Mr. Speaker, I too would applaud the member for Oakville for his excellent speech supporting this bill. However, what I think might be indicative of the NDP's confusion on issues is the mistake of the member for Oakville being a teenager. I would politely disagree with that, despite being a big fan of his.
I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-7, which would create the Canadian museum of history. Bill C-7 is very short. It is very clear and specific. It makes a set of targeted amendments to the Museums Act to allow the Canadian Museum of Civilization to transform into the Canadian museum of history.
The creation of the Canadian museum of history would not be an isolated act. It would be one step in the larger government strategy in support of our history and the need to increase our knowledge and appreciation of it. That strategy did not start with this bill and the decision to create a new museum. Our Conservative government has been making efforts to close gaps in how Canada's national museums share Canada's incredible story.
In 2008, we created the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg, and in 2010 the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, in Halifax. The government recognized the need for these stories to be presented across the country. These were the first national museums to be established outside of the national capital region.
The 2011 speech from the throne observed that Canadians are united by core values, a shared history and a sense of common purpose. In that speech, our Conservative government pledged to join Canadians in celebrating our heritage. The 2013 speech from the throne reinforced this theme. The government's strategy is underlined by the priority it is giving to nation-building milestones on the road to our 150th birthday in 2017.
Our Conservative government's efforts began, as we know, with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, as a way of increasing the awareness of the influence that this conflict had on our nation. Other important anniversaries and milestones in the years approaching Canada's 150th anniversary have been identified and will also be commemorated. On the War of 1812, I remember that having that moment to recognize our history was tremendously appreciated across Canada. I remember the celebration we had in Barrie for the War of 1812 and how the community came out to recognize that important milestone. A lot of young people in our community learnt a huge amount about it through that commemoration.
Other events we will be commemorating in 2013 and 2014 include the 100th anniversary of Canada's first Arctic expedition, the 150th anniversaries of the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences, the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, and the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald. I know the member for York—Simcoe is not in the House right now, but I know he would be a big fan of that particular celebration.
On June 11, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages announced a range of further measures in support of the government's history strategy. I would like to take a moment to describe a few of these. First, the Canada history fund will connect Canadian young people to their history in a number of ways, including through the Government of Canada's history awards, which honour outstanding students and teachers who show an interest in celebrating Canadian history.
We have some amazing teachers across this country who have done a lot to inspire young Canadians about our history. I think of Clint Lovell from Eastview, in Barrie, in the east end of my riding, who was recognized with an award two years ago in Ottawa. That inspired the community. It highlights people who throw their heart into Canadian history. I was pleased to see that recognition, and we certainly need to continue that type of recognition of some of our incredible educators.
Through the Canada history fund, the government has also partnered with the Historica-Dominion Institute, both to create new heritage minutes and to allow more veterans and serving soldiers to connect with students in their classrooms.
The second measure is a range of existing programs that have been strengthened to improve access to funding for museums and youth groups that wish to promote Canadian history in their local communities. For example, there is the exchanges Canada program that provides young Canadians with more opportunities to take part in history themed events. The Canada book fund encourages collective projects, with a focus on promoting Canadian history titles. The Canada periodical fund, through the business innovation and collection initiatives components, supports the promotion of history magazines and history content. The Virtual Museum of Canada funds 2017 online exhibits and podcasts, and provides new historical content for teachers and students.
Finally, beginning this year, we will mark the first Canada History Week, from July 1 to 7, which is an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about their history through local and national activities and events.
The creation of the Canadian museum of history is a significant part of this multi-faceted strategy to explore and preserve our history and increase Canadians' knowledge, understanding and appreciation of it. Indeed, Bill C-7 is but one aspect of this exciting initiative.
We know that in addition to the creation of the museum, a network of history museums in Canada is being formed. Led by the Canadian museum of history, museums would work together to share Canada's stories, share artifacts that are the touchstones of those stories, bring history exhibitions from museums across Canada to the national museum, and create opportunities specifically for small museums to borrow artifacts from that national collection.
We all have museums in our regions that would love this opportunity. I can think of the Simcoe County Museum, just north of Barrie, in the riding of Simcoe—Grey, and that would be tremendously appreciated by the broader Simcoe County community.
To help make this happen, the museum assistance program would support museums, including small museums that wish to borrow objects from exhibitions in the national collection of the Canadian museum of history. We understand that the cost of shipping and insuring artifacts is often too much for small museums. We want to help these museums showcase the national collection across the country, which is why we changed the museums assistance program.
The museum assistance program would make it easier for institutions to create and share history exhibits, by eliminating the requirement for exhibits to travel outside their province or territory of origin. We recognize that local and provincial history is an important part of our broader national story. It is vital to give a voice to these stories. We believe that by moving the interprovincial requirement for exhibition circulation, more exhibitions would be shared, and the Canadian story would be better understood.
These are exciting initiatives, and we hope their impact will be felt by Canadians for generations to come. The creation of the Canadian museum of history, through Bill C-7, is an important part of this broader history strategy.
I urge all members in the House to support Bill C-7 and efforts being made within and outside government to preserve and promote Canada's history. It really is an incredible story.
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, I would like to congratulate my colleague opposite on putting forward, I believe, her first motion to the House of Commons. I have done so myself. It is not an easy thing to do, and sometimes it can cause a lot of work in one's own office. I appreciate that, and I want to make sure that my comments reflect that tone of appreciation.
I would, however, like to comment on some of the comments by the hon. colleague opposite in her speech with regard to the summer villages in Alberta, for example, which I am very well aware of. In fact, I actually just got off the phone with one of my municipalities. We were talking about this issue.
When a member puts forward a motion in the House of Commons and calls up different municipalities and says, “I'm going to do something that's going to get you more money for vital infrastructure in your riding”, that raises their expectations, which I think is unfortunate. There are a couple of things to look at. First, we know that this is a provincial jurisdiction. We know that this is under municipal jurisdiction. Under the wastewater systems effluent regulations under the Fisheries Act, we know that septic systems for individuals fall under provincial and municipal jurisdiction.
The other problem is the fact that the member herself acknowledges that she wanted to put forward a motion, knowing that it would not bind the government's hands. I find it somewhat troubling when the member opposite decides not to take the concrete steps of actual legislation. She would rather talk about it in the form of a motion, because she knows that it would require a royal recommendation and the government would not even have a chance to vote on it. Instead, it was put forward in this manner, which I find to be somewhat troubling. It raises the expectations of a municipality such as Bonnyville, which I just spoke to. They are not necessarily cognizant of all these facts.
The other aspect, as members well know, is that our government has invested a lot of money in many of the lakes and rivers for environmental protection. I know that Lake Simcoe has. I know that Georgian Bay has been announced. I know that Lake Winnipeg has received money for this. These are great things that should be celebrated. It should not be used as a fearmongering tactic to say that the environment is being penalized.
I would like to continue by thanking the member for Simcoe—Grey for the excellent work she has done in trying to advocate and for ensuring that everybody understands what the motion actually represents.
While I certainly appreciate the hon. member's good intentions, I must inform the House that the government will not be supporting the motion. The regulation of household septic systems off reserve is, as I said, the responsibility of provinces and territories. This simply is not an area of federal jurisdiction.
We continue, however, to take action, in areas of federal responsibility, to protect Canada's environment and the health of our citizens. Last July, for example, our government announced the new wastewater systems effluent regulations, which were established under the authority of the Fisheries Act, after consulting with the provinces, territories, aboriginal communities and other stakeholders. These regulations are the federal government's principal instrument for implementing the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Canada-wide strategy for the management of municipal wastewater effluent. While the regulations do not apply to household septic systems, they do tackle the largest source of water pollution in Canada.
Our government is also making historic investments in public infrastructure. Public wastewater infrastructure has been one of the key categories of investment under the federal infrastructure program. Since 2007, approximately $1.8 billion has been committed to over 1,200 wastewater projects across the country under the building Canada fund and a number of economic action plan infrastructure programs. Also, under Canada's economic action plan, our government provided $2 billion in low-interest loans to municipalities for housing-related infrastructure projects, including sewage and water systems.
Since 2005, over $600 million has been allocated under the gas tax fund toward wastewater infrastructure across Canada.
The Government of Canada will continue to support public wastewater infrastructure through programs such as the gas tax fund, which is now permanent at $2 billion per year. Municipalities can choose to spend 100% of this funding to upgrade their wastewater infrastructure. In ridings such as mine, in northeast Alberta, that have tremendous growth pressures and enormous responsibilities for more infrastructure, I know that many, but not all, of my municipalities are putting significant amounts of their gas tax money into exactly these kinds of projects. That is exactly the way they would like us to continue to fund them.
It is also worth noting that our government provided $550 million to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to establish the green municipal fund. The fund supports partnerships and the leveraging of public and private sector funding to achieve higher standards of air, water and soil quality as well as climate protection.
While the federal government does not have jurisdiction over private household septic systems, Canadians may be able to access federal support in a couple of ways. The first is through mortgage loan insurance, which can be purchased from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, with the full backing of the Government of Canada. The current parameters for government-backed mortgage loan insurance allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages up to 80% of the value of their homes. Qualified homeowners can apply for CMHC-insured loans for any purpose, including for upgrading septic systems.
Homeowners may also have access to federal funding under the investment in affordable housing framework 2011-2014. Under this framework, CMHC is providing more than $238 million per year to provinces and territories to reduce the number of Canadians in need of housing by improving access to affordable housing that is sound, suitable and sustainable.
Most jurisdictions, provinces and territories match the federal investment and are responsible for program design, delivery and administration. They have the flexibility to invest in a range of solutions, which could include assistance for the repair of septic systems, if they so choose.
In the Yukon and Prince Edward Island, CMHC delivers renovation programs off reserve. Under these programs, forgivable loans are available to qualifying low-income households to address major deficiencies in dwelling structures or systems, including plumbing.
On reserve, first nations chiefs and councils are responsible for planning and developing their capital facilities to provide for the basic infrastructure needs of the community. They are also responsible for the day-to-day operation of water and wastewater systems on reserve.
Our government is making significant investments to support first nations communities in managing their water and wastewater systems. New wastewater treatment systems are eligible for funding when managed centrally by the first nation.
I see that I am running out of time. I would like to once again highlight a couple of things our government has done, not only with CMHC and not only on reserve but in tackling some of the environmental issues in our rivers and lakes. As I have said before, I know that the House is very familiar with the upgrades in Lake Simcoe and Lake Winnipeg through our government. Those are real investments.
These are ways the government can take concrete action without members simply bringing motions forward that have no opportunity of being binding on the government or even on their own parties.
I would like to thank the member for bringing forth this motion so that we have the opportunity to discuss and talk about some of the options. However, at the end of the day, it is important to recognize that our Conservative government is taking real steps to help our environment and to tackle some of the real issues rural Canadians face every single day.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak about this important legislation. I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague, the member for Simcoe—Grey, the hard-working Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour. The member is also a professional pediatrician and a real asset to our community. We thank her for giving up her profession, although she is still on call, working double-duty, and has her hand on the pulse of the country, helping Canadians. She is passionate about this particular aspect of employment insurance and ensuring that we have this stop-gap measure in place to help Canadians in the difficult times between jobs.
I would first like to drill down into some of the details of what our government is doing to connect Canadians with available jobs. It is very important to clarify that the changes we are making are ensuring that unemployed Canadians are made aware of the available work in their local labour markets within their skill set. Basically, if there is no available work within their skill set, then EI will be there to support them as it always has been.
The government has established clear definitions for suitable employment and reasonable job search. These new definitions provide clarity for Canadians. Please note that these improvements only apply to Canadians receiving regular EI benefits and EI fishing benefits, specifically those from our coastal communities. They do not apply to Canadians receiving EI special benefits, such as the maternity, paternity, compassionate and sickness benefits.
I will focus on suitable employment for a moment. Several factors will affect the definition of suitable employment, including first and foremost the personal circumstances of the claimant. I think this is the point that the opposition may have avoided mentioning. Sometimes the opposition uses a bit of scare factor, using inaccurate information about the impact of these changes.
As a member of Parliament from western Canada, I was born and raised in Alberta and spent the last 23 years in beautiful British Columbia. I have owned my own business and worked for a variety of companies. I have been a union member and in management of an international company. I understand that applying for EI is not something anyone enjoys, probably ranking right up there with having a root canal done.
From my experience, the vast majority of Service Canada employees are hard-working, dedicated and professional people who care about Canadians. They care about my constituents in Kelowna—Lake Country and all of our constituents across the country from our 308 respective ridings. They take the personal circumstances of each claimant into consideration when they are determining what is considered suitable employment. The claimants receiving EI will not have to accept work if they have a health problem that prevents them from taking a particular job.
Here I think it is important to eliminate some of the fearmongering and non-factual information out there, and let Canadians rest assured that we want to lay out the facts and the truth.
If claimants have family obligations preventing them from working at certain times of the day or if they have limited transportation, for example, for commuting to and from work, that will also be taken into consideration. Of course, if claimants are not physically capable of performing the work, they will not be required to take a job.
As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has mentioned many times in the House, these changes will be implemented in a fair and reasonable way. I think it is very important to reassure Canadians that this is fair and reasonable.
However, the topics raised by the opposition have not been reasonable. They have created fear about commuting times, telling people that they will have to take any job within a day's drive or something of that sort. The reality is that the requirement is for a job within an hour's commute, unless the claimant's previous commuting history and the community's average commuting times are longer. That is simple common sense.
If a claimant indicates they cannot travel outside their community because they do not have a car, that will be taken into consideration. Canada has the world's 34th largest population, but is the 2nd largest country geographically speaking. It is a very diverse country, so we have to take each region into consideration.
I will focus now on the two criteria for suitable employment that have drawn the most attention. One is the type of work, and the other is the wages that are considered reasonable. Frequent claimants are those who have had three or more claims for regular or fishing benefits and have collected more than 60 weeks of EI benefits in the past five years. Clarifying what a frequent claimant is important, I think.
Frequent claimants would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normally perform from the start of their EI claim. They would also be required to look for work that pays wages starting at 80% of their previous hourly wage. If a claimant has had three claims, then they have to apply for jobs paying 80% of their previous hourly wage.
In determining what criteria will apply, EI claimants will be placed in one of three categories: long-tenured workers, frequent claimants and occasional claimants. I will take a few moments to define these categories.
First, the long-tenured workers are those who have paid into the EI system for the past 7 of 10 years and have collected EI regular or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less over the last 5 years. These workers will initially be required to look for a similar job that pays 90% of their previous wages. After 18 weeks of EI benefits, long-tenured workers would be required to expand their search to jobs within their previous field and apply for jobs that pay 80% of their previous wages. Therefore, after first looking for work paying 90% of their previous wages and having been on benefits for 18 weeks, they would have to look for work paying 80% of their previous salary. After receiving benefits for a further 6 weeks, they would need to expand their search to any work they are qualified to perform so long as the wages are within 70% of the wages of their previous employment.
Occasional claimants would include those not captured by the definitions of frequent and long-tenured workers. Occasional claimants would be allowed to limit their job search to their usual occupation with similar wages, of at least 90% of their previous hourly wage, for the first six weeks of their claim. After receiving benefits for 6 weeks, they would have to expand their search for jobs similar to the one they normally do with wages of 80% of their previous earnings. After 18 weeks they would then need to further expand their job search to include any work they are qualified to perform so long as the wage is at least 70% of their previous earnings. They have a tiered process and different percentages over time.
It is a sad statement when the opposition engages in disinformation or fearmongering. I feel I need to point out the obvious, which is that no one would ever need to accept employment below minimum wage. No Canadian would have to. The fact is
The hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia will have two minutes left for his remarks after question period. Right now we will move on to statements by members.
The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment and ask my hon. colleague from Simcoe—Grey if she is aware that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster indicated that there were no new inspectors at the XL facility. In fact, there were six new inspectors and two additional veterinarians.
I am wondering if my hon. colleague can confirm for me that as part of our investments in making sure of food safety, CFIA has the resources and the funds it needs to carry out inspections.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the NDP motion before the House. I know we have been in the House all day debating this very important motion and we are getting toward the end of the debate today, so I am happy to have an opportunity to speak.
I thank the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles who brought forward the motion, as well as the member for Hamilton Mountain. I know both as our EI critic and as our HRSDC critic, they have worked really hard on this file.
I have been listening to the debate all day and it is very interesting to hear the mantra, the message, the narrative, the talking points of the Conservatives who are saying that all the opposition does, the NDP and the Liberals, is oppose everything. I really want to set the record straight. This motion is an opportunity to deal with something that is very specific, and that is the working while on claim pilot project for EI. It is a very specific motion. The reason it is very specific is because we are trying to address something that is clearly not working. Therefore, for the Conservatives to come out with this blanket black and white statement that the opposition is opposed to everything, is simply not true. It is sort of the big lie technique, as I heard one of our members say earlier.
I remember a few budgets ago where the NDP successfully convinced the Conservative government to make changes to EI and to include additional funds. As a result, we voted for those measures. We look at legislation, budgets and motions before the House based on their merit. If the working while on claim pilot project were actually working for people, we would be supporting it.
The whole point of today's debate is this. We have been inundated in our offices across the country by real people who are on EI and who have a terrible time with this so-called pilot project that is meant to help them. Let us be very clear about this. This is not a motion just to oppose the government for the sake of opposing. This is a motion to demonstrate and focus the attention of the House on a project that is really important to hundreds of thousands of people and the fact that it is not working for them. We want it to work for them.
I will read the motion. It states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the new Working While on Claim pilot project is: (a) not benefiting the vast majority of EI recipients who are able to find employment; (b) creating a disincentive to take part-time work; and (c) leaving low income Canadians worse off than before; and that the House call on the government to take steps to fix Working While on Claim immediately.
The motion is very straightforward. It is looking for a pragmatic approach to say to the government that its claims that the project is helping just about everyone is not true.
I forgot, Mr. Speaker, to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Beaches—East York.
The motion is for us to draw attention to something that is very important.
We have heard the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development repeatedly claim, “the vast majority of EI recipients working while on claim will benefit from the new pilot project”. It has to be on the record. The facts are irrefutable that this is not the case. Many people are not only not benefiting, they are hurting and taking home less money now than they were under the previous program. There is something wrong with that picture.
Members of the House do not have to take my word for it. The Canada Employment Insurance Commission is an independent body that analyzes what goes on with EI. It submitted a report to the government on these changes in May, so it is a very recent report. It estimates that while 403,000 Canadians would benefit, 240,000 would be negatively affected.
If we do the math on this, we can see that it means that nearly four in ten EI recipients will be negatively affected by this pilot program. Any idea that this will help the vast majority of EI claimants is simply not true. It is really a cruel thing to keep saying that people are being helped when in actual fact they are not, certainly not the vast majority. This debate is focusing very much on the facts.
The parliamentary secretary, the member for Simcoe—Grey, claimed on September 24 “those who work more will be able to keep more when it comes to their employment insurance”. As we see from the report from the commission, and as we our constituents, this is simply not the case.
I hope members across the floor recognize that we are not just doing something to oppose for the sake of opposing. We are trying to be proactive and constructive by bringing forward a motion for correction.
My colleague from Hamilton Mountain earlier today gave a wonderful outline of why she knew it would be very unlikely that the motion would work. It is unfortunate and in a way sad and disappointing that the government is not willing to acknowledge the problems that exist with this program. It begs the question as to what really lies underneath these program changes.
Many members have made the point today that employers and workers contribute to the EI program. It is not a government program, but it is an important part of Canada's social safety network. Unemployed Canadians need to be able to rely on it when they are in difficulty. It begs the question as to why the government would do such a shoddy job in bringing forward a program that will not in any way live up to the goals and objectives that those members themselves have put forward. That is why we have the motion today.
Many of us could speak at length about the overall situation with EI just from our experience in dealing with constituents. It is really incredible to see how this program has taken a dive over the years. My colleague from Burnaby—Douglas pointed out earlier that some research done by CANSIM showed just how much the EI program had changed in the country. We know now that less than 40% of unemployed Canadians receive EI benefits. That number is higher for women and seasonal workers. Women are often in part-time work so they fair even less well than that general statistic. Surely this should raise concerns for us.
In the 1990s, 70% to 90% of Canadians who were unemployed were eligible for EI. The rules were relatively fair and they did the job that they were designed to do, and that was to help people through difficult periods of unemployment. We have seen a downward spiral, which started with a Liberal government that made reforms, but things became worse. Now we are at today's situation where even a so-called pilot project that is designed to help people keep a bit of money while working is hitting the people who are most vulnerable, the people who are making the lowest wages. That is patently unfair.
I hope the members of the Conservative government across the way will consider the motion on its merit. I would like to prove the member for Hamilton Mountain wrong. She gave a great speech earlier. I hope she might be wrong and the motion might go through. I hope the Conservative government will recognize that there is a genuine attempt here to show what needs to be done to the program. The motion calls on the government to make the changes so unemployed Canadians can receive the help they need.
The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey will have six minutes remaining for her remarks when the House next resumes debate on the motion.
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.
It being 2:18 p.m., the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Simcoe—Grey.
The government cannot support this motion because, quite frankly, it is factually incorrect. The changes to EI that we are introducing aim to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not. That is why we believe it is important to invest in connecting Canadians with available jobs in their local areas.
First I would like to clarify and correct the record, given that the opposition has been irresponsibly fearmongering. Based on what I have heard here so far this morning, I think it is time that we put a few facts on the record.
These changes are not about forcing people to accept work outside their own area, or taking jobs for which they are not suited.
The changes are about improving a federal system so that Canadians better understand what the expectations are of them while they are collecting EI. They are about ensuring Canadian workers are made better aware of the opportunities available to them in their own geographic area. They are about helping to ensure that employers have better access to available Canadian workers before hiring temporary foreign workers.
For a moment, let us look at the big picture.
Our country’s economic performance continues to be strong in 2012. In fact, between July 2009 and March 2012, more than 750,000 new jobs were created, resulting in the strongest employment growth by far among G7 countries.
Our economic prosperity, however, depends on our ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges.
It depends on our competitiveness and our agility.
Chief among these challenges are skills shortages. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall of last year there were 250,000 job vacancies across the country.
We know that Canadians want to work, but they often face challenges finding work. So what are we going to do to help unemployed workers find jobs?
As announced in economic action plan 2012, over the next two years our government will invest in connecting unemployed Canadians with available jobs that are in their local area and that match their skills, jobs that maybe these individuals were never aware existed. As part of our announcement, we will be sending job alerts twice per day to Canadians receiving EI. The job alerts would come from many different sources, including the job bank and private sector sources.
We will also be linking the temporary foreign worker program with the EI program to help connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their skill range in their geographic area. Today employers are required to provide evidence that they have exhausted their efforts to hire Canadians first; we are simply introducing changes to better connect those employers with Canadians who would be able to work and available for it.
The improvements that we have announced will mean that Canadians receiving EI benefits would always benefit financially from accepting available work. When receiving EI, Canadians receive 55% of their maximum weekly earnings; with our improvements, Canadians would never have to accept work that pays less than 70% of their previous income, and that amount could not be below minimum wage.
These changes are about empowering unemployed workers, helping them get back into the workforce, and focusing resources where they are needed most.
We are helping Canadians who want to work to get back to work, and we are ensuring all these changes are grounded in common sense and fairness.
We fully recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off season in those parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. For Canadians who live in areas of higher unemployment or areas where the jobs simply do not exist outside the seasonal or specialized industries, employment insurance would be there for them, as it always has been. We announced these changes one week ago today, and I have been very pleased to see that many employers and workers are standing up to say that these changes to the EI system are needed and are important.
Unfortunately, the opposition continues to mislead Canadians, needlessly creating fear and concern. As I have said before, actions speak louder than words, and this opposition motion demonstrates that the opposition members are against making life better for Canadians and their families. They would prefer that we not make any improvements to a system that sometimes discourages people from working.
As a member of a government focused on job creation, economic growth and Canada's long-term prosperity, I stand here today to encourage all members of this House to vote against this flawed, uninformed motion.
EI is an important program here in Canada—and will continue to be. These improvements will introduce new, needed, common-sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster.
That is good for the economy, good for employers—and good for Canadians and their families.
For these reasons, I urge all members of the House to vote against the motion and to support our efforts to connect Canadians with available local jobs.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that I will probably be the last to speak to this before we have to see the reaction on the other side.
Over and over again tonight, we have heard varying comments. I think the member for Simcoe—Grey had one of the best ones that I heard tonight when she said, “We allowed them to come to an agreement”.
This is collective bargaining between an employer and the employees and she is trying to tell us that the government allowed them to try to come to an agreement. However, within 20 hours of a strike deadline, the government decided it would start talking to them about imposing back-to-work legislation, back-to-work legislation that favours the employer.
The government seems to forget who unionized workers are. Unionized workers are real people. They are not aliens or diseases, as the government would like people to believe they are. It is unbelievable what it tries to depict workers as.
Since the last election, we have witnessed over and over again the government abuse its powers to attack workers, workers' pensions and workers' wages by ramming back-to-work legislation through. We just have to think of Air Canada and Canada Post. Now it is after CP.
We cannot help but wonder who is next. The government just keeps favouring the big corporations over workers and it is trying to race to the bottom. One would think it was a Walmart.
All these workers want is a fair deal, a fair deal that they cannot get under a government that continues to stick its nose in collective bargaining. They want a fair deal so they can actually support their families and support their communities. These are who the real workers are. These are who unionized workers are. They are our brothers, fathers, neighbours and service providers. Their rights are being violated, rights that were recognized by the Supreme Court as being charter rights.
The government keeps talking about the economy. We are the ones who know the direction the economy has been taking. The government did not even believe we were going into an economic crisis until we were there. Now what is it doing? It is putting 19,000 federal workers out of work. Those are federal jobs that will be gone.
The government is attacking the workers' support network, EI. We heard the Minister of Labour talk about the fact that there are fewer people on employment insurance but what she is not telling us it that it is because people cannot access employment insurance.
Instead of putting in training dollars and ensuring there are proper support networks so people can actually get through the phone lines at employment insurance, the government is closing down offices that help support workers. It is laying off people. Then it is attacking seniors and their pensions. Why is it that the government keeps wanting to race to the bottom?
I do want to talk about the CP workers from Chapleau in my riding, people like Brian Ferguson, Michael MacDonald, Jason McKee and Robin Robitaille. They have sent me letters. I have a whole pile of letters here that I hope I will be allowed to table, such as the letter from Diane Tangie Labranche.
What they are talking about is the fact that the attack is basically on their pension and the government is allowing the employer to attack their pension and to reduce the type of pension they will have when they retire. Some of these people have 30 years of service.
Diane Tangie Labranche writes:
As our Member of Parliament we need your support to retain the pension plan that has been funded by our members for over 108 years since its existence at Canadian Pacific Railway.
It is 108 years that they have paid into this pension, a pension where the employer mismanaged the investments and now there is $1.6 billion deficit. In order for these workers to retire with enough pension to live they will need to pay for the next five years $107,000 or $21,000 annually during this five year period. It depends on how long they have been there. The more conservative alternative investment strategy considered by the company would have cost only $2,300 annually over a 15-year period, a far more desirable outcome for all parties and one that would negate the current pension concession demands.
Meanwhile, the outgoing CEO would now have a severance package of $18 million. Can we imagine that?
Meanwhile, instead of protecting the workers' pensions and instead of protecting the workers' wages, they are attacking the workers.
Here is something else that they tell us:
Many of the employees who would be affected by the pension demands made by our employer stand to have the pensions they have worked many years to achieve dramatically reduced, some of these potentially affected employees have worked for CP for 30 plus years. As a running trade employee I work long hours which frequently occupies 60 or more hours a week away from home working in this heavily regulated environment.
I do not know about other members, but I have seen these railroad workers, and I can tell members that not only do they work long hours but they also do very hard work.
They go on to say:
The nature of my employment requires me to base my work attendance on 2 hours notice to work, this places considerable demands on lifestyle and families. The existing negotiated pension benefits is one of the primary reasons that I have remained a committed CP railway employee.
What members should also know is that during their bargaining, these employees actually ensured that they were going to have good pensions. They decided that they would pay more for their pensions.
Brian Ferguson writes:
The company wants us to degrade our pensions to levels in place at CN. The 2 pension structures are totally different from each other.
They paid higher premiums and they gave a concession that they would work longer in order to ensure that they would keep a good collective agreement, which is about to disappear.
As I am terminating here, I would like consent to table all of these letters that I have received, because they show that these are real people, these unionized workers, and the letters show the government the concerns that they have and everything that they have done and worked so hard to get.
The people from Chapleau, the people from White River, the people from all over Canada who are working for CP are there because they want to make a living for their families, not because they are just unionized workers.
I would hope that we all vote down this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Simcoe—Grey for an excellent speech. I know she has been very supportive of our jobs and growth strategy, particularly with our manufacturing sector. She lives in Ontario, as I do, and she has automotive interests, as I do.
We are getting hit with a double whammy in Ontario. First, we have the radical Liberal government that put in an energy program with the feed-in tariff. People actually have solar panels and they are paying, I believe, 80¢ per kilowatt hour, and when there is excess, they are selling it for 5¢ per kilowatt hour. How the Liberal government came up with the business plan or how that works, I am not sure, but how it is affecting me is serious.
Our manufacturers, our business community, are really concerned about doing business in Ontario because of the cost of energy, and now we have the NDP wanting to bring forth a program with a carbon tax added to the price of energy.
I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could contrast our sensible strategy for jobs and growth with the radical plan that the NDP and the left in this country have, and how it affects her in Ontario and the fears—
I will stop the hon. member there. She will have 15 minutes left to conclude her remarks, but now we will move on to statements by members.
The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Simcoe—Grey.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House regarding the Air Canada labour dispute. I would also like to take this opportunity to describe in more detail the role of Air Canada and the airline sector in our economy. The air transportation industry and the economy are intertwined because there is a direct relationship between the demand for airline services and economic and socio-economic activity in general.
Consequently, this sector is an excellent gauge of the economic situation. We know that the economy was seriously impacted by the global financial crisis three years ago. Activity slowed down and airlines reacted. Costs were cut as much as possible, but the carriers still had to cover them.
As indicated by the strength of the Canadian dollar, Canada was protected from the worst repercussions of the recession by its relatively solid financial system and fiscal stimulus measures. However, three years after the global recession, the economic recovery remains fragile. The International Air Transport Association, IATA, reported last year that the Canadian and North American airline industries had posted modest profits, primarily because of their efforts to contain costs.
This industry and the economy are intertwined and, to date, their future is somewhat uncertain. This same association stated on September 20, 2011, that the profitability of international carriers, including North American carriers, should diminish, which quite logically could compromise the short-term financial health of these same airlines.
As we have seen in the last several weeks, economic indicators, stock markets and international financial markets remain fragile and continue to falter.
In the short term it is expected that the pricing and revenue environment in the airline industry will remain uncertain due to the fact that airlines have to deal with travellers who have less money to spend and who increasingly expect regular seat sales. This will result for the industry in profit margins that will remain modest at best.
I would like to share with the House some figures that speak volumes, that speak to the importance of the transportation sector and the air sector to our economy. In its 2010 annual report entitled “Transportation in Canada 2010”, Transport Canada indicated that the airline industry employed 91,146 people across the country. The transportation sector employed 912,400 people. Air Canada employed 23,200 people in 2010, providing 25% of the industry's jobs.
In 2010, the airline industry's contribution to GDP was $5,796,000 in 2002 dollars, or 0.5% of Canada's GDP. A work stoppage at Air Canada would be problematic for Canadians because, on average, over 100,000 people travel with Air Canada or one of its regional partners every day.
Air Canada offers connections between 155 city pairs and up to 313 city pairs if one takes into account its regional partner carriers such as Jazz, Air Georgian, Exploits Valley Air Services, Sky Regional and Central Mountain Air. Service interruption at Air Canada would thus have implications across the country.
Air Canada also operates a large number of international flights to 42 countries on five continents, including destinations that are key economic partners for Canada.
According to Air Canada's 2010 annual report, as a major economic player in Canada, Air Canada injects significant sums of money into the economy through its operating expenses. Every year, the company spends close to $1.9 billion on employee wages, salaries and benefits, $961 million on airport and navigation fees, and almost $677 million on aircraft maintenance. Our airline industry, especially our carriers, are defined by the unique characteristics of the Canadian market: multiple hubs, long distances between scattered populations, harsh winters that encourage people to vacation in the south, the importance of an air transportation network in the north, the seasonal nature of travel, climate and proximity to one of the world's largest markets, the United States.
Canada's unique context should be an important consideration. The economic climate of the past three years was a tough ordeal for the industry and for Canada's strategic air services framework. Even though the recession is technically over, we are still feeling its effects. Recently, the Minister of Finance stated that the economy remains fragile, which means that we must remain vigilant and prudent.
During the recession the airlines proceeded with caution and limited or reduced excess capacity in order not to flood the market with air services, which could have initiated price wars and ultimately contributed to a further destabilization of the industry.
It is important to understand when considering the specific variables that the airline industry is subject to seasonal fluctuations. For example, in Canada most of the revenue of air carriers, and by default those of their partners, is realized during the spring and summer. Revenue earned during these seasons largely offsets the high costs that characterize the airline industry. Fuel is a key factor in this industry and it is one of the largest and most volatile operating expenses.
The reality of the airline industry involves high costs and small profit margins, even at the best of times. However, when these services are reduced, interrupted or cut, the partners that work with carriers, communities and consumers feel the impact.
A drawn out labour dispute at Air Canada would be bad news for the company, its business partners, its employees, Canadians who travel with the airline and, by extension, our economy. At a time when consumer confidence in the airline industry is being rebuilt little by little, a prolonged work stoppage at Air Canada could have a significant impact on the company's return to profitability. The same consumers could also find themselves trapped at airports across the country and abroad trying to make alternate travel arrangements in place of their Air Canada flights. Flight cancellations would be expensive for both the company and for passengers who would have to make alternate travel arrangements that could be very costly.
In conclusion, the government is taking a responsible and measured approach by making the necessary arrangements to ensure that the country's largest air carrier continues its operations, while encouraging the parties to continue their negotiations in order to reach an agreement that is fair to both parties as soon as possible. That is why I support any government initiative to block a work stoppage at Air Canada.
I hate to stop the hon. member there, but it is just about time for statements by members. He will have ten and a half minutes to conclude his remarks at the end of question period.
At this point we will move on to statements by members. The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey.
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise here today to speak to Bill C-280, An Act to establish a National Strategy for Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI).
It is with sadness that I speak to the bill. This type of private member's bill should not be necessary. It is a shame that the time of this chamber is being spent on something the government should have done over two years ago, had there been any leadership.
The government's handling of this file has been a total disgrace. The government has demonstrated a total failure to provide the federal leadership that would have been able to move this forward. There has been a total failure on the part of the government to listen to the provinces and territories. Most important, there has been a total failure on the part of the government to listen to the patients. It is what my colleague from Mount Royal calls “the mobilization of shame”.
The briefing Monday night was one of the worst I have attended since I have been in this place, the Minister of Health taking the time of the president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to demonize a private member's bill that has the support of that very organization and of so many patients across the country.
There has been a pathetic attempt by the government to disguise its lack of action on this issue in a private member's motion to make it look as though it is doing something. However, all that motion does is ask to collect a bit of information that should have been collected.
I wish the Minister of Health had shown up Tuesday morning at the amazing breakfast, I think the fourth of such breakfasts, that was put on by the member for Etobicoke North, the author of this bill. If the minister had been there to hear Dr. Joseph Hewett, Dr. James McGuckin, and the amazing patient Linda Hume-Sastre, she would have understood how much we care about moving forward immediately on these actions.
My journey on CCSVI started almost two years ago, on March 29, 2010. I had been asked to attend a patient summit, which was to hear the voices of so many patients from all of the disease entities across the country to share some principles. Ironically, I was on the panel, “Is the Voice of Patients Being Heard?” After I stepped down off the stage it was time for lunch. A number of patients asked me if I would sit at their table. Around this table were patients and family members from British Columbia who were absolutely convinced that this new liberation procedure could help them. They described people who were on their way to life in a wheelchair, on their way to being bedridden, on their way out of this world. It was so poignant.
It was interesting yesterday morning when Dr. Hewett and Dr. McGuckin said that those of us who are trained as physicians sometimes have a great difficulty keeping an open mind and looking at things differently from the way we were trained in medical school or in the kinds of treatments that we would normally prescribe or try to get for our patients.
It was quite interesting. These patients and their families explained how this procedure seemed to be helping a lot of people. At that point, they were already trying to get that treatment outside of Canada. I think the theme we will hear this evening and from patients across this country is that they want to be treated here and they want to be treated now.
What is absolutely astounding is that I came back to this place and had a casual conversation with my colleague from Etobicoke North, who had already expressed quite an interest in neurological diseases, as we all know. She had attended a conference on CCSVI in February and had been looking into this potential treatment since November of the previous year.
From that time on the member for Etobicoke North has been a source of inspiration for all of us, but mainly the daily counsel for hundreds and hundreds of patients across the country. She keeps their spirits up. All of us here are impressed at how that one member of Parliament has had such an important influence on the lives of so many Canadians.
In May of that year, the member for Etobicoke North and I as the critic for health wrote to the Minister of Health asking her to support the MS Society's request for $10 million for research into the potential cause of CCSVI. Clearly at that time there had been controversy surrounding it, but we thought that Canadians deserved the facts. We were not saying that it definitely did or did not work, but we were very concerned that the people making that decision perhaps were not listening to patients about things like fatigue and brain fog, and that people felt immediately better if they were able to tell their stories.
It was very important at that time for people to get on with actual clinical trials. That is what people wanted. They wanted trials in which they could take whatever risk there was with the procedure and have it documented afterward. We were already hearing stories of people who had gone out of the country to get the treatment after being refused treatment by their own physicians. The member for Etobicoke North asked for an emergency debate on this issue, which was declined, but there was a take note debate. The subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Health held four hearings. It heard from Dr. Zamboni himself, Dr. Sandy McDonald and a number of important experts in this area from around the world.
Four hundred people per year die from multiple sclerosis. It is extraordinary. As we heard yesterday morning, if this possible treatment is being caught up in some turf war similar to what Dr. McDonald talked about, it would be the same as having to get permission from the electrician to do plumbing work in one's house. This is viewed to be a plumbing problem, that is, a cardiovascular problem as opposed to a pure autoimmune disease, in the purview of neurologists. We are asking that all in medicine work together in these trials in the best interests of patients. That means the turf wars have to stop.
On August 20 in another letter to the Minister of Health, we asked that this issue be placed on the agenda for the health ministers meeting in September. We hoped that they would listen to one another and that the federal government would take some leadership on this. Provinces like Saskatchewan had very clearly taken the lead.
I ask all members of the House to go to the website of the member for Etobicoke North to read the speech that she delivered on December 8 and her reply to the response by the parliamentary secretary and the member for Simcoe—Grey. Members should read the letter from the Canadian Coalition for the Study of Venous Insufficiency and consider its words, “As such, we urge all members of Parliament to vote in favour of your bill”. The coalition outlines the parts of the bill and why it supports it.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Simcoe—Grey.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this misleading motion and talk about what our government is doing for Canada's seniors. In my role as minister, I have travelled across Canada meeting many seniors. I have listened to what they consider to be important. Let me be clear. No senior who is receiving benefits today will lose a penny because of the changes we will be proposing. Any changes will be announced with a long notice period and be brought in gradually.
It is unfortunate that members of the opposition are attempting to scare seniors to score cheap political points. This motion falsely attempts to connect deficit reduction with the necessary changes to the OAS. There will be no change to the OAS until well after the budget has been balanced.
I can assure Canada's seniors that the support our government has shown them will continue. We all know someone, a family member, friend or neighbour, who is a senior. We care about their financial future. We want to ensure that the social programs we have come to rely on are sustainable for the next generation.
As someone who was not born here, I can speak from personal experience. Canada is an example to the world when it comes to the care of seniors. We are committed to ensuring seniors have the highest possible quality of life for today and tomorrow. We must ensure the programs and services that give us this quality of life are sustainable for all citizens in the future. Striking this balance is not a choice. It is a necessity. Good choices now mean we will be able to maintain our quality of life today and in the future.
I will take a few minutes to talk about what Canada is doing to help seniors currently. Our government has consistently shown a commitment to helping the most vulnerable seniors across the country, not just with promises but with action.
This summer I was excited to see the new guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit start helping Canada's most vulnerable seniors. This top-up is the biggest increase to the GIS in 25 years. It represents a $1.5 billion investment over the next five years. This top-up works out to $600 annually for a single senior and $840 for a couple. That is just the latest improvement we have made to the GIS.
We increased the GIS in 2006 and again in 2007, for a total increase of 7% above regular adjustments for inflation. In budget 2008, we increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500, meaning that GIS recipients keep more of their hard-earned money. We also reduced bureaucratic red tape by introducing automatic GIS renewal for seniors who file annual income taxes. Our work does not stop there. There are a number of areas where seniors want action and we are responding.
Seniors want leadership in their communities. In budget 2011, we provided $10 million over two years to increase funding for the new horizons for seniors program. This helps seniors use their leadership, energy and skills to benefit communities across Canada. Everywhere I travel seniors tell me how much they appreciate low taxes, thanks to our government. We have provided over $2.3 billion a year in additional tax relief to seniors through measures such as income splitting and increasing the age credit.
Affordable housing is an important measure to combat senior poverty. We invested $400 million over two years under Canada's economic action plan for the construction of housing units for low-income seniors.
Now more than ever, good health is a concern of seniors. We are supporting positive and active aging through the collaborative age-friendly communities initiative, physical activity tips for older adults and falls prevention initiatives.
Having a voice in decisions is also important to seniors. This is why we created the National Seniors Council in 2007 to provide advice to the federal government on the well-being and quality of life of our seniors.
We proudly established October 1 as National Seniors Day in Canada. On this day, we recognize the significant and on-going contributions seniors make to families, communities, workplaces and society.
I think we can all agree that seniors abuse cannot be tolerated. That is why in budget 2008 we invested $13 million over three years to help seniors and others recognize signs and symptoms of elder abuse and to provide information on available support.
Outcomes matter. The sum of the efforts I have highlighted so far today are resulting in a better Canada, a safer Canada, a Canada that respects seniors and makes them a full partner in the decisions we make as a country. Statistics show we are moving in the right direction.
The low income rate for seniors has declined dramatically from 21% in 1980 to 5% in 2009. The low income rate among seniors in Canada is now one of the lowest rates among member countries of the OECD. That is a record of which we can be proud.
To stay on the right track, we have to plan for the future. That starts with looking at facts, not just opinions, because facts give us a very good picture of what the future will look like, both in terms of opportunities and challenges.
Canada, like many other countries, is facing major demographic challenges because of an aging population. Our aging workforce will present a growing and serious economic challenge for Canada and other developed countries. In Canada the number of seniors will nearly double within two decades.
Among that growing number of seniors, the number of basic OAS pension beneficiaries is also expected to grow, from 4.7 million reported in 2010 to 9.3 million projected by 2030. Population aging involves both current and future generations.
In the future, there will be fewer workers to support higher costs of programs such as the old age security, which is funded from general tax revenues on a “pay-as-you-go basis”. OAS benefits are paid out of the tax revenues collected each year. As the ratio of workers to seniors changes, it will mean less workers have to pay for more benefits.
Currently there are approximately four workers for every retiree. By 2030, that number will have changed to two workers for every retiree. This is why it is critical that we must make changes to the OAS program. As the ratio changes, the cost to the taxpayer of these benefits becomes increasingly high.
The Canada pension plan is a different story. This program does not involve any tax dollars. It is entirely funded through the contributions of employers, employees and the self-employed. These contributions are invested over the life of a worker and grow to cover the cost of their retirement benefits.
The chief actuary recently examined the CPP and said that it was sound for the next 75 years. Therefore, it is clear that we need to make changes to the OAS to ensure our retirement security system stays strong and that it is available to for our children and our grandchildren.
I can assure Canadians that we will provide the time required for younger generations to plan for their retirement. Let me reiterate that people currently receiving OAS will not lose a cent.
The NDP is attempting to confuse seniors. The changes we are proposing will happen long after the budget is balanced. This has nothing to do with deficit reduction. Whether it be through lower taxes, increased funding to fight poverty or simply to make our economy stronger, Canada's seniors are the winners.
Because the motion does not reflect the intent of the government and because it is hopelessly misguided, we simply cannot support it. That is why our government will vote against the motion. I encourage all members of the House to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Vancouver East, who happens to be the health critic for the NDP, a hypothetical question.
A couple of weeks ago there was a motion in the House to ban asbestos and Conservative after Conservative stood and said that asbestos did not cause cancer. Even the good doctor from Simcoe—Grey voted against her former colleagues, the good doctors of this country and scientists. They voted against what Canadians really want and instead voted to help spread cancer in underdeveloped countries.
Hypothetically speaking, if the Conservatives had voted for this motion and it had gone to the Senate, what could have happened to it once it got there?
That the report of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner in relation to the former Member for Simcoe—Grey, presented by the Speaker on Monday, September 19, 2011, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and that the Committee study the report with a view to further investigate the Commissioner's findings in order to resolve outstanding questions; and that the Committee report its findings to the House no later than six months after the adoption of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on the NDP opposition day motion on chrysotile asbestos. We heard from two Conservative members who really had no coherent argument to offer on this subject that I heard, and had some difficulty in following the notes they were ordered to use by the Prime Minister's Office.
On the other hand, the NDP has long opposed asbestos exports. Some members, for instance the member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Outremont, at times have employed extreme rhetoric. Those members might admit that they are known for that. However, I believe the focus of today's motion is more reasoned, balanced and logical.
The motion calls for a ban on the use and export of asbestos. This position is supported by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and other physicians, scientists and organizations too numerous to list. Why all this opposition, then? Why are all these medical people so strongly and unanimously opposed to the export of asbestos?
With respect to asbestos, the science is clear that it is a danger to human health. The Conservative government will tell us that if used properly, it is safe. However, most of the government's own members know that is not true.
The Canadian Cancer Society says that worldwide more than 100,000 people die every year from occupational exposure to asbestos. Medical colleagues of the member for Simcoe—Grey know the dangers of asbestos. About 250 doctors and health care professionals sent her an open letter indicating that her ethical code of conduct as a physician requires her to influence her Conservative colleagues to change their position on asbestos. I would invite her to indicate that is what she is trying to do. Obviously, if she would do that, I would wish her success in her efforts. That would be quite a challenge for a member of a Conservative Party which last summer threatened to sue Michaela Keyserlingk, a widow whose husband Robert died of mesothelioma in 2009. Imagine this. Conservative Party operatives actually threatened to sue this widow for using the Conservative logo in her campaign against asbestos exports. Imagine the intimidation. What a disgrace. Members on that side of the House would be embarrassed to consider that their own party was threatening to sue a widow in this situation. It is horrendous.
It is shameful when we consider that according to the World Health Organization, about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos can come in various forms. We know the history in Canada. We used to hear about it being in ceiling tiles and various materials where it is not even solid and where we knew it was very dangerous. We were told that when it is with a bonding agent, as in concrete for example, it can be more stable for the time being. It can be in floor and ceiling tiles, insulating boards, roofing shingles, water supply lines, plastic filters, pipe covers, and vehicle parts. It can even be used in shipbuilding.
The problem is that when it is sent to a developing country or to a country like India, which is one of the growing powers these days, it can be cut, scraped, filed, sanded, or perhaps removed out of a building. When any of those things are done, workers need to take very careful precautions or they risk having it endanger their health. It can cause cancer. We know that those measures are not taken in many countries. We have a responsibility to act on the knowledge we have.
The World Health Organization estimates that one in every three deaths from occupational cancer is caused by asbestos. Contrary to the feeble Conservative excuses we have been hearing, the WHO says that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans and may cause mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases, such as asbestosis or fibrosis of the lung, pleural plaque, thickening and effusion.
The organization also calls for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products under the Rotterdam convention. The Liberal Party has supported the addition of asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention because we know that scientific evidence has clearly established the health dangers of chrysotile asbestos.
Unfortunately, my colleagues on the government benches do not believe in scientific evidence. To confirm this, all we have to do is look at petitions they have taken on things like the census. Government members did not want the scientific information on that and what the experts were telling us about the importance of the census, the way it had been done before. They do not like it when it comes to their crime bill. They do not want to hear the facts or the evidence on that. They do not even want to listen to their very right-wing conservative friends in places in Texas, who are saying, “We tried that and it does not work”.
We see it in the their attitude toward climate change. They do not want to listen to the scientists on that. They do not really believe in it. We see it in their attitude when they cut scientists at the Department of Fisheries recently. They are saying that we do not need much science. We are going to have a little of that less often, so we will not worry about whether the fish stocks are good this year as opposed to last year and whether they might change. We will just rely on the fact that we did a test a couple of years ago. That should be good for a while. That is the Conservatives' attitude toward science, so it should not be surprising to any of us that they have this attitude on this subject.
They have proved that attitude many, many times, but they do not like science. They do not trust science for some reason. They like to accept what they are told by the Prime Minister's Office. That much is clear. They proved that again in July of this year when Canada became the only country in the world to object to adding chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention.
Adding it to the list would have forced exporters of asbestos to warn recipient countries of any health hazard. It is kind of a basic thing. These countries feel often that they are not well-equipped to handle asbestos safety, like India for example, and those countries could then refuse all imports of the fibre.
Canada is in fact the world's fifth largest exporter of asbestos, and we are also the largest exporter that also imposes severe restrictions on its use domestically. We are okay with exporting it, but we have severe restrictions, very tough rules about how it is handled in Canada. We know it is not enforced elsewhere when it is exported.
We should take a look at the projects, like the one going on next door in the West Block, where asbestos is being removed. There is a fence around the building, so members of Parliament cannot get in there and be exposed to it. I have not been inside because of that fence, but I trust that people who are working in there have masks and suits, and whatever else is required to ensure that they are not affected by it.
Obviously the big concern is inhaling asbestos into one's lungs, which can cause many of these diseases. That is a hypocritical position for us to be in as a country in view of that. We still export over 90% of the asbestos we produce to other countries, countries like India, knowing full well the proper precautions are not being taken by people who are handling these products.
The Catholic Women's League of Canada recently stated, “Canada is harming people's health by promoting its use and leading diplomatic opposition to the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention”.
Canada's stellar reputation will continue to be tarnished until this gross injustice is addressed. We also need to address the domestic situation, and that is why it is important, as the motion suggests, that we deal with the communities that would suffer as a result of closing asbestos mines. We should be concerned about the health and well-being of people living in communities where there is asbestos mining.
I believe the motion strikes a proper balance and I hope that colleagues will support it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join in this debate, which has been a long time coming and is long overdue.
Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known. More Canadians die from asbestos than from all other industrial and occupational-related causes combined, and yet Canada continues to be one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world. On a good year we dump nearly 200,000 tonnes into underdeveloped and developing nations.
Not only is asbestos not banned in Canada, as it is in as many as 50 developed nations, but we have spent millions of dollars and continue to spend millions of dollars subsidizing and promoting the asbestos industry. No other Canadian commodity enjoys the amount of support that asbestos does. This class A carcinogen enjoys an irrational affinity of the Government of Canada, which made 160 trade junkets to 60 different countries using our embassies, trade commissioners, and our foreign missions to promote something that we Canadians ourselves would not allow our children to be exposed to.
It is the height of hypocrisy that we are spending tens of millions of dollars to remove all of the asbestos from the Parliament Buildings because no MP should ever be exposed to a single fibre, and yet we promote and subsidize the export of thousands of tonnes per year to underdeveloped nations where there are virtually no health and safety protocols.
We are exporting human misery on a monumental scale and there is no justification or excuse for it. We are exporting a made in Canada epidemic. It is like unleashing a thousand Bhopal's into India in a timed release way because we know that the legacy of disease and death stemming from this is undeniable.
Who agrees with us? The World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society have all recently said that asbestos should be banned in all its forms and that Canada should be out of the asbestos industry.
We do not even have to take active steps to shut down the asbestos industry. All we have to do is turn off the tap of corporate welfare, the millions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies to the industry. I call it corporate welfare for corporate serial killers. It is indefensible. Canadians would be horrified to know the extent of our involvement in the asbestos cartel.
I agree with Keith Spicer, a veteran Canadian journalist, who said recently that Canada's position on asbestos is morally and ethically reprehensible. He wrote this in Paris, where notably, France was one of the first countries in the European Union to ban asbestos in all of its forms. Canada went to the World Trade Organization in 1999 to try to stop France from banning its asbestos. Fortunately, for the people of France, Canada lost and that led to the entire European Union banning asbestos in all of its forms.
No amount of money is going to take the stink off the asbestos industry. Imagine a lobby organization being funded by the government to lobby the government. That is how irrational our approach to asbestos is. We not only spend money subsidizing the industry directly but we subsidize it in an indirect way as well. We sent a team of Department of Justice lawyers all over the world like globe-trotting propagandists to try to block other countries from curbing its use. It is incredible.
I went to Rome at my own expense and observed the Canadian delegation sabotage the Rotterdam convention in an effort to keep asbestos off the list of hazardous materials. The Rotterdam convention does not even ban hazardous chemicals. It just says that if they are going to be sold then they must include a warning label and a caution to the end user. In other words, informed prior consent that the end user knows that it is a carcinogen.
Canada has consistently blocked asbestos being listed on the Rotterdam convention because it would interfere with our ability to market it in the third world. When commercialization trumps science and reason, logic, morality and ethics, then we are in a serious situation.
There are those who would have us believe that there is something magically benign about the asbestos that we mine here in Canada. Ninety-five per cent of all the asbestos ever mined in the world is chrysotile, the type that we mine here. I used to work in the asbestos mines. We were lied to about the health hazards of asbestos then, just as the world continues to be lied to about the health hazards of chrysotile today. All asbestos kills. Chrysotile asbestos is a class A carcinogen, according to Health Canada, the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society.
Time does not permit me to go through the history of Canada's irrational affinity for this carcinogen. The asbestos industry has been like the tobacco industry's evil twin, in that they both have relied for more than a century on junk science, the best science money can buy; on aggressive public relations campaigns, domestically and internationally; and on intense political lobbying.
That is how the asbestos industry has pulled the wool over the eyes of the world for a generation. Canada plays an integral role in the activities of the asbestos cartel because it relies on Canada's boy scout image. The asbestos industry tells the world that if a nice country like Canada thinks asbestos is okay, it must be okay. That boy scout image is being severely tarnished. Canada is being viewed as an international pariah for our involvement in the asbestos industry.
Let me suggest that the money we spend subsidizing the asbestos industry would be better spent on starting a national registry to track and monitor the incidence of asbestos-related disease across the country. It would be better spent to improve the diagnostics and treatment of asbestos-related disease because if we are going to be one of the largest exporters of exporters to the world, surely we should be a centre of excellence for the diagnostics and treatment of asbestos-related disease.
In actual fact, Canadians who are struck down with mesothelioma more often than not have to go to the United States to get decent diagnostics and treatment. The money that we spend subsidizing the asbestos industry now would be better used putting in place a testing and remediation program so that Canadian homeowners, whose biggest single investment is contaminated by this Canadian epidemic, would be given a chance to test for asbestos and remove it when found. That would be a good use of government tax dollars.
The Government of Canada participated in contaminating hundreds of thousands of Canadian homes through its CHIP, a home insulation program in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the products the government was subsidizing was called zonolite, which is loaded with tremolite asbestos. It contaminated the attics of hundreds of thousands of homes, subsidized and promoted its installation and then left homeowners with this liability, not only making their homes unsafe but devaluing them as well. That would be a good use of Canadian tax dollars in relation to this particular carcinogen.
In my final minute, I would like to make members aware of an open letter that was sent to the member for Simcoe—Grey, a medical doctor who recently received national recognition for her work in the protection of children. This letter is signed by hundreds of doctors around the country, urging the member for Simcoe—Grey, as a Conservative member of Parliament, to live up to her Hippocratic oath and not support the Conservative government's irrational and dangerous position on asbestos. In fact, the letter makes an urgent appeal to the member to stand with science and research, and not with the political and commercial considerations that have kept this deadly industry killing people for much longer than it ever should.
Let the asbestos industry die a natural death. Turn off the tap of corporate welfare and, believe me, it will go the way of all the other asbestos mines in the country and Canada will be out of this deadly industry.
The electoral district of Simcoe--Grey (Ontario) has a population of 125,985 with 93,705 registered voters and 255 polling divisions.
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