Quebec City closures.
Let me just speak to the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's. On average the centre has overseen 500 calls a year, many of them distress calls, resulting in approximately 600 lives saved annually. We are talking about life and death situations. The parliamentary secretary suggested that this was one way to deal with the deficit, a deficit that I might add has been created by the government, not by ordinary Canadians from coast to coast to coast, the largest deficit in our country's history. Now this will be handled on the backs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The problem we have with that is the government is really putting safety on the back burner, while it tries to deal with the deficit.
The reality is that in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular, we have so many coves and harbours, places where local knowledge and expertise is really important. Local knowledge of a dialect is critical. We have had examples in fact where people have been out and have made a distress call and because their dialect is such that if one were not familiar with the place names, one would have a hard time recognizing where they are located in order to be rescued.
Therefore, we cannot just take the positions out of Newfoundland and Labrador and move them to Halifax or Trenton. Bear in mind none of the search and rescue coordinators who work at the centre in St. John's, Newfoundland will actually move to either Trenton or Halifax. Therefore, that local knowledge and expertise and appreciation and understanding of the dialect is not moving. It is not going to be in Halifax and it is not going to be in Quebec.
We have another issue in Quebec because we have the French language. My understanding is that at this point in time the people are having difficulty finding coordinators who can speak French. On another front, they are also downgrading the qualifications of people who would have been expected to come with very high qualifications prior to the closure of the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's and Quebec. They will now be employed with many fewer qualifications. This is a serious issue and one that I can speak to because I know the public outcry. I know that people are naturally nervous.
When I say it is the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, this does not only apply to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Do not forget, Newfoundland is now an oil producing province. Off our shores we have oil platforms. There are people working on those platforms from every part of this world. Therefore, it is not just Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who we are speaking about here.
It is the same with tourists who are coming from all over the world. When we talk about safety, it is their safety that is being put in peril as well. People tend to think that it only applies to fishers. That is absolutely not true. Yes, of course our fishers need assistance when they get in trouble and yes they are the ones with the local dialect that when they need to be rescued, they really need to have that local knowledge there. However, when we have oil platforms off our coast, a vibrant tourism industry, then closing down research centres will impact dramatically those people as well. It will put their lives at risk.
I cannot say it enough. What we are talking about here is safety. While we need to deal with the deficit as the government has said, there are so many other avenues it can go down to deal with the deficit, one being the F-35, another being the megaprisons it is looking at building. However, to even draw a comparison between those and search and rescue safety issues does not make sense.
I have to question the government's understanding of and appreciation for exactly what it is doing here. I cannot believe that it would do this with a full understanding and appreciation of what it would mean .
I want to quote the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke when she commented on the use of search and rescue by mariners on the Atlantic. She said that in Ontario they would never ever think of calling the Coast Guard for help if they found themselves in trouble on the Ottawa River. Can anyone imagine comparing being on the Ottawa River with being on the Atlantic Ocean?
That is why I have to question whether or not the government really understands what it is doing here. If the example is that people on the Ottawa River would never think of calling the Coast Guard, that they would help themselves, I would love to see the member out in the middle of the North Atlantic needing to be rescued, but saying, “No, we're not going to call the Coast Guard. We're going to help ourselves”.
There is no understanding, no appreciation of the volatility of the weather. It can change in a minute. This is what people are exposed to when they are on the North Atlantic. This is what people experience when they are out fishing. This is what people experience when they are out on the oil platforms. This is what people experience sometimes when they are travelling on Marine Atlantic and are stuck trying to get into port, or they cannot leave North Sydney to go to Newfoundland and Labrador because the weather conditions are such that they cannot cross. They can be out in the middle of the ocean and they will have to stop because of the weather conditions.
It does not make sense to me. When I hear a quote like that from a member of the government, I have to wonder where the advice is coming from. Then maybe that is where it is coming from. Maybe there are others in the government who think that way, who have no idea of the role of search and rescue, who have no understanding of what it is like to be in distress, who have no idea of what it is like to travel on the Atlantic Ocean.
I am making a plea to whoever is making the decisions in the government. Even though it has closed the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, even though the SAR coordinators, who have done a wonderful job, who are so experienced, who have given so much, who have devoted their lives to this, who know exactly what is required when someone gets in trouble, have been laid off, I am asking the government to reconsider. This has to be one of the worst decisions it has ever made because this will, without a doubt, result in the loss of life. Nobody, but nobody, would want that to be the outcome of this particular decision.
The SAR coordinators know exactly what they are doing. My fear is that because the government or the centre in Halifax or the one in Trenton is having difficulty attracting those with the qualifications necessary to do the work that is required in the search and rescue centre, they will downgrade those qualifications. That will make it even more difficult. That means that people on the ocean will not be able to have that sense of comfort that there will be someone there if they should be in distress and need to be rescued.
This is such an important issue. This decision needs to be reconsidered, because loss of life is imminent if this decision is not changed.
Mr. Speaker, in the member's riding of Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron does a remarkable job. Although we have complaints about response times, it is not the squadron's fault; it is the military's fault, and we will get to that on Monday in a different debate on a private member's motion.
We were impressed by the activity around the marine rescue co-ordinating sub-centre and the other operations of the Coast Guard. It was extremely important that there were people working the Coast Guard boats, operating the weather stations and looking after the ice patrols.
I have to say that at one of our hearings in St. John's, a government member, in talking about Coast Guard rescue, said that it would never have occurred to any of them, even on the Ottawa River, to count on the coast guard to come and help them, that they would do it themselves. I do not know if he remembers, but it was the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke who said that.
It is unfortunate that people on the other side sometimes do not understand the importance of this service in saving lives.
The electoral district of Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke (Ontario) has a population of 98,803 with 75,223 registered voters and 208 polling divisions.
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